Friday, January 20, 2006

Hitchens in Hindsight

I can’t believe I’ve somehow missed this choice pre-war quote from dipshit warhawk Christopher Hitchens (via the Editors):
But I think we know enough. What will happen will be this: The president will give an order, there will then occur in Iraq a show of military force like nothing probably the world has ever seen. It will be rapid and accurate and overwhelming enough to deal with an army or a country many times the size of Iraq. That will be greeted by the majority of Iraqi and Kurdish people as a moment of emancipation, which will be a pleasure to see, and then the hard work of the reconstitution of Iraqi society and the repayment of our debt - some part of our debt to them - can begin, and I say bring it on.
With hindsight as our guide, that quote doesn’t even need a remark.  But I’m not here just to attack that quote, but to make a point.  This was not a difference of opinion.  This was a difference of facts, a difference of reality.  Because few people who could adopt Hitchens’ fantasy version of reality would not be pro-war.  And unfortunately for him, he was so wrapped up into that fantasy world that he couldn’t even see the problem.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with his fantasy.  It could have happened that way.  But the point isn’t what could have happened, but on how sure we were that it would happen.  And there were lots of things that could happen.  Maybe things would go as perfect as Hitchens believed, or maybe they’d go as badly as they have, or maybe they could have been significantly worse. And that was a major sticking point for many anti-war people, like myself.  The risk factor.  Sure, things could have worked out perfectly, but life lessons should have told Hitchens that things rarely do work out perfectly; and that the surest way to screw things up is to assume that things won’t get screwed up.

And that’s one of the first aspects in considering the war option: the risks involved.  And it’s obvious that Hitchens supported this war because he saw absolutely no risks, or was willing to quickly dismiss them all.  But that changes the entire equation.  He had thoroughly dived headfirst into this war, to the point that all those who disagreed looked like fools and enemies.  And he had to dive in headfirst, because that was the only way that the war looked so good.  Had he considered the risks, he could never have supported the war as he did.  But again, this wasn’t a difference of opinion.  Hitchens made himself willfully ignorant of reality in order to support the war.

And just to make a point of this, there’s a reason why Hitchens and others believed as they did.  Because this was the only way people could support the war.  The Bush Admin’s marketing campaign could never honestly mention the risks, as the risk factor ruined the whole sales pitch.  And so they bullshitted Hitchens and the rest of the media with stories of cakewalks and roses.  And that’s how they convinced themselves too.  And because of that, they weren’t prepared for the risks.  Again, the surest way to screw things up is to assume that things won’t get screwed up; and that’s exactly what we did in Iraq.  We couldn’t plan for risky contingencies, as those contingencies undermined the very case for war.  The war was only a good idea if those risks didn’t exist, so the warhawks unexisted them.

Up To Our Neck

Here’s another instance of that alternate reality, in the same debate.  Hitchens is asked to comment about whether we can handle nation-building in Iraq, if we’re still “up to our neck” in Afghanistan.  A very valid point, which requires Hitchens to engage in reality, if he plans to properly deal with this.  But Hitchens can’t do that, as he has no reality in his plan; so he engages in simple rhetorical tricks, in order to turn things into a debate he’d rather have.  But even that debate was bad for him.

He starts by suggesting that things are going well enough in Afghanistan while lamenting that we can’t do more for Afghanistan, because they can’t pay for more; as if building an Afghan “autobahn” was our sole concern there.  He then leads us into all the advantages that Iraq has, and how they can pay for more; before tossing in a quickie insult before trying to change the subject:

So to say that you cannot help both Afghans and the Iraqis at the same time is to use them against each other in quite a shameful way, and also to avoid what we're really talking about, which is how likely is it that we can simply disengage from Iraq at this point?

Shameful indeed.  His argument is essentially that because the issue of Afghanistan is bad to his argument, that it’s unfair to mention.  He’s suggesting that we’re acting shamefully by using reality against him.  Hindsight has shown us that Hitchens was totally wrong about that, and that resources necessary in Afghanistan were pulled out for the unnecessary Iraq endeavor.  But again, he’s engaging in the same rhetorical trick that Bullmoose pulled a few days ago, by using an implied insult to force his opponent to avoid an argument that undermines his own case.  In essence, using a threatened insult to force their opponents from mentioning that blasted reality thing.  But if the Iraq war hurts our cause in Afghanistan, then that is a factor against the war in Iraq.  And that’s a point that Hitchens refuses to address and wants us to not mention either.  

And to throw in irony, he implies that this entire Afghan issue is an attempt by us to avoid “what we’re really talking about”; rather than him using the “what we’re really talking about” to avoid the issues of reality he wants to avoid.  But what he really wants to talk about is that it’s impossible to not invade Iraq.  He never backs up that point or explains what it is.  But he clearly believes it to be such an overwhelming point that it overrides all other problems.  And again, this is the sign of someone in an alternate universe.  He says at the end of this section that “The option of not doing this does not exist.”  But again, this is more Bullmoose territory, as he too thought that a few fancy phrases were an appropriate substitute for an actual argument.  To Hitchens, his mere assertion that we must help Iraq overrides everything, including all risks and infeasibilities.  It just had to be done.

But again, we’re not arguing from hindsight directly, but rather using hindsight to show that things could have been different.  Maybe Hitchens could have been right, and Iraq’s tremendous resources could have smoothed the nation-building.  But maybe not.  There are no assurances in life.  Not if you engage in reality.  But if reality gets in the way of what you want, it’s damn easy to start believing that your fantasies are real.

Dissolving the Doubts

And finally, I’ll give Mr. Hitchens the embarrassing last word:
What do I think is going to happen? I've been in London and Washington a lot lately and I can tell you that the spokesmen for Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush walk around with a look of extraordinary confidence on their faces as if they know something that when disclosed, will dissolve the doubts, the informational doubts at any rate, of people who wonder if there is enough evidence.
That’s right.  The spokesmen for Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush walked around with extraordinary confidence, as if they knew something…  And Hitchens completely fell for it.  He totally got bullshitted and was throwing that bullshit out during a debate, as if confident faces constitute some kind of evidence.  Even if they did know something, Hitchens got bullshitted; and hindsight has shown us that they knew nothing.  But the problem was that, without hindsight, the Hitchens wouldn’t believe anything we said.  Because we couldn’t prove that these “extraordinary” faces were bullshitting him, he didn’t have to prove anything.

Oh, what the hell.  I’ll give him his follow-up line too:

I know perfectly well that there are many people who would not be persuaded by this evidence even if was dumped on their own doorstep…

Of course.  He knows perfectly well that many people would not be persuaded by the evidence that he’s never seen; but only gleaned from the faces of spokesmen.  Those cynical bastards!  And this is someone we’re still bothering with?  

But again, the point isn’t that history has shown that he was wrong.  The point is that he was wrong from the start.  Not that his version of reality couldn’t have happened, but that he was wrong for assuming that there was no other reality; for assuming that the risks were negligible.  Even if hindsight had bore out his argument, he’d still have been wrong for believing what he did.  He had no evidence or proof or valid arguments; merely belief.  An overriding belief that we had no other options and that war opponents were stupid or evil.   But these attacks weren’t a difference of opinion.  They were from an entirely different universe.  And the only thing that could convince Hitchens of that is hindsight.

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