Zack Beauchamp Digs Himself a Deeper Hole

This is a bizarre sort of rhetorical question:

Will everyone who said that liberal interventionists “lost all credibility” after the Iraq War, and hence should never be listened to again, renounce their own credibility after predicting Qaddafi would fall? I’m not holding my breath, but I really hope pundits will think twice about essentially calling for other writers to be shunned by all right-thinking people based on one data point. Let’s judge ideas on their merit, not the identity of the person propounding them.

Opponents of Libya did not claim that the French, British, and US militaries could not lend the Libyan rebels enough power to topple Gaddafi. On the contrary, this was never really the main thrust of our opposition to the war. Not even close. We opposed the war for many reasons, not the least of which are the lessons learned in Iraq after the relatively easy toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Remember, the worst in Iraq did not take place in the early days, during the invasion. The invasion and ouster of Hussein was the easy part. The real problems came once the power vacuum became apparent, when civil war and insurgency led to all sorts of things we never predicted.

The toppling of Gaddafi is the easy part. What we war critics worry about is the fallout of this action, the aftermath of our involvement with rebels who, by all accounts, we know very little about – who may have fought against our troops in Iraq. We’ve learned this lesson before – or should have, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Zack Beauchamp wants us to renounce our own credibility because Gaddafi fell. His missing of the point is either willful or purely obtuse. Either way, this is a shameful way to carry on a debate. It’s embarrassing for the Dish, especially given Andrew’s own criticism of Libyan intervention, not to mention his admirable turn-around during the Iraq conflict.

Iraq was a mistake, an epic blunder. By all means, let us judge each other based on the merit of our ideas. I could care less about Beauchamp’s identity if that’s what he’s worried about. His ideas are utter nonsense. I could care less about shunning anyone (who is calling for this anyways?) but we could build a bonfire of the fallacies Beauchamp is peddling.

Update.

Zack clarifies his point here. I tend to agree with his conclusion. While I think some ideas are indeed pernicious enough that we should denounce them thoroughly whenever they come up in polite society, I neither support shunning people or doing anything beyond arguing fiercely over said ideas. No censorship, no banning from polite society, etc. And preferably no premature Von Hoffman awards.

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40 thoughts on “Zack Beauchamp Digs Himself a Deeper Hole

  1. I don’t know about “shunning” either– never heard anyone mention it. But I would like to know– has any commentator, politician, or journalist anywhere suffered any negative consequences for misjudgment, and blatantly false statements, about what a fun thing it would be to invade Iraq?

    I really don’t think there is any such person.

    That, to me, reflects a deep failure in the incentives facing our political & commentary elites.

    Of course you’re correct that the fall of Qadaffi doesn’t, on its own, eliminate the possibility of a well-considered opposition to our actions in Libya. (I recall some folks pretended as much when the statue of Saddam fell in Baghdad).

    Now, Libya’s very different: this intervention had genuine international support, and responded to a real humanitarian crisis, not a crisis the US administration made up. But your point is well-taken– the fall of the dictator doesn’t resolve the debate forever.

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  2. Mmmm, well, his target seems to be people who insist that others have lost all credibility after getting one matter wrong. He does seem to imply that everyone who said that about liberal interventionists also predicted that Qaddafi would(n’t?) fall, but I have to think that that is just unclear writing, as it’s manifestly not true. I have to think that what he meant was, “Will everyone who said that liberal interventionists lost all credibility after the Iraq War, and hence should never be listened to again, and then went on to predict Qaddafi would not fall, renounce their own credibility?” But maybe he really does think that everyone who has that view of liberal interventionists went on to make that prediction. Not sure.

    I tend to think that neither liberal interventionists, nor even neocons, and certainly not those who simply predicted that Qaddafi would not be toppled pursuant to the initial approach taken by Nato here, have lost all credibility. The efficacy of their advocacy has rightly taken various levels of major hits in the various cases, but they haven’t lost all credibility – that is a strong claim, and, incidentally, that is the main point that I take Beauchamp to be making here, however messily. So I guess I’m with him on that.

    Sullivan took the rest of August off and turned the site over to his underlings rather than get guestbloggers. Maybe a bad call, but not a hijacking.

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    • If I recall, the people who were said to have lost all credibility weren’t said to have lost it simply for supporting the Iraq war at the start. They lost it for supporting the war, being convinced that it would go a certain way, and then arguing that more of the same would improve things when it was clear that the current direction was a really, really bad one. In other words, they lost credibility not because of one data point, but because of a plethora of them.

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      • Doubtlessly that was said too, but that that was said doesn’t show that liberal interventionists weren’t said to have lost all credibility just for being liberal interventionists – or more to the point that interventionism had simply lost credibility. And interventionism is just the doctrine of being potentially in favor of some given intervention when it is being weighed before the fact. It’s an entirely different thing to be hard-core mid-stream sunk-cost-fallacy denying hawk once things have gone upside down. You might be right that only those folks were said to have lost all credibility, but I’m not at all sure that you are.

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  3. “Zack Beauchamp wants us to renounce our own credibility because Gaddafi fell.”

