Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Incompetence or just the wrong decision (paca)

I spend the large majority of my political blog reading nowadays at self-professed moderate blogs. Charging RINO, The Moderate Voice, Donklephant, The Debate Link, etc. I just sort of fell that way, and the discussions are often more enlightening than on a partisan blog where someone says, "Bush bad," and all the commentors echo "Bush so bad," "Bush really bad," and the like. One recurring pattern lately that I have noticed on these blogs is the theme that such and such a policy would have been good except that the current administration bungled it. The Iraq war might have worked if there had been less incompetence on Bush' part.

This idea has become quite popular, and there is good reason for it since there is plenty of evidence of incompetence. However, it can also be a very shallow analysis as well and one that lets the writer off the hook by dumping all the problems on someone else, namely Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, instead of really deciding if the initial idea was in fact a good one at all. Maybe the problem with the Iraq war wasn't only that poor decisions were made, or that no decisions were made when they needed to be, in the handling of post-war Iraq. Let's say that with the current bungling that we now have a 20% chance of success, whatever success may be. But if we hadn't bungled, what were the chances? 40%? 60%? 80%? It's not clear. And I think this is the problem with the idea of pre-emptive war. We humans, no matter how competent, are really not that good at making these decisions.

Of course, one can't always sit back waiting to know the answers. You have to act in the face of human frailty and silliness. There is some risk in letting a known enemy stay. Do we know what will happen when the enemy is taken out? Moreover, is the death of thousands of that enemy's civilians worth it, when you don't know, and cannot know, the outcome?

I do not know the answers to my own questions. I will say that the only time I think the "spreading democracy with armies" idea in Iraq was a good one was when an Iraqi tells me it was. However, I think it is important to keep this larger picture in mind whenever we reflect upon the Iraq war and its progress. It isn't enough to just get disgusted at arrogance and error and let it stop there. You also have to think about what things would have been like without the bungling, and, moreover, what the right thing to do is regardless.

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