Monday, March 12, 2007

Going Down Memory Lane Part Three

Let me leave readers of TWR with a final essay, "Why Iraq's WMD Matters," written in June 2003. Then there is my Choices in Iraq piece from August 2003.

Let me say first I am not offering these to be boastful. I have some real doozies of statements in there, whether about the reliability of what was being proferred by the Administration in terms of pre-war intelligence, to an overestimation of the Iraq threat. But I think these posts demonstrate that I've had a consistent position and did not change my views in 2004, 2005, or 2006 when the "going got tough." Paul Saunders and I were willing to raise what we saw as problems and objections when all you could see on cable tv news networks for days was footage of Saddam Hussein's statue being toppled.

Let me close with a selection from an April 30, 2003 essay, "Occupational Hazards":

First and foremost, America has neither the time nor the energy to turn Iraq into a vast laboratory to test social science theories about democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. Nor was this the primary purpose of the war. Already, the United States has found itself becoming involved in internal political schisms within Iraq .

The United States should focus on achieving a limited set of goals vis-à-vis a postwar government. The post-Saddam regime should not seek to develop weapons of mass destruction or sponsor terrorism. The government should be reasonably transparent and allow for the development of a viable civil society--a challenge noted by Shibley Telhami elsewhere in this issue. It should allow for a devolution of power from Baghdad to the regions to allow for a good deal of local self-government, but not at the expense of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq .

There is a real and profound tension in American postwar policy. Our idealistic desire for perfection in Iraq --crafting a pro-American, secular liberal democracy--would require a great deal of American control and micromanagement. It would necessitate a long-term and very intrusive U.S. presence. It would also preclude the ability to bring others into the process--including many Iraqis themselves--but also other partners and donors who could share the burden, cost and responsibility of reconstruction.

Some in Washington fear that opening the process of Iraqi reconstruction to other players--the Europeans, the Russians, and indeed to the entire spectrum of Iraqi society--would prevent the United States from being able to precisely shape the outcome to meet pre-determined ideological goals. There is, however, an important trade-off. The more others are involved, the simpler it will be to develop a realistic exit strategy for U.S. forces--not the widely inflated and patently unrealistic claims of "three months" (after all, let us not forget that President Clinton promised that Bosnia post-Dayton would be a one year mission--one that has lasted for eight)--but an exit strategy where U.S. combat forces can be replaced over time with civilian and police specialists from other states. If for no other reason, U.S. combat forces are needed to provide a more credible edge to efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the Korea crisis, and to credibly demonstrate--both to North Korea and to China --what the alternate to a negotiated settlement would be. American tankers and special forces should not be bogged down directing traffic and protecting banks in Baghdad while serious negotiations are being conducted in Beijing with North Korean emissaries. The sooner U.S. combat forces are out of Iraq , the less chance there is of a backlash developing throughout the Muslim world, and this would also free up military assets to deal with other pressing matters.

Reconstruction efforts in Iraq also set the template for what happens in places like North Korea . A "go-it-alone" attitude in Iraq is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy for North Korea --a country that economist Marcus Noland described in an earlier issue of In the National Interest as " the world's largest contingent liability." (

The United States has a preponderance of power in the world, but not unlimited resources. It cannot afford to squander either its resources or its prestige gained by the recent victory by engaging in an over-ambitious program for Iraq .

Nick, it's a good thing you are willing to put your record up for scrutiny and it will be interesting to see who comments on this.

And even in some of your warnings you have admitted that you did not oppose the war, so to some extent you bear responsibility too for being part of the support network for the war--even if, and I grant you this, you were not agitating for the larger transformative project of the neocons.

Which leads me to this question--back then you still had a bunch of neocons on your board--Krauthammer, Perle, Cohen, Fukuyama, etc. Did that constrain your freedom of action to dissent from their agenda?
I think that these excerpts are important because they show that just because people agreed that removing Saddam was important it didn't mean that you signed on to the entire PNAC agenda. There is a difference between saying right out in 2003 that the goals should be limited versus coming to that realization in 2006.
" Nevertheless, the evolving contours of the conflict do raise questions about the extent to which U.S. liberation would be welcomed by others in the region and the degree to which military power is likely to be an effective instrument of democratization. We will have to wait for the answers. "

I think the answers should be pretty clear by now.
What is apparent from these very intriguing commentaries, - is that there were always some element of realist policy thinking that was uncomfortable with the Bush government's, and PNAC's deceptive, brutish, and ill-defined intentions and machinations from the very beginning.

