March 18, 2003
write before President Bush's address, on the assumption that it
will offer an ultimatum that will trigger war within days, without
offering justifications that persuade me this war is necessary,
justifiable or constitutional. So what do we do once the war begins?
like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, of course, argue that once the troops
are engaged it is time for all Americans inclined to be critical
to shut their mouths lest Mr. O'Reilly and his legion of fans dub
them "bad Americans." If those are the choices, I guess
I'm just going to have to be bad, but I hope we can be bad in ways
that lay some groundwork for the future rather than just making
point – and events will surely occur that might modify the judgment
– it strikes me that our best hope for the near future is to use
the war as an occasion to widen the discussion to a more comprehensive
discussion of American foreign policy and America's posture in the
world in general. I suspect – although maybe it's more pure hope
than I'm willing to admit to myself – that even people who backed
this war, especially those who sincerely believed that Saddam Hussein
was (is) a uniquely vicious ruler who had to be taken out might
be amenable to a discussion of how the likelihood of future conflicts
might be reduced.
IN THE FIELD
managed to get out a little last week to meet with people other
than those I work with or talk to on the phone. The Young Executives
Association had an Orange County meeting at which Cato Institute
and Club for Growth economist Steve Moore was the principal speaker,
and they asked me to talk about war for a few minutes. A fairly
lively discussion ensued during which I found more antiwar sentiment
than I had initially expected from this group of mostly conservative,
aggressively market-oriented groups of businesspeople.
What struck me in particular was one man who disagreed
with me on almost every particular of the case I made against going
to war with Iraq. He said he had been in intelligence work in the
military and he was convinced there was a great deal more available
to those making the decisions documenting Saddam Hussein's links
with al Qaida and efforts to make or acquire weapons of mass destruction.
As he came to the close of his statement, however,
he said very forcefully that once the world has been rid of Saddam
Hussein, it would definitely be time to reconsider the number of
places where the United States has military installations and long-term
commitments. I had talked briefly about our network of commitments
in my talk but hadn't made it the focal point. With a little prodding,
however, our hawk of the evening agreed that although some forward
commitments may be necessary, every one of them creates a certain
amount of friction with the local populace, and provides the kind
of raw material radical or anti-American groups like al Qaida can
use to recruit adherents.
war appears to have the support of most Americans, and the first
impulse of most Americans will be to gather 'round the president
once war begins. Even so, there are doubts and questions out there
on which we should be able to work.
I'm still convinced that however cheerfully they may
permit themselves to be maneuvered into a fine hatred of Saddam
Hussein – it probably helped that he really is despicable – most
Americans still have little desire to preside over an empire. Apart
from a few ideologists of "benevolent hegemony," how many
Americans really want the United States to be a party in virtually
every dispute in a chronically troubled world?
We still have plenty of time to publicize further
the plans and ambitions of the "neoconservative" crowd
(along with some others) that has seen hegemony and empire as an
open and ongoing goal. However this war proceeds, there is a lot
of work to do, despite some yeoman work from Andrew Bacevich, Pat
Buchanan, Ivan Eland and others, in analyzing and critiquing the
new National Security posture announced last September, in teasing
out the implications of that arrestingly Wilsonian (and sometimes
breathtakingly naive) document.
war is short and apparently successful, it will be especially important
to focus both constructive and critical attention on the process
of trying to build democracy in a country that has no experience
of it. It will not be enough to be cynical, however. We should pay
attention to how the occupiers operate, what policies they put in
place, how compatible those policies are with a free society – the
kind of work Gary Dempsey and Roger Fontaine did in their book,
Errands, which critiqued nation-building in Somalia, Haiti,
Bosnia and Kosovo.
It's hard work. It takes hard digging sometimes to
get to the truth behind the cheerful press releases. We must be
willing to do it, and not just to embarrass the American and perhaps
UN administrators, but to keep them from betraying the people of
Iraq too badly. They really do deserve better than Saddam Hussein,
but the American record at giving people better is hardly reassuring.
run-up to the war has already created some questions about overarching
American strategy that should be welcome. There's increasing sentiment
among Americans that it's time to reconsider the policy of keeping
U.S. troops in Europe – and in "old Europe," in countries
that actively resisted American policies to boot. I don't think
it's legitimate to play too much on American jingoism, but if there's
sentiment there we should be able and ready to put arguments more
substantial than mere resentment into the mix. Discussion of whether
U.S. troops should be in Europe should also give us opportunities
to discuss the overall policies of forward military commitments
and whether that policy as a whole should not be reconsidered as
Likewise with Korea. I don't know whether Don Rumsfeld
was carelessly running his mouth or carefully releasing a trial
balloon when he let drop the idea that maybe it's time to pull U.S.
troops out of the Korean peninsula. But whatever he was up to, he
has widened what was already a fairly substantial opening for discussion
of the U.S. role in Korea.
the U.S. presence outlived whatever usefulness it might once have
had? Has the United States become an irritant rather than a source
of stability? Would we be better off if we put Japan, South Korea,
China, and maybe Russia on notice that dealing with North Korea
is going to be their problem? Americans are increasingly ready to
consider such questions. And if the commitment on the Korean peninsula
can be questioned, the U.S. troop deployments in Japan and Okinawa
are next, because most of their ostensible purpose is to provide
backup to the forces in Korea.
The coming war has also created serious questions
about previously sacrosanct international institutions like the
United Nations, NATO and even the European Union. It is impossible
just now to predict just how those questions will play out, particularly
if most European countries assess the lay of the land and decide
to throw in with the United States, at least rhetorically. But those
institutions will be changed. We should have plenty of opportunities
to ask whether they serve the interests of free people or the interests
of a tight group of bureaucrats so divorced from the concerns of
everyday people as to have lost track of what their real interests
If Bush and his allies seem to win, of course, at
least in the short run (which is the safest bet just now) there
will be plenty of voices ready to proclaim that forward commitments,
endless intervention and a policy of prevention has proven its value
and should be trotted out repeatedly in the future. For a while
those voices will seem especially persuasive. But if we are intelligent
and persistent we should be in a position to raise searching questions
before the next attack.
As war comes on those who have put so much effort
into trying to prevent it cannot be blamed for feeling discouraged
and perhaps even a bit defeated for a while. Of course it is discouraging
to have created an unprecedented and unexpectedly large (unexpected
by everyone including the organizers) antiwar movement – without
a draft of bodybags – and have it completely ignored by policymakers.
But all is not dark. The shortcomings of aggressive
intervention as a policy, of the eagerness to use force first are
still obvious to some. We have made strides in organizing people
and putting unlikely coalition partners into contact with on another.
Our critique of intervention and imperialism is still valid.
I hope that it won't take an unmitigated disaster
unquestionably attributable to interventionism to raise enough doubts
to get the policy of aggressive prevention questioned and changed.
Perhaps that should be our charge – to redouble our efforts and
sharpen our skills enough to get the questions about American policies
into the mainstream before disaster hits.
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