[Second update: Update: Having slept on it and thought about it some more, I see that this post is seriously muddled. Here is all that I should have said:
Thanks to Norm for the response. Norm is right that my post was broad and ill-focused, whereas his was focused on a single point of comparison between Iraq and Afghanistan. I wrote the original post because I thought that Norm’s response to the Guardian piece was exasperating. I still find it so. You would think from reading Norm’s posts that pro-war voices weren’t incessantly claiming that the war has made us safer. You would think that the same reasons weren’t being advanced for future wars. You would think this because Norm writes as though there is something unreasonable in the Guardian’s bringing up, again, the claim that the war made us less safe. What is the problem with it? It is supposed to be: The Guardian includes Afghanistan in a list of Muslim grievances, along with the Iraq War, but only seems to accept that this gives a reason against the Iraq War. Gotcha!
In response to this, I want to say two things:
a) First, even if Norm is correct in his interpretation of the Guardian argument, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how to make sense of it: The Iraq War was much, much more polarizing than Afghanistan. Even if safety were our sole concern, it is perfectly reasonable given this fact to accept the one war and reject the other. And if you want to be fancy, you can even point out that the Iraq War made the war on Afghanistan more polarizing in retrospect, by fixing it within a troubling narrative of U.S. misbehaviour.
b) But in any case, Norm gets the Guardian argument wrong, and with it a significant part of most reasonable anti-war positions, which was the main point of my post, and which Norm does not seem to dispute. The real argument is much better than the one Norm criticizes. It is that on top of everything else, the war made us less safe. As for Norm’s response to this, I confess that it simply makes no sense to me. Of course, if that’s the argument, then it may not be decisive for him. But that was my point. The process of argument will involve going through lots of considerations that by themselves are not decisive. But it is nevertheless important. It is nevertheless very much worth saying.
I’m still unclear on what is wrong with pointing out that it is false to say that the war made us safer. The evidence for this grows stronger every day, but many proponents of the war – and future wars – deny it. What, I wonder is an appropriate response to all this? It would really help if Norm gave some hint as to what that might be. Without so much as a hint, it is reasonable to take both posts as suggesting that there is not much of a concern here. Surely the dismissive tone in Norm’s rejection of the Guardian piece suggests this. But surely this part of the anti-war argument deserves better and more thoughtful treatment.]
Many thanks to Norm for responding to this post. Let me just say a few quick things about his response. First, Norm writes (see original for hyperlinks):
(A) In saying he finds my repeated comparison of the two countries odd, Chris gives the impression that I have compared them in ways that I haven’t. Thus he writes:
 Whatever you think of Afghanistan, there was at least a clear casus belli…  Moreover, once the U.S. and allies were into Afghanistan, they had a commitment to the country, a commitment which the adventure in Iraq made much, much harder to fulfil. Indeed, even if the case for invading Iraq had been as strong as the case for invading Afghanistan, a supporter of the war in Afghanistan could have consistently rejected the war on Iraq on the grounds that the second mission would endanger the first.  Finally, far from providing a “gotcha!” moment for Norm, the fact that so many people supported the first war and rejected the second might be better taken as a tip-off that these people are not actually raving pacificists or knee-jerk anti-Americans.
The problem with all of the three points in this paragraph is that my comparisons of Iraq and Afghanistan have not concerned them – not any of them, and not in any shape or form. I have used the comparison to make the same single point – and repeatedly. This point is that Muslim anger, as a root cause of terrorism, comes from the invasion of Afghanistan as well as from the Iraq war. This creates a difficulty for those who emphasize the second anger but ignore the first.
Wait a minute. Let’s back up. Here’s the problem: The leaders of the U.S. and Britain sold a war on Iraq on the grounds that it would make us safer. Set aside when and how the humanitarian arguments came into it. The main argument from these people was that it would make us safer. And, whadda ya know, it did not. Rather, borrowing numerous scenes from the Complete Wet Dream Fantasies of O. bin Laden, Volumes 1 through 15, the U.S. proceded to wage a war that was regarded, not unreasonably, as an aggressive attempt to consolodate U.S. hegemony in the region, and then clinched the impression with a regime of massive detention and a torture scandal. We are not amused. Indeed, we are by turns enraged and depressed. And to be honest, this accounts for some of the emotion in my response to Norm. But damn it, this matters. This matters to anyone – supporter of the war or not – who thinks that part of the so-called War on Terror involves an appeal to ideas and ideals, and who wants to avoid handing radicals propaganda victories that they can use to further radicalize people still on the sidelines.
Now enter the CIA, which adds its voice to the chorus of people claiming that the Iraq War made us less safe. This becomes the subject of a piece in the Guardian, which also mentions Afghanistan among the causes of discontent among Muslims. If Norm thinks that there is anything reasonable in this complaint, he does not say. What he does say is this:
The Guardian yet once more today plays upon the ‘rage and fury that has been generated by Iraq’ (not only rage, also fury); and yet once more it fails to follow through on its own thought. For, including Afghanistan as well as Iraq amongst the ingredients of the ‘poisonous brew’ (one ‘heavily spiced by anger and resentment’) with which we are now faced, the paper omits to say what we’re supposed to do with this information.
It’s hard to avoid the inference that we’re being told that the war in Iraq should not have happened, not only for all the other reasons the Guardian thinks it indeed shouldn’t have, but specifically because it has made the democracies more vulnerable to terrorist attack. But, as I’ve pointed out before, the same reasoning then applies to the intervention in Afghanistan; and the Guardian seems unable to handle this idea. More generally, are we supposed to conclude that no nation should ever enter a conflict when by doing so it might provoke some form of retaliation from those inimical to its aims? That a country should never engage in a war it can’t win in short order? It’s hard to think the editor of the Guardian could explicitly sign up to this conclusion, and that maybe is why the paper’s leader today doesn’t follow through on the thought which it nonetheless gestures towards.
