Play to the End

When I was haphazardly running my little business, a Kenny Rogers song would float through my mind uncomfortably often. The refrain of Don Schlitz’s “The Gambler” went:

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

Well, that’s like buy low, sell high. Not that it doesn’t work, but what the hell’s high, what the hell’s low?

It always comes down to an unknowable: we may distinguish a good hand from a bad one (though that is fairly hard); another decision is also important: is that stack at the middle of the table worth the risk? In America’s case, the people that are likely to spend the stack of chips aren’t as likely to be us and, while the short term risks of money and blood are ours, the greatest risks will also not be ours. (Well, now, we are beginning to suspect, in the long run attacks will eventually come our way. Still, a lot of other countries are likely to be bloodied on the way to get us–9/11 was preceded by 20 years of warfare often against us but mostly outside the U.S.) The choices are risky for us – and others. But, oh, the pot; the chips are no gilded base metals. This is the real thing–democracy, women’s rights, people’s rights.

I’m reminded of those worries, that particular mystery when I hear smug State Department types take a grim pleasure in critiquing Bush’s foreign policy; their Olympian self-satisfaction is hard to miss: Iraq is a debacle; not even one of us could undo this damage for a generation. Their dispassion implies the whole thing was merely a game; Bush made a move, we checkmate; let’s call it quits (and send him back to his dusty ranch)

But we also hear voices from Iraq. Amir Taheri argues

Iraq is not about to disintegrate. Nor is it on the verge of civil war. Nor is it about to repeat Iran’s mistake by establishing a repressive theocracy. Despite becoming the focus of anti-American energies in the past year, its people still hold the West in high regard. Iraq has difficult months ahead, nobody would dispute that. But it has a chance to create a new society. Its well-wishers should keep the faith and prove the doomsters wrong.

Amir Taheri, too, has his agenda. We all do. But his litany of energetic changes are more “real” than our malaise. He has gravitas, seriousness, perspective. We find that hard to find.

Actually, I suspect it is also with Taheri that history will lie – if we and his countrymen keep our eyes on the value of what is at stake. And I suspect the smugness of those “old hands” is phony; it covers a real fear that all the irony that was their stock in trade no longer has the same ring and that maybe today fewer people would be dead if they had looked at the world as it was in, say, 1993, not assuming it remained as it had in 1983. It is that cowboy and not they who recognized the world has changed, is changing. He responded to events. They bring out their cliches.

Some of us have our doubts about this idyllic past. We remember the French withdrawal from NATO before. We notice the scandal of the oil-for-food program. We remember how prescient these “old hands” were in describing the Russian economy, in not connecting dots. And we remember the European who turned to us less than a month after 9/11 and said, “Ah, we are so sorry for you. But if you will allow me to say it,” in the most condescending of tones, “we hope this will make your cowboy president act in a less unilateral way.” (This was, I think, a reference to Durban; I was quite proud we had not been a party to that little display. The French and Germans have not always been quite as good on the Jewish question as they might be.)

The hauteur, the world weariness, the curled lip that is disturbing. Don’t these spokespeople realize those are real lives – our soldiers, the Iraqis, the messy world of the Middle East, indeed, the Europeans’ world in a decade or two?

Right now, we need to define why the gamble is worthy, is a serious undertaking. Those of us who look at Germany and Japan may think the prize is worth while. But that’s history – I was born in 1945, what do I know? A lot of Germans and plenty of Japanese aren’t too happy with our bets. I think they’d say the risk of those years of occupation was worth it. But maybe not.

Europeans have a different history from ours; their beliefs are different as well. They have given us much—western culture, the rule of law–and in the last century we began to repay that debt. (A fact they grudgingly acknowledge – looking at Bosnia, at the beaches of Normandy.) They have more faith in institutions than we do – in that way, perhaps, we are still the revolutionaries that we were at the beginning–first in terms of beliefs and then in terms of politics. We are thoroughly true to our beliefs – our sense that the fallible nature of man is likely to mold fallible institutions; we worry that openness and transparency are lost in bureaucracies. The United Nations does little to disabuse us of that notion. We value the unencumbered will more than perhaps we should – we think the Europeans value the cushions of the safety net too much (we see retreat and apathy; they see aggressive noise). They see the inequality of annual income and think of permanent penury; we see the flow between medians of income and see potential.

They seem less willing to accept the tragic nature of human life that comes from our religious tradition nor do they have confidence in the commonsensical, sturdy pragmatism we rely on. We accept we have feet of clay and move on. They are more likely to posit an abstraction. We tend to view that idealism as ideology; they dream of utopias, of perfectly managed economies, of heroic and romantic heroes. Sometimes we seem like a Thelma Ritter character (remember her glance in All About Eve, in Rear Window; let’s cut through the bull and see what’s real, let’s doubt those stories). Our leaders are term limited, our economy is open. We may assume innocence until guilt is proven – but that is a matter as much of our limits on our institutions as our confidence in human nature. And because we acknowledge the imperfection in the temporal, we can retain our respect for the eternal.

I suspect in some ways we are even farther apart than we realize. I like our system; they like theirs. In a thousand years, historians will probably observe that there were virtues in their world – and in ours.

