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Good Judgment and Iraq War Flip-Flops

I’m watching the list of GOP legislators who are breaking with President Bush on the war in Iraq with mixed emotions. On the one hand it’s nice to see people realizing that we are trying to force our military to accomplish the impossible. On the other hand, I have to ask why they are doing this and what changed their minds.

According to an MSNBC story:

More than a dozen Republican senators who are running for re-election next year head the list of lawmakers to watch. But others, too, have expressed concerns that the GOP has grown increasingly vulnerable on the issue. As the clock ticks toward Election Day, voter pressure is building against any lawmaker still standing with President Bush on the war.

So what’s driving these defections? Is it a sudden realization that they were wrong about the original invasion? Is it an attack of strategic good sense, in which one examines the goals and the means available to accomplish them and then reassesses the appropriate use of one’s resources?

Well, no. The legislators in question are in election campaigns. They are watching Bush’s popularity drop, and they feel the need to get out.

The wildcards in the debate are senators, like Roberts, Stevens and Chambliss, who have staunchly defended Bush but are watching his poll numbers drop.

Now my question is this: How will the voters react to a flip-flop to get out of Iraq just because of the poll numbers? Shouldn’t the voters in those districts have expected these legislators, who after all have research staffs and access to much sensitive information, to have made a better judgment call in the first place? And if the Iraq war was a good idea, as these senators seem to think (or have thought, at least), why is it now a good idea to pull out after thousands of casualties? If the goal is attainable, as they apparently used to think, shouldn’t one put in the resources and accomplish things? If it is not attainable, what has happened in the last few months that would change that assessment?

I personally believe the goal of a united, democratic, and secure Iraq was never attainable in the first place, and if we did invade, that should not have been one of our aims. I’d say that the last four years lines up with my assessment. But this is not just my assessment. There are plenty of experts on the region who were prepared to say this and back up their claims before the invasion. In comparison to other wars, and in relation to the war aims, this one has not gone all that badly. In fact, I personally expected it to go a bit worse. The government building efforts have gone better than I would have expected, though not enough better to change my mind in favor of the war. I have been hoping from the start that I would be proven wrong, but time is not doing so. It is so tragic to have these numbers of deaths without success. But the bottom line is that the “Iraqi people” would need to bear the major burden of creating a free, democratic, and secure nation, and there isn’t even a truly definable “Iraqi people,” and to the extent we can imagine such an entity, their goals are not our goals.

I welcome the idea that we will have an effort to withdraw troops. I just think these senators who have supported the war up to now and are switching in the face of opinion polls do not have the courage of their own bad judgment. They hope to place all the blame on President Bush, who is term limited, and somehow to escape their own responsibility. I hope the voters don’t let them by with it.

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  1. How will the voters react to a flip-flop to get out of Iraq just because of the poll numbers?

    Probably about the same way they did to Hillary Clinton and many Dem flip-floppers. Most people have no idea what’s going on, and a small handful make being informed practically an obsession.

    Have you been following recent events in Diyala province, and the various “salvation” movements where Sunni insurgents are aligning themselves with American troops to fight al Qaeda? If so, do you feel that it’s too little, too late? I’m not trying to pick a fight – the truth is you’re the only *rational* anti-war person I know. You and I disagree but you make consistent, rational arguments against it, as opposed to gems like “Bushitler should be impeached!” Others of my acquaintance start frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of Iraq, and conversation never gets anywhere. So I’m curious about how closely you follow war news and how much weight you give various items.

  2. I think we can discuss this, even if it gets intense, because we both believe there is and must be a war on terror. There’s a big difference between arguing about whether we have to fight at all or not, and arguing about how we are supposed to go about it. One of my best friends (Elgin Husbheck, Jr., consider.townhall.com disagrees with me substantially on this one, and we’ve discussed it over dinner with some vigor. It’s the same thing. We both agree there’s a war; we disagree on the value of the Iraq war as a strategy.

    On flip-flops, even though Edwards holds many positions I oppose, I do give him points for saying “I was wrong.” Nonetheless, I have a problem with the changing position, especially by people who claim to have been deceived because I don’t think the salient facts have changed substantially.

