Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

An Unconvincing "Apology"

This NRO column by John Derbyshire has been getting quite a bit of attention. In short, Derbyshire is sorry that he ever advocated intervention in Iraq. In the juiciest passage he writes:

One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we’d just rubbled the place then left. As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away. Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs—that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.

What to make of this? For one, I have trouble understanding why destroying a regime and leaving would have really improved the U.S. position in the Middle East. The question that begs to be asked is what would emerge as Saddam’s successors? The most likely answer is, whoever had the best organization and the most guns. The best case scenario would have been another Lebanon or Sudan, the worst would have been a country wholly owned by Al-Qaeda or Iran.

But leaving this aside, if Derbyshire really thought that the United States was going to perform the equivalent of a drive-by shooting in Iraq, he must be extremely naive. What precedent is there for the United States destroying an enemy regime and then going home? I cannot think of a single instance of this. Indeed, I cannot think of a single example of ANY country doing so in the modern era. Either a military victory ends with concessions from an enemy regime, or, if that regime is destroyed, with occupation or outright conquest of the defeated nation. "You break it, you own it," appears to be as solid a principle as any in international affairs.

If Derbyshire wants to avoid taking the blame for how the war is going, that’s fine. But his attempt to do it while simultaneously hanging on to his credentials as a hawk--indeed, by seemingly out-hawking the administration--strikes me as disingenuous.

Discussions - 26 Comments

Yes, this "fair-weather friend" syndrome among some supposed conservatives is a little unnerving (e.g., when Buckley began to advocate legalizing drugs). It’s not like us to cut-and-run...this is odd.

Derb is a morbid defeatist.

But you’re wrong in suggesting that we can’t just move on a country, in strength, obliterate it’s ability to wage war, destroy it’s government and level it’s iconic structures.

Moreover, we’re dealing with 1,300 years of islam and jihad. We can’t wage war against a political creed that stretches from Senegal to Mindanao. But we can crush Arab supremacism, and we can surely crush any muslim country that looks to be acting on jihadist principles.

We’re in a quasi colonial war, whether we actually look at it that way or not. And in colonial wars, sometimes you have to launch "punitive expeditions."

Let me make a suggestion for instance, when we moved on Iraq, we should have also sent an armoured corps on a "grand tour" of Syria, moving north of Damascus, swinging south along the Bekaa, and then moving south of Damascus, and returning to Iraq. That armoured corps should have obliterated every vestige of Syria’s military pretensions. Every tank division, every rocket battery, every weapons dump, we should have destroyed it all. Every air force base should have been likewise destroyed. And as for the regime itself, kill them. That’s what we could have done, and we should have done.

We don’t have to stay EVERYWHERE, we could have easily tried to establish a consensual government in Iraq, after thoroughly obliterating the Iranian regime, and effectively throwing iran into a great power struggle. How easier our task in iraq would be, if the iranians were in the throes of a power struggle.

Derb is a bore, but don’t confine yourself to a strategic box. Just because we’ve rebuilt countries before, doesn’t mean that we need to rebuild them all. We didn’t rebuild the Philippines after WWII.

Having said that though, Derb, being clouded by a dark shadow around his mind, doesn’t see the desperate need for the West to defeat the guerilla mystique, as well as jihadists.

The obliteration of the mystique of invincibility that surrounds the guerilla is as important a war objective as any. We MUST win.

One reason we didn’t rebuild the Philippines is that we didn’t BREAK it, and as a third-world largely agricultural nation there really wasn’t a question of restoring a modern industrial capacity that had never been there.

Nobody restored Malaysia, if I recall, either.

I don’t object to "punitive expeditions" as such, but Iraq was always more than that. The Persian Gulf war was a classic "punitive expedition" that destroyed Saddam’s warmaking capacity without removing him from power. The Israeli airstrike in the 1980s against the reactor in Baghdad could be classified as a punitive expedition as well. But once you’ve committed to "regime change" you have to commit to playing under a different set of rules.

What precedent is there for the United States destroying an enemy regime and then going home? I cannot think of a single instance of this.

