Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Christopher Hitchens takes a turn at an alternate history of the Iraq war:
Let us start with President Bush's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam's deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that? Here's what should have happened. The other member states of the United Nations should have said: Mr. President, in principle you are correct. The list of flouted U.N. resolutions is disgracefully long. Law has been broken, genocide has been committed, other member-states have been invaded, and our own weapons inspectors insulted and coerced and cheated. Let us all collectively decide how to move long-suffering Iraq into the post-Saddam era. We shall need to consider how much to set aside to rebuild the Iraqi economy, how to sponsor free elections, how to recuperate the devastated areas of the marshes and Kurdistan, how to try the war criminals, and how many multinational forces to ready for this task. In the meantime—this is of special importance—all governments will make it unmistakably plain to Saddam Hussein that he can count on nobody to save him. All Iraqi diplomats outside the country, and all officers and officials within it, will receive the single message that it is time for them to switch sides or face the consequences. Then, when we are ready, we shall issue a unanimous ultimatum backed by the threat of overwhelming force. We call on all democratic forces in all countries to prepare to lend a hand to the Iraqi people and assist them in recovering from more than three decades of fascism and war.

Not a huge amount to ask, when you think about it. But what did the president get instead? The threat of unilateral veto from Paris, Moscow, and Beijing. Private assurances to Saddam Hussein from members of the U.N. Security Council. Pharisaic fatuities from the United Nations' secretary-general, who had never had a single problem wheeling and dealing with Baghdad. The refusal to reappoint Rolf Ekeus—the only serious man in the U.N. inspectorate—to the job of invigilation. A tirade of opprobrium, accusing Bush of everything from an oil grab to a vendetta on behalf of his father to a secret subordination to a Jewish cabal. Platforms set up in major cities so that crowds could be harangued by hardened supporters of Milosevic and Saddam, some of them paid out of the oil-for-food bordello.

Well, if everyone else is allowed to rewind the tape and replay it, so can I. We could have been living in a different world, and so could the people of Iraq, and I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.

Hitchens is not the only one who rewinds and replays the last three years. A few days ago, Gerard Baker posted this piece that proposes an alternate history of Iraq where Saddam was permitted to stay in power by the international community. He makes this important point at the end:
The war in Iraq goes on, three years later, to the unfolding judgment of history. But that judgment should encompass not just the consequences of what was done but the consequences of what might have happened had it not been done.

The consequences of what was done in Iraq are easy to see and hard to look at. The consequences of what might have been are by their nature unrecordable. But we know that history’s greatest tragedies could and should have been avoided, but never were.
The consequences of what might have been are indeed unrecordable. The thing about prevention is that...it prevents really bad things from happening. In a post from last year, I argued the following about prevention:
...but by the very act of preventing such a thing from occurring you can never then prove that it might have occurred in the first place.

Critics can then claim that the countermeasure/preventive action was not really necessary to begin with. The same is true of selection techniques--or in fact, of almost any preventive measure in any area. If you are successful, the event you fear will not happen. So, were you wrong to try to prevent it?

Likewise, because the plots listed above were successfully prevented from happening, many people --especially those that hate Bush etc. to begin with--will argue that nothing of significance occurred and will attempt to blow it all off.

This is worse than foolish thinking. This is stupid and dangerous thinking. If you take any of the above Al Qaeda plots to their logical conclusion, they would have resulted in serious death and mayhem. By the logic of the critics of prevention, since nothing happened, there is no evidence you were successful.

The sarcastic "critics of prevention", by the way, become the pontificating "critics in hindsight" that blast away without mercy when there is a "failure of imagination"; or for "not connecting the dots"; or because "not enough planning in advance" when something terrible occurs.

Would they have preferred another attack here like 9/11? I would guess that it really matters little--either way, they can still blame Bush for what happens; or sneer at him when it doesn't.

Thus you have the infallible logic of the critc of prevention, and the ready-made fall guy in whoever is courageous enough to try to prevent something terrible from happening.

The infallible logic is this: since the terrible event was prevented from occurring, what possible evidence exists that it would have taken place? Hence you can only "prove" that prevention would have worked if you don't use it.

The ready-made fall guy is created by the infallible logic. If the terrible even occurs and was preventable, and you did nothing--YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR ALLOWING IT TO HAPPEN. If you prevent the terrible thing from occurring, but you cannot prove that it would have occurred if you hadn't prevented it--THEN YOU LIED, PEOPLE DIED FOR NOTHING, ETC ETC.. In short, you will be damned if you do prevent the terrible thing from happening; and damned if you don't.

That is why the ability to rewind and replay the past in our thoughts is such a valuable exercise. It matters what people said and what they did or did not do. Putting events in perspective requires that kind of analysis, and so, Hitchens and Baker provide a real service to anyone who needs a dispassionate and rational evaluation of present events without resorting to the mass hysteria and selective amnesia that so characterizes the MSM, the Democrats, and the antiwar fanatics.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds gets a big hug and lots of love from the left--sort of similar to what I've been the recipient of lately from the intellectually stimulating and warmly compassionate and understanding trolls running around on this blog. He takes them down nicely.

Meanwhile, SC&A have more on the progressives of the left, their loving ways, and why they hate mirrors.

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