Gustav Seibt on German Iraq Hawks

Gustav Seibt (G) wrote yesterday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung about people who get very little attention outside of Europe: West Europeans who supported the invastion of Iraq in 2003. In The Disaster of the Hawks (G), Seibt names names, and draws some spot-on conclusions:

The majority of the war’s supporters — with Herfried Muenkler as a prominent exception — never occupied themselves with Iraq, international law, or the opportunities or risks of a war in the Middle Eastern context at all. The vast majority of the arguments for the war were based on European experiences of the last two or three generations. Thus, people wrote about second-order subjects such as pacifism and anti-Americanism, about appeasement and anti-Semitism, instead of talking about the real topic itself.

They primarily occupied themselves with broad historical analogies: the desirable overthrow of Saddam was compared unthinkingly to the struggle against Hitler, the democratization of Iraq with the democratization of West Germany or Japan after the Second World War. They compared the chance of a democratizing effect on the entire Middle East to the end of the Eastern Bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies there afterward. They had plenty to say about many things, with one exception — the inner situation of present-day Iraq.

***

…The rubble of the Iraq War needs to be cleared away before we can continue an even halfway-credible debate. Nobody should be glad that writers such as Wolf Biermann, Gyoergy Konrad, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht, and Karl-Otto Hondrich, "liberal hawks" like Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff, and even reasonable observers such as Ralph [sic] Dahrendorf and Herfried Muenkel erred in so many points. One should also credit some authors, such as Konrad and Gumbrecht, for the fact that they have generously conceded their errors in the meantime.

Seibt notes that the pro-war arguments made by these intellectuals and others almost never dealt with the concrete questions whether the war was a good idea. Instead, in a reminder of events before the First World War, pro-war intellectuals "clouded over risky military decisions with a superstructure of cultural criticism and aesthetic ruminations which had nothing to do with the specifics of military strategy." An old "warhorse and travel reporter" like Peter Scholl-Latour, Seibt observes cuttingly, "judged conditions in the Middle East better than the cleverest essayist from New York or Paris."

I noticed the same pattern as Seibt did. I think part of the explanation is that the hawkish intellectuals who supported the war engaged not with the serious critiques from war opponents, but with the goofy arguments of the weird left. They then built their case for war on a refutation of those silly arguments, rather than a carefully-reasoned argument why the war itself was necessary or desirable. "Because the anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left is strongly against this war, and because I despise those people, the war must be a good idea. How can those people, whom I’ve spent my life criticizing, be right about anything?"

So many problems with this way of reasoning. Two of the biggest:

  1. For every unwashed sociology dropout waving a "Bush=Hitler" banner, there were 10 ordinary, non-extremist Germans who saw the risks of the war and protested in large numbers against it, and 3 or 4 intellectuals who pointed out its enormous risks. The exclusive concentration on your opponent’s weakest arguments is a fine way to score technical debate points, but a terrible way to arrive at a responsible position on something as fateful as armed conflict.
  2. The fact that you fundamentally disagree with your opponent does not mean everything he says is hogwash. As Orwell may once have said, "just because something is in the Daily Telegraph doesn’t mean it’s not true."

Seibt has started a necessary discussion here; let’s see where it leads.

P.S. Although I found the piece interesting, I am constrained to note that, at least in the online version, Seibt misspells the names of Sir Ralf Dahrendorf and Necla Kelek. That’s OK, nobody’s perfect and I make my share of mistakes (especially on a blog, where you only spend 15-20 minutes on each entry). But doesn’t anybody edit the SZ?

5 thoughts on “Gustav Seibt on German Iraq Hawks

  1. I suppose – and somehow hope – the Western Europeans welcoming the American Invasion in Iraq were or are naive moralists, thinking that the ‘good’ purpose justifies every remedy and measure to realize a good idea.
    It is evident that those moralists have no idea of warfare reality and it’s highly complexe risks which are not easy to analyse and control. There is no God Arbitrator deciding wars in favour of those believing to be on the right side. This idea comes from the ‘snake in the tree’, if one likes to speak in terms of certain kinds of belief.
    It is a question of education to incite people to understand and analyse system dynamics rather than just believe in good and evil.

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  2. Well, the favorite argument that Western Europeans welcoming the American Invasion in Iraq like to repeat is that we should not blame the brave Americans, because after all, back in 1941, Europeans were very happy, too, that America did NOT stay home.

    Off-topic: Doesn’t anybody edit German Joys? You misspell “Seibt” twice 😉

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  3. >non-extremist Germans who saw the risks of the war and
    >protested in large numbers against it

    Even these non-extremist Germans never bothered to protest against Saddam, Pol Pot, Taliban rule on Afghan women or Iranian theocrat’s view on Holocaust issues, much less so “in large numbers.” However, they’re predictably on the streets whenever the USA or the Jews—pardon me, Israel—are to blame. This tends to make their protest a tad unsavoury, even when they protest against the right thing, occasionally. The only one I’m really disappointed in is Colin Powell, who knew better in the first Gulf War and lost his judgment later.

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  4. “They compared the chance of a democratizing effect on the entire Middle East to the end of the Eastern Bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies there afterward.”

    To think that sane minds at the controlling heights actually EVER believed that the establishment of a “civilian democracy” in Iraq would be possible seems so far off, yes, absurd now. That they seriously claimed that the situation of Iraq could be equated to that of Japan or Germany after WW2 even more. Credit Bush and the coalition, by all means, for ending Saddam’s reign, please credit them for purely good intentions, but blame them for having made a tragic, naive misinterpretation of the local conditions, and for continuing this disoriented mission. Of course it’s a cheap point to ask Tony Blair now “exactly what mission did you accomplish?”. I am rather grateful that they start to see that there is no point in staying there anymore. This is no time for being spiteful, this is a time for accepting one’s friends’ and one’s own errors. “One’s friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human.” (George Santayana)
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: German Intellectuals “flawed reasoning” behind the Support of the Iraq War
    URL: http://atlanticreview.org/archives/660-German-Intellectuals-flawed-reasoning-behind-the-Support-of-the-Iraq-War.html
    IP: 80.67.17.167
    BLOG NAME: Atlantic Review
    DATE: 05/09/2007 09:20:43 AM
    Gustav Seibt wrote about German intellectuals who supported the Iraq war. Sign and Sight provides a translation of his Sueddeutsche Zeitung article from February 2007: The motivations behind the powerful intellectual support of the war should be analysed
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: German Intellectuals “flawed reasoning” behind the Support of the Iraq War
    URL: http://atlanticreview.org/archives/660-German-Intellectuals-flawed-reasoning-behind-the-Support-of-the-Iraq-War.html
    IP: 80.67.17.167
    BLOG NAME: Atlantic Review
    DATE: 05/09/2007 09:16:43 AM
    Gustav Seibt wrote about German intellectuals who supported the Iraq war. Sign and Sight provides a translation of his Sueddeutsche Zeitung article from February 2007: The motivations behind the powerful intellectual support of the war should be analysed

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