Aaron Haspel has the best mea culpa I’ve seen about being on the wrong side of the war. I especially liked this bit:

There was also a certain haste to blame America in the anti-war arguments that bothered me. I have no desire to discourage self-criticism, least of all in this post. But even Jim Henley, who among the long-time opponents of the war most closely resembles a responsible adult, has not exactly emphasized the horrors of a culture that treats suicide bombers like rock stars and stones homosexuals to death. These very horrors, ironically, undercut the case of the warbloggers, who harp on them. Surely the least likely people to successfully impose your political ideas on are those whose core values are utterly alien to your own. You end up just killing them instead.

My initial tepidness about opposing the war was based in a thoroughgoing horror of viciously antiliberal Islamic culture, and I worried deeply about the fact that many anti-war types seemed not to share my horror. But Aaron’s incredibly important last point was one of the clinchers for me. I had the idea that maybe the war could do something to undermine Islamic religious authoritarianism, and if it was going to have that effect, that would be a strong reason in its favor. But reflection lead me to see that the depth of the problem is precisely what would make the attempt to swiftly impose liberal democracy an almost certain bloody failure. That’s what I had in mind, here:

A moral infrastructure is something neither Bechtel nor the CPA has the power to provide. Canals and constitutions are all for naught if Iraqis don’t develop norms that enable the emergence of a complex market and the benign administration of the state. If — whether because of religious conviction, political ideology, tribal affiliation or whatever — they don’t believe these are norms worth having, then they won’t have them. And despite our best intentions, our efforts there will fail.


How do you build, or grow, a moral infrastructure? That’s what we need to understand. Sadly — and let’s hope not tragically — we still don’t.

Well, it has turned out tragically.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center