    Seems pretty clear the point of his post is the exact opposite of this. It’s a thought that has crossed my mind as well, most frequently when reading Juan Cole, who has continued to defend the Libya action even after a sordid history of demanding the scalps of writers he disagreed with over Iraq.

    I opposed Libya and think it was shameful, whatever the results there. And I’m not usually one to scold a writer for expressing a little passion. But I think you’re having trouble articulating your thoughts clearly here and I think it’s because you’re too angry about this at the moment. Freddie has managed to make himself a tiny career on that kind of writing, but in my opinion you read a lot better when you’re more calm.

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      • As I read his post, he is reminding us of the more militant critics of the Iraq war, who demanded that right-thinking people excommunicate those who supported that action. He draws an equivalence by pointing out that many of these same critics denounced the Libya action as folly, and then asks rhetorically whether they too will now be excommunicated for being wrong. But as I understand the final line, this is clearly a rhetorical gesture. The implied answer is that no, these critics should not be excommunicated – just as supporters of Iraq should not have been. The ironic thrust is that a bit of self-examination on these critics’ part might reveal to them that it is inappropriate to try to ban public thinkers from the discourse merely for disagreement.

        I do take your narrower (or broader, depending on how you look at it I guess) point that in this case, most of these critics were not conditioning their opposition to Libya on the fate of the regime, but rather on its legality. (And this is where I stand as well.) But Beauchamp’s point and that one can both stand – many critics of Libya are more concerned about what is happening in our government than what is happening there, AND it is wrong to exile people with a lot of ideas just because once in awhile they have bad ones.

        I highlighted that particular line in your post because you seemed to be taking it at face value, when it seems clearly to be meant ironically from where I am sitting.

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        • As I read his post, he is reminding us of the more militant critics of the Iraq war, who demanded that right-thinking people excommunicate those who supported that action. He draws an equivalence by pointing out that many of these same critics denounced the Libya action as folly, and then asks rhetorically whether they too will now be excommunicated for being wrong.

          I have no idea how you are reading it this way. Why would he suddenly shift his position on the matter to defending Libya critics when he’s been attacking them since yesterday?

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          • He is not defending them on the substance of the Libya issue, he is defending their right to be wrong and still participate in public debate. Or rather, he is not so much defending them in this instance as illustrating a broader point, that one can be wrong without being a bastard.

            I think you are adding in a lot of context that’s not really there. I’ve been reading these updates pretty closely and I don’t really see Beauchamp pounding the Libya drum the same way you seem to. I could be wrong, obviously. But I can see how you might read this post (including a number of grammatical and word choice errors that are making it unnecessarily hard to decode) as more of an attack if you begin from the assumption that the writer is on the war path.

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            • He’s making critics of Libya equivalent to the brokers of war in Iraq. In other words, he’s saying that anyone who opposed Libya is *just as wrong* as anyone who thought we should invade Iraq.

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              • No. He’s not. He’s saying just because a person gets something wrong doesn’t mean they’ll always be wrong. And just because a policy was the wrong one in a given situation doesn’t mean it must be the wrong one in another.

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                  • HIs unstated answer to the rhetorical question, “Will [whoever] renounce their own credibility?” is, “No, and they shouldn’t. So let’s drop all these poses of finality with respect to these questions, whether of the credibility of interventionists, or the viability of interventionism, and try to keep an open mind, because Libya ought to tell us that interventionism is not, and shouldn’t be considered, a dead letter. Sometimes interventions will be justified and potentially successful.”

                    He’s clearly trying to prevent interventionism from being (in his view prematurely) buried. So right there he’s going to be in conflict with you. And yes, all yesterday he was shaking Tripoli in the faces of doubters of the Libya intervention and strict anti-interventionists alike. But here, you are right, he is drawing back to say that, while he thinks these events refute the doubters of the effort (something I agree is premature at best), he wants at least for those who would have dismissed interventionists from polite society and banished interventionism in toto from the suite of legitimate policy options as a result of the Iraq experience to at least reconsider on the basis of Tripoli (and again, I don’t disagree that these events compel no such recalibration, though I never made that particular move myself). Whether any of this is any more than simply straw men, I can’t even say. My gut tells me though, that there are strict anti-interventionists in the political constellation we inhabit, and that not all of them refrained from making such sweeping, final judgments about interventionism and (liberal) interventionists, so I don’t think he’s only twisting at windmills. It’s a dodge to say that those views don’t dominate policy; is that how we want to restrict what gets discussed – only reigning policy ideas are legitimate to criticize?

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          • He’s carving out the space in which he wants his criticism of Libya critics to be heard: he wants them to reconsider, but he would never suggest they be banished from polite society for having or even maintaining that view. He thinks it’s an overreaction to hold that the same should be the case for advocates of the Iraq war, and by extension, that it would also be an overreaction to conclude from Iraq that interventionism itself ought to be a dead letter, also banished from all right-thinking debate.

