Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bailing on Iraq ... and Revisiting Scowcroft

Seems like you can't pick up a paper or magazine these days without reading an essay by someone who either vigorously supported the Iraq war and/or the "freedom agenda" (back in the days when it appeared like Iraq would be a cakewalk and the Middle East would look like Eastern Europe in 1989) now explaining why the Bush Administration is wrong, how policies were mishandled or how we should concentrate on "realistic goals." Great, prescient analysis, three years AFTER the Iraq war started.

Charles Krauthammer, whether you agree with him or not in terms of foreign policy, got this trend of CYA-column-writing right when he wrote in TNI's Spring 2005 issue, "There are many ways to describe someone who joins the stampede of commentators bailing out on Iraq ... Courageous is not one of them." (I would amend to say, in the absence of thoughtful reflection or an honest admission of making a mistake.)

To be told in 2006 that nation-building in Iraq is hard and that perhaps establishing democracy shouldn't be our primary goal isn't news and isn't particularly breathtaking.

The problem is that most columnists like to comment looking backwards rather than predict (and perhaps be proven wrong).

In that spirit, knowing how much Washington and the blogosphere loves to "move on" and consign yesterday's news to the memory hole, let's take another look at that much-reviled WSJ editorial that General Brent Scowcroft penned on August 15, 2002--let's repeat that year, 2002, BEFORE the Iraq invasion.

Let's start with the predictions that didn't come true. Saddam didn't have any weapons-ready WMD, not even in the small amounts intelligence thought he might have, and so he wasn't able to unleash a last-ditch suicidal strike at Israel or U.S. forces--a point discussed, by the way, by Mike Eisenstadt in the Fall 2005 TNI.

He also didn't foresee that the removal of Hussein from power, when coupled with Yasir Arafat's death and Rafik Hariri's assassination in Lebanon, would create opportunities for political change.

Scowcroft also never denied that Saddam was a thug, a brutal dictator and even that he was a threat--but that the U.S. needed to "to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities--notably the war on terrorism--as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad."

Based on his analysis, he wrote, "The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive--with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy--and could as well be bloody."

Bloody is open to interpretation. Certainly combat casualties were not high. But it certainly has not been a cakewalk and the costs have been very expensive.

"Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation."

This seems right on the money.

"But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence."

The question is whether concern about the Iranian nuclear program will bring the United States, Europe, Russia and China back into some sort of consensus. Bruno Tertrais will address how long the EU-US consensus on Iran is likely to last in our forthcoming issue.

"... the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists."

The debate that is ongoing now is the chicken-and-egg one, whether the invasion created conditions for terrorist recruitment or whether this is just opportunism (e.g. another cause or place would have sufficed)--but Scowcroft was bringing this point up in 2002, before most people were even considering that there might be an insurgency or before Zarqawi was a "household name."

Whether you agree with Scowcroft's conclusions or not, he looked at facts, he undertook analysis, he made predictions. This is more of the type of writing and analysis that we need.

Nick... There were many, many journalists and analysts who had predicted what would happen in Iraq and warned about the consequences. Check out the discussion that took place on the eve of the war under the auspices of the Middle East Policy Council Also I'm not sure what the death of Aafat or the assassination of Hariri have to do with the Iraq War, and why we should be all celebrating the "political changes" that have taken place (Hamas; Hizbollah more powerful; civil war in Iraq). As I recalled in a piece in theglobalist and in my book, there was a time when the people in the West were celebrating the fall of the Russian Czar and the German Kaiser. Political changes they were, and...hello... Stalin and Hitler. We have something called the Department of Defense and not the Department for Political Change and Nation Building. Leon
A fair critique of Scowcroft, however, is that his realism leads him to be too cautious and not to think too far outside of the box. I share a number of the same realist predispositions but think that the Scowcroft wing underappreciates the usefulness of ideas. Interested to read what John Owen will have to say in the spring issue, given what I've read of his in other locations.
Leon look at how most of the people you reference were treated by the MSM and the foreign policy establishment--defeatist, too cautious, realist, haters of freedom, etc. The point I think is of interest here is that some of those who were busy calling others names three years ago have now decided to see the light.
Scowcroft, on the "distraction" theory, is weak. Regardless of what factual analysis one can make of Iraq, the war has not diverted attention away from "the rest" of the war on terror.

International cooperation has not been significantly damaged; indeed, the rise of the Iran crisis has created new solidarities. The US has worked hand in glove with foreign intelligence services from Germany to Yemen.

Any critique of Iraq, and any garlanding of early predictions, must jettison the "diversion" diversion.
The difficulty with Scowcroft's article is that it presupposes the answer to a question that needs first to be asked: whether the war on terror is a police problem, ie. a matter for cooperation between all governments, or a political problem, ie. a matter of whether some governments need to change before they can be more help than harm.

