Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    David Brooks: Crisis of Confidence

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 7, a republished article by the David Brooks, May 8, 2004, New York Times.

    David Brooks follows up with another column just a few weeks later that describes a potential "Crisis of Confidence" emerging in the U.S. because of the Iraq war. This almost echoes was James Kurth was getting at a few months earlier, that this war will cripple us from taking other, perhaps more-needed actions.

    Brooks: “It’s pretty clear we’re passing through another pivot point in American foreign policy. A year ago, we were the dominant nation in a unipolar world. Today, we’re a shellshocked hegemon. We still face a world of threats, but we’re much less confident about our own power.”

    He says that we still have the greatest military force in the world. “We can topple tyrants, but we don’t seem to be very good at administering nations.”

    Because of the bloodbath that Iraq has become, it has put us into a situation where we are now less confident about decisions we are making. In fact, he goes further. “We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence … No matter how Iraq turns out, no president in the near future is going to want to send American troops into any global hotspot …"

    But he reminds us that "Unfortunately states will still fail … Tyrants will still aid terrorists. Genocide will still occur … What are we going to do then? … If you were one of those people who thought the world was dangerous with an overreaching hyperpower, wait until you get a load of the age of the global power vacuum.”

    So, now we are in a predicament. Even though our decision to go to war in Iraq has created a problem when it meant to solve on, Brooks argues that we can’t stoop to the level of inaction. Instead, he says that “the U.S. has to make it clear that it is considering fresh approaches.”

    By the end of the column, I feel like Brooks is merely just telling us where we are and giving us a pep talk - perhaps to boost our confidence. “We’ve got to reboot. We’ve got to come up with a global alliance of democracies to embody democratic ideals, harness U.S. military power, and house a permanent nation-building apparatus, filled with people who actually possess expertise on how to do this job.”

    So, in conclusion, he still thinks nation-building can be done, if we go about it properly - perhaps with alliances. He also says the U.N. is a failure and we can't depend on an organization that is made up of nations that don't know what democracy is. When will Brooks finally see that perhaps nation-building itself is the problem. Are there really experts on it? Perhaps the British, but I think we can rest assured that those days are over from our friends in the UK. Perhaps for a reason.

    David Brooks: A More Humble Hawk

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 7, a republished article by the David Brooks, April 17, 2004, New York Times.

    The trend of the neo-cons backing down just a bit continues here with David Brooks' column on April 17, 2004. Brooks admits he was too optimistic about Iraq in the run-up to the war. “I never thought it would be this bad … I didn’t expect that a year after liberation, hostile militias would be taking over cities or that it would be unsafe to walk around Baghdad.”

    “I did not appreciate how our very presence in Iraq would overshadow democratization.” In April 2004 he begins to understand how it must feel to be occupied. He says that he now understands that “while the Iraqis don’t want us to fail, since our failure would mean their failure, many don’t want to see us succeed either. They want us to bleed, to get taken down a notch, to suffer for their chaos and suffering. A democratic Iraq is an abstraction they want for the future; the humiliation of America is a pleasure they can savor today.”

    He also voices some criticisms of how the the Bush administration approached the war and the ability to restore order in the post-war period. He says that the administration did not pour the “men and materiel” into Iraq that he and his colleagues at The Weekly Standard had argued for if a war in Iraq was to be pursued. “The failure to establish order was the prime mistake, from which all other problems flow.”

    Yet, he is still a believer. “Despite all this – and maybe it’s pure defensiveness – I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing.” He thus concludes that, “We hawks were wrong about many things. But in opening up the possibility for a slow trudge towards democracy, we were still right about the big thing.”

    So, this is mostly a modest gripe, a modest change of heart, but as of April 2004, he still feels that he and his fellow hawks got the big picture right. His argument could be summed up as this: Iraq was the right war, it has just not gone as planned, mostly due to a lack of proper preparation. And, the experience has shown him that a U.S. presence in Iraq is perhaps as much of a roadblock as it is a necessity in bringing democracy to a people used to tyranny.

    Andrew Sullivan: Quitters

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 6, a republished article by the Andrew Sullivan, April 20, 2004, New Republic Online.