They produce Beckett. We admire him. We produce Faulkner. They admire him. But Faulkner knows they are different. Faulkner told us:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

Some great leaders were heroic. We were already a superpower; our heroes may be no less brave and bold, but were less likely to think of their position as futile–the great tempter. These men did not give up when so many would; even though they had been sold out time after time—not just when they were center stage in Munich, but later (and earlier) as well. (These are the countries Chirac told last year to learn their place; it was a good time, he said, to be quiet. These were the countries that John Kerry described as the “bribed and coerced.” No, the selling out is not likely to stop now.) Their history is hugely different from ours even though so many of us are linked by blood to those regions. Bordered by Canada and Mexico, what can we understand of the centuries of bloodshed?

Our respect and affection is prompted by their heroism, but we can not, in important ways, know them. But they know, better than any others today, what those chips on the center of the table are worth. And some of them think they are worth very much indeed.

Some extraordinary men were heroes among those Europeans – people who with clear eyes and real courage were willing to risk much. Sure, our Czech friends look for a book about Mumia, think Oliver Stone is great. But, among them were those who stepped back and took perspective. Many feel that hunkering down is the best position; they are always a bit in preparation for the armies that have stalked across their lands too many times. They see America marching into another country; they worry. I might if I were in those countries. But others argue, no, this is worth doing. This is what we know as we hunker down; this is worth sometimes standing up for. It is they who saw farther than we or their neighbors did during the seventies and eighties; we can respect their voices.

One of those is Adam Michnik, interviewed in Dissent.

Adam Michnik: I look at the war in Iraq from three points of view. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a totalitarian state. It was a country where people were murdered and tortured. So I’m looking at this through the eyes of the political prisoner in Baghdad, and from this point of view I’m very grateful to those who opened the gates of the prison and who stopped the killing and the torture. Second, Iraq was a country that supported terrorist attacks in the Middle East and all over the world. I consider that 9/11 was the day when war was started against my own work and against myself. Even though we are not sure of the links, Iraq was one of the countries that did not lower its flags in mourning on 9/11. There are those who think this war could have been avoided by democratic and peaceful means. But I think that no negotiations with Saddam Hussein made sense, just as I believe that negotiations with Hitler did not make sense. And there is a third reason. Poland is an ally of the United States of America. It was our duty to show that we are a reliable, loyal, and predictable ally. America needed our help, and we had to give it. This was not only my position. It was also the position of Havel, Konrad, and others.

The interviewer observes: “Yes, you specifically mention that this is a view you share with Vaclav Havel and Gyorgy Konrad”.

And Michnik replies:

We take this position because we know what dictatorship is. And in the conflict between totalitarian regimes and democracy you must not hesitate to declare which side you are on. Even if a dictatorship is not an ideal typical one, and even if the democratic countries are ruled by people whom you do not like. I think you can be an enemy of Saddam Hussein even if Donald Rumsfield is also an enemy of Saddam Hussein.

(Other discussions are on, not surprisingly, Front Page.)

Back to us: Maybe early on, when we were threatening, we could have “folded” our hand and left. We’d have lost credibility. The UN already didn’t have much as far as I could see. Iraq would be just another place the UN talked of and did nothing about – Srbenecia, Rwanda, the Sudan, Palestinian refugee areas? I don’t think that would have been best, but what do I know. I do know that we, in remarkably short order, won a war and displaced a brutal dictator who had made the UN appear a farce for a decade. And I do know now we have the “peace” to win – that is, a nation to build on that scrapheap of mass burial grounds and erratic electricity and gold-filled palaces Saddam had made of his country.

We have to see this thing through – we have to not just restore electricity but also expand it, not just get the teachers back in the schoolrooms but new textbooks. These people have been brutalized by a ruthless leader whose omnipresent features were tattooed into their minds – it will take a while to clear those minds, detoxify those thoughts. They need to step beyond fear and assume the kind of responsibility democracy requires (one not all that many populations have been willing to take). And this in a country that is surrounded by ill-wishers, whose prisons were opened as America entered, and whose army fled rather than fought. Okay, it is going to be tough for us and tougher for them. But surely it isn’t as tough as living in a society with a children’s prison.

We see, as in the NYTimes report explicated by Morrissey, a powerful desire to fold, to walk away. That maneuver, unattractive in itself, tells us much. It is a game. The Times is playing the cards it has. It is out to win – but the pot it wants to win is cheap. The tone is world weary: Bush just doesn’t know what he’s doing and besides what is it that Iraq has now and didn’t before? Freedom, what is that? Freedom of press, but, ah, that and so much more are mere illusions. Those of you out there think you are free, but we, we know better. After all, women aren’t admitted to an Augusta (and my apologies to all those Augustans–the blogosphere’s fact checkers do keep us honest) golf club.

The less dishonest, the more worn down ask another question. These are the people that want guarantees – or at least this guarantee at this time. I don’t understand their question, aching with angst and malaise, asked in a tone that appears closer to a moan than an interrogatory – is it doable? Well, we damn well better make it “doable”—otherwise we have betrayed the Iraqis, we have betrayed those in the Middle East who think there is another way to govern than by despot, we have betrayed those who believed in our rhetoric, we’ve betrayed those injured and dead. We have also betrayed Tony Blair and those other Brits like him, those Australians and Poles and Italians and Czechs and. . .

