Iran, Iraq, And Rhetoric

So let's pretend you're the Leveretts and here is Crowley angling for some expression of disgust with the Iranian regime. Yes, it's childish, but being veterans of Washington, you understand that the fastest way your (already unpopular) line of analysis can be discredited is if it is shown that you harbor real sympathies for the current crop of Iranian rulers, and not just an unsentimental view of engagement or a hyper-skeptical view of the Green Movement.

Do you play the game or not? Does it really cost you or your views of engagement anything to say you find the regime's anti-Semitic rhetoric vile and insulting?

Larison responds by comparing the Iran debate to the Iraq war debate:

Before the invasion of Iraq, most opponents of the invasion felt compelled to hedge their statements with endless qualifications, they had to accept the reality of a non-existent WMD threat simply to participate in the conversation, and they often had to go out of their way to state their loathing and disgust for Saddam Hussein. As I have said many times before, this had the effect of undermining antiwar arguments from the very beginning. Having conceded that Hussein was a monster whose downfall they would happily welcome, and having accepted the key claim of the pro-war side that Iraq possessed WMDs and posed a grave threat to us all, many opponents of the war lost the debate before they had even stated their correct case that the war would be a strategic disaster and a terrible mistake. They allowed themselves to be psyched out by the cheap moralizing and shoddy reasoning of war supporters. These war opponents were desperately trying to avoid the smears that were already being used, but all they achieved was to deprive their arguments of whatever moral and rhetorical force they might have had.

Acknowledging reality, that Saddam had done unspeakable things, didn't doom the Iraq war opponents. Overly purple prose was a factor. Endorsing bad WMD reporting certainly didn't help. Still, overall, this is one of Larison's weaker posts. Perhaps we are talking past each other.  I am not asking the Leveretts to pound the table over human rights abuses in Iran. I am asking them wrestle with these tragedies and explain why they don't impact their analysis. Here's one of the Leverett's stronger arguments:

Andrew Sullivan and Scott Lucas criticized our comparison of the December 27 and December 30 crowds by discounting the larger numbers who turned out to support the Islamic Republic on December 30 on the grounds that some of the participants in the pro-Islamic Republic rallies were reportedly ordered to take part and received free transport, cake, and tea.  From a strategic perspective, the most important point here is the comparison between Iran today and in 1978-1979:  when protests started against the Shah, there was no level of state coercion or any amount of tea, cake, or free transportation that could bring significant numbers of people into the street to rally for the Pahlavi regime.  By contrast, the Islamic Republic retains an obvious and demonstrable capacity to elicit such manifestations of supportand that reinforces our argument that the Islamic Republic is not imploding.

This passage is effective because it acknowledges and explains inconvenient facts. Instead of undermining, this amplifies the "moral and rhetorical force" of the argument. Let's contrast the Leveretts with what I consider the single strongest article against the invasion of Iraq, Jim Fallows November 2002 tour de force:

I ended up thinking that the Nazi analogy paralyzes the debate about Iraq rather than clarifying it. Like any other episode in history, today's situation is both familiar and new. In the ruthlessness of the adversary it resembles dealing with Adolf Hitler. But Iraq, unlike Germany, has no industrial base and few military allies nearby. It is split by regional, religious, and ethnic differences that are much more complicated than Nazi Germany's simple mobilization of "Aryans" against Jews. Hitler's Germany constantly expanded, but Iraq has been bottled up, by international sanctions, for more than ten years. As in the early Cold War, America faces an international ideology bent on our destruction and a country trying to develop weapons to use against us. But then we were dealing with another superpower, capable of obliterating us. Now there is a huge imbalance between the two sides in scale and power.

If we had to choose a single analogy to govern our thinking about Iraq, my candidate would be World War I. The reason is not simply the one the historian David Fromkin advanced in his book A Peace to End All Peace: that the division of former Ottoman Empire territories after that war created many of the enduring problems of modern Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. The Great War is also relevant as a powerful example of the limits of human imagination: specifically, imagination about the long-term consequences of war.

There is much more that I could excerpt, but what Fallows does so well is directly address the emotional core of the case for war and disarm it. The Leveretts usually fail in this regard.

Larison and Kevin Sullivan have both responded to my last post. I'll put up a response as soon as I can.