Monday, July 19, 2004

What If?

Eric Alterman has put together a priceless exercise in fictional history. Here is a one act play that takes place in the aftermath of 9/11:

Date: September 12, 2001
Scene: The Oval Office.
Characters: President George W. Bush and an Imaginary Honest Adviser.

George Bush: Boy, that was scary. Let's invade someone.
Imaginary Honest Adviser: Yes, sir, but who?
GB: Well, who did it?
IHA: We're not certain, sir, but we think it was Al Qaida.
GB: They couldn't have done it alone. Who helped them?
IHA: Well sir, most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the regime there has been a big help. They received extensive help from over the years from the Pakistan military and security services. Oh, and it turns out that the Iranians have been helping as well.
GB: Hmm, any of those regimes planning on gong nuclear anytime soon? That would really be scary.
IHA: Sir, that would be Iran and Pakistan.
GB: Any of 'em democracies?
IHA: Nope.
GB: OK, Let me get this straight. The Saudis are anti-democratic and help the terrorists who attacked us. The Iranians and the Pakistanis are anti-democratic, help the terrorists who attacked us, and have either acquired or are about to acquire nuclear weapons.
IHA: Yes sir.
GB: Great. Let's invade Iraq.

Allow me to add a couple of other relevant topics that the imaginary honest adviser could have discussed with the President:

1. Not only does Pakistan, who greatly supported Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, have nuclear weapons, but they sold the technology and raw materials to Iran, North Korea and Libya to name a few (that would be two out of three members of the "Axis of Evil," the only absentee being Iraq).

2. Invading Iraq would greatly aid Iran by eliminating its nemesis to the West in Saddam Hussein, and allowing for the power vacuum to be filled by a predominately Shiite pro-Iranian regime.

3. Invading any Muslim country will incite anti-American radicalism and provide a boon to Al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts, so we need to pick our fights wisely and with the utmost discretion.

4. All wars have enormous financial costs and are unpredictable in nature so there are several unintended consequences that could be unleashed that will destabilize any region we invade while at the same time our military is bogged down and less able to address the result from the destabilization. So again we need to pick our fights wisely and with the utmost discretion.

Then of course there are the other issues that might not have been as foreseeable even for the imaginary honest adviser such as the catastrophic impact of the Abu-Ghraib debacle, the weakening of traditional alliances, and the loss of credibility for our intelligence gathering and threat assessment capacities. But these sorts of conversations only take place with Presidents that "do nuance" and who are interested in the wider ramifications and implications of foreign policy. Not those that are prone to black and white snap judgments, that are stubbornly defended even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

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