Of course, the real problem would be that we have betrayed what we believe in and who we are. We have betrayed the vulnerable future and the vision of the past. For those of us who believe that this is something, indeed, to betray, “folding them” really isn’t an option. Our “idealism” does not lead us to trust authoritarian leaders or to imagine utopian statist fantasies. It does lead us to respect individual rights, the freedom that, as Bush put it but was just using the words of an old tradition, is not America’s to its citizens but God’s to the world. Because our sense of the fallibility of man is always accompanied by our sense of his individual responsibility, his potential for the heroic choice, the transcendent act.

At this point, we need to make damn sure we do it. Worrying about the doable half way through the game isn’t all that useful. There were times when I thought my husband was really, really irritating. But, as three kids came along, I figured we were in for a long haul and it damn well better be doable. When I looked over those stubs that told me how much my employees needed to be paid, I figured that was no time to fold and I’d damn well better make it doable. Looking at my quirky thesis and pile of novels, I wondered how I was going to get to the end.

Deeper thinkers, greater actors on a larger stage are in the middle of the play. All is not well, challenges have arisen and will arise; much will, inevitably, have to change. Of course, the business needed to be altered, the marriage needed to be thought out, the thesis needed to be refined. But my responsibilities needed to be met, each needed to be “finished” in some way. Because, of course, each represented responsibilities (and I would argue mundane but real values) that were bigger than me. Of course, I sold the business; divorces can be done with dignity and respect for mate and children, dissertations don’t need to be written. Still, the folding needs to be done in a way that doesn’t betray who we are.

I knew each time I’d damn well better work something out. And that is what those deeper thinkers, those bigger actors on that bigger stage need to figure out. But we need to be there, too. We need to ask, what can we do; the question shouldn’t be is it doable? but, rather, how?

And perhaps we can conclude with one of my own husband’s cw lyrics; the narrator starts telling a story and screws up and his friends yell “tell one you know”: he keeps forgetting a new song at songwriter’s night and the audience yells “play one you know.” The last verse points out that’s the trouble with life: we just can’t start over; we’ve got to play it to the end. Benjamin Franklin was a pragmatist, but he wanted a new edition, where he could clean up the errata. We understand that desire, but, well, he knows and we know, starting over isn’t an option, we’ve got to see it to the end.

27 thoughts on “Play to the End”

  1. If you were against the War in Iraq from the get-go, that’s fine I can accept that. But for these Kerry types that have “changed their mind” I have one question: What did you expect?

    Did people really think that toppling a government and re-building it from scratch in the middle of a very hostile region was going to be easy, short or painless? Did anybody really think that a year later a country that has never had a democratic government would be peaceful and democratic and every US troop would be gone? It took longer than this in Germany and Japan, and in those situations the victory was total and there was nobody on the planet who would aid and abet any Nazis trying to hang on to a slim ray of hope, like in Iraq. It took 15 years of brutality, unconstitutionality, military rule and economic depravation to pacify the former Confederate states after the Civil War, and there is still resentment and mistrust 140 years later. And the South never got the kind of autonamous self-government that the Iraqis should end up with.

    The point is that this is not a neat, clean process and endlessly recounting every terrorist attack and totally neglecting the vast majority of good news there serves nobody but America’s enemies (some of whom reside inside our borders).

    To put it in perspective, if Iraq gets any more violent it is in danger of overtaking the number of murders in Washigton DC this year. Yet nobody is demanding more troops be sent east of the captial or describing it as a “quagmire, like Vietnam”. But you could certainly make the argument that Washington DC is and has been a quagmire for decades.

    It’s all about perspective.

  2. I believe that in 2003, you were safer from death in combat in iraq than in the city of chicago.

  3. Bravo and Amen, Ginny! Some protest the arrogance of Bush and his team (and, perhaps, arrogant they are), but you provide us with a much needed reminder of the arrogance of those who like to sit on the sidelines and contribute nothing but “I’m above it all / A pox on both their houses” sniping no matter who is in power.

    Those who believe we can make decisions about Iraq now unencumbered by our past decisions, as if the situation were a tabula rasa upon which we can write anything we please, are either fooling themselves or approach the world with an airy, godlike detachment that makes them useless when it comes to figuring out what should be done about anything. Perhaps deciding to pursue the neocons’s strategy of remaking the Middle East was not the best decision when it came to how we should approach the War on Terror. (I think it was.) In any event, DSpears is completely correct to point out it’s a little late for the 70% who supported President Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in March, 2003 to have “buyer’s regret.” For, in the words of Richard II, we cannot “Call back yesterday nor bid time return.” In the world of geostrategy (and in every other part of the real world), there are no “do-overs.”

    American failure in Vietnam, whatever its cause, led directly to Soviet adventurism around the world, mostly famously, of course, in Afghanistan. Islamist adventurism will surely follow American failure in Iraq. No matter what we do now, there is a cost, and, unlike Kenny Rogers’ poker game, quitting in this game can cost you a lot more than the chips you left on the table when you quit. The paying can go for years and years. Some people seem to forget that, if they ever knew it to begin with.

  4. In short, Scotus, it’s no coincidence the Bermuda triangle of America’s unfinished business, Korea and Iraq internationally, Viet Nam domestically are biting us in the rear at the same time. Or the Bermuda Square if one includes Iran.