    In response to the Editors of National Review (who posted their article online on April 16, 2004), Andrew Sullivan of the New Republic, posted an article on New Republic Online just a few days later. He labels the editors of National Review "Quitters" and says that "the war to depose Saddam was always an unlikely war for conservatives." In this, Sullivan, a neo-conservative in the original sense, means that there has always been a balance of national interest and isolationist skepticism in conservatism’s approach to foreign policy. But, he says, such isolationist strains were muted, for the most part, in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

    He continues: “But there was, perhaps, always a moment when conservatism was bound to begin to resist more aggressively what is, indisputably, a liberal project of nation-building in Iraq. Perhaps that moment has now arrived with National Review's latest Tory editorial, which makes all the right noises about seeing the conflict in Iraq through to a democratic conclusion, while laying the groundwork for a conservative argument to cut and run at the first opportunity.”

    Next, he goes about criticizing NR's points. First, ge tackles their statement “an end to illusion.” He says he does not remember one serious conservative supporter of the war in Iraq who believed democracy would flourish immediately. Only one year in, and NR is already retreating.

    Sullivan says that we have not reached the level of “abyss” the NR editors claim. “… however much Iraqis rightly want to live in a country without 130,000 foreign troops, they don’t want a return to either dictatorship or the chaos of civil war. The only thing preventing that now is American power. There is no abyss beckoning here, except the abyss that would undoubtedly occur if America were to lose nerve and retreat.”

    Of course, while Sullivan doesn't expect a quick success, he does place some blame on post-war planning on the Bush administration, particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sullivan criticizes Rumsfeld for having far too troops that was needed for the post-war order.

    But he also reminds us that the U.S. military has a very delicate task of keeping order while winning “hearts and minds.” Sullivan also argues that before the Iraq war, “None of our options … were pretty. But we had learned on September 11 that mere observation could not shield us from devastating attack. In that context, the Iraq gamble – and it was a gamble – was regarded as one worth taking.” Again, we see an argument here that is consistent with some other arguments: in a post-9/11 world, we could not afford the risk of inaction.

    Sullivan also takes on NR's notion that this was not a neo-conservative-led war. And he does it with boldness and pride. “The constituency for war against Saddam was not primarily made up of conservative realists. They were there – but their realism was tempered by the view that without radically altering the culture of the Islamicized Middle East, realism would be defunct as an option. There are times when ideological movements have to be confronted ideologically – and Islamo-fascism was and is just such a movement. This recognition doesn’t junk realist conservative thought; but it provides an essential complement. Blind realism is no realism at all. In some ways, neoconservatism is currently a hyper-realist doctrine because it has incorporated the role of ideas into the need to be vigilant against threats to national security.”

    Interesting argument: neo-conservativism as realism. While it at first strikes me as defensive of neo-con foreign policy, it actually begins to look like an interesting argument: the neo-cons were able to provide an ideological basis for war at a time when an ideology was needed to confront a totalitarian ideological movement.

    Finally, Sullivan concludes that we have to commit to be in Iraq for the long haul: “I see no way we can make a success of Iraq without a minimum commitment of a decade at least. To have supported the invasion of Iraq only now to support as quick an exit as possible is to give us the worst of both worlds.” In essence, the bottom line goal that the "quitters" over at NR have is not enough and isn't fair to the Iraqi people. I think we begin to see a divergence here between the "realists" over at NR and the "neo-conservatism" of Andrew Sullivan - at least where they both were in 2004.

    Sunday, May 27, 2007

    Editors of National Review: An End to Illusion

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 5, a republished article by the Editors of National Review, May 3, 2004, National Review.

    After reading from such great scholars like VDH, James Kurth, Kissinger, William Kristol and Donald Kagan, the May 2004 article by the Editors of National Review was quite a dissappoint - intellectually. Of course, it was merely a short editorial, while the previous articles were longer and more in-depth. But, NR didn't quite say anything intriguing or enlightening.

