Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Memo to Jonathan Chait: Saying "I Didn't Know About the Incompetence of the Bush Administration" Is Not an Excuse

Jonathan Chait says: "I did not know that the Bush administration was incompetent before the invasion of Iraq!"

A liberal hawk strikes back - Los Angeles Times: THE CIRCULAR firing squad is the signature practice of the Democratic Party. Think of 1968, or 1972, or everything that happened during the Clinton presidency except impeachment, or the Howard Dean campaign.... The new Democratic civil war, which is already burbling up in liberal magazines, blogs and opinion columns, centers on whether the Bush administration screwed up Iraq or whether the project was doomed to failure regardless.... At stake is nothing less than who gets to direct the party's foreign policy....

Liberal hawks (like me) believe that... it wasn't us who conducted this debacle. Doves, naturally, want to hang the war around our necks anyway. They say blaming Bush is a cop-out. Last year, Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias wrote an article in the American Prospect attacking those who fault the conduct of the Iraq war. "Administration bungling," they wrote, "is simply not the root source of America's failure in Iraq." Those hawks who believe otherwise, they wrote, are engaging in what they called the "incompetence dodge" -- a phrase that continues to circulate among liberal doves....

But the more we learn about the war's conduct, the more we learn that the administration didn't just make the normal sorts of mistakes that inevitably occur in wartime; it was almost criminally negligent. The Bush administration literally refused to do any planning for the occupation. They invaded before all the available troops were in place, staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with underqualified hacks vetted solely on the basis of ideological loyalty and rashly disbanded the Iraqi army, which could have provided some early order.... If Bush could have bungled Katrina this badly, isn't it just possible he could have done the same thing in Iraq?

I say that Jonathan Chait knew--or ought to have known--how incompetent the Bush administration was long before the invasion of Iraq. And I urge that the Los Angeles Times replace him with somebody who had his head on straight, and was a paid-up member of the Order of the Shrill by mid-2002 at the latest. For example, consider Daniel Davies, who did know how incompetent the Bush administration was, and who wrote in February 2003:

D-squared Digest -- FOR bigger pies and shorter hours and AGAINST more or less everything else: And another hit and run: I find myself with a few spare minutes and make the mistake of reading Thomas Friedman again. His conclusion after a long, dull and witless ramble about the introduction of "democracy" to Iraq... reads "If [it is] done right, the Middle East will never be the same. If done wrong, the world will never be the same".

There's not much you can say to that except "shut up you silly man".

But it does inspire in me the desire for a competition; can anyone, particularly the rather more Bush-friendly recent arrivals to the board, give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

  1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
  2. It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
  3. It wasn't in some important way completely f----- up during the execution.

...I literally can't think what possible evidence Friedman might be going on in his tacit assumption that the introduction of democracy to Iraq (if it is attempted at all) will be executed well rather than badly. Worst piece of counterfactual speculation by Friedman since the day...

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