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“The Fog of War” and Iraq April 27, 2006

Posted by Matt Hurst in Uncategorized.

I have seen “the Fog of War” before, and own a copy of my own. The format of the film really gives Robert Mnamera a chance to tell his side of history, and a controversial period of history at that. In some ways the documentary is enlightening on the process of reasonable people in the time of war. You can understand the judgments made at the time in the way he is able to explain them – the domino theory, saber rattling, and other pragmatic assessments with the given understanding and intelligence. In other ways he has been given the benefit of hindsight to make his judgments on. However, this alone does not make his lessons any less significant or applicable to policy informed philosophically. The lessons McNamera offers are well understood through the examples in his own life that he offers, though I’m not sure how much a lesson in maximizing efficiency has to offer us. Most of these pragmatic lessons can be applied to the art of politics quite well, and a few apply generally well to our everyday expenses. 

One of the lessons that ought to have been applied or at least considered in the run up to the Iraq war was Lesson #7 – “Belief and seeing are both often wrong”. Especially considering the mind set of many in America in the run-up to the war in Iraq, many of the justifications for the war fell flat on their face. In presuming that Saddam Hussein was interested in pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction, the administration was acting on prejudiced attitudes towards their regime. This is probably why the administration still insists that Saddam Hussein’s regime itself was a threat to the United States, because they believe that he would have pursued WMDs even if he didn’t have any when we invaded. These beliefs of intent translated the administration’s perception of anything they could see in Iraq. Spy satellite photos were famously presented as evidence before the United Nations of military trucks moving between bases – they would then be identified as mobile weapons laboratories. When people talk about how the intelligence for the war was “Fixed” around administration hostilities, they are talking about seeing and then interpreting anything as a threatening action. Even without retrospect, the public (much less the administration) should have questioned the evidence for themselves rather than relying on provided evidence to be true – most of it fell on its face before the war began.
Because the evidence used as justification for the Iraq war was not carefully considered the first time around, the administration ought to have followed Lesson # 8: “Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning”. After all, even if we can presume that Saddam was intent on getting WMD capacity he cannot simply will these weapons into reality. When the Iraqi regime produced a list of how previously existing WMD (the one’s the US gave him in the 1980s) had been destroyed and their factories disabled, the US still presumed he still had some – the Kurdish massacre used as evidence that he had them for use (it was used before he destroyed them). Likewise, even after UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was unable to find weapons of mass destruction (he had unprecedented access to facilities), the Us still insisted those weapons were hidden. All the while, the administration insisted he had a weapons program without offering proof beyond personal testimony they believed true that he was developing them. More significantly, in tying Iraq to al-Queda, anyone should have reexamined the reasoning because the two groups were diametrically opposed to each other – even bin Laden used to call Saddam the godless Socialist tyrant, in opposition to his theocratic ideals. A careful re-examination of the testimony would have looked into the interests of those telling the US about a WMD capacity Saddam might be developing. 

The most important lesson that should have been considered in the run up to the Iraq war was Lesson #1 – “Empathize with your enemy”. Before the war the Iraqi regime was vilified as the embodiment of evil incarnate, intent on destroying the whole world. Of course the purpose of doing this was only to make an attack on them easier to accept – us against them. But really, even if Iraq was developing WMDs, they would only be doing so in response to perceived threats to their state. Even now, in combat, this lesson is still important. An exercise of restraint might actually benefit the security of Iraq, if only because so many insurgent forces insist on autonomy from what they perceive as an imperial occupation. In order to understand the insurgency, you have to understand how the US might respond to another nation’s armies running around our streets. Its hard to imagine perceiving any foreign army as anything but occupiers in the absence of war, so the best solution to securing the peace in IRaq might still be withdrawing our presence there – empathizing with your “enemy”. You need to be empathetic with your “enemy” in order to understand it and act accordingly with that understanding.



1. eazymeat6969 - April 28, 2006

robert macnamara rationalized a completely irrational evil.

and y’know what? i miss him.

he had a very pertinent vision, which i see as such: war is a business and a commodity that can be traded like stock prices, but a business without a game plan or a philosophy becomes anarchy. his engineering of parts of the vietnam war didn’t all work out, but the parts that did ran as smooth as a well-lubricated machine.

compare and contrast: iraq and afghanistan, 2001-present. there is no empathy; there’s not even good old fashioned american capitalism here. it’s simple overthrow and theft. we took their pipelines like a jealous sibling grabbing the last cookie out of your hand. we clearly don’t have a fucking clue what we’re doing.

which is proof that our leaders aren’t evil and coldly, logically conniving (like the esteemed mr. macnamara); far worse, they’re just stupid. fuckkkkkking hell.

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