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Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War: Round II By: Slate
Slate.com | Tuesday, January 27, 2004

(This is the Round II of Slate's symposium. To see Round I Click Here)

Slate's Panel:

Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to Slate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.

Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate and is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon.

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq.

Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In An Uncertain World.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.


From: Christopher Hitchens
To: Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Iraq Revisionism
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004, at 9:30 AM PT

Kenneth Pollack's revisiting of his own argument in The Threatening Storm, while admirable and scrupulous (even if it is written by someone who used to be a producer rather than a consumer of WMD information) affects the essential case no more than Paul O'Neill's supposed "disclosure" that the Bush administration was anti-Saddam from the start. It was long ago announced, by President Clinton in a major speech in 1999, that a future confrontation with Saddam on WMD had become inescapable. And it was long ago voted nem con by the Senate that, for other reasons having to do with genocide and tyranny, the Iraq Liberation Act ought to become law. It would have been an occasion for very severe criticism if the incoming Bush administration had sought to dilute either of these historic commitments.

Pollack may have been led to overstate the immediate danger from WMD, but he did so on persuasive evidence that was supported by a long history of exorbitant behavior by the Baathists, and on a long history of culpable underreaction by Washington. (There was no comparable inquisition, as I recall, when the intelligence "community" failed to predict, and very nearly failed to report, the invasion of Kuwait. And the antiwar forces cling to their taunt on WMD because every other part of their propaganda and prediction has been utterly exploded.) That's if WMD ever were much of an argument in that quarter. I myself had a different experience from Pollack, in the run-up to the war. I had to debate, every week and sometimes every day, with anti-interventionists who said that Saddam's possession of WMD was a reason NOT to attack or attempt to depose him. I said that the threat was latent not blatant, and that the main "immediate" danger was an off-the-shelf purchase by Iraq from North Korea, and by the way I think I was right. But I was not an elected officeholder in a democratic government in a post-9/11 atmosphere. If I had been, I would certainly have decided to make the worst assumption about any report on Saddam's capacity for lethality, and I would have been operating at all times on the presumption of guilt. As a civilian, I would have wanted to criticize any Western government that did not err deliberately on this side.

Another way of phrasing this is to remember the line taken by the late Dr. David Kelly, sad subject of the Hutton inquiry in Britain. In an article written just before his death, this experienced inspector stated that you could have genuine inspections only by way of regime change. This essentially commonsensical view, which has been seconded by other veteran inspectors such as Rolf Ekeus and David Kay, takes account of the notorious Iraqi deception and concealment programs; the failure to comply at any point with U.N. resolutions; the sequestration of Iraqi scientists; and the preservation of secret funds, documents, and resources in Baghdad against the day when sanctions might be lifted and another bid for superpowerdom be made. Taken together with the secret bargaining (now exposed) with North Korea, this entitles us to speak of a Permanent Threat if not precisely an Imminent One. "Imminence" might have come when Saddam gave way to the Odai/Qusai regime: a prospect that need no longer concern us but that did not concern the antiwar forces even when it was a possibility.

Thus, we now can account more or less for Iraq's lunatic mixture of missing and undeclared weapons, and that in itself is an achievement. Moreover, the Iraqi economy and military are no longer at the disposal of a crime family with well-attested links to piracy and gangsterism, and that too is a gain. Dr. Howard Dean now tells that al-Qaida is in Iraq after all, but only because of President Bush. He is entitled as a private citizen to his touching belief that the connection began only a few months ago: One would not want a president to have been so insouciant if he had had to take the actual decision at the time, and once again I applaud the presumption of guilt, which was equally well-merited.

I cannot see the point of the case about a "distraction" from the hunt for Bin Laden, and this is not only because I strongly suspect that dear Osama has already passed away. Nor is it because so many of those who stress the Iraq "distraction" were telling me, just a couple of years ago, that it was futile to intervene in Afghanistan lest such a move cause thousands of new Bin Ladens to spring up. … (How soon they forget, but I don't, and I am keeping score.) The tactics and resources that are required to fight a covert war against nihilistic theologues, and the tactics and resources that are required to remove a totalitarian dictatorship, are somewhat distinct. They may well overlap and they have in fact done so, but who can argue that we should not be ready and able to perform both such undertakings, possibly simultaneously? The two in fact reinforce one another, and coalition forces in Iraq are now rapidly acquiring deadly skills that will certainly be required in other places and at other times before the war against jihad and its patrons is over.