    Instead, they merely admitted to making a pre-war "Wilsonian mistake" - as far as their own pre-war expectations for Iraq. They mention how things could have gone better - for example, more troops would have helped the security situation. But they admit that they, and many others, underestimated the difficulty of implanting democracy in alien soil and overestimated the sophistication of what is fundamentally still a tribal society and one devastated by decades of tyranny.

    They argued, however, that “... Iraq was not a Wilsonian – or a ‘neoconservative' – war. It was broadly supported by the Right as a war of national interest. The primary purpose of the war was always to protect U.S. national security, by removing a destabilizing and radical influence in the strategically crucial Persian Gulf and eliminating a potential threat to the United States.”

    They go further still to distance themselves from their previous Wilsonian mistake and state that in light of recent events of violence, going forward we should downplay expectations of implanting a democracy in the Middle East. They give us a bottom line of what success in Iraq now means: "If we leave Iraq in some sort of orderly condition, with some sort of legitimate non-dictatorial government and a roughly working economy, we will be doing very well.”

    At least their backtracking still leaves us with a goal.

    Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Henry Kissinger: Intervention With a Vision

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 4, a republished article by Henry Kissinger, April 11, 2004, THE WASHINGTON POST.

    After hearing from neo-conservatives and a traditionalist, we now turn to a man who defines the words real politik: Henry Kissinger. In this April 2004 article in The Washington Post, "Intervention With a Vision," Kissinger offers us a realist perspective.

    Kissinger points out the two competing visions in American foreign policy: a value-based foreign policy vs. interest-based foreign policy. He argues that the current doctrine of global democratic interventionism faces the obstacle of that its ideology (the idea that democracy should be pursued because democracies do not harm each other) has not been really tested. But he also argues that a policy based on “interest” alone requires perfect flexibility and an instant readiness to adjust to changed circumstance.

    According to Kissinger, what marks the 21st century as unprecedented is the fact that as state power weakens, non-state terrorist groups fill the vacuum for the purpose of threatening the state system itself.

    America, the leading power in the world, is engaged in a wide range of activities in the name of democracy and human rights (publishing reports, applying sanctions, bringing about regime change, etc.) No other country has treated human rights and the support of democracy as so central or has permitted so direct a role to so many elements of its public opinion in the implementation of a specific aspect of its foreign policy.

    But because democracy must be rooted in domestic factors, it will thrive only where it reflects cultural, historical, and institutional backgrounds. Kissinger argues that America needs urgently to develop a concept of political evolution that combines the authority required for economic progress with the human rights required for a democratic evolution.

    "Iraq is turning into the test case," he says. "Regime change was impelled by strategic imperatives together with moral convictions. But, the conditions we had in Germany and Japan are nearly reversed. In Iraq, the ethnic and religious divisions are so deep, that in its early stages, democracy threatens to become a form of communalism." Sound familiar? He's on to the same historical points that James Kurth dived deep into, and perhaps the same eery predictions.

    But he diverges from Kurth there. To solve the crisis in Iraq, Kissinger argues that “an extended period of American involvement is required and some degree of internationalization. But whatever the process, its prerequisite is America’s willingness to see it through. Success is the only exit strategy.”

    He continues with long-term implications for American foreign policy, offering critiques to both the neo-cons and the traditionalists. "The advocates of an interest-based foreign policy must recognize that support for democracy is a fundamental goal that has to be built into American policy. The proponents of a value-based foreign policy need to understand that their challenge is no longer to establish their principle but to implement it, and that down their road beckons not only democracy but ungovernable vacuums. The advocates of the important role of democracy in American foreign policy have won their intellectual battle. But institution-building requires not only doctrine but a vision recognizing cultural and historical circumstance. Such humility is not an abdication of American values; it is the only way to implement these values effectively."

    As far as I can tell, Kissinger is saying intervention is sometimes required, but that we need prudent interventions. At the time, Iraq seemed like the right intervention and that carrying a moral conviction to implement a kind of democracy or human rights element into our foreign policy was the American thing to do, as America is so caught up in human rights on all kinds of levels. But, Kissinger stops short there by also saying that implementing a democracy is very difficult and requires institution building that is rooted in historical and cultural values. This will not happen overnight - as VDH and Kurth already told us from their own perspectives.

