Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mistakes Don't Matter?

Secretary of State Condi Rice got in trouble on her recent visit to Britain, where she told reporters that in Iraq "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure."

The media and blogosphere immediately jumped on the "thousands of errors" comment, but I think Rice's next point is the really telling one: "But when you look back in history what will be judged on is" whether the "right strategic decision" was made. Rice tried to clarify the whole thing the next day by adding, "The point I was making... is that, of course, if you've ever made decisions, you've undoubtedly made mistakes in the decisions that you've made, but that the important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and democracy is the right decision."

The argument that execution is irrelevant and only the concept matters seems strange to me. I immediately thought of a doctor reassuring the family of a dead patient, "Yes, we operated incorrectly, we operated on the wrong part of the body, hell, we botched the whole procedure and killed the patient. But we were right in thinking the operation was called for!"

Success requires the right concept and the right execution. That Rice, like the negligent doctor in my hypothetical, feels compelled to fall back solely on the arguable correctness of the diagnosis is hard to understand. Does she really believe concept is all that matters? Does she expect the country to believe it? I don't know.

But if you found yourself concerned by Rice's comments, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was on the scene the next day to reassure you: "...the enemy's got a brain; the enemy watches what you do and then adjusts to that, so you have to constantly adjust and change your tactics, your techniques and your procedures," Rumsfeld explained. "If someone says, well, that's a tactical mistake, then I guess it's a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about."

So Rice says we've made thousands of mistakes, but none of them matter because we were right in deciding that Hussein had to go. And Rumsfeld says we haven't made any mistakes at all.

There's a word for all this: denial. And denial, as Dave Grossman says, has no survival value.

If you weren't sure before how our effort in Iraq was going to turn out, Rice and Rumsfeld just told you all you need to know.


Anonymous said...

The argument that execution is irrelevant and only the concept matters seems strange to me.

It's hard to tell from just the quotes you've repeated here, but it doesn't seem like you're characterizing Secretary Rice's comments fairly.

It doesn't appear that she's saying only the concept matters. Rather, she's saying that small mistakes don't matter as much as getting the big things right. And that's a perfectly defensible statement. It's not vital that every decision you make is correct, which is impossible, but rather that you get the most important decisions right.

Granted, one could argue that the most important decisions haven't been made correctly, but that's a separate issue.

I. Michael Koontz said...

One problem we all have with the government stems from the disconnect between the 'spin' of politicians, which usually is done to obscure some hidden agenda or the actualities of a situation, and what we--as normal, rational-thinking persons in the 'real' world--know is true from our lifetimes of human experiences.

In other words, only a fool thinks that we did not make some mistakes in Iraq; the evidence (Abu Ghraib, the pro-Hussein resistance, etc.) is all around you. So Ms. Rice wishes to "kind of" acknowledge the mistakes, without truly taking responsibility for them--or admitting that they mattered.

Politicians think, sometimes, that we are so naive, or confused, or maybe just plain dense to detect 'spin' when it is spun. Well, most of us are not. How refreshing would it be to actually have Rice and Rumsfeld say, "You know, if we had the chance, we would do a lot of this differently. We've made mistakes--but we're learning from them as best we can"? I think the American Public would identify with that; would believe in that.

Because that's how most people would act--or should be acting--in the 'real' world. I don't use government-style 'spin' on my job or in my daily life because, in the 'real' world, it almost NEVER goes undetected.

In the 'real' world, we don't even have to have a name for it, because two letter say it all: "B.S." When politicians 'spin,' my B.S. detector goes off the chart, yet they keep doing it and doing it and fooling no one.

When will they learn?

Anonymous said...

There are two harms that occur when such denials are accepted (as they will be by those who accept the strategic intent of the Iraq adventure):

First, the Iraq adventure may continued to be justified in such minds (and mouths).

Second, even when it is not, the perpetrators of it will be either left in power or allowed to resume power in other offices, and, as in the novels, kill again.

But this isn't a novel - it's real life.

John DuMond said...

I'm inclined to agree with David's assessment of the SecState's statements. As for spin, it's here to stay folks. The unavoidable by-product of the 24 hour news cycle and the proliferation of "expert" talking heads on TV.

Mindy Tarquini said...

If someone says, well, that's a tactical mistake, then I guess it's a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about.

I don't want my Secretary of Defense to have a lack of understanding of what warfare is about.

I really don't.

If he does, I don't want him announcing it at a news conference, unless the observation is followed by the statement, 'And because of that, I've tendered my resignation effective immediately.'

Sandra Ruttan said...

The operation example was perfect.

CR's comments seem like an "official" way of saying the ends justifies the means. But since I'm not American, I don't really feel I have the right to state my honest opinion on this whole topic.

I'll just say it's a tragedy that so many completely innocent people are dying while some indulge in their government-sanctioned denial.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

"Does she really believe concept is all that matters? Does she expect the country to believe it?"

I would believe that as an educated, politically savvy person, Condy has an opinion of her own that does not match the statement that she made.

It is not her dime that she's speaking on, remember she serves at the pleasure of the President.

I'm sure this is the "party" line that is acceptable to the administration at this point in time.

If you notice, little by little the administration is accepting more fault...as opposed to three years ago when there were "no mistakes". It's a time-release process leading up to the elections!

As a political news junkie, I'm sure you've observed this type of rhetoric from several administrations...The words never change, just the administration.

Barry Eisler said...

David and John, I hear what you're saying about how to interpret Rice's statements. And I should be upfront about my current biases: over time, I've come to profoundly distrust this administration (even more than I distrust administrations generally), and my distrust will certainly color my interpretation of what they're saying and why they're saying it.

Still, I don't know how to interpret Rice's statement as other than "the execution was faulty but the idea was right." She mentions "strategic decisions" twice, and seems to define the phrase in this case as "the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and democracy." That is to say, the objective was to overthrow Hussein and foster democracy, and the objective is what really matters. I can't agree with an assessment that places that much weight on the objective/strategy/what you're trying to achieve, and so little on the means/tactics/how you're trying to achieve the objective.

