Thursday, August 09, 2007

Holy Cow, I Was Wrong

Sunday's New York Times Magazine has a meditation by political scientist Michael Ignatieff about how a smart guy like himself managed to be so misguided in his support for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. It's attracted a lot of comment. Entitled "Getting Iraq Wrong," long stretches of it deal less with Iraq per se than with the various ways by which intelligent people can still make bad policy choices.

A lot of professors, pundits and policy makers were ensnared by the intellectual traps he describes, many of them having to do with ideology and emotionalism. Others who opposed the war fell into similar traps, just in a different part of the political spectrum.

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history. What they didn’t do was take wishes for reality. They didn’t suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn’t suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn’t suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little. They didn’t believe that because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo it had to be doing so in Iraq. They avoided all these mistakes.
Full article
In many respects, I'd include myself among those whom Ignatieff identifies as having displayed "good judgment." But there's an important difference. A lot of the people who showed good judgment actually spoke out, demonstrated, emailed their elected officials and wrote letters to the editor. Aside from grousing to a few colleagues and close friends, I didn't do a damn thing. I just let it happen.

It's not that I think my efforts would have made any difference. But not even to have tried -- that's some kind of sin.

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