Good Catholic and double-effecter Ross Douthat objects to my efforts to even loosely equate Dujail and Fallujah. There’s some factual uncertainty as to exactly what went down at Fallujah (a point I’ll return to) but one of the main things at issue here is intentions. Saddam was given to doing things like deliberately killing civilians as a counter-insurgency tactic. Bush, not being a monster, doesn’t do things like that. Instead, he deliberately adopts counter-insurgency tactics that foreseeably kill civilians. There’s definitely a large intuitive difference here. “Monster” seems to fit Saddam, whereas Bush much more seems the bufoon who just kind of blunders into policy errors. On the other hand, this buffoonery has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. So one starts to wonder. Obviously, there’s a time-honored philosophical dispute here that a blog post is unlikely to resolve, but I still think it’s useful to try to lay out my thinking a bit.
Shadi Hamid makes an obvious yet weirdly neglected point about Democratic efforts to look “tough”:
The problem is that many Democrats fall into the trap of “overcompensation,” that, fearful of being painted as soft on security, we take public positions that appear contrived, because they are in fact contrived, a function of our obsession with polls and focus groups more than a function of deeply-held liberal values. [emphasis added]
This is not to be naïve and just say that any genuine position of conviction is going to be sellable. Nevertheless adopting positions that are obviously motivated by narrow political considerations doesn’t do much to improve things. “Appearing to be principled” is an important part of politics as well. What’s more, it’s helpful to at least understand principles so that when you need to talk about Topic X in July you don’t wind up saying things that will be inconsistent with what you say when Topic Topic Y suddently becomes hot in September.