Sunday, October 30, 2005

# Posted 10:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCOWCROFT, TAKE TWO: All right, I'm back. I've read Jeffrey Goldberg's profile of Brent Scowcroft in the New Yorker and found it to be worth the while. Although focused on Scowcroft, it would be more informative to describe Goldberg's article as a fair-minded primer on the divide between realists and idealists within the GOP foreign policy establishment.

The article begins by using Scowcroft's record to demonstrate what realism has to offer. In 1991, Scowcroft opposed taking out Saddam, whereas Wolfowitz wanted to March on Baghdad. In 2002, Scowcroft went public in the WSJ with his opposition to invading Iraq. Thus realism is supposedly the doctrine that prevents the United States from entangling itself in dangerous and expensive occupations.

But at what cost? As most pundits would, Goldberg asks whether the self-consciously amoral approach to diplomacy that motivated Scowcroft to oppose regime change is a doctrine that Americans could ever apply with a clear conscience. Scowcroft is basically unapologetic about the first Bush administration's uncaring response to the slaughter in Bosnia. However, one could write that off as simply Scowcroft's defense of his own record.

In contrast, what interest could Scowcroft possibly have in defending the Clinton administration for its pathetic response to the genocide in Rwanda? If Scowcroft were less sincere, he might have mitigated the charge of amorality by saying that when confronted with definite evidence of genocide, even realists believe in intervention. But no:
"A terrible situation -- just tragic," Scowcroft said of Rwanda. "But, before you intervene, you have to ask yourself, 'If I go in, how do I get out? And you have to ask questions about the national interest."
Although Goldberg lets Richard Holbrooke respond to this remark by asserting that "support for American values is part of our national-security interests", Goldberg's article as a whole fails to develop this point, which is absolutely critical to the idealist worldview.

Instead, Goldberg slips into a realist framework in which one confronts a clear choice between ideals and interests. It may have been right for the United States to defend human rights Bosnia and Rwanda, but what do we have to gain from it?

Simply framing the question in this way gives away half the debate. Even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that the occupations of Germany and Japan in no way justify the occupation of Iraq, it is still absolutely critical to point out that the transformation of Germany and Japan from militarist empires into liberal democracies was absolutely critical to the United States' victory in the Cold War.

Often, committed realists often seem to forget their visceral opposition to the democratization of Japan on the grounds both that America had no right to dictate the Japanese form of government and that the Japanese people weren't ready for democracy. (With regard to Germany, the realists put up less of a fight.)

These days, critics of our nation-building project in Iraq, realists included, argue that we should've known it was going to fail because unlike Japan, Iraq is not ethnically unified and was not an advanced industrial nation before the war. But were there any realists who appreciated these underlying realities and therefore supported the democratization of Japan? Not as far as I know.

Whenever there is a country that may have a chance to cross the democratic threshold with American assistance, there will always be realists there to tell us that the people of that country aren't "ready". Because rather than a commitment to seeing reality as it is, realism is a commitment to a view of human nature that considers freedom to be less important than stability.

Scowcroft, at least, is candid about this fact. He tells Goldberg that
"This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case...some people don't really want to be free."
It would be nice if Scowcroft would tell us precisely which people these are, since it would surely prevent us from ever occupying their homelands in the name of democracy promotion. I'm guessing that before March 2003, the good general would've have listed the purple-fingered people of Iraq as those who were least likely to be "ready" for democracy.

In fact, a marked blindness to this universal desire for freedom actually led to one of the most significant mistakes of Scowcroft's tenure in the Bush 41 White House. During the first Gulf War, President Bush encouraged the people of Iraq to "take matters into [their] own hands." The result was a massive Shi'ite-Kurdish uprising that Saddam brutally repressed. These uprisings caught Scowcroft totally unprepared. As Goldberg points out, Scowcroft and Bush 41 later wrote that
It is true that we hoped Saddam would be toppled. But we never that that could be done by anyone outside the military and never tried to incite the general population. It is stretching the point to imagine that a routine speech in Washington would have gotten to the Iraqi malcontents and have been the motivation for the subsequent actions of the Shiites and Kurds."
After reading that quote, I was ready for Goldberg to deliver the knockout punch. Wasn't he about to write that Bush & Scowcrofts ignorance provides a powerful demonstration of the costs of being ignorant of the human desire for freedom? Who knows -- with minimal American support those Shiite and Kurdish uprisings might have accomplished exactly what American soldiers are now attempting to accomplish with their own blood.
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