Saturday, August 05, 2006

Henry Farrell's correct views on war, political responsibility, & Iraq

All the points made by Henry Farrell (in this post on the Crooked Timber group weblog, responding to some misguided claims by Alex Tabarrok) are correct and important ... so I'll just let him make them.

(If desired, these can be supplemented by my own views, which I hope and believe are also correct, here.)

--Jeff Weintraub
Henry Farrell (on Crooked Timber)
August 3, 2006
Why the Iraq Fiasco Means We Must Support My Politics
Alex Tabarrok
In Fiasco Thomas Ricks’ says the war on Iraq and subsequent occupation was ill-conceived, incompetently planned and poorly executed. I have no quarrel with that. What dismays me is that anyone expected any different. All wars are full of incompetence, mendacity, fear, and lies. War is big government, authoritarianism, central planning, command and control, and bureaucracy in its most naked form and on the largest scale. The Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons. If this war has been worse on these scores than others, and I have my doubts, we can at least be thankful that the scale of death and destruction has been smaller. At the Battle of the Somme there were a million casualties and 300,000 deaths over the course of a few months. If we remember previous wars more fondly this is only because those wars we won. Incompetent planning and poor execution are not fatal so long as the other side plans and executes yet more incompetently. Is this a suggestion to put the current war in context? Not at all. It is suggestion to put government in context.
This is not a good argument. That the massive bureaucracies of war involve waste and duplication is undeniable (although history doesn’t give us any reason whatsoever to believe that markets would do a better job). But to say that the incompetence with which the Iraq war was conducted was simply business as usual is not only to get Rumsfeld et al. off the hook for the quite specifically personal incompetence that they displayed and are still displaying. It’s to make a general claim that can’t be supported using the evidence that you claim is supporting it. An incompetently conducted war does not a general case against government make. Indeed, if you wanted to make a polemic case for a strong state and against market reforms, you could quite easily use post-war Iraq as an example of how massive contracting-out of military work to private actors, mass demobilization of an army and privatization and free trade lead inevitably to political disaster. Not that I believe the Iraq experience actually supports so sweeping a claim – while the decisions in question all were bad ones in the context of post-war Iraq, this context is not generalizable. The argument that post-war Iraq demonstrates the badness of privatization everywhere would be a very poor argument indeed. But then, so is the argument that the Iraq war demonstrates the badness of government everywhere.

posted on Thursday, August 3rd, 2006 at 9:35 am