Thursday, September 23, 2004
I'm not sure there's another pundit out there with the chops to say what George Will is saying about the neocons. (Steve Sailer directed me to the piece.) I say that because Will is clearly a member in good standing of the new Conservative establishment (he's neither a Buchananite exile nor a Scowcroftian managerial Republican type) and has a strong record of support for Israel. He's not a crank; he's not someone who thinks he lost his job to a neocon; and he's not an Arab-sympathizer. And he's not harping on supposed dual-loyalty (which is mostly a canard and a distraction; there is an *enormous* difference morally between *betraying your country* and being infatuated with a friendly foreign country - as Jefferson was with France, Hamilton with Britain, and various Americans over the decades and centuries have been with Free Cuba, Republican Spain, Nationalist China, Wilhelmine Germany . . . there are probably more instances that I'm not thinking of). He's just saying: these guys are wrong. Badly wrong, dangerously wrong, blindly wrong. He's not hitting below the belt, but he's not pulling his punches. That's a good standard to aspire to, whether one agrees with him or not.
As for whether I agree with him . . . yeah, basically. Do I look forward to a newly dictatorial Russia? No. Do I think America can do much to promote democracy in Russia at this point? No. If there was a window of hope in Russia, that window has closed. Our *best* hope at this point is a cautious, rational dictatorship that bides its time and tries to rebuild the country, and knows that antagonizing America is just a stupid thing to do at this point. *That* Russia I would happily form an alliance with, dictatorship or no. I don't consider that the most-likely outcome. Between the extraordinary power of organized crime, the decrepit condition of the Russian military, the demographic implosion . . . Russia is going to be very, very lucky to avoid chaos and civil war on the one hand, or an ultranationalist, expansionist dictatorship on the other. Putin is very bad. And we could do much, much worse.
The world is full of dictatorships that we have no choice but to deal with. Just in the Muslim world: Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Uzbekistan, Algeria . . . it's not a short list. *No one* - not even Jonah Goldberg - *actually* wants to go out and conquer and occupy the whole world to make it safe for democracy, if such a thing were even possible. And guess what? The next Administration - Democrat or Republican - is not going to go on a worldwide crusade to make the world democratic. Nor has this one: we were dealing with lots of dictatorships before the Iraq war, and we're dealing with lots of them now. There's no alternative.
Now, to answer Steve's question ("how did they [the neocons] do it?") I'm puzzled why it's so puzzling to him. The neocons did *not* radically reorient American policy. We'd been fitfully at war with Iraq for over a decade. Clinton almost went to full-scale war with Saddam in 1998 over the expulsion of the weapons inspectors. It was not a crazy idea post-9-11 to say: we've got to take care of business in the region, and Saddam is part of our unfinished business. As for WMD: I know Greg Cochran says he figured out there was no nuclear program in 5 minutes of research. Tom Friedman also says he never bought the WMD argument. But the British and Italian intelligence services thought he had a serious nuclear program. Ken Pollack, a Clinton-era expert on the region, wrote a whole book about the imminent Iraqi nuke. So forgive me if I don't blame myself or the Bush Administration for taking the question seriously in 2001 and early 2002.
No, the question is not how did we get on that bus but why we pulled out the steering and the breaks and threw away the road map.
I've been re-reading my own writing on the subject. In late 2001, I was completely gung-ho: I linked to pieces by Laura Mylroie, believed the whole Atta-Prague meeting business, was convinced Saddam was well on his way to a nuclear weapon, and gave Ahmad Chalabi the benefit of the doubt as someone who was friendly to America. Why? Well, a lot of the right-wing press had been thumping the tub about Iraq for years, and so had the hawkish left (i.e., The New Republic). Saddam had twice gotten closer to having the bomb than anyone thought before his efforts were wiped out by force.
And yes, there was 9-11. And before 9-11 there was the situation in Israel. People forget just how terrible was the Oslo War launched by Arafat after the Camp David talks. Israelis, and Jews who loved Israel, seriously worried about the survival of the country in the face of a seemingly limitless number of kamikaze attackers who targeted civilians - and this after Barak had caved on virtually everything at the negotiating table! The message of the Oslo War, like the message of 9-11, reverberated with me and with most people who are at all friendly to Israel: these people can't be negotiated with. And if they can't be negotiated with, they have to be eliminated. And Saddam got dumped into that psychological bucket, correctly or not.
But over the course of 2002, I started to pay close attention to the whole Iraq question. And a few things became clear: that Ahmad Chalabi was a very dubious character saying some very unlikely things; that Iran and Turkey were, in opposite ways, real problems in any attempt to resolve the Iraq problem (Iran because they would try to inflame the Shiites in the south, and Turkey because they would object to further empowerment of the Kurds); that the reconstruction of Iraq would be enormously expensive and that there was no chance of a quick transition to a stable post-Saddam regime.
And so what's hard to understand is: why did the Administration ignore this stuff? Not why did Rumsfeld listen to Wolfowitz or Bush listen to Rumsfeld - why did Wolfowitz believe this stuff? Why didn't everyone see the sheer unlikelihood of success in our endeavor? Sitting on the outside, I assumed that the Administration had evaluated all this stuff and come to the conclusion that war was necessary, and that we were doing everything we could to assure success. But that's clearly not the case: we did almost *nothing* to assure success. Why?
That's the mystery to me: not how the neocons got Iraq at the top of the foreign policy agenda (that's just inertia from pre 9-11 days speeded up by 9-11-induced urgency) nor why they thought toppling Saddam would be a good thing for America and its allies, most notably Israel, but why and how the decisionmaking process got so broken that contrary argument and evidence couldn't break through? *That's* what's bizarre. And *that's* what Bush hasn't done anything demonstrable to correct. And *that's* the biggest argument against his reelection. Which is why I think Kerry should be making just that argument.