Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hitchens' Three Questions

In today's Slate, Christopher Hitchens raises the following questions:

The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering "yes" thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it?


Right-thinking readers are supposed to answer No, Yes, Yes to these questions, especially given the way that they are phrased, but nonetheless, these three questions are useful. Did the first Bush team make the right strategic call? Was containment the most "moral" and responsible strategy to the threat posed by Iraq? Could our strategic and indeed our values-based objectives been realized short of a full-scale invasion and occupation?

One other problem is that Hitchens, like so many others, continues to drag up a straw man realist (even Kissinger no longer fits that caricature). After reading his article, I went back to re-read what Dimitri Simes had written in the Summer 2004 TNI about Iraq, from someone firmly in the Kissinger-Scowcroft "realist" camp. I'd be interested to get his and other reactions to these points.


In order to deal effectively with America's predicament in Iraq, it is essential to understand that we had begun to walk down the road to Baghdad long before September 11, indeed, quite before the Bush Administration came
to power. After the end of the Cold War, a new triumphalist mindset, shared by influential groups in both the Republican and Democratic parties, began to develop an unstoppable momentum. It was Madeleine Albright who started
bragging about the United States being an indispensable nation. It was a number of senior officials in the Clinton Administration-and eventually President Clinton himself-who, frequently taking a casual attitude to the facts, brought the United States into the Balkans in a desire to transform the former Yugoslavia-even if it required a military action without UN
blessing and in violation of international law, as in the case of Kosovo.

It was during the Clinton era that the export of democracy andnation-building became major drivers of American foreign policy. It was also during the Clinton Administration, back in 1998, that regime change in Iraq became official U.S. policy, having been enthusiastically supported by a bipartisan congressional majority.

Regime change, of course, goes far beyond containment. It is not based on the preservation of the status quo, and it left Saddam with few inducements to comply with U.S. preferences. Under Clinton, America was unprepared either to successfully intimidate Iraq or to offer a realistic prospect of accommodation. After 9/11, could the United States safely assume that we
could continue with the de facto annexation of the Kurdish north, our aggressive policing of the no-fly zones, our frequent air attacks on Iraqi military targets, and our plots to overthrow Saddam himself, and still believe that the Iraqi dictator would sit idly by and attempt no retaliation against the United States, directly or indirectly, using his terrorist connections? Intellectual honesty requires an acknowledgment that in the post-9/11 world, a change-of-regime policy in Iraq had to lead to an attack against the Saddam Hussein regime.

But if the Bush Administration could be excused for taking military action to remove Saddam, it has never been able to offer an adequate explanationof its other ambitions, most importantly, to use Iraq as a launching pad for a transformation of the so-called "Greater Middle East." How the invasion of an Arab country-in the absence of successful movement on the
Arab-Israeli dispute-could be perceived by the Arabs as a friendly action escapes logic. The administration clearly was tempted to use military victory in Iraq as a shortcut around the difficult, but from the Arab viewpoint, crucial U.S. role in resolving the Palestinian issue. Some in the Bush Administration went so far in their flights of analytic fancy that they were taken for a ride by a clear charlatan like Ahmed Chalabi, who promised not just to normalize relations with Israel, but indeed to build a pipeline to the Jewish State. Pipe dreams are not prescriptions for serious policymaking.

Interestingly, quite a few proponents of the transformation of the Middle East held two contradictory beliefs. On the one hand, they asserted that the Arab world was ready for democracy. On the other, they held the proposition that democracy, or anything else the United States wanted, could be imposed on the Arabs, who, it was claimed, were particularly subservient to force. The belief that it was possible for an outside hegemonic power to impose democracy by the armed fist so as to bring
freedom to the Middle East acquired considerable popularity among influential neoconservatives and liberal interventionist circles alike.

With fantasies like these, it is no wonder that the United States badly misjudged what to expect and how to proceed in Iraq. What we need now is a serious and realistic evaluation of U.S. objectives in Iraq. Two of them have been fulfilled already. We may now be satisfied that there are no WMD-at least in any considerable quantity-in Iraq. And, of course, the
Saddam regime is no more. So, is the United States obliged to engage in nation-building against the wishes of the vast majority of the Iraqi people? Is that a credible goal for American foreign policy? Is it a democratic goal in a situation in which at least 82 percent of the Iraqi people oppose American and other coalition forces?

