Friday, November 7, 2003

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The other big speech from yesterday

At a cocktail party recently, someone explained to me that when engaging in political argument, there's a big difference between Brits and Americans. Because the Brits have been trained to debate from an early age, they always sound more coherent and erudite when advancing their arguments. There's certainly a ring of truth to this for anyone who has ever compared Question Time in Parliament to American-style press conferences or debates.

With this in mind, a hearty congratulations to Oxblog's Josh Chafetz for agreeing at the last minute to participate in an Oxford Union against two anti-war MPs on the resolution, "This House believes that we are losing the Peace." Chafetz was arguing in the negative.

According to Steve Sachs, one of Chafetz's opponents, "described Josh's speech as the best prepared speech he had heard at the Union in 17 appearances there." Josh and two undergraduates won the argument.

Josh has now posted his speech in its entirety on his blog. I'm not going to excerpt it -- just go read the whole thing.

I'm still not convinced that there's a positive and coherent narrative coming out of Iraq, but it does remind me that there isn't a coherent negative narritive either.

posted by Dan on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM


Why would anyone believe that there's any meaningful analogy at all between 1946 Germany and 2003 Iraq? The initial U.S. support for Hitler pales beside the avid enthusiasm shown for Hussein, and Chafetz obviously doesn't take his own premises seriously, as witnessed by "I mention this, not to make the (obviously fallacious) claim that it "proves" that Iraq will turn out as well as Europe did" followed a few paragraphs down by "By way of comparison, Iraq had its own cabinet ministers four months after the war; it took Germany 14 months after World War II. The Iraqi Constitution is expected to be written within the next year; the West German Basic Law was not promulgated until 1949. Japan did not recover sovereignty until 1952."

posted by: Chun the Unavoidable on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Hitler came to power in 1933. Does Chun imagine that the Roosevelt administration initially supported Adolf? As to the "avid enthusiasm" for Saddam, I imagine this must refer to our temporary support for Iraq in the war with Iran. No love lost on Saddam, Chun, just classic balance-of-power politics. The only outcome of the Iran-Iraq war consistent with our interest was that both sides should lose--a stalemate. When Iran was ahead we helped Saddam. When Iraq was ahead, we sold TOW missiles to Iran. Both sides lost, we won. QED.

posted by: John Van Laer on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Will there be a coherent narrative before this is over?

posted by: Ray on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Chun, the reason 1946 is important is because it shows the media was just as "chicken little" then as it is now.

posted by: politicaobscura on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Firstly, that's quite an accomplishment for Josh, thrashing 2 MPs including Tad Dayell on one day's notice.

Speaking of coherent narratives, bear in mind that there are two (more than two, counting "revisionist" histories) radically different and contradictory narratives of the events of 1948 in the Holy Land. Sometimes there will never be an agreed narrative. Historical narratives accepted by the mainstream, that is, by the writers/publishers of history, tend to justify the past in the context of the present, for myrian reasons. Take for instance our narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For a time it was necessary to justify the bombing as a level to save thousands of American lives. Eventually, as primary sources can be compiled, one has a bit of objectivity. One can analyze the effect of Stimson on pushing the use of the atom bomb on a city, as opposed to an atoll, or take the time to fully translate Japanese terms of surrender before dropping another one on Nagasaki. These are things that were too taboo to question when the memory of a hundred thousand American wartime dead were fresh on the mind of the public.
Point being: as "history" moves faster and faster and exists now as a lexis or google search, it seems inevitable that we will have a constantly rewritten history a la 1984.

posted by: Jonah on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Not to drag things off-topic, but while Jonah's undoubtedly correct on the point that many important historical events generate divergent narratives, especially over time -- the atomic bomb decision's not a good example. The "revisionism" was not supported by increasingly available documents or facts, quite the opposite. The prospect of calamitous American and Japanese casualties from a home island invasion unsurprisingly drove the decisions, and the evidence for that initial narrative has only grown. This leaves aside many things that sort of obviate the whole discussion, including that atomic weapons would have almost certainly have been used in the invasions (possibly many more than two), and the utterly artificial nature of the focus on atomic attacks when conventional attacks like March 8, 1945 on Tokyo were more deadly.

posted by: IceCold on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

"I'm still not convinced that there's a positive and coherent narrative coming out of Iraq ..."