    Kissinger offers some kind of a prescription here, but is not detailed enough about what exactly must be done in Iraq. The only solution he offers for Iraq is that we must not fail. If we fail, that will be a victory for the jihadists over Western values. In effect, he is saying to those that want to pull out of Iraq: whether you think we should be there or not, going forward from here, we must make sure that "success is our only exit strategy." With that point, I wholeheartedly agree. The next question, three years later in 2007, is defining what we will mean by "success."

    James Kurth: Iraq: Losing the American Way

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 3, a republished article by James Kurth, March 15, 2004, THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE.

    In March 2004, Professor James Kurth of Swarthmore College, published an article in Pat Buchanan's recently emerging magazine, The American Conservative. The article, "Iraq: Losing the American Way," makes a strong argument that the U.S.-led war in Iraq is a sharp departure from the traditional American way of going to war.

    First, there was a difference in traditional U.S. diplomacy. The Bush Administration made a sharp departure from the long-standing U.S. diplomatic practice of obtaining some form of international approval and legitimization for our wars and military interventions. While we had some allies, our most traditional allies and much of the world's other major powers were not with us.

    The second break was with the way of war itself. We deployed U.S. forces unusually few in number and now stretched far too thin. It had been long-standing practice to use overwhelming mass and material to overwhelm the enemy. Thirdly, we perverted the traditional American way of democratization by promoting liberal democracy while imposing military occupation. Kurth argues that the diplomatic damage might be overcome, but the war has caused a more long-term injury to the U.S. military and the U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad.

    By end of the 20th century, historians and military strategists agreed that the classical American way of war was characterized by such advantages as: (1) overwhelming mass and materiel, (2), wide-ranging mobility (transportation and communication), (3) high-technology weapons systems, and (4) high public support for the war. The classic examples of this were the way we approached World War II and the Persian Gulf War.

    The classical American way of war has no obvious answer if the military challenge comes from guerillas and insurgents. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the Weinberger/Powell doctrine emerged saying “no more Vietnams” and “when the United States goes to war, it should do so as a nation defending its vital national interests against another nation, and when the U.S. Army goes to war, it should do so as an army fighting another army.”

    Kurth comes down hard on the Rumsfeld Transformation Project which “seeks to reduce the role of mass and to accentuate the role of mobility.” In other words, Rumsfeld's approach to reshaping the military was a sharp departure from the classcial American way of war.

    The only task that the new Rumsfeld Army, with its lighter, more mobile configuration, can perform better than the old classical Army, with its heavy armor and artillery configuration, will be operations against an enemy that is even more light and mobile, such as guerillas and insurgents. “The Rumsfeld project seeks to transform the U.S. Army into an instrument which will fight for peripheral, imperial interests, and not just for vital national ones. As such, the new way of war can be seen as the neoconservative way of war," says Kurth.

    The guerilla threat that needed to be dealt with by U.S. military forces did not exist before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The U.S. occupation of Iraq has created, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the very problem that the Rumsfeld transformation project was supposed to solve.” The long established, lighter, more mobile ground force had always been the U.S. Marines, but this is the very force that Rumsfeld has turned the U.S. Army into, thus leaving the new army with the inability to perform the tasks the old army could perform so well.

    In regards to "democratization," Kurth argues that because the 20th century was the American century, it was also the century of democratization. Iraq is just the latest chapter in a grand American narrative that has been underway for more than a hundred years.

    Kurth points out that the U.S. efforts to use force to democratize foreign countries hasn’t worked. The only examples the Bush administration and the neoconservatives provided as examples, Germany and Japan, are the only exceptions, but those exceptions are exceptions for the following reasons: (1) They had prior liberal-democratic experiences, (2) they had greater foreign threats (other than the U.S.) and so allowed the U.S. to lead the way, and (3) they had an ethnically homogenous population.

    Iraq, on the other hand, “was always an unstable equilibrium, a partition waiting to happen, artificially held together by the iron bonds of an authoritarian and brutal regime … One could have an Iraq, but without democracy. Alternatively, one could have democracy, but without an Iraq. But one could not have both.” I think the prediction Kurth was making in 2004 perhaps is being seen today in 2007. While Iraqis have voted in elections and set up a Parliament, the difficulty in the new Iraq is securing order amid sectarian violence.