To put it another way: the war's objective, as currently stated, is all about stability and democracy (the original stated objective was to find and secure WMD). Yes, Hussein is gone, but if that had been the sole objective our troops would be home now, so stability and democracy are clearly the current objectives, as Rice states. And it's precisely the policy mistakes this administration has committed that have, in my opinion, rendered the objective of stability and democracy unattainable. Which is again why I disagree so strongly with Rice's suggestion that the mistakes don't matter.

Sandra, where are you from? Please don't be shy about expressing opinions (subject to the usual caveats about respect and lack of bombast, of course); I'd welcome non-US perspectives here at HOTM.

Barry Eisler said...

And a belated welcome to PJ Parrish, bestselling author (authors, really, for those who know the writing team Kelly and Kristy) for visiting yesterday on the thread about France. Thanks for your thoughtful post, K&K, and I hope we'll see more of you here.

Anonymous said...

I would interpret Condoleeza's quote as an attempt to differentiate herself from the official party line, an attempt to portray herself as integer and willing to stand up to mistakes, all in the hopes for a presidential nomination 2008.

To me, she's basically saying "I have to be loyal to the President and his agenda, but look here, I'm not comfortable doing it." And the fallout from Rumsfeld helps her in that now people might say that at least Ms. Rice admitted to mistakes that were clearly made, even if she had to qualify them as meaningless.

Maybe in a year, people will still dislike the current administration but view Condoleeza as a seperate person, someone working for, not so much being in the administration. It's a long-term plan, but I think she is one of the few current government officials capable of such long-term thinking, planning, and – executioning?

But that's a German's point of view, and the p.o.v. of someone who'd love to see a woman President (or a black President).

Unknown said...


Just dropped in on a link from Joe Konrath's site. What a superb contribution! I'm not going to comment (this time) on Condi/Rumsfeld or on France - but I do tend towards your assessment of things. But I'll be back (have you ever encountered an Irishman who did not have strong opinions - especially on politics, etc)...

Just wanted to say 'Bravo!'


Sandra Ruttan said...


I'm Canadian. And we've had our share of knocks over the situation in Iraq for our lack of support.

This is not a viewpoint that I came to overnight, but some of the things that have become tolerated due to the propagation of fear by the present administration concern me. Before Iraq I was waiting, trying to reserve judgment, expecting evidence of the Iraqi threat to be produced that would justify military action.

However, imho, it has seemed that there are two things that are at the heart of the current government: fear and ignorance. CR demonstrates a lack of understanding and real concern for the execution of these "strategic decisions" and her demonstrable lack of knowledge and understanding of the situation shows what I feel is the blatant disregard amongst some of the present administration, towards even their own citizens. Americans are dying overseas, and that's okay, as long as in the end the government achieves its goals?

Fear is palpable, contagious, and has been wielded by this administration to great effect. Every time there is a question of how the government is addressing unemployment, the economy, there is another terror alert. Over time, when evidence wasn't produced, it became easier and easier to be skeptical about the real agenda. But it is hard to focus on that when you're afraid. And the people of the US have legitimate fears that I feel the gov't is using against them.

On the one hand, I completely believe Saddam Hussein was bad. He should have gone after the first Gulf War. But CR's comments make me fear that we are in a generation that has forgotten the mistakes of the past, that has failed to apply any lessons learned. Whatever happens, whoever dies, whatever goes wrong, is okay, as long as Saddam Hussein is gone.

It isn't okay. If we don't model the very principles of democracy and tolerance that we seek to be afforded, are we no better than the regimes we determine should be removed?

See, this is why my husband made me promise not to blog on politics. I am rather too passionate about my views. Thinking about all of this last night put an old song in my head, though:

you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exagerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence

I'm going to go get off my soap box...


Sandra Ruttan said...

PS Part of that was inspired by what I read here yesterday:
http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2006/04/11/1529816-ap.html The combination of what I read here and there didn't sit well with me, although the infringement on First Amendment rights is hardly news.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me to be too easy to pick at any set of comments (whether in context or not). There were blunders in every war (both in strategy and execution). Let's face it, if you're pro peace (or anti Bush), you can have a festival of picking at scabs/mistakes. As Rice pointed out, anytime you make decisions, some of them are going to be wrong.

Does that make the mistakes okay? Of course not, but let's not lose sight of the fact we're all Monday morning quarterbacking every nuance of every issue.

I would've liked to see things done somewhat differently (and maybe heard some things expressed differently), but I'm very old school when it comes to taking punches ... and I don't believe in turning the other cheek in a world where jets and their fuel can cause the kind of destruction we experienced in New York on 9-11.

It's all wonderful discourse, but in the end, it all comes down to where you stand on any issue. Did we really feel any more trusting of the Clinton Administration because he didn't make a decision regarding Al Quaeda?

Have we finally figured out what the definition of "is" is?

I know, he was lying about cheating on his wife ... big deal. I just can't forget the first World Trade Center attack and how nothing more than luck (that the buildings didn't collapse) saved tens of thousands of people. Slick willy let that escalate into other terrorist strikes, including the Cole, and his lack of aggression probably encouraged 9-11.

He sure could talk, though.

Anonymous said...


In your above statement about distrusting this adminastration.

Bluntly, what in the hell is Iran doing? In my earlier post I said asked about failed blunders of or CIA. Now Iran daily seems to be pushing the buttons that would lead us to confrontation.Why? What is there purpose? What do they expect, that we won't bomb them?

I am honestly perplexed by Irans motives. We clearly don't have any reason to believe our current leaders. (I voted for twice) We clearly cannot beleve Iran.

So is Iran bluffing? What motivates them daily to claim they are closer to building there bomb? Why doesnt the populace of Iran overthrow there leaders?

Ok enough ranting! But seriously?

