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Cherrypicking Weber

| 90 Comments

It's just so damn much fun to read Yglesias again - I'd dropped him from my blogroll, but people I read (Crooked Timber, in this case) keep linking to things he says and I just can't help myself; his posts are a kind of intellectual pinata; a gift that just keeps giving.

In this case he cites Max Weber's 'Politics As A Vocation' - an essay Schaar drilled us on relentlessly one class - and cherrypicks a cite that he claims justifies his moral certitude about the war:

You may demonstrate to a convinced syndicalist, believing in an ethic of ultimate ends, that his action will result in increasing the opportunities of reaction, in increasing the oppression of his class, and obstructing its ascent--and you will not make the slightest impression upon him. If an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor's eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God's will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil. However a man who believes in an ethic of responsibility takes account of precisely the average deficiencies of people; as Fichte has correctly said, he does not even have the right to presuppose their goodness and perfection. He does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say: these results are ascribed to my action. The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels 'responsible' only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quenched: for example, the flame of protesting against the injustice of the social order. To rekindle the flame ever anew is the purpose of his quite irrational deeds, judged in view of their possible success. They are acts that can and shall have only exemplary value.

Yglesias goes on:

And that's what this is all ultimately about -- an effort to evade responsibility by suggesting that what's really at issue here is a controversy over ends. The hawks must have felt Saddam's evil more intensely, must have been more moved by Kenan Makiya's pleas, been more attuned to the gulag, whatever. But no. Everyone knows and everyone knew that Saddam was a bad man. What some also knew was that invading Iraq was unlikely to have beneficial consequences.

The problem with history is, of course, that you never know in advance how it's going to come out. Yglesias has decided the outcome of the Iraq War, and wrapped sure in his opinion, he rejects it.

Weber actually talks about just that kind of stance in - of all things, 'Politics As A Vocation':

Let us consider examples. Rarely will you find that a man whose love turns from one woman to another feels no need to legitimate this before himself by saying: she was not worthy of my love, or, she has disappointed me, or whatever other like 'reasons' exist. This is an attitude that, with a profound lack of chivalry, adds a fancied 'legitimacy' to the plain fact that he no longer loves her and that the woman has to bear it. By virtue of this 'legitimation,' the man claims a right for himself and besides causing the misfortune seeks to put her in the wrong. The successful amatory competitor proceeds exactly in the same way: namely, the opponent must be less worthy, otherwise he would not have lost out. It is no different, of course, if after a victorious war the victor in undignified self-righteousness claims, 'I have won because I was right.' Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, 'I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause.' And likewise with the defeated in war. Instead of searching like old women for the 'guilty one' after the war--in a situation in which the structure of society produced the war--everyone with a manly and controlled attitude would tell the enemy, 'We lost the war. You have won it. That is now all over. Now let us discuss what conclusions must be drawn according to the objective interests that came into play and what is the main thing in view of the responsibility towards the future which above all burdens the victor.' Anything else is undignified and will become a boomerang. A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honor has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness. Every new document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified lamentations, the hatred and scorn, instead of allowing the war at its end to be buried, at least morally. This is possible only through objectivity and chivalry and above all only through dignity. But never is it possible through an 'ethic,' which in truth signifies a lack of dignity on both sides. Instead of being concerned about what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned about politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all. And it overlooks the unavoidable falsification of the whole problem, through very material interests: namely, the victor's interest in the greatest possible moral and material gain; the hopes of the defeated to trade in advantages through confessions of guilt. If anything is 'vulgar,' then, this is, and it is the result of this fashion of exploiting 'ethics' as a means of 'being in the right.'

[emphasis added - apologies for the long cite, but was important to put the quote in full context]

Weber's essay is in part about the deep uncertainties that confront the political actor when attempting to take action-in-the-world. He talks about uncertainty in war here (in the freaking two paragraphs immediately after the one that Matt cites):

But even herewith the problem is not yet exhausted. No ethics in the world can dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of 'good' ends is bound to the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morally dubious means or at least dangerous ones--and facing the possibility or even the probability of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent the ethically good purpose 'justifies' the ethically dangerous means and ramifications.

The decisive means for politics is violence. You may see the extent of the tension between means and ends, when viewed ethically, from the following: as is generally known, even during the war the revolutionary socialists Zimmerwald faction) professed a principle that one might strikingly formulate: 'If we face the choice either of some more years of war and then revolution, or peace now and no revolution, we choose-- some more years of war!' Upon the further question: 'What can this revolution bring about?' Every scientifically trained socialist would have had the answer: One cannot speak of a transition to an economy that in our sense could be called socialist; a bourgeois economy will re-emerge, merely stripped of the feudal elements and the dynastic vestiges. For this very modest result, they are willing to face 'some more years of war.' One may well say that even with a very robust socialist conviction one might reject a purpose that demands such means. With Bolshevism and Spartanism, and, in general, with any kind of revolutionary socialism, it is precisely the same thing. It is of course utterly ridiculous if the power politicians of the old regime are morally denounced for their use of the same means, however justified the rejection of their aims may be.

What a pile of horse patootey Yglesias has served up to us. The issue isn't as Yglesias suggests that one side was 'right' and one 'wrong' - in an exam that hasn't yet been graded by reality. The issue is that to act politically is to take risks and accept moral hazard. Yglesias and the 'purity' crowd somehow feel that wrong-through-inaction is morally superior - a topic we'll return to in the coming week.

But there's a pony in there - some very good points we all should take away from Weber's great essay:

Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was 'not of this world' and yet they worked and sill work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the 'cool approbation' of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls.

If one says 'the future of socialism' or 'international peace,' instead of native city or 'fatherland' (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the 'salvation of the soul.' If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. The sentence: 'The devil is old; grow old to understand him!' does not refer to age in terms of chronological years. I have never permitted myself to lose out in a discussion through a reference to a date registered on a birth certificate; but the mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly.

[emphasis added, again]

And Weber's conclusion is one that any political actor should take to heart:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth --that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.

So thanks, Matt, for getting us to read it again. Can I gently suggest that you go read it again, with an open eye - one that isn't looking for cites to cherrypick? The reality is that what Weber would have said is that the decision to go to war - or not - is one fraught with moral cost for those who would consider it seriously, and that keeping a morally pure heart and also doing good politics are not typically something that can be done. Weber, meet Hoderer. Yglesias, meet reality.

edited for clarity

90 Comments

From my standpoint, Yglesias brought up one perfectly apt quote which skewers the self-righteousness exhibited by many here at WoC, among other places.

However, rather than take the passage to heart, AL throws Weber quotes up on the wall, Pollock-style, in an effort to prove that Yglesias is treating the Iraq War like a woman he's no longer in love with. Or maybe that Yglesias has collapsed psychologically from fighting the war. Or something. Mostly AL seems intent on proving that he's the real intellectual in the room, goddamit, and no young Harvard whipper-snapper's gonna show otherwise.

Look, AL, here's the thing - you never know how history will turn out, but you can often make a pretty good guess. Yglesias did, you didn't, and you've admitted how bad it's gotten. If Iraq magically turns around, then yes, you can stick give Yglesias the finger and endlessly say "told you so!" Until then, however, that's his privilege, insofar as you find this kind of one upsmanship important. Which you apparently do, because we've seen way more posts from you trashing Matt Yglesias lately than we've seen discussing the Iraq war.

Seriously, man, do you actually believe in anything anymore? Or is this all you've got left - a rear-guard action to trash liberals and Democrats and prove, as Weber suggests, that they were never worthy of your love to begin with?

So how does the latter passage make Yglesias' point (I believe it's about how some armchair warriors still believe that the ongoing calamity that is the Iraqi War was justified because Saddam was really bad) wrong?

Following up, would you like to specify an outcome in Iraq that you would regard as justifying the war. Taking what looks like a pretty optimistic scenario, suppose that the various Sunni, Shia and Kurd groups establish effective control over the areas that they occupy now, violence falls back to, say, 2005 levels, and US troops are mostly withdrawn by 2009. Would you regard such an outcome as proving Yglesias wrong?

Nothing that can happen in the future will change the fact that that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, tens of thousands of American and allied troops have been killed or wounded, millions of people have become internal and external refugees, and half a trillion dollars that could have been used to do good has been spent on war.

_Chris said:
From my standpoint. . . Weber quotes. . . magically. . .guard. . . Democrats._

I agree with Chris. There's nothing wrong with cherry picking and selective quoting to prove a point.

If Iraq magically turns around, then yes, you can stick give Yglesias the finger and endlessly say "told you so!"

We are indisputably winning in Iraq. We were never in a position to lose there, even at our worst moments. Even the anti-war press now admits that things have improved greatly there.

Invading Iraq had 'no beneficial consequences'?

No beneficial consequences for who, exactly? For the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who will not be liquidated by Saddam Hussein and his two psychotic sons, because they were removed from power?

No beneficial consequences for the the UN, which has been nearly destroyed by the corrupt Oil-For-Food program?

No benefit from not having to stage thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia to protect them from invasion?

No benefit from not having our pilots shot at every single day when conducting overflights?

Yglesias has been completely wrong, all along.

#3 John Q:
bq."...and half a trillion dollars that could have been used to do good has been spent on war."
Isn't that the point of all the Weber quoting? You don't get to say the half trillion would definitely have been used to do good. Or even more good. In fact, the responsible politician would, according to the Weber essay, refuse to engage in the very political assignation of guilt that you and the commentors prior to you are attempting.
bq. "Instead of being concerned about what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned about politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all." - Excerpted from the Weber essay
So the proper use of the politician's captial, then, would be to figure out to get from an unhappy and disadvantageous present to a more advantageous future. Comparing a rosy and sterile alternate 2003-7 to the actual 2003-7 is a non-starter.

Didn't mean to jump on you, John Q, particularly. All comments could apply to any of the first 3 comments. Point is the same. No amount of finger pointing can change where we are.

Matt argues that good intentions do not excuse the Iraq war because political actors are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their decisions. AL responds
(between gratuitous Weber quotes) that since violence is inevitable in politics and its consequences are often unforeseeable, political actors should not be condemned on moral grounds when a war goes wrong.

AL's response (miserably) fails for three reasons. First, Matt doesn't condemn the Iraq war as a "morally bad cause" lacking a "morally pure heart"; on the contrary, he condemns it as a well-intentioned enterprise with bad consequences. Second, AL ignores the fact that the consequences of the Iraq war were not only bad, but foreseeably bad -- which is the essence of a violation of the ethics of responsibility. Third, if AL is saying (through Weber's essay, which of course was written by a German patriot right after WWI) that we shouldn't judge past wars at all but just accept the outcome and move on, this is no response to Matt because the Iraq war's supporters are not accepting the consequences and moving on. Rather, they insist on prolonging the war despite the fact that it is obviously a huge mistake.

If it was all so foreseeable, why didn't Yglesias foresee it? The truth is, he was pro-war when that was fashionable, and now he's antiwar when that is fashionable.

As wars go, this one hasn't been all that bad, and we're sufficiently on the path to winning it that the Dems are already shifting to economic issues. By next year, Yglesias will have changed his line again. Sure, Bush won in Iraq, but that was never the question. The real question is universal health coverage!

