Ever since the 9/11 tragedy, it has become clear that the Left is consumed by an overriding and ferocious hatred of the Republican President. The Left’s behavior throughout the Iraq war crystallized this phenomenon. Why is the Left so hysterical in its opposition to Bush? Why has it chosen to side with the Bin Ladens and Husseins of this world, rather than support the American President in his effort to bolster American and Western security?
To discuss these and other questions relating to The Left’s Attack on Bush, Frontpage Symposium is joined by:
Dr. Laurie Mylroie, one of the foremost American scholars on Iraq and Saddam Hussein and the author of the new book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror. She is represented by www.benadorassociates.com.
Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the new book Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Dr. As`ad AbuKhalil, Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. His latest book on the Saudi government and its ties to the US, Saudi Arabia & the U.S.: The Tale of the "Good Taliban," will appear in a few weeks by Seven Stories Press. Visit his website.
Matthew Yglesias, a writing fellow at The American Prospect. You can read his blog at matthewyglesias.com.
Frontpage Magazine: As’ad AbuKhalil, Matthew Yglesias, Laurie Mylroie and Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Dr. AbuKhalil, let me begin with you. There is, undeniably, a visceral disdain and hatred on the part of the Left when it comes to dealing with this Republican President. Could you give your interpretation of this phenomenon?
AbuKhalil: Politics is often simplistically and foolishly reduced to personalities; this is true in democracies and dictatorships alike. But the hatred for Bill Clinton (by people on the right) and the deepening divisions of the American electorate have reinforced the view that politics is about individual leaders. But as I travel between US, Europe, and the Middle East, I must also add that people despise George W. Bush in the US and abroad largely because they feel that he is too unqualified and too incompetent to be at the helm of this expanding US empire. His trouble with his native language also makes him an easy target for mockery by people on the left. But it is infantile to attribute the whole designs and actions of this administration to one person, even if he/she is the president. One should evaluate the policies and actions of governments (and empires) in the context of the policy making process, otherwise one would get disappointed by a mere change at the helm.
FP: Mr. Yglesias?
Yglesias: There's obviously some of that out there and I think you see a lot of the same thing coming from the other side as well. Most dislike of Bush, though, is grounded in a dislike of the policies he's pursued. I don't see why anyone should find this particularly surprising -- Bush is a conservative Republican, so naturally enough liberals don't like him very much. Before the war, one thing a lot of "liberal hawks" said was that their anti-war colleagues were being blinded to the merits of the war by a knee-jerk dislike of the president.
I think one thing we've seen over the past twelve months, though, is that suspicion of the president grounded in his conduct domestically and regarding postwar Afghanistan was well grounded. Just as he's mishandled the government of the United States, he's also proven incapable of managing postwar Iraq competently. This is tragic, because whatever our feelings about the war before it happened, we now all have a stake in seeing a good outcome, but that doesn't seem to be the direction in which things are headed.
I find myself largely in agreement with Professor AbuKhalil's remarks -- George W. Bush's personal qualities aren't really the issue here. That said, when you have an administration that's as ridden by internal conflicts as this one obviously is, it's reasonable to ask whether the people at the very top of the pyramid have the skills necessary to sort out the conflicting advice they're getting in a reasonable manner. I think there's a lot of evidence that the president has mixed and matched elements of the Secretary of Defense's policy agenda with other elements coming from the Secretary of State in ways that I don't think make a great deal of sense. It's not unreasonable to speculate that the president's well-known lack of intellectual curiosity is part of the problem here. Still, the real issue is the overall merits of the policies the administration is putting forward and not any one person's actions.
FP: Dr. Hanson, what do you make of Prof. AbuKhalil’s and Mr. Yglesias’ comments? Is the Left’s disdain for Bush really rooted in the feeling that he is too unqualified and incompetent? Does the Left truly believe this President has mishandled the government and proven incapable of managing postwar Iraq? Or is the problem really rooted in the fact that the Left sees an ideological enemy that is very competent in doing exactly everything that the Left vehemently opposes?
Tell us why you think the Left hates President Bush with so much fury.
Hanson: The fury is deductive-a much exaggerated version of the conservative dislike of Clinton even when he pushed welfare reform, balanced budgets, and the bombing of Milosevic. After all, Bush increased domestic spending-education, health, housing-by over 7% per annum; add record aid for AIDs, prescription drug entitlements, near amnesty for illegal immigration, minority appointments-and there is little reason to see him as particularly reactionary or even traditionally conservative. The poor benefit from low interest rates, historical rates of GNP growth, tax cuts, spectular productivity growth, low inflation, and sudden job creation this month.
No, the problem derives from pre-existing and often trivial animus: (1) anger over the 2000 election and the eroding political resonance of traditional liberalism, (2) Bush's purported anti-intellectualism, Christianity, southern accent, and unconcern with aristocratic leftism from the NPR to the New York Times to Malibu parties. Shrug off all that and it threatens the pretensions of the intellectual elite; (3) and his moral clarity that shook up the world nursed on fuzzy, triangulating Clintonism-whether in the case of corrupt Middle East regimes, "moderates" like Yasser Arafat, the utopian pretentious and profiteering Europeans, South Koreans, NATO, and what now seems to be an increasingly corrupt United Nations. Whatever one thinks of Bush, everything is now on the table for reappraisal and a wide variety of vested interests depend on caricaturing him rather than adjusting to change and adjudicating issues and ideas on their merits.