[Update: You’re better off just skipping the next paragraph.]
Far from allowing anything reasonable in the Guardian’s position, Norm mocks the language in the piece, implying (?) that the position is in fact unbalanced and drammatic. And it looks – it still looks after I’ve reread it a number of times – as though Norm thinks that he’s really got ‘em. Now Norm says that it was a “limited comparison,” and that I’ve read too much into it. Well, read the post for yourself and decide whether I’ve read too much into it. In response to a reasonable Guardian piece worrying about the cumulative effects on Muslim opinion of various policies, and in particular Iraq, his main response was to make this point about Afghanistan. Since the piece seemed eminently reasonable, and since Norm seemed mainly interested in dismissing it, I took what he said to carry the burden of the response to the Guardian’s position. Norm does not actually say, “I, Norm Geras, reject the Guardian’s position on this issue for this reason, and that’s that.” But he certainly seems to imply that he’s found the real defect in the Guardian’s position. At any rate, this partly accounts, I think, for the breadth of my criticisms.
[Update: Rereading this last paragraph I wonder if I’ve misunderstood what Norm means by “limited comparison.” I took it to mean “limited in ambition,” but Norm must mean “limited in scope.” I still think, though, that he’s a) misreading the Guardian argument; and b) employing a terrible argument against it himself; and c) being unclear about how much his argument is supposed to show. But I do apologize for getting this bit wrong, if that’s what I’ve done.]
As for the comparison, Norm is right that he has repeatedly made the point. But how much is it supposed to show? He still does not say, beyond the point that it is limited. To be fair, the Guardian piece Norm is specifically responding to here does not get into the business of saying how much worse Iraq was compared to Afghanistan on the issue of provoking anger among Muslims – it is, after all, mainly concerned with Iraq. But the question is entirely relevant to Norm’s point, which is, I think, vitiated by the vast space ellided by the phrase “as well as” in his claim that “Muslim anger . . . comes from the invasion of Afghanistan as well as from the Iraq War.” The Iraq War was enormously more controversial and polarizing than the War on Afghanistan. (If Norm denies this, he should say so, and we can look together at global opinion surveys to try to test my claim.) It was so because the casus belli was so different for each, which is why I mentioned this. Indeed, the Iraq War was so polarizing that it is easy to see how it might have a serious impact on how the War on Afghanistan is viewed by many people, both currently and retrospectively. So as for the difficulty created, it’s hard to see much of one. Muslim anger about the War in Afghanistan was real, but by itself the war surely radicalized few. Seen as part of a larger story in which a dominant Western military power is occupying countries with substantial Muslim populations, I think it’s more problematic, and worth mentioning. But all of this pales in comparison to the kind of anger aroused by the Iraq War. It is this massive discontent about the Iraq War which makes it so alarming to people who care about this sort of thing.
How relevant is this sort of consideration any way? Recall that I wrote:
I think the key here is in the phrase “not only” which I’ve put in bold. Critics of the war seem to me for the most part think that on top of the fact that the war was an unjustified aggressive war with terrible consequences, it has also made us less safe. Norm is right that by itself the fact that the war has made us less safe isn’t a decisive argument against it. (Of course, if the war had made us more safe, that wouldn’t have been a decisive argument for it. Other considerations might have outweighed it.) I think that sometimes he’s right to imply that critics are the war aren’t sufficiently clear about the logical structure of the argument. But put properly the point is perfectly reasonable. Indeed, it’s one reason I’m so very bitter about this war.
In other words, I thought that Norm missed the logical structure of the anti-war argument. Indeed, I thought that Norm’s criticisms missed the logical structure of the argument, even though the “not only” in his own account of the argument captured that logical structure. Indeed, the main point was that Norm misread the argument, in a way that made it look weaker than it is. Still awake? OK, in response, Norm skips over what the Guardian actually meant and moves to the claim that if I am right about the Guardian’s position, he blocked the argument in a post a year ago. Turning to the post in question, I do in fact remember it, but I’ve read these lines about 15 times and they still makes no sense to me:
However, it can be urged on behalf of those emphasizing the increased terrorist threat as a reason against Britain’s role in Iraq that they aren’t – not most of them, anyway – operating on the premise that that threat to British lives is the sole, or even a sufficient, reason against British participation in the Iraq war. What they believe, instead, is that it is one among the many compelling reasons there were against the war. But, of course, this is just what is disputed by people who supported the war, and who think that the balance of reasons was in the other direction. For us the combination of reasons against the war proferred by its opponents isn’t going to work, indeed it hasn’t worked; and so throwing in the increased terrorist threat as just one among many, or at least several, reasons also won’t work unless it is itself being given as a decisive reason.
First of all, please do recall that it was the Bush/Blair administrations that put this issue at the very centre of the Iraq War debate. Since it is false, it calls for a response. But beyond that, I just can’t follow Norm’s point. If lots of people, as so many did, supported the war, in part, because they thought it would make them safer, why can’t we try to counter that impression? Why can’t we urge people to reassess the effects of the war on their safety? If this is admitted by all to be one reason we take into consideration, why can’t we argue that it seems stronger and stronger as more evidence accumulates in its favour? These matters are still in dispute, which is why they’re worth discussing. All by itself, as I say, this might not be a decisive consideration. But so what? Norm doesn’t argue for his position all at once, so why does he expect the Guardian to do so?
Howls of outrage (2)