Uncertainty and ambiguity are hard. It's much more pleasant to have absolute certainty in the rightness of one's cause (even retrospectively). It's far from certain what the consequences of our leaving Iraq before it's a lot more secure and stable than it might be. However, I think it's all but certain that, if we left tomorrow, we'd surrender any ability that we might have on influencing the outcome or mitigating those consequences.

We no longer have the alternative of not invading Iraq. That is in the past and, while debating the justification and worth of the invasion might be entertaining (or politically advantageous), it is ultimately moot. There's plenty of blame to throw around, although I seem to be the only one blaming the Senate.

IMO what we should be discussing is how to achieve the best possible outcomes for the Iraqis and for ourselves. I, some of the people who post and comment here, and all of the first-tier candidates seeking the presidency believe that will require the U. S. leaving troops in some numbers in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

I know that not everybody believes that but it honestly baffles me on how those who don't can support those candidates that manifestly do, simply because of the color of the jerseys they wear.

Chris, your comment only makes sense if Weber's essay has no meaning that can be plainly read from what he wrote. Since it does have such a meeting, it makes very little sense to back Yglesias up for choosing a "perfectly apt quote" completely out of context. Philosophy isn't fridge magnets.

Steve, do me a favor and have a cup of tea, read the essay itself, and take half an hour to think about what it says and come back to us.

John, for grins - rather than speculating about the future of Iraq (which is a good question, and I'll think about and respond to in the next day or so) - can you let me know what you think Weber has to say about it?

AF - simply put two points. 1) We don't yet know the consequences of the Iraq war. 2) The point at issue is what Max Weber says about moral hazard; Matt claims one thing - that Weber's key point is that (as you aptly put it) "a well-intentioned enterprise with bad consequences. Second, AL ignores the fact that the consequences of the Iraq war were not only bad, but foreseeably bad -- which is the essence of a violation of the ethics of responsibility." I say Weber says something completely different - that action in politics is fraught with moral hazard, uncertainty, and risk, and that those who attempt to judge political action either from the point of view of pure values or retroactively are false judges (because you can't act politically with certainty or pure values), and that their judgment is damaging to political reconcialiation and progress.

A.L.

What's funny is the quote here:

bq Yglesias and the 'purity' crowd somehow feel that wrong-through-inaction is morally superior - a topic we'll return to in the coming week.

Somehow I read this and I couldn't help but think of Freewill by Rush.

bq "If you choose not to decide, You still have made a choice"

Needless to say, in agreeing with Freewill, I don't find ay inherent moral superiority in inaction. You are responsible for the consequences of the decisions you make - including the decision to bury your head in the sand.

Great work. You not only read Weber, you thought about it before you wrote your review of Yglesias.

I just wish Yglesias was intellectually honest enough to now be embarrassed about what he wrote. These people are brazen and have no shame.

Chris, your comment only makes sense if Weber's essay has no meaning that can be plainly read from what he wrote. Since it does have such a meeting, it makes very little sense to back Yglesias up for choosing a "perfectly apt quote" completely out of context. Philosophy isn't fridge magnets.

AL, the quote isn't out of context - it stands on its own. More than that, it fits in with the greater theme of Weber's essay about the impossibility of moral purity in politics, something many here at "it was all worth it for purple-fingered elections"-central should take to heart.

On the other hand, you're trying to pigeonhole Yglesias into the "we can't act because we're too morally pure" crowd, which, as AF pointed out, is nonsense - while the morons that flew to Iraq to act as human shields in Saddam's defense may have believed that not going to war was a morally unambiguous choice, I'm fairly sure most people who were against the war didn't think leaving the Iraqis under Saddam's control was a good thing, but rather the least bad of several lousy options.

Then again, most of this talk of philosophy is pretty meaningless. You can wave your hands and shout that the outcome is still in question all you like, but the bottom line is that Yglesias has been vindicated by reality - conditions in Iraq are atrocious and seem unlikely to improve, the Republicans have suffered major political defeat over the issue, and Yglesias himself is far more influential within Democratic circles than you yourself, AL. Refusing to recognize that and taking potshots at the guy because you don't like his views of patriotism, or his quoting of Weber, puts you in a far worse position than just being on the losing side of a political conflict - it makes you into a crank, muttering to yourself in the dusk while life moves on without you.

Chris, quotes don't "stand on their own" out of a context that plainly changes their meaning. And you're here with me, it seems...

A.L.

Yeah A.L.,
How dare you to take Yglesias' argument seriously and challenge the orthodoxy?

He has won, you have lost. Any result of you challenging his argument is foreseeably bad. Give up.

/I notice a trend here.

John Quiggen wrote: "Nothing that can happen in the future will change the fact that that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, tens of thousands of American and allied troops have been killed or wounded, millions of people have become internal and external refugees, and half a trillion dollars that could have been used to do good has been spent on war."

In 1905 Roosevelt adroitly negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war, a feat which earned him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

It was obvious even then that the Japanese had imperial ambitions and the Russians were doomed. The best Roosevelt's peace could manage was to prop up the Romanovs another decade, while preserving the appearance of Western influence in China another two.

None of the hundreds of thousands of lives saved by that peace can change the fact that the future brought a far more deadly harvest of death, destruction, and world war than that forestalled in 1905. Indeed, it is hard now to imagine a 20th-century-history of Russia more disasterous than that which actually happened.

History cannot change the fact that the Treaty of Portsmouth was objectively a diplomatic triumph. But history does make clear its transitory impact.

You cry peace, peace, in Iraq, but there was no peace. There is no peace now. There will be no peace if the U.S. leaves the country.

"Nothing that can happen in the future will change the fact that that hundreds of thousands...are dead, tens of thousands of American...troops have been killed or wounded, millions of people have become internal and external refugees, and...dollars that could have been used to do good has been spent on war."

I thought I'd throw in a few ellipses to make the specific statement a little more general.

Isn't that true of war in general? American Civil War? Certainly true. WWI? Certainly true. WWII. Again, true there as well. How about the so called 'Cold War'. Again, true of that as well.

I wonder how such a statement is especially condemning of anything. War is always a moral hazard in a world filled with moral failure. We are asked then to envision an outcome which would render Yglesias wrong by someone who clearly believes the issue to be foredecided, for he declares that even were the war to be won it would not be worth it. The evils of the war would still have occurred.

So it is. The evils of the war would still have occurred. But the evils of the peace would not have. Hundreds of thousands can die, millions can be displaced, horrors on horrors can still happen under conditions that are not nearly even as dignified as war. Not only has this happen again and again, but it is still happening right now while apparantly troubling no one that is not happening to.

A fireman goes into a building to rescue someone trapped. They both die. A bystander goes over to help a victim of domestic violence, but achieves only getting shot himself. Lifeguard goes to help a drowning child, but only drowns himself. A soldier goes to liberate the oppressed, but is killed by an errant bullet from one of his friends. What are we to make of this madness? How are we to act in a world were right does not always make might? I believe Yglesias has no real answer for this, and besides which I'm not convinced his mental image of reality actually conforms to reality. We are in the fog of war. Like Henry on the field of Agincourt, we know not if the day be ours or no; For yet many of the enemy peer And gallop o'er the field.

I think the right thing to do is stand firm until either the enemy is well and beaten or we are. I don't see any sign that we are well and beaten. If we quit the field now, it will not make or cause any less or any more just, but it will mean relinquishing the cause to the enemy. If those that are on the field and can see the cause most clearly do not wish to quit the field, I will not quit them. I'm not at all convinced that a half-trillion dollars hasn't been used to do good.

Henry: Well said.

No, not every person against this war is part of the "too morally pure to act" crowd, but the vast majority of anti war people I've encountered have been negligent in examining the probable outcomes of a decision to leave the Baathists in power in Iraq, and have been especially negligent is placing continued Baathist rule of Iraq in the wider context of the Persian Gulf as a whole, which one must do if one is to consider the critical strategic theater as a whole.

Continued Baathist rule in Iraq for several more decades would have strengthened the hand of the worst elements in Iran and Saudi Arabia to a very significant degree. There are few things that better aids despotic forces more, in their desire for internal control, than an implacable enemy on the border, which the Baathists indisputably were. For all the fears that this war will lead to Iraninan domination of Iraq, there is at least an equally good chance that Iran will be deeply changed for the better, since the Mullahs no longer being able to portray Iraq as a possible invader of Iran. Iran is not a neo-Stalinist state in the way Iraq was, and the domination of the population by the despots is not nearly as complete. If events from here are managed with some wisdom (and to fend off the predictable response, remember that this President is only in office for another 15 months), and some luck is had, and pure random luck, good or bad, is always something that comes to bear, what the Iranian mullahs see in Iraq as their opportunity may instead become their undoing.

Chris, quotes don't "stand on their own" out of a context that plainly changes their meaning.

Except, as Steve Smith, AF, and myself have pointed out, the context doesn't change its meaning. You're consistently asserting that arguing for the war puts you in some kind of morally complex realm that anti-war people just aren't serious enough to understand, when, in reality, the pro-war rhetoric on these boards has always overemphasized the benefits of war, underemphasized the difficulties, and swept objections aside with howls that their political opponents just didn't understand how horrible the bad guys really were, and how wonderful democracy in Iraq would be.

Which brings us back to Yglesias' perfectly apt Weber quote.

And you're here with me, it seems...

Yep, 'tis true. It's a character flaw of mine, I admit... I also like butting heads with young-earth creationists and Inhofe-level climate change skeptics, although I'd certainly never try to portray such skirmishes as substantive insight or debate.

"You're consistently asserting that arguing for the war puts you in some kind of morally complex realm that anti-war people just aren't serious enough to understand..."

What I argue for or against doesn't change anything. We either are or we are not in a morally complex realm. If we are in a morally complex realm, then both the pro (this) war and the anti (this) war advocates are in the same one. Whether either side understands the other is a wholly different question.

I don't know about you, but when some one says something like, "I'm just hoping we can return to the days before the war when no one was dying.", it shows that they aren't serious about understanding anything.

What do you want? Where do you think we should be going?

I don't think there could have been a less morally-ambiguous cause than the Civil War, even though the conventional wisdom evolved by the Left is that the whole thing was about "preserving the union" (never mind that if that's true then "Honest Abe" was capable of a fairly exasperating deception). Up until the Siege of Atlanta the majority would have more or less been in agreement with Yglesias. Moreover, since the outcome was a botched reconstruction how does one justify the deaths of over 600,000 men, the majority of whom were Union soldiers; a war that called 10% of the male population of the country to arms?

But in the wake of that war those who had fought for the Union donned a moral authority that came from both the cause for which they'd fought, and the fact that they'd won. And that authority not only allowed them to determine the direction of national politics for the next 60 years, but to also control the development of institutions right down to the town and village level, from education to cemetery construction and maintenance. Regardless of the moral compromises in Sherman's strategy (about which he was not ambiguous) there was no place in the aftermath for the Copperheads. And if there's any figure in American history who fulfills the role of a secular savior, it's Lincoln.