FP: Dr. Mylroie?
Mylroie: It goes back to the 2000 elections, I think, and a feeling that the outcome of the elections weren't legitimate. There is opposition to his policies, both domestic and foreign. On Iraq, the left never wanted to fight the war and never understood why we were fighting (although, to be sure, the administration hasn't done a very good job explaining). Even before the war, the Left took the astonishing position of opposing a war to fight a truly oppressive and hated dictator. They had to turn their back on a professed concern for human rights to do so.
Mostly, this seems as an ideological question, plus bitterness from the previous elections.
AbuKhalil: Professor Hanson misses the point entirely. He goes on listing the "achievements" of the Bush administration wanting to convince Bush's supporters and critics alike that it is rather irrational to oppose Bush, that a poor person has been well-served by Bush's policies and practices. So if Bush has been so wonderful to all those groups in US society, why is there such an opposition to him? That attempted answer begs the question.
As for the allegation that people's objections to Bush entail rejection of his "Christianity" and "southern accent," that is too silly to warrant a reply. Are not the overwhelming majority of Bush's opponents Christians themselves, unless Hanson is implying that Jewish and Muslim Americans constitute the bulk of Bush's critics? And what moral clarity is Hanson talking about? Bush has indeed boycotted Yasir `Arafat, but NOT the House of Saud, the King of Jordan, the Egyptian president, the Pakistani dictator, and the dictatorships of Central Asia (the list is too long to cite exhaustively). So please, spare us the rhetoric of "moral clarity" at a time when the US government has been showering praise on the Libyan dictator, whose regime has been linked to numerous acts of terrorism.
Yes, Dr. Mylroie is right: the last election did leave a bitter memory among many Americans, but the left's position against the war is not "astonishing" at all, unless you have not been watching TV for the last few weeks, nay few months. There is no democracy or rule of law in Iraq, and human rights violations continue. And I am proud to say I did not meet a single person in the anti-war movement who has ever been tainted with ties to Saddam, or has ever met Saddam. You cannot say that about the pro-war movement, especially when you remember the role that none other than Donald Rumsfeld played in brokering the honeymoon between the US government and the brutal regime of Saddam in the 1980s.
Yglesias: Drs. Hanson and Mylroie both cite the 2000 elections as the source of anti-Bush animus, but I think this is somewhat misplaced. In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, the president responded in a way that the vast majority of Americans (myself included) thought was essentially appropriate. As a result, his approval ratings skyrocket to unprecedented levels, and remained very high for quite some time. The war in Afghanistan, I think, largely eliminated the cloud of illegitimacy that hung over the early months of the Bush administration, and instead of the traditional liberal/conservative divide, you had liberals and conservatives more-or-less united around a policy that was opposed only by a very small element on the far-left and an even smaller one on the far-right.
Dr. Hanson echoes something I've heard from many conservatives and libertarians to the effect that since Bush has done so much to abandon traditional small government policies here at home, liberals really ought to love him. This is based on a kind of caricatured view of what we're all about. If the left simply favored increasing federal spending come what may as a mirror image to the right's dislike of it then, yes, by that standard Bush would be someone liberals could like. But his spending has not, in fact, been tailored to meet the actual goals of American liberalism. Instead, it's organized so as to overwhelmingly benefit a few corporate interests who provide financial support to the Republican Party. There's nothing for me to like there.
It's fine if conservatives want to argue that Bush's policies are actually good ones, but we liberals disagree. Rather strongly. That's what the dislike of the president is all about.
Hanson: I am baffled by MR. AbuKhalil who seems to know very little about the dynamics of American politics-especially a secular society's distaste for open avowals of fundamentalist Christian belief. But to draw on his own expertise, perhaps Mr.AbuKhalil should tell us why Saudi and Egyptian officials for the first time in 30 years are angry with the United States government and its pressures to democraticize. And why is that so many intellectuals who migrate from the Arab world to the United States and the West are so angry with host governments that have alone accorded them rights and protections unknown anywhere in the Arab world? Surely a fraction of invective about the present administration might be diverted to efforts at grass roots reform abroad rather than parlor talk here. A Jefferson or Washington did not stay in England to whine to the King about his support of Tories, but sought to match rhetoric with real democratic action.
I suggest that when elections come to the Middle East, and they will, the threat will not be the influence of Western style right-wing capitalists but rather entirely home-grown, Islamic fascists and fundamentalists who have their own ideas about what constitutes a civil and humane society-and it is a world away from the type of free dialogue we are now enjoying.
About Mr. Bush, both of you miss the point made. Go back and read NY Times editorials about Afghanistan and you will find only doom and gloom. Most on the left opposed it or said victory was impossible. Domestic opposition to Bush is of course understandable and legitimate, but it should at least advance something novel and logical, since its argument that Bush somehow cut entitlements or was stingy with government spending is not supported by the facts. I can understand the angst over emotional issues--abortion, gay marriage, support for prayer, etc.-but not fury over government largess. The spending-whether one looks at medicare, education, housing, etc-is hardly geared to the corporate right, but are mostly subsidies for the middle classes.
