Monday, December 3, 2007

Alternative History

Counterfactuals are never evidence. You cannot "prove" something by imagining something that did not happen. But, counterfactuals are a form of analysis, which add dimension to history.

History only happens one way, but without some counterfactual context, an historical narrative loses all sense of contingency and choice.

The Right uses patriotic identification with national policy and historical narratives that hide choice and incompetence behind a narrative inevitability.

I object to the line of argument put forth by Tristero of Hullabaloo and Matthew Yglesias, which emphasizes that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was doomed from the start, and therefore, it is unnecessary to consider the role of incompetent execution in making the situtation in Iraq worse. I don't dispute that invading Iraq was a moral error (a war crime, in fact), as well as a practical error. I just think that the misjudgments and corruption was of a piece throughout America's adventure in Iraq, and the fact that American policy was catastrophically bad in both conception and execution -- that the policymaking as well as the policy were catastrophically bad -- is an important point. It is an important point, because the long list of Bush failures and errors and waste forms an argument, which can be accepted from a broad array of points of view.

A political storm is a moment, when large numbers of people realize that a policy is very, very bad, and turn away. They don't shed their diversity of worldviews in the process. So, the moral narrative has to be broad in scope, to rally a large majority to a consensus view, encompassing both a diversity of worldviews and a common realization. Lots of people are going to go on believing that invading Iraq could have worked -- there's a broad range of worldviews that embrace the potential necessity or efficacy of military aggression, and trying to disabuse people of such fundamental prejudices is futile. (And, besides, in some circumstances, they are right.) But, no one can honestly support a policy, which is advocated with lies and executed with rank incompetence and corrupt intent. And, for this realization to reach people, you need, not a compact argument alone, but a supporting catalog of abuse.

Today's revelation that Bush et alia have lied about the threat posed by Iran and muffed diplomatic opportunities leads Kevin Drum to produce such a catalog:

FWIW, this is one of the reasons I've never quite bought into Matt's "incompetence dodge" idea that success in Iraq was never possible. Sure, we couldn't have sent 500,000 troops, but we could have sent 250,000. And we could have made serious postwar reconstruction plans. And we could have stopped the looting before it spiraled out of control. And we could have reconstituted the Iraqi army and limited de-Baathification to only the highest echelon of Saddam-era officials, as the administration unanimously agreed to do until Cheney and Rumsfeld unilaterally overturned the decision. And now we can add to that one more thing: in the aftermath of our lightning victory in Iraq, Iran really was feeling some pressure and was willing to talk to us about halting their bomb program — and possibly cooperating in other areas as well. If you take all the stuff above, and add to it the possibility that the Iranians might have been — maybe grudgingly, maybe unreliably, but still — willing to use their influence to help us out with Iraqi players like Hakim and al-Sadr, who knows? Iraq might not have turned into a triumph, but there's a good chance it would have gone a helluva lot better than it has.

But like Matt says, the Bushies couldn't take yes for an answer. So we are where we are.

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