May we suppose that you'd be willing to holler that up to the men who were being bound and thrown off the top of buildings by Saddam's henchmen, as a form of torture?

Or perhaps to the relatives of those on whom Saddam inflicted chemical weapons in the North of Iraq, whilst those relatives are out digging in unmarked graves for the bodies of these same relatives?

posted by: Paul A'Barge on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

A brief comment on why Josh "won" the debate at Oxford. I lived in the UK for a year following the 9/11 attacks including the period of the war in Afghanistan. My personal "debates" as a Yank defending Bush's policies on Kyoto, ABM, Korea, GM foods etc were always wildly successful vs PhDs at university soirees or vs a punter at the local pub. The reason for my success (and Josh's I strongly suspect) was that I was armed with FACTS. My counterpart whoever he or she was always regurgitated the same old stale EMOTION they had consumed watching BBC Newsnight or listening to BBC radio the day before. I know this because I had watched and heard the same factless sloganeering in the media myself. In my observation, I found that the Brits (at least those in my sample), as collectivist thinkers, tended to weigh the validity of opinion. We Yanks, as individualists, however, tend to weigh the validity of facts.

In a debate, facts are usually far more powerful and persuasive than emotion.

posted by: ken on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

interesting... that's a fine speech and all but it certainly doesn't address the points I would want to harp on were I arguing affirmative. I get the impression Josh et al won on the grounds that they were (correctly!) arguing the resolution while the MPs were (incorrectly!) arguing [context maybe?? - can't tell without looking at their arguments].

for example...

0) while American soldiers stationed in Iraq might not agree, propose to assume for brevity and consistency that "the peace" refers to current level of conflict, and that loss thereof would refer to substantially greater level of conflict anywhere between a doubling of the casualty rate and an all-out civil war. questions at hand are whether we believe the current trend to be one of progress or regress, and if regress how much can be tolerated before we "lose". propose to show that peace fragile and intolerant of regress, while regress consistent.

1) prospects for a peaceful intermediate future for Iraq (IOW little escalation and no civil war) are necessarily predicated on cooperation between multiple interested parties (including CPA), each of which independently have ability to engage in military action or violent large-scale civil disobedience if dissatisfied with the manner in which the transfer of power from occupation to citizenry is proceeding.

2) lopsided relationship between the CPA and the IGC, and CPA fiat origin of the IGC all indicate that IGC would not be able to function as a parliamentary institution absent military occupation by US and UK forces. in event of civil disorder there is no extant entity with broad enough popular support to subsume conflict between factions.

3) further, ability of the occupying forces to prevent chaos even by authoritarian measures is questionable. effectiveness of current insurgency implies high degree of complicity from populace. this complicity may be passive and coerced, yet fact remains that a mostly anonymous insurgency is operating with apparent impunity (i.e. anonymity) despite weight of US military counterinsurgency efforts. consequences of significant civil disorder or formal secession by one or more factions potentially disastrous.

4) above factors, along with wide availability of small arms and a sizable population of unemployed young men with military experience, suggest strongly that the current peace is, at best, fragile. at worst, might regard as poised on a knife's edge. so examining the question of whether the occupying forces are acting in manner which wins - or even sustains - the peace, we may reasonably conclude that there is very little room for error.

5) small margin of error provides a simple argument against the resolution in question. there is also ample evidence that occupation is being conducted in a manner which is not merely poorly organized but often quite inflammatory. [specific examples of lack of peacekeeping training and language skills within the occupation ranks, 4th ID misconduct, mistreatment of suspects and culturally inappropriate behavior towards women, use of ex-Mukhabarat agents]

6) further [specific examples of crony capitalism, inflammatory comments by Boykin and others, global distaste for the Bush administration, and Iraqi access to western media]

7) further, empirically observe that casualty rate among occupation forces is not decreasing, and sadly, recent events are any indication, may be on verge of increase. figures for civilian casualty rate are scarce but no reason to think that it is decreasing either. so elections when exactly, since ruled out by current security situation?