The tax cuts were across the board and the fact remains that for even those few American households making over$200 000, federal income taxes, most state income taxes, medicare, and social security taxes, all together easily can take 50% and more of a gross income--hardly some give away to the rich. And if one looks at Kerry, Dean, Kennedy, Gore, Edwards or other prominent spokesmen for the left, the image of their lives and circumstances is one of wealth and leisure not populism. It really is tiring to hear affluent professors and journalists harp about inequality when the circumstances of their own lives are one of privilege unmatched at any time or place in civilization's history.
Finally, gas is high, not stolen from Iraq. Lives are lost trying to implement democracy not strongmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shiites and Kurds, once abandoned, are now empowered. Vast American largess to the Middle East makes emotional and humane but not necessary narrow and self-interested rational sense. Troops are withdrawn not deployed to Saudi Arabia. Arab governments are asked to reform not just pump oil and keep out communists. No one would gather this from the slurs of the left, which is trapped in a very sad, almost infantile 1960s paralysis.
Mylroie: The overwhelming majority of Iraqis believe they are better off now than they were with Saddam in power. So Dr. AbuKhalil's opposition to the Iraq War is, indeed, astonishing.
Dr. AbuKhalil, and much of the rest of the anti-war movement, seem to be moved by a knee-jerk anti-Americanism. That appears to be a far stronger tug on their hearts than any sympathies for the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam.
Indeed, one of the pathologies of Arab political discourse has long been its tolerance of Arab abuse of Arabs, whether it was the tyrannies of Saddam Hussein, Hafiz al Assad, or Gamal Abdul Nasser, and a related longing for a strong man who could kick the West, including Israel, and restore a very damaged sense of Arab pride, even as the satisfaction such figures brought consistently proved extremely short-lived.
It's unfortunate that Dr. AbuKhalil, who has chosen to live in this country for the past two decades, although he could have remained in his native Lebanon or found a home elsewhere, including in Arab countries, seems to be stuck still in that unfortunate, self-defeating mindset.
AbuKhalil: According to Mr. Hanson, you have to believe that there is a persecution of Christianity in the US, and that Bush is a poor victim of anti-Christian bigots, and if you do not believe that, you do not understand the "dynamics" of American politics. OK. Moving right along. On Egypt and Saudi Arabia: if you ask the White House they would assure you, almost daily, that they remain very close friends of the US, and the Egyptian dictatorship is the second recipient of US economic and military aid (second only to Israel). And Mr. Hanson believes that Egypt is being punished by an administration so keen on pushing for democracy? And the Saudi ambassador in Washington DC is the ONLY foreign ambassador in the US invited to the Bush's ranch in Texas.
And Mr. Hanson still finds evidence of US push for democracy and human rights in Saudi Arabia? His discourse on elections and Islamic fascists is not that coherent for me to decipher, although I reject the notion of Islamic fascism. Bin Laden and his followers of terrorist kooks do not have mass appeal. Bin Laden's repeated grotesque calls for Jihad keep falling on deaf Muslim ears, and his statements are largely ignored in Muslim and Arab lands, with the exception of a small number of violent fanatics. And Mr. Hanson's treatise on government spending reads like RNC's talking points.
For some reason, Ms. Mylroie finds my opposition to the war astonishing. Maybe she will be more astonished if I tell her that a substantial segment of the American population also opposed the war, and she may be totally confused and amazed if I tell her that most of the world public opinion was also opposed to the war. As for the Iraqi public opinion, well, watch the next news broadcast, and you will get the picture. Things are not well at all over there. Americans and Iraqis continue to die in that war. I find the invocation of the word "pathology" to refer to the discourse among millions of Arab people to be nothing less than a revival of discredited racist discourse of 19th century Orientalism. And please, it would be better if you debate my words, and not some imaginary ideas that you associate me with. I have never ever supported--whether in words or in deeds--any Arab government. So I do not need any lectures in that regard. I also suggest that she not personalize debates. It can go both ways, you know.
Yglesias: This conversation is becoming a bit dangerously detached from reality. The president and his admirers had a dream. It was a nice dream. A dream where the US military would liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein, the people would cheer, a happy democracy would emerge, Arabs elsewhere would see the error of their ways, and all our problems would be solved. As we've been seeing recently, it hasn't worked out. It hasn't worked out because the administration never had a realistic plan to make it happen. There's no real chance of the US being defeated by these various insurgent groups, but their very existence is a clear indication that the mere removal of Saddam hasn't magically solved all Iraq's problems, and the president rather obviously doesn't have a plan to solve them either. Perhaps if this whole endeavor had been undertaken in a different manner it could have worked out. But it was undertaken in the manner that it was undertaken, and it isn't working out.
Meanwhile, more urgent national security threats like North Korea's actual nuclear weapons program, Pakistan's international nuclear sales ring, and the tracking down of the al-Qaeda leadership were deferred. A much more appealing opportunity for nation-building in Afghanistan was passed up, humanitarian operations in Liberia and Haiti were shortchanged, and we find ourselves forced to stand idly by and watch as genocide unfolds in the Sudan because our military is pinned down in Iraq.
FP: Let me interrupt for a moment. Profs. Hanson and Myrloie, this discussion on the Left’s hatred of Bush is inevitably centring on this issue of Iraq. So let’s crystallize some themes in the context of this war. Dr. Hanson, in terms of the missing WMDs issue, how do you think one can best defend the war and where we are headed now?