    Wonderful posting, Ginny.

    I call it mutated monarchy, unelected rule by one or by the Brusselsprouts, all the same.

    We had slaves, but we never had peasants. We don’t have that mentality. Europe could have chosen to adapt or adopt our vision during the past 200 years, beginning w/the French Revolution. As another poster wrote somewhere, all they got was The Reign of Terror.

    We are the original rogue nation, and for all the “they know our history better than we do” they don’t get US and they never will. But I’ve told some Europeans via this lovely technology that Al Gore invented, we get you because we have 800 years of your history to refer to. And if that goes back too far, The Barbary Pirates. They don’t change.

  5. Great essay; just one minor, niggling nitpick: The Master’s is in Augusta, not Atlanta. The state even left Augusta off one of the state highway maps, so they are a bit touchy about such things..

  6. St. Thomas wrote:

    A closer look at the arguments on both sides
    often shows that they are reasoning from
    fundamentally different premises. These
    different premises – often implicit – are what
    provide the consistency behind the repeated
    opposition of individuals and groups on
    numerous, unrelated issues. They have
    different visions of how the world works.

    Ginny mostly argues that these differences are between the US and continental European visions, though Adam Michnik’s view of the justification of Iraq is contrasted with the New York Times. The Anglosphere discussions discuss it more as a difference between the English speaking world and Old Europe. Would that it were true.

    We have the conflict here within the US. The NY Times, John Kerry, the perceived view of Dept. State are all consistent with the unconstrained vision of mankind. If only the annointed sit down and reason things through we can all work this out. There would be no contingencies, no unexpected sand storm, no policy reversals while winning the peace. If only the unannointed would quietly follow their enlightened lead, the world would learn and grow closer to true harmony that would fulfill all our wants.

    Bush is, obviously, not of the annointed.

    The humanitarian arguments Ginny makes go past the annointed. Adam Michnik’s point on Sadaam’s totalitarianism is lost. Back around 1982, Krokadil’ had a great joke:
    Q: What is difference between America and
    Soviet Union.
    A: In America, saying no difference earns
    approval of NY Times.
    In Soviet Union, saying no difference
    earns 20 years hard labor for Slander of
    the State.
    I honestly don’t know how they managed to print it. But i have never seen a better explanation of the annointed here “Just don’t get it.”

    Visions lead to theories, and theories can be tested by facts. But facts as seen and reported are filtered by the vision of the seer, of the reporter. Annointed readers of The NY Times will not see Amir Teheri’s quote above, even if it is somehow printed in the Times. It’s not a matter of having an agenda. After all, it’s the group without your vision that has an agenda.

    Testing a theory and finding your vision false takes super human effort. Thomas Kuhn talks about paradigm shifts between competing theories in science. But Francis Fukuyama, in _Our Posthuman Future_ points out that this paradigm shift occurs not because the proponents of the old paradigm become convinced. It is because they die off, leaving the new paradigm unchallenged.

    I laugh inside at how true this is. A friend of mine and i have the same hypocritical view of the military coupes in Chile and Algeria. He says the Algerian coupe was justified because the Islamists would only have allowed one free election, then imposed a religious totalitarianism. I feel the same way about Allende’s overthrow. We both feel the other coupe unjustified, that the electorate would have worked it out.

    Sylvain and others here write that they wish Bush would articulate his vision, that he would explain the intelligence failures, that we cannot lose the battle of ideas here in the US. St. Thomas writes:

    The effects of visions do not depend upon
    their being articulated, or even on
    decision-makers’ being aware of them.
    “Practical” decision-makers often disdain
    theories and visions, being too busy to
    examine the ultimate basis on which they are

    Thank you, Ginny, for supporting my vision so beautifully. I would feel more comfortable with Bush 43 if he would articulate it half so well. The speeches on Iraq leading up to the transfer have helped some that way, but not enough.

    But let us not fool ourselves that it would help to convince the annointed.

    Matya no baka…

    (The indented quotes are from _A Conflict of Visions_ by Thomas Sowell, c 1987 William Morrow & Co., NY. They are taken from the first and last paragraphs of chapter 1, “The Role of Visions”.)

  7. Your essay is shot through with commendable threads of hope. I say “commendable” because at this point, as you say, the game in Iraq has been started and we have no choice but to try our best to finish it properly. Without hope, we truly will find ourselves in a Vietnamesque quagmire, in which people die for a cause that few believe in anymore.

    But here’s what I don’t like about this essay: It supposes that those who oppose the war are opposed to the overthrow of dictators, or that they’ve given up on the idea that our great values are real or worth promoting in the globe’s darker corners.

    The problem that most of the war-opposers I know have isn’t that complicated. Our problem is much simpler: We were lied to about this war.

    It’s tired to you, I’m sure; you’ll say, ‘Oh, well, there you go again,’ but the fact is, on the eve of this war, we Americans were told that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction; that Iraq oil would pay for the occupation; that Iraqis would greet us with flowers; etc. The administration carefully crafted a message tying Saddam to Al Qaeda, and suggested that the threat was “imminent” (and yes, I know, they only implied that, but they implied it vigorously and consistently, as in “we can’t wait for a smoking gun that’s a mushroom cloud” etc). The administration fired people whose assessments of the cost, duration, or need for this war differed with its own.

