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Wisdom of Crowds

Mar 23, 2023

Twenty years after the American invasion of Iraq, Damir and Shadi go head-to-head to revisit the right (and wrong) lessons learned. What results is an episode of stark contrasts. Recalling now-regretful supporters of the war, Damir prods Shadi to reconcile his opposition to the war and his claim that Iraq is undoubtedly better off today than it was under Saddam. The two also have a spirited debate about the conditions under which American involvement in hostile autocratic countries is justifiable. Should Iraq be seen as a flawed but rare democratic "success" in the Arab world, or the product of a blunder that cost countless lives – or something else entirely?

The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, but Shadi argues that the bigger problem may in fact be "hindsight bias," where Iraqis, Egyptians, and other citizens who suffered under dictatorship are unable to remember the past with any clarity.

In Part 2, accessible to subscribers via the Wisdom of Crowds site, the guys come back to a recurring rift between themselves. Damir is skeptical that ordinary civilians can accept democracy as superior when alternatives may be preferable for a host of reasons. Shadi pushes back to argue that while there is no ideal, there may be no genuine alternatives to democracy either, short of violence. They conclude with a surprising exchange that reveals a fundamental tension on the question of whether a good life can be lived under autocracy.

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Required Reading:

  • "Sometimes, Consensus Can Be Ruinous," by Shadi Hamid (The Atlantic).
  • "Two Decades Later, the Iraq War Is Hard to Defend," by Gerald Baker (The Wall Street Journal).
  • "20 Years On, I Don’t Regret Supporting the Iraq War," by Bret Stephens (The New York Times).
  • "Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong," by Shadi Hamid (Vox).
  • Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievich (Amazon).
  • "The Reason Iran Turned Out to Be So Repressive," by Shadi Hamid (The Atlantic).
  • "You're Better Off Not Knowing," by Shadi Hamid (The Atlantic).
  • "The Iraq War Helped Destroy What It Meant To Be an Iraqi," by Feurat Alani (Washington Post).