Hanson: (1) We still don't yet have the complete story until the country settles down and information about Syria is clarified and former Baathists all come forward; witness the intelligence failures in underestimating the progress of Iran, Libya, and North Korea;
(2) The administration was in error only in privileging one of many causes belli-when there were plenty of other good, humanitarian reasons in a new post-9-11 environment to remove Saddam Hussein including Iraq's past history of genocide, attacking four neighbors, assassination plots against a US president, the need for a 12-year, $20-30 billion no-fly zone to prevent another holocaust, violation of the 1991 armistice accords, periodic expulsion of UN inspectors, involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, environmental desecration on a mammoth scale, and the harboring of terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal to name a few;
(3) in moral terms, we removed a fascist, pledged $87 billion to create a consensual government, freed its media, and put Iraq's oil reserves under public audit--with gas over $2 a gallon the old cries of 'no blood for oil' ring hollow.
The United States did not act in its narrow economic interest (cf. France and Germany), but rather in a long-term sense of trying to change the pathology of the Middle East and bring it into the economic and political landscape that Asia, Latin America, and much of Africa now inhabit.
FP: Dr. Mylroie?
Mylroie: On the eve of the Iraq War there existed a near universal consensus that Iraq had large quantities of proscribed biological and chemical agents, or their immediate precursors. That consensus was based on the work done by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) from 1995, when Saddam's son--in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected until 2000, when UNSCOM was disbanded under Iraqi pressure and a much weaker institution, UNMOVIC replaced it.
The U.S. has mishandled the search for Iraq's weapons. The Iraq Survey Group did not draw on the knowledge of UNSCOM personnel, the real experts in the field. Charles Duelfer, who had been UNSCOM's Deputy Chairman and has headed the ISG since David Kay resigned, has explained,"Most of those in the ISG are not experts on Iraq, and most do not have extensive experience in the kinds of investigative operations and analysis they are asked to undertake."
The Iraqi scientists are not talking, in part because US government lawyers have said that the US cannot offer them amnesty and something like a villa in France, because the new Iraqi government will have the right to prosecute them, if it chooses. The other possible source of information is documents: there are 20 million pages in Arabic to translate and analyze, even as there was a systematic looting of those records after the war, suggesting that the most obvious and sensitive material may have been destroyed.
The claim that Iraq eliminated its weapons long ago, as made, for example, by David Kay means only that the ISG can't figure out what happened. It does not invalidate five years of UNSCOM's work.
This situation is even a little bit dangerous. You can be sure that Iraq had a very active biological weapons (BW) program and it is important to understand what happened to its BW stockpile, to ensure that it has not fallen into the hands of some malevolent actors and is used for terrorism.
FP: Dr. As’ad would you like to make a rejoinder to Dr. Mylroie’s and Dr. Hanson’s comments?
AbuKhalil: For Dr. Hanson: I strongly recommend that supporters of the war come clean, and finally concede that in fact there are no Iraqi WMDs, and that the US most likely fabricated stories and evidence. Even war-enthusiast David Key, who should know more than all of us on this topic, has come to the conclusion, that is quite embarrassing for war supporters. Dr. Hanson’s facts are quite distorted, when he generalizes about underestimation of WMDs in Iran, Libya, and possibly North Korea.
In fact, evidence points out that the US government (and Israel) have greatly exaggerated the WMDs capabilities in Libya, and we still do not know the extent of WMDs in North Korea. But I can assure Dr. Hanson that the Israeli WMDs (in terms of weapons, not programs) far exceed the entire arsenal of all Middle East countries combined, but then again he may be only troubled by WMDs in Muslim/Arab hands. That is his problem, not mine, of course. And I just wonder: will there come a time, years from now, or decades from now, when supporters from the war reach a point and declare the end of their search for the non-existing Iraqi WMDs, or is there no end for their quest?
I also appreciate Dr. Hanson’s efforts to provide the administration (after the fact) with some propaganda talking points to justify the American invasion of Iraq. But it is too late, as the US relied on the WMDs argument, to deceive Americans, and the world at large. Also, the humanitarian argument does not hold either. The US government (under Bush (the father), and Reagan) enjoyed a spectacular honeymoon relations with Saddam at the time when most of Saddam’s gross human rights violations occurred.
As a graduate student in Washington, DC in the late 1980s, I personally lobbied the Iraq desk officer at the US Department of State to urge a break with Saddam’s regime given his use of chemical weapons, and his brutalization of his people, only to be told—officially—that the US does not have evidence of Saddam’s use of chemical weapons. Also, some of America’s close allies (take Saudi Arabia, for example, one of the most oppressive and intolerant governments on the face of the earth) still enjoy what George W. Bush’s has dubbed as “permanent friendship” with the US.
For Dr. Mylroie: She talks about a consensus regarding Iraqi possession of Iraqi WMDs, but it was the US, not Macedonia—their 38 soldiers in Iraq notwithstanding--, which launched this war, and it alone bears responsibility for the its deadly and devastating consequences. As for her technical explanations regarding the lack of Iraq experts among the searchers for WMDs, it is laughable. You do not need Arabic speakers, or experts in Arabic cuisine to identify thousands of tons of chemical or biological weapons. Dr. Mylroie is so desperate to find explanations for the absence of WMDs that she moves from one bizarre theory to another.