8) conclude that occupation is rapidly eroding the margin of error it gained by virtue of deposing Saddam Hussein. in view of volatility of the situation and inflammatory actions of the occupying powers, implication that the peace is indeed being lost rather than won and that a significant change of direction is advisable.

urgkh. too much effort for a throwaway comment already but quick rebuttal of Josh:

1) success of German/Japanese occupations predicated on prewar planning and multilateralism (absent this case), formal surrenders (absent this case), and occupation willingness to change direction per evidence not working (absent this case).

2) unfounded assumption: polled Iraqis expect improvement without departure (possibly forced) of occupying forces and/or without secessions. also profound unreliability of polling during wartime (5 cities represented, parts of Baghdad off limits to pollsters, probably few women respondents, etc), profound unreliability of polling in de facto police state (midnight arrests w/o warrants still common). note that a majority of 60% want something other than parliamentary democracy does not speak well for hearts and minds won.

3) newspapers how many issues per title? anyway censored/suppressed - freedom of press not guaranteed and in any event not equivalent to exposure of CPA-run (some Christian-owned) media. # of titles not germane to civil stability and not indicative of reasoned discourse - cf desktop publishing revolution late 80s.

4) foreign fighters few and dubious context (syrian passport != syrian native) and controlling organization/s if any unknown so ockham's razor suggests individual actors, returning exiles etc. bounty observation specious and unsupported by any documentary evidence. also see #3 re populace supporting guerillas. anyway foreign intervention legitimate consideration in question at hand, otherwise look no further than US/UK invasion.

5) flow of refugees not relevant. agree peace not lost yet, but with gravity of situation optimisim inappropriate for and possibly disastrous.

I bet I could do better if I'd let myself look stuff up while writing all that ;-)

anyway I just want to emphasize that Josh winning the debate doesn't in any way imply that we are not losing the peace or that strong counterarguments can't be made.

posted by: radish on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

rats! forgot my favorite Germany/Japan counterargument: both very autocratic, very hierarchical, very homogenous, nationalistic and internally consistent cultures. Iraq hodgpodge, ethnically diverse.

posted by: radish on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

"...the Brits have been trained to debate from an early age..."

I'm not too sure about that; unless you go to Oxbridge, debating is probably less, not more, prevalent in Britain. (Arguably, nothing other than Oxbridge matters in the grand scheme of things, but I leave that argument to others...)

That being said, British people in general are probably more exposed to higher-quality debate, particularly now that Question Time is televised. (For all its faults, QT is orders of magnitude better than what passes for debate in Congress or on the campaign trail on the left side of the pond.)

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

"The only outcome of the Iran-Iraq war consistent with our interest was that both sides should lose--a stalemate. When Iran was ahead we helped Saddam. When Iraq was ahead, we sold TOW missiles to Iran. Both sides lost, we won. QED."

The hell? Setting aside the millions of deaths on both sides, is an outcome where both Iran and Iraq have more weapons really an American victory? It was an incredibly amoral policy, but it sucked at advancing US interests as well.

posted by: sym on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Radish wrote a lot, but Radish wrote this:

1) success of German/Japanese occupations predicated on prewar planning and multilateralism (absent this case), formal surrenders (absent this case), and occupation willingness to change direction per evidence not working (absent this case).

Hey Radish, send me some of that weed growing in your garden. Let's take the less complicated case first. Japan was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States, run by Generalissimo Douglas MacArthur. No multilateralism there. I don't know how much thought MacArthur gave to the occupation, he was pretty busy planning the invasion of Japan.

Germany, ah the wonders of multi-lateralism and pre-victory planning. Let's see, what plan was actually implemented? The Morgenthau Plan, the Marshall Plan, the Elmo Plan? Hmmm, multi-lateralism gave us two Germanies and a hardened Iron Curtain for almost 50 years. Ah, that was the PLAN? Gimme a friggin' break.

Radish, ah um, don't forget the weed. Thanks, dude or dudette.

posted by: Jabba the Nutt on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Jabba, ya got me fair and square on multilateralism, and "pre-war" vs. "pre-victory".