If terrorism is unlikely to rise above a certain threat level, then social and intellectual change in terrorist countries of origin (insofar as the lack of such change is a cause of terrorism) can take its own time and the problem of terrorism can be managed between existing governments. But if the threat level is likely to rise before governments and societies in critical regions change (ie. if unconventional weapons become more available to private groups in the foreseeable future), then three more questions need to be answered:

(a) What do we do if the need to combat terrorism comes into conflict with the degree of national sovereignty enjoyed by governments who cooperate with us but only up to a point, or who do not cooperate?

(b) Is there a point at which trying to proportion the US response to terrorism is the problem, or should we always proportion our response to the level of an attack?

(c) What is the basis of consensus at home? Is the fickleness of American public support for preventive action a function of insufficient boldness rather than excessive boldness on the part of US leaders? Or is policy in some fundamental sense constrained by events that need to be more catastrophic before drastic action is possible and justified?
Thanks for all of the comments so far. First, they show that one can engage in real debate, rather than caricaturing (e.g. Scowcroft must hate freedom). Second, I think that the critiques do demonstrate some of the problems with "classical realism", a point Anatol Lieven has been making and will address in his latest essay.
Scowcrofts' article, like all the many pundits, and socalled experts raising questions, or presenting opposition to the Bush governments bloody, costly, waywardmisadventure and war of choice in Iraq was given no oxygen by the MSM, and no recognition by the fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics orchestrating this nightmare.

The people were and still are delivered a festering litany of lies, exaggerations, manipulation, disinformation, partisan propaganda and hagiography, contamination of the intelligence product, and dodgey, sexedup, unvetted, uncorroborated, single sources patently FALSE justifications for the Bush governments unilateral slaughter, plunder, and wanton profiteering - I mean war, occupation, and socalled nationbuilding in Iraq.

Roves' slime, disinformation, and propaganda covens worked like demons to parade a shapeshifting slurry of lies to decieve the American people into supporting the Bush governments supremist, imperialist, fascist, delusional Pax Americana pipe dreams in Iraq.

The fascist WHIG/OSP/OSI/PTCEG cabals ruthlessly and deceitfully contamintated the intelligence product, coerced intelligence operatives, and forced the Chalabi/Cheney/Freeh/Bolton/Wolfewitz/Pearl/Rumsfeld/Libby/Ledeen et. al. concocted fictions, myths, and patent lies down all our throats.

Complicit parrots and craven sychophants in the socalled MSM dutifully bowed to and pliantly parroted the Bush government partyline, - as the patriotic platitudes, the partisan propaganda and hagiography, the festerubg litany of patent lies was all that was heard, or given oxygen.

Anyone daring to question, (and I'm no Rand scholar, but even a pedestrian like me could easily see through the glaring holes, the naked lies, the cronyism, the book cooking, the woeful lack of accounting, and the wanton profiteering, in the plan - appalling lack thereof, and my commentary of the years warned about and clearly reflects exactly what is now happening in Iraq and all over the world) - anyone daring to challenge the Bush governments' hollow, meaningless, substantless, nonesense, and PATHOLIGICAL LIES concerning the reason for and necessity of Iraq - was ruthlessly slimed as an anti-American, unpatrioted, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, lunatic, communist, spawn of the devil.

Well here we are, and all the chickenhawks have come home to roost.

All the socalled experts can toss about reason for or against what we must all hazard and endure now, and pretend that the fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chichenhawks, and rapturist fanatics in the Bush government acted in good faith, with the best interests of the American people in mind, and hoping to better secure America to your hard cold hearts content -
but the factbasedrealities remains,
- Iran is the only victor in Iraq,
-American must hazard, burdern, and endure the Bush governments catastrophic failures in Iraq for decades
- there are simply no good options left now for anyone in Iraq.
-the Bush government fascist OSP/OSI/WHIG/PTCEG cabals intentionally and maliciously DECEIVED and BETRAYED the American people,
-the only people benefiting from the horrorshow in the land of the two rivers are cronies, oligarchs, cults, and cabals in or beholden to the Bush government .
-America cannot win in Iraq militarily,
-the brutish hubris, suremist imperialism, monsterous incompetence, fascist designs and machinations, grotesque failures, and obscene abuses in the bloody costly, noendinsight horrorshow and Bush government war of choice in Iraq, - has helped no hurt America's jihadist enemies - and hurt not helped Amerca.
-the festering litany of lies and the insidious nazification of America continues unabated.

I could go on for pages, but why bother? The fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics, as well as the craven sychophants and complicit parrots in the socalled MSM are pathological liars, - and have no ears.

So hi ho, hi ho, - its off to neverendingwar and the Pax Americana fascist empire we go.

"Deliver us from evil."
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