I was expecting her to say that they are hidden in some Ba`athist’s closet in Baghdad. As for the Iraqi scientists, all of whom remain in US custody, they all told the same story, and continue to tell the same story. And a handful who have made their way out of Iraq, also confirm the non-existence of WMDs. But this stubborn attachment by the war supporters to mirage theories only undermines their credibility further, which does not bother me of course.
Yglesias: There was, indeed, a pre-war consensus on the biological and chemical weapons issue, but it's important to note that just before the outbreak of war doubt was being cast on this consensus by Hans Blix and other inspectors actually in the field. At the same time as cracks were beginning to appear in the consensus, however, the administration was making claims that went well beyond any consensus views (or, indeed, any reliable US intelligence) seeking to paint the Iraqi threat as sufficiently urgent as to warrant immediate military action rather than a continuation of the inspections process.
Of course, if it turns out that the administration was, in fact, correct and there were WMD stockpiles present in pre-war Iraq then this only reflects even worse on them. What sort of negligent government would invade Iraq to disarm the regime of WMD, then topple the regime creating a semi-anarchic situation, and then let the WMD get smuggled off to God knows where? A mistake – and even some dishonesty -- the country can survive, but the sort of gross ineptitude demonstrated by the scenario where the weapons are simply missing is truly frightening.
Professor Hanson raises the humanitarian dimension. Certainly, in light of Saddam's great crimes, removing him from power is far from the worst thing one can imagine doing. As Hanson concedes, however, this was not really the argument the administration made, so it doesn't speak to the honesty point.
Moreover, one has to ask what alternative uses these resources could have been put to. Currently the Afghan government says it would need $27 billion over 7 years to achieve real stability and no one thinks they're going to get it -- we've poured far more money than that into Iraq in the past twelve months. Similarly, at today's NATO meeting we see the alliance is having trouble finding sufficient forces to complete its security mission in Afghanistan, a problem we wouldn't have were US, British, and Polish forces not busy in Iraq.
Last but not least there is by no means any guarantee that the ultimate outcome of the democracy-building project in Iraq will be successful. Recent events in Fallujah suggest the Sunni population is by no means reconciled to the idea of a new democratic order, and the Kurdish and Shia populations are engaged in fairly persistent conflict with one another over the nature of the new regime.
Mylroie: It does not seem that Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil paid much attention to what I said and I don't really see why I should repeat myself. In fact, he seemed so far off the mark that I googled to see just where he is coming from. "The Angry Arab"? That is the name of his website. Well, Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil seems to be a caricature of that. I have studied the Middle East for over 25 years and I find these polemics tiresome. Does one really learn from this? In any event, Dr. Hanson does a fine job in taking him on.
Why did we fight the war with Iraq? The administration is doing a poor job of explaining that, even as we ask U.S. soldiers to daily risk life and limb in our defense.
I welcome Dr. Hanson's statement that Iraq was involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center. Now, let's talk about 9/11. Senior U.S. officials believed on that day that Iraq was involved--and they are right. Moreover, the threat from Iraq was made intolerably worse by its unconventional weapons programs, particularly its biological weapons (BW) program, as regularly reported by UNSCOM from 1995 to 2000. (Recall that UNMOVIC--which Blix headed--was set-up as a weak version of UNSCOM, as the Clinton administration accommodated Iraq's friends on the Security Council to achieve some consensus on weapons inspections).
Also recall the anthrax letters that followed soon after the 9/11 attacks, particularly the military-grade anthrax sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy. It was superior in its lethality to anything produced by the U.S. or Soviet BW programs in their days. That material had to have been made by a state, but the FBI bizarrely attributed it to a lone American (I eagerly await Steven Hatfill's lawsuit). To this day, the FBI cannot say who made that material. This is so, although very few individuals possess the knowledge to have produced it and the required equipment is very rare. If that material had been produced in the United States, the FBI would have discovered who had done so.
It is disturbing that this point does not get more public attention. The two main reasons we went to war were Iraq's suspected involvement in terrorism, including 9/11, and its weapons programs, of which the biological was the most dangerous, because it could be used covertly to kill many people.
That, of course, is not the argument the administration made. It introduced, unnecessarily, the concept of pre-emption, when the war with Iraq was not pre-emption (that did, however, make a salutary impression on Colonel Qaddafi). Moreover, as the administration prepared the country for war in the fall of 2002, it made the decision to focus mostly on Iraq's weapons programs. On the one hand, it faced enormous resistance from the bureaucracies to demonstrating Iraq's involvement in terrorism, including 9/11. On the other hand, it believed that a case for war based on Iraq's weapons was unimpeachable. After all, there were umpty-dumpty U.N. Security Council resolutions to that effect. Moreover, since a decision had been made to seek the Security Council's approval, Iraq's weapons seemed an appropriate and sufficient causus belli.
That proved to be a serious miscalculation. Something was done with the weapons before the war. And that points to the issue that Mr. Yglesias raised: Where are they, particularly the biological stockpile? That material is very dangerous and it is necessary to insure it is not in the possession of a hostile party. But that cannot be done, in this political environment, with an alliance of Democrats, bureaucrats, and the predominantly liberal press constantly seeking to undermine the rationale for the Iraq War as a way of getting at Bush.
