We Don’t Need To Hear From Iraq War Hawks (II)
James Joyner tries to make the case for not dismissing Iraq war hawks in the current debate:
An argument’s strength doesn’t depend on who’s making it. Excluding people from the discourse who have gotten it wrong in the past diminishes, rather than increases, our collective understanding. Even if we presume there’s actually an objective process for identifying right and wrong in complex policy decisions where counterfactuals aren’t available to us, the fact is that anyone who has made a significant number of hard choices will invariably have gotten some wrong.
On one important point, Joyner is correct: the merit of an argument doesn’t depend on who makes it. However, it is appropriate to treat arguments with much greater skepticism when they closely resemble the very same kind of arguments that have been decisively discredited by events. The fact is that many of the same people keep making the same kind of bad arguments that they made a decade ago, because they have learned nothing over the last decade, and some of them evidently don’t think that they need to learn anything. There is also a major difference between someone who makes a bad decision and learns from it in important ways and those that remain perversely committed to the fantasy that they have been right all along. Everyone can make a serious mistake. Not everyone persists in willful, self-serving delusions that his terrible mistakes were actually great successes.
The reason to ignore unrepentant Iraq war hawks is not simply that got a “hard choice” very, very wrong, but that many of them are relying on the same shoddy reasoning, threat inflation, alarmism, and dishonesty that they used to sell the original invasion. Joyner reaches a similar conclusion at the end of his article:
But it’s their history of mendacity, not their bad judgments, that make them suspect as participants in the public debate.
It seems reasonable to hold both against them. The mendacity was a product of the extraordinary weakness of the case for war back then, and the decision to invade Iraq was arguably the worst judgment call on foreign policy that any administration has made in the last forty years. The magnitude of the blunder makes it different from most other cases of bad judgment, and the enormous costs of the war have to be weighed when considering what its leading supporters now have to say. The Iraq war hawks’ arguments today are just as lousy as they were then, but now more people are willing to say so and more are willing to reject the hawks’ recommendations. That is an entirely healthy and much-needed reaction, and one that has so far been much weaker than it should be.