USS Clueless - Can I? May I?

Stardate 20040715.1723

(Captain's log): When I was a kid, my parents were sticklers about correct use of the words "can" and "may" for some reason I never really understood. If I had asked, "Can I go over to Tim's house?", I would get told, "May I?" And would have to repeat the question correctly, "May I go over to Tim's house?"

I understand the difference, of course. "Can I?" Do I have the capability? "May I?" Do you grant permission? But I never understood why it bothered them so much.

Still, that difference is an important one. You have to have capability, but you don't always need permission. Admiral Grace Hopper is credited with saying that, "It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission."

And sometimes you don't need either, because busybodies who claim to be in a position to grant or withhold permission don't really matter.

Form and substance. De jure and de facto. Permission and capability. Authority and power. Credentials and knowledge. Awards and achievements.

Appearance and reality. That's what it's all about. It's a fallacy to assume that they are the same thing. The difference between them has become a major factor in politics and diplomacy during the last 3 years.

Sometimes appearances do ultimately matter more. If your enemies can control the perception of your success so that it is widely viewed as a failure, that can have severe consequences. Hence the incessant drumbeat of quagmire! quagmire! quagmire! played by those who want us to lose this war, or who have other reasons for wanting it to look as if we are losing this war.

In April, shortly after the simultaneous uprisings of Sunnis based in Falluja and of some Shiites led by al Sadr, Kevin Drum wrote a triumphant post:

War supporters are forever complaining that things are going great in Iraq and the only reason we don't know about it is because of media bias. You know, that nasty SCLM wants us to lose in Iraq.


So here's my question: it's pretty clear that things have, in fact, gone to hell. We may eventually clean up Fallujah, arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, end the riots in Sadr City, and retake Najaf. But even if we do, it's pretty obvious that Iraq is close to meltdown, we don't have enough troops to keep order, and media reporting about all this has been perfectly accurate.

So how about it, guys (and you know who you are)? Are you going to step up to the plate and admit that the media has been pretty much right all along and things really do look pretty bleak? Or are you going to continue to complain that reporters are just ignoring all the good news about school openings and electric grid repair?

I am no regular reader of Kevin's site, so I have no idea whether, in light of later events, he in his own turn "stepped up to the plate" and admitted that Iraq wasn't actually all that close to meltdown.

Because it doesn't matter. In the short term, the reality in Iraq didn't actually matter; what mattered was how it was perceived elsewhere, especially by voters in the US. Contrariwise, in the long run, the perception didn't matter; the reality of what was happening in Iraq can not ultimately be denied.

Unfortunately, the "long run" is made up of a lot of "short runs". On July 13, Kevin no longer seems to be talking about meltdowns, but was still referring to the invasion of Iraq as "a mistake". Why? Because he's making another form/substance error, and confusing justification with purpose.

Leaving aside questions of 20:20 hindsight (it was not at all clear in March that the inspections had proved anything), and of historical revisionism (the US did not give UNSCOM detailed info about where to look, because UNSCOM leaked like a sieve), his basic point is irrelevant even if he is right about it:

The fact is that by March 2003 we didn't have to rely on CIA estimates or on the estimates of any other intelligence agency. We had been on the ground in Iraq for months and there was nothing there. There was nothing there and we knew it.

Did the CIA screw up? Probably. Did it matter? No. George Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 not because he was convinced Iraq had WMD, but because he was becoming scared that Iraq didn't have WMD and that further inspections would prove it beyond any doubt. Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush's worldview, and he wasn't about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war.

Whatever faults the CIA has, let's not blame them for the war in Iraq. We all know exactly whose mistake it was.

WMDs were never the real purpose of the invasion. WMDs were the focus of the spotlight, however, because of serious diplomatic efforts to gain UNSC approval for an invasion. Within the contex

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004