I was one who always opposed the goitalone approach, and did not view any of the socalled evidence then being pimped by the Bush government as justification for war as sufficient, or properly vetted, or accurately potrayed, - nor did I, and many people in my circles see any justification or sound reason for Bush governments unrestrained determination to attack and occupy Iraq. Anyone here can google the various anti-war critics and see, that from out perspective, - while Iraq may have posed a potential threat - and Saddam was a very badguy, - Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, no operational links with al Quaida, and no affective WMD capabilities - and further Saddam and Iraq were well contained. I and many people in these circles challenged and questioned then why the Bush government was so ruthlessly determined to intitiate this ill-concieved, woefully lacking in accounting war and occupation against Iraq at that time.

Any such question or challenge was immediately attacked and those questioners and challengers were savaged and slimed as anti-American, unpatriotic, lunatics giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It was exactly this cowardly, low, craven, baseless, scurrilous, dispicable, and desparate response from the fascisgt in the Bush government, and the republican reich that solidified and validated our worst fears, and dread concerns. Tragically, - and I challenge any realist here to investigate these anti-war commentarians myself included for proof, - we were right on virtually every issue, from the original OSP/OSI/WHIG fascist cabals and Chalabi concocted deceptions, fictions, myths, and patent lies pimping and attempting to justify the Iraq war, to the woefull lack of accounting, to the unspecified or articualted plan or stated objectives, to the shapeshifting of policy and intent, to wanton profiteering, to the noendisight 14 enduring bases unknown unknown America commitments to this nightmare, to the growing number of US soldier killed or maimed, to the many thousands of Iraqi civilians slaughter, maimed, and displaced, - to the Bush governments continuing refusal to provide an accurate accounting, the ultimate objectives, or an honest appraisal and admission of the many grievous and QUITE OBVIOUS FAILURES and woefull mismanagement of the prosecution of the war, occupation, and socalle reconstruction process.

There was never any real debate!
There was never any oxygen given to those who dared to question, challenge, or oppose the Bush government's deceptive pimping of the many untoward and unvetted Bush governmetn justifications for the Iraq horrorshow.
There was no investigation into the Bush government's ruthless contamination of the intelligence product through the deceptive disinformation, (perception management, information domination, and propaganda operations) conjured and executed by the fascist extragovernmental OSP/OSI/WHIG/Chalabi cabals
All those who did question, challenge, or oppose these patently FALSE justifications were ruthlessly slimed as unpatriotic, anti-Americans who did not support the troops, and were aiding and abetting the enemy.
This craven treachery continues today.

These and other abuses and treacheries have proven our points and validated every challenge, question, and all those opposed to the Bush government wayward misadventure and costly, bloody, noendinsight horrorshow in Iraq.

Any cursory review should prove to all Americans that the Bush government is accountable, the hour late, the ends potentially disasterous, the deceptions manifold and grievous, and the future security and prosperity of America is dependent upon leadership and the American people forcing this necessary and long overdue accountibility on the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government.

"Deliver us from evil!"

It looks from these commentaries that you and Paul Saunders were trying to be the loyal opposition, not being critical outright but hoping that the team in power would come to its senses (maybe in late 2003) and so you could present your case. Too bad it didn't happen.
The problem--you were too balanced and nuanced. Hey, the choice is clear--cut and run or stay the course. No one wants complicated third ways. And certainly no TV producer wants to book someone with an actual argument and analysis.

It is very unfortunate that your concerns did not have more of an influence in Washington at the time. Perhaps the die was cast once we crossed the border.

The problem is that even the more limited aims you describe depended on an Iraqi propensity to carry them out, and without that cooperation, there was no chance of meaningful international involvement. Even today, we cannot imagine a course of action in Iraq that doesn't depend on the Iraqis.

The larger challenge since 9/11 has been to find a sustainable response to the consequences occasioned by the falling cost of mass-casualty weapons, falling in the sense that the barriers to acquisition of nuclear weapons by new governments are dropping, and the barriers to acquisition of non-nuclear mass-casualty weapons by private groups may fall in a couple of decades. Although the urgency of this danger is perhaps debatable, it is this context that makes terrorism more than a police problem.

