Derbyshire recants

Though John Derbyshire, like myself, supported the invasion of Iraq and, also like me, opposed using that invasion as a springboard for democratic nation-building, he now renounces his original support for the invasion. He does so on an interesting basis: that he should have known that the invasion that he supported as an example-making punitive expedition would turn into something else:

So why am I eating crow? Because I think it was foolish of me to suppose that the administration would act with the punitive ruthlessness I hoped to see. The rubble-and-out approach was not one that this administration, or perhaps any administration in the present state of our culture, would be willing to pursue. The universalist dogmas that rule unchallenged in our media and educational institutions have fixed their grip on our foreign policy, too.

Speaking for myself, as I did not support the war for punitive reasons, but for sanitary ones—we had to make sure that Iraq had no WMDs—I cannot say absolutely that if I could go back in time I would not support the invasion. I am not at all persuaded that the WMDs—or the capacity to start the quick production of them—did not exist. I would have supported the toppling of Hussein followed by a quick withdrawal. If another dangerous regime came into power, well, as I’ve said, a three-week war once every three years would be a heck of a lot cheaper, both materially and spiritually, than an interminable occupation of a Muslim country.

Unfortunately, this is one of Derbyshire’s columns that, like the Long Parliament (and like our occupation of Iraq), goes on way too long for whatever good it may have achieved. It consists of 1837 words of meandering rumination, 57 of which are the word “I.” That means that “I” appears once every 32 words throughout the article. Though Derbyshire modestly refers to himself as a minor figure in the pundocracy, he uses the first person pronoun as freely as Norman Podhoretz.

(Whoops, there I go again, smearing a fellow conservative. In fact, this is what was once known as criticism.)

- end of initial entry -

An Indian living in the West writes:

At least he is honest and admits he was mistaken in supporting the invasion—which is a lot more than one could say about the rest of the NRO crowd.

LA replies:

I hate with every cell in my body getting involved again in this controversy, over which hundreds of thousands of kilobytes have been expended at this site in the past, but the same argument that held for me in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 still holds. Assuming that Iraq had expanding WMD capacities (which everyone assumed was true, which no one had any solid basis for rejecting, and which there is still much reason to believe was true, even though the Bush administration, being liberals, itself has given up the issue), and given the fact of Iraq’s many contacts and acts of cooperation with Al Qaeda, and given Iraq’s opaqueness, I don’t see what alternative we had other than destroying that regime and making sure there were no WMDs there. If someone has a better plan we could have followed that would have dealt with the realities I have just listed, I’d be happy to hear it.

And please note again the differences between Derbyshire and myself. He said today, and he has said all along, that his main reason for supporting the war was to “punish” Iraq and so set an example. I suppose that punishment aimed at deterring future troublesome behavior can be part of the reason for waging a major war and conquering a country, but it cannot be the main reason. The main reason must be some objective danger that that country poses to our country and that can only be stopped by means of war. In my view, it is because Derbyshire lacked such an objective, reasoned basis for supporting the war in the first place that he has now recanted his support.

Here is support for what I have just said. Derbyshire writes:

One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we’d just rubbled the place then left….
Then he quotes himself from a year-old article:

[M]y attitude to the war is really just punitive, and Iraq was a target of opportunity…. [Emphasis added.] When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity. Saddam Hussein had been scoffing for years at the very concept of international order, in the belief that we would never pass from words to deeds. I wanted to see that belief confounded, and I am pleased that it has been. If the civilized world is never willing to back up its agreements, resolutions, and communiqués with force, then those fine documents are all worthless and civilization is impotent against its enemies. I am very glad to know that we have not yet reached that sorry pass.

See? Derbyshire’s main emphasis is on making war to prove a point, not to remove an objective danger. As he says, the target of the war did not even have to be Iraq—it would have been any Arab country that served as a target of opportunity. In short, his main reason for supporting the war was an arguably frivolous reason.

And here is all he has to say about the WMD issue:

I’ve never been able to work up any guilt, either on my own behalf or the administration’s, about the WMD issue. So far as I am concerned, what did I know? Saddam’s behavior sure made it look as though he was hiding something nasty. As an ordinary citizen, getting my information from newspapers and the TV, I had every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true.

Thus he mentions that he believed the WMDs existed, but he pointedly neglects to say that his belief in them was his decisive reason, or even a secondary reason, for supporting the war. This is very strange. Clearly, the WMDs had to be part of his reason. But he never actually says that they were. So, in the absence of a clearly reasoned and objective basis on Derbyshire’s part for approving the initial invasion, it is no surprise that he now recants his support for it. Indeed, it’s a wonder that it has taken him this long to do so.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 13, 2006 04:14 PM | Send

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