    Kurth says that if we want a closer geographic, sociological and contemporary circumstance of how Middle Eastern Iraq might react to democracy, we should look to the Near Eastern former Soviet Balkan states. “In virtually every country in the communist world where there was ethnic heterogeneity, democratization – which included free elections – was followed immediately by secession and partition.”

    Based on historical circumstances, Kurth predicts that the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq will fail because of one or all of the following reasons: (1) the cultural values, social conditions, and historical experience for democracy do not exist there, (2) the Iraqi people will come to associate democracy with U.S. occupation and thus reject it, and (3) because there is no "Iraqi" people at all, but three peoples who will use democracy to break away from each other.

    And then Kurth comes to an even more frightening conclusion of where this interference in Iraq may lead us: “The failure of democratization in Iraq will discredit similar U.S. efforts elsewhere. The damage will be the greatest in the Middle East and in the Muslim world more broadly, where Islamism will be left as the only valid ideology and Islamization as the only vital political and social project.”

    Will the U.S. effort to take international threats more seriously in the post 9/11 world, such as we did with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, lead moderate Muslims to reject U.S. occupation and turn to radical Islam, which in turn will bring on more anti-Americanism? That is the question of the hour.

    William Kristol and Robert Kagan: The Right War for the Right Reasons

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 2, a republished article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, February 23, 2004, THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

    In February 2004, William Kristol and Robert Kagan published an article in The Weekly Standard, "The Right War for the Right Reasons." Published nearly a year after the war in Iraq began, the article seems to have been published to explain why the war was still just even if no weapons of mass destruction are found. In a sense, they are restating the case for war, minus the WMD argument. They argue, in fact, that WMD was never the main reason to go into Iraq and that there were multiple factors at play. Let's dissect their rationale.

    First, they argue that liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal totalitarian regime would have been "sufficient reason" to remove Saddam. They argue that "such a rationale is not 'merely moral.' As is so often the case in international affairs, there was no separating the nature of Saddam’s rule at home from the kinds of policies he conducted abroad.” They also talk about Saddam's ambition to dominate the Middle East, both economically and militarily by trying to control the region's oil supply and intimidate its neighbors.

    Next, they go back to the Clinton years and they show us the evidence that President Bill Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, are on record as saying that containemtn of Saddam Hussein would not be enough. It was the Clinton Administration that concluded that the longer the standoff with Saddam continued, the harder it would be to maintain international support against him. For these reasons, Berger and the Clinton Administration had concluded that it would be necessary at some point to move beyond containment to regime change. If the status quo persisted much longer, the U.S. would have continuing difficulties of determining whether or how fast the risk from Saddam was increasing.

    Kristol and Kagan then show us the steps the U.S. took to get to war. These steps began with the Clinton Adminstration when the U.S. Congress passed the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act. Signed by Clinton, the Act made it official U.S. policy to “support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”

    Fast forward to September 11, 2001. While there may have been no connection between Saddam and 9/11, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 made the Bush administration take a closer look at international threats, as it became clear to all of us that we had been too sanguine about such threats prior to 9/11. The Bush administration concluded that it had to remove Saddam’s regime after all, just as Clinton and Berger had suggested might someday be necessary.

    Bush then went on to gain sweeping support from both Republicans and Democrats. Kristol and Kagan point out that the majority of the Democrat Party supported the war, not because they were misled by rhetorical hype or by faulty U.S. intelligence. They were presented with the same rhetoric (if not with less hype) that had been presented by the Clinton administration. Most of what they and everyone knew about Saddam’s weapons programs we learned from the U.N. inspectors, not from U.S. intelligence.

    After the war, David Kay spent about 8 months looking for weapons, interviewing Iraqis, and concluded there were "no stockpiles of weapons." And the drive-by media was all over this statement. But, Kristol and Kagan ask us to look at the rest of what Kay presented. Kay testified that Saddam's regime was “in clear material violation of 1441.”

