Are you talking to me?

It is astonishing how many of my commenters and web critics seem to have confused me with someone else. I'm six foot two in my stocking feet and bear a more than passing resemblance to an elf. The one common human experience I have never before enjoyed is being mistaken for someone who looks like me.

So you can imagine my surprise, nay discomfiture, to find that I am suddenly dealing with multiple cases of mistaken identity. Having never dealt with this particular social situation, I blush. I stammer. I search delicately for the correct words. I hope you will forgive me if they are a trifle awkward.

Many of my commenters and those who linked to me, for example, are under the impression that I am every war supporter they ever argued with. To be sure, my cheerful efficiency and whirlwind social life may give the impression that I am several hundred people. But this is a mere optical illusion, like the thoughtful criticisms of Brad DeLong's arguments that seem to be posted in his comments section and then eerily disappear.

I did not call supporters of the war "traitors" or "dirty [censored] hippies" . . . vegetarians who own knee-high leather moccasins rarely hurl those sorts of epithets. I spent most of the winter of 2003 urging both sides to be civil to each other, which as I recall was slightly less effective than urging my puppy to behave. Even if I felt moved to apologize for the unmannered as if I were their mother, it wouldn't make you feel any better, because all the people you actually argued with would remain unrepentant.

I find it slightly harder to understand how people can have confused me with a senior member of the Bush administration. It is true that retail clerks who are not quite looking at me have been known to refer to me as "Sir". I admit it freely. I am tall. I have a husky alto voice. And I am perhaps not overendowed with body fat. These are the facts. But I am mostly mistaken for a fourteen-year-old boy, not the 70-year-old architect of our Iraq War strategy. Clearly, I have not been giving my skin care regimen the attention it requires.

I am obviously brokenhearted that I supported a war which has killed something like 125,000 Iraqis and 4,000 American servicemen, driven perhaps a million more into exile, and destroyed quite a bit of Iraq's already inadequate infrastructure. I did not, however, have more than the most tenuous causal relationship with these deaths. In 2003 I was a freelance journalist and technology consultant writing a blog in her spare time. This left surprisingly little time for driving tanks into Baghdad. And much to my indignation, I was not even consulted by the Bush administration, either political party, any think tanks, or our many national media outlets. It therefore seems slightly odd to ask me how I feel about having slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. I do not claim that the McArdles are totally above sacking the city, sowing the fields with salt, and leaving the bleached white skulls piled up at the gate as a warning to others. But since Mael Sechnaill the younger was restored to the position of Árd Rí na hÉireann in 1014, we have confined this sort of thing to the annual Thanksgiving Mortal Combat tourney.

It seems even stranger to brush aside my account of the mistakes I made with ever-angrier demands for repentance. Whatever reports you may have heard about me healing the blind and causing the lame to walk, I must be clear: I am not, in fact, Jesus Christ. My tears will not restore a single dead Iraqi back to life. Nor can I die for the sins of the rest of the world.

The only thing I can offer, at this point, is the hope that we can figure out how not to do it again. This being what I've tried to do by outlining how I went wrong.

This is, as I have tried to say in other posts, valuable information--information that opponents of the war are losing as they insist that the thing was obvious. Given that the defense and diplomacy staff of several administrations, a large number of IR scholars, and enormous swathes of the think tank world got it wrong, the one thing it clearly wasn't is obvious.

If you want to be congratulated on getting it right on Iraq: congratulations. But that is only sufficient if we are going to be asked again whether to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. If we are, I promise to leave the decision entirely in your hands.

It seems more likely, however, that we will face a situation that looks like Iraq in some respects, and entirely different in many other respects. Knowing that "Iraq was a bad idea" or even "Persons X, Y or Z got it right" will not, by itself, much help us. It is extremely risky to rely on genius--for one thing, they might no be around when you need them, and for another, genius is often hard to separate from having the right set of biases to fit the situation. Winston Churchill was a monomaniacal imperialist sot who did his level best to drive England's economy into the ground as Chancellor of the Exchequer. And England would have been lost without him.

Better to rely on process than persons. And that's where those who erred have something to add. The cognitive biases that affected us were not unique, as witness to the fact that many of them are now in prominent display among many war opponents. It is, obviously, also a good idea to listen to those who got it right--and thank God, we don't have to choose, what with this spacious new internet thingie we've got on. But if you had to pick only one, listen to the one who went wrong. They're far more likely to be able to accurately pinpoint their errors than the opponents are to usefully identify their strengths.