President Bush is launching a new offensive to convince the people of the necessity of staying in Iraq. His new propaganda offensive tries to draw a lesson from history that argues in favor of this policy.
Specifically, Bush’s argument goes as follows:
We stayed in South Korea, and South Korea became a model democracy, producing a thriving society that became the envy of Asia. We withdrew from Vietnam, and Vietnam (at least for a while) became a nation of boat people, re-education camps, and killing fields. Therefore, staying in Iraq means that it will become a thriving democracy that is the envy of the Arab world, while withdrawing will mean slaughter.
Here is what is wrong with this type of reasoning.
Two evenings ago, I did not exercise before going to bed, and two nights ago there was no rain. Last evening, I did exercise before going to bed. Last night we had a rather spectacular thunderstorm. Therefore, not exercising this evening means that there will be no rain, whereas if I exercise we will have a spectacular thunderstorm.
Another possible explanation for these same events can go as follows:
The South Koreans had a culture that was amenable to establishing a peaceful state; therefore, there was more reason to stay than to leave. The Vietnamese had a culture that was not amenable to establishing a peaceful state, so it was better to leave than to stay.
The mark of a good theory is that you can apply it to a large number of cases and get similar results. If we apply this model to World War II, we see that Germany and Japan were internally coherent societies. As a result, they were capable of forming peaceful states, and remaining was a reasonable option. China, on the other hand, was not capable of creating a peaceful state, at least until one side won and drove the losers onto the island of Taiwan, and sufficiently drove out, re-educated, or slaughtered the dissenters that remained.
In deciding what to do in Iraq, perhaps we should look at the possibility that the Iraqis are capable of producing a peaceful state. Intranational peace would be a good sign that staying would be fruitful, while intranational conflict means that staying would simply prolong the agony.
In Vietnam, once one side won the war, and was able to sufficiently drive out, re-educate, or slaughter the losers, they were able to establish a peaceful state, and we have the country we see now.
In Iraq, it may well be the case that if one side was allowed to win, and to drive out, re-educate, or slaughter the losers, that Iraq could establish a peaceful state. Indeed, this seems to be the way that the nation is going, with millions of people having already fleeing the country
In South Korea, we did not pacify the whole country. Instead, the country was divided, with those who supported one faction moving to one side of the border, and those who supported a different faction moving to the other side. The resulting successes or failures did not depend on how much social harmony the nation had, but on the rationality of their institutions. I suspect that both sides thought, “We will have X years of peace, during which our wisdom will shine through to make us wealthier and more powerful than you can imagine, at which time we will finish this job and unify the country.”
On this measure, it appears that the South Koreans were more right than the North Koreans – though this social harmony that brings prosperity does seem to require a reluctance to go to war. Wars, after all, are quite wasteful of the wealth that one has built.
One of the implications that we can draw from this is that if we are able to identify an internally coherent and peaceful section of Iraq, separate it from the rest, call it its own country, and keep insurgents out (with the cooperation of the otherwise peaceful citizens of that region), there may be some hope of success. For example, creating a Kurdish state and defending it, while remaining Iraqis maim and kill each other, might result in an economically prosperous section of Iraq that would become the envy of the Arab world.
Nobody should read the above section and come to the conclusion that I have, with any certainty, identified the truth of these historic trends. I have, at best, offered a hypothesis. It is not my intent to suggest that I know the natural laws of history and can predict the future of Iraq from them. It is only my intention to show that there are reasonable options that belie Bush’s claim. Once again, he is proving that he has not done his homework..
Which is, actually, no less than we should expect from somebody who is as arrogant, ntellectually lazy, deceptive, and manipulative personality as Bush is.
Also, please recall that I am not a member of the ‘bring the troops home now at all costs and with total disregard to the consequences’ fan club. Nor am I a fan of ‘stay and fight’.
I am a fan of the ‘ask the experts who have spent their lives studying the middle east and can afford to focus their attention on these issues from sunup to sundown, and who respect the power of reason over faith,’ plan. Of which, I am not an expert.
Nor am I a fan of, ‘Whoever gives me an argument that supports a conclusion that I like shall be judged reasonable, and whoever gives an argument that conflicts with a conclusion that I like shall be judged unreasonable,” way of thinking. That way of thinking gets people killed. Indeed, we ended up in this mess in Iraq precisely because our President was so foolish that he embraced the doctrine of, “Evidence that can be interpreted as supporting my desire to go to war shall be judged sound, and evidence that conflicts with my desire to go to war shall be judged the product of traitors or incompetents.”
I condemn Bush and the members of his administration for their intellectual recklessness. I see this ‘argument from history’ to be yet another example where the Administration seems not to have thought out the implications of their own claims. This is only one set of a huge galaxy of moral failings that characterize this administration.
However, it is not a rare failing. Many of those who criticize Bush are hypocrites, who exhibit exactly the same characteristics they condemn. So, I am concerned that they would apply those characteristics here, and I do not want to contribute to the results. Thus, the long list of disclaimers.
Still, one thing that I do not disclaim, is that Bush is an arrogant idiot who is even too stupid to realize just how stupid he is. He continues to put weight in weak arguments whenever those arguments support the conclusions that he wants to believe in. He continues to exercise his religious training of accepting conclusions on faith, and judging the merits of arguments on their ability to support what he beliefs for no good reason.
When somebody in his position engages in this type of intellectual recklessness, good people die. That is what we have seen in Iraq, and what I suspect we will continue to see under this Administration.