What Weber is talking about is the kind of person Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman had to be during the conflict. What they became afterward is something else. But that something else must still be part of the calculus.

I'm not sure - due to lack of comprehension - that the Weber quote was entirely appropriate to Matt's argument, and that's not an issue I'm gonna be able to resolve on my lunch hour. But I think it's important to understand what Matt's arguing here, that the "I-was-wrong-but-I-was-right-anyway crowd" dove into the (unquestioned pleasure) of acting rightly - doing what feels (morally) good, one might say - privileging it far over the petty details of acting responsibly. Indeed, it's an idea that another commenter brought up a few posts ago, iirc - the idea that (in this case, generic liberals)cared more about good intentions then actual effects.

Or as Weber says: "This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism. Naturally nobody says that. However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends--that is, in religious terms, 'The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord'--and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one's action."

Now, whether this is a correct acount of this aspect of their decision-making, I don't know.

Dan - Look, I think there's a perfectly legitimate argument to make that says "the war in Iraq was a mistake, no matter how morally sound you felt it was". Note that I think that - to date - the war has been a strategic failure.

Matt didn't make that argument. he used a quote from Weber - as opposed to the meaning of Weber - to try and backhand an opponent out of the argument.

a) we can't make the final call on what the war really means until it's over (my point); b) we have to deal with the reality of the war as it is and the opportunities/problems it presents us with; and c) Yglesias doesn't get to wrap himself in Weber's intellectual authority without using what Weber really says.

A.L.

Chris -

"Except, as Steve Smith, AF, and myself have pointed out, the context doesn't change its meaning." Assertion =! argument or proof; you can claim it till you're blue in the face, but if you want anyone to believe it, it might be best to actually make a case. I've made a case that context does, in fact change the meaning of the quote; feel free to make a counterargument...

"...young-earth creationists and Inhofe-level climate change skeptics" Wow, it's nice to see complex political and historical arguments reduced to cartoons...

Back to you...

A.L.

Chris, I remember when "skeptic" wasn't pejorative. Perhaps you'd like to offer your opinions on the types of errors that might accrue to a model that seeks to render continuous data into discrete bits of information. Or perhaps you'd like to explain how we should compute a non-abelian system like "global climate" when it is subject to exponential scaling and chaotic drift.

But it's the skeptic who's extreme, right?

Actually, maybe there's just no money in skepticism. To get the big bucks, you need the sexiness of apocalypse and villain, and certitude of the righteous.

On the larger point of Yglesias: His schtick is clever superficiality, he's blindly ideological, he's outrageously ungenerous to his opponents, he asserts conclusions rather than arguments, and his feminine emotional sensibility tends to make him obtuse on any subject more morally complex than "who's on first."

Yglesias is a political popinjay with median wit. But he's also moderately influential, alas, and his excesses must be confronted. It's yeoman's work, and I applaud A.L. for electing to do it.

The actual situation is so elemental that, even if I agreed with Weber about the qualties necessary for a political leader, the "moral complexity" he points up is actually resting on something not even remotely ambiguous. The notion that there's a morally ambiguous choice is an illusion.

The Long War against chattel slavery was followed, almost immediately, by a Long War against totalitarianism. And I'm not at all sure that they're really two separate issues. Thus, both Sherman and Curtis Lemay enjoyed a moral certainty that their internal opposition couldn't muster, and their only moral dilemma was how to prevent demoralization in the face of what seems a simplistic response. Lemay wasn't morally deficient because he lacked ambivalence, nor was Sherman. But they were both confronted with an internal opposition that cultivated an adsolescent discomfort with their actions, and that resolved this discomfort not by reference to a kind of moral cost/benefit (as Yglesias implies) but by claiming that the objective could be attained costlessly.

They insist they can have their cake, having eschewed the process of obtaining the ingredients, mixing them in some proportion, and putting the concoction in the oven long enough for something other than a wet swampy mess to emerge.

If one were inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt it seems fair to ask "How?" But apparently an answer is optional.

Well, I guess Obama would leave our enemies untouched and bomb our friends, so there's that...

Except, as Steve Smith, AF, and myself have pointed out, the context doesn't change its meaning.

Hate to break this to you, Chris, but Steve Smith, AF, and you are pretty obviously wrong. You're trying to make out like the Weber quote is a one-sided denunciation of retroactive policy justification (or, of you prefer, ends-justify-means-ism), when the reality is that it's part of a much longer passage which spends equal time decrying inaction by lack of moral certainty.

The pith and the gist of the essay is twofold: though ends do not justify means, the real world is nevertheless messy, and there's no virtue in sitting on your ass until you're confronted with an easy choice between absolute good and absolute evil.

As an aside, I find it rather precious that anybody would try to claim that Yglesias has been "vindicated" by reality. As anybody who's read his dreck for any length of time knows, his opposition to the war, far from being the result of hard-headed empiricism and intellectual inquiry, has since Day One been an ideological article of faith buttressed by loathing of a Republican president. This is like the guy who spends four years playing the same slot machine, and ekes out a marginal profit only when (benefiting from the law of averages) he eventually hits the jackpot, claiming "vindication".

Matt slips when he states: "What some also knew was that invading Iraq was unlikely to have beneficial consequences."

There are clear unquestionable benefits from the removal of Saddam just as there are clear unquestionable losses. The question is if the net balance is positive or negative.

Price tag and death tolls are not trump cards.

And I too used to enjoy reading Matt as someone I almost never agreed with but at least provided intelligent, thought-provoking commentary. But somewhere along the way I had to give up because of things like the post linked here. Saying things like "[The hawks] regret nothing!" who are engaged in "an effort to evade responsibility". This is nothing more than ad hominem.

Wouldn't an effort to evade responsibility be an immediate withdraw of US troops, either now or right after Saddam left Baghdad, telling the Iraqis it was now up to them to make things better without thought of how likely they were to succeed?

Henry:
None of the hundreds of thousands of lives saved by that peace can change the fact that the future brought a far more deadly harvest of death, destruction, and world war than that forestalled in 1905.

The 1905 war expanded civil liberties in Russia, and forced the autocracy to create a Duma with legislative powers. But the war ended before that Duma convened, and the Czar felt secure enough to curtail its powers from the start.

Had the war continued, it is likely that reforms would have continued, as the liberals and Kadets confidently predicted at the time: "Defeat will force concessions from the Czar."

Russian constitutional rule might have congealed before the disaster of WWI, and saved Russia from the Bolsheviks.

That peace had negative effects on Japan, too. The Treaty of Portsmouth was their Versailles Treaty, and it left them hungry for revenge.

They should be careful about giving out prizes for this kind of meddling.

It doesn't have to be retroactive, BC.

David Kilcullen, one of General Petraeus' top advisors, said on Charlie Rose recently that no insurgency has been defeated in less than 10 years.

Knowing what we know now, should America stay in Iraq another 10 years?

"Knowing what we know now, should America stay in Iraq another 10 years?"

I said about a year ago that we would know in the next year whether or not the war was winnable. I think that with the Anbar Awakening the question is answerable in the affirmative now. "Yes, it's winnable. We may not win, but it's winnable." I just wish the Sunni's had come to thier senses in 5 months rather than 5 years, but in hindsight, I should have known that it takes a long time for a real change in outlook to occur. It may seem sometimes like the world is changed in an instant, but the character of men are less mallable than that. 9/11 reminds me of that every single day.

I think we'll know in the next year whether or not its worth taking 10 years to do it - at least as well as anyone can know without hindsight. Right now, I just don't know. If more of Iraq starts looking like Kurdistan, maybe so. If we can get the fatalities down under 1 per day, for an extensive period, maybe so. It's going to depend on what happens with Iraq's neighbors. Things could go in all sorts of different directions in Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Note that the question of whether we should stay in Iraq another 10 years is a very different one than whether we will.

It's also useful to remember that even though we celebrate July 4th, 1776 the US had to continue to fight five more years, the first attempt at a new system (Articles of Confederation) failed, there was another war against England, the Civil War, the Great Depression... Time and again it is possible to say the US Revolution was headed to a bad end.

In the last 4.5 years and the next 50 years there will be dozens of opportunities to find reasons to say it would have been better to leave Saddam alone.

alphie, your post has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, which is whether Yglesias (and Chris, and Steve Smith, and AF) are accurately and honestly framing the Weber quote. They're not.

AL-

Assertion =! argument or proof; you can claim it till you're blue in the face, but if you want anyone to believe it, it might be best to actually make a case. I've made a case that context does, in fact change the meaning of the quote; feel free to make a counterargument...

I did, multiple times - see my post #13 and in the bit of #20 that you pretty much ignored. So... what was that bit about assertions...?

Wow, it's nice to see complex political and historical arguments reduced to cartoons...

Inhofe and YECs are cartoons - textbook examples of dogma trumping science and rational debate. And the fact that you don't, or can't, recognize that speaks volumes.

BC,

I was not aware that there is an objective way to measure whether someone is "framing" something accurately and honestly or not.

By definition, "framing" is a partisan exercise.

Lumping together AGW skeptics and young earth creationists is itself a cartoon and not rational debate.

He said "Inhofe-level" Robin.

JA-

Chris, I remember when "skeptic" wasn't pejorative. Perhaps you'd like to offer your opinions on the types of errors that might accrue to a model that seeks to render continuous data into discrete bits of information. Or perhaps you'd like to explain how we should compute a non-abelian system like "global climate" when it is subject to exponential scaling and chaotic drift.

But it's the skeptic who's extreme, right?

I'd have far more sympathy for such arguments, especially if you pointed me to a creditable scientific paper or researcher who formally made such points in a peer-reviewed journal in a relevant field, except you then go ahead and say this:

Actually, maybe there's just no money in skepticism. To get the big bucks, you need the sexiness of apocalypse and villain, and certitude of the righteous.

Right, it's all about the big global conspiracy where evil climatologists spin fear and lies "to get the big bucks", and somehow the UN or somebody's probably involved in trying to destroy our large SUVs and suburban sprawl, which is the exact same thing as The American Way of Life.

Look, let's go back to the beginning and get a few things clear. Skepticism is a Good Thing in science, but skepticism also has a specific meaning - it's not being skeptical of results so much as it is specific methodology. Insofar as you want to look at a specific paper, or a specific model, or a specific study, and point out the precise flaws which may make those results questionable, go nuts.

However, what we tend to mostly see from AGW "skeptics" isn't that kind of scientific debate, but rather wholesale disbelief at being told things they don't want to hear. It's an a priori decision that the process must be wrong, followed by a mad scramble for any and all FUD that can be thrown at the science and the scientists involved. Which is to say, nothing much like real scientific skepticism at all.

An examination of the similarities of the process described above and Young Earth Creationism is left as an exercise for the reader.

Chris -

"AL, the quote isn't out of context - it stands on its own. More than that, it fits in with the greater theme of Weber's essay about the impossibility of moral purity in politics, something many here at "it was all worth it for purple-fingered elections"-central should take to heart."

and

"Except, as Steve Smith, AF, and myself have pointed out, the context doesn't change its meaning. "

...that's all I can find on the issue of the cite 'standing on it's own' and reflecting what Weber actually said. That's not argument; it's not even contradiction, really.

