A Brief Semi-Defense of Tony Blair’s Chilcot Defense

Eh, about that, old boy…

(I suppose the title should actually read “Defence”, but not this close to the 4th, right?)

After yesterday’s Chilcot Report, the world has more or less been united in scorn of Tony Blair, the once-dashing head of New Labor, who decided to yoke his genuine concern for human rights to a Bush administration that alternated between messianic and cynical. Blair’s reputation had already been mostly destroyed; now there is little chance of him being remembered for anything but a bloody (with meanings relevant to both sides of the Atlantic) disaster.

But there was one part of his defense that struck me as being relevant, and that was “you think things would have been any better had Saddam stayed?”

He added: “I can regret the mistakes and I can regret many things about it – but I genuinely believe not just that we acted out of good motives and I did what I did out of good faith, but I sincerely believe that we would be in a worse position if we hadn’t acted that way. I may be completely wrong about that.”

He argued that had Saddam Hussein been left in power, “he would have gone back to his [weapons of mass destruction] programmes again”.

And if he had been in power during the Arab Spring in 2011, “I believe he would have tried to keep power” in the way that Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, had done.

We’re all pretty much agreed that Trump’s semi-praise of Saddam is ludicrous, and we all agree because Saddam was one of the worst human rights violators of the 20th-century, which is pretty damned impressive. So to reckon with that is to ask if another 13 years of Saddam would have been a net benefit, in terms of human suffering.

It is obviously unanswerable, mostly because we liberated Iraq from the soul-crushing horror of controlled tyranny into the soul-crushing horror of anarchy, ethnic cleansing, and religious totalitarianism. Both options are pretty bad, and I can’t say which is worse. I can’t remember where now, but I remember an Iraqi writer saying that under Saddam, there was one giant dark circle you had to avoid. If you fell in you were dead. But now, there are millions of deadly circles and you don’t know where they are.

Still, if the Arab Spring had happened without the invasion, which seems likely in some form, would Saddam have just stepped aside? Or if he wasn’t alive, would one of his maniac sons be Asad but even more violent? Of course, if he had died, would the internal contradictions of Iraq have burbled up anyways, leading to a civil war like the one we have been seeing since 2003? It’s not hard to imagine the party breaking apart even without Bremer’s unimaginable idiocy, just under the weight of palace and fratricidal rivalries.

Counterfactual history is a mug’s game, of course. But I think Blair had a point in his defense of the war, even when it became a clear calamity: this might have happened anyway, and indeed, it probably would have. Iraq couldn’t have maintained itself after the tyranny of Saddam, and then you might have seen the hardening of ethnic lines, the splintering of Syria, regional chaos, the rise of an ISIS-like group anyway, etc. Indeed, you could argue that having troops there made the war more contained.

That’s an argument, anyway. We’ll never know of course, but the one thing that is clear is that it is hard to imagine how anything can be worse than what we have now, which undercuts any rationale for the invasion. The only thing we can say for sure is that American and British (and other) troops wouldn’t have been killed or maimed or had their brains broken, and that the hatred we engendered by doing the killing wouldn’t be so strong. Iraqis may have been killed horribly otherwise, but maybe not. The invasion was so destabilizing that maybe the nearly-inevitable impact of the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire may have been relatively peaceful.

That’s the final argument for any of the war’s last defenders. It isn’t that Obama lost the war or anything like that. It’s that it takes an willful act of disturbingly macabre imagination to imagine a worse possible world.

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Response to Conor Friedersdorf on Stopping Trump

In The Atlantic yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf asked the question on everyone’s mind: is it legitimate to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination. You can even take it a step further and ask if it is, indeed, incumbent upon GOP delegates to not let a wildly unqualified, know-nothing, hateful, tyrant-praising white-nationalist-courting giant dummy one step away from being the most powerful person in the world?

When you put it that way, the question kind of answers itself. But Conor is more fair than I am, and sketches out four possibilities.

Are you a democrat who believes that, regardless of Donald Trump’s fitness for office, the nomination is rightfully his, because he won the most primary votes and delegates?

