Justification vs. Purpose

Steven Den Beste’s latest piece, Can I, May I, takes Kevin Drum (and the Left in general) to task over the “QUAGMIRE!” meme:

Appearance and reality. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a fallacy to assume that they are the same thing. The difference between them has become a major factor in politics and diplomacy during the last 3 years.

Sometimes appearances do ultimately matter more. If your enemies can control the perception of your success so that it is widely viewed as a failure, that can have severe consequences. Hence the incessant drumbeat of quagmire! quagmire! quagmire! played by those who want us to lose this war, or who have other reasons for wanting it to look as if we are losing this war.

In April, shortly after the simultaneous uprisings of Sunnis based in Falluja and of some Shiites led by al Sadr, Kevin Drum wrote a
triumphant post:

War supporters are forever complaining that things are going great in Iraq and the only reason we don’t know about it is because of media bias. You know, that nasty SCLM wants us to lose in Iraq.

So here’s my question: it’s pretty clear that things have, in fact, gone to hell. We may eventually clean up Fallujah, arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, end the riots in Sadr City, and retake Najaf. But even if we do, it’s pretty obvious that Iraq is close to meltdown, we don’t have enough troops to keep order, and media reporting about all this has been perfectly accurate.

So how about it, guys (and you know who you are)? Are you going to step up to the plate and admit that the media has been pretty much right all along and things really do look pretty bleak? Or are you going to continue to complain that reporters are just ignoring all the good news about school openings and electric grid repair?

I am no regular reader of Kevin’s site, so I have no idea whether, in light of later events, he in his own turn “stepped up to the plate” and admitted that Iraq wasn’t actually all that close to meltdown.

Because it doesn’t matter. In the short term, the reality in Iraq didn’t actually matter; what mattered was how it was perceived elsewhere, especially by voters in the US. Contrariwise, in the long run, the perception didn’t matter; the reality of what was happening in Iraq can not ultimately be denied.

Unfortunately, the “long run” is made up of a lot of “short runs”. On July 13, Kevin no longer seems to be talking about meltdowns, but was still referring to the invasion of Iraq as “a mistake“. Why? Because he’s making another form/substance mistake, and confusing justification with purpose.

Leaving aside questions of 20:20 hindsight (it was not at all clear in March that the inspections had proved anything), and of historical revisionism (the US did not give UNSCOM detailed info about where to look, because UNSCOM leaked like a sieve), his basic point is irrelevant even if he is right about it:

The fact is that by March 2003 we didn’t have to rely on CIA estimates or on the estimates of any other intelligence agency. We had been on the ground in Iraq for months and there was nothing there. There was nothing there and we knew it.

Did the CIA screw up? Probably. Did it matter? No. George Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 not because he was convinced Iraq had WMD, but because he was becoming scared that Iraq didn’t have WMD and that further inspections would prove it beyond any doubt. Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush’s worldview, and he wasn’t about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war.

Whatever faults the CIA has, let’s not blame them for the war in Iraq. We all know exactly whose mistake it was.

WMDs were never the real purpose of the invasion. WMDs were the focus of the spotlight, however, because of serious diplomatic efforts to gain UNSC approval for an invasion. Within the context of the UNSC, the only way to justify an invasion was to claim that Iraq had not fully cooperated with UN inspectors. Which, despite what Kevin would like to pretend, Saddam’s government had not, even as late as March 2003.

But the public justification made in the UN had nothing to do with the real purpose, the real strategic goal which required the invasion. Kevin makes casual reference to that, when he says, Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush’s worldview, and he wasn’t about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war.

Except that “facts on the ground” did not interfere or contradict the real purpose, which was to depose a corrupt dictator and to “nation build” so as to make one core Arab nation a better place for the people living there. By so doing, the goal was to infect the imaginations and aspirations of the citizens in other nations in the region, to “destabilize” the corrupt dictatorships in charge and to try to bring about long term change to the whole region. And that could not be publicly proclaimed at the time without deeply imperiling the strategy for the overall war.

Steven has much more to say on this, and it’s well worth your time, but this piece specifically reminded me of another cartoon I ran across this morning that says it all, perfectly:

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