Anger management

Once more into the breach, and then I will go back to more pleasant topics, like how we know how many people have died in Iraq (answer: we don't. But that's a long story.)

Obviously, I have a temper. I am slow to anger, but once roused, I as well as anyone know the delights of unloading one's accumulated venom on richly deserving targets. It is not my most attractive quality, and I do strive to control it, but there you are; one does not achieve perfection in this vale of tears. My only defense is that I almost never direct my verbal ire at anyone who has not put in hours of solid work being nasty, rude, and otherwise intolerable.

But I also understand that unloading, while making me feel better, does not usually advance my cause. On occasion, it does serve to put across the message "No, I'm really serious!" but more often, it ensures that whatever I wanted, I sure won't get it now.

There is a culture on the internet that prevails in certain areas of both the right and left blogosphere, of using insults and incredulity as a substitute for thought. Sadly, the assumption in both corners is that the reason the people they are provoking do not respond in kind is that they are simply not bright enough to muster the devastating weapons of personal rudeness and sarcasm to their side. It is thus useful and more than a little satisfying to occasionally demonstrate that no, the politer quarters aren't forgoing these things because we can't, but because they're both counterproductive, and not quite nice. All right, maybe more satisfying than useful. As I say, I have a temper. Also, if I do say so myself, I'm rather a dab hand at sarcasm, and it's a pity to have a skill one can't use.

Well, now that I've gone through the exercise and thoroughly expelled the remaining poison from my mandibular venom sacs, I do want to say something seriously to both sides: the anger is making things much, much, much, much worse.

I don't want to hear about who started it. Believe me, in 2003 many on both sides were acting like complete . . . well, I can't say what they were acting like, because this is a family blog. But you know what I would say, if I weren't a lady. Neither side's manners have improved noticeably since then. The very same people who were calling names and accusing those who disagreed with them of stupidity, poor judgement, immorality, and bad faith, are still saying exactly the same things. I'm now on the receiving end of all of it, so don't try to tell me that your side doesn't bear part of the blame.

War supporters: in November, it is extremely likely Barack Obama is going to win the presidency. If you continue to respond to the war's critics with "lalalalalalalala I can't HEAR you!", you are going to be completely shut out of the discussion come November. Demanding, incredulously, of me or anyone else, whether we seriously think it would have been better to leave a murderous dictator in place is not going to help. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 125,000 to 150,000 Iraqis have died since we invaded, each of whose heart beat and eyes blinked and minds dreamed as yours do right now staring at this computer screen. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars, we have reduced our strategic effectiveness both within and outside of the middle east, and the most likely outcome of an eventual withdrawal seems at present time to be a prolonged and bloody civil war. It is only a good idea to remove a murderous dictator if this results in, on net, fewer people being murdered.

Whether or not you agree with me on this, do me and the war's opponents the credit of assuming that yes, we have thought this through, and no, we are not secretly rooting for Osama bin Laden. I'm sure there are people like this, just as there are people on the pro-war side who are secretly enjoying the prospect of moderately large genocidal attacks on various Arab groups. Neither is the majority, or even a substantial component, of the movement. Yes, I know you're mad at the "I told you so's". But if you have something to add to the conversation on Iraq--and I think you do--you need to engage, not hunker down in your mountain bunker with all your canned goods and ammunition arrayed about you.

As one who was once numbered among you, may I request that before you sally into the next debate, youat least consider that you might be succumbing to the temptation to double down on a bad bet rather than write off your sunk costs. No, I'm not going to tell you what to think, or say that this is what you're doing. Just try to ask yourself honestly. You don't need to tell me, or anyone else, what you discover. Meanwhile, try to remember that whether or not they are correct, the people who opposed the war are not barking moonbats, but reasonable people who were understandably frustrated at watching helplessly while something they opposed killed a hundred thousand people or so. Think about some political argument you are losing, at great cost to the public good, and you can probably understand why they get a mite testy.

War opponents: the core of your movement is not a majority; your ranks have been swelled by people who regret the current chaos in Iraq, but will abandon you at the slightest shift, as indeed the polls show. You will not accomplish anything without a coalition, and that coalition will need to include many of the people you are currently insulting. You have spent too much time talking to each other, telling each other that you are right, everyone who disagreed with you is evil and stupid, and you therefore deserve to run things. Whether or not this is true, you do not have the numbers or the power to do so. If all you have to offer to the foreign policy establishment is an enraged demand that they shut up and go away while you take over, you cannot seriously be surprised when they close the door in your face and continue the meeting without you.

I am starting to hear disturbing echos of the neocons on the antiwar side-not in their goals, but in their analysis. The neocons watched various colossal fuck-ups that they had opposed, and concluded therefrom that they must be infallible. Since they were never actually in charge of much, there was no counterfactual to humble them. With each mistake their opponents made, they became more and more arrogant about their own abilities, and hello, Iraq.

Saying that something will fail is much easier than making something work. If you do get power, you will have to actually craft policy, not merely snipe from the sidelines. When that happens, a belief that judgments under uncertainty are not difficult, that hard answers are obvious, and that you are vastly morally and intellectually superior to people who disagree with you will not serve you well. It will make you overconfident, possibly disastrously so, and prevent you from recognizing your mistakes. It will also mean that when you need them, the hawks will do as little as possible to help you. Probably you think you can get along without the hawks. Well, the neocons thought they could get along without those pansies in the State Department.

With every "I told you so" and demand that they apologize to you, personally, for the sin of being wrong, you are hardening the hawks against the possibility of changing their minds. I know you may feel that you cannot be happy until they apologize, to admit that they were wrong, that they were stupid, that everything they ever believed about war was in error. They know it too. Indeed, after all the sniping, many people will refuse to say they are wrong because it would make you happy. They don't want to make you happy. Frankly, you haven't given them any reason to.

Both sides: I know that people called you names and made any number of unfounded statements about your morals and motives during the run-up to the war. You can vent your rage at this, or you can have some influence on what we do in Iraq going forward. You cannot have both. If you think that dead Iraqis are more important than "mental exercises", and think that you have the way to prevent more of same, then suck it up and sit down at the table. Politely.

Regardless of who was right about Iraq--obviously, I think I wasn't--we are left with the question of what to do now. Only we can't make any headway there, because the two groups are far too busy fighting an intensely personal battle over who was right. With every escalation of the rhetoric, we are less likely to arrive at a solution. Both sides seem to think that if they just hold out a little longer, and lob a few more verbal artillery shell, they can win. Maybe. Meanwhile, the Iraqis are losing.

The whole thing is a lot like those relationship-ending fights where the grievances about the argument have taken over the factual truth of the original debate. People are making increasingly strident demands that would, if directed at them, generate exactly the response they are getting from others: I will do anything rather than concede an inch. Unfortunately, whatever your fantasies might be, we cannot get a divorce, so we'd better find some way to de-escalate the hostilities.