JD Rhoades said...


From the quality of your writing, I really expected better from you than the usual Bushian obfuscation of dishonestly conflating 9-11 and Iraq, followed by the same old tiresome playing of the Clinton card.

Here's a hint: when you trot out Clinton in a discussion that has nothing whatsoever to do with him, it's the surest sign you're out of ideas. And I find that hard to believe of you.

John DuMond said...

Good point Charlie. War is a dirty business. Mistakes will be made. As I pondered Barry's post last night and the various comments here, I wondered what WW II would have looked like had there been 24 hour cable news and the information superhighway back then. The talking heads would have nitpicked Roosevelt and his generals to death.

Iran's President Ahmadinejad is convinced that the return of the Mahdi--the all powerful 12th Shi'a Imam--is imminent. He sees himself as laying the groundwork for the return. What we have, in essence, is a Muslim version of David Koresh running a country that just announced that it has successfully enriched uranium. Scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

I thought about making a
'like white on Rice' comment.

But that would be tacky.


JA Konrath said...

Welcome to the black hole, Barry. :)

Barry Eisler said...

Patrick, maybe you're right about why Rice put things the way she did. I hadn't thought of that. My own guess remains as I've previously stated, but as I said I've come to distrust these characters and that's influencing my interpretation, no doubt.

Pat, welcome, nice to see another writer here!

Sandra, you've keyed on the source of my mistrust: ongoing mistakes and a failure to acknowledge them. For me, mistakes themselves aren't damning; as Rice and some of today's posters have pointed out, we all make mistakes. They're inevitable. What I want from a leader, therefore, isn't infallibility; it's honesty, and a demonstrable ability to learn from the mistakes that get made (otherwise, what's the point of making them?).

Since we first went into Iraq, I've heard Rumsfeld say there was no insurgency, that it was just a bunch of Baathist dead-enders; I've heard the administration continually articulate new milestones -- capture of Hussein and killing of his sons, withdrawal of proconsul Bremer, installation of an interim government, drawing up of a constitution, elections -- that would improve our prospects there, with no meaningful improvement that I can see; I've heard continuing bromides from Dick Cheney, who almost a year ago claimed that the insurgency was "on its last legs." Now they're saying there's no civil war. At some point, evaluating this evidence as dispassionately as I can, I can only conclude that the administration is incompetent or duplicitous or both. It gives me no pleasure to come to this conclusion; I just don't see another reasonable interpretation for the evidence. If someone else has one, by all means, I'd like to hear it and I hope you can persuade me (remember, HOTM is about persuasion... hint, hint...).

Charlie, welcome, yet another writer and a refreshingly different viewpoint. Thanks for pointing out that... what's the saying? "Where you stand depends on where you sit." This is a key point, and part of the purpose of HOTM. I want a place where people feel comfortable lowering their defenses, opening their minds, and examining their assumptions. Several of the posts on this thread have gotten me to take a fresh look at mine, and I'm grateful for that.

I'm with you on the limits of cheek-turning, BTW. But in fairness, jets, their fuel, and 9-11... that was all AQ. We're talking about Iraq. Also, I'm not sure I understand where you're going with the Clinton references. Is the point that all politicians can be neglectful of national security issues? That they're all liars, so if I'm going to talk about one of them I have to talk about all? Most of all, I have to ask whether those references were calculated to change any minds around here? My guess is that they didn't, and that's a shame, because isn't persuasion the whole point?

Dtodeen, good questions about Iran, and I hope to write about that one in a separate post.

John D, I've heard the WWII argument before and think it is a good, sobering point that ought to give all of us some perspective about the inevitable mistakes and setbacks that war involves. At the same time, I sometimes get irritated with Bush and Cheney for complaining about media coverage -- after all, part of their job is to manage the press. Yes, it many respects it was probably easier to prosecute a war 60+ years ago, and it's useful to consider that as we fight a war today. But we *do* have 24 hour cable news coverage and blogs today. Any administration has to work within this reality. And one way Bush and company might do it more effectively, I think, is to acknowledge mistakes more forthrightly, remind people of the mistakes made in previous conflicts, and reassure us explicitly and implicitly that they're learning from the mistakes and prosecuting the war more effectively as a result. If I'd seen more of that kind of media management over the last several years, I wouldn't be nearly as distrustful as I am today.

Joe, thanks for the sympathy!


JD Rhoades said...

So it's official. Barry Eisler's not only better looking than me, he's much nicer as well.

Damn you, Eisler! Damn you to hell!

Sandra Ruttan said...

"So it's official. Barry Eisler's not only better looking than me, he's much nicer as well."

Do I have to duck if I say I thought that was true of everyone?

(You know I adore you Dusty. In a "fascinated-by-abnormality-frozen-watching-deer-get-struck-by-car" kind of way.)

"What I want from a leader, therefore, isn't infallibility; it's honesty, and a demonstrable ability to learn from the mistakes that get made (otherwise, what's the point of making them?)."

I completely agree with that. You can support an administration in general and still not be happy with every decision they make or policy they implement. I would rather see the government admit they made a mistake about something and take steps to rectify the situation than compound lies with lies. Or even half-truths.

And Pat, I got my copy of Dublin Noir btw and read your story, really enjoyed it and am enjoying all the contributions I've indulged in so far. But nobody tattle on me or my publisher will wonder why I'm not chained to the edits...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, JD, I just don't buy into the distinction between Iraq and Al Quaeda (or Iran, Syria, etc.) ... I kind of agree with Dennis Miller on this; "If you want to kill me, I hate you." So long as Hussein was publicly supporting suicide bombers against Isreal in the forms of rewards to the families of the lunatics who went on suicide missions (not to mention his scud missile attacks against Isreal after he invaded Kuwait), I just can't see the distinction between him and Bin Laden ... one was a fundamentalist; the other a dictator ... both killed people randomly. They're a pair of terrorists ... after 9-11, terrorists (for me) painted targets on their heads.

