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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds 

As Iraq spirals ever deeper into the sort of indescribably hellish chaos that only 21,500 American troops can reverse, we are struck by one bizarre notion that seems to enjoy an inexplicable currency among the pundit classes: that the invasion, originally justified as a response to a purported threat that almost immediately proved to be nothing more than a shabby canard, was in fact undertaken for other, recondite but even nobler and more selfless motives, such as "spreading Western-style democracy" or "liberating the Iraqi people." There is of course no basis for this absurd belief, but it has the virtue of comforting former supporters of Mr. Bush's misadventure by allowing them to pretend that the war was a good idea gone slightly awry in the execution, as opposed to a criminal act executed by a cabal of morally cretinous sociopaths and endorsed by fools.

An ancillary meme, promulgated notably by Jonathan Chait among others, is that bloggers who initially opposed the war (and were proved, in retrospect, to be right) did so for the wrong reasons, and those who supported it did so for the right reasons (despite being proved, in retrospect, wrong). As you might imagine, this argument, owing to its fundamental silliness, can become quite tangled. When we come across such a Gordian knot of rhetoric, we rely upon the puzzle-solving skills of our bodacious colleague Avedon Carol, who is often to be found swinging a broadsword:
My first reaction to the sudden emergency of Iraq WMD panic was that there was no reason for it. Any reasonably sane person over the age of 15 knows that war is dangerous, expensive, and terrible. You know that it kills lots and lots of people, leaves many others damaged, and makes new enemies with new grudges. It is profoundly destabilizing and carries with it the threat of wider, more devastating unrest. So you don't do it unless you absolutely have to.

In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, no one provided a credible justification for the war. It was obvious that we did not have to invade Iraq. This is the overriding fact: Invading a nation without cause (you can call it "preemptive", but that just means you don't have cause) is breathtakingly immoral and equally stupid and you do not do it.

In the particular case, starting a war in Iraq was even more breathtakingly stupid than if it had happened during some sublimely peaceful moment that didn't happen to be while our success in Afghanistan was unconfirmed and by no means assured. We had already started a war, and had shown no signs of having accomplished the things that needed to be done if we were to be successful in Afghanistan. To start a new war at such a time was so obviously insane that it was simply incredible that anyone would suggest it . . . .

A sane person starts from the position of not making war. The question of why not support starting a war should never even be raised - the reasons not to are always obvious.

So we waited to hear the credible justification for making the war, and it never came. It never came.

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