A.L.

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a trivial update...

Many might find this article interesting. The anthropomorphic global warming debate certainly seems a strong echo. Let's not forget that science, like any human endeavor, is subject to blind alleys, fads, politics, me-tooism, and rent seeking.

Linkage

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.

BC-

Hate to break this to you, Chris, but Steve Smith, AF, and you are pretty obviously wrong. You're trying to make out like the Weber quote is a one-sided denunciation of retroactive policy justification (or, of you prefer, ends-justify-means-ism), when the reality is that it's part of a much longer passage which spends equal time decrying inaction by lack of moral certainty.

Well, no, that one passage is a denunciation of a very specific kind of zealot, one which is absolutely applicable to Roger Cohen, the original target of Matt's remarks, and, to a lesser extent, AL and the crew here at WoC.

The pith and the gist of the essay is twofold: though ends do not justify means, the real world is nevertheless messy...

Yep.

...and there's no virtue in sitting on your ass until you're confronted with an easy choice between absolute good and absolute evil.

Well, no, it's more complex than that - although AL would love to paint it as a blanket denunciation of inaction, it talks far more about the fact that no political action or inaction can be taken with moral clarity or certainty. This particular s&*tstick has no clean ends. And that's the thing you and AL aren't getting - Yglesias & co. weren't claiming moral superiority in not going to war, they were claiming that it was reckless - incompetent - to choose to break a country and pick up the pieces when we had the moderately less unpleasant option of trying to keep containment working, especially once weapons inspectors were in place.

And just to underline that again - the issue here isn't moral superiority but practical outcomes. AL can yell that the latter don't exist yet and it's all about the former, but the majority of Americans disagree by this point, and little that's being written here suggests that'll change.

As an aside, I find it rather precious that anybody would try to claim that Yglesias has been "vindicated" by reality. As anybody who's read his dreck for any length of time knows, his opposition to the war, far from being the result of hard-headed empiricism and intellectual inquiry, has since Day One been an ideological article of faith buttressed by loathing of a Republican president.

By all means, BC, let's do a side-by-side comparison of AL and Yglesias and see which one does more empirical analysis, and which one is guided more by faith and loathing.

This is like the guy who spends four years playing the same slot machine, and ekes out a marginal profit only when (benefiting from the law of averages) he eventually hits the jackpot, claiming "vindication".

Well, heck, if you think the current losing spell pro-war folks are going through is merely the law of averages, go ahead and think that. I'll suggest that the overwhelming disgust towards Bush and the Republicans belies the assertion that it's just been lucky breaks for Yglesias, though.

...that's all I can find on the issue of the cite 'standing on it's own' and reflecting what Weber actually said. That's not argument; it's not even contradiction, really.

AL, we were discussing the greater context of Weber's lecture - a greater context which you've consistently misrepresented regarding yourself and Yglesias. Therefore, the following passages are relevant:

On the other hand, you're trying to pigeonhole Yglesias into the "we can't act because we're too morally pure" crowd, which, as AF pointed out, is nonsense - while the morons that flew to Iraq to act as human shields in Saddam's defense may have believed that not going to war was a morally unambiguous choice, I'm fairly sure most people who were against the war didn't think leaving the Iraqis under Saddam's control was a good thing, but rather the least bad of several lousy options.

and

You're consistently asserting that arguing for the war puts you in some kind of morally complex realm that anti-war people just aren't serious enough to understand, when, in reality, the pro-war rhetoric on these boards has always overemphasized the benefits of war, underemphasized the difficulties, and swept objections aside with howls that their political opponents just didn't understand how horrible the bad guys really were, and how wonderful democracy in Iraq would be. Which brings us back to Yglesias' perfectly apt Weber quote.

Chris - where exactly did I even suggest that I'd like to paint the essay as a 'blanket denunciation of inaction'??

C'mon, you're beating one drum over and over again and it's getting dull. I said (to Dan S):

"Look, I think there's a perfectly legitimate argument to make that says "the war in Iraq was a mistake, no matter how morally sound you felt it was". Note that I think that - to date - the war has been a strategic failure.

Matt didn't make that argument. he used a quote from Weber - as opposed to the meaning of Weber - to try and backhand an opponent out of the argument."

Now either step up and make an argument on this (other than "9 out of 10 dentists agree the war in Iraq is lost, therefore you are on the losing side of history...") or I'll just start skipping over your posts.

A.L.

Many might find this article interesting. The anthropomorphic global warming debate certainly seems a strong echo. Let's not forget that science, like any human endeavor, is subject to blind alleys, fads, politics, me-tooism, and rent seeking.

And yet, even though this opinion column makes a passable argument for some degree of skepticism of conclusions (and closes with a recommendation to let the questions be answered by the scientists at the forefront of the research, not by public opinion), somehow the skepticism shown to AGW and evolution by some conservatives is way, way out of proportion with the skepticism shown to, say, quantum-electrodynamics or the Laffer curve.

Funny how that works, isn't it?

Chris, two parallel discussions.

A narrow discussion (and the point of my post, really) about whether Yglesias fairly cited Weber. I think I'm on pretty solid ground when I suggest that he didn't.

There's a huge-er and far more complex argument about a) two groups each trying to elbow the other out of the way using their position leading up to the war; b) what the state of the war is today; and c) what we ought to do going forward.

It happens that I think Weber has a whole lot to say about a).

What he has to say about b) and c) really are about the unalterable fact that action in the world involves both risk and moral hazard and that you can't achieve anything without substantial risk - both of being wrong on the facts (outcomes) and morally bad.

My point isn't that only hawks have access to the secret morality juice that gives complex understanding; it's that the argument today is framed in such a reductionist way that no room is left for any argument that isn't 'nuke Mecca' and 'bring the troops home Weds.' - neither of which is really a substantive argument.

That's what I meant when I said that pretty much any position you can take on the war today is foolish.

So, here's a suggestion - I'd appreciate it if you'd grant the narrow question about Weber. I'm happy to grant that there is a broad and difficult question about what to do now and that we all need to figure it out.

A.L.

Chris - where exactly did I even suggest that I'd like to paint the essay as a 'blanket denunciation of inaction'??

Here, perhaps?

The issue isn't as Yglesias suggests that one side was 'right' and one 'wrong' - in an exam that hasn't yet been graded by reality. The issue is that to act politically is to take risks and accept moral hazard. Yglesias and the 'purity' crowd somehow feel that wrong-through-inaction is morally superior - a topic we'll return to in the coming week.

Matt didn't make that argument. he used a quote from Weber - as opposed to the meaning of Weber - to try and backhand an opponent out of the argument.

Now either step up and make an argument on this (other than "9 out of 10 dentists agree the war in Iraq is lost, therefore you are on the losing side of history...") or I'll just start skipping over your posts.

No, he used a quote from Weber to correctly characterize a bogus argument ("look, I care more about the Iraqis, so I'm right even when I'm wrong"). It's simple - Weber's essay certainly says more than Yglesias quoted, but the "more" it says doesn't negate Yglesias' point because he was never arguing the "inaction is morally better" line you say he is.

As for the rest, I'll stop making the argument about political realities when you stop making the argument that "there's no way of knowing how Iraq will turn out!" And by all means, skip my posts - I'm not trying to convince you of anything, just pointing out the flaws in your argument for any who will listen.

Yglesias & co. weren't claiming moral superiority in not going to war, they were claiming that it was reckless - incompetent - to choose to break a country and pick up the pieces when we had the moderately less unpleasant option of trying to keep containment working, especially once weapons inspectors were in place.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the biggest piles of unmitigated horseshit I've ever seen. Yglesias & co. absolutely have claimed moral superiority by dint of uncritical dovehood vis-a-vis Iraq. Matt routinely suffers rotator cuff injuries patting himself on the back for opposing the war -- and not merely because there were "moderately less unpleasant options" at the outset, or because the subsequent execution has been incompetent.

Moreover, the fact that Yglesias & co -- and you, too, evidently -- can claim with a straight face that "trying to keep containment working" amounts to a "moderately less unpleasant option" demonstrates precisely how far our political discourse has degenerated. You and your ilk have steadfastly refused to come to grips with the incontrovertible fact that containment was, by any rational metric, an abject failure even with the weapons inspectors in place. "The moderately less unpleasant option of trying to keep containment working" was never on the table; there was only the option of continuing to pretend that containment was working when it clearly wasn't; when it clearly couldn't so long as the sanctions and inspections regime was being undermined by a corrupt UN; and when the experiences of 9/11 had rather dramatically altered the national security risk calculus.

And this dovetails nicely into the point I was making about Yglesias and the law of averages. It's easy to pretend that the decision to invade Iraq was the indefensibly wrong side of a self-evidently obvious choice between, on the one hand, ENTIRELY FORESEEABLE DOOOOM and, on the other, pixies and unicorns. The reality was somewhat more grey. Yglesias is presuming to claim the moral high ground because, for now, it seems like he's on the right side of history. The reality is that he was demonstrably wrong about any number of things along the way, and history just as easily could have (and might still) go the other way. For him to claim prescience, or others to claim it on his behalf, is nonsense.

By all means, BC, let's do a side-by-side comparison of AL and Yglesias and see which one does more empirical analysis, and which one is guided more by faith and loathing.

Yes, let's. Given Matt's magical thinking as to the efficacy of containment, I'm pretty confident in the outcome.

"Yglesias & co. weren't claiming moral superiority in not going to war, they were claiming that it was reckless - incompetent"

Ah, that makes a big difference. 'We never said you were immoral, just reckless and incompetent.'

"- to choose to break a country and pick up the pieces when we had the moderately less unpleasant option of trying to keep containment working"

I would substitute "less unpleasant" with "easier" and "keep containment working" with "ignore the problem" but you'd no doubt disagree.

But yeah the 90s with Saddam was fun. Remember when his brother-in-law left and told the world there actually had been more WMDs than we knew about before and Saddam got him to return to the country and had him killed? And the years when inspectors were kicked out of Iraq? And the Oil-for-Food kickbacks? And little military actions like Desert Fox? Good times, good times.

Not to mention all the troops we had in Saudi Arabia for the 90s, which was part of Osamas excuse for 9-11. Maybe the whole thing could have been avoided if we'd taken out Saddam the first time, but that was such an unpleasant option.

Of course it was still a poor substitute for the containment of the Soviets in the Cold War. Yeah we could have fought Stalin in the 40s, but containent was a less unpleasant option and it all worked out okay in the end, right?

somehow the skepticism shown to AGW and evolution by some conservatives is way, way out of proportion with the skepticism shown to, say, quantum-electrodynamics or the Laffer curve.

Yawn, when the proponents of the Laffer curve start demanding major alterations to world economics (with the inevitable pile of bodies that'll entail) then we'll have a comparison, in the mean time you're just being ridiculous.

BC-

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the biggest piles of unmitigated horseshit I've ever seen. Yglesias & co. absolutely have claimed moral superiority by dint of uncritical dovehood vis-a-vis Iraq. Matt routinely suffers rotator cuff injuries patting himself on the back for opposing the war -- and not merely because there were "moderately less unpleasant options" at the outset, or because the subsequent execution has been incompetent.