Are you a republican who believes that delegates aren’t mere vestiges of an antiquated system, that they’re around for a reason, and that they have a moral obligation to vote their conscience, at least when it is in radical conflict with voter preferences?

Are you a formalist who believes in strict adherence to rules, whether their character is democratic or republican, and that any outcome consistent with the rules is legitimate?

Are you a consequentialist whose position is determined by comparing, say, the likely cost of a Trump presidency with the likely cost of the anti-democratic actions that would be required to deny him the nomination and any chance at victory?

I don’t know if I fall into any of those camps, though if I did it would be more of the “republican” side (as hard as it was to type that). I don’t even know about voting their conscience, even though that plays a role. It’s more about wanting to win, which I think is the right thing for the party to do. The lack of a party establishment, having been reformed away, was one of Conor’s colleague John Rauch’s arguments about why we’re in the mess we’re in. Or, as I argued back in April when talking about superdelegates and “Stop Trump”:

Because that’s the thing with superdelegates, or the Daley/Meany branch. They are very, very concerned with winning elections, which means putting their support behind the candidate they think gives them the best shot. Of course there is corruption and incest and greed in the selection, and they aren’t going to be right all of the time, either. But that’s part of having a party system. The party wants to pick a candidate it thinks can win, and the primary process is designed to give them an idea of how to do that. It isn’t designed to bind them to the passion of a minority. It makes it incumbent upon the lesser-known candidate prove they can appeal to the most people, which is what Obama did in 2008, and Howard Dean failed to do in 2004.

So I think I am a structuralist. There is a moral reason to not want Trump to be President, but the delegates should also think of the best interest of the Party (which to them is the best interest of the nation, even though I wildly disagree and wouldn’t mind seeing them broke into a thousand pieces on the shores of Lake Erie, like the wreck of the PS Atlantic). Thinking of the best interest of the party isn’t cynical; parties exist,or they should, because they represent the interests of the most people. They are unwieldy, cobbled-together nightmares, and they should be. That can cause problems — like the hideous moral compromises inherent in the Democratic Coalition before the Civil Rights Bill — but at its heart it is about trying to do what’s best for the most people.

Even though I do believe that a lot of GOP office-holders are true believers, they balk at a ravening white nationalist taking over the party by empowering a minority of voters, even if they have benefited from the passionate intensity of the worst. That’s why I think “Stop Trump” is ok. Convention laws aren’t written from on high; they are chosen by the party in a way that benefits them. That’s good. They have a right to alter them to stop Trump.

Trump says the system is rigged. It might be. But it is rigged by the parties to try to win elections, which you can’t do if you are rightfully hated by women, Latinos, gays, youth, blacks, the educated, etc, and which you shouldn’t do if you are only loved by tyrants and by terrorists for recruiting purposes. The system is rigged to try to pick a winner, and you pick a winner by choosing someone who can appeal to the most voters. That person isn’t always the best choice, and is frequently a rotten one. But delegates blocking a sure loser isn’t anti-democratic. In a system where votes are the final currency, it is the bulwark of democracy.

Let’s Play A Game: It’s Called “How Is Trump Ridiculous?”

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“I think it went really well.”

So, what do you think are the most ridiculous and terrifying parts of his meeting with the House and Senate Republicans today?  What do you think speaks most clearly to his immense disqualifications? Let’s see! (All quotes are from WaPo or TPM)

Bonus points if you remember that in literally two weeks from tonight he’s going to be accepting the nomination.

A Complete Inability To Recognize That He’s Hated, And Therefore The Unwillingness To Change?

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said that members asked about his effect on the House and Senate races. One member asked pointedly about Trump’s comments about Hispanic voters.

“He said Hispanics love him,” Dent said, noting that the polls showed no such thing. “All I can say is that I haven’t endorsed him. I believe he has a lot of persuading to do.”

A Lack Of Ability To Take Any Criticism Or Opposition, And A Childlike Need To Bully?

Trump’s most tense exchange was with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has been vocal in his concerns about the business mogul’s candidacy, especially his rhetoric and policies on immigration that the senator argues alienate many Latino voters and others in Arizona.

When Flake stood up and introduced himself, Trump told him, “You’ve been very critical of me.”

“Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that,” Flake responded, according to two Republican officials.

Trump said at the meeting that he has yet to attack Flake hard but threatened to begin doing so. Flake stood up to Trump by urging him to stop attacking Mexicans. Trump predicted that Flake would lose his reelection, at which point Flake informed Trump that he was not on the ballot this year, the sources said.

(Note: a corollary to this is His Ability To Make Otherwise Terrible People Seem Noble)

A Total Lack Of Concern For Any Details?

“I wasn’t particularly impressed,” Sanford said. “It was the normal stream of consciousness that’s long on hyperbole and short on facts. At one point, somebody asked about Article I powers: What will you do to protect them? I think his response was, ‘I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII,’ going down the list. There is no Article XII.”

(Now, you can say that’s a flub, and that, as some people said, he was probably thinking of Amendments, but still: someone who has ever actually thought about the Constitution knows that Articles and Amendments are different things, and so wouldn’t confuse them, really. But also, do you really think Trump knows which is which, or which Amendment is what, other than maybe the 1st and 2nd? Does anyone believe that?)

How Anyone Who Defends Him Sounds Like A Fucking Moron?

“He was just listing out numbers,” Farenthold said. “I think he was confusing Articles and Amendments. Remember, this guy doesn’t speak from a TelePrompter. He speaks from the heart.”

(To be Perfectly Fair, Blake Farenthold always sounds like a fucking moron)

How He Makes People Repeat The Same Sweatily Desperate Claims They Have Time And Time Again?

Other members expressed confidence that Trump understands he needs to tone down his rhetoric.

“If you look at the trajectory of his unforced errors, he’s getting better,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.). “I mean, he’s not where we want him to be, but he’s getting better.”

How Everything That Goes Wrong Is Because Someone Is Unfair To Him, Because Mr. Trump Can Never Be Wrong, Just Ask Anyone On My Payroll?

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said Trump brought up his recent comments about Saddam Hussein “in the context of how unfair the media has been to him.” Trump has praised the former Iraqi dictator for being “so good” at killing terrorists, while adding that is all he thinks was good about a “bad guy, really bad guy.”

(He didn’t address the white nationalist retweets, but I’m sure that’ll come up again.)

How He Makes Paul Ryan Look Like The World’s Biggest Jackass?

“What I thought was especially helpful today was our members just got access and got to ask their questions and talk about their issues,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “I thought he did a great job engaging with our members, and I think our members appreciated it.”

(OK, well, that’s a point in his favor, I guess.)

So which of these wildly-disqualifying things scares you the most? If you answered “all of them!” you still aren’t close to terrified enough.

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Bonus Section In Which I Praise Trump

So, Eric Trump, the Patrick Bateman-esque son of Donald, was asked today about his sister Ivanka being Trump’s pick for Vice President (which was Bob Corker’s idea). He answered in typically-creepy Trump fashion:

“I agree, right? She’s got the beautiful looks. She’s got — she’s smart. She’s smart smart smart smart,” Trump said.

He obviously starts with the looks, and then right after the second “got” realized he shouldn’t say “legs” or “breasts” or anything, and compensated with a ton of “smarts”. Which, I mean, this is normal for Trump-world, where even your own sister is judged primarily on being boneworthy. So whatever.

But really, can’t you see it? Trump picking Ivanka? I’d be behind this, because I bet Newt still thinks the VP is his to lose. Joni dropped out; so I bet he thinks it’s between him and Christie. Trump, the consummate bully, might just be stringing him along, telling him, sure Newt, it’ll be you, for sure. You’ll get to run the country as you see fit, I’ll just play golf and judge Miss America, and now it’ll be legally binding. It’s gonna be you, and you’re gonna be great, and then- bam! Dropping him like a first wife. I’d love to see ol’ Newt’s face if that happened. It would be fantastic. Hell, I might even vote for Trump just out of gratitude.

Wade to Bulls, Simmons on Durant, The Unbearable Dimness of Trump, and Thursday Quick Hits

The most interesting thing about this is that Trump actually thought that “most corrupt candidate ever!” was like an official designation. She made history! 73 corruptions!

