The agony of the Upper West Side Eeyore

The agony of the Upper West Side Eeyore

: Kurt Andersen writes a smart — and, for a New Yorker, quite brave — column arguing that liberal New Yorkers should face the possibility that the war in Iraq was good:

But now our heroic and tragic liberal-intellectual capaciousness is facing its sharpest test since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, most of us were forced, against our wills, to give Ronald Reagan a large share of credit for winning the Cold War. Now the people of this Bush-hating city are being forced to grant the merest possibility that Bush, despite his annoying manner and his administration

  • Johan

    “…either we hope for the vindication of Bush

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    I love how all these grudging admissions that the elections were good still claim that Bush was “reckless, incompetent, lying” etc.
    Maybe the elections were exactly the result of a careful, thoughtful, well-strategized war and reconstruction effort? I mean, they didn’t just appear out of nowhere.
    Naaaahhh….

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    Let me add to my previous post. I was a great skeptic of how Bush was going to handle the reconstruction. I assumed we were going to do everything wrong. Meanwhile I was obsessively following the news.
    Shortly after the end of the war, this series of articles appeared in Slate. This is the vastest yet concise survey of current expert thinking on nation-building I have seen.
    I compared everything we did in Iraq to the recommendations in these articles. We did almost everything recommended, from standardizing the banking system to training an independent judiciary to holding municipal elections starting fall 2003 to encouraging the internet to delaying national elections as long as possible.
    I have cites for all of that, when I get around to making this a blog post. Not going to paste all the URLs in here.
    The Bush admin studied the “lessons learned” on nation-building, and applied them. That’s why the Iraqi elections were successful. It was not an accident. it didn’t magically fall into place in spite of the “incompetent stupid lying” Bush admin.

  • kl

    “So in essence, you are with us or you are against us.”
    Naw, dude, you can be forgainst us! (Stolen from Amy Poehler on Weekend Update.)

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    Okay, one more.
    Two weeks ago I gave a short sermon at my congregation on the Torah reading of the week, which was the series of laws that appear right after God gives the Hebrews the Torah on Mt. Sinai (this is in Exodus).
    This also happened to be the Saturday right after the Iraqi elections. I compared some of the laws in the Torah portion with the nation-building recommendations in the Slate article, and how they had been carried out in Iraq. I was basically comparing the Iraqis to the Hebrews, still having to wander in the desert for awhile, but on their way to becoming a nation bound by law rather than enslaved to a tyrant.
    First comment after services: “Your dvar sounded like a commercial for the Bush admin.”
    I replied that it was a shame that freeing people from oppression was now seen as a Republican idea, since everything I talked about went back to Truman. I know that’s a stock answer now, but the only other response is to throw up your hands and say “even this has to be about Bush?”

  • John

    Politics is not some sort of spectator’s sport like baseball, where if you’re a Yankees fan you root for everything to go wrong for the Red Sox, and vice versa. You really do have to pick your spots on where to agree and disagree, and if you do the latter, especially on foreign policy, you have to present logical arguments why what those in power are doing is wrong.
    Considering how vicious Anderson and Vanity Fair have been to Bush for all but about an eight-month period after 9/11, this was a pretty big concession, as grudging as it is (albeit not published in Vanity Fair itself) and had to be tough for Andersen to write. But it is smart strategy for those who oppose Bush on most of his policies, and others on the left should start doing their own re-evaluations.
    There’s still time for lots of things to go wrong in Iraq, but the image Bush’s opponents have developed of opening rooting for screw-ups is not a smart long-term policy, and they’d be better off saying what they would have done/would do differently, instead of just being happy the other team is losing.

  • Lesley

    It’s such a shame to think that you were forced to give Reagan credit for ending the Cold War. And I suppose Carter, or Gorbachev really did it, right? Please, give credit where credit is due, and leave the Gipper’s legacy intact. Let me help you… “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

  • J. Peden

    That’s right, Johan. If you have no alternatve other than “dissent” = complaining, disasterizing, and bitching in a virtually definitional way, you are against us.
    Do people think that chanting mantras of no practical significance at all makes terrorists go away?
    Please, mommy, can I have some more wild memes?