Ok, go ahead and post some quotes showing as much and we can get into it. And, hey, while you're at it, please do let me know how you can reconcile "containment was an abject failure" with the complete lack of WMDs in post-war Iraq.

But other than that, I think I'll just move out of the way and avoid giving you the opportunities to go on rants about me and my "ilk", thanks.

abw-

Of course it was still a poor substitute for the containment of the Soviets in the Cold War. Yeah we could have fought Stalin in the 40s, but containent was a less unpleasant option and it all worked out okay in the end, right?

Er, you do realize that it undercuts your credibility on the Iraq occupation just a wee tiny bit when you suggest we would have done better to continue World War 2 by plunging our army into the same frozen wasteland that ate Napoleon and the Nazis?

Do all of you WoC folk really believe the Iraqi Arabs are just dogs or monkeys, as Yglesias and most Bush-haters so often imply?

I mean the issue in the past is one of responsibility, as Matt says:

bq And that's what this is all ultimately about -- an effort to evade responsibility by suggesting that what's really at issue here is a controversy over ends.

He clearly gives absolutely no responsibility for the deaths to the Arabs, everything is Bush's fault.

Either the murderous Arab terrorists who kill are those humans most responsible for the killing, or they're as innocent as animals.

bq What some also knew was that invading Iraq was unlikely to have beneficial consequences

I never saw anybody put probabilities, likelihoods, for various outcomes. To the 5 million or so Iraqi Kurds, now living in a rapidly growing economy with peace and democracy, there were HUGE benefits. Of course, the Bush-haters don't visit and report on the Kurds much.

It's too bad that nation building takes so long -- and especially bad that the Dems were so full of Bush-hate that their criticisms were almost exclusively of the past-guilt variety, rather than what should be done to improve the slow, tough, slow, occasional back-step, nation building process. Did I mention slow?

The speed of Iraqi nation-building is up to the Iraqis. It is a different clock than the US election cycle. Where are the Dems discussing these truths.

On action and inaction, the anti-war Dems should be proud of their success in Darfur, where the US hasn't lost any men nor treasure despite Bush claiming that 'genocide' is occurring. While we can't know what not attacking Saddam would look like, we can see how well not attacking other dictators is working out. In Burma and Zimbabwe, for instance.

AL, I'm sorry I missed why you think Iraq has been a strategic failure. While it's not yet a success, except for the 20% Kurds, what is the defining failure characteristic?

As an American body bag counter, I claim 4000 dead is a "B" effort: <2500 for "A"; <5000 for "B", <10000 for "C". I've had this scale since 2003 -- I've not seen any Bush-hating critics with alternate scales. In fact, this "total success" or "total failure" polarized idea of the only two possible outcomes seems part of the discussion problem.

Matt's post is about how wrong Roger Cohen is.
War is hell. I think Matt will be proven wrong.
How bad a hell does any war have to be before that war is considered such a bad hell that non-war would be better?

I've claimed before that Lincoln's war to free slaves was too expensive, but it was for a great cause and it was successful. Similarly, I claim that invading Normandy on D-Day was too expensive, and in particular the USA should have continued funding the (evil empire) USSR's Stalin as a proxy fighter against the more evil Hitler for another year, while continuing to develop the A bomb.

I think Matt's professed concern about the Iraqis is about as genuine as the '71 anti-war folks' concern about the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Which, as history shows, as soon as the Dem Party voted to lose (in 1974-75), there was virtually no interest in.

Was the Cambodian Killing Fields genocide, the largest and most evil human action in my lifetime, even mentioned in the 1976 or 1978 elections? I don't remember it. I do remember anti-Shah protests.
And remembering thinking ... what do the anti-Shah folk think will replace him?
Are the anti-Shah folk responsible for the Ayatollah?
It doesn't seem that anti-X folk ever accept any responsibility for non-beneficial consequences when the anti-X policy is implemented.

Treefrog-

Yawn, when the proponents of the Laffer curve start demanding major alterations to world economics (with the inevitable pile of bodies that'll entail) then we'll have a comparison, in the mean time you're just being ridiculous.

Well, its certainly unproven that dealing with global warming will entail "piles of bodies", but supply-side economics certainly has put the country trillions in debt. When you think about where the US - and the rest of the world - might be if we didn't have to sink ~%15 of our taxes into interest payments, things might look a lot different...

Chris, "Global Warming" has been marketed by true believers and cynics. Both, however, tend to expand the dangers to include apocalyptic scenarios, exaggerate our certainties of cause and effect, and reduce their opponents to villains and infidels.

Meanwhile, yes, the world's super-wealthy feel the draw of the noblesse oblige du jour and offer their money and prestige to a self-validating cause that demands nothing of them but moral preening and facetime.

Spengler once wrote, "The wisdom of this enlightenment never interferes with comfort." And so it goes with the Global Warming crusaders.

In other words, no, I don't see a conspiracy so much as a panoply of human all too human behaviors. Yes, global warming the phenomenon appears real, and I don't dispute the data, but every little thing that comes after is unproven (and only retrospectively provable) conjecture.

For instance, our planet has a complex array of negative feedback loops that are nested and tend to activate only after certain thresholds are reached. It's possible that the best way to solve global warming is by allowing the global climate to gain one more degree celsius, thereby passing a threshold which then activates a latent regulator which in turn drives overall temperature back down to "normal." We just don't know. (This should bother you.)

As to the other, you don't need a peer-reviewed article to believe what I wrote about complex systems and computational limits. Those are fundamental constraints, accepted by every single person in the field. To get past them you need to make assumptions about the data, and to make assumptions you need a paradigm, and no paradigm is perfectly isomorphic to reality. This is basic stuff.

Based on all of this, I remain unmoved by the proposed cures and repulsed by the zeal of the advocates. Furthermore, I believe this to be the proper position for an educated citizen to take at this time.

It's possible that the best way to solve global warming is by allowing the global climate to gain one more degree celsius, thereby passing a threshold which then activates a latent regulator which in turn drives overall temperature back down to "normal." We just don't know.

Interesting theory, JA. Do you have some precedent or data to support this idea? Maybe it's not 1 degree but 50 before that complex negative feedback loop of yours kicks into gear and we have temperatures returning to where they've been for the last few centuries. Problem with this is that we won't be around in any recognizable civilization to find out.

I think what you seem to want to suggest is that any (crazy) idea is just as good as all others since we can never "know" the outcome of global warming predictions until after the fact. Or that the system is too complex to model and so we should give up. This isn't the way science works. The idea that greenhouse gases and atmospheric CO2 contribute to warming has been around for a while, and an increase in temperatures was predicted...and it is coming to pass. Theories can be wrong in the details but not the framework. That doesn't make them wrong, just inaccurate.

But please, avoid drawing conclusions about the validity of scientific claims on the basis of your personal reaction to those engaged in arguing their validity, pro or con, or whether people are passionate about a cause. This is clearly irrelevant to the veracity of the underlying issue.

"Isn't that true of war in general?"

Yes, which is why war should be opposed as anything but a last resort. Your list of putatively justified wars includes World War I, a pointless bloodbath which was the starting point for both World War II and (via the Bolshevik revolution) the Cold War. Responding to an earlier comment, it was the Great War and not the inevitable collapse of the Romanovs that brought Lenin, rather than say Kerensky or Martov, to power in Russia.

Alan said most of what I would have said to JA, so kudos. That said:

As to the other, you don't need a peer-reviewed article to believe what I wrote about complex systems and computational limits. Those are fundamental constraints, accepted by every single person in the field. To get past them you need to make assumptions about the data, and to make assumptions you need a paradigm, and no paradigm is perfectly isomorphic to reality. This is basic stuff.

Well, no, you don't need a peer-reviewed paper to "believe" what you wrote about complex systems and computational limits... but you probably need several good textbooks and a solid mix of undergraduate and graduate mathematics and computer science classes to truly understand it, as opposed to just rattling it off.

What you're saying basically boils down to "no computer model is ever completely accurate", which is certainly true - the question is to what extent those inaccuracies invalidate what the model predicts. And in the vast majority of competently programmed models, it's not an issue, and in the handful of cases where things really are just irreducably complex for a given level of computational ability, proving that to be the case is, as they say, non-trivial.

And that kind of proof - or, more likely, an ongoing debate about to what extent proofs are needed, or possible, or to what extent the model predictions and the observed data are in disagreement and what that suggests about the fundamental intractability of the problem - are exactly what you'd find in a peer-reviewed journal.

So yes, I reiterate that it'd be far easier to take the "skepticism" of anti-AGW-theory people seriously if y'all were making your arguments from inside the scientific process, as opposed to taking potshots from outside of it.

"What you're saying basically boils down to "no computer model is ever completely accurate", which is certainly true - the question is to what extent those inaccuracies invalidate what the model predicts. And in the vast majority of competently programmed models, it's not an issue, and in the handful of cases where things really are just irreducably complex for a given level of computational ability, proving that to be the case is, as they say, non-trivial."

Might want to take more care not to reveal your ignorance. Or to at least be more aware of it. Hint: Its not about competence.

"So yes, I reiterate that it'd be far easier to take the "skepticism" of anti-AGW-theory people seriously if y'all were making your arguments from inside the scientific process, as opposed to taking potshots from outside of it."

Ever wonder why it is we're outside? Was that process scientific?

"Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the 'salvation of the soul.' If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. The sentence: 'The devil is old; grow old to understand him!' does not refer to age in terms of chronological years. . . . Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly.

Surely, politics is made with the head, but it is certainly not made with the head alone. In this the proponents of an ethic of ultimate ends are right. One cannot prescribe to anyone whether he should follow an ethic of absolute ends or an ethic of responsibility, or when the one and when the other. One can say only this much. . . if now suddenly the Weltanschauungs politicians crop up en masse and pass the watchword, 'The world is stupid and base, not I,' 'The responsibility for the consequences does not fall upon me but upon the others whom I serve and whose stupidity or baseness I shall eradicate,' then I declare frankly that I would first inquire into the degree of inner poise backing this ethic of ultimate ends. I am under the impression that in nine out of ten cases I deal with windbags who do not fully realize what they take upon themselves but who intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations. From a human point of view this is not very interesting to me, nor does it move me profoundly. However, it is immensely moving when a mature man-- no matter whether old or young in years--is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: 'Here I stand; I can do no other.' That is something genuinely human and moving. And every one of us who is not spiritually dead must realize the possibility of finding himself at some time in that position. In so far as this is true, an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility are not absolute contrasts but rather supplements) which only in unison constitute a genuine man . . .'"
(Weber, Politics as a Vocation)
_______________________

AL, I do not understand why, in the post, you highlighted this passage: "Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, 'I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause". Do you feel that it is relevant in the specific context we are discussing?
----

"Dan - Look, I think there's a perfectly legitimate argument to make that says "the war in Iraq was a mistake, no matter how morally sound you felt it was"."