I'm standing by the planning part though. Mac was in charge in Japan but he had a great big shitload of planning and contingency to draw on. same with Morgenthau vs. Marshall, where you're also supporting my point about willingness to change direction.

unless of course you want to argue that Marshall's plan wasn't influenced (inversely so to speak) by Morgenthau's plan?

got anything else, "dude"? that's not much of a critique under the circumstances...

posted by: radish on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

But, Jabba, Radish's is kind of the point behind the point of how goes the peace, and how it will continue to go. For the analogy Josh and others draw between post-Iraqi Freedom and post-WW2 is wildly inapt (as opposed to inept, though that's certainly part of what got us into this). The two conflicts are so dramatically different that looking for parallels in their aftermaths is dubious, if not perilous.

In WW2, the allies admittedly couldn't give much attention to formulating a post-war occupation plan. It was a fight to the death, thrust upon us and without a wholly certain outcome. Obviously, though, there were plans enough, and much more importantly the manpower well-sufficient to implement them. With every important non-Axis nation contributing to millions of boots on the ground in post-war Europe and Japan, occupying decimated territory and neutered (as well as culturally homogeneous) populations, there was scarcely any contingency that couldn't be provided for, any re-calibration that couldn't be made or any duration that couldn't be endured.

This conflict--its leadup and therefore surely its aftermath--couldn't have been more different. Having elected to initiate a war that we couldn't lose on the battlefield, winter, spring, summer or fall, we controlled all the variables, the timetables, the estimates. There is no excuse for the surprise that our present situation has come as, especially our sudden recognition that all-volunteer armed forces are way too few to do in Iraq what we admittedly did virtually alone in Japan. Mix in a tri-partite population, and stir in streets teeming with unemployed, unvanquished adult males, and it's a recipe that can't help but come to a boil, particularly when the next--and by all appearances, final--troop rotations end.

So, a doctrine purportedly based upon the demonstration of strength--war as pre-emption, as opposed to war as necessity in WW2--has in fact come to expose weakness, not in our war waging but in our peace keeping. Short of some very good fortune, like help from the outside which this administration appears to disdain even as it courts it, or from the inside (let's hope), the numbers do not lie.

Of course, we could always re-institute the draft, but given your interest in Radish's garden, a piss test appears to be the last thing you need.

posted by: Bloggerhead on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Josh lost that debate. Oh, it might not have looked like it. One loses a debate the moment one departs from integrity. You may win the argument and seem to prevail against your opponents opinion, but as an atagonistic method of revealing the truth a debate is lost when one person subverts the understanding of the truth intentionally to produce the illusion of correctness.

What am I talking about? Josh quotes the Zogby poll. Specifically he cites the "65% want us to stay for now, and only 17% want us to leave". This is a deception made from a false interpretation.

How do I know this? It was debunked by Zogby himself. Zogby came out and said that what the figures really said is that 65% of the Iraqis wanted Americans gone within a year or *less*, and a substantial fraction of them wanted the *less* rather than the full year. Considering that the occupation of my country's forces in Iraq have been going on now for night unto six months, then that indicates that we only have another six months or less before the strong majority of Iraqis run out of patience.

As Zogby himself stated, there was very little in that poll to give any supporter of the occupation comfort. This dovetails with the time-table remaining concluded by many conservative pro-war *hawks*.

Josh's careful statement of the citation is very barrister-esque. He has spun the facts into a deception. A deception exposed by the very poll-taker himself. The rest of the peice of is of the same cloth. The problem is that the liberals and anti-war people on both sides of the Atlantic are incoherent and generally weak.

That is why the pro-war intellectual nihilists have been able to prevail. Not because they were right, but because they were better at debating and their opponents were too intellectually weak to expose them for the frauds they were.

That such an argument had to be made on the grounds of deception is the strongest argument that there really isn't that much good news. Certainly if there was, it would be trumpeted to the lower heavens themselves. All they got left is deceptions, deceptions that will cost us all dear.

posted by: Oldman on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

And that's also why Josh offered more than one poll in corroboration of his thesis. Something Brits rarely offer in conversation (or debate) at all.

Look at the absolutely silly and factless cover story for this month's Spectator. Ignore the politics for a moment and try your best to find facts supporting the argument.