  • I don’t know a ton about basketball, but I feel like combining the rarely-coachable Rajon Rondo, a surly, past-his-prime-with-something-to-prove superstar like Dwayne Wade with a budding superstar like Jimmy Butler who desperately wants to prove that he can be a true leader might be pretty combustible under any coach. With Fred Hoiberg, this could be a disaster. Or they could win 40 games! Which would be even more of a disaster. I’d be willing to have a terrible season and have more room for when the cap expands, and do a rebuild around Butler, Tony Snell, and Dougie McDermott. “Buckets, McBuckets, and Snell” is pretty catchy, right?
  • That said, while I don’t know a ton about basketball, it’s nice to know that I won’t ever be as wrong as The Country’s #1 Hoophead, Bill Simmons. Thanks to Awful Announcing for digging up a Simmons podcast where he “discusses” a Wojo scoop in February about Durant being interested in Golden State. “In his podcast, Simmons called the report ‘one of the most ludicrous stories I’ve ever read,’ stating that the Warriors were ‘not thinking about Durant,’ adding that ‘it’s absurd,’ and ‘I just don’t believe it.’ He went on to say it was ‘the most idiotic logic I’ve ever heard,’ and the story got Yahoo’s The Vertical site ‘some traffic, some attention.’ It’s not just being wrong, and it isn’t even just being unbearably and arrogantly and reflexively wrong: it’s that he dismisses Wojo as hungry for attention. Even a casual NBA fan like me knows that Wojo scoops are worthy. Simmons is the most petty and vainglorious writer in the land. Even Norman Mailer would tell him to stop finding slights everywhere. Gore Vidal would advise him to show some humility. Virginia Woolf would tell him to fuck off. (No real reason; I just don’t think she’d care for him.)
  • Hey, Democrats! Worried about the email scandal never dying? Well, of course it won’t (and more on that anon), but are you worried about Trump skillfully taking advantage of it? Well, maybe you don’t need to be. There’s no question that he can use it to rally people who hate Hillary, but he is unable to talk too much about it, because, at the end of the day, when he talks about Hillary he isn’t talking about himself. As the Times reports, at a rally last night, he spent a few minutes talking about Comey’s scolding report, and then went into a long rant about the Star of David tweet he got from a white nationalist collection. He defended himself for a long time on it, in a rabbling incoherent stream-of-conscious rant. The thing is, there is a strategy here: doubling down did good in the primary, where any sign of capitulation to the Hideous Liberal PC Establishment was a fatal weakness. He knew how to play it perfectly, and it fit his “I am the cosmos” mentality (apologies to Molly Ivins). He is incapable of not talking about himself, and showing that he is always right, even if- especially if- it means outright lying, obvious lying. A man who has always seen himself as powerful wants to make the truth his possession. Hopefully, that’s a fatal electoral weakness.
  • This is as-of-now unconfirmed, but apparently on the local radio this morning Mark Kirk said that his double-amputee opponent Tammy Duckworth doesn’t want to do a Spanish-language debate with him because she isn’t as “quick on her feet.” That isn’t offensive; Kirk wasn’t being deliberate, I’m sure. It’s just a saying, divorced from any actual meaning. But still: it’s literally the one thing you shouldn’t say. It’s the only phrase you can’t use, except maybe like “she’s so incompetent she’d need two partners in a three-legged race”, which isn’t even an actual saying, but that’s the point: you’d need to make something up to say something dumber.
  • That said, the idea of a Spanish-language debate is interesting. It’s a skill Kirk has, a good one, and I wish more politicians spoke other languages. (Remember when John Kerry was belittled for speaking French? 2004 was a horrible and stupid year, wasn’t it?) It’s smart politics, and a sign of basic humanity to recognize that maybe other languages aren’t inherently bad. I feel this is something though that only a Republican could get away with. Were it Duckworth who spoke Spanish, and challenged the monoglot Kirk, you’d hear a lot about un-American pandering.
  • Now that I think about it, “she’s so incompetent she’d need two partners in a three-legged race” is a great phrase. Remind me to use it when I run for the Water Reclamation District, unless, you know…