Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sully's Circles

I see, via the Cunning Realist, that Andrew Sullivan is up to his old tricks again with a statement that is so glaringly wrong on so many levels that it almost defies analysis:

One thing that today's high gas prices strongly suggest is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about oil. If you care about cheap oil above everything else, you'd have found some deal with Saddam, kept the oil fields pumping, and maintained the same realist policy toward Arab and Muslim autocracies we had for decades.

Where does one begin? First, I guess, you could point out that low gas prices realized in the immediate aftermath of the invasion (relatively speaking) would be only one way that the Iraq war could be "about oil." Also of interest is control over, and lucrative contracts exploiting, the Iraqi oil fields in perpetuity, regardless of the impact on gas prices in the near term.

As an adjunct to this, having the ability to establish permanent military bases in the middle of the world's leading oil producing region in order to watch over the precious resource would also have its, er, advantages. Given the fact that demand via expanding economies in India, China and elsewhere is surging, and the supply of oil is limited and nearing its peak in terms of production, occupying the pole position in the Middle East - both militarily and through expanded political influence via a proxy government - might be worth the pain at the pump resulting from the process of gaining such control.

And if one wanted to be even more cynical, one could point out that the oil industry is actually benefiting quite nicely from the increase in gas prices even if American consumers are feeling the pinch. They never said whose oil it was about. So even if one were to believe that the Bush administration was aware of the likely impact on gas prices, they still might have believed this result was worth the risk for the reasons mentioned above.

But more fundamentally speaking, Sullivan makes a rather basic error in logic: attempting to prove intent by looking at the results. Assuming the war in Iraq had something to do with oil (imagine that), and assuming that part of that oil-based strategy included establishing a cheap and steady stream of the stuff to American consumers, pointing out that the plan hasn't worked out doesn't mean that it wasn't the plan all along.

To perform a little reductio ad absurdum of this circularity, one could imagine any failure in design being explained away by the failure itself.

One thing that today's fiery ball of flame in the sky strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Hindenburg was surely not supposed to be about safe air travel.

Along these lines, keep in mind that the "planners" of this war (using that term in the loosest possible sense) held many erroneous expectations of how events would play out. Recall, there was not supposed to be a prolonged insurgency, no ethnic/sectarian strife, our troop presence would be reduced to roughly 30,000 by Autumn 2003 due to the stability of the situation, Ahmad Chalabi was supposed to be a popular figure capable of mustering a mandate to lead the nation in the aftermath, and even then, elections would only be held after five-plus years while the CPA ruled over the nation via the "viceroy," Iraqi oil was supposed to be flowing at levels high enough to fund reconstruction and then some, etc.

So if those were the expectations, there is no reason to conclude that within that naive and pollyanish view of post-invasion Iraq, there was not an expectation of cheap and plentiful oil for the American consumer. If you aren't expecting an insurgency, you probably aren't expecting persistent sabotage and other factors negatively impacting the flow, and price, of oil. Further, there was generally an overestimation of the status of Iraq's oil producing infrastructure - with most analysts ignorant of the state of decay and inefficiencies.

But being wrong about expectations does not mean that you can point to the harshness of reality's reception as proof that those expectations did not exist.

Not to mention all that incompetence in the aftermath stuff that Sullivan has railed about in the past - especially with respect to every repentant war supporter's bete noire, Donald Rumsfeld. If this incompetence actually had an impact on the less than ideal outcomes we are currently witnessing, then how can you deduce initial motives from the tragic results of the unexpectedly poor execution. Incompetence in the execution does not absolve the intent.

But let's see how Sullivan's bizarre interpretation of logical argumentation holds up against other justifications for the Iraq war:

One thing that today's al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, and increased popularity worldwide, strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about fighting terrorism.

Or this:

One thing that today's decline in the status and rights of women, increase in religious fundamentalism and increase in influence of Iran and other theocratic forces in the political process in Iraq strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about spreading liberal democracy.

You know the dissonance must be reaching a deafening hum for many erstwhile Iraq war supporters when this is what they put forward as a defense. A logical fallacy that a junior high school debate team member could shred to ribbons in a matter of seconds.

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