It seems that it is most practical and moral to focus on those things that are doable and vital in terms of American interests. What we need is a stable, governable, non-tyrannical and, most importantly, non-hostile Iraq-an Iraq which will not become a sanctuary for international terrorists of all stripes.

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I'm not generally a fan of British uber-lefty "Gorgeous George" Galloway, but I'll be forever in his debt for introducing the phrase "drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay" to my lexicon.

Hitchens really symbolizes, to me at least, the convergence in recent years between the naively idealistic elements on both Left and Right.
Hitchens is a talented writer and a polemicist, but he's not a policymaker. It means that his role as cheerleader or critic is going to lead to extremes.

I tended to agree about the necessity for the Iraq war but don't see it as quite the apocalyptic struggle that Hitchens and others seem to think it is.
More inside the Beltway/inside the New York salon infighting.
All these terms and phrases, - all these platitudes are moot and hollow. -

American interests
"We need a stable, governable, non-tyrannical and, most importantly, non-hostile Iraq-an Iraq which will not become a sanctuary for international terrorists of all stripes."

"..influential neoconservatives and liberal interventionist circles alike.

"transformation of the Middel East."

"The Palestinian Issue"

"The Greater Middle East.

"No Fly Zones'

"De facto annexation."

"International law"

"Democratizing the Middle East"

"Freedom on the march."

None of these words or phrases have any substance, validity, credibility, or veracity coming from the Bush government, - a government peopled, and commandeered by fascist cabals of warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics bent on the insane delusions of the Pax Americana neverendingwar and empire agenda, and machinations.

Our government including the offices of the president, VP, and secretaries of defense, homeland security, state, and justice are commandeered by pathological liars, reprobates, warmongers, war profitieers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics.

It is a suicidal delusion to imagine the Bush government has any credibility, or operates in good faith, under the rule of laws, or promotes the general welfare, or the peoples' best interests.

The Bush government does not deserve or warrant, and no official in the Bush government should be afforded one nanoparticle of trust from or by the American people.

Rather, the fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics in the Bush government ruthlessly betrayed the public trust, and shamed America for the obscene profits of select cabals, cronies, cults, klans, and oligarchs in, or beholden to the Bush government.

No official in the Bush government should be afforded one particle of trust, or the good will of the American people

"Deliver us from evil."
Hitchens is a crusader in the truest sense of the word. The original crusaders believed it was better to fail at a noble cause then it was to achieve practical results. Richard the Lion-Hearted was a failure. Yet he is the hero. Emperor Frederick won Jerusalem by treaty negotiations and found a modus vivendi between Christian and Muslim. He was reviled and excommunicated.
I think it is interesting that people still go back to whether Bush Sr. should have continued on to Baghdad and whether or not it was a mistake to stop at the Kuwaiti border. Part of the success of the first Gulf War was that it was a UN force that expelled Saddam from Kuwait. It consisted of Saudi, Egyptian and other Arab military units that actually FOUGHT in the war (granted in a limited scope, but they particiapted none the less). All thoughts on whether they should have gone to Baghdad ignore the fact that no Middle Eastern government would have supported it and in fact would probably have actively opposed it. It was their clamoring that led to the premature ending of the war in the first place (in so far as the Iraqi Rep Guard escaped largely intact). So the idea that a drive to Baghdad was in the cards is not really accurate.

And taking a stab at the inevitability of another confrontation, I would venture to say that while we had greatly desired Hussein out of power in Iraq prior to 9/11, I'm not certain at all that there would have been any support for increasing pressure on Saddam militarily absent a major strategic blunder on Husseins part. And given how masterfully he turned many opinions on the international level against us during the 1990's, I don't think you can count on that at all...
Great quote from Irving Louis Horowitz on this:

It is the elites, especially academic pundits, who have yet to appreciate that ideological crusades lead to combat fatalities.
Bravo tni staffer.
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