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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Would It Take?

General Petraeus "cited a marked decrease in the number of U.S. and Iraqi deaths since the surge, but warned that an upsurge of sectarian violence in recent weeks showed that the progress made was 'fragile and reversible.'" NPR. This seems to be a perfect to have zero influence on one's opinion of our continued occupation of Iraq.

As someone who opposed the war from the beginning, I feel that fragile and reversible progress after five years of killing and dying is simply not enough. Further, I think that lies and mistakes made early on make it impossible to garner the support necessary to take the stay until it is done path that Senator McCain advocates, and as such, every day we put off our eventual departure with fragile and reversible progress, we worsen the disaster that will come.

I would assume a supporter of the war would feel the opposite. That the war's foundation of lies and errors is no longer relevant, and that although we have a long way to go we must continue to avoid disaster because the progress, though real, is fragile and reversible.

Petraeus's words are a sort of political Rorschach test. My question is this: What would it take to change your mind about the war?

For me, I would surely be willing to support troops in Iraq if we were certain that in 6 months there would be no more insurgency, but little more than street crime. Similarly, if we discovered a lab in which Muqtada al-Sadr was packaging suitcase nuclear bombs to be delivered to Haifa, it would change my mind. Is there anything that you could learn from a credible source that would change your position on the occupation?

2 comments:

james said...

Very observant, Jim. Do you think Petraeus's phrasing was explicitly designed that way? I watched a fair bit of the hearing with the foreign affairs committee and heard a lot of excerpts from the armed forces committee testimony. I always pretty much assume that most of the players in these proceedings are speaking as plainly as they can, even if their message is sometimes little more than a preening recitation of talking points. It certainly didn't occur to me at the time (and doesn't seem at all likely looking back at it) that Petraeus might be purposefully trying to tell both sides of the aisle what they wanted to hear simultaneously.

Regardless, I like your question very much, because it is so rarely evident in these debates that advocates for any particular side are engaging in the conversation to persuade and be persuaded, but rather to simply assert or disapprove. I thought Obama (hearteningly) was one of the few who took pains to pose his questions as a search for information that might guide his next decision rather than confirm or refute his previous ones.

So, what would persuade me to "change" my mind? Mine's not made up at this stage -- I was against this whole mess from the start, but that opinion I think became irrelevant to the situation at hand with the 2004 election -- but I'm willing to be persuaded or to support any plan that is presented acknowledging that a "good" outcome, the one that was presented in the sales pitch, isn't on the horizon. I can potentially be persuaded that we should still be there 20 or 50 years from now like South Korea if I think it's taking into account an ethically, morally, politically, diplomatically and strategically complete accounting of the region, terrorism, Islam, our allies, our enemies, Israel, Afghanistan, economics, humanitarian concerns, etc. ad infinitum.

I don't have conditions for what the arguments should be or I'd be asking them to simply tell me something I already agree with.

JimII said...

It certainly didn't occur to me at the time (and doesn't seem at all likely looking back at it) that Petraeus might be purposefully trying to tell both sides of the aisle what they wanted to hear simultaneously.

I don't think he was trying to do that. I assume that if he had a "mission" in giving his testimony it would be to support the goals of his President. I suspect things are not much worse than he reported though.

I don't have conditions for what the arguments should be or I'd be asking them to simply tell me something I already agree with.

Well, I'm thinking of something we called "trip wires" in the Navy. If we were tracking someone, I might set a trip wire of X thousand yards. Then if anyone in the control room made a range report of less than x, we would take immediate action to open range.

The reason for this, is that when you are in the heat of things, you can forget what's going on, and maybe you start out at 150,000 yards and are thinking, "we probably don't need to be any closer than 20,000 yards for this guy. But then, after you are trying to do something for hours at 20,500, scooting in to 19,800 doesn't seem like that big a deal. Trip wires, require you to consciously evaluate that decision. Why was 20,000 a problem four hours ago, but it isn't now.

That's what I'm talking about. There will always be a reason to leave and to stay, but maybe if we project thresholds into future, our personal stake in staying or leaving will not cloud our vision as much.