Middle east terrorists and/or Islamic fundamentalists everywhere needed to be reminded we're not target practice. What we did in Iraq serves a far greater purpose than what the administration is selling (spreading democracy; frankly, I don't care about Iraqi democrazy) ... the war there sent a very clear message that we're not always going to look the other way and make believe it didn't happen.

And ... I don't need to knock Clinton to show my support of Bush's war efforts. I'm not a Bush apologist (or an American apologist, for that matter). I'm fine with what George is doing in the middle east. I don't have a problem with it. Frankly, the only mistake he made was putting boots on the ground. Guess where I'm going with what I would've liked to seen happen?

Barry, as I stated previously (regarding where you stand/sit, etc.), it's not about changing minds (not how I see it). It's wonderful discourse, so I applaud your blog, but we're all bringing our fueled perspectives to the dance. I read many of the comments as just another Bush-bashing fest (whether it's Rice, Rumsfeld, Chaney, et al, who's taking the hits).

Frankly, they (the Bush bashing festivals) get boring (like "Real Time" with Bill Maher). They go from being funny to cute to time to change the channel.

I guess it's the Monday morning quarterbacking with the benefit of video tape and out of context soundbytes, etc., that I don't see the point in pursuing. As another comment suggested, can you imagine how quick peaceniks would've wanted out of WWII ... I say imagine how they would've gone berzerk after something like operation Market Garden?

Or how about the global politics that were played while restraining George Patton from maybe ending the war six months sooner?

In the end I guess it depends on whose ox was gored.

Hey, I stopped my own blog so I wouldn't spend so much time getting sucked into this stuff.

It's back to the 12 steps for me, brothers and sisters ...

Sandra Ruttan said...

From my perspective, Charlie, the thing is that any administration should be judged by the same standards, not as a frame of comparison and 'let off' because they're better than someone else.

Every government should be held to the same standard of accountability. The problems of the Clinton administration do not dismiss legitimate concerns with the Bush administration.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, it's a noble and idealistic goal (to hold governments to the same standard of accountability), but ... it's impossible to dismiss the context of the times (i.e., what a government did during WWII cannot necessarily be judged against what happened, say, in Vietnam, etc.)

I'm not looking to let anyone off ... but that might be because I don't see what the problem was (in going to war). The mistakes I have to discount (to a greater degree than I think most might be comfortable with because I just assume they'll happen, especially in war). I can only hope we learn from our mistakes (but I in no way think going to war in Iraq was a mistake). I think trying to stop gay marriages with a constitutional amendment is wrong ... I think some of the tax cuts for corporations were wrong ... but Iraq (with all the flaws in the game plan) has accomplished its purpose (whether it was the one the administration was trying to sell or not). I only hope the next President isn't perceived as the guy or gal who won't pull the trigger half as fast as Bush. I really worry about that.

JD Rhoades said...

Charlie: No one's saying Hussein was a paragon of virtue. No one's saying he shouldn't have been dealt with in some fashion. The question is, was this invasion and the following endless occupation the way to go about it? Especially considering that the job wasn't yet fully done in Afghanistan (and still isn't to this day)?

It's like, after Pearl Harbor, we'd decided to divert troops from fighting the Germans to invade Spain.

"Well, Franco's a Fascist, and after Pearl, all Fascists have a bullseye on their heads."

Randy McFab said...

There seems to be three types of thinking on the Iraq war, to whit:
a) The war is wrong, period.
b) The war was wrong, but since we're there anyway we might as well kill some people.
c) It doesn't matter if the war is wrong, what matters is the execution of it. Snipers look cool!
Too many "action book" fans appear to agree with the third premise, which is sad. I personally consider Rice's admission of mistakes in the bombing-killing-burning-torturing portion of the war irrelevant. If the cause is unjust, who cares how you carry it out? To use your own analogy...
A civic-minded surgeon decides to amputate the legs of a patient because the patient is an ex-criminal and therefore is likely to attempt to run from the police one day. The doctor botches the operation, leaving the victim one leg to hop on. Critics blame the doctor for the fact that the patient is still a one-legged threat. From a tactical standpoint, the doctor has failed. From a moral standpoint...Well, who cares, right?
Think about the people who still support the Vietnam war, saying, "If we'd only nuked them..." You don't want to end up sounding like that...Or do you?

Anonymous said...

JD: Don’t marginalize what Hussein was (or is) … the bottom line was he was publicly supporting terrorism, end of story. Bush should’ve stuck to his ground zero speech instead of trying to sell war to a country that has been so spoiled it forgot how it came to be in the first place (and has sustained itself ever since—through war).

As for “dealt with in some fashion” … sorry, brother, that just doesn’t fly in a post 9-11 world. It is way too ambiguous, and, quite frankly, sounds like another U.N. resolution.

“Was the invasion and endless occupation” … back up a second … its 3 years old (not 12 like Vietnam). Not to marginalize those wounded and killed there, but we lost more people in 9-11 in a few hours … and you don’t want to go near comparing WWII figures to the Iraq war. As for the job not being done in Afghanistan … I don’t think you can argue the Taliban is still in power there. They were the government there; now they’re another group of terrorists hiding behind rocks. There’s work to be done on all fronts and it may take several more years, but you can’t argue we didn’t accomplish anything in either country (unless you just can’t imagine Bush doing something good). As for being there for another ten years … if that’s what it takes to keep bombs off our subways in New York … or to keep terrorism on the run, so be it.

Franco and Spain … I don’t know (maybe you do) … did Franco send suicide bombers into our allies’ countries to kill people and then reward their families? If he did, he was ripe for an ass kicking. Me thinks you need to look deeper into the analogy.

Olen Steinhauer said...