South Vietnam and Cambodia come to mind. To begin with, we certainly gave tacit approval of the toppling of the strongman Diem, littered the countryside with dead bodies, grew tired of it and then left the place for the Pol Pot and the Commies to take over.

Anon, I think the problem with all those strategies(?) is that the power vacuum left in our wake would be filled in by al-Qaedas, Pasdarans, Hezbollahs, etc. In order to truly end the threat we need to create a stable, mildly democratic countries that don’t want to kill us as a matter of principle.

This line from Derbyshire’s quasi-apology is worth noting:

"As an ordinary citizen, getting my information from newspapers and the TV, I had every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true."

Liberals and lefties (and I’m contrasting them from the Democrats, for the most part, here), and the partisan media that they produce, exhibited a range of skepticism regarding the claims of Iraq/Saddam’s possession of WMDs. I’m wondering how this fits with the idea promoted by just about every NLT blogger, that the MSM is liberally/lefty-biased. If they are, then how come (for starters) "The Derb" got the impression from the MSM that Iraq had WMDs?

Or was this an exceptional moment when the MSM was doing what the NLT bloggers would see as appropriate journalism, dutifully relaying talking points from the White House and whoever the White House referred them to?

Publius, the example of Vietnam and Cambodia are technically accurate, but the U.S. certainly didn’t set out to do that. I think John means that it’s never been U.S. policy to behave like Mongols.

On the other hand, I would argue that the North acted just that way after the Civil War. The South was on its knees for a century afterward...Northerners owned enormous tracts of land, and there was little effort to actually rebuild the South.

Publius, the example of Vietnam and Cambodia are technically accurate, but the U.S. certainly didn’t set out to do that. I think John means that it’s never been U.S. policy to behave like Mongols.


Derb’s initial position on Iraq is as foolhardy and stupid as his present apologetic stance is ridiculous. Still, we owe the people of South Vietnam an apology for hangin’ ’em out to dry the way we did (and didn’t do to South Korea). It was a gutless, shameful thing we did there.

As far as reconstructing the post-Civil War South goes, you make a good point, Dain. While the South had seceded and also fired the first shots, I think the later rebuilding efforts in post-war Japan and Germany showed we could have done much better even in the John Crow South. We would probably not be seeing the bitter politics of the race-card today had we done so, too.

Trollboy, are these the same "skeptical" leftists who think that the Nick Berg execution was a CIA psyops, that we really never went to the Moon, and that a large jet never really hit the Pentagon? My point? If you predict the same thing over and over you’ll be right some part of the time. In the case of WMD, if you believe that the government always lies, occasionally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye.

To say the least, I am underwhelmed by their powers of perception (and yours).

As I recall, the line from leftists in the months before the invasion wasn’t that there were no WMDs, but that as a sovereign state Iraq had every right to them. I heard Dennis Kucinich use pretty much those exact words on one of the Sunday morning talk shows.

Oooh . . . Dr. Moser . . . pulling the Kucinich card. That’s worst than Ted Kennedy.



To Dain - I think most liberals and "leftists" don’t believe the government "always lies". I think many of them believe President Bush and the Republicans that surround him intentionally mislead the American people occasionally and, therefore, aren’t too eager to just put their faith in him. We love big government. I would think if anyone would be nervous about the government always lying, it would be the libertarians. It’s who’s in power within the structure of the government that concerns the majority of liberals.



Yes, you’ll have the occasional crazy "skeptic" who thinks that the government killed JFK and that the Holocaust never happened, but I think there are just as many right-wingers who have some pretty odd conspiracy theories as well.



Anon - Exactly how do you crush supremacy? Are you talking about the government created out of supremacy or the ideology of supremacy itself?

I sadly agree with Dr. Moser: "What precedent is there for the United States destroying an enemy regime and then going home?"

