Saturday, November 18, 2006

# Posted 11:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW DOES A LIBERAL HAWK APOLOGIZE FOR IRAQ? That is the challenge facing Peter Beinart and other liberal interventionists. They don't want liberalism to return to the inward-looking dovishness of the post-Vietnam era. But they also must persuade their fellow liberals that supporting the invasion of Iraq was an accident, not a true expression of the muscular liberalism that Beinart and others prescribe.

In the introduction to his recent book, The Good Fight, Beinart writes that:
I supported the war because I considered it the only remaining way to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining a nuclear bomb. I also believed it could produce a decent, pluralistic Iraqi regime...On both counts, I was wrong. (pages xii-xiii)
Really, a nuclear bomb? I know that the President and others made ominous references to a mushroom cloud, but I also remember that almost all Democrats and almost all analysts rejected out of hand the possibility that Iraq had, or would soon have, a bomb.

What I remember was an intense debate about whether it was worth going to war if Saddam only had chem-bio weapons and if the UN refused to support the invasion. Yet Beinart addresses those subjects in passing or not at all in the sixth chapter of his book, where he expands on the brief comments in his introduction. (For my comments on the first five chapters, see here.)

Entitled "Iraq", it must have been a very hard to chapter to write. In it, one expects Beinart to provide a rationale for the invasion compelling enough to command the support of well-informed liberals circa 2003, but flawed enough to be soundly rejected in hindsight. I don't think Beinart comes close to meeting that expectation.

Instead, he reviews the arguments for war made by the administration then rejects them as misguided or deceptive. The problem is, those arguments provoked exactly the same criticism from the left when they were first made, well before the invasion. Presumably, Beinart was familiar at the time with the contents of The Nation and the NYT editorial and op-ed pages.

Beinart's expansion on the issue of Saddam's nuclear program is indicative. He notes that in 2001, the CIA dismissed the possibility that Saddam has any sort of meaningful nuclear program. Yet the CIA's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) asserted that "most analysts assess Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

Beinart then reminds us that CIA's "only concrete evidence" of an Iraqi weapons program was discredited by UN inspectors in February 2003. That evidence consisted of aluminum tubes that were supposedly for use in a nuclear program. The inspectors said they weren't.

Furthermore, the inspectors rejected the Preisdent's that Saddam had sought to purchase uranium in Africa. Finally, on March 7, they declared they had found no indication of a nuclear program in Iraq.

If concerns about an Iraqi nuclear program led Beinart to support the war, why didn't the inspectors' assertions change his mind? Curiously, Beinart observes that
In mainstream political and journalistic circles, these revelations didn't receive the attention they deserved -- because many people in Washington had already made up their minds on the war. (p.152)
Beinart seems to imply that he was one of those close-minded individuals. I don't buy it. No editor of the New Republic would have failed to notice what the inspectors were saying. No issue was more important than Iraq in early 2003. Appropriately, every move the inspectors made was covered on the front-pages of US and European newspapers.

What I am willing to believe is that three years after the fact, an editor of the New Republic might have hazy memories of precisely why he supported a war. In order to make his chapter persuasive, Beinart should've gone back to the best liberal arguments on behalf of the war and evaluated their merits. His own writings would have been a good place to start. Also well-known is Ken Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, which Beinart cites in his chapter. Or Beinart could look at why so many Democratic legislators continued to support the war.

What I had most hoped to see in Beinart's chapter on Iraq was a detailed discussion of how much influence the United Nations and the international community should have over important American decisions. I think this was the real crux of the debate over the war in Iraq as well as the most important theoretical divide between liberals and conservatives in the realm of national security.

In earlier chapters, Beinart himself assails conservatives for rejecting international institutions and their ability to legitimize American power. Yet as Beinart's commentary on the Kosovo war indicates, he also knows that waiting for the green light from the UN can be a "recipe for inaction", which is why he rejects the left-liberal embrace of the UN as the answer to every question.