The danger is to some extent sui generis in the sense that we have tolerated proliferation when we could trust the proliferators to manage their weapons responsibly, and who we regarded as "responsible" was defined by their policies toward us and our friends, and not by their actual ability to manage such weapons. But even if the latter is a real concern, a US policy of unending intrusions on the national sovereignty of other nations will be necessary to preserve the current status quo unless the trend of technology morphs into something less dangerous or we can imagine and achieve some other status quo.

In the spirit of your postings, I would ask if the National Intelligence Council intends to continue the Global Trends project (projections every five years of the next fifteen) that they began over a decade ago. If there is another one, it should examine as part of any new projection the track record of each previous projection so as to trace the themes that were correctly forecast.
That seems very sensible, and following up on earlier postings I think Nik might consider on the blog or on TNI's website to rate how predictions made in TNI have either been fulfilled or off the mark. It's a good thing to have some accountability--and it doesn't have to be done in a hostile spirit or to try and say "Gotcha" but just to foster good analysis.

What I find disturbing about you is the extend to which you have absorbed the ethos of imperialism: i.e. extension of your power over others.

I think your major complaint about the current government is that it was not successful and - according to you - could not be successful in this war.

War and the exercise of your power over alien people and states that are neither a threat to you nor seek a war with you comes so easy to you.

As I mentioned before; to you any one without nuclear weapons is just another geopolitical toy.

I suppose might makes right and you will continue doing these things until and unless your margin of error is exhausted and or you bit more than you can chew.

And my question to you is Why? Is it the sense of joy of exercising power for the sake of power that motivates you?

US is the big enchilada, the head honcho, the king of the heap - it behoves such a power to try to maintain stability rather than going around destablizing the world.

This is an emotional thing with you, ins't it?

Please advise - for I do not understand.
Takes two to tango, anonymous 7:28. Pat Buchanan and the folks over at the Cato Institute propose all the time a reduction in the US role in the world, ending of alliances, pulling back US forces, and they get denounced not just here but all over the world as dangerous isolationists. Every US delegation that goes to the Persian Gulf gets fed the same sob story from the emirates about you can't leave us at the mercy of Iran, same thing happens in east Asia (we need you to balance China). It is revealing that Taiwan continues to slash defense spending because why bother, the US will be there.

So if the rest of the world is puzzled by the US exercise of power, don't keep inviting us and show you can take care of problems--many Americans would be happy to stay at home.

As I see it this is the rough scorecard:

In the run-up to the war, you accepted the intelligence that Iraq had WMD; --TURNED OUT TO BE WRONG

You were willing to let inspections play out longer but thought that in the end Saddam would probably have to be removed by force; -- WE'LL NEVER KNOW WHETHER THIS WOULD HAVE PRODUCED A MORE COHESIVE COALITION BUT CERTAINLY WOULD HAVE AVOIDED THE 2003 SPLITS WITH ALLIES

If it came to war, you were for a quick decapitation of the regime leaving in place something that might over time evolve into a better form of governance, but not for the US to stay a long time or to get distracted. -- I WOULD ARGUE THIS APPROACH COULDN'T HAVE TURNED OUT MORE BADLY THAN WHAT WE NOW HAVE AND US WOULD BE IN BETTER SHAPE OVERALL
Nick--are you reading what's going on over at Steve Clemon's blog on Hagel's non-announcement? I raise that here because it seems that what you and Paul were writing back then reflected the Hagel position--but when push came to shove you and he were going to go with the war rather than oppose it--so I'd have to endorse anonymous 3:06's point as well. This doesn't mean that I don't agree with some of the stuff you've been saying more recently, just that in the end even if you were 51-49 the vote up or down on the Iraq war was a 0 or 100 binary choice.
Annonymou 7:36 PM:

What does it matter what others say or ask you to do - tell them to take a hike or grow up and defend themselves.

Why is it so important for US to be in Korea? Or in East Asia? Who is to be protected from whom? US is not going to war over Taiwan - you crae more about Los Angeles than Tai Pei.

And why are you still in Europe? Who are you protecting from whom? Why is Germany still an ocuupied country?

And in the Persian Gulf and the Levant you are not pursuing stability - rather a Jacobin polciy just like in Kosovo.