Back to the beginning: I agree that Rice's statement was fair enough. As someone who disagrees with the war, and the administration 95% of the time, I appreciate (after a long time of not appreciating), that hers was a statement of at least some kind of truth, or at least openness. The question of "objectives" is of course confusing. When it starts with WMD, then moves to unseating Hussein and belatedly instituting democracy (one out of three ain't bad?), the public has trouble swallowing it.

But I don't honestly think any of these three constitute the Bush administration's primary objective. Like all governments, it's interested in its country's security and, as importantly, prosperity. Yes, oil to some extent, and yes, making the world a little less safe for Al Qaeda. But I think the far-reaching goal comes from Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations", which is required reading for everyone in the Bush White House. In it, Huntington says that in the post-Cold War world the balance of power will move steadily eastward, and fall along cultural/religious lines.

So the wars in the Middle East constitute steps toward stopping that eastward movement, and therefore protect US (Western) interests.

But how does one tell an electorate that your primary justification for war is to counteract an unproved theory? It's too abstract; it has to be justified one step at a time.

(Sorry if this sounds conspiratorial, I don't mean it to be. But I think it probably forms part of the underlying belief system used by Bush to strategize.)

Like I said, I'm against the war, but I've been trying to look at the acts of the Bush administration not by judging the "morality" of their actions, but by what's going on in their minds. Because no government--UK, Canadian, French, Hungarian, US--works on moral grounds. Talk of giving the Iraqi people democracy and self-respect is just twaddle, as it always is. Governments only work in their own interests, which is hopefully the interests of their people. Whether that means killing, torturing, or worse, it doesn't matter. And it's on those grounds that I have to disagree with most of what the administration's done.

(And as an aside, it says something about the form this conversation has taken in the world that people still feel the need to state, "Yes, Saddam Hussein was bad," as if they might be guilty of supporting a dictator if they don't state the obvious.)

Great blog, Barry. Good luck keeping the temperatures down. Maybe the next post will be on flower arranging...?

Anonymous said...

Olen: Flowers! Now you've gone too far! Pave paradise and put up a parking lot!

Just breaking yours shoes, brother. Some of my best friends are flowers ...

And I agree with Olen ... the adminsitrations "reasons" for going to war were all bogus (and keep changing with the political climate that suits them). I'm just pro war on this one (as an American seeking to protect his interests) ... also as Olen stated, govt's act on self-interest alone.

Okay, my wife has just put me on notice ... one more comment here and she's taking away my keyboard.

JD Rhoades said...

Charlie: You keep mentioning Hussein's support of terrorists attacking Israel as a justification for spending American lives in Iraq.
Why is is America's job to do Israel's dirty work, when it's quite clear they can do that job themselves, and quite well?

Anonymous said...

Okay, JD, then explain this to me. Why didn't we let Israel defend itself from those scud missile attacks? In case you can't figure it out, it's because they would've wiped out Baghdad in about 20 minutes. The world still isn't quite ready for Isreal to defend itself the way it should be permitted. We (the U.S.) put a lot of pressure on Isreal to lay off defending itself, my friend.

Not to worry, though ... when Iran has what it needs to nuke somebody, I suspect Isreal won't ask permission then (god bless them). They'll take out the reactors in Iran the way they did in Iraq before global politics precluded them from full throttle self-defense.

JD Rhoades said...

This yet-another-rationale for Iraq is simply mindblowing, and I hope you see how far you've shifted the goalposts, yet again.

We needed to invade Iraq, expend billions of dollars and over 2,000 lives so far, not to defend the U.S. from terror any more but because the "global community" won't let Israel take action to stop the terrorist suicide bombers. Except that, if they really think they need to (e.g. if Iran gets nukes) they'll do it anyway.

The Israelis have, however, taken a lot of actions against the bombers, including firing air to ground missiles into populated neighborhoods to take out their leadership, and thumbed their noses at the international community when there were complaints.

Sorry, this one won't hold water, either, and I doubt that if Bush had leveled with the people and said this was why we're invading Iraq, that anyone would've backed the war.

It's the President's job to defend America, not Israel, depsiute what the Left Behind loonies and Holy Joe Lieberman say.

Anonymous said...

On our first moon mission, we were off course far more often than not. Should we have waited?

Anonymous said...

JD, you're all over the place ... and like too many on the extreme left, completely irrational. Best of luck, buddy.

JD Rhoades said...

Another sign that you've run out of ideas is the retreat into labeling ("extreme left") and the personal attack ("completely irrational") rather than addressing the point made.

I'm truly disppointed that a writer I admire as much as I admire you turns into Ann Coulter so easily.

Anonymous said...

Ann Coulter? I'm 330 pounds and pretty ugly, JD. I've been accused of everything (EVERYTHING) ... but Ann Coulter?

I apologize if it came off the wrong way ... it's just discourse, brother.


Unknown said...


You must have known you'd stir things up. But I must say that the commentors so far have defended their positions well. Hopefully, each side will learn a little from the other side.

As far as I'm concerned I don't trust leaders who claim to save the world for democracy, be it American or British. Having grown up in Northern Ireland I have the experience of living under British democracy where 20% of the people in my home town could elect a mayor and twelve representatives to the city council whereas the 80% majority could only elect eight representatives - all in a free election (accomplished by gerrymandering the voting districts and denying the right of 'one man, one vote'). So I am not persuaded that we in the west own the right to say that ours is the best form of freedom and democracy...

With that as an opener, I digress. I would have understood the war against Iraq if they had uncovered massive dumps of WMD. Otherwise it makes no strategic or tactical sense to me. It won't defeat terror, proving that we can take twenty eyes for one in a biblical act of revenge will not frighten or intimidate the terrorists who are willing to die for their cause. In fact it will strengthen their resolve. And here I take a leaf from Ireland's book : 700 years of English rule, punctuated by similar periods of murder and state terror only created fresh martyrs and watered the earth where that seed of revenge grew from generation to generation.

And my belief is that the extreme Islamic terrorists of today are perhaps grown from seeds that were planted by Rome during the crusades, watered by many fertilizers over time: Palestine, oil, western culture, etc ... such well-watered seeds will not be killed by the Iraq weedkiller..