    And in the aftermath of invasion (and yes, you’ve heard all this before, it’s so tired), virtually everything that the administration predicted failed to come to pass; things it thought irrelevant (looting, dissent) proved deeply troublesome; troop numbers, casualties, and costs it scoffed at proved accurate; and the public is increasingly doubtful (despite Cheney’s almost desperate attempts to convince it) that Iraq represented a vital front of the War on Terror.

    The war was not billed as a war for values (the values you rightly embrace). The war was billed as a war of pre-emption against an imminent threat. Now, they’ve changed their tune. Just because a goodhearted person like yourself likes the sound of the new tune doesn’t change the fact that the most powerful man in the land pulled the old bait-and-switch on you, and me, and all of us.

    So Americans like me are saying, “Something stinks here.” We’re not saying, Gee, we loved Saddam, or, who cares about children in prison. We’re saying, did our leader tell us the truth?

    And too many of us for GWB’s comfort answer, no, he didn’t tell us the truth, and we don’t trust him, and all the high-minded nation-building rhetoric can’t mask a consitent pattern of rhetorical manipulation and tactical blundering.

    So the Iraq war is on, and we have to win it. To do so, folks like me believe that the first order of business is to get a man at the top who can be trusted. Opposition to Bush isn’t, as the Orwell-quoters would have it, an “objectively pro-facist,” pro-Baathist position. Opposition to Bush is a vote for transparency and honesty in the executive suite, without which we’ll never get anything done.

    So you’re right to hope. But a lot of us find our hope curdled by the administration’s obfuscations and dishonesty. Mankind may be destined to “prevail,” as Faulkner puts it, but in the meantime, we have a war to fight, and I want a leader I trust while we fight it.

  8. To see the truth of any argument, it is useful to have a bit of perspective. If an argument has a bit of truth, let us remember that bit of truth so that if ever the argument tries to rewrite history and say that it never said that truth, we must stop it from doing so. Because regardless of anything else, a truth is a truth is a truth, even Clinton can say the truth about weapons of mass destruction even if he now lies about ever saying so in the first place.

    When someone refers to the old bait and switch, about firing people with dissenting views, look close and not with a skimming eye. Look to see if the accuser pointing the finger at an alleged immoral action, firing people with dissenting views, does not himself use such tactics. The flower greeting allegedly proposed as a consequence of the invasion may or may not be true, yet let us not forget that there was no mention of the cheering crowds in Baghdad when the statue fell. Let us not forget that no mention was ever made of that, supposedly perhaps because it would have been a dissenting view about the original claims of “happy Iraqis in the streets” being a lie.

    True details and events are important to remember. The thing to also remember is that conclusions made from truth must also be true, but that conclusions made from truth and falsity are not guaranteed.

    The conclusion that Kerry is more trustworthy than President Bush cannot be guaranteed to be the truth if Kerry himself uses the very deceptive tactics that he accuses President Bush of using. The best situation would be that it is back to square one, neither can be trusted but that one can be distrusted above all others because only those with something to hide would selectively tell only such things that would benefit their conclusions and not anyone else’s. Yet, that is the problem, it can be argued to apply to both sides. That is why a lie is most effective when it is 99% truth, the accusation of bait and switch is so convincing because it itself uses deception and false marketing. By the time the argument is discredited, the damage is already done. Because doubt cannot be removed without truth, yet that doubt would not have come about at all without there being original truth fueling accusations of deception. So everything is in darkness, with a glowing question asking does the truth point to a person being right to doubt or does it point to an unjustified doubt, when both exists currently. When the waters are muddied, nothing is clear anymore. When a prophecy is ambiguous, interpretation is always 50% wrong.

    Confusion and deception are worthy weapons in a war, the only problem is what happens when those weapons are turned not upon the foes but upon the allies. Who is to blame then, when fingers are pointed from both sides and truth is hard to discern when deception itself uses the guise of truth to make itself harder to spot.

    Memory is the trick. Remember, and in remembering take away deception’s greatest weapon. Its ability to make you forget deception’s inconsistency with the real world. Because a lie cannot be consistent so long as the real world exists, and for any seeker of truth the real world is the only way to tell deception from the truth and truth from deception.

    But that’s hard. It is hard to remember things we do not want to remember, the things that hurt us or endanger us. Nobody wants to be wrong, because for much of our history being wrong meant being dead. To sail the seas and to think fresh water is near because land is near.

    That is why Taheri is said to be telling the truth by one side and telling inconsequential, if not untruth, events about Iraq from the other side. Taheri remembers and one of the reasons he remembers is that the memory of Iraq does not hurt him, it engenders no fear or lack of confidence in his ability to say what he says without being caught in a lie.

    It is not easy to trust, but it is easy to see which people are worthy of trust. People who keep their word are the most unlikely of people to tell a lie. Since they are willing to keep their word, they do not need to make excuses or lies about why they never made a promise in the first place. And that too is a sign of deception’s inconsistency, deception needs familiarity since it does not have a real world to back it up. It can only be said to inhabit a world of darkness and illusion, always in danger of being pierced by the light. What better place to inhabit than the dark corridors of a person always feeling justified in telling lies?