Sometimes, I wonder what we really learned from 9/11 or how much it really changed anything. Did we learn how critically important it is to understand the nature of our enemies? Did we become more patient in mastering the necessary details? Are we able to recognize when authority makes a serious mistake? Do we understand our own vulnerability or do we think it a thing of the past, so we can return to politics as usual? On some important level, the answer to those questions is not encouraging, I believe.
Hanson: Such self-importance Mr. AbuKhalil displays! That as a young graduate student in Washington Mr. AbuKhalil was accorded little deference and consideration by a rather busy United States government is understandable. WMDs are methods of destruction and their danger depends on the landscape in which they are created and stored, not necessarily in their presence per se. Yes, I worry little about British, French, American-and Israeli-nuclear weapons, precisely because they are under the auspices of democratic governments subject to civic audit and a free press. One nuke possessed by Iran or Syria is more dangerous than 1000 in the UK. We were far more worried about Soviet nukes than we are now about the Russian arsenal because of the evolution toward democracy.
So far there is not a single democracy in the Arab Middle East, and that is real cause for worry. Many of us have written extensively about the pathologies of the Saudi Royal family and past mistakes in American realpolitik in basing their pardon of Middle East autocracy on promises to keep out communists and pump oil. The United States supplied about 2% of Saddam's arsenal; that after the storming of the US embassy in Teheran and the emergence of a Dark-Age theocracy in Iran it didn't care too much who won in the Iraqi-Iranian War is hardly surprising-and not nearly as morally troubling as, say, supplying billions in aid to a mass-murdering Stalin in the effort to defeat Hitler. As we are learning from Saddam's oil contracts with the French, the corrupt UN food for Oil program, and private deals with Middle East grandees, the United States was far down the list of those who aided and abetted Saddam.
That being said at some point, apologists must concede that a widespread statism, near gender apartheid, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, and massive illiteracy account for much of the problems that are self-induced rather the mere epiphenomenona of colonialism and globalization. Whatever the Arab Middle East is doing it is far different from the recent evolution seen in India, South Korea, Taiwan, Latin America, and much of Africa that deal with development in terms other than the tired expressions of self-pity and victimization in lieu of real introspection and reform.
So far the record of the United States in the last two years is clear. It took out the two worst fascist regimes in the Middle East, is pledging nearly 100 billion dollars to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and trying to prompt consensual government-mostly over the objections of right-wing Arab dictatorships, theocratic regimes such as Iran, and failed Ba’athist autocracies in Syria and north Africa. Far from stealing resources, petroleum prices at are an all time high. American troops have left Saudi Arabia, and the royal family is incensed at pressures for reform from the US. Instead of acknowledging the dramatic changes, Mr. AbuKhalil gives us the old boilerplate from the 1960s.
As for Mr. Yglesias' claim about the moral issue. It was voiced frequently by the Administration. Again, its error, as I see it, was raising the WMD issue much at all-since after 9-11 there was no margin of error with rogue regimes like Saddam, and the United States had a moral obligation after its disastrous 1991 decision to abandon the Shiites and Kurds to set things right.
As far as NATO goes, there were very few of its troops in Afghanistan well before we invaded Iraq-just as its European members were quite willing to watch Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims be butchered on their doorstep for some eight years until the United States (quite rightly to my mind) bombed a Christian European country to stop the holocaust-mostly without acknowledgment much less thanks from the Islamic world. NATO transformation into a ceremonial body from a military alliance is another story altogether.
I think Dr. Mylroie's cautionary remarks are quite warranted. China only recently uncovered hords of Japanese WMDs, and the extent of Dr. Khan's machinations are only now coming to light--and, yes, ditto the same in Libya and North Korea. The true story will not come out until there is a consensual and stable government in Iraq, as the old regime's scientists are systematically interrogated and the archives translated.
With Mr. Yglesias I too worry about places like Fallujah, since they leave us with a nagging question: did Saddam create Fallujah-or do Fallujahs create Saddams?
AbuKhalil: Dr. Mylroie should have devoted her attention to the substance of the discussion, instead of googling my name, but then again maybe now we know we she found her unsubstantiated allegations of Iraqi complicity in 93 World Trade Center bombing, Sep. 11, and Anthrax. No serious Middle East expert shares that view of course, and most people in government, with the exception of the fanatic ideologues, dismiss such baseless theories.
The recent book by Richard Clarke puts those baseless allegation to rest, I assumed. Bin Laden's fanatic terrorist network has even claimed responsibility for the attacks, and only Dr. Mylroie insists on absolving it. Dr. Mylroie is famous for not bothering with evidence while peddling her theories about Iraqi complicity, although I should point out she was not a critic of Saddam's regime in the 1980s. She believes that Iraq must have been involved in Sep. 11 because it has to be; and she now says that Iraq must be involved in the anthrax letters because the "material had to have been made by a state."
This is the level of her substantiation and argumentation. She is frustrated that her theory on anthrax does not get public attention, and the reason for that is that people (in and out of government) expect a higher level of substantiation and look for more solid proofs. She mentions in passing that Libya learned the lesson of Saddam, although ostensible champions of freedom should not brag about the Libyan example, in which a terrorist regime (that of Qadhdhafi) is now praised and befriended. Moreoever, Sayf Al-Islam Al-Qadhdhafi (son of the Libyan dictator) stated in an interview with Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Iraq war had no influence or bearing on the Libyan decision, and former Sen. Gary Hard revealed that negotiation between Libya and the West had been going on for a decade or so.