  • Ken C.

    “…leave the Gipper’s legacy intact. Let me help you… “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
    Yupp, that’s what did it. Not forty years of Cold War, but Saint Ron, on whose watch Gorbachev came to power, and the rotting-inside Soviet Union, never as powerful as it was made out to be, fell apart.
    Or maybe it was Star Wars: so cheap, and yet, within such a very short time, so very effective. Or maybe it was the death squads in El Salvador, or the arms-for-hostages deals. Or maybe Rummy’s handshake with Saddam Hussein. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s what brought down the Soviet Union.
    On the other hand, given a choice between Reagan and W….

  • worrywart

    I really can’t understand this Eeyore/Pooh thing. No one living today can accurately judge whether invading Iraq was ultimately a good or bad thing.
    Consider our support of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden in the 80s. It certainly kept the Soviet Union spending a lot more money and troops in Afghanistan and ultimately helped quicken the fall of the Soviet Union, but it was a mess we ultimately paid an even greater price for. Yes, that decision did some good, and a whole lot of bad, but even now we can’t say the decision was right or wrong.
    At the moment, we can say the motivations that led to the invasion of Iraq were incorect (or at the most generous, based on incorrect information). We can also say that mistakes were made during the invasion and occupation, but there were lots of things that went right also. Will this ultimately be a good or bad decision or the United States? Who knows. We’ll know in about 70 years or so.
    Until that time, we can, and we should judge the motivating factors for decisions made by our leaders. It’s not being an Eeyore to say the Bush was wrong to invade Iraq, because based on everything we know now and everything he supposedly knew at the time, it looks like an awfully bad decision (for example, up until this point Iraq’s secular dictatorship scared the hell out of the religious oligarchies of the middle east. this was both a destabilizer in the region and a mechanism to keep their eyes on Iraq instead of the US. what if this ultimately emboldens them to unite and attack the US?)
    We can only judge the decisions based on what we know and what we can forsee in the near future. And from that, yes, we should judge. We should also, acknowledge, however, when we’re fixing our messes and doing the right thing, or at least performing the actions that our principals compell us to do (that is, bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people).

  • Chris

    Good piece, though it just sort of meanders out towards the end . . .
    In Re: Cold War/Reagan — Reagan does deserve a lot of the credit for forcing the Soviet Union to make a decision about spending priorities. I am reading a book called “A Short History of Communism” and it makes the point that at various times over the Cold War, the Russians were forced to either focus spending on military and heavy industry or for boosting the manufacture of consumer goods, and making life a little more comfortable for the average Russian. Too many times, especially in the early/mid 80’s, the Russians chose military/heavy industry.
    And, the whole rotting from the inside is a hindsight situation.

  • http://oodja.blogspot.com oodja

    One might ask the victims of 9/11 if the training of the Afghan mujahideen was “worth it” in order to win the Cold War. The thing about history is that it has a funny way of coming back to bite you in the ass when you least expect it.
    We can no more know what fruit the invasion of Iraq will bear than we could have expected that Osama bin Laden and his ilk would go from being our proxy soldiers against communism in Central Asia to the West’s defining threat (thus far) of the 21st Century.
    So is the moral of the story not to act? Of course not. But be prepared to face the fact that history doesn’t give a flying fig about how noble your intentions were when you did what you thought you “had” to do…

  • yank in london

    Jeff – I am afraid you fell for a rather obvious bit of sophistry in Mr. Andersen’s column. It does not logically follow that if one believes that the war and the subesequent occupation of Iraq was immoral or illegal that one cannot applaud the still hesitant and stuttering movement toward democracy in Iraq at this time.
    At the core of his argument is the essentially Machiavellian construct that everyone must accept that ends justify the means. I, for one, do not.

  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    Hey Jarvis, don’t you live in Hopatcong?