There is none. But if we have to remain bound by precedent then the formula for frustrating the United States is Iraq. Namely: lie down and let them "conquer" you with ease...and then come back... Kind of like a little kid brother who annoys you... he annoys you to the point that you do something...then he immediately says that he gives up...then he goes back to doing it again. The analogy is lacking in some areas, but it isn’t that far off...like dealings with your kid brother the United States would rather be loved than feared...but by protracting things it ends up with annoyance and resentment rather than love or fear.

In some sense the arguments and rhetoric for going it alone and the right of the United States for unilateral action seemed to indicate a break with appeal to precedent or "solid principle in foreign affairs"...including the "you broke it you own it" mentallity. A rapid engagement of shock and awe directed first at Iraq then Iran and Syria...would probably have been more in keeping with the view that Peace can be achieved through violence or striking fear in the enemy.

In addition to this I am not sure your objection to the strike em’ hard and leave scenario holds as much water as you hope. You say: "The question that begs to be asked is what would emerge as Saddam’s successors? The most likely answer is, whoever had the best organization and the most guns": That is certainly true. It is true even now. for the time being that is the United States followed by our allies followed by the Iraqi government largely supported by truckloads of american equipement(that they will no doubt neglect in maintenance...) with a close second to the Iraqi government being groups like Blackwater USA and other security teams that provide security for convoys and allow business to countinue and in some cases flourish. But with the Iraqi government subsidizing gasoline....market forces act to create rogue groops of smugglers...the weakest ones are dispached easily...but those who can network the false documents, bribes, maintain security through force(guns) exct... are growing in a sort of Darwinian fashion...only the strongest survive...and therefore must always need to get stronger with each successfull business venture.(The same thing is happening on an even larger scale involving the opium trade in afghanistan.)

Aside from our concerns with terrorist in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, we have to wonder what will happen when the government policy of both nations has created very profitable avenues for guns and power...

In short I find the suggestion that power will accumulate to whoever has the most guns and organization a truism... a truism that countinues to opperate regardless of the mentality "you broke it, you own it" and regardless of american occupation raids and aid.

Mr. Moser - Kucinich actually said that Iraq had a "right to WMDs"? I would like to see a transcript for the show you are talking about. On Kucinich’s own site, he states (in the "Weapons and Non-Proliferation" section) that "We must demand that our nation and all nations persist towards worldwide elmination of all nuclear weapons." I’m not certain, but I don’t think that’s a new position for him on that issue.

As far as what liberals were doing, I think they were advising that some restraint be used and that consideration be given to the considerable number of dissenting establishment voices, coming from several authoritative places (not just Hans Blix), which put a serious shadow of doubt over the WMD claims being utilized for calls to invade. Additionally, some people didn’t forget what Colin Powell said in Cairo on Feb. 24, 2001 - less than 2 years before his now-infamous address to the UN - that:

"He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq..."

Not even "conventional power".

Mr. Couteil, this is taken from the transcript of the Feb. 23, 2003 edition of "Meet the Press":

REP. KUCINICH: If I may, there is no evidence that Iraq represents an imminent threat to the United States. There is plenty of evidence which suggests that if the United States attacks Iraq, that we will make this country less safe, not more safe. And if the mere non-compliance with U.N. resolutions is a cause for war, the U.N. is going to be very busy conducting war in other areas of the world. Furthermore, it must be stated, that if the possession of any weapons of mass destruction constitutes a case for war, that there are at least 12 nations that have or are trying to possession nuclear technology, 20 nations with biological weapons technology, 26 nations with chemical weapons technology, and about 17 nations with missile technology. So we have—we’re in a—we live in a world of uncertainty and danger. We must make sure we do not make it more dangerous with policies when we haven’t been able to make a credible case for war against Iraq.

Granted, this is not quite the same thing as saying that Saddam had a "right to WMDs." But it does suggest that, for Kucinich at least, the presence or absence of such weapons in Iraq was irrelevant.

Isaac & Matt - the whole issue is whether or not the Left was reasonable in resisting the invasion of Iraq. As I told Fung here, it was NOT reasonable to put up such a fuss. Hey, Osama Bin Laden doesn’t have much "conventional power" either, but it didn’t stop him from killed 3,000 people on our own soil, now did it? Did you really want to leave someone like Saddam in power in this political climate?