Dr. Hanson mocks my bitter and principled opposition to Saddam. I have proudly opposed Saddam's regime since my teens in Lebanon, and was perhaps too naive in hoping to argue passionately against his regime to Iraq experts at Department of State when I was a graduate student. I was naive back then about believing some US claims about concerns for human rights and democracy. I, however, believe that if it was not for the preachers of democracy and freedom (US, France, UK, and Germany) and Arab dictatorships (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, etc) Saddam's regime would not have survived in the 1980s. Dr. Hanson (im)moral logic is quite troubling about US support for Saddam: he seems to be saying that American support for Saddam's regime is not that troubling because there were other regimes that were more supportive.
Such extreme relative morality from a conservative advocate of moral arguments. I ask Hanson about Israeli WMDs and he answers me about British WMDs. Nice shift of the topic. Democracies are not immune to the use of WMDs, and if memory does not fail me, the only state that used nuclear weapon was a democracy, no? I also lament the absence of democracy in the Middle East, Cyprus being of course the only true democracy in the region (Israel is a democracy for the Jewish citizens of the state). But all those who really support human rights and democracy in the region should join me in calling on the US (which supports most of the Middle East dictatorships) to alter its policies and practices.
Dr. Hanson reference to a Chinese find of Japanese WMDs is quite telling. I now officially will wait for 50 years for the identification of Iraqi WMDs. Finally, I very strongly resent the insinuation at the end of Hanson's statement to the effect that Saddam is a "logical" product of the Iraqi population. Saddam, as we have seen, is detested by the Iraqi population and would not have survived that long in power without external support (East and West). Would Hanson blame the Russian people for the phenomenon of Joseph Stalin?
Yglesias: It's striking that if you step away from "the war" as an abstraction and look at it as a concrete policy initiative how widespread the consensus seems to be that the initiative has been mishandled. Drs. Hanson and Mylroie (along with most of the wars most ardent defenders) seem to agree that the case Bush laid out and the strategy he pursued for initiating the invasion were misguided. On the subject of the weapons, again, either the weapons were not there (as I, David Kay, and the intelligence community believe), and therefore a serious error was made, or else they have been spirited away (as Mylroie seems to believe) and therefore a serious error was made. In either case, the war-as-disarmament seems to have been a failure.
Dr. Hanson wishes to switch the subject somewhat to the pathologies of the Arab world which he and I agree are the "root causes" of the terrorism phenomenon. He puts less emphasis on the role of western nations in generating the status quo than I would, but we can both agree that much of it is self-generated, at least in the sense of having been generated by a corrupt and opportunistic local leadership. I've never quite grasped why invading Iraq and seeking to construct a democracy there was considered the optimal strategy for boosting Arab reform but, quite plainly, it is the strategy we've now got.
The question at this point becomes -- is it working. Hawks have had plenty of opportunity over the past several months to point to this or that occurrence as a sign of the invasion boosting the cause of reform. Less often noted is that the war -- and America's demand that allied governments offer it tacit support contrary to the desires of public opinion -- in fact created a widespread clamp-down by the local despots and that the current thaw is essentially a return to the pre-war status quo. Still, the ultimate issue here remains the future of Iraq. If what emerges from the war is yet another ostensibly pro-American dictatorship, then our credibility will be further diminished and the cause of reform set back. If what emerges instead is a failed state, then it will be deployed by the dictators and monarchs as a cautionary tale with which to bludgeon reformers. If what emerges is an anti-American democratic (or dictatorial) regime, then the problems posed will be obvious. So what will happen? Clearly, I'm not in a position to foresee the future.
The signs, however, do not look good to me. All major parties seem more interested in jockeying for power than in building a stable, unified, democratic order. The administration seems more interested in generating good PR in the short term than in actually addressing the difficult underlying issues. In Afghanistan we saw this team eliminate a despicable regime, talk a good game about constructing something better, and then, in fact, leave a situation of anarchy behind. Today, Bush cites Afghanistan as a democracy-promotion success story. If that turns out to be the outcome in Iraq, then he will have created a very dangerous situation. Looking at the events of the past week -- but really, the entire past year -- I think this is the most likely scenario, and we'll all pay a high price for it.
Mylroie: Since Dr. Abukhalil has responded to the idea that Iraq was behind the 1993 Trade Center bombing and subsequent acts of anti-US terrorism, including 9/11, with nothing more than ad hominem attacks, I assume he hasn't read my work. This issue is explained most authoritatively in my book Study of Revenge, and most recently in National Review Online, part of my response to Richard Clarke's vicious attack on me, including his malicious distortion of my work.
Dr. Abukhalil's praise of Clarke helps explain an important part of what went wrong in the 1990s. Clarke's book includes praise of Steven Emerson's work. There is not much regarding Middle Eastern politics, I imagine, that Dr. Abukhalil and Mr. Emerson agree on. Endorsing the notion that a "new" kind of extraordinarily lethal terrorism emerged in the 1990s, carried out by Islamic militants, not aided by states, may be about the only one. And there the right went wrong. Ordinarily, the right focuses on states, the major actors in international affairs. It is the left which claims that the power of states is eroding in the face of various transnational issues (globaloney, in the discourse of the right). But when it came to this issue--major terrorist attacks on the US--the left and the right supported the Clinton administration's line, despite Clinton's well-known weakness in national security policy.
