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October 31, 2006

David Letterman gets Iraq Wrong
Posted by Shadi Hamid

You got to respect David Letterman taking it to Bill O’Reilly on Friday night. The tense exchange was certainly fun to watch. But something that Letterman said - or didn’t say - made me feel really, really uncomfortable.

They were discussing the Iraq war. O’Reilly in his usual abrasive way asked Letterman “do you want the United States to win in Iraq?” To my surprise (and dismay), Letterman appeared totally unable to answer the question and paused, as if really having to ponder the options. O’Reilly then added that “it’s an easy question.” Letterman, in what may have seemed like a good response to daily Kossacks but in my mind was rather pathetic, replied “it’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

I’m all for nuance and embracing complexity since most things in life are not, in fact, black and white. But, come on! Do you want the US to win in Iraq? What answer could you possibly give but “yes.” Letterman’s response captures all that is wrong with the hard left’s approach to foreign policy. It’s reactionary, simple-minded and all too often descends into laughable self-parody. Moreover, if I was living in some Red State watching Letterman doing his best John Kerry impression, I would probably freak out and pull the lever for the Big Red (elephant).

Yes, I dislike O’Reilly just as much as the next liberal, but let’s not lose sense of what’s at stake here. The Iraq War is not about scoring points against conservatives – it’s about trying to do what's best for the Iraqi people who deserve and demand more than the spectacle of disaffected liberals using Iraq as an excuse for reactionary Buchanesque forays into foreign policy.

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Comments

We did win in iraq. It was a quick and glorious victory. The iraq army melted away and Saddam ran for it. As near as I can recall it was the most one-sided victory since the chinese invaded tibet. (Although the iraqi invasion of kuwait might come close in third place. And the most recent US invasion of panama would be in the running.)

Our current failure is our attempt to install a nonrepresentative puppet government in iraq. The elected iraq assembly doesn't have much control over government ministries (we mostly control them) and the recent partition question shows that it doesn't even count votes accurately. Why would any iraqi fight hard for it? Why would we hope to "win" that?

We won the war in iraq 3 years ago. We won every goal that we said we wanted and that we actually attempted. The only one we've failed at is democracy for iraq, and that's one we haven't attempted.

I think Letterman was probably worried that Mr. "No-spin" was setting a trap for him, probably along the lines of:

"Do you want the US to win in Iraq?"
"Well, of course, but-"
"Then you have to agree with (blah-blah-blah)
"But that doesn't make any sense-"
"I thought you wanted the US to win, Dave?"


I don't know what it would mean for the U.S. to 'win' in Iraq, but I don't believe there is anything to win there that would be worth the cost.

you must read the above url

also, I wish more on the left actually believed this statement...

The Iraq War is not about scoring points against conservatives – it’s about trying to do what's best for the Iraqi people who deserve and demand more than the spectacle of disaffected liberals using Iraq as an excuse for reactionary Buchanesque forays into foreign policy.

...because so far the war has been the best rallying cry for the dems in a decade. Some of our colleagues in Washington who shall remain nameless will admit, after a few Chimays at St. Ex, that they have and always have hoped that the war in Iraq fails and that we fail.

I think the trick is to respond yes but with an immediate follow-up.

"Yes, I'd like to win. Would you like for X?"

Substitute X for an issue of choice.
"To win in Afghanistan?" (yes)
"To keep losing scores of American soldiers each month?" (no)
"To reduce terrorist recruitment?" (yes)
"To make common cause with Iraqi Sunnis against Al Qaeda?" (yes)
"To make America safer?" (yes)

That sort of thing. Obviously the proper question depends on your analysis. This gets to North's point. The question is a trap. But it can be countered.

Reynolds,

You say: "Some of our colleagues in Washington who shall remain nameless will admit, after a few Chimays at St. Ex, that they have and always have hoped that the war in Iraq fails and that w"e fail."

When you push them on this, how do they justify such sentiments which clearly go against everything liberals have ever stood for since FDR? It's dissapointing. It really is.

It is hard to be victorious when we do not know what victory is. To me, when we went into this war, the goal was simple. Remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq of any Weapons of mass destruction that they may or may not have. We have done that, and it seems that our goal now (to establish a benevolent Western Democracy, is somewhat like the goal of having all the Iraq Children hold hands and sing in brotherly love. Given the amount of anger towards us in Iraq, even if that goal is possible, it is probably even less likely to happen if while we are there.

Bush has promised that we will be there until at least January 2009 when he leaves office. At that point we will have lost at least 5,000 men and women in Iraq. Nearly twice as of what was lost in the World Trade Center.

Lao Tzu (an ancient Chinese philosopher) once said:
A Great Nation is like a great man.
When he makes a mistake he realizes it.
Having realized it he admits it.
Having admitted it he corrects it.
He considers those that point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.
He considers his enemy the shadow he himself casts.

Are we simply there because we can not admit that we made a mistake?

I agree with North. O'Reilly's question is just a rhetorical gambit, not a meaningful question

I might as well ask you, "Do you want me to achieve my dream of playing center for the Celtics?"

Given that I am 35, 6'3", overweight, and never played ball in high school or college, what could a "yes" answer to that question possibly mean, other than "I agree that you should engage in some plainly futile and more-or-less self-destructive course of conduct with that ostensible goal in mind"?

That said, Shadi is right that the parry to that gambit must start with the word "Yes."

The real point O'Reilly was trying to get across was missed by Letterman and most people who have commented on the interchange.

O'Reilly continually repeated that our going into Iraq was the result of honest mistakes in that Bush didn't have accurate intelligence information on WMD's. This is, of course, a complete falsehood as has been demonstrated by at least a dozen books by insiders by now.

Cheney and Rumsfeld lied about WMD's. They lied about the reasons for invading and they are still lying. The O'Reilly's of the world are laying the foundation for the big lie of history that the motives were noble, it was just bad implementation; and this was because of weak-kneed "Liberals".

It may have been brave of Letterman to face O'Reilly, a professional spinmeister, but it wasn't a real contest. That's why O'Reilly and the rest of them never face anyone informed and well spoken.

Let me comment on alkali's point that (1) North was right that the question was a trap, but (2) I don't agree that the answer had to start with the word "Yes." It is said that the Japanese have a way of being able to say "no" without saying the word. Similarly, David was right to say (more or less) "that depends by what YOU mean by 'win', and if by 'win' you mean stay there for another decade, losing 100 soldiers a month while the Iraqi government flails around uselessly, the answer is I want to change the game to something I CAN win." He didn't have time to say all that, but he was right to lambast that horse's ass O'Reilly.

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