    So, even if we are to make a case based on WMDs, Kagan and Kristol conclude with a question: “If the world had known in February 2003 of Kay’s findings, that there were no stockpiles of weapons, but that Iraq continued to pursue weapons of mass destruction programs and to deceive and conceal these efforts from the U.N. inspectors led by Blix during the time allocated by Resolution 1441 – wouldn’t there have been at least as much, and probably more, support for the war?”

    They then remind us that before the war, everyone agreed and assumed Saddam had weapons, this was not part of the argument to go to war. “Indeed, the fact that he had the weapons, some argued, was all the more reason why the United States should not go to war. After all, it was argued, the likeliest scenario for Saddam’s actually using the weapons he had was in the event of an American invasion.” I remember this being precisely my main reason not to go to war with Iraq. Why give Saddam the opportunity to use his weapons on our troops?

    They tackle the question of imminence and use a quote by Tom Daschle, who after voting to support the war in October 2002, said, “The threat posed by Saddam Hussein may not be imminent, but it is real, it is growing, and it cannot be ignored.”

    Finally, Kagan and Kristol ask whether this was a war of choice or a war of necessity. They argue that in some sense, all of America’s wars were wars of choice. “But when viewed in the context of history and international circumstances, they were all based on judgments about the costs of inaction, the benefits of action, and on strategic calculations that action then would be far preferable to action later in less favorable circumstances. In other words, war was necessary to our national interest, if not absolutely necessary to the immediate protection of the homeland.”

    I think they make the case that this war was the right war for the right reasons. I don't think we have to agree with their case necessarily, but it is a well-grounded argument for the reasons to go to war. The biggest strength of their case, I believe, was their argument that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 made the Bush administration take a closer look at international threats. Before 9/11, our biggest international conflict was with Saddam. We had a 10-year status quote and by 2003 it became a 12-year status quo. International support to take out Saddam was crippling as time went on. In retrospect, we probably "should have" pursued regime change in 1991.

    Perhaps if we had done nothing to take out Saddam in 2003, today Saddam could have a real WMD - a nuclear weapon. And, we could be looking back to 2003 and saying, we "should have" taken him out then. (In fact, this is the situation we now seem to be in with North Korea and Iran - once they have a WMD, it's makes things more difficult). And if we had taken no action against Saddam, today we'd have a 16-year status quo and perhaps more uncertainty on what to do with him.

    Kristol and Kagan are right about the fact that the United States has pretty much always had a "choice" whether or not to go to war. History is made on certain decisions. And whether or not we like the decisions we made in the past - in 1991 or in 2003 - we have to live with them and make decisions today based on history and based on our contemporary circumstances. But, of course, we should always have an eye to the future - for decisions have consequences.

    Friday, May 04, 2007

    Victor Davis Hanson: Iraq's Future - And Ours

    This blog is in a series of posts from my readings of THE RIGHT WAR? THE CONSERVATIVE DEBATE ON IRAQ. Please contribute your comments. The following is a discussion of Chapter 1, a republished article by Victor Davis Hanson, January 2004, COMMENTARY.

    In January 2004, Victor Davis Hanson published an article in Commentary magazine, "Iraq's Future - And Ours." In this article, VDH reflected back on the first 8 months of how the U.S. has confronted the post-war operation. He notes the irony that a quick and stunning military success brings: a long and trying process to secure the peace (and order). "Of course, we must not wish the war would have lasted that long in order for us freely to destroy Saddam’s remnants, but we must at least appreciate that short wars by their very nature often require messy clean-ups.”

    What could we have done better to prepare for the "messy clean-up?" The most critical mistake we made during the war and in the immediate aftermath was our tolerance of looting and our disbanding of the Iraqi army. VDH points to these factors, which led to the creation of the Iraqi resistance, in forms of cash, weaponry, and manpower. Now (as of January 2004), the enemy is combining their 8th century technology and our 21st century technology to use weapons against us in creative ways.

    He also notes that Iraq has had its own history and its own problems, which they are still confronting. He also points out the many false perceptions that the American public and media have including the fact that most Americans believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to human beings (it's not).