To overthrow the government of a major Arab country, occupy it, and establish a reasonable government there, is not an easy task. So, inevitably, mistakes will be made. But it is increasingly clear that there are more mistakes than there should be. The White House has failed to properly discipline the bureaucracies. It articulated a democratic vision for Iraq and then accepted the analysis of Iraqi politics provided by Arabists at the CIA and the State Department, who are hostile to implementing such a vision. The Arabists have a known bias toward accomodating the views of Arab states. Before the war, the Arabists said that the Iraqi bureaucracies would continue to function after Saddam was overthrown, so there was no need to train Iraqis in exile for those functions, including police functions.
But that assessment was wrong. The Ba'thists were so detested that the bureaucracies shattered, when the apparatus of repression no longer existed to support them. The U.S. lack of preparedness for that has led to a power vacuum and enduring problems. The clashes with Muqtada al-Sadr represent a similar problem. The Coalition Provisional Authority has let Tehran fund him, possibly arm him, while it has utterly failed to support Iraqi democrats.
I am less pessimistic than Mr.Yglesian about Iraq, but I think that he--and many others--need to reconsider the reasons why we fought this war. If it was only about, or primarily about, bringing democracy to an Arab state, the question of whether it was worth the American lives lost, not to mention those with permanently debilitating injuries, would weigh heavily. But the war was very much about the defense of this country. Unfortunately, the same bureaucratic obstructionism that has made the task in Iraq more difficult than it should have been, has also been allowed to get in the way of George Bush's articulating why this war was fought. Some significant number of those bureaucrats remain committed to the positions they adopted in the Clinton years, of which Clarke is a prime example.
The core of Clarke's position is essentially: I had it right and the Bush administration has it wrong. Many such individuals remain in government (pensions are an important consideration, regarding whether people stay or quit). They don't have the liberty of speaking out publicly as Clarke has done, but they wage a constant campaign of leaks against the president and the Iraq War for no better reason than they can't bring themselves to recognize that they were wrong and he was right.
Hanson: There is nothing in Dr. AbuKhalil's position to mock since it is unfortunately predictable and depressing-the émigré from the Arab world, who finding little liberalism at home, migrates to the United States, enjoys its security, freedom, and affluence, and in return offers not gratitude, but mostly blanket criticism of his adapted country-and worse blames it for the self-induced misery that he so eagerly left behind.
The only thing that is new is that such opportunistic and boilerplate invective no longer has much effect on most here, who, yes indeed, realize that by and large societies are ultimately responsible for the governments they get. I'd prefer to listen to the thousands of brave people in the Middle East who are risking their lives to change the status quo, along with thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan-rather than academics in the United States who from the faculty lounge demand perfection on the cheap.
If he believes Israel is not a democracy, he should try engaging in this dialogue in Tel Aviv and then repeat it in Ramallah or Damascus, and then tell us what he has found out-I expect his "Jewish" hosts will honor his human rights far better than his Arab brethren. And yes most of us do not stay awake at night over Israel WMD since it is democratic and subject to public audit and majority votes involving weapons usage--a concept lost on Dr. AbuKhalil the supposed student and advocate of consensual government.
Anyone who has read what I wrote in the past, realizes that I have argued for US distance from Saudi Arabia and other corrupt Middle East regimes as part of a larger policy to promote democracy-but without the cheap and easy blanket criticism of past administrations who were a little worried about Soviet totalitarianism. One's options are limited sometimes to realpolitik when 7,000 nukes are pointed at you by a succession of Stalinist regimes. In the same regard, I think it was a mistake to ever have anything to do with rogues in Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq; but in history's cauldron sometimes nations have little opportunity for moral perfection in the allies they choose. When a theocracy storms your embassy, promises death to your country, and then engages in mass murder of its citizens, few are upset that another rogue regime invades it-amoral calculus to be sure, but tragically something akin to the US support for the Soviets against the Nazis.
Most of the other issues cannot be adjudicated, but wait for the outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq; some of us think nightmarish regimes were removed at great cost and risk and now even the postbellum chaos is still better than the prior murderous tyranny and that it will subside and evolve into something quite different and promising for a region plagued by barbarism; others either think we were insincere, inept, or diabolical in unnecessarily entering the region, and that things are now worse than before with no hope for amelioration. So this debate rests on future events, and in 2-3 years we can look back and see who was more prescient. Let time decide.
FP: As’ad AbuKhalil, Matthew Yglesias, Laurie Mylroie and Victor Davis Hanson, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium. We are out of time. It was a pleasure to have you here. We hope you can join us again soon. Take care for now.
Snatching Saddam. Guests: James Woolsey, Jacob Heilbrunn, Cliff May.
European Union and the Death of NATO? Guests: Vladimir Bukovsky, Joel Mowbray, Charles Kupchan and Radek Sikorski.
Iraq: Where Are We Headed? Guests: Victor David Hanson, Khalid Al-Dakhil and Jonathan Kay.
A Saudi Glasnost? Guests: Khalid Al-Dakhil, Andrew Apostolou, Laurent Murawiec and Kenneth R. Timmerman.