Well, yes (similarly, it would seem to me, there is a perfectly legitimate argument to make that says "the sky is blue" - although one can dispute this on the basis of specific definitions (the sky isn't sad or erotic), pedantic objections (the night sky isn't blue), or reference to a deeper truth (the sky isn't actually blue, but only appears so because of underlying physical properties - the political equivalent might be a Manichean worldview (as argued in Glenn Greenwald's A Tragic Legacy), apocalyptic fantasies, or perhaps certain radical critiques). And we might further consider - if someone sends the local kids out into a neighboring farm field to ride the pony because he's mistaken a billboard with a picture of a pony for an actual pony, and at some point in the future a real pony does eventually wander out from behind the billboard, how can we describe his decision? And what about the children who are injured and bleeding because the supposed pretty pretty flowers in the field were actually, as many bystanders frantically tried to point out, a mass of thorny bramble and rusty wire?)

But Matt's claim, it seems to me, is that on some level Cohen and the rest of " I-was-wrong-but-I-was-right-anyway crowd" don't actually debate this argument, but rather rejects its fundamental assumptions and standards; that it isn't, in some sense, meaningful for them. (If a hawk could talk, we wouldn't understand him).

I'm a bit uncertain why you ask Chris to grant you the narrow point about Weber (whether Yglesias fairly cited him). ( It's true that your points b & c are indeed important, but it's hard to concentrate on them with that noise - you know, from those moving goalposts.) As Chris points out, Matt's specifically using a piece of Weber's essay to characterize what he sees as certain kinds of decision-making and argument, and how they're playing out even now:

" . . . Sure, spending over a trillion bucks on an operation that's led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while leading hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- to become refugees doesn't seem like a very sound humanitarian position but the point is that they took a stand, damnit. And against Saddam Hussein. So there. In "Politics as a Vocation", Max Weber calls this sort of thing the "ethic of ultimate ends" and contrasts it with an "ethic of responsibility" . . ."

It is true that he didn't discuss Cohen, the war, and possibly the Marion Jones doping scandal in the light of Weber's entire piece, just as you don't provide an in-depth analysis of it's historical context. I was unaware that lacking either - however interesting and even relevant they might be - were grounds for being cast into the outer darkness of utter hackdom, where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and scribbling of pens . . .

(As a bit of an aside, the contrast between the ethics of ultimate ends/responsibility seems to resonate interestingly with the recent discussion on kinds of patriotism, especially the characterization of 'symbolic' and 'substantive' patriotisms . . .)

"Yglesias and the 'purity' crowd somehow feel that wrong-through-inaction is morally superior - a topic we'll return to in the coming week."

Again, this seems a rather shaky description. I don't believe it's a question of wrong through inaction or action, fundamentally (although that may well be may a very basic feature of human minds - see for example Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought and/or Marc Hauser's Moral Minds), as criteria and comprehension re: a course of action. (Not quite it, but I'm starting to doze off.)

Weber makes an excellent point, as quoted above, when he says: " I am under the impression that in nine out of ten cases I deal with windbags who do not fully realize what they take upon themselves but who intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations. From a human point of view this is not very interesting to me, nor does it move me profoundly. However, it is immensely moving when a mature man . . . is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: 'Here I stand; I can do no other. "

Its hard to escape the conclusion, reading Cohen, that we are dealing not with "a mature man [who is] aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul," but merely an intoxicated windbag engorged on "romantic sensations".

(Feelings . . . nothing more than feelings . . .)
________
Chris writes "And just to underline that again - the issue here isn't moral superiority but practical outcomes. " I certainly agree, of course - what's interesting it how frequently this general dynamic seems to come up. As I've mentioned, it sorta echoes part of the patriotisms issue, but it also showed up (to give a shout out to the OT agw tangent) in the debate over Gore's house, energy usage, and entire message, where critics - rightly or wrongly - seemed obsessed on issues of symbolism and (supposedly claimed) moral superiority, while defenders argued that the actual matter was practical outcomes.
-------

While letting bygones be bygones and deciding to heh MoveOn is generally a very good idea, part of the issue here isn't just matters of status, power, resentment, etc., but matters of accountability, performance, and such within an ongoing situation.

---------
"As anybody who's read his dreck for any length of time knows, his opposition to the war, far from being the result of hard-headed empiricism and intellectual inquiry, has since Day One been an ideological article of faith buttressed by loathing of a Republican president. "

Yglesias, of course, initially supported the invasion.
-----------

"Ah, that makes a big difference. 'We never said you were immoral, just reckless and incompetent.'

In terms of this specific debate (over Matt's use of Weber, etc.) it in fact does make a rather large difference.
---------

"Do all of you WoC folk really believe the Iraqi Arabs are just dogs or monkeys, as Yglesias and most Bush-haters so often imply?"

Tom, are you joking, confused, or simply overwhelmed with a bad case of BSS? The quote you give clearly involves no such implications - the responsibility here is clearly that of Cohen and other pundits for their words, to whatever degree they influenced events. If, for example - as in an old episode of Law&Order - cops dumps some clueless kid in an extremely dangerous neighborhood as payback for irritation, and said kid is brutally murdered, addressing the issue of the cops' responsibility in no way implies that the brutal murderers possess an animal innocence. Although I'm sure some folks would make that claim.
--------

"The reality is that he was demonstrably wrong about any number of things along the way, and history just as easily could have (and might still) go the other way."

And if my grandfather had breasts, he'd be my grandmother. Your point?

$^@&$&@%# italics!

Dan, I think I cleaned up the italics, but I'm a little confused...let's start by seeing if I got them right...

A.L.

David-

Might want to take more care not to reveal your ignorance. Or to at least be more aware of it. Hint: Its not about competence.

No? It's not the case that there are well-known techniques to deal with rounding errors, domain transform issues, and other problems encountered in programming virtual models of physical processes? And that these techniques, when applied by skilled, experienced programmers can significantly ameliorate many of the issues JA was mentioning earlier?

Do tell!

Ever wonder why it is we're outside? Was that process scientific?

Was it not? Then by all means, shout it to the rooftops, have a media circus, expose the modern scientific-industrial complex for the fraud that it is, and the world will love you for it.

Because, man, this FUD-sniping in low-level blog comments just isn't cutting it.

"It's possible that the best way to solve global warming is by allowing the global climate to gain one more degree celsius, thereby passing a threshold"

Or turning a corner . . .

"which then activates a latent regulator which in turn drives overall temperature back down to "normal.""

The 'Gulf Stream Awakening' . . .

"Meanwhile, yes, the world's super-wealthy feel the draw of the noblesse oblige du jour and offer their money and prestige to a self-validating cause that demands nothing of them but moral preening and facetime."

Kindasorta, ok, but how this relevant? I thought we were talking about climatologists and such.

"I remain unmoved by the proposed cures
Of course, that's not their purpose.

"and repulsed by the zeal of the [pop-culture] advocates."
Why? (And isn't this like the 'I hate those dirty hippies' argument for invading Iraq?)

"Spengler once wrote, "The wisdom of this enlightenment never interferes with comfort." And so it goes with the Global Warming crusaders."

Again, the moral superiority vs. practical results issue

Chris writes: "yes, I reiterate that it'd be far easier to take the "skepticism" of anti-AGW-theory people seriously if y'all were making your arguments from inside the scientific process"

To be fair, there are a (very) few. What's interesting here is the trend - as time has gone by, their number -originally, of course, the majority - has increasingly dwindled down to almost nothing as more and more joined the emerging consensus. Doesn't prove anything, of course, but it is suggestive.

Oh crud, I'm getting sucked in! Must fight it . . .

LOL Robin, great link. It would be great to see Blackadder on the Iraq war, the Weapons of Mass Destruction and so on.

"Er, you do realize that it undercuts your credibility on the Iraq occupation just a wee tiny bit when you suggest we would have done better to continue World War 2 by plunging our army into the same frozen wasteland that ate Napoleon and the Nazis?"

omg you're right. I'm so embarrassed I wish I could delete my comment. Also, someone should warn Bush not to go into the same desert wasteland of Afghanistan that ate the Soviets.

And fwiw, while there's no way to know what outcome a war against Stalin in the 40s would have had perhaps it would have ended with him the master of Eurasia from Atlantic to Pacific let's consider what might have been if the Soviets had been removed before the decade's end:

How many millions of Russians did Stalin himself kill post-WWII?

Without early support from Russia, would Mao have been able to put China through the Great Leap into Famine or the Cultural Revolution? How many millions of lives lost there?

And then in the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, plus Cambodia, Central America...

Sure JFK wouldn't have had the legacy of the Cuban Missile Crisis or saying we'd send a man to the moon and Reagan wouldn't get to say Tear down this wall, but that's okay.

Anyway, your comment strikes the same tone as so much of the anti-remove-Saddam talk, that victory for the US would be ... well let's be nice and say improbable. To repeat myself, no one can know for a fact that the world would have been better if we fought the Russians in the 40s but I think it's pretty easy to say in hindsight there were great potential benefits had we done it and succeeded.

abw, why do you think we didn't attack the USSR? Whatever the long-range hindsight benefits, what were the factors in contemp. decision-making?

"Anyway, your comment strikes the same tone as so much of the anti-remove-Saddam talk, that victory for the US would be ... well let's be nice and say improbable."

Really? I seem to remember the tone of much of the anti-this-war-now talk as being along the lines yes, Saddam is a horrible person and evil dictator, and the world would almost certainly be a nicer place, all else equal, without him in charge of Iraq, but given a) the case(s) being made for war, and b) in a world of uncertainty, the reasonably predictable (and unpredictable) repercussions, rushing to war didn't seem like a sensible proposition. (There were, of course, a multitude of arguments on both sides, at different levels of, ah, sophistication.)

#53 Chris:

No, it wouldn't have been a good idea to invade Russia in 1945/46, for the reason you stated. The fact remains that failure to do something about the USSR condemned half the world to oppression, caused wars all over the world fomented by the USSR, and very nearly caused the end of civilisation - famously in 1963 and less so in 1985. And, yes, that failure killed millions of Russians, mostly in the Gulag.

There was a very narrow window in perhaps the early 50s when something could indeed have been done - when the USA had absolute military superiority on a strategic scale over the then enemy.

The window of opportunity was not used - and it cost fifty years of slavery, oppression and war.

Failure to do something (probably the same something) about our current enemy may well have very similar results, although it may take longer. Personally, I think that a planetary Caliphate would comprise the end of civilisation, because the brutality of Islam is in no way civilised. And failure to do something will now, as it did then, condemn millions to slavery and oppression - maybe forever.

In addition to this, the only hope for the long-term survival of civilisation, and probably the human race, lies in technological progress and outward expansion - which a global caliphate would prevent; they want to return the entire world to the Dark Ages. And once we go there we can't come back - the easily obtained resources that fuelled the Industrial Revolution have GONE.

Something needs to be done. Pouring America's blood and treasure into the sand of Iraq isn't it. Enemy blood, however, is not at a premium.

Rather than get deep into an alt-history debate, let's just end the invade-Russia-in-the-40's/50's thing by saying that I do detect a lot of the "moral superiority vs. practical results" issue that Dan S. has done such a good job of highlighting in this thread.

