Dan Riehl devotes three posts to my thoughts and still can’t figure out what I wrote. He also said I write with a Thesaurus beside me. Judging by Mr. Riehl’s wild and crazy personal attacks, that must mean that Dan replies with a dictionary next to his keyboard, struggling to comprehend the meaning of words that any high school drop out in my day would have no trouble deciphering.
I’ll try and keep the syllables under 4 just for you Dan.
What all the hub bub boils down to is that many of you are saying that I am weak and cowardly because I changed my view on the war. In other words, I am not steadfast enough and that I don’t stick with “my principles” thus, making me wishy washy; a “sunshine patriot” as one wag was kind enough to put it.
This is a good criticism, an honest criticism. I have no problem with it. It is based on the excellent notion that standing by what we believe even when things get rocky is the essence of honesty and integrity.
But something happened on the road to Damascus and I changed my thinking. Allow me to explain.
When any of us form opinions – be it on Iraq or whether the Cubs are going to win the 2007 World Series – we base that opinion on an underlying set of assumptions. For instance, an assumption regarding the Cubs is that they haven’t won a World Series since forever and are perhaps the most doggedly jinxed baseball club in Christendom. Other assumptions would include the fact that the ownership rarely does anything right and that Wrigley Field and day baseball saddle the team with a disadvantage. Ergo, my opinion that they don’t have a Tinker’s chance in hell to win it all is based on solid assumptions, grounded in logic and a coherent view of the situation as it exists in baseball, in the National League, and in the eyes of history. The Cubs are toast and I’ll stick by that opinion come hell or high water.
Now suppose it’s late October and high water has arrived; the Cubbies are up in the World Series 3 games to none, needing only one win for the championship. I can still hold the opinion that they haven’t a ghost of a chance to win. But what has changed?
Some of the underlying assumptions are no longer valid, or obsolete, or simply false. Other assumptions remain rock solid. But in maintaining my opinion that there’s no way the Cubs can win, I have had to stretch logic, ignore some facts, concentrate on tangential issues such as perhaps an act of God will halt the Series now before the Cubs can win. In other words, I’m reaching to justify my opinion.
That’s where I found myself a year or so ago with regards to Iraq. Some of the underlying assumptions I had about the war changed. I believed for the longest time that the Administration and the Pentagon had a good idea of what was going on in Iraq and had a viable strategy to deal with the problems there. That assumption proved false. This became apparent when Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney would paint what was happening there in the rosiest of hues – so many schools built, so many clinics opened up, etc. Meanwhile, the insurgency grew, became more vicious, and al-Qaeda began to implement their strategy of pitting Shia against Sunni in order to foment civil war.
Anyone who was reading reports of what was going on in Iraq would more than likely do a double take listening to either one of those gentlemen. Are we talking about the same war? Those of us who have questioned what is happening in Iraq – most of the people that I’ve read anyway – were enormously troubled by this disconnect.
One by one, assumptions I had formed at the beginning of the war and occupation fell victim to changing realities in Iraq. This is not the same place it was 4 years ago nor is it even the same as it was a year ago. And if it has changed – if the facts, perceptions, and reality has changed, what did that do to the underlying justification for my opinions?
Once I began “reaching” to justify my opinions, I got very uncomfortable. The threads of logic became more tenuous the more I examined those pesky assumptions. I realized that many (not all) of my original assumptions were basically obsolete, done in by the cruel logic of domestic politics and a growing realization that the the US military could do everything that was asked of it and more and still come up short thanks to the balking politicians in Iraq, the twisted narrative of the war being spun by the left and the Democrats, Administration failures to implement a strategy that would win the war, and a growing belief that the country was sliding out of control.
So if you’re in my shoes, what do you do? Continue to defend a position you know is becoming untenable as a result of changing realities (and new information not available at the time you formed your original assumptions)? Or do you alter your assumptions and change your opinion?
It could very well be that abandoning long held opinions and beliefs about the war makes me a cowardly wretch. It all depends on how you look at it I suppose. But as I said, I still hold to some of those original assumptions; that Saddam was a potential threat, that the reasons for going into Iraq were basically sound (so much for my new found friends on the left, eh?), and that deposing the murderous tyrant was a good and moral thing to do. I don’t buy in to the left’s narrative regarding Iraq, finding it based on hysterical posturing and bilious phantasms (sorry Dan, couldn’t resist). And I also believe that Iraq is still a central front in the War on Terror (or whatever the Democrats are going to call it).
That said, this is one battle – a battle I sincerely believe we’ve botched as badly as Anzio or Tarawa, or any other blunder made during World War II - and what must be done now in my opinion is try our best to avoid disaster. There will be other battles and we will learn some hard and bitter lessons from this one.
That is, as long as we strive to be honest with ourselves. For me personally, this has meant questioning my beliefs when I thought the circumstances demanded it. If that means I’m “thinking too much” or seeing “too much nuance,” so be it. That is who I am. That is how I write.