    Among the groups and the people who makes it their duty to either keep their word or break their word, these questions must be seen. Has terroists kept their word? Has Tony Blair kept his word? Has Saddam Hussein kept his word? Has North Korea’s dictator kept his word? Has Chirac kept his word? John F. Kerry, George W. Bush?

    Those are the important questions not only to ask, but to remember. Only by remembering what a painting looked like before, can we make out whether it is a fake or forgery. A very bright light helps much in making the inspection, not to mention the help of a person who is used to looking upon paintings in the light instead of in the darkness.

  9. beetroot:

    There are plenty of folk annoyed by the dissonance between what we hoped for the Iraqi peace and what we got. It’s true that, now, it seems a lot of our intelligence was suspect. Particularly on WMD. The link between Iraq and terrorism is as clear as it was on the day Clinton signed the resolution calling for US policy to promote regime change in Iraq. The jury is out on a link between Iraq and Al Quaeda’s implementation of 911, though i admit it seems a shaky connection. Evidence mounts that there were negotiations for a deal with Chad to purchase “yellow cake” uranium. We find occasional individual shells with nerve gas or mustard gas precursors, which says nothing either way about whether they were stockpiled pre-war.

    There is a huge difference between the positions “Our intelligence was poor and / or misinterpreted” and “We were lied to”.

    We know John Kerry obfuscates his position on Iraq, voting for and against its funding, emphasizing his opposition to some audiences, his willingness to continue the current reconstruction policies to others. We know he is in love with reducing our intelligence capability.

    I too would like a leader i can trust. I may not support Bush 43, but i certainly know John Kerry is not that leader.

    I also know that this posting did nothing to convince you, and it’s only purpose was to make me (and maybe others of similar thought) feel less futile.

    Matya no Baka!!

  10. MatyaNoBaka parses WMDs the way Bill Clinton parses sex.

    The WMD shells can mean one of two things both of them bad. Saddam did it. Some one else did. In either case we are much closer to the scene of the crime than we were in March 2003 so I’d say progress has been made.

    I can tell you definitely re: Kerry – “I’m not sure.”

  11. A deninition of word that is thrown around an aweful lot:

    Lie: Knowing what the truth is and PURPOSEFULLY misrespresenting it.

    Now, if you are going to accuse somebody of committing that act, you aught to have have proof. Not just be able to create a plausible situation in your mind but be able to actually prove that 1) the subject in question is not true (as opposed to a lack of definitive proof of the contrary), 2) that the accused knew what the truth was at the time of said statement, and 3) that they puposely tried to misrepresent the facts and circumstances.

    In the 18th century such an accusation usually ended in somebidy being killed in a duel, but in modern times the word is thrown about so often that it has almost lost it’s meaning.

    But anybody making such an allegation aught to feel the moral imperitive to prove it, not just link together a few disperate facts with much innuendo and supposition holding them together.

  12. Wonderful essay Ginny and some thoughtful responses, which for me, beg a question. If Iraqs’ WMDs are found in Syria or elsewhere, or worse are used against the U.S. or its Allies, will all of those who called the U.S. position a lie (if they are lucky enough to survive), then scream through the streets that they are and have been stupid, stupid, stupid. I doubt it.

    Therefore, continuing to charaterize the U.S. position on Saddam’s WMDs as a willful misrepresentation is biased, and unfortunately suicidal. It’s intellectual “appeasement.”


  13. I’m not interested in Iraq and 9/11 beetroot, I want to know about Oklahoma City.

    Never thought Saddam was involved in 9/11, Iraq, like Korea and Iran are unfinished business. Other than him being the world’s largest money-launderer and the drug/gems money went thru Iraq, didn’t think he was involved. We owed them, we have their blood on our hands because they listened to 41 and for the sake of “stability” we stood aside. So it’s not surprising they stood by waiting to see if we’re going to stay this time.

    We must remember we’ve been at this 200 years, and we won it by the skin of our teeth.

    And Ginny’s point is made, if we had played to the end then – win or lose, we might not be here now.

  14. Via Ali at IraqtheModel:

    …Another friend approached me. This one was not religious but he was one of the conspiracy theory believers. He put his hands on my shoulders and said smiling, “I must admit that I’m beginning to believe in what you’ve been telling us for months and I’m beginning to have faith in America. I never thought that they will hand us sovereignty in time. These people have shown that they keep their promises.”

    Like I said, I don’t blame them, we cut and run the last time.

  15. “There is a huge difference between the positions ‘Our intelligence was poor and / or misinterpreted’ and ‘We were lied to'”

    Yes, you’re right. Here’s the lie: the administration did everything in its power to claim its case was airtight.

    Its case was far from airtight, as were its predictions of costs, troop numbers, casualties, etc etc. And these weren’t troubles that fell out of the clear blue sky! Any reasonable person could’ve guessed that what’s now happening (high costs of lives and dollars, messy insurgency, collapsed civic infrastructure, global condemnantion of our gov’t, high crime and danger in Iraq, steady stream of bad news feuling partisan rancor, etc) would happen.