The question is not whether Stalin was really really really really bad, or that the world would have been vastly better off with his departure. Thus, paragraphs lecturing us on just how bad Stalin was don't really advance your argument that much.

Instead, the questions are basically the same ones we're dealing with right now in the Iraq war - questions of logistical and strategic feasibility to start with, followed by questions of how we'd manage the conquered territory if and when we did win. And, since we can't agree on the Iraq war, despite it being A) real and B) having fairly clear-cut results as far as our ability to win (of course we did) and our ability to manage the aftermath (doesn't look good) I double we'll be able to have a productive conversation on a hypothetical Russian invasion.

The main reason I mention post-WWII Russia is show just how long and far reaching the results can be.

As the hawks often point out, reconstruction of Germany and Japan required years of occupation with many of the same problems including which citizens of the former enemy deserved to have their jobs back and which should be jailed or killed. Certainly the loss of life and cost of occupation in Germany and Japan was much much less, but then again the cost before was orders of magnitude larger.

Sure four and a half years after the start of the current conflict things are not as we want them, but 20 or 40 years from now when the next generation of Iraqis start to rise we'll be in a much better position to judge the decision.

This is why hawks ignore much of the anti-war side's arguments, when you have a comment like the conclusion of #7 in this thread "they insist on prolonging the war despite the fact that it is obviously a huge mistake." you realize there really isn't anything to discuss because they have started from a false conclusion and worked their way backwards.

[W]hen you have a comment like the conclusion of #7 in this thread "they insist on prolonging the war despite the fact that it is obviously a huge mistake." you realize there really isn't anything to discuss because they have started from a false conclusion and worked their way backwards.

Not to mention the war was won a long time ago, the issue now is helping with reconstruction, fighting al Qaeda, training our troops and citizens, maitaining a good logistics capabitlity in the mideast, getting experience with cultures similar and exposed to our enemies and that our enemies operate within, observing and getting exposure to the tactics of our enemies, helping/influencing a new country...

The absolute "last resort" criteria reduces war to a simple and/or on specific behaviors that is simply absurd and completely ignores the big picture. Certain things might make war seem like a necessity, but under certain conditions it may simply be impractical. Much more goes into making such a decision, otherwise we would have go back to war the instant Saddam broke his surrender agreement (you can't get much more last resort than a surrender agreement).

One problem anti-war people seem to have is an inablity to think strategically. It'd be great to have a prosperious and stable free Iraq. But even if Iraq were to melt down into civil war, it'd still probably be a strategic success for the west and the mid-east (except for maybe the mullahs in Iran and the Syrians).

A.L.

Chris skewers you pretty good. You seem to have two points.

One. "History hasn't happened yet so don't judge", as I've told you again and again, is simply a means of not taking responsibility. And, you've already admitted "Iraq is "f**ked", so it seems you more agree with Yglesias than not.

I'm sure my investment in Netbank
3 months ago, was a sound one, right? You never know!! History isn't written!!

But the point remains, as a practical matter of smartly evaluating future consequences, anyone foolish enough to invest in Netbank 3 months ago, was ignoring a lot of warning signs that attention SHOULD have paid to. Doubling down on a losing bet, is, simply, stupid. Similarly, the warning signs for something as momentous as invading and occuping a foreign land, when many others recognized the signs to realize that this was a terrible thing to do, as a matter of consequence.

Your second point is that MY is cherry-picking Weber quotes. Again to which, Chris rightly points out, doesn't really matter, as that particular post by MY isn't about "what would Weber think", which is what you try to make it about, but about one particular sketch of a psychological type of man, that rightly applies to Cohen, and illustrates MY's point. And so, on that grounds is valid. It isn't even about that whole essay.

If MY had talked about "what Weber meant" or "what is the meaning of that particular essay", you would have a point. But absent that, it's a meaningless objection.

"Sure four and a half years after the start of the current conflict things are not as we want them, but 20 or 40 years from now when the next generation of Iraqis start to rise we'll be in a much better position to judge the decision."

And here again we have something akin to the ethic of ultimate ends - though not quite - as opposed to one of responsibility. Strictly speaking, however, it's not inaccurate: after a generation or two we will be in a better position to judge the medium-range effects of the decision to invade Iraq, since we will be seeing them. (The decision itself, of course, esp. in the way it was reached and carried out, would seem pretty obviously to be one of immense incompetence, stupidity, self-delusion, other-delusion, panic, fantasy, ultimate-endism, and/or a number of other things in that general neighborhood; at issue is whether we'll be lucky enough for it to eventually result in a decent result, somewhere down the line).

No, what I'm talking about here is more of a stance, an attitude. We went to war for the most idiotic and transparent rationales, ridiculous falsehoods and nonsensical assurances, with a system of decision-making almost guaranteed to cause serious problems, and now, well, ok, maybe things don't look that great now, but you can't really say anything 'bout that, because maybe forty years from now it will all work out ok!!

Imagine this kind of argument applied to, for example, expanding S-CHIP (if that's something you oppose) - or anything else pushed by one's political or ideological opponents?

Doubt anyone is still around, but since Chris deigned to respond...

"What you're saying basically boils down to "no computer model is ever completely accurate", which is certainly true - the question is to what extent those inaccuracies invalidate what the model predicts. And in the vast majority of competently programmed models, it's not an issue, and in the handful of cases where things really are just irreducably complex for a given level of computational ability, proving that to be the case is, as they say, non-trivial."

"No? It's not the case that there are well-known techniques to deal with rounding errors, domain transform issues, and other problems encountered in programming virtual models of physical processes? And that these techniques, when applied by skilled, experienced programmers can significantly ameliorate many of the issues JA was mentioning earlier?

Do tell!"

No, Chris, Climatology is not auto repair.

What JA was saying does not boil down to anything like "no computer model is completely accurate." This implies that the models are close, with just a few bugs to be worked out. My (admittedly limited) understanding is that the problems are also not so much about accuracy as validity.

These issues are far afield from the scope of this blog, let alone the topic of this thread, so I'll attempt a connection. I support taking energetic action now to combat AGW, just as I supported similar action in the GWOT, including Iraq. Still do. In both cases, pretending (or mistakenly believing) that certainty exists where it clearly does not clouds the issue and creates unnecessary enemies and skeptics which can be fatal to the effectiveness of concerted action.

But, and I hope this connects to the topic of the thread, uncertainty is no excuse/rationale for inaction. Indeed, action can often reduce uncertainty (we now know that Saddam has no WMD, being dead). What matters is the cost associated with inaction. If there's even a 10% chance that AGW turns Earth into Mars before we learn how to turn Mars into Earth, then action is imperative.

This is all likely obvious to your advanced mind. Then why are you making the dubious case that Climatology is already a mature science, with just a few programming bugs to be worked out on the periphery? Are you sure "It's a slam dunk" is the case you want to be making? Ask George Tenet how that worked out for him.

"So yes, I reiterate that it'd be far easier to take the "skepticism" of anti-AGW-theory people seriously if y'all were making your arguments from inside the scientific process, as opposed to taking potshots from outside of it."

Ever wonder why it is we're outside? Was that process scientific?

"Was it not? Then by all means, shout it to the rooftops, have a media circus, expose the modern scientific-industrial complex for the fraud that it is, and the world will love you for it."

I'll take that as a no. I begin to wonder whether you've ever wondered about anything. I was referring to your own definition of the "scientific" process - it only counts as science if its reviewed by a group of self-selected peers approved by Chris. That's a political process, not a scientific one. And I'm assuming you're a published climatologist yourself, Chris, or you've got a serious Groucho Marx problem.

"Because, man, this FUD-sniping in low-level blog comments just isn't cutting it."

Its your world, Chris. We're all just trying to live up to your high standards.

Ever wonder why it is we're outside? Was that process scientific?

hypo - (checking)...no, don't feel skewered at this point - although some interesting discussion, which I'm waay behind on. Dan S has the post I really need to digest and come back with something on - it may have to wait till I'm on a plane Friday.

The climatology parallel is also strong, and I'll try and do a post that ties the two together so we can all keep having fun...

A.L.

There are several simple facts that were obvious to any who did not have ideological blinders on at the time of the invasion of Iraq, and remain true today:

Given the sentiment about America in the Arab world, there is little possibility of American military action not being opposed by some sort of insurgency.

The American goals of regional military dominance supporting Israeli dominance will not be supported by Arab populations. They are fundamentally incompatible with true democracy in the Middle East.

Being supported by America results in a net loss of legitimacy for any government in the Muslim, and especially the Arab, world.

Given these facts, the American invasion with only coerced international support had essentially no chance of developing a legitimate democracy in the Arab world, not to mention one that supports American interests. Even with a perfect political situation of general international support and regional political agreements, the task of replacing Hussein with something better would be low probability. The initial conditions made this possibility vanishingly small.

With war supporters in the US, one is left to believe that the first possibility is that:

a) They were interested only in showing their own moral superiority to themselves in a narcissistic pose in front of a mirror and simply didn't care very much about reality. (what Yglesias is arguing, and a position perfectly represented by Christopher Hitchens, essentially the liberal hawk position) It's also possible to be too stupid or misinformed to recognize the above facts, but at this point that takes such willful blindness that it is equivalent to not caring about reality. That seems to be the Bush position, but his inability to articulate any complicated thought leads one to believe he might really be in category:

b) War supporters didn't care about either the reality or the moral case, as they were not really interested in making a better Iraq, but only in exercising American power towards simple materialistic ends, a vicarious feeling of power, a chance to attack the left, or because of their hatred of Muslims/Arabs. For these people, the only real problem is that the American public might take away the ability to keep killing and maintaining a militarily dominant position. (perfectly represented by people like Dick Cheney, Mark Steyn, Marty Peretz, or pretty much everybody at the National Review)

So, there are two domestic political problems going forward which need to be resolved to get the best possible (bad) outcome of this disastrous foreign policy decision. People in category (a) need to be convinced to look at reality so that a rational decision can be made. People in category (b) need to be marginalized from the discussion for the good of our country, Iraq, and the rest of the world. Neither of these is particularly easy, so regardless of which political party is in control, it seems like the most likely path going forward is a series of half-hearted withdrawals and re-invasions, none of which will serve either America or Iraq well.

Eventually this will end in one of three ways - an authoritarian system pliant to American wishes with little internal legitimacy (Egypt), an authoritarian system angrily opposed to America with mixed internal legitimacy (Iran), or a catastrophic regional war that will re-align the interests and loyalties of all the parties to the conflict.

No, Chris, Climatology is not auto repair.

What JA was saying does not boil down to anything like "no computer model is completely accurate." This implies that the models are close, with just a few bugs to be worked out. My (admittedly limited) understanding is that the problems are also not so much about accuracy as validity.

So, David, your post by and large does a pretty par-for-the-course job of misrepresenting my words and attempting to spin me into the worst possible interpretation. So let's clarify:

What JA was saying does boil down to "no computer model is completely accurate," but if you prefer, a more exact statement would be "there are various physical properties and mathematical laws that prevent any computer model from being completely accurate." And that's a true statement, as far a it goes.

