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Monday, October 23, 2006

Jonah Goldberg: Iraq's a Mistake We Should Continue Making

National Review writer and syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg might have written what would be the most truthful, insightful, and concise column of his career -- had he just stopped after the third sentence.

There's a strict taboo in the column-writing business against recycling ideas. So let me start with something fresh.

The Iraq war was a mistake.

At this point, rightwingers gain brownie points for just stating the obvious. Expect his next column to suggest the very slight possibility that the religious right is a pack of nutbars or that it's time to stop denying a heliocentric solar system and admit that Galileo may have been right.

Unfortunately, the column doesn't end after the third sentence. Having established that Iraq is a hole, Goldberg ignores Donald Rumsfeld's advice regarding holes (which, to be fair, Rummie also ignores) and suggests we dig there.

In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides: pro-war and anti-war. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war.

Boy, would I ever disagree with that. There are plenty of people who voted for this war who've never voted against using military force. John McCain comes to mind. There are people in Washington who believe the answer to any given problem is military. I'm waiting for someone to suggest that the solution to global warming is sending marines out to shoot at the sky.

But the truth is that Goldberg's intentionally misreading the debate -- it's pro-this-war and anti-this-war. In fact, he admits as much in his second point, saying, "Second, anti-war types aren't really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever it was that President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn't to war per se; it's to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush's or Israel's or ExxonMobil's interests). I must confess, one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the anti-war side."

Sure makes it a lot easier to complain about the 'shabbiness' of an argument when you've pretty much made it up yourself, doesn't it? That's the value of the straw man. Here's a fun game; find me one person who says that the US should only fight wars that aren't in our interest. I'm not expecting anyone to come back from that scavenger hunt with anything.

You kind of get the idea that Goldberg was stuck for a topic and whipped off the column to beat his deadline . For example, he writes, "The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue."

Excuse me? The issue that proves that a policy of preemptive war is bad idea is a 'side issue'? It's the lack of WMD that throws the entire Bush foreign policy -- such as it is -- into doubt and has seriously diminished US credibility in the world. Spinning the failure to find WMD would require another piece, so Goldberg just dismisses it out of hand.

Want to learn the first rule of spotting a bad argument? Look for proclamations. Goldberg never really explains why the lack of WMD is a 'side issue', he just says it is and that's that. He proclaims WMD unimportant and we're supposed to shut up, nod, and say, "Yup, yup, yup..."

At this point, Goldberg's arguing that what was once a bad idea has turned into a good idea.

According to the goofy parameters of the current debate, I'm now supposed to call for withdrawing from Iraq. If it was a mistake to go in, we should get out, some argue. But this is unpersuasive. A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn't rush to pull the knife out. We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there.

Let me run that bunch of logically impossible spew past you again, "We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong."

Not only doesn't that make any sense at all, but it's unbecoming of a member of a species that's evolved to reasoning. To put it another way, "People are dying in Iraq for reasons that are as justified as they are wrong." If the parameters of the current debate are goofy, as Goldberg puts it, then he's striving mightily to make them goofier.

But this was the passage that compelled me to write this post:

Those who say it's not the central front in the War on Terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it's the central front. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it's also strong reason for seeing things through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.

What, is he high? Drunk? We've got a genocide in Sudan and a new Taliban rising in Somalia -- while threatening to spread throughout northeast Africa -- and the WMD/Terrorism snipe hunt in Iraq is the big project?

Iraq is not the 'central front on the war on terror.' Not by a long shot. We have bigger issues elsewhere that we're not coming close to addressing. I've pointed to northeast Africa. Afghanistan's also going south. Not only isn't our biggest problem Iraq, our biggest problems aren't even in the middle east.

Goldberg ends his piece by calling for an Iraqi vote for continued US presence. Polling shows they'd kick us out in a heartbeat, but there's no way that vote would ever happen -- luckily for him. Like the US constitution, the constitution of Iraq has no provision for a national referendum. There's no way that such a referendum would be legal. Hell, there's no legal way you can even hold the vote.

His closing paragraph:

Finishing the job is better than leaving a mess. And if we can finish the job, the war won't be remembered as a mistake.

This leaves us with the question, "what the hell is 'the job'?" Regime change? Done. Hunt for WMD? Done before it began. We've won -- for what it's worth. We can stay there until the sun burns out and it'll never turn into a good idea or a justified war. We've screwed up Iraq and, by extension, the middle east in ways we may not be able to fix.

Where we stand now, it's absolutely clear that the antiwar argument was correct. Everything that was predicted has happened -- it's a quagmire, it's a distraction, it's a waste of time, resources, and -- most importantly -- life.

Iraq is a mistake, on that much Goldberg and I agree. Where we disagree is where we go from here. Goldberg basically says it's a mistake we should continue to make.

I say that's insane.


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