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    “Yupp, that’s what did it. Not forty years of Cold War, but Saint Ron, on whose watch Gorbachev came to power, and the rotting-inside Soviet Union, never as powerful as it was made out to be, fell apart.”
    I read Halberstam’s book on Clinton and the Balkans, and at the beginning there are a few paragraphs about how instrumental Bush Sr. was in bringing the disintegrating Soviet Union in to a “soft landing,” for which he got no credit. But no details. I would love to know more about that.

  • thibaud

    Perhaps the copy editor’s too blame, but regardless, this is a leviathan of a goof: “a Hobbesian choice”.
    It’s the Iraqis who have to this point been living in a Hobbesian world in which “the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer what they must.”
    It’s US liberals who are facing the Hobson’s choice between two unpleasant options.

  • J. Peden

    Worrywart you are an Eeyore because you are a worrywart. The motivations for going into Iraq were not “incorrect” and it was not an “awfully bad decision”. I’m not going to explain it to you because you are an Eeyore. The explanations have already been given. The proofs for the efficacy of what we have done exist, though we obviously don’t know the future.
    As far as supporting the Taliban, they were so strengthened that we knocked them out in the first 24 hours with only 200 ss soldiers on the ground.
    Osama moved into Afganistan after he already had started creating himself and Clinton missed him, Osama then occupying a vacuum created by the Afgani’s themselves. We weren’t there before the U.S.S.R. went in, were we? [I don't blame Clinton for Osama unless you want to blame Bush for 9/11. Who cares?]
    Or perhaps we should not have tried to remove/defeat the U.S.S.R. or should have nation-built there ourselves somehow knowing Osama would exist and move there? Right.
    We “should have” done everything “right” based upon an allegedly perfect hindsight, knowing, of course, the consequences we *don’t in any way now even know* which would have occurred had we acted with the hindsight we have now in the allegedly right way. We don’t know what would have happened that we would now be faced with, right?
    That means we are perfectly justified in judging what we are doing now in terms of what is happening now, recognizing we don’t yet know what will happen in the future “because” of what we are doing now – in exactly the same way in which we did not know the future back then when we didn’t have the alleged perfect hindsight either, simlpy because we cannot know all we want to know about the future. [This is a fact of life, at least mine.]
    So I encourage you to stop worrying so much about the hypothetical past we “should” have created by having “correct” hindsight as then an also impossible foresight, since anything like these foresights and correct hindsights hardly ever exists anyway unless you control the world in a God-like fashion with a God-like omniscience.
    Alternatively, where is Kerry’s “plan” or the U.N.’s definition of “serious consequences”, or the alternative to the Bush Doctrine, or anything besides complaining masquerading as dissent and allegedly eyudite intellectualizing?
    Somebody please tell us what to do other than what we are doing which will make thing turn out right. Tell France, too.

  • thibaud

    What worrywart said. Reagan got it right regarding the notion that the Soviet Union would fall if pushed, but almost no one else in this country or the west generally did. In fact the only leading analysts who argued prior to 1988 that the Soviet Union would not survive the 20c were Richard Pipes of Harvard, Daniel P Moynihan, and an emigre Russian ex-dissident writer in NYC whose name I forget.
    EVERYONE else– including the CIA, the foreign policy hierarchies of both the Republican and Democratic parties, from Zbiggy and Vance to Kissinger and Scowcroft-Baker-Eagleburger, and every leading sovietologist, from Bialer to Legvold to Cohen and Hough– took it as a simple fact that the Soviet Union, while stagnant, would not and could not be forced to collapse.
    This verity was the basis for arms control negotiations, for strategic deployments of troops and aid, for diplomatic strategy as well. It was held as absolute, fixed, for all time. And it was dead wrong.
    The point here is that our ability to understand the internal dynamics of closed societes, especially non-western closed societies, is inherently weak. We not only lack good information on crucial drivers of such societies– no one in the West knew until ex-soviets told us in 1990-1992 that SDI scared the hell out of the Soviet general staff and the politburo and heavily influenced their decision to gamble on Russia’s version of W, an untested hick mushmouth Russian-mangler called Gorbachev– but we also have the wrong paradigms.
    In Iraq, for ex, no one knew, perhaps no one could have known, that the make-or-break figure for us was a cleric named Sistani. Who even heard of him prior to summer ’03? Reuel Marc Gerecht picked up on his signficance just after the invasion, but as far as I can tell no one on the left or right grasped this before a few months ago. But Gerecht could only grasp this because he had the right paradigm, which is that Islam is not incompatible with moderate, restrained liberal democracy.