This point also applies to the question of cost. One cannot know the price of anything in advance, but one can be determined to pay it no matter what, as in a struggle for one's own life or for the life of loved ones. If it was foolish of the administration to argue that things like Iraq or Afghanistan could be done cheaply, it is flat-out irresponsible for the antiwar populists to argue that the money would be "better spent at home." Do they somehow still imagine that war is another word for "overseas"? For all I know they do. If we are really looking for cost cuts, then we could draw down the wastage and folly of the "war on drugs," or the fantasy of nuclearism. (The failure of the left to seize those chances, by the way, is yet another proof that it cares only for morbid dislike of anything undertaken by the president.)

As for casualties, there is only one apparent way of avoiding them for sure, and that way—abstention or pacifism—runs a risk of greater casualties later on, or as well. I detest utilitarianism, but I prefer it to idealism or neutralism, and I believe a decent case can be made that many, many Iraqis have been saved by the intervention, and that many inhabitants of other countries including our own are better-protected by the abolition of aggressive and unstable dictatorships. The case cannot be literally proved, of course, but we have a shrewd idea of what can happen when such regimes are left to choose the initiative. And this in turn makes one weep to think of what we and the Iraqis might have been spared if Saddam Hussein had been removed by Bush Senior. (Now that the in-between sanctions have been lifted, surely those who claimed that they were genocidal and child-murdering ought to have a good word to say. Or do they want one to suspect that they only wanted sanctions lifted when Saddam Hussein was still in power?)

Staying with the lachrymose for a moment, one weeps also at the missed chances and the blunders. Need I specify the appalling misjudgment of Washington's Turcophiles, the stupefying lack of economic and technological follow-through—the voracious Halliburton lobby seems really to have dropped the ball there—and the ditherings over the Governing Council? However, these seem to me to be second-order objections, since we had well before the turn of 2000 become in effect co-responsible for the future and the care of Iraq. Its future was unavoidably in our future. The chief blemish of that de facto policy, in which every main faction in American politics was already complicit, was that it involved a shame-faced and unstated power-sharing with Saddam Hussein. That was intolerable and could not long endure. So, I think that the president and his advisers deserve credit for acknowledging and shouldering what was in fact an "actually existing" responsibility. While those who tried to disown or disclaim the responsibility are in a very poor position to snipe at the way it is being discharged. Much of the criticism I read expresses one or another form of denial of this basic consideration. Those who say, for example, that they would approve the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq if only there were more French or Russian soldiers there are conceding more than perhaps they intend. (I personally can't say that I yearn to see there the veterans of Rwanda and Cote d'Ivoire and New Caledonia, or the heroes of Grozny.)

Friedman is right to say that the macro-policy, so often and so stupidly attributed to "neocon" conspiracy, has provided an important vindication. Since the regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad, other regimes from Riyadh to Islamabad to Tehran have quietly but decidedly changed their tune, while some others have gone so far as to drop their weapons. There is no serious state-sponsored hiding place for al-Qaida, whereas a quiverful of measures and tactics now exists, well field-tested, to tackle any new challenger in this field. Myself, I still have a fondness for the micro-policies, too. The Marsh Arabs are returning to their habitat, my profession can be practiced again in one of the places where writing was invented, the Shiites can follow their own religion, the Kurds are nearer to self-determination, there is politics again in a serious country, and we have seen the tree of liberty being watered in the traditional manner, which is an event that not every member of every generation can take pride in.