    And they SCOFFED, Dspears. Remember when that general suggested we’d need a few hundred thousand troops? “Absurd,” said Wolfowitz. Remember when the vice president was asked about the possibility of anti-American insurgencies? “We’ll be greeted as liberators,” he said. Remember the worries about huge price tags? “Iraqi oil can pay for it all,” we were told.

    That’s where the lie happened, in my humble opinion. The lie happened when reasonable concerns were shat upon.

    That’s where GWB lost me – leaving aside the possibility that Iraq is diverting us from more important fronts in the War on Terror.

  16. I’ll translate the complaints about Bush’s lies.

    “Since Bush is not the ALpha nor the Omega and because of that he sometimes is wrong, this gives us a chance to boot him out. For someone else that is omniscient and will never be wrong.”

  17. “Its case was far from airtight, as were its predictions of costs, troop numbers, casualties, etc etc. ”

    When did the administration ever predict the number of casualties?

    “Remember when that general suggested we’d need a few hundred thousand troops? “Absurd,” said Wolfowitz. ”

    But we didn’t need a few hundred thousand troops. I’m confused, I thought the liberal criticism was that too many troops were diverted from finding Osama Bin Laden?

    “Remember when the vice president was asked about the possibility of anti-American insurgencies? “We’ll be greeted as liberators,” he said. ”

    We WERE greated like liberators.

    Was that the whole sentence? That sounds very out of context to me. Is that even a direct quote or just your recollection of one? I don’t remember anybody ever saying that there wouldn’t be violence perpetrated by dead-enders and foreign terrorists. There were a lot of people who benefitted form habving Saddam in power. Bush warned everybody that they probably wouldn’t go down quietly. You must not have been listening very well that day.

    “Remember the worries about huge price tags? “Iraqi oil can pay for it all,” we were told.”

    Nobody ever said it would be cheap. And when the Pentagon tried to do it efficiently and NOT Send 400,000 troops, they got criticized for that!

    Sound to me like people have created a damned if they do, damned if they don’t scenario here.

    “leaving aside the possibility that Iraq is diverting us from more important fronts in the War on Terror. ”

    Like what? I’ve heard this over and over again, but it’s never followed by a sentence starting with “for instance…..”

    Syria and Iran are serious problems, which the UN is will-less and powerless to do anything about. Would you like to invade them next? I’m all for it, when do we start bombing Tehran?

  18. “It’s tired to you, I’m sure; you’ll say, ‘Oh, well, there you go again,’ but the fact is, on the eve of this war, we Americans were told that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction; that Iraq oil would pay for the occupation; that Iraqis would greet us with flowers; etc.”

    No we weren’t. Maybe the voices in your head sound like George W. Bush, but here in reality, we were told that we don’t have any real idea what Saddam Hussein is harboring, but he’s acting an awful lot like he’s hiding something, and we’d better not wait until he’s ready to use it to find out exactly what it is.

    “The administration carefully crafted a message tying Saddam to Al Qaeda, and suggested that the threat was “imminent” ”

    No, damnit, he suggested that we couldn’t wait until the threat was imminent.

    “(and yes, I know, they only implied that, but they implied it vigorously and consistently, as in “we can’t wait for a smoking gun that’s a mushroom cloud” etc).”

    How in the hell does “we can’t wait for the threat to become imminent” imply “the threat is imminent right now”? He told us that we might not know the threat is imminent until it’s so imminent that we can’t do anything about it. He did not say, nor did he imply to anyone that is even minimally conversant with the rules of logic, that the threat was at that time imminent; in fact, by denying that we can safely wait until the threat is imminent, he was implying that the threat was not imminent, or at least that we had no way of knowing at that time whether the threat was imminent or not. Which was entirely, 100% true.

    “And in the aftermath of invasion (and yes, you’ve heard all this before, it’s so tired), virtually everything that the administration predicted failed to come to pass”

    He predicted a freer Iraq that doesn’t threaten its neighbors. That came to pass. He predicted an end to Saddam’s regime, and that came to pass. He predicted that lots of ordinary Iraqis would be glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein, and that also came to pass.

    “troop numbers, casualties, and costs it scoffed at proved accurate”

    Proved how? How in the hell did anyone prove that higher troop numbers in Iraq would have produced better results? And it scoffed at an awful lot of ridiculously high casualty figures that proved to be completely in the realm of fantasy. The actual casualty figures that came to pass are pretty damned impressive by any rational measure.

    “The war was not billed as a war for values (the values you rightly embrace). The war was billed as a war of pre-emption against an imminent threat.”

    Again, it was not. It was billed as a prevention of a situation where a threat became imminent and we became aware of it too late. And it worked.

    “Now, they’ve changed their tune. Just because a goodhearted person like yourself likes the sound of the new tune doesn’t change the fact that the most powerful man in the land pulled the old bait-and-switch on you, and me, and all of us. ”

    No, they haven’t changed their tune. The sanctions aren’t going to collapse, and Saddam isn’t going to get a chance to build nasty weapons after the sanctions fall apart and everyone gives up and goes home. The imminent threat that sneaks up on us from that quarter isn’t going to happen.

