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January 16, 2007

Down The Rabbit Hole

I remember seeing this ad in the classifieds a few years back:

WANTED: Liberal hawk to write regular column for Los Angeles Times. Must be willing to say things that are 100% insane in attempt to redeem discredited political philosophy. Ability to do so without apparent sense of shame a +

As we now know, Jonathan Chait got the job. In his most recent column he disparages the idea that anyone who was right about Iraq should be listened to in the future. His particular whipping boy here is Jonathan Schell:

Being right about something is a fairly novel experience for Schell, and he's obviously enjoying it immensely. But before we genuflect to Schell's wisdom, it's worth recalling that his own record of prognostication is not exactly perfect...

Schell insisted [in 1990] that we could force Iraq to leave Kuwait with sanctions alone, rather than by using military force. But the years that followed that war made it clear just how impotent that tool was. Saddam Hussein endured more than a decade of sanctions rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent. If sanctions weren't enough to make him surrender his imaginary weapons, I think we can safely say they wouldn't have been enough to make him surrender a prized, oil-rich conquest.

Sure, the sanctions motivated Saddam to get rid of his real WMD. But did they force him to get rid of his imaginary WMD? Clearly not!

Likewise, perhaps sanctions and regional negotiations could have forced Saddam out of the real Kuwait in 1991. But what good would sanctions have been in getting Saddam to leave the imaginary Kuwait? No good at all!

Thus, sanctions were "impotent." QED.

BUT: Seriously, though, the people who run the United States are dangerously insane.

Posted at January 16, 2007 02:38 PM | TrackBack

This is just so wonderful -- how can these people write this stuff without turning into puffs of smoke??

Posted by: Aunt Deb at January 16, 2007 03:50 PM

I take it you didn't write to them to recommend Peter Beinart.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at January 16, 2007 03:52 PM

...rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent.

Insane, or totally wasted. Or in jest?

Did you email him asking for explanation?

Posted by: abb1 at January 16, 2007 04:31 PM

Even if he withdrew from the imaginary Kuwait, now that Kuwait would no longer be real Saddam still might have an imaginary troop buildup on the Saudi border and we'd have to invade anyway. I have definitive pictures proving this in the satellite dish of my mind.

Posted by: buermann at January 16, 2007 05:06 PM

I went to the original article to see if you had added "imaginary" and "nonexistent" to it... and there they were.

This shit makes my head hurt.

Posted by: Dayv at January 16, 2007 05:28 PM

How many imaginary weapons of mass destruction is one country allowed to have? For Bush it is none.


Posted by: SPIIDERWEBâ„¢ at January 16, 2007 07:23 PM

Ah, now I understand why we are still in Iraq - we got rid of the real Saddam, but the imaginary one is still running the place.

Posted by: Avedon at January 16, 2007 09:29 PM

This is not as stupid as it sounds. What Chait is trying to say is that in the face of harsh sanctions, Saddam continued to bluff about having a weapons program. If he was willing to accept the high price of sanctions just for the benefit of being able to misrepresent his hand, then it is likely he would have tolerated them for more substantive benefits.

Posted by: Justin at January 16, 2007 10:31 PM

You're right Justin. It's not as stupid as it sounds: it's hugely stupider than it sounds.

What Chait is trying to say is that he got some right, he got some wrong; win a few, lose a few... Schell got one right, some wrong. What's the difference?

The difference is that those who got the one that counts wrong will have the full weight of history against them. Chamberlain got many right. He got just one wrong. Chait got fewer right and the wrong one wrong.
And so he can spend the rest of his life squirming about the fact that he fumbled the big one and Schell didn't. Chait, not Schell, will have to answer this question from his grand children? "Grandpa, why did you and bin Laden kill the American Century?"

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at January 17, 2007 12:46 AM

What Chait is trying to say is that in the face of harsh sanctions, Saddam continued to bluff about having a weapons program....

In what way did Saddam continue to "bluff" about having a weapons program? I seem to recall that the Iraqi government cooperated with the weapons inspectors and consistently denied that they had any WMDs. Where's the bluff?

To justify the war on the basis that Saddam failed to give up his imaginary weapons is beyond stupid. It's a Bushism.

Posted by: Andrew Montin at January 17, 2007 03:35 AM

In what way did Saddam continue to "bluff" about having a weapons program? I seem to recall that the Iraqi government cooperated with the weapons inspectors and consistently denied that they had any WMDs.

He tried to bluff that he had WMD capabilities to front strength in the region. An Associated Press report (Aide: Saddam Did Get Rid of Iraq WMD, August 1, 2003) stated in part: "According to the aide, by the mid-1990s 'it was common knowledge among the leadership' that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued development of biological and nuclear weapons."

"A close aide to Saddam Hussein says the Iraqi dictator did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community and stave off a U.S. invasion.

"The strategy, which turned out to be a serious miscalculation, was designed to make the Iraqi dictator look strong in the eyes of the Arab world, while countries such as France and Russia were wary of joining an American-led attack. "

That is what Chait is referring to.

Posted by: Justin at January 17, 2007 07:57 AM

Follow up note: Not that it is important, but the bold was supposed to be for the entire three paragraph quote from the AP to make it stand out. There are three paragraphs quoted and only one bolded because I suck at comments.

Posted by: Justin at January 17, 2007 07:58 AM

Justin, I realize this is a common tale, but it's almost 100% incorrect. I'll explain in detail when I have a second.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 17, 2007 08:08 AM

You don't know whether to laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh. Really excellent commentary here.

Let's stop the happy horseshit about Saddam "bluffing" anyone: A simple High School grad like farang googled "UN Inspectors, Iraq sanctions, WMD's" in February of 1993, and came up with the UN IAEA declaration that 98% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. The other 2% were considered either destroyed but not verified, or never existed.

