Today’s Washington Post suggests that the reaction of some “antiwar liberals” to a recent leak from the National Intelligence Estimate may have been unjustified. The NIE allegedly asserts that the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating, and many Iraq war critics responded that they had always assured us it would — and that the war therefore is (and always was) a bad idea.
The Post dismisses this “I told you so” reaction as the product of “hindsight bias,” arguing that the critics hadn’t (and indeed couldn’t have) been certain of this outcome from the beginning — that they have only convinced themselves, retroactively, that they were.
Whether or not the Post’s observation is valid, it ignores a much more fundamental error in the critics’ reasoning: It is never the waging of wars that makes you safer, only the winning of them.
The U.S. was not safer in 1942–1945 than it had been in early 1941. We entered World War II because winning it would make America safer. In trying to win it, we suffered over a million casualties.
Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.
Hence, it is fatuous to argue that a current rise in terrorist recruitment proves that toppling Saddam was a bad idea. Efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress.
Note that none of this is to say that freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq. Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom-loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do. But can we please treat logic and common sense as non-combatants, and stop assaulting them with fallacious arguments such as the one described above?