I have heard it advocated that the best sort of punitive action would be to nuke Tehran. I won’t name names, but let’s say it didn’t come from crazies . . .

My question was regarding Derbyshire’s admission that "As an ordinary citizen, getting (his) information from newspapers and the TV, (he) had every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true." and how that runs counter to liberal bias claims about the MSM.

Now, whether the liberals or lefties were saying that a) the WMD claims were highly questionable or even spurious or b) like Kucinich (I guess),also doubting the existence of such weapons in the first place but addiitonally questioning existence of WMDs as a basis for invasion, my question still remains:

If the MSM has such a liberal bias, why did Derbyshire, after being informed by the MSM, have "every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true"? Where was the liberal/left skepticism of WMD claims (be it the a-type or b-type) in the MSM reports? One would think that, if the MSM has the bias that is regularly being claimed here, that it might not be so easy for the "ordinary citizen, getting their information from newspapers and the TV" to think that there was "every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true" (emphasis mine) if such bias existed even half as much as is declared.

Whoa, Dain, what are you doing there in comment 18?? It looks to me like you are "wallowing" in the 9/11 fatality numbers! So, the Americans who were slaughtered on 9/11 are "just so many political chips to people like you...we’ve all encountered your type before." And remember, dain, as you said yourself, you don’t need to call me names (but I suspect you will).

Oh, John, one other thing - not even a half-hearted slap against Derbyshire for his open declaration of being "highly simpatico" with VDARE??? I didn’t expect much of anything good from Derbyshire, but that was worse than I expected.

Nope,trollboy, just pointing out that words are words and death is death. Not having "conventional power" is a rather meaningless phrase in the post-911 world. Everyone except liberals seem to understand that.

As for your silly question, the reason the MSM assumed Saddam had WMD is because 1) he had had them, and he had used them, 2) his "MO" did not suggest a leader who would easily relinquish such weapons, and 3) his resistance to the weapon’s inspectors suggested he had something to hide. Clinton assumed so, as did every other major world leader. Look at the history during 1998...

The MSM has pretensions of objectivity -- the world assumed he had WMD, and the media aren’t going to dance the "tinfoil hat polka" on such topics.

A much better would be...why would anyone have assumed that Saddam DIDN’T have WMD prior to our invasion? Because the weapon’s inspectors didn’t find any? Please remember that even THEY were complaining about access.

Mr. Moser - No, that certainly "is not quite the same thing as saying that Saddam had a ’right to WMDs’" or "every right to them." Nor was it "pretty much those exact words." In fact, it was substantively and significantly different. The point that Rep. Kucinich made seems clear enough. We shouldn’t jump into such an attack when there is not adequate evidence that there is a danger to the U.S. in the first place.

So I misremembered. Fine. It was three and a half years ago, so give me a break.

But whatever his exact words were, his statement suggests that Kucinich opposed an invasion of Iraq whether or not there were WMDs there. And I’m confident that Kucinich, and probably Mr. Couteil as well, would be denouncing the war to this day even if U.S. forces had discovered in Baghdad enough biological and chemical weapons to obliterate the known world. Thus it is disingenuous for people like Kucinich to go around today saying "Where were the WMDs?" when it never really mattered to him in the first place.

Some thought that we shouldn’t have fought the Japanese for they truly didn’t threaten the mainland United States and that we deserved to be attacked anyway because we hindered Japan’s quest for oil and resources.

Some also thought that the we should not have gotten involved in the European aspect of WWII for it truly did not involve an immediate threat to the United States.

Both beliefs, while seeming extreme today, were not that far out of mainstream just before and during WWII. You can even hear the echos of such thinking far beyond WWII in popular movies such as The Godfather.

Shifting gears ...

There is no proof that the Bush administration intentionally misled. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration was sincere in its arguments. To say otherwise is to deny reality, to deny fact and to rely solely on propaganda.

What is truly pathetic is that this assertion is still being peddled as truth when it was long ago discredited.

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