From: Fred Kaplan
To: Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: A Hawk No More
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004, at 11:18 AM PT

I seem to be the only one in the club who's changed his mind. In fact, a case could be made I shouldn't be here at all because I changed my mind before the war began. My membership in the "I can't believe I'm a hawk" club dated from Feb. 5, 2003, with Colin Powell's (now utterly discredited) pitch to the U.N. Security Council and expired a month later when I realized that, whatever the merits for war (and I'm still ambivalent on that question), the Bush administration was incapable of pulling it off. Here is what I wrote on March 5:

If the administration lacks the acumen or persuasive power to deal with such familiar institutions as the U.N. Security Council or the established governments of France, Germany, Turkey, Russia, China—even Canada—then how is it going to handle Iraq's feuding opposition groups, Kurdish separatists, and myriad ethno-religious factions, to say nothing of the turbulence throughout the region?

My case for multilateralism was, and still is, strictly pragmatic: The United States does not have the budgetary resources, the military manpower, the international legitimacy (especially in the region), or, I suspect, ultimately the political wherewithal to go this all the way to the finish line alone. (And, please, don't talk to me about the crack Polish division.)

Saddam Hussein was clearly a nasty, evil dictator. So were Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. So, today, is Kim Jong-il. Does that mean we should have declared war on the U.S.S.R., China, and Cambodia? Does it mean we should declare war on North Korea now? I ask those who support the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds: Why not? Tom Friedman makes an admirably honest point: We went to war with Iraq because we could. But to extend this argument further, I want to ask Tom: Because we could what? Yes, we could invade the country, topple the regime, and occupy the capital. But winning wars is about accomplishing strategic objectives. If the strategic objective was to oust Saddam Hussein, we won, and maybe we should go home. Regardless of my views on the war, I do not believe we should go home (having wrecked the nation's structure, we are obligated to ensure a new one is put in place); I assume no one else on this panel thinks we should either. So the strategic objective was something else, and the panel has cited several goals: democratization, regional stability, human rights, and so forth. If these were the strategic objectives, if this is what the war was about, then we haven't yet won, and, in Tom's terms, it is not yet clear that we could achieve them. I hope I'm wrong on this, by the way.

I am surprised how blithely many of you have waved off the growing—and by now all but incontrovertible—evidence that Saddam Hussein hasn't had weapons of mass destruction for many years and wasn't anywhere near the verge of building new ones. To you, WMD were never the real reason for war anyway. But to Congress and probably to the vast majority of the American people, they were the only reason (well, along with Iraq's direct and explicit links to al-Qaida, another dubious proposition). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld certainly knew this, which is why they were so hellbent on twisting intelligence to make the case. Even Wolfowitz said, in his famous Vanity Fair profile, that Saddam's human-rights violations would not by themselves justify the sacrifice of American lives.

At the risk of sounding like a goo-goo, I invite someone to take up the question of going to war in a democracy. How frankly should an elected leader feel obligated to outline the true reasons for war? If the reasons fail to persuade, should he go to war anyway if he feels the cause is right?

If we are talking about creating something like a new world order, where tyrants and terrorists will not be tolerated, how important is it to persuade, cajole, and manipulate other countries to go along with us? If we cannot find very many others to join us—let alone, as was the case with Bush, if the president makes it clear he doesn't care whether others join us—should we continue with this campaign anyway?

I guess my wording of the question hints at where I stand on the issue. Where do you stand? If we're talking about the spread of democracy—or at least of a cooperative international community—is waging a preventive war, unilaterally, the best way to get the ball rolling?

Tom notes that NATO did not need the United Nations to go to war against Slobodan Milosevic on behalf of Kosovo. True, but the United States did need NATO. Clinton realized he needed to do this with some established international organization, and given that the Serbs were wilding in the heart of Europe, NATO was ideally suited. That war, as many neocons subsequently complained, was waged rather sloppily; a committee is not the most efficient vehicle for picking targets in a bombing campaign. Yet as Wesley Clark argues in his account of that war, it was the best—really, the only—way of conducting the war from the vantage point of achieving its strategic objectives. One of those strategic objectives was to demonstrate that the international community will not tolerate tyrannical enslavement in Europe. And today, U.N. peacekeepers are still in the country. The war would have been seen in a very different light—and it could have gone in a different direction—if it had been waged entirely by the United States Air Force and if American soldiers and Marines were still occupying the land.

