Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sorry Farley

It is really quite rare that I disagree with Robert Farley. He is as easy to read as he is insightful, and in my opinion TAPPED made another fine choice in bringing him on. Today, however, marks one of the rare points of departure between me and Blake's TAPPED mate. In this post, Farley takes aim at a snippet of speech from President Bush (usually an exercise in dispatching fish crowded in a barrel via some manner of firearm), but I think he might have missed the mark somewhat and been too uncharitable to Bush's argument (did I just type that?). Said Farley:

A SLIP? Which of these are actually bad, and which are bad merely for the Republican Party?

Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

As Rodger Payne notes, the failure to find stockpiles of WMD is actually a good thing, given that it means Iraq didn't have any WMD, and that a strategy of diplomatic and military containment can be wildly successful against rogue regimes.

First things first: Payne and Farley are right to note that not finding WMD had a tangible upside. Not only did it relieve anxiety over Saddam's destructive arsenal - and its potential use on our soldiers, or elsewhere - but it also, as Payne argued, offered evidence that policies of containment through inspections/sanctions could be "wildly successful." That's good to know. Further, and perhaps relatedly, the discovery of this colossal blunder undercut the likelihood of launching subsequent disastrous wars of transformation in the Muslim world. This is an unequivocal positive, despite the crestfallen Lawrence Kaplan.

But there was a down side - and not exclusively for the Republican Party. The failure to find WMD in Iraq has greatly tarnished our credibility on all matters of intelligence. This has hurt our ability to muster robust support for certain other non-proliferation strategies - as well as a host of other efforts in the GWOT. Credibility in intelligence matters is a valuable asset squandered at one's peril (leaving aside questions of culpability in squandering such assets).

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the failure to find WMD led to an avalanche of cynicism, suspicion and mistrust about our actual motives for invading Iraq in the first place. This 'revelation,' as it were, has fueled the fires of anti-Americanism which has strengthened the hand of al-Qaeda and others that would commit violence in the name of Islam, while at the same time weakening our position in Iraq itself, and the Muslim world more generally speaking. The mission to win over moderate Muslims, and lessen the intensity of anger within the hostile factions, suffered a significant setback as this story unfolded to our detriment.

In this sense, the failure to find WMD has made our mission in Iraq, and beyond, more problematic. We have incurred real costs as a result, both on the ground in Iraq and throughout the rest of the world, in the form of increased resistance, a greater reluctance to cooperate with our lead on sensitive matters and greater doubt about our intentions as the world's lone hegemon.

This will negatively affect Republicans and Democrats alike for years to come. Of course, in my opinion, these costs provide yet another a powerful argument against exaggerating, fabricating and hyping intelligence and/or launching wars using justifications that do not tell the complete, or accurate, story of the real casus belli lurking beneath. But that is another story.

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