    It’s true that the whole “democratizing the Middle East” idea wasn’t loudly advertised by the Administration before the war. This is probably because telling all of the ruling thugs across the Middle East, including Saddam, that the war in Iraq was part of a serious plan to get all of their socieities reformed in a liberal democratic way probably would have caused some or all of said thugs to put up stiffer resistance to the actual invasion, thus harming our own efforts. Now that we’re firmly ensconsed and the thugs can’t put so much of a monkey wrench in our plans, that’s not so much of an issue.

  19. To beetroot:

    You’re pretty good the ol’ bait and switch yourself, guy. Having no way to gainsay anything in Ginny’s original post, you choose instead to rehash a debate that, because of lack of clear evidence one way or the other, tends to reflect the overall politcal orientations of the participants, and is, as a consequence, unresolvable, generating much heat and little light. Nevertheless, your bait and switch has worked, since all the comments since your original comment have commented on it, not Ginny’s post. Well done, old top! I humbly suggest, however, that it’s time to start living in the present. Perhaps you can begin by rereading Ginny’s post.

    To Ymarsakar:

    Bravo and Amen to your second comment!

  20. Pile on, boys! An unbeliever has been revealed!

    The thing that cracks me up the most (and yes, this has nothing to do with Ginny’s post) is when we get into the “imminent threat” debate. One of the great pro-bush memes of the day is, “he didn’t say it was an imminent threat!” Which he didn’t. But it’s perfectly obvious that the admin’s argument for invading Iraq was that it was GOING to be imminent if we didn’t stop it. He just said it COULD be an imminent threat, which is why we have to stop it, which amounts to the same thing.

    Repeat: His claim was that the threat was so great that we have no choice but to stop it.

    Sounds imminent to me. Why pre-emptively strike that which is not imminent? So I reject the “he didn’t say imminent” argument – it’s rhetorical hair-splitting.

    So GWB makes Iraq priority number one. Now, based on the administration’s own arguments (which I basically accept), the greatest danger America faces is the “nexus” of states and terror, that is, that a government helps Al Qaeda get ahold of chemical, biological, or god help us nuclear weapons. That makes sense. As a big-city northeasterner, the last thing I want is Mad Ahmed with a nuke.

    Next question: where’s this nexus most likely to occur? How about Pakistan for starters? Or anywhere in the nest of failed Russian states in Asia, home to god knows how many loose nukes? How about a nexus involving any of these arms dealers, plus rich Saudis, plus mad Islamists? What are we doing to patrol those borders? How about our own borders? Anyone notice that homeland security (airports, shipping containers) remains a weak joke? Anyone notice that we cut funding for our programs securing loose Russian nukes? Anyone notice that we’re barely in control of Afghanistan’s cities, and that the countryside, the Taliban heartland, the uncontrolled tribal zones where Osama likely still hides, remains a dark zone to us?

    Rummy said it on 9/11: Iraq is target-rich. But the only question is, how valuable are the targets? I submit to you that Iraq, with its passing contacts with Al Qaeda (which don’t seem to have led anywhere) and its halting attempts to build big bombs (which don’t seem to have been terribly successful) and its Baathist-socialist ideology (which has little or nothing in common with the Wahabbi/Islamist forces now driving the insurgency) was just not that high a priority threat.

    (So, you say, whaddaya wanna do, invade Pakistan? No, certainly not. But there are other means to defend America besides invading countries, and it’s these means that I believe are being ignored while Iraq dominates our military agenda.)

    But, you see, I’m not one of these people that says, “never fight” or “war is bad.” Sometimes war is the answer. If you need to do it, and you need a lot of troops to do it, say so.

    And I was listening very closely throughout the runup to this war, despite the suggestions of some readers. And sure, GWB would occasionally offer some boilerplate rhetoric: “It’s going to be tough, we must be strong,” etc. But they never backed that up by being tough themselves – that is, by being realistic about what this war might entail (and risking a political hit). When the Congress asked how much it might cost, the admin refused to give even an estimate! As if maybe it wouldn’t cost anything at all! They consistently downplayed reasonable concerns and deflected reasonable questions. They ramrodded the approval process through Congress (which rolled over, i might add). They oogled and scared the American people, and claimed to have ironclad evidence that Saddam and AQ were deeply connected.

    Why do you think that the polls before the war showed something like 70% of Americans thought that Saddam was behind 9/11? Do you think that was the wacky liberal media feeding them propaganda? Or was it people listening to their elected leaders and believing what they were told?

    That’s what I think. I think that people of good faith believed what they were told, and that most of what they were told about the vital connection between Saddam and the terrorism that struck New York was a crock.

    So what does this have to do with Ginny’s post?

    She writes: “The hauteur, the world weariness, the curled lip that is disturbing. Don’t these spokespeople realize those are real lives…?”

    I’m not sure where she sees these curled lips among State Department spokespeople. But I’ll confess to the curled lip, precisely because I’m thinking about real lives, starting with my own and my fellow Americans’, and thinking, this Iraq war isn’t what was needed to protect them.

    Ginny also says: “Right now, we need to define why the gamble is worthy, is a serious undertaking.”

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no. That job needed to be taken care of before we went to war and started killing people and being killed. And now is most definitely NOT the time to RE-define why the gamble was worthy, since the initial definitions have all fallen apart.

  21. I hereby nominate beetroot for the Harold Stassen Memorial Trophy honoring Johnny One Note persistence.

Comments are closed.