Changing My Mind

In the comments of this post reader Duffy asks the following wholly reasonable question:

Can I ask, what was the last Big Thing you changed your mind about after doing some research?

He went on:

I ask because in my experience most people decide first and rationalize afterwards. Whatever facts don’t fit the preconceived idea are discarded in favor of confirmation bias.

I had to think about this for a while, but I thought Duffy deserved a proper answer.  The best example I can think of is the role of the US military around the world, and specifically what changed after the Iraq War.

There were some very reasonable arguments opposing the US and its allies’ decision to launch the Iraq War, and there were some incredibly stupid ones as well.  One of those that fell somewhere in the middle is one I have changed my mind about.  Before the invasion took place there was a school of thought that went something like this:

These brown folk are primitive.  They don’t know how to get along with one another, they need a strongman like Saddam Hussein to keep them in line.  They’re not ready for democracy, it doesn’t work for the likes of them.

The reason why I didn’t subscribe to this view was I thought it would be a massive injustice to an oppressed and brutalised population to just assume that the person who was standing on their necks was doing so for their own good and they’d be worse off without him.  I couldn’t think of anything worse than living under such conditions myself and the people who could do something about it telling me that I was incapable of running my own affairs.

I supported the Iraq War for several reasons, one of which was I thought the Iraqis deserved the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and run their country without him.  I genuinely thought they would seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Arabic people are not incompatible with democracy and, so thankful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they would make a pretty decent effort to make things work.

Instead they tore each other apart and did everything they could to demonstrate that those who dismissed them as savages that needed a strongman to keep them in line were right all along.  I think this was probably the most depressing aspect of the whole shambolic affair.  I still think the Iraq War should have gone ahead because I believe it solved two security issues which I think the US would have found much harder to manage in future: the security of the Saudi oilfields and finding out for sure whether Saddam Hussein had chemical or biological weapons that could be used in a future conflict.  I’m also certain that had the Iraq War not happened a bloodbath would have occurred at some point anyway: either the Arab Spring would have been tried in Iraq, or it would have been dragged into Syria or another conflict with Iran.  Whatever might have happened, I don’t think an Iraq under another decade or two of Saddam Hussein & Sons would have been a stable, happy place.

But the one issue I changed my mind on was that the US (or British) military should no longer be brought to bear for altruistic or humanitarian reasons.  It is rather depressing, but I am now a firm believer in the premise that a population generally deserves the government it gets.  No longer would I support a war that is not prosecuted for clear strategic reasons that are indisputably in the national interest.  So all those suffering under the jackboot of oppression?  Sorry, you’re on your own.  We tried our best and look where it got us.

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7 thoughts on “Changing My Mind

  1. It’s good to hear that you have changed your thinking on things as thinking that you “know best” is a precarious and foolish stance, because nobody does. Life and reality is so complex and unpredictable that it can rarely be predicted far ahead.

    I too have changed my views over time from that of a younger probably more socialist idealist to that of a quieter and reserved conservative, well that what my wife thinks anyway. My first great shock as a young man living in London was realising that the papal system and the Vatican Bank were corrupt following the Robert Calvi incident, especially after being brought up as Roman Catholic. This followed by countless raids on the indie book stores in Greenwich Village in the eighties were my Road to Damascus moment, particularly reading the works of the likes of Anthony Sutton, I also found Eustace Mullins work to be quite confrontational especially his authorised biography of Ezra Pound, his work is certainly controversial, at the time I hadn’t came across this kind on work before and dont necessarily subscribe to his views but it did significantly change my way of thinking about things.

  2. You know, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that outside intervention could have made Iraq a better place – look at the UK intervention in Sierra Leone 2000-2002. http://warontherocks.com/2016/08/when-intervention-works-the-instructive-case-of-sierra-leone/
    What happened in Iraq after the invasion was the result of US hubris and incompetence; most notably bringing Shiite sectarian militias into the security services and turning them loose on the Sunni population as part of their ‘Salvador Option’ COIN war. The structure of the previous Iraqi government (sensibly purged of criminal elements) could have been used to hold the country together – there were more than enough non-sectarian Iraqis back then that it had a chance of working, but several groups put a lot of effort into stirring up the sectarian conflicts (including Al Qaeda). If they had gone in with enough force to secure the place afterwards…but it was not to be.

  3. @ Aristonicus,

    Some very good points there, and I don’t disagree about such things as the US hubris and incompetence, but they alone didn’t cause Iraqis to start massacring each other. Sure, the US created the conditions for the sectarian violence to flourish, but the root cause of the mess was the willingness of Iraqis to engage in sectarian violence, not the US setting up the conditions for them to do so. I’m not willing to give the Iraqis a free pass on this one: they are the ones who ruined their country, not the Americans.

  4. Don’t know about history of Sierra Leone as a country, but the middle eastern borders were rather arbitrarily drawn up by the French and British. If Iraq had actually been three separate countries for the last 40 years the turmoil would have been less and long ago.

  5. Pingback: Streetwise Professor » I’ve Learned My Lesson, But Far Too Many Have Not

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