On a personal front: I served in the US Army in a MASH unit in Korea (no, not the war - I'm not that old) and I was proud of the training I received (both military and moral). I respected the people I served with and our actions on a daily basis were honorable, and ones that the American people and I (as a naturalized American) could look back on with pride. So I was stunned (and ashamed) when I heard of Abu Ghraib - and I remain stunned and ashamed. This is not my army. This does not represent the country that I proudly emigrated to, the country that I proudly served, the country that I pledged allegiance to when I raised my right hand to become a citizen ....nothing justifies the US acting like this. It sullies us. And convicting a few enlisted people is unacceptable. Does one believe that ENRON can be exonerated if it asserted that three or four of its office clerks had acted alone and were the only people responsible for falsifying the books and creating the demise of the company.

Barry and everone: I know I have widened and enlarged this topic - but it calls for this. We need a fresh understanding and a fresh approach to tackling the anger and violent threats that seem to dominate our world. Hopefully here in Ireland we are coming out of 700 years of darkness and entering (with lots of false steps - but with certainty) a new future where old enemies can forgive and create justice for those who were denied it. And, despite the dalliances in the oval office, I don't think we'd have accomplished it without the intelligence and support of Bill Clinton and George Mitchell. America at its best!

And, Charlie, my apologies from taking the forum away from you. I hear you and I understand your point of view. Let me assure you, I am no Chamberlain, I do not appease. But I prefer to have a strong America whose leaders capture me with their knowledge, intelligence, and common sense. The virtues I've always associated with such a great people.

Peace everyone,
Slan, Pat.

P.S. Sandra, glad you enjoyed Tribunal in DUBLIN NOIR. Thank you!

John DuMond said...

I hope you're not implying that what happened at Abu Ghraib is representative of the US military as a whole. It is not, I assure you. What happened there was indicative of a total breakdown in that unit's chain of command. According to news reports, they did not even have a copy of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) available at the prison. Hell, I wasn't even allowed to deploy until I had successfully completed LOAC training, and my job didn't involve any contact with detainees. The people in charge there were not held accountable for their failure to supervise. With the exception of BG Karpinsky's demotion to Colonel, I don't recall hearing about any punishments for the officers running that unit. This is disappointing (and just plain wrong), but unsurprising. In the nearly two decades that I have been affiliated with the military, it has become apparent to me that officers are less likely to be punished than enlisted personnel.

Barry Eisler said...

Guess I should have known that the subject of Iraq would produce some heat along with the light... but come on, people, what are we going to do when I start blogging about gun ownership and abortion?

Okay, okay, a few thoughts: Bryon, I can't agree that if Clinton (or anyone else) had managed to block a 9/11 style attack it would have been "the worst possible outcome." Not preventing the attack seems worst to me. But I think I see your point: that at least 9/11 woke the country up and caused us to take action to prevent something even worse (for example, nuclear terrorism).

And I don't know about the argument that Clinton's lack of aggression gave Hussein time to dispose of is WMD. After all, the original stated objective of the war was to secure those same WMDs. If lack of aggression had already completed the job, sign me up for lack of aggression.

Charlie, I do think discussion is about changing minds (or at least it should be). Why talk if there's no hope of persuading? Why listen if there's no hope of realizing something new? Of course, most of what passes for discussion IME isn't about finding the truth; it's about defending a position. But I want HOTM to be different. That's why I'll be frequently reminding people here to listen and make points as though their minds are open. If we act as though our minds are open, we might discover that they are.

Randy, I agree with Bryon: the three types of thinking you propose regarding the war don't seem well-calculated to persuade anyone. I agree that there are people who think the war is wrong, period. But B and C seem snide. Think about how you might make the same points, but in a way that will get people to listen to you and consider what you've said, instead of immediately tuning you out because they feel you've insulted them.

Tim, I've read and learned a lot from both of Baer's books -- See No Evil and Sleep With the Enemy. He's an interesting, thoughtful, provocative guy, and I thanked him in the acknowledgments of Rain Storm for some of the ideas I borrowed from Sleeping with the Enemy. He's also got a novel coming out on May 30 called Blow the House Down. It got a good review in PW and apparently he'll be doing a book tour.

Welcome, Olen, another writer! Yes, flower arranging might be a good idea for the next topic, before we tackle immigration, Iran, etc...

Speaking of writers, I think I might have neglected to mention that a previous visitor on this thread, Joe Konrath (J.A. Konrath), is also a writer -- and for anyone who's interested in some of the best daily tips on writing out there, be sure to check out Joe's blog.

I like the discussion about the war's objectives. It seems to me this is where many of our problems have come from: either the administration didn't have the objectives clear in its own mind, or it had objectives but felt that it couldn't discuss them in public, or it had them but they changed as the war went on. There might be other possibilities that I'm missing. Thoughts, anyone (expressed respectfully and open-mindedly, of course)?

JD, take another look at your post beginning, "This yet-another-rationale for Iraq is simply mindblowing..." and ending with a reference to "Left Behind Loonies" and "Holy Joe Lieberman." Did you expect Charlie to respond by saying, "You're right, JD, those are all good points. You've persuaded me." If not, how could you rephrase your thoughts to maximize your chances of being heard? Charlie responded in kind, I see, which is what usually happens in these matters. Let's talk to each other with the intention of shedding more light, less heat, brothers and sisters...

E. Ann, thanks for the good news about Tim Horton's. I've heard good things, and can't wait to taste those donuts myself...

Pat, thanks for the great thoughts and questions and especially the great tone.

I just had a thought for a guideline that might help us all to stay in persuasive mode: watch out for adjectives and adverbs (a good rule for novelists, too, of course). Most times in posts like these, the adjectives and adverbs add little to the substance of the argument, and tend to come across as self-righteous and bombastic. Just a thought for consideration.