However, that doesn't prevent the models that do exist from being "close", as you say. And while there are issues that prevent computer models from being 100% accurate, there are also many techniques that can be used to significantly reduce sources of inaccuracy - the issues JA was bringing up don't automatically doom any and all models to be eternally meaningless.

There certainly are legitimate questions as to how close the models actually are, and how close it's ever possible to get them, but to my knowledge nobody's managed to prove in a scientific context - or lately, even try to make a serious case - that the models are fundamentally invalid.

This is all likely obvious to your advanced mind. Then why are you making the dubious case that Climatology is already a mature science, with just a few programming bugs to be worked out on the periphery? Are you sure "It's a slam dunk" is the case you want to be making? Ask George Tenet how that worked out for him.

I don't recall making the case that climatology was a mature or immature science, nor that there were ever "just a few bugs to be worked out." I was responding to JA's comments about the difficulties of making accurate models, and, before that, dumping on James Inhofe and the like regarding their paranoia on the subject of global warming. Insofar as you've claimed to think action is imperitive to combat AGW, I'd think you'd think the same of Inhofe.

And no, I certainly never claimed that it was a "slam dunk". The work on AGW that does exist is, from my perspective, certainly enough to make us take pause, and take a reasonable amount of action. I'd like to see us invest more money into alternative energy sources that drastically reduce our carbon emissions, and institute cap-and-trade policies that ensure those new energy sources take the place of - rather than supplement - our existing energy sources as they become viable. But that's a long way away from being the kind of blindly accepting AGW zealot you're trying to portray me as.

Ever wonder why it is we're outside? Was that process scientific?

I'll take that as a no. I begin to wonder whether you've ever wondered about anything. I was referring to your own definition of the "scientific" process - it only counts as science if its reviewed by a group of self-selected peers approved by Chris. That's a political process, not a scientific one. And I'm assuming you're a published climatologist yourself, Chris, or you've got a serious Groucho Marx problem.

Peer review being part of the scientific process isn't "my" definition - it's pretty much been accepted practice in virtually every field of science for the past century. And as for "approved by Chris"... dude, do you have any shame, or do you just happily put whatever words you see fit into the mouths of your opponents without a second thought?

I repeat what I said earlier - if you don't think the current AGW science is valid because the scientists researching it are all lockstep drones, or because there's a vast conspiracy, or just the study of global warming isn't following the same scientific method that, say, genetics research or astronomy do - then by all means prove it. Until then, your "ever wonder..." statement is textbook Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, and contributes nothing to reasonable discussion.

What ever happened to Che and the Shield of Achilles? Ahh.. good times.

Remember this pretty quote (one of my favorites of yours, Marc), the one after you discussed the importance of making adjustments to objective reality:

The attachment of the progressive left to that ideal - to the liberation of humanity that comes through a revolutionary stroke, rather than the endless small acts and hard work that build and nurture real life, real freedom, and exemplify real love for humanity - is the malign center of Bad Philosophy as it exists today. When we can extract it, real progress can begin.

Sure it's spot-on about the left, but perhaps about Hawks too? Roger Cohen? We could interpret "hard work" less as Bush does and more like dealing with the ickiness of diplomacy, international law, the French, etc? And to engage in some irresponsible what-ifs.. I have to say I never really liked Bubba that much (but do more now for some reason), but one can't help but think that had he succeeded in drumming up his little Operation Desert Fox into something larger (perhaps naming the what was to be the introductory campaign after a nazi was the mistake?), we'd probably have had NATO and a host of Arabian states in the Coalition of the Willing.

A.L.,

"hypo - (checking)...no, don't feel skewered at this point". Actually, I wasn't asking you if you felt skewered, I was being kind enough to let you know you lost this argument. You didn't really address the MY argument at all, but as we've pointed out, addressed side issues, not pertinent to MY's point.

But, on that note, have to end with this Monty Python clip, with you in the role of Black Knight, and Chris in the role of King Arthur

You never know, maybe though, your argument will end up biting his leg off.

Easy one first: If MY had talked about "what Weber meant" or "what is the meaning of that particular essay", you would have a point. But absent that, it's a meaningless objection.

Whatever MY's focus and original intent, it is without doubt fair to point out a larger context.

Person1:'So-and-so said X'
Person2:'Ah, but didn't so-and-so also say Y'
Person3:'And such-and-such said Z'
Person1:'My point was so-and-so said X, don't bother me with meningless objections.'

"History hasn't happened yet so don't judge", as I've told you again and again, is simply a means of not taking responsibility.

This word responsibility, I do not think it means what you think it means. 'I did not do it' is simply not the same as 'It is not over yet'.

Also your Netbank store was cute. I assume back in Dec 2000 you were also telling everyone you could to sell their Apple stock?

We went to war for the most idiotic and transparent rationales, ridiculous falsehoods and nonsensical assurances

You're suggesting Saddam didn't have it coming?

"The attachment of the progressive left to that ideal - to the liberation of humanity that comes through a revolutionary stroke, rather than the endless small acts and hard work that build and nurture real life, real freedom, and exemplify real love for humanity - is the malign center of Bad Philosophy as it exists today. When we can extract it, real progress can begin."

The thing is, though, that 'one revolutionary stroke' ideal has almost completely faded from what's characterized as "the left" today. Instead, we're all about endless small acts and hard work, which is reflected in the various liberal and progressive policy proposals, the most sweeping of which would generally put us to the right of most European nations. It remains in small numbers of people far out on the ideological fringe and lacking any political influence.

Instead, it seems to burn in the breasts of, roughly, the Iraq war hawks, including liberal ones, interestingly.

"We could interpret "hard work" less as Bush does and more like dealing with the ickiness of diplomacy, international law, the French, etc?"

Exactly, and more - it comes across to me, in this context, as a sort of rage against the complicated world, this immense frustration which runs from the plodding, responsible details and instead launches into utterly grandiose schemes - perhaps with the very best of intentions - where one is always creating one's own unfettered reality, and history will justify it all . . .

"You're suggesting Saddam didn't have it coming?"

Again, 'Saddam was a bad, bad man!' isn't an argument, not from the way we look at it.

The case AGW analogy is fatally flawed. To quote myself:

with an unknown change in risk that is near zero, such as with global warming, it doesn’t make sense to try to mitigate the change, but rather to be prepared to survive the 1000 year storms that may come 10 years earlier (or 100 years later– GW is believed to mean less storms, but slightly stronger ones).

Remember also, nearly half of the recent warming is attributed to nature. And the vast majority of the warming attributed to CO2 is due to feedbacks, which are actually probably feedbacks from the natural warming.

As for your analogy to Iraq, I hope you’re joking. They are only comparable if you think that Gaia is testing us. You ignore the human component. Saddam was able the use the implied threat to levy cost above and beyond the cost of an actual attack, had he the weapons, (and on a continual basis) and there’s “shame of American inaction” on a blatant violation of an agreed surrender.

Just look at all the development now going on in the region that was delayed until Saddam was gone. The building going on in the region is astounding. If it was done over the decades, the resulting growth may have been phenomenal. It would also have probably prevented them from likely having to redo the work in ten years since they would likely have developed better quality control institutions and standards.

This barely touches on the benefits over non-invasion. As Greenspan recently said, it was worth it just to remove the threat he posed to the flow of oil in the region. It also removed a threat that would have made most all action in Iran and Syria impractical. And established a logistics capability in the region. And gives hundreds of thousand of troops experience in and exposure to the tactics of and many cultures similar to our enemies. And allowed us to spend practically free money (from the low interest rates at the time) without creating permanent domestic spending programs. And…

Whatever MY's focus and original intent, it is without doubt fair to point out a larger context.

That would work, except for the fact that AL was using this larger context to DISCREDIT MY's argument - as he so lovingly described, as "What a pile of horse patootey Yglesias has served up to us". When of course, it doesn't address what Yglesias was serving up at all.

Also your Netbank story was cute. I assume back in Dec 2000 you were also telling everyone you could to sell their Apple stock?.

I was this close to buying 10K in apple stock, back in June 2003. You have no idea how I'm kicking myself now!

Doesn't negate the point though, that if all the warning signs are flashing, and you ignore them with "Saddam is a bad man", you are culpable, and can't hide behind moral superiority, or postpone judging results via an infinite timeline horizon.

You've still ignored what was in front of your face, and recommended the bad action.

Circles within circles.

Saddam had it coming. No matter how many times people say removing him was a bad action, a mistake, the worst foreign policy blunder ever, "Saddam had it coming" remains an entirely valid argument.

There's a saying "No good deed goes unpunished." Sometimes you face an easy choice and the right choice. Bush Sr (like afore-alluded-to FDR) choose easy. I completely understand the reasons. The end results may have been better for us in the long run. But this gets us right back to the original Weber quote. How easy to say the results of not removing Saddam (or Stalin) is someone else's burden.

And I don't understand how bringing up a larger context is fine until you to use it to discredit someone else's point.

Matt wants to paint Bush and Iraq hawks as "ultimate enders" and the anti-war as those with an "ethic of responsibility". Objectively it is much closer to the opposite with the hawks saying we should continue the fight to achieve the best possible end and the left telling everyone they can 'Sorry world, it isn't us it's them.'

"But what about foreign policy? The analogy is not as tight here, but it still works. One way of applying the Strict Father vision is to see the US as the Father of Nations: It’s our proper role to reward and punish other nations according to their behavior. In this view, the unanswerable justification of the Iraq War is that Saddam was bad. He deserved to be punished, and if the US wouldn’t punish him, then who would? Rogue nation is an analogy to spoiled child."

""Saddam had it coming" remains an entirely valid argument."

abw, if you're still reading, can you explain this? It's both laughable and incomprehensible to my ears.

For myself, not abw, "Saddam had it comming" means that this is the main justification for the 2003 invasion.
Bush's Decision Choices:
a) invade now,
b) not invade now, b1) with option to invade later, or b2) never invade.

When Blix made his Feb. 2003 report, he did NOT say that Saddam had fulfilled all his prior commitments, and he did NOT say that he had documentation proving that Saddam had destroyed all WMDs.

Those who say "no invasion" are saying they prefer Saddam to the current post-Saddam mini-civil-war & nation building now going on.

If Bush had chosen b) not invade now, I claim that this would basically mean b2) never invade. The inspectors were not going to find WMDs -- but this would have meant Saddam "wins" again. First, he won (=survived as leader) after Desert Storm. Now, again, letting the UN inspectors look but never find his "secrets" (nod nod, wink wink [say no more!]).

Without an invasion, I believe Iraq would be a much bigger threat to the US and to human rights, than it is today.

The Kurds show that liberation could have been good for the Arabs -- if the Arabs prefer development over anti-American 'pride'.

It looks like the Sunni Arab ARE choosing it, so most 'strategic blunder' talk might well be gone by next year, as the Arabs start turning in the killers.

Solar powered air-conditioning. That's the development the US should be pushing in Iraq, especially Sunni Iraq. Solar power manufacturing and installation, for Iraq and for export. And to reduce global warming / CO2.

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