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            • Okay but give me a freaking break. Who is banishing it from right-thinking debate? Do you honestly think the non-interventionists have the upper hand here? Really? I mean, we didn’t stop Libya did we? This is insane. If that’s what he’s doing, he’s doing it as a back-handed way to spread bullshit about his opponents. Nobody is calling for shunning of anything. He’s creating a false equivalency under terms that don’t exist in the real world.

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              • No, that’s insane. He’s just addressing what positions are being taken by various speakers. He’s not saying noninterventionists are in charge.

                Erik, I think you yourself wrote that essentially interventionism should be written out of polite conversation on this blog only a day or so ago. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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                • I’ll correct myself: “Iraq should have wiped notions of nation building and regime change from polite society.” (“Tripoli and the hawks
                  by E.D. KAIN on AUGUST 21, 2011”)

                  I guess I’m just still figuring out all this all fits together.

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                    • Okay…? I don’t think I said you did, and I don’t think ZB said you did. (Did he use the word either?) I don’t think much depends on that word, really. His point is fairly clear now I think, and I feel like you’re just running from it at this point. Even if there are no examples of anyone doing exactly what he described, are we then agreeing that indeed they shouldn’t? So we can agree that taking interventionism completely off the table in response to Iraq is an overreaction? That would be good; it’s all I’m really trying to do, and I think it’s really most of what Beauchamp is trying to do too (though I’d agree his lack of clarity about his points has been unfortunate).

                      But do you really think the impulse he is describing in response to Iraq is totally fictional and therefore unfair to talk about?
                      You called for x-and-such to be “wiped… from polite society” in light of Iraq just this week. That’s really not just nothing. Yeah, all the precise verbiage does matter, and maybe people have got things wrong about what claims have been made and not made. If so, perhaps all this can just be worked by a careful examination of everyone’s record. (If so, though it would be in the context of an agreement that interventionism is not in some way a conclusively discredited doctrine in light of Iraq, even if it is certainly something about caution ought to be a new consensus.)

                      But what you’ve written here this week is the kind of thing he’s reacting to, I’m pretty sure it was more prevalent in the 2006-2008 years than it is today. I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable for him to raise it and interrogate it in something like the way he did here.

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              • I’ll group two responses together here.

                “He’s making critics of Libya equivalent to the brokers of war in Iraq. In other words, he’s saying that anyone who opposed Libya is *just as wrong* as anyone who thought we should invade Iraq.”

                Yes, that much I’ll grant you and I’ll also side with you in disagreeing with it. Clearly, the Libya issue is not resolved when the issue itself is a legal one, not a tactical one. So on that count Beauchamp is making a false equivalence, which is a huge pain in the ass and one of my least favorite fallacies. All I was trying to say is that he is *not* calling for the excommunication of Libya critics, which appeared to be your takeaway.

                “Okay but give me a freaking break. Who is banishing it from right-thinking debate? Do you honestly think the non-interventionists have the upper hand here? Really? I mean, we didn’t stop Libya did we? This is insane. If that’s what he’s doing, he’s doing it as a back-handed way to spread bullshit about his opponents. Nobody is calling for shunning of anything. He’s creating a false equivalency under terms that don’t exist in the real world.”

                I’m not sure how you could have lived through the aughts with a politically active mind and honestly not heard calls for this writer or that politician to be banished from polite society for supporting Iraq. I don’t have the energy or time to prove it to you, though. I’ll just say that there is a difference between the rhetoric that flies around these events, and the structural issues that make us more or less likely to go to war. The former is a lot more fungible than the latter.

                If no one is calling for shunning I again award you the point, but only on the condition that you include Beauchamp in ‘no one.’ He may be a little false equivalence machine but I don’t think he is asking us to shun you as you think he is.

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  4. Thanks for pointing this out. I saw it and had to chuckle.

    As you write, the test for Libya, as with Egypt, is five and ten years out, not six months in.

    Not to mention the remark is nonsensical. The merits of ideas are judged based on their empricial support. One data point may not prove anything. But that is all the more reason to remain cautious and humble in our proposals and analysis.

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  5. I don’t think any of these supporters of intervention in Libya were really upset before about Gadhafi — how is it Gadhafi went from reformed terrorist to Number One Bad Guy in a matter of weeks? I didn’t see any big movement over the last few years to do something about Gadhafi. This smells a lot like bombing aspirin factories.

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  6. “The real problems came once the power vacuum became apparent, when civil war and insurgency led to all sorts of things we never predicted.”

    Actually, most of those things were predicted, perhaps not super-specifically, but whole concept of ensuing chaos due to the power vacuum that would result in toppling Hussein most certainly was. Unfortunately, supporters of the Iraq War wouldn’t listen and instead attacked the patriotism of any who opposed them. A similar dynamic occurred in the build-up to the invasion of Afghanistan (which has also worked out quite well).

    I didn’t support our efforts in Libya, but I was pretty ambivalent about our involvement. This is the type of multilateral world police action that I can support in theory. However, the past decade of war fatigue just left me far too wary to get behind it. I definitely think Obama should have sought congressional approval after the 60-day period. The redefinition of “hostilities” rubs me the wrong way.

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