Jozef Imrich with Dragoness Malchkeon said...

I came here via Book Buzz and the trip was worth it.

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
— William Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Morava River

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow, try to get some sleep, look what happens!

Bardawill - awesome news about Tim Horton's. My cousin that lives in Nashville will be soooo happy.

Barry, welcome to the wild world of blogging. Just the very inference that I might talk politics on occasion has stirred all sorts of interesting comments elsewhere. Personally, I can't wait until you blog gun control and abortion.

Charlie's remark, "Don’t marginalize what Hussein was (or is) … the bottom line was he was publicly supporting terrorism, end of story. Bush should’ve stuck to his ground zero speech instead of trying to sell war to a country" and further points about not comparing the numbers of casualties in Iraq to WWII are also interesting, to me. War is not the same as it was 60 years ago, due to technological advances, new weaponry, etc. So by that position, short of a nuclear war which likely wouldn't see us here to argue about this anyway, war will never be that bad because we won't be losing that many people.

We call people who invade other countries without provocation dictators and threats, aggressors. This is what is supposed to separate the "us" and "them". Bush had a responsibility to plan strikes that were based on facts and legitimate grounds for an invasion.

I can't believe anyone pointed a finger at my country and accused us of being unsupportive because we didn't rush to send our people off to die without proof to support the accusations against Iraq. I won't say much for some of our politicians, but at least they grabbed a clue and took some responsibility that day, instead of caving to political pressure.

(Blog softwood lumber Barry. I dare you.)

I wasn't happy about Afghanistan, but I support it. I support it still and we just buried one of ours last week. I have a very close friend with three children under the age of 6 who is 2 months in to her husband's 9-month assignment there. I don't say it lightly. I see the sacrifice. It isn't abstract or happening somewhere else to other people who aren't important.

But Iraq has only served to prove to some parts of the world that the US is the threat they said it was. I find it surprising that anyone can accuse Clinton and defend Dubya when it was Bush SR that left Hussein there after the first Gulf War. A move that shows me that war was more about political posturing than it is about right and wrong. How many people died in Rwanda and nobody lifted a finger? But Kuwait had oil. The only reason that war even happened was for the almighty dollar.

randy mcfab missed d.) War should be the last recourse, not to be entered lightly, but an action that is justified when there is sufficient evidence to support it and all other means of resolving conflict have failed.

I'm not a pacifist (my husband is former military), nor am I just happy to see people blown to smitherines. I'd rather see people use their brains first and not go rushing off to fight because it will distract everyone from the lousy economy by giving them something worse to worry about.

JD Rhoades said...

Barry, you are of course, correct, and Charlie, your peace offer is most gracious and most gratefully accepted. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Grazie, amico.

Let's all order a few pizzas!

Sandra Ruttan said...

NO NO NO! Not pizza. There'll be another big argument over toppings. Let's not even go near the vegan-vegetarian-don't like tomato sauce-proud carnivore debate.

Seriously, it's nice to see that, at the end of the day, nobody seems to be taking things personally.

We must always remember that everyone has the right to be wrong. I'm joking.

JD Rhoades said...

That's the beauty of pizza...in a big group like this, you can order all different kinds.

How's THAT for thread drift?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Charlie started it.

(How's that for juvenile behaviour? Okay okay, I'm going now. Sorry Charlie!)

And Pat, it's been 16 years since I lived in Ballincollig, but reading Dublin Noir makes me a bit homesick for Ireland. I just read Duane's story - this anthology is just packed with great stuff. You aren't by chance going to Harrogate are you?

JA Konrath said...

what are we going to do when I start blogging about gun ownership and abortion?

I believe that aborted fetuses should be allowed to carry guns. But anything after the second trimester must wait the mandatory 14 days before purchasing a handgun.

Unknown said...


No, I'm not going to Harrogate. Just returned from LEFT COAST CRIME in Bristol and I'll be at ThrillerFest in Phoenix at the end of June...

Cheers, Pat.

Anonymous said...

Me and a two good friends of mine once debated (for hours) which food we'd prefer if we could only have one (and we were stranded on an island, etc.) ... we were sitting in a car waiting for a wife beater to return home from the track ... I and another guy opted for pizza (all the nutrients a fat man could want; actually, I was about 110 pounds lighter back then) ... the other guy wanted macaroni ... but all three of us insisted (INSISTED, I say) it's GRAVY and not sauce.

Forgetaboutit ...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Shame Pat. Heard you got lots of exercise with all the fire drills. Harrogate is my annual indulgence, right after the pilgrimage to Edinburgh. And my US trip this year is Bouchercon. Our wires are hopelessly crossed.

Charlie, of course it's gravy! It's Big Macs that have a special sauce.

Bardawill, I think Joe's still looking for the appointed whore of Babylon.

Anonymous said...

This crew is more than a little disturbing--Rice, et al, I mean.

Unknown said...

John d,

You said "I hope you're not implying that what happened at Abu Ghraib is representative of the US military as a whole"

No, I don't believe that - and, hopefully, if you read my comments again, you will see that.

What troubles me is the fact that people, even in wartime, can perform such degrading inhuman acts on other human beings. And I never ever would have believed that Americans - who grow up with constant sound bites, subliminal and otherwise, about human freedom, dignity and liberty - could stoop so low. It depressed me and still does. And it makes me think that perhaps the 'message that is the American massage', as McLuhan would say, is really a very superficial thing.

And I see no action on the homeland front to use these despicable acts to reinforce education, at school level and otherwise, about the dignity of human life. Even the life of one's greatest enemy. The leaders of the nation have dismissed it all as acts of a few who are not representative of most Americans. Well, even if they only represent a few, this issue should not be swept underfoot.


Best, Pat.

Anonymous said...

I swore I was gonna stop today ... but ... Pat: "What troubles me is the fact that people, even in wartime, can perform such degrading inhuman acts on other human beings. And I never ever would have believed that Americans - who grow up with constant sound bites, subliminal and otherwise, about human freedom, dignity and liberty - could stoop so low."