    I have been following the changeover of allegiance, and I don’t know if I would say too little, too late. I would say that the problem is that we need a strategy to work them into, and that means, IMV, changing the goal away from “free, democratic, and secure” probably eliminating parts of the “free” and “democratic” portions. Then we would also need a surge in the range of doubling the current troops (I know we don’t have them available, but that would be needed, IMO).

    The problem is that you also need political support at home, and if you remove the “free and democratic” part, the American people will tend not to support it. But in practical terms, Iraq is an artificial country, and has no motivation toward unity other than strength at the center.

    Right now I give the greatest weight to Iran, which will have nuclear weapons, and I have to ask whether Iraq will be draining resources or providing positive support. That’s the strategic issue. Right now it’s draining resources.

    I really haven’t gotten into the details on my blog, but I think we haven’t yet come anywhere near taking the war on terror seriously, and recruiting the personnel and developing and producing the materials necessary to accomplish that mission. Right now we’re just a national disaster waiting to happen.

    If we were planning a war strategy on the ground, we’d look at enemy territory and look at what we were going to spend lives and materiel to occupy. It would be nice to occupy everything, but you can’t do that all at once. So you choose the places that give you strategic advantage and maximally inconvenience your enemy. We would generally have more things we’d like to work on immediately that we could do at once, so we’d have to prioritize.

    In this war on terror, I think we need to look more at homeland security. There are simple things which could improve internal security substantially that we haven’t done. These include security technology (scanning at airports, for example), more linguists and other human intelligence specialists, and massively more training.

    In international terms we are under a substantial threat from Iran and Korea, I think, but also from terrorists operating in many so-called friendly states.

  3. Actually, we have a lot more in common than I thought. I agree that politicians should change positions by saying they were wrong or that upon further consideration have changed their mind, rather than saying they’ve been tricked. I agree that Iran is a huge threat. I agree that things have been often badly planned and executed – although I do think Petraeus is on the right track now.

    There is ample evidence, in my view, that we are already at war with Iran. Certainly they’re sending troops and weapons to Iraq, and they’ve been inciting the Shia against us since day 1. Not that a huge amount of incitement was needed for them to not want us there, but it hasn’t helped. We could have, IMV, have had things under control long since if we didn’t have Iran on one side supplying and supporting the Shia and al Qaeda on the other supplying and supporting the Sunnis. Our early plans didn’t account for that (and they *should* have) and we’re just now dealing with it.

    Homeland security is currently a joke, an embarrassing joke. I agree we need to step it WAY up in that department. But the border is going to stay open for political reasons no matter what. If I were a terrorist, I’d get my suitcase bomb and come on in. There’s no real effort to stop them. It’s slightly harder to come from the Canada side, although one of my cousins – who got a very nice mention from the 9/11 commission – worked for decades to keep terrorists from crossing that border when your average Joe had no idea it was even a threat.

    My biggest concern about leaving Iraq unfinished is that it emboldens both Iran and al Qaeda (who will have correctly predicted that we could be made to retreat, making bin Laden a prophet on top of everything else.) With a secure base, they will certainly turn their attention to our pathetic homeland security – Zawahiri was in a video last week saying so in no uncertain terms; that if aQ can just get Iraq under control, they can get back to the business of killing infidels in our territory again. I paraphrase, of course, but if you saw the video you know what I mean. The first 15 minutes of it are at Powerlineblog.com if you haven’t seen it yet; I’m pretty sure I originally saw it on Breitbart if you want the whole thing.

    I don’t especially like that we’re there, but I believe it’s more dangerous to bug out. And if we’re going to have to fight Iran directly – and I think we are, given their escalating behavior since 1979 – then I’d rather have troops and materiel staging from Iraq than anywhere else. How else can we deal with them? (Well, other than trying to topple Ahmedinajad, which the media oh-so-helpfully reported on…)

  4. The real hypocrites in this are not the senators who have come to realise the truth, which they should have known all along, that this war is unwinnable, but the senators and President who continue to claim that it is winnable despite abundant evidence to the contrary. While I don’t rate any politician’s motives, I respect those who change their preferred policy to something right far more than those who are consistent in supporting a wrong policy.

  5. I believe that the only truth these politicians are coming to realize is the poll number. They haven’t learned anything. On the one hand I’m glad to have them on my side, but on the other hand I really don’t like someone who changes their mind just to get re-elected.

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