In my experience, I found the Brits' usual debate defense was "If it came out of my mouth, by defintion, it MUST be true."

posted by: Ken on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

And that's also why Josh offered more than one poll in corroboration of his thesis.

you tell 'em Yank. it's too bad neither of the other polls corroborate the point in contention though, isn't it? <cheapshot>y'know, I'm beginning to wonder whether your Brit friends would agree that you "won" all those debates. maybe they were just being polite.</cheapshot>

Oldman, it so happens that I disagree with you somewhat on this (though having read your comments here and elsewhere I gotta say that I'd love to see you do your own blog).

rhetorical sneakiness is not directly useful in the pursuit of knowledge, but it does help keep other tools sharp. to stay honest we have to be able to deal with sneakiness... so I don't think that you automatically lose a debate by being sneaky. I think rhetorical sneakiness is dangerous to the user, but it doesn't seem like an inherently illegitimate tactic.

posted by: radish on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Mr Radish,

To be honest the oldman has used some sophistry and rhetorical misdirection in the past to great affect himself. The issue is two-fold: Such dirty tricks (which as old-fashioned GOP I'm all in favor of) are only fun when the other side is able to respond in kind. That's the problem which some of my Democratic friends have ennunciated themselves - that's why the GOP is trampling them all over the place. Not because the GOP is always right but it's better at presenting its case. Otherwise it's like the prosecution bringing in their best horse in the stable, while the defense attorney sleeps during the trial. The antagonistic search for truth through the competition of ideas assumes you got some sort of contest going on at all.

The second issue is that I'm glad that you disagree with me. I am sometimes wrong, or have an incomplete view of things. My personal commitment is to fight for what I think is right, but if someone approaches me with reason and gives some good evidence then I will *change my mind* and either compromise or publicly admit I was wrong. It's like golf. I call my own fouls. so go ahead and disagree with me. I like friends and ladies who speak their mind, who can stand up to me and tell me where I go off track. Without that challenge, there is no spice to life.

Finally, I thank you for the compliment about setting up my own blog - but I literally *don't know how*. I'm fairly computer literate and can do some modest programming in C, C++, etc. but when it comes to some to this internet stuff I'm a dinosaur. If I could figure out how and a webserver that would host such a site, I'd start a blog. My preference would be for a threaded commentary section allowing others to comment on my posts, and for me to comment on theirs in response. Without some give and take, it'd be tough to do things the way the oldman likes them - some of my best friends and SO's happened after a rousing good verbal altercation.

posted by: Oldman on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Mr. Ken,

My opinion of you plummets by the second. Josh was completely out of his mind. To see why, let me introduce you to two thinkers which I hope that the commentators here will not have the foolishness of accusing them of partisan liberalism. They write:

"The stunning victory in the war to remove Saddam has been followed by an almost equally stunning lack of seriousness about winning the peace, despite the vital importance of creating a stable, secure, and democratic Iraq."

Who are these people? They are Robert Kagan and William Kristol.

They also write: "Two months ago, when signs of deteriorating security in key parts of Iraq became unmistakable..."


"The Pentagon's consistent denial that we need more troops in Iraq has become absurd."

This puts the lie to those Pollyannas Thomson, Wellesley, and Josh that would whitewash what could easily become a catastrophe if not handled more competently most swiftly!

To recognize this is not unpatriotic, indeed using one's smarts in the service of one's country is the height of patriotism. It is also the height of intellectual integrity and sanity. Those who deny what is happening there, are not only fools but they lead others unto destruction.
See "Exit Strategy or Victory Strategy?"
by William Kristol and Robert Kagan.

posted by: Oldman on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

Some historical comparisons Josh conveniently "forgot":

- number of allied personnel killed after armistice in Germany: zero.
- number of coalition personnel killed after "major" combat: more than a hundred and rising ever faster.

- Konrad Adenauer
- Ahmed Chalibi

- time it took the West-Germans to write their Basic Law once the three western powers decided to merge their three occupation zones: six weeks.
- Iraqi constitution: somebody might write one sometime. We're still hopeful.

- dead: Hitler
- alive? : Saddam

- 11,000,000 disarmed POWs working for their victors
- 600,000 unemployed, bored, frustrated and armed Iraqi men

- favorite political activity of july 1945: founding parties
- favorite political activity in 2003: suicide bombing.

- general Lucius Clay
- Paul Bremer

- most essential GI activity in 1946: dating Frauleins and going home
- most essential GI activity in 2003: staying alive and staying there

posted by: Chocolatier on 11.07.03 at 10:50 AM [permalink]

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