I'm not condoning what happened there (Abu Grahb), nor do I think it was half as big a deal as you seem to believe, but are you kidding me? How about the inhuman acts performed by terrorists in sawing off the heads of kidnapped innocents?

Was it Hobbes? I forget, but ... the state of nature is a cold, nasty brutal place ... and whether it's in the name of Allah, jihad or democracy, no matter how civilized (or advanced) a society might (or might not be), sometimes people "go Roman" in ways that none of us "outside the situation" can understand.

It troubles all of us ... but I'll argue it has little to do with what society a person comes from (subliminal messages and soundbytes of liberty and dignity notwithstanding). Sometimes people do stupid (or inhuman) things ... but let's keep them in perspective. We don't know what some of those prisoners at Abu Grahb were involved in before their incarceration ... but we sure do know what some other terrorists chose to put on Al Jazeera for the sake of shock.

Me, I'll take the naked pyramid every time over the beheading.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"I'm not condoning what happened there (Abu Grahb), nor do I think it was half as big a deal as you seem to believe, but are you kidding me? How about the inhuman acts performed by terrorists in sawing off the heads of kidnapped innocents?"

How we act is what separates us from the terrorists.

And I've superglued my mouth shut so I don't help kick off round 2 here. Let's agree to disagree.

David Terrenoire said...


That's making an either/or choice. I don't buy it. There are plenty of interrogatiuon techniques that treat prisoners in a humane way, and there is outstanding evidence that humane treatment is a more productive route to getting information you need and can trust. To say we're better than people who cut heads is putting forth a false dichotomy that I can't buy into.

As a soldier, I was obligated to refuse those orders I thought were illegal. There's a reason for this. There is a reason we should hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard than terrorists. To do less is an invitation to barbarity, and I don't want to be a part of it.

Earlier, you mentioned the first attack on the WTC as evidence that the Clinton administration dropped the ball. I remind you that every one of those people were caught and tried and are doing time in a federal prison.

When Clinton retaliated (feebly, I admit) for the attacks on our embassies, Republicans accused him of "wagging the dog." And the captain of the Cole certainly deserves more blame for letting that boat get close than the CINC. The previous administration also successfully stopped a plot to bomb LAX.

I'm not saying Clinton was perfect, but I do believe he did a better job on the terror front than Bush.

But this discussion is nearly impossible in this kind of forum, which is why I'm late to this party. I just wanted to make sure that some of your points were addressed. I'm not trying to make this a right/left argument, because that's another false choice. I'm talking about ineptitude, and Barry's post began with a discussion of this administration's mistakes.

We were sold this war because we were told Saddam was an imminent threat. Now, Dr. Rice is telling us that our strategy was to remove Saddam and install a democracy. So, along with her admitted tactical mistakes, we're now subjected to a shift in the stated strategy.

That makes me suspect the veracity of this administration, from the top.

You can argue Democrat vs Republican if you choose, but I hold my leaders, no matter the party, to higher standards and in this, I find Bush and his people sorely lacking. Coming from a military family, I can't excuse these "small mistakes" lightly. They're costing my brothers and sister their lives.

David Terrenoire said...


For an interesting look at interrogation techniques, check this out:


The Atlantic also has a great piece on interrogation by Mark Bowden. I highly recommend both.

If you need more, this is also a great resource: Advanced Interviewing Techniques by John Schafer and Joe Navarro

Although that last is more suited to law enforcement, it was recommended to me by my nephew, an officer in MI, now on his 3rd tour, this time with a Stryker Brigade. He and I had a very interesting discussion about Aby Ghraib when he was here. Very illuminating.

Anyway, take a look. This is a complicated moral, legal and practical subject.

Barry Eisler said...

Jozef, welcome, and glad to hear you're enjoying HOTM. Are you German, Australian, or both? And am I right that you're a writer, too? Really glad to have more international perspective on a site that will certainly deal with international issues.

Sandra, I worked on the lumber stuff back in the day when I was lawyering anti-dumping and countervailing duties disputes in DC... so right, I wouldn't touch it in a blog!

JD and Charlie, thanks for your gracious words to each other and for putting up with my reminders on tone. It's easy to get frustrated when discussing issues like Iraq. And Charlie, glad your wife hasn't confiscated your keyboard yet (or that you had a hidden spare).

David, welcome, another writer and the author of Beneath a Panamanian Moon -- I've heard very good things but haven't read it yet. It's great to have a firsthand military perspective here and I hope you'll stick around for the blog I'll be posting on Rumsfeld later today or tomorrow, and for others, too, of course. Thanks for your good thoughts and measured tone.

Man, I thought threads ended when the blogger posted a new one? Glad to see I was wrong.


Anonymous said...

Good points all ... I guess I'm still buying the Joseph Conrad argument ("exterminate all the brutes") and I just don't care how it happens. There may well be more human ways of treating prisoners of war, but my argument wasn't that it was okay to stack naked pyramids, just that it doesn't bother me as much as it did most. I thought the coverage over Abu Grahb was insance versus the coverage here in America of decapitations (as well as the ban on showing the planes hit the towers--which continues to boil my blood every time I see it). I know, I know ... that wasn't Hussein ... but I also refuse to separate the two (Hussein & Bin Laden) for the mere fact they publicly support terrorism. I think once you go that route, you're target practice.

Frankly, what separate us from the terrorists (and I'm NOT AT ALL religious) is: There but for the grace of God, go I ... point being, we might ALL (or just some) act the same way if the situations were reversed. I understand that ... but, they aren't and there are people taking potshots at us with no more desire to be our friends than I have to be there's.

Barry: I have keyboards hidden all over the joint ... I'm just staying here, though ... not going to even look at the other posts ... I think this one can go on forever ...

best to all of you and yours ... have a great holiday weekend.