ARGUMENTS THAT WERE MADE. Ezra points us to Julian Sanchez's excellent rebuttal to Megan McArdle's claim that critics of the war were just a wrong as the supporters. For my part, it's somewhat difficult to respond to McArdle's post, since not only does she argue strictly from anecdote but she also declines to specify most of the allegedly erroneous anti-war arguments. Adding on to Sanchez, it's worth identifying some arguments that were, in fact, in circulation at the time:

  • The war would be enormously costly, and the administration's claims that the war could be funded primarily by Iraqi oil revenues were transparently farcical. (As Matt says today, a candid assessment of the costs would have made it impossible to justify the war, and it's obviously false to say that everyone took them at face value.)
  • The fact that Iraq was riven by ethnic divisions and lacked a strong civil society made it a particularly implausible candidate for forced democratization.
  • Whether or not Iraq had some weapons that could fall under the essentially useless "WMD" rubric, it did not pose any significant security threat to the United States. (Obviously, possessing chemical weapons that are significantly less dangerous to American civilians than bombs you can build with materials at any Home Depot do not constitute a meaningful security threat, especially since Iraq had no means of delivering such weapons.) There was never good evidence that Iraq had any nuclear weapons capacity, or was anywhere near acquiring it.
  • Iraq had no substantial connection to al-Qaeda, and was a diversion from pursuing Islamist terrorism in the wake of 9/11.
  • The Bush administration was dishonest and incompetent, and even if the war might be a good idea in the abstract in particular the war was unlikely to come out well. Some people (although not me) were smart enough to use this principle to discount any WMD claims made by the American government entirely. As Daniel Davies says, "[g]ood ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance."

I don't mean to suggest that critics of the war didn't make bad arguments or erroneous predictions -- they did. But it's equally silly to claim that all anti-war critics were simply lucky, or that none of the outcomes of the war were foreseen. If McArdle never heard any of the above arguments, this says more about her circle of friends (and the general exclusion of anti-war voices from prominent media outlets) than about the quality of anti-war arguments.

--Scott Lemieux

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