PhD in Obviousness

Today in the Washington Post, Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote a column addressing the issue of whether the conflict in Iraq has been worth the price paid so far. Mr. Kagan argues, rightly, that to answer that question, we must ask ourselves how the US would be faring had Saddam been left in power, noting that a “fact not in dispute is that Hussein remained keenly interested in and committed to acquiring weapons of mass destruction.”

I’m not sure why it takes senior associate to make such an amazingly obvious point, but of course that’s the question that Americans are already asking themselves. I think that you would be hard pressed to find many Americans who would have told you that, between the Persian Gulf War and, say, September of 2002, they ever felt that Iraq was a threat to their security. The intelligence on Iraq painted a similar picture – a brutal dictator, but one that was essentially harmless to the United States. That didn’t stop the Bush administration from making the case, and ignoring the worldwide tepid response. Cast your memory back to a Newsweek article dated March 24, 2003:

On the weekend after Sept. 11, Bush convened his national-security team at Camp David. Wolfowitz argued that if military action was to be taken against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was harboring the leadership of al-Qaeda, it should also be taken against Iraq.

These assertions, of an early fixation on Iraq, have been backed up by Bob Woodward, Richard Clarke, and the Downing Street Memo also seems support the theory that the Bush Administration was determined to invade Iraq. They made the case so publicly (remember Ms. Rice asserting that “we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”) that Americans came to feel threatened by Saddam. The Bush Administration, to this day, is still linking 9/11 and Iraq, despite a lack of evidence of any direct threat to the US. Clearly, we are not learning from past failures. In 1995, when Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during much of the Vietnam War, spoke about his then-recently published book “In Retrospect,” one of the best nonfiction books that I have ever read. During his talk, he related an important lesson that he learned from his Vietnam experience:

[W]e didn't recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are on a mission. To this day we seem to act in the world as though we know what's right for everybody. We think we're on a mission. We aren't. We weren't then and we aren't today. And where our own security is at stake, I'm prepared to say act unilaterally, militarily. Where our security is not at stake, not directly at stake, narrowly defined, then I believe that our judgment of what is in another people's interest, should be put to the test of open discussion, open debate, and international forum. And we shouldn't act unilaterally militarily under any circumstances. And we shouldn't act militarily in conjunction with others until that debate has taken place. We don't have the God-given right to shape every nation to our own image.


Blogger Hatcher said...

Feel hard-pressed no longer. Count me as an American who considered Iraq a threat to our security, especially after September 11. Did I consider them an imminent threat? No, and neither did the Bush administration. Their point was that it is better to prevent the threat from being imminent, a policy that might have served us well with respect to Al Queda.

The world (i.e. Europe) will tepidly respond to any threat that tends to reach our shores first and foremost.

The Pentago had war plans in place with respect to Iraq for over a decade, and since 1998, regime change in Iraq was a legislated goal of the U.S. That such moves were discussed is very natural, in that 9/11 changes the calculus of Middle East policy not only with respect to Al Queda. Clarke's notion that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq is just talk - our actions had us in Afghanistan (the fifteenth "Vietnam" since Vietnam) within weeks. We then spent 18 months allowing Saddam to flaunt every UN restriction while the Annan family grew richer, before finally going in. If going in was a foregone conclusion, and I don't believe that it was, Saddam certainly did not provide any cooperation that would have allowed us to do an about face.

Robert McNamara? He's a hack. Iraq is not another Vietnam, largely because Bush is no LBJ and Rumsfeld is no McNamara. We didn't act unilaterally here, nor did we act without debate. It's just that Bush won the debate. That's the way the cookie crumbles.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Tristan said...

Saying that 9/11 "changed the calculus in the Middle East" is basically saying that 9/11 gave the Administration carte blanche to exploit one of our greatest national tragedies by doing whatever it wished in the Arab world. (And besides, all those Arabs are the same, right? All in cahoots with one another, and never mind if they're Wahhabi as opposed to secular and therefore have nothing in common and actually hate one another.) The calculus was simple: national desire for revenge + wide-scale ignorance of the Arab world and its religion, politics, and geography = support for any war we want, as long as it's in the Middle East.

While the Administration was playing bait-and-switch -- stoking post-9/11 fear while beating war drums for Iraq -- Paul Krugman described the focus on Iraq as "an obsession in search of a justification." We're still searching, and in the meantime, our troops are still dying.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Tristan, your comments hinge upon a set of premises that you, and Krugman, and others, never set out to prove. Nor could you, because they rely upon the omniscient ability to garner the motives of the key players in the Bush administration, and those voters who support them. That omniscience seems to be restricted to Princeton professors and at least one of their students.

Imagine for one moment that your premise is wrong, that the motivation for the Bush admin is not war-mongering for its own sake. We didn't randomly pick an Arab country, after all.

As for doing whatever it wished in the Arab world, if wishing the people there could be liberated from bloodthirsty totalitarian rule in the course of reducing a potential threat to our country is a bad thing, then I'll take that criticism. If staying the course to rebuild Iraq and establish a peaceful order is another malicious wish, then again I'll take that criticism.

In the meantime you can go on comfortably assuming your moral superiority. It works for Krugman.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home