Pat Buchannan is not completely wrong - all these military basis and committments are not necessary nor are they sustainable.

US can no longer be a great military power, a great economic power, and provide for a welfare state at the same time. One of these 3 has to go.

All these policies and suggetions and discussions at CFR or here and elsewhere must include the actual cost (in dollars) of these policies and committments over their life time. Where is the money? By the middle of the next decade US will spend more on soldiers' pensions etc. than on new weapons procurements.

Am I missing something here?
Annonymou 7:36 PM:

What does it matter what others say or ask you to do - tell them to take a hike or grow up and defend themselves.

Why is it so important for US to be in Korea? Or in East Asia? Who is to be protected from whom? US is not going to war over Taiwan - you crae more about Los Angeles than Tai Pei.

And why are you still in Europe? Who are you protecting from whom? Why is Germany still an ocuupied country?

And in the Persian Gulf and the Levant you are not pursuing stability - rather a Jacobin polciy just like in Kosovo.

Pat Buchannan is not completely wrong - all these military basis and committments are not necessary nor are they sustainable.

US can no longer be a great military power, a great economic power, and provide for a welfare state at the same time. One of these 3 has to go.

All these policies and suggetions and discussions at CFR or here and elsewhere must include the actual cost (in dollars) of these policies and committments over their life time. Where is the money? By the middle of the next decade US will spend more on soldiers' pensions etc. than on new weapons procurements.

Am I missing something here?
Anonymous 7:28,

Sorry if my point was unclear. My point is that the current status quo is not sustainable if we have to engage in unending interventions to preserve it.

Our presence in Europe and Asia after 1945 prevented nations in each region from having to worry as much about each other as before the war. Our presence in Germany and Korea may not be as necessary now as it was during the Cold War but both countries have asked us to stay.

What we cannot do indefinitely is to remain in regions that don't want us there. The question is whether it is really in the interest of the nations in these regions to have nobody but themselves to keep the peace. If there is any useful purpose we can still serve, now is the time to tell us.
What's the poinot of this exercise? None of the presidential candidates is prepared to challenge any of the prevailing assumptions about the US role in the world so it is not like we are going to have a real debate (sorry I mean "front runner candidates").
Nick, I think there was a strong realist case for the war that should not have to be conflated with how others saw the issue, as there is a strong realist case not simply for removing Saddam but constructing an allied state. I think we have some confusion as well that assumes that incompetence in execution means plans were fundamentally flawed, which is hindsight 20/20 vision.
Why is imperialism realistic at this day and age?
Good point anonymous 8:31. Imperialism is realistic only to the extent that the imperial power wants to sacrifice itsself to attain it. US wants empire on the cheap and is pissed off it can't get it.

This extract from the part two post just floors me:

"Prominent neo-conservatives like William Kristol have suggested repeatedly for years we would receive a friendly reception from the Iraqi people; for example, Kristol testified in February 2002 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "As in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators." (He bravely went on to say that "Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan"--a statement that remains to be tested.) "

And he gets a column in Time and is a big time tv commentator? What about accountability???!!!!
@Anonumous 10:04

Although you go to great lanes to lay out the argument that the USA is complicating things it is actually you oversimplifying reality on this planet.

I think until the Bush Administration took office the USA played positively the role of the "big dog". How many countries were saved from Communism? And apart from Wilsonian idealism that is where American "overcommitment" comes from, containment.

If it was not for the USA 3/4 of the world would have been suppressed by "Polit-bureaus" telling them what to THINK. People would be dying the hunger, waiting 16 years for a Lada or hanging out in jail as dissidents!!!

What about Hitler?

What about colonies?

And if you honestly believe that the USA is destabilizing the world, this sorry a$$ administration excluded, then you have not talked to inclined insiders in private yet. They will tell you that the vacuum an isolationist American policy would create will be a huge disaster, A REAL ONE.

Military technology and politicization of the international community has gone way too far for unconditional freedom of action of any given autocratic, theocratic and even democratic government. Besides from that, economic interconnectivity, the ad hoc information age does not leave much space for experiments, the whole world economy depends on American engagement throughout the world.

Why do you not notice, for example, how the Russians have played Iran, by selling them nuclear technology and weapons pushing them further into economic isolation, using them as a stake against the west and taking over the gas market without the strongest competitor for the European market? Who is destabilizing?