Simply put, anyone that watched the videos of Scott Ritter confronting and gaining access to any site he wanted to visit, and never told the Iraqi's where, or when he would show up, and can't tell a real American military man from a wanna-be CINC, then they are gigantic rubes. He quite clearly called the allegations false. Why the hell would he lie?

Saddam never "bluffed" he had weapons, because I recall him stating it quite clearly when he allowed the inspectors back in AGAIN AFTER the US had pulled them before ANOTHER ILLEGAL, Unsanctioned bombing attack by Clinton.

It was "imaginary", yes, I call it The Big Lie, and those that still cling to it? Wow. Demonstrates the power of propaganda for all of us to see, and remember.....

Posted by: farang at January 17, 2007 08:54 AM

Funny that, Bush bluffed and still is bluffing and as hard as it may be to believe, there are still a good number of people who aren't yet prepared to call him on his bluff. Chait's self-serving juggling with words is disconcerting.

Posted by: Quentin at January 17, 2007 11:45 AM

"Saddam Hussein endured more than a decade of sanctions rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent."

That is one of the craziest things I ever read. Thanks. I almost laughed as much at that as I did at Sascha Baron Cohen's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

Posted by: DBK at January 17, 2007 01:41 PM

The real historical tragedy is that the Iraqi War Resolution at one level did exactly what it said it was intended to do. I mean I know that Bush wanted to get his war on, I know that it was never about disarming Saddam, I know that any reasoning person who had followed the PNAC agenda and the Bush/Cheney method knew that Bush would use those powers to go to War. Which means that voting for it in the form it took without a clear demand to bring a Declaration of War back to Congress was a huge strategic constitutional mistake and an act of immense cowardice. I know all this and yet ...

On the surface the War Act was crafted to use the credible threat of military force to get Saddam to allow unfettered inspections. And against all expectation it worked. It turns out that Saddam's unwillingness to fully cooperate with earlier rounds of Inspections really was because he was a megalomaniac who wouldn't allow his Presidential Compounds to be searched, but when faced with a guy that wouldn't hesitate to drop the bomb caved. Madman looked at madman and surrendered.

If Bush had not been a sociopath with a side agenda of world conquest to create a New American Century, all of this could have been a huge triumph: Saddam proven to be disarmed, and all without a shot being fired.

We were one act of sanity away from getting a clean getaway. And I knew it wasn't going to happen. Winter 2002/2003 was a cold one, and it had nothing to do with the weather.

Posted by: Bruce Webb at January 17, 2007 05:30 PM

I like Chait's argument. I'll just go up to someone and demand they hand over the fifty bucks they stole from me. And when they tell me they didn't steal anything, I'll punch them in the nose for making me think they had. Eventually they'll hand over the money. Thanks Chait!

Posted by: Andrew Montin at January 17, 2007 08:16 PM

Just to be clear, I reject everything about Chait's analysis. I have been against invading Iraq since before it happened and not just because I didnt think they had WMDs, but primarily because I don't want our country to go down as the moral successor of the Nazis. I am just trying to point out that Chait is referring to Saddam's bluff as what he wouldnt give up for sanctions, not to a Kafkian argument. The AP report I cited seems to me a very definitive explanation.

Posted by: Justin at January 17, 2007 11:13 PM

The AP report I cited seems to me a very definitive explanation.

It's not, though, any more than all the 2002 AP stories about Saddam's terrifying WMD were a definitive explanation of what Iraq had. As I say, I'll explain more when I have a second.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 18, 2007 02:32 AM

This reminds me of Efraim Halevy's Jul 29, 2004, editorial in the Economist (for which you unfortunately need a subscription), in which he defends the intelligence agencies that concluded that Iraq had WMDs. In it he actually says that intelligence agencies "cannot be governed by the basic tenets of logic." He also goes on to say that, despite the fact that no WMD's were found, American and British intelligence were right to believe Hussein was building WMD's, because they had to take into account Hussein's three recent attempts to build WMD's. He goes on to explain that the third time was the WMD programme stopped by the 2003 American-British invasion. Truly bizarre circular logic.

Although, I do agree with Justin's analysis of what Chait is trying to say. Chait was horribly, catastrophically, wrong and stupid, but what he is trying to say here is not as bizarre as it seems.

Posted by: Momo Jeng at January 18, 2007 12:21 PM

Yes it is as bizarre as it sounds. Even accepting that Chait was referencing Hussein's imaginary bluff. Indeed, it gets worse.

The foundation of the imaginary bluff was that Saddam was claiming that he had no wmd's. Of course, everyone knew Saddam was a notorious liar. So his claim that he had no wmd's really mean that he did have them. By continuing to proclaim loudly that he didn't have them, he was really trying to deliberately bluff people into believing that he had them.

If you think about it long enough, the migraine doesn't go away, but drop by drop your will to live starts to fade.

This was par for the course for the bizarre and imaginary fantasies that right wingers used to justify first the lack of evidence of wmd's, and then later the lack of wmd's themselves.

Chait's clumsy quoting adds another level of migraine inducing irrationality to the whole thing.

The truth is that the only wmd's that Saddam had were in the minds of Bush fanatics.

Thus, the reality is that Saddam was invaded for failing to give up *other peoples* delusions.

Posted by: Den Valdron at January 18, 2007 09:14 PM

Someone with Russian grandparents put this in a book I read once:

Two business rivals meet in the Moscow train station. A says, "Where are you off to?" B says, "To Pinsk." A replies, "You say 'to Pinsk' so I will think you are going to Minsk. But I happen to know already you ARE going to Pinsk, you liar!"

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at January 19, 2007 07:12 AM