  • thibaud

    Correction: they weren’t “ex-soviets” prior to the dissolution of the SU in 1991. I’m speaking of figures like Genrikh Trofimenko of the USA-Canada Institute who told me in 1991 that his colleagues and the general staff concluded that, based on Reagan’s evident determination to hitch America’s insurmountable high-tech and semiconductor lead to the arms race, it was game over. Hence the willingness to roll the dice on Gorbachev, regarded then and long after by Russians as the stupidest Russian leader since Nicholas II.

  • thibaud

    The relevance to this discussion is that, if even our best experts can’t grasp that there are suns beyond the sun, and furthermore that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, then why should we expect journalists to recognize these facts?
    The MSM meme du jour is and will never be any more sophisticated or accurate than the range established by respectable expert opinion. If it is established truth that the Soviet Union cannot collapse, then journalists can only characterize Reagan as a dangerous warmonger.
    If it’s believed that Sistani as an Islamist clerical leader cannot respect minority rights, free speech, pluralism generally, then Bush’s policy can only result in the creation of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq (see Robin Wright’s reporting/spinning in WaPo). For it is written.

  • bago
  • worrywart

    Thanks thibaud, you state the point more eloquently than I can. And J. Peden, I have no idea what you’re talking about, you make absolutely no sense. I don’t think I mentioned Kerry or the UN or Clinton. Although, I’m curious what the “Bush Doctrine” actually is. If he’d commit it to paper like James Monroe, then we may actually understand what his motivations are in his foreign policy decisions. You seemed to miss the point entirely. We’re not saying we can judge what the right thing to do was in hindsight, but rather we can only judge people’s motivating factors and say whether those are righteous or not (which I think you make that point for me again, anyway when talking about the Taliban and what we’re doing now in Iraq). So, stop calling me an Eeyore… I’m a piglet anyway.

  • lefty

    Ha! bago, I love that story. I especially love the line: “As many as 7,471 candidates ran under 111 parties, although many of the parties have not released their full candidate lists for fear of assassination

  • earth to lefty

    Um, lefty, the California recall elected has enabled the state to avoid a complete fiscal collapse and has paved the way for real, fundamental reform of a legislative process and a governor’s office that were institutionally corrupt. Pay to play is finished. And soon the bipartisan scandal by which the legislators reserve the right to pick the voters will be finished as well– but only in California, and only because of the recall election that replaced a corrupt hack with a politically brilliant, determined reformist outsider.

  • freddie

    I am delighted that the Iraqui people had a chance to vote. They did too in Saudi Arabia (only men)..what remains to be seen is what comes of it…Hitler too had an election. I don’t understand this biz that either you now know Bush did a good thing or you are annoyed because the Iraqui people got to vote.
    If bringin about a vote is worth the lives of some 1500 Aemrican military, then let’s get into N. Korea, China, Syria, et al…I am delighted if Iraq turns out to edge toward democracy. But I would be much less so if I had lost a son to bring this about. Selfish of me? You bet.My son comes first, not some guys who will perhaps end up with Sharia laws, or who may have a fine democracy.

  • Ken C.

    “And, the whole rotting from the inside is a hindsight situation.”
    Yeah, I suppose; why is that relevant?
    In the late 70’s, by the way, we had the Team B group to tell us how ferociously powerful the Soviet Union was, and how much more money ought to be poured into the Pentagon. Team B had a lot of overlap with brain trust helping get us into Iraq.
    “Russia’s version of W, an untested hick mushmouth Russian-mangler called Gorbachev”
    Russia’s version of W? You’re kidding, right?
    Looking around a bit, I see Trofimenko quoted quite a lot by rightwingers lauding Reagan. However, the following quote, and a few others I found, suggest that he has some axes to grind.
    [Regarding the 2000 election]
    “This means that the Republican Administration will be relying on a somewhat different social base just because America is now suffering from moral lawlessness and absolute permissiveness. By the way, everyone, including sexual minorities, perverts, drug addicts and the like, liked Bill Clinton for precisely such permissiveness, constituting the Democratic Party’s pillar, albeit not the only one.”