There are other issues, but let me hurl these into the fray as a starter.

From: Paul Berman
To: Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Iraq's Crack Polish Division
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004, at 3:50 PM PT

A word about Fred Kaplan's post. Fred explains that he supported the war, for a little while, because of Colin Powell's U.N. speech—which is to say, Fred never accepted the deeper reasons for the war, given that Powell never did explain them. But here is a problem. Someone who doesn't see the deeper reasons (at least, as I understand them) is not going to be able to identify the strategic goals.

The war was brought on, in my view, by the mass totalitarian movement of the Muslim world—the totalitarian movement that, in its radical Islamist and Baathist wings, had fostered a cult of indiscriminate killing and suicide. The true strategic goal of such a war can only be to discourage and defeat that movement. The goal is to cause people all over the Muslim world to abandon the cult of mass death and suicide. What would be a complete victory? The rise of liberal societies and liberal ideas. That is because the opposite of totalitarianism is liberalism. And so, our goal has had to be: to damage and discourage the Muslim totalitarians and to hearten and aid the Muslim liberals.

Are these strategic goals so impossible to see? On Sept. 10, 2001, the totalitarian wave in the Muslim world appeared to be at high tide. Many millions of people did think so, at least, and therefore felt inclined to give the various tendencies of the larger movement their support. In quite a few countries, the most gruesome tyrannies were in power, in the name of sundry versions of the totalitarian ideology. There seemed to be no prospect, none whatsoever, of seeing those tyrannies overthrown.

And today? The larger totalitarian movement in the Muslim world has been dealt two very powerful blows. The Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan and has been reduced to a guerrilla insurgency. The Baath in Iraq has likewise been reduced to a guerrilla insurgency. Some 45 million Afghanis and Iraqis, who had previously been confined to the lowest ranks of hell, are now engaged in a very tough fight—a fight in which there is at least a plausible hope of achieving a better society, animated by liberal values in a suitably Muslim version.

On Sept. 10, 2001, liberal-minded people in those two countries had no reason to think that life would ever be better. Today the liberal-minded Afghanis and Iraqis have been given a somewhat shaky boost, but a boost, nonetheless, which can only encourage their fellow-thinkers in other parts of the Muslim world. Strategic goals? These are the strategic goals.

Why don't people understand these goals and accomplishments? (And, therefore, why don't they lend their support, which is desperately needed, if only to undo the American blunders that Fred correctly identifies?) The blame, a lot of it, does fall on Bush, who, in addition to his other errors, has given a very muddy picture of the reasons for war and its goals, sometimes making one argument, sometimes a contradictory argument. Really, the man has a lot to answer for. I don't see how Powell has helped (though it's good to have someone with personal charm speak for the country and not leave it to Rumsfeld to give the world the willies).

But some of the blame falls as well on the anti-Bush naifs who pretend not to hear when anyone speaks about the larger reasons and goals—the people who pretend that WMD and non-existent conspiracies were the only reasons for war and pretend that the only serious goals were the arrests of a couple of men, or the achieving of a magical utopia tomorrow, and pretend that if war has still not ended, we have gotten nowhere at all. It's all too true that better leaders could have made better plans, and the French and the Germans and the United Nations could help even now, if only they would. But it ought not to be so hard to see that, even so, the prospects of the totalitarian movement are looking a lot less healthy today than they did on Sept. 10, 2001 and the prospects of Muslim liberalism are looking up, somewhat.

Fred Kaplan writes, "Please, don't talk to me about the crack Polish division." I can't help myself—I've got to talk about it. To see Polish troops taking part in the overthrow of Baathist tyranny is, in my eyes, hugely inspiring. No country on Earth has fought harder over the decades against totalitarianism than Poland, and the Poles are fighting now. Poland is not a rich country, and every society contributes what it can (if it chooses to contribute at all). But the Poles are contributing. You have only to read some of the comments by the Polish commander in Iraq to see why the Poles are there. They are the enemies of totalitarianism. They, or at least their commander, seem to understand what so many people find difficult to understand: In Iraq as in Afghanistan, a liberal war is going on—liberal in the philosophical sense, meaning liberty.

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