    The most important aspects of his article deal with the the problems that a materially wealthy, prosperous, humanitarian, democratic nation such as the United States has with war. It is a conflict. He says that “Post-bellum Iraq reminds us how much we are geared not to taking but rather preserving lives – including, quite naturally, our own.” He continues, “One dead American causes far greater distress, not just among the American public but in the military itself, than the satisfaction prompted by the knowledge that dozens of Baathist murderers were killed in return.” In World War II, he argues, we were much more willing to sacrifice lives, if we knew many more lives on the enemy's side were being taken. It was a strategic sacrifice and many Americans were willing to make it.

    Today, on the other hand, Americans are more detached from war than ever. Part of this reason lies in our government's response to the anti-war protests that were sparked during the Vietnam era. Today, "... as our government seeks – often successfully – to wage war with as little upheaval at home as possible, it never troubles to tap the inner reserves of the American people, who might well rise to the challenge of a long and difficult struggle against those who seek to kill us all. We are thus caught in yet another paradox: the more lethal and adroit an even smaller number of American soldiers become, the more detached an ever greater number of Americans can be from the wars waged in their names.”

    This is indeed a serious problem. While the media brings the war home to us, sometimes with live pictures, we distance ourselves from the war. Most of us go on with our daily lives here in the prosperous nation we live in, and we probably forget that our nation is at war; we forget about the soldiers who are sacrificing their lives every day; we might pity the images on television or in the newspaper, but we go on each day as if they are just images, but not real. What are we doing to connect with the war? To make our own sacrifices for it?

    If we are more connected with the war, with the people fighting it, and with the knowledge of lives being lost, victories being won, will we be more in support of it? More willing to join the military? More willing to sacrifice our time, our efforts, our material wealth? This is an interesting question VDH poses and I'm not sure if I have the answer. I will say that several friends of mine who have gone to Iraq have come back and they have made this point: Americans here at home don't realize how evil the enemy is. One friend told me how the enemy in Iraq sometimes positions themselves in or near schools so that the Americans will either not fire back or if they do, they will risk killing innocent children.

    VDH is then right about one thing for sure: Americans, including the military, are so concerned about humanity, while our enemy is not. We value a culture of life, our enemies do not. Even in fighting a war, we try to avoid casualties, even if that forces us to do things the long, hard way.

    Finally, VDH closes his article with the following statement, “In an era of the greatest affluence and security in the history of civilization, the real question before us remains whether the United States – indeed, whether any Western democracy – still possesses the moral clarity to identify evil as evil, and then the uncontested will to marshal every available resource to fight and eradicate it. In that sense, our willingness to use unremitting force to eliminate vast cadres of proven killers, in Iraq and elsewhere, is a referendum on modern democracy itself.”

    Do we still have the will to fight? And, is this war a necessary part of that fight? Is this an ultimate test for a liberal democracy? For Western Civilization? Or does VDH have it all wrong? Maybe we don't want to fight because we are we there for the wrong reasons. Did we bring this fight to ourselves? Is the government detaching us from the war for some other reason? Or does the government realize that Americans are no longer willing to make such a sacrifice that is necessary to win a war? What will this generation of Americans be ready and willing to fight for?

    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    Seeking a Prudent Foreign Policy

    In the introduction to The Right War? The Conservative Debate in Iraq, editor Gary Rosen ponders the questions that conservatives have been asking about America's role in the world for nearly all of American history, especially this past century. "Should America retreat from the world, deal with the world as it is, or try to transform it in its own image? Which school of thought – traditionalist, realist, or neoconservative – is truest to the country’s ideals and interests?"

    Throw Pat Buchanan in that first group, Henry Kissinger in that second group, and William Kristol in the third group. But where do I throw myself? I typically think of myself as a "realist" but I would also subscribe to the "traditionalist" mindset. After all, in the past four years, I have become a big fan of the works of Russell Kirk, perhaps the intellectual leader of tradtionalists. Kirk always spoke of a "prudent foreign policy," meaning that at times we must take action if they are in our national interest, but that we also must consider the long-term implications of such actions, for that is even more vital to our national interest.