  • EverKarl

    thibaud is absolutely correct about Reagan being one of the few who recognized how internally weak the USSR was — he used to review the raw intel with Casey. Anyone who doubts how much Reagan (along with the Pope and the AFL-CIO) had to do with the end of the Cold War should read Peter Scweitzer’s book Victory, which sets forth the chapter and verse.
    As for SDI in particular, I was told off the record by a senior Russian diplomat that it had a lot to do with Gorbachev’s eventual acquiesence to Reagan’s agenda. They realized that Reagan knew their weakness was in technology and was exploiting it to the maximum degree possible. This should also be apparent from what transpired at their Icelandic summit.
    [And in case anyone is wondering what I mean by "senior Russian diplomat," I mean the kind of guy you would see behind Gorbachev in pictures on the front page of a nationally distributed newspaper or standing behind Yeltsin on television during the Balkan crisis. That kind of senior.]

  • J. Peden

    Ok, worrywart. Go ahead on worrying about righteousness, whatever that is – it sounds more like an attitude or “motivation” apart from anything else, but who knows? I thought you were talking about making the best decisions given circumstances and judging them.
    The Bush Doctrine is explained in an NSA document, which has been available since late 2001, as I recall. I’ll try to find it again.
    The main significance of it, according to my reading, was the change of justified military action involving an “imminent” threat to action possibly justified in the case of a “significant” threat. This made the official policy proactive, to use a poor word, often translated not quite correctly to pre-emptive as though we would be obligated to take out all perceived threats militarily. [Remember the call to attack N. Korea as being somehow mandated by the interpretation of "pre-emptive", and as though it resembled Iraq's nature regarding conditions, which it did not hardly at all? People were even saying we should logically attack ourselves or Russia or other past U.S.S.R block countries.]
    But one important emphasis not often admitted or realized, in my opinion, was the concept of delivering a threatening message to any State harboring terrorists of the kind now seen, or consorting with them, or which also was in violation of measures directly designed to prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction which could be used directly against us or obtained by terrorists who would then use them.
    Saddam Hussein presented the nearly perfect case for use of the Bush Doctrine, as I understand it: he had invaded Kuwait, had used wmd’s, acted like he had wmd’s or would develop them, and violated numerous Resolutions which he had specifically agreed to in his surrender agreement [or cease fire deal] which were aimed at wmd control, the final being Resolution 1441.
    Even if he had not intended to use wmd’s directly against us, which I believe was the case, or only against Iran, for example, he could have easily given them to the terrorists, even if this was only under duress, which we know the terrorists are quite capable of.
    And under the previous national defense doctrine involving imminent threat, Iraq would have not qualified for military action. Saddam knew about this change called the Bush Doctrine and played brinksmanship by continuing to confront the inspection’s process.
    Thus he constituted a virtually certain significant threat, and had also set himself up for a legal case for the application of “serious consequences” if not the Bush Doctrine. These “serious consequences” the U.N. has never defined, if not what we have done.
    And, yes, it was me who mentioned the things I wrote. You don’t need to worry about actual policy compared to non-existent alternatives [Kerry's and the U.N.'s, for example] if you are going to think only about righteousness and motivations apart from policy and action, I guess?
    So, I don’t/didn’t know what you are talking about, either. Maybe just call me the headless “Ditto” in that I have still missed your point.

  • richard mcenroe

    So being asked to support the liberation of fifty million people from both secular and theocratic tyrants, with free elections in two countries, one tyrant in jail and one terrorist mastermind reduced to blowing up the occasional Spaniard and releasing hissy-fit videos, brings this guy (and by his claim, his readership) to a nasty ethical crossroads? That’s just sad.