No it is solely the USA again, that's just bull...

Who said Germany is still an "occupied" country? I live in Germany, I do not think that we feel "occupied" over here, we are simply allies. By the way no one is asking the Americans to leave, we are asking them to stay! We can disagree with American governments, even harshly but we remain allies.

Germany can thank America that it still exists, I wonder what the other European powers and Russian would have left of Germany right after the loss of WWII. Germany can thank Konrad Adenauer for his foresight and the German Marshall Fund, otherwise we would not be the 3rd biggest economy in the world (nominal) but somewhere around Poland or Hungary (which are only doing better now because of EU money and western markets)!

International Law is being constantly pounded on, but without American military commitment it will just straight up disappear!
Conservative Realist,

I don't think a realistic case was possible that treated Iraq as a functionally isolated problem.

First, the two actions, removing Saddam Hussein and building an allied state, were different in what each needed to succeed. The former required nothing of the Iraqis, while the latter required everything of them.

I suppose we will never know, but it doesn't look to me like greater competence on our side in the post-Saddam period would have brought greater Iraqi cooperation. None of the three major groups in Iraq have really wanted a state acceptable to the other two.

Second, the two actions were in fact connected. To have only removed Saddam and then departed would have run the risk of his coming back to power. Thus, the decision to remove the regime carried with it the problems of the aftermath.

Finally, opening a new front in Iraq needed to make sense in terms of a larger strategy in the aftermath of 9/11. We have never had a strategy that specified finite goals in a global way, mobilized the means to achieve them, and then defined local actions in terms of meeting a larger timetable. Instead, we have simply moved ad hoc from one open-ended conflict to the next and then tried to sub-optimize our efforts in each place. The starting point of realism should have been to sort out the highest level of context, what we wanted to achieve overall, before moving down to these lower levels.
D. Dimitrov:

I had an specific time period and an specific government in mind.

My comments pertained to the current policies of the current administration in US.

Furthermore, I had in mind the post Cold War era since 1990.

Sorry for not being clear.

Germany is a semi-sovereign state - just like Japan and Korea. I stand by what I said.

If I understand you correctly you are stating that many international actors' have caused problems all over the world. I certainly cannot and will not dispute that.

But other countries of the world - even Russia - are acting locally. They are not telling others how to live. They are not out there selecting targets in other countries and discuss those hypothetical wars and attacks for entertainment every night.

About Russia: they are playing a weak hand with brilliance. Andrei Kozyrev (sic.?) warned NATO countries almost 10 years ago of the consequences of Western actions to limit Russia's sphere of influence. I take Russia any day since she is absolutely without ideology - they are only interested in the Russian State and her power. That I understand. They do not have to balance 10,000 different ideological interests inside their country - they are not half way around the world exerting influence on behalf of this or that state actor.

About Iran: US tried to bankrupt and threaten Iran both under Clinton and Bush - those 2 presidents have been advancing the foreign policy objectives of Russia. Russian are smart and take advantage of the stupidity of others. Really, why don't you guys from EU fly to Tehran and offer them a really good deal? You say Germany is sovereign and dislike Russian actions in Iran - why does not Germany Chancellor fly to Tehran and make a deal? Does she need America's approval?

About end of colonialism: it really had to do with the exhaustion of imperialist powers after WWII - they did not have the power to restore their empires. In fact, the day that the Japanese soldiers marched into Singapore was a great day for the liberation of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Indo-China.

It was Russia that defeated destroyed German Army and won WWII and not US and not UK.

It is not just I, but people from the Middle East, from Korea, they will tell you that GWB governments is destabilizing their region. And you have not rebutted that.

And please, spare me the "international law" bit - you started an illegal war against Yugoslavia and got the Americans to do your dirty work for you. At least Americans, like Israelis, are honest about their naked use of force.
19 jihadist mass murderers (15 of them Saudi's) defeated every single office, agency, organization, and individual in the Bush government on 9/11 with box cutters and our airplanes.

The 9/11 operations were funded and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi royals using our laundered petro dollars, and their malignant wahabi jihadist maddress and imams. Google the Saudi dirty dozen and the redacted pages and information removed from all the pertinent investigations.

