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August 30, 2007

Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Hmmm... is it a paradox for me to suggest (immodestly) that you click on over to and check me out telling avowed neocon journalist (and once and future Iraq embed) Eli Lake that the difference between neo-cons and my brand of Democrat is modesty?  Maybe so.  But I just did it. 

Actually, it's worth listening to Eli's version of what went wrong with Iraq... not saying you're gonna like it, not saying you should like it, but it's interesting.


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Thank you for your reference to bloggingheads. Believe it or not, I have never been to that site before and it appears to be very well done. I am looking forward to listening to more content.

I thought Eli's comments on Iraq were both interesting and somewhat surprising. What I found interesting was the detachment Eli seemed to have for any responsibility, as a proponent for the Iraq invasion, for what a disaster Iraq has become. (Come on Eli, you were just so close to declaring it a debacle outright.) Eli attributed the failure in Iraq to indecisiveness on the part of the Bush administration and a failure of leadership by Bush specifically. By responsibility for Iraq, I really mean stepping back and perhaps admitting, "Maybe I misread the tea leaves on this issue of Iraq and things turned out vastly worse than I had forseen. Maybe invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do after all." As with other conservatives who wanted to invade, it was the right thing to do but done badly because of others. The fact that we have destabilized the entire region with precious little benefit seems to go by unmentioned.

What I found to be surprising is a little more complicated. I think Eli is very well informed and knowledgeable about the middle east situation and the interplay between special interest groups both within and outside government. I'm sure, in his professional capacity, he has a well developed web of contacts. Part of what surprises me is (1) Eli believed that Saddam was a threat to the US. He never elaborated on the specific reasons why, but he seemed comfortable with that assertion. (2) I believe Eli felt that an invasion of Iraq could be successful in spite of cultural differences both within Iraq itself and in the surrounding area to include Turkey, Syria and Iran. Little credit was given to accepting that perhaps a strong dictator in Iraq might be just what is needed to keep the region and the country stabilized. (3) Eli is upset that regional countries like Iran would "meddle" in the Iraq situation at all. From such a well informed person ( and I am not being sarcastic here) wouldn't circumstances such as this be obvious? Wouldn't it be a given that surrounding countries to Iraq would respond to a change in circumstance in their own self interest? Once a power vacuum was created in Iraq neighboring countries will try to exert influence. It just seems that when you look at the pros and cons of the invasion it should have been clearer to knowledgeable people such as Eli that Iraq really wasn't an urgent situation that merited an invasion.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear his views.

"What's the difference between a neocon and a "Kosovo Democrat"?"

Nothing. Neither would busy themselves with actually serving their nation by putting on the uniform. Rather, they believe regardless of the policy goals that "those people" on the other side of our martial division of labor will make it mission accomplished.

If "modesty" is the wedge between an Iraq "hawk" or a Kosovo "hawk," I might suggest that someone in the military might find little humility in the larger hubristic vice.

Previous generations might have ginned up Victorian notions such as "cowardice" or "shamelessness" to define this shared vice. Today, we just chalk it up, as was famously voiced in this forum, a "division of labor."

I agree with "soldier". (seriously)

Heather's brand of "Democratic modesty" is to tout the wonderful Roosevelt/Truman/Kennedy/Clinton (scratch Johnson!) legacies of effective "national security" over the neocon's irresponsible "militarism". As soldier suggests, tell me again the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or the difference between Vietnam and Iraq.

The Dems, she writes, have to learn to understand "national security" and how to speak to the Pentagon in respectable terms because, it is thought, we need an active military to survive as a nation. Invade responsibly! Keep the peace by making war!

They argue about how to justify it (modestly or brazenly?) and write wonderful speeches about it (war), but none of them has ever strapped it on and humped it.

This whole idea that modesty is the distinguishing characteristic of Truman Democrats is something Peter Beinart began promoting fairly recently with his book The Good Fight, and many Beinart-style Democrats have latched on to this. I hadn't noticed any particularly pronounced strain of modesty in Beinart before, particularly back in 2004 when he was lecturing Democrats on how they should purge the lefty pacifistic "softs" from the party, and embrace the new crusade against Islamo-whateverism. The proximate cause of the new modesty from Beinart and Co. was their being forced to eat crow following the bad results of the war. If their fortunes are reversed, I think you can expect the modesty to disappear back into the groundhog burrow from whence it emerged to sniff around for a brief time.

First off, I note a distressing lack of concern over the phosgene samples found in the UNMOVIC offices in New York this week. CNN reports the samples were taken from a chemical weapons manufactury in Iraq in 1996, four years after the Operation Desert Storm armistice specifically forbade such plants to exist on Iraqi soil.

So Saddam did indeed possess WMD 11 years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. And there are no records of the destruction of either that WMD plant or tons of existing WMD left over in 1991. Saddam's government, which as Hans Blix noted in one of his UN Security Council reports was very good at keeping records on virtually everything going on in Iraq, somehow couldn't get it together to either quit making poison gas or provide documentary proof that it had gotten rid of the stuff we (stupidly) left in Saddam's hands in 1991.

Does anyone really believe Saddam did not have WMD stockpiles prior to the current invasion?

If so, in the light of the above evidence, extensively reported in both the media and the records of the UN Security Council, how does one justify such a belief?

Does one merely assert that after the invasion, no massive stockpiles of Iraqi WMD were found? Even in the light of satellite photos of extra-large numbers of semi-trailer rigs moving from Iraq to Syria in the final weeks before the invasion?

If so, then I'd suggest such believers steer clear of any career path involving investigation of criminal behavior based upon reasonable supposition of culpability as defined by past performance.

Mark Dorroh, Richmond VA

PS - Many of us are modest because we have much to be modest about.

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