Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Heap Of Culpas

The New Republic's latest issue, entitled "Were We Wrong?", contains articles penned by supporters of the invasion of Iraq, from Senators McCain and Biden to Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria, who now attempt to objectively reassess their positions using the 20/20 vision that hindsight provides. The vast majority of them, in one way or another, are thoughtful and honest mea culpas.

Two such articles stand out to me because of their intellectual rigor, ideological consistency and overall balance. The first, by Paul Berman, contains the following quote regarding one of the potential negative outcomes of the war in Iraq, and its noted mismanagement:

"I am dreading what some people claim already to have learned from the blunders in Iraq. Even now, some people are saying: You see! There's no point in overthrowing dictators by force! (Though many dictators have been forcibly overthrown, to good effect--from Germany to Afghanistan.) And no point in trying to do good for anyone else! (Though humanitarian intervention has had its successes, from Kosovo to East Timor, not to mention Kurdistan.)

The U.S. failure in Somalia led to a different kind of U.S. failure in Rwanda. There will surely be Rwandas in the future--there is one right now in Darfur, Sudan (where the ethnic cleansers come out of the same mix of radical Islamism and Arab nationalism that has caused so much suffering in many other places, including our own places). Who in his right mind is going to call for U.S. intervention? Doubtless, in the future, when things are not so grim for us, some people will, in fact, call for U.S. interventions, and justly so. And yet, other people are going to say, Oh, right, and let's put Donald Rumsfeld in charge. And this will be a devastating reply."

Berman also offers a suggestion for remaining balanced in the face of partisanship and anger over the war effort:

"We could have applied the lessons of Kosovo, which would have meant dispatching a suitable number of soldiers. We could have protected the government buildings and the National Museum, and we could have co-opted Saddam's army--further lessons from Kosovo. We could have believed Saddam when he threatened to wage a guerrilla war in Baghdad. We could have prepared in advance to broadcast TV shows that Iraqis wanted to watch. We could have observed the Geneva Conventions. (What humiliation in having to write such a sentence!) We could have--but I will stop, in order to ask: What if, in mulling these thoughts, you find that angry emotions toward George W. Bush are seeping upward from your own patriotic gut?

Here is the challenge: to rage at Saddam and other enemies, and, at the same time, to rage in a somewhat different register at Bush, and to keep those two responses in proper proportion to one another. That can be a difficult thing to do, requiring emotional balance, maturity, and analytic clarity--a huge effort." [emphasis added]

Leon Wieseltier offers the following observation in his piece:

"If I had known that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war. I am not embarrassed by my assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed the sort of arsenal that made him a clear and present danger: The alarming intelligence estimates were shared by many Western governments, so that the debate in the months preceding the war concerned the methods for disarming Iraq, not the reasons for disarming it...

But I was deceived. Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation. You do not act against a threat for which there is little or no evidence. Yet that is precisely what the United States did. Saddam Hussein had no nuclear capability, and almost no nuclear program. If there is an adequate explanation for the disposition of his vast and documented hoard of chemical and biological weapons, I have not heard it; but the magnitude of the mystery surrounding his arsenal must not obscure the magnitude of the blunder that was committed in our description of it. Will some canisters or some vials still turn up in the desert? Perhaps, but I would not send a thousand American soldiers to their deaths for a debater's point. The arsenal that we said was there is not there. Whatever the merits of preemption, there was nothing to preempt. It really is as plain as that. An absence of regrets and recriminations on the part of a supporter of this war now amounts to an absence of intellectual honesty. The administration is reaping an alienation that it sowed. (It is very hard to forgive George W. Bush for the good fortune of Michael Moore.) Whether or not the president lied, he was not speaking the truth. He justified this war to the American people in a manner that will make it difficult for a long time to come to justify almost any war to the American people. In a time of genuine crisis, in a world riddled with savage enmity toward America and Americans, he was sloppy with our trust."

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