The fascist in the Bush government then fiendishly used this derelictioon of duty and catastophic FAILURE of leadership as an deceptive excuse (a Pearl Harbor like event) to ghoulishly exploit the horrors and the dead of 9/11 to justify attacking Iraq (which had absolutely NOTHING to do with 9/11, maruading Iraqi oil, and profiteering wantonly from the costly bloody, noendinsight war, occupation, and socalled reconstruction process.

Richard Clarke describe this insanity best by stating that "Attacking Iraq because of 9/11 would be like America attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor"

America commits half a trillion taxpayer dollars a year to a defense industry, and another 44bn to blackworld projects that are incapable of defeating jihadists using AK-47's, RPG's, and IED. Quite obviously - there is something exceeding terribly awry in the underlying math and basic calculus of this conflict.

America was ruthlessly DECEIVED by fascist cabals in the Bush government after 9/11, prior to the wayward misadventure and failing noendinsight bloody costly catastrophe in Iraq, - and the Bush governments' UNPRECEDENTED ruthless deception, and the insidious nazification of America continues TODAY unabated.

We can all rehash America's sin's and the failures and crimes of past leadership to we are all blue in the face, - but no governmen in American history has done more damage to America, America' credibility, or done more to undermine and degrade the security and prosperity and the core principles that formally defined our unique experiment in democracy than the fascist warmonger and profiteers in the Bush government.

Most disturbing and alarming is that frightening fact that nothing will change in our current costly, bloody, FAILING, noendisight trajectories particularly with regard to the seemingly certain conflict with Iran unless and until - Americans of every stripe and flavor recognize and admit that the Bush government is peopled with pathological liars, convicted criminals, chickenhawk warmongers, fanaticus religous zealots, FASCISTS, and oleaginous war profiteers who are and will continue ruthlessly deceiving, abusing, betraying, and FAILING America and the American people without restraint.

Unless and until the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government are thoroughly investigated, (as opposed to partisan whitewashings and insipid cloakings of deception, abuse, FAILURE, dereliction of duty, cronyism, and wanton profiteering) - and held accountable, - America's future will be the unending perpetuation of the insane fascist delusions of the Pax Americana neverendingwar and empire agenda, designs, policies, and machinations.

Deliver us from evil

The Bush government is not a monarchy. They work for us. They are accountable to the same laws and principles that govern all Americans, - and no matter how hard Rove, or the Rendon Group, or Baker Botts work to paint lipstick on this pig, or prettify this monsterous nightmare, - fascist in the Bush government are not above, beyond, or outside the Constitution, or the rule of law.

The Bush government is accountable.
Nick, in the end the neocons are going to present realists like you as exhibit A for why America "failed" in Iraq--that you sapped the will to fight; that all these great things could have been done, if only America had believed in itself. So don't expect any lessons learned and get ready to become the scapegoat.
That's right, Anonymous 7:57--it was the realists who said either don't go into Iraq at all or keep the aims limited and focused--this made them "unpatriotic conservatives"--and now that it's all gone to hell, it's going to be their fault. I love this town.
Dr. Gvosdev,

I think I know how it works. You'll have to tell me if I'm wrong.

We often only protest if we have some reason to believe that we can genuinely affect the outcome in some way. I seem to recall that in 2002, the bottom line was that the Nixon Center/National Interest was behind the war. That's the environment I remembered swimming in.

I never saw Saddamn as a threat of any significant magnitude, and I never believed that a pre-emptive invasion was the right behavior to use, but I didn't say much about it. There was no reason for anyone where I was working to listen to me unless I was invited to speak. I was an intern.

Ultimately, I've always suspected that it was the same for your organization. No one wanted to come out against the invasion and be summarily dismissed, frozen out, ignored. There was no coherent opposition in 2002 to GWB about anything. The prudent play was to stay within the acceptable bounds, as set from above, and bring up concerns from there, in the hope of making the event work out as well as possible.

I've never believed that most of the people who wrote about how much of a threat Iraq was, really believed what they were saying.
Iraq was only a coherent threat as metaphor for the unknown intentions of the entire world. There will always be countries whose leaders' hate us, and many of them have what we laughably call "WMD" today. Iraq was never an exceptional case within that subset. And we cannot, should not, and will not systematically deal with that subset through the Iraq approach.
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