    Rosen poses many questions for us to consider as we dive through the 21 chapters of this book, which are articles that come from a mix of traditionalist, realists, and neo-conservatives.

    What does American history teach about the nature and limits of U.S. power? Are deterrence and containment still viable national-security doctrines in an age of suicide terrorism and weapons of mass destruction?

    What value should we attach to stability in parts of the world where the social and political status quo abets violent extremism? Should the U.S. – can the U.S. – be an agent for democratic change? Does such an agenda demand more cooperation with other nations, or less?

    Does the promotion of American principles serve American interests? If not, how should the two be reconciled?

    These are the questions under review. Perhaps I'll be able to provide some answers for them by the end of the month. The key question that I'll be keeping in mind: what solution will best help us defend the U.S. from Islamic terrorists and other potential foreign threats? Has the war and U.S. occupation in Iraq been a positive step in this effort or a step backward?

    Debating the War with Myself

    I recently picked up a book that was first published in late 2005 called The Right War? The Conservative Debate On Iraq?

    I have been a supporter of the war since it began, and I still support the U.S. and coalition efforts there. But, sometimes it seems like I'm the only one still supporting this war. I had my doubts about the war during the six months leading up to it back in 2002-2003. But, the President's 2003 State of the Union Address fully convinced me that this was "the right war for the right reasons." The speech laid out a broad vision and many reasons why the U.S. had to keep the pressure on Saddam and take him out if necessary.

    After debating the necessity of going to war with myself then, I found this speech convincing and I have supported our efforts for regime change ever since. Once you decide to go to war, I believe, you must go and you must finish the job. The problem with "regime change" is that it holds us accountable and responsible for helping bring a new, stable regime to Iraq.

    But, it has now been four years since we invaded and occupied Iraq. A lot has been accomplished in so short of a time, but as with all occupations, the occupied get restless. The debate here in the U.S. has heated up again, with the Democrats demanding a time table for withdrawal and with Bush again standing his ground that he will not accept their lack of a plan to finish the job. Bush's decision to stay committed to his goal has meant a political disaster for the Republican Party, as there is really no other reason to vote for the Democrats. They hardly offer anything positive these days. So, is staying in Iraq worth risking continued political losses for the Republican Party? For the conservative movement?

    With all this on my mind, I want to take up the Iraq war debate again and this book, The Right War?, looks like an intriguing, open way to do that, especially from a conservative perspective. It features articles from over 20 conservatives debating whether this was the right war for the U.S. to get involved with. The writers include: Victor Davis Hanson, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, James Kurth, Henry Kissinger, the Editors of National Review, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, George Will, Fouad Ajami, Owen Harries, Fareed Zakaria, Max Boot, Andrew Bacevich, Norman Podhoretz, Francis Fukuyama, Charles Krauthammer, Patrick Buchanan, Robert Ellsworth, Dimitri Simes, Charles Kesler, Eliot Cohen, and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

    The articles re-published in this book were all written between 2004-2005, so it was when the violence in the post-war Iraq began. I also take up this debate because I have seen and know many conservative intellectuals, including ISI speakers and some of my ISI collegues now coming to similar conclusions about the war that I saw some of my Leftist professors at Maryland coming to when I was there back in 2001-2004. Of course conservative intellectuals and Leftist academics start from different first principles (and perhaps have different end goals in mind), but often their policy positions are not far off from each other.

    So, once again, they are encouraging me to take a look at the arguments and whether this war was in America's best interest at this time. Over the next 22 days, I hope you will join me as I blog about the many arguments used by these cast of conservative characters. Each day, I will blog about each of the 22 chapters that I read from The Right War? I will display their main arguments, write my reaction, and tell you what I agree with and what I disagree with, and whether or not the authors have strengthened my support for the war, or made me rethink it.

    I am going to try to be as open-minded about this as possible, but I will fully acknowledge now that I have been a strong supporter of this war all along and still hope to see the U.S. succeed, despite the challenges. We'll see how I feel in 22 days. I encourage you to respond to any posts. I'd love to hear opinions. At the end of this whole thing, I plan to write a long reaction of my own and present the best arguments I can find for whatever conclusion I come to (if I come to one).