Tuesday, May 18, 2004
The Obsessive Need to Declare....
"I told you so".
Pretty much from the age children understand the meaning of those words, they (or some variant) become a common part of playground banter. It's human nature not only to want to be right, but apparently also to want to rub an opponent's nose in their defeat. Fear of an "I told you so" is probably one of the factors which explain why some people have such great difficulty apologizing for their misconduct or admitting to errors.
Watching the world of punditry, it is not uncommon to see editorials which are little more than an "I told you so". So perhaps we should not be surprised that the so-called "blogosphere" is replete with individuals who can't wait to use some form of that retort on their rhetorical enemies. But in some debates an "I told you so" seems out-of-place; and admission of error seems like the best course of action.
In relation to the Iraq conflict, to their credit, an increasing number of pundits associated with the neo-con movement have been issuing statements which have been anything but "I told you so". They have admitted that things are not going as planned in Iraq, but pressing for perseverance in the face of what might happen if we don't stabilize that nation with a reasonable government prior to withdrawal. That may not satisfy those who were opposed to the war, or whose skepticism to the apparent lack of planning for the original invasion and occupation - well, let's face it, some people really want to grab a neo-con by the scruff of his neck, stick his nose in a big pile of Abu Ghraib photos, and exclaim "I told you so".
And perhaps that reaction is made more understandable by the number of "I told you so's" issued by pro-war factions during the prior year. The "I told you so" after Iraq's defenses quickly collapsed. The "I told you so" when President Bush landed a military jet on an aircraft carrier and declared an end to major combat operations in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner. The "I told you so" when many Iraqis did express gratitude at Hussein's removal. Muttering, "Where are the WMD's" was probably of little solace.
During the past year, however, despite the claim that the problem is one of media focus - "they're only telling us the bad news, not the achievements of the occupation forces" - it has become pretty clear that the occupation has not gone as well as planned, and democratization even less well. It is hard to know what to make of some of the opinion polls, where some Iraqis express that their lives were better before Hussein's ouster, but it is apparent from the polls that a growing number of Iraqis see things as getting progressively worse post-liberation as opposed to progressively better. Whether this is a true comparison to the former regime, or if it reflects fatigue from living under a clumsy occupation, is a question I'll leave to others. But I do know that if we can't convince the Iraqi public that their lot in life is improving, our opinion of the occupation doesn't much matter.
Some partisans just can't stop declaring "I told you so" - those on the extreme anti-war side who declare that Abu Ghraib proves that Iraq is a failure, versus those defenders of the war who turn to any minor news (such as the recent discovery of a spent artillery shell which may have contained sarin) as a basis to declare "I told you so", are missing the point - and, in my opinion, the pro-war partisans who engage in such conduct are doing far more damage to the end goal in Iraq than the fiercest anti-war activist. Why do I say that? Because we are presently occupying Iraq, and emphasizing the mistakes and misrepresentations of the early conflict distracts us from our ultimate goal, while emphasizing those subjects upon which the pro-war side has the least credibility.
Whatever side you're on, it seems like it's long past time to bite your lip and swallow your "I told you so's". This is too important.