As Beinart explains in his opening chapter, the search for a middle ground is the essence of his project. He wants to rebuild his party's credibility on national security by staking out a principled position that commands the center of the political spectrum. That is the right objective, but it seems to be a good ways off.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum illustrates how Peter Beinart's memory may be more accurate than my own.
(14) opinions -- Add your opinion

David, there are two underlying problems here: first, the assumption that there needs to be some "apology" for Iraq. The easy answer to that is "No apology necessary. We got rid of a genocidal gangster and gave 25 million people at least the chance of political liberty in a pluralistic democracy."

The second is the ahistorical, and often counter-factual, statements you make about the war itself. You assert the notion that the inspectors had shown that those aluminum tubes weren't suited for centrifuges;m you ignore the fact that there were good reasons to wonder if the inspectors had good information, and could be trusted to share that information. You repeat the hoary claim that the Iraqis hadn't attempted to purchase uranium in Africa --- but skip over the fact that Amb Wilson's own report actually confirmed that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium not only in Africa, but in fact in Niger. So, in at least this context, what we have is the inspectors being directly contradicted by our own intelligence. Furthermore, it neglects the fact that Iraq already had 500 tonnes of yellowcake uranium; under IAEA seal, certainly, but those seals aren't particularly good at stopping a determined ten year old with a pair of pliers.

What's more, it ignores the increasing collection of intelligence discovered and translated post-war that shows Iraq had NBC weapons programs that were either active, if under cover, or mothballed in a way to allow very expedient recovery as soon as the sanctions ended.

The point here is that any attempt to apologize for the war is apt to collapse on its own self-contradictions, at least for a liberal. It also leaves Beinart in the interesting position that the war was unjustified, and that necessarily therefore the continued genocide and oppression of the Iraq people was justifiable and desirable.

Which Beinart may believe, but it's hardly "liberal."
Ditto everything Seneca said. Even Hans Blix told the LA Times "I could not say in the middle of March [2003] that there are no weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]." (3/17/04)

This is why Joe Lieberman and others who have refused to renounce their pre-war support for the liberation of Iraq -- whether strategically advisable or not -- are so admirable, certainly in comparison to those on the Left and Right who started engaging in heavy revisionism of their own positions once the insurgency made the final outcome less certain.
Huy :)
Why should a liberal apologise? It was a Liberal Imperialist adventure. Any conservatives who supported it should apologise.
"... almost all analysts rejected out of hand the possibility that Iraq had, or would soon have, a bomb."

Not long ago, the Military posted on a web site some documents taken from Iraq, then removed them when some analysts voiced a concern that anyone reading them could make a nuclear bomb in less than a year. No one mentioned that this contradicted the coventional wisdom, as in the quote above.
those documents referred to the Iraqi bomb program which existed before 1991. At that time, Iraq was about a year away from a bomb. The Iraqi program was completely shutdown by the inspection regime and would have taken several years to reconstitute. They also would have had to rebuild from essentially nothing (one centrifuge buried in a garden) their fissionable material infrastructure.

All those documents showed is that the administration was sufficiently incautious to put detailed nuclear bomb plans in Arabic up on the internet. Apparently they could not find the resources to translate them and hoped the blogging community would help out. Unfortunately, they did not do even a minimal effort at screening them to see if any of the material was unwise to hand over to Al Quaeda or anyone else with an interest.
This is all a rather sad pissing match between discredited "liberal hawks" and unrepentant neo-cons. Of course nobody knew for certain if Saddam had gotten rid of his WMDs. But the evidence that he still had them was always quite spotty as well. The problem was that Bush insisted that we could not wait to find out. So, instead, we went to war and foud out that he was wrong (as he now admits).

What's most tragic is that we removed a genocidal dictator and replaced him, through our own arrogance and incompetence, with sectarian genocide. Can anyone argue in good conscience that post-Saddam Iraq has treated ordinary Iraqi civilians better than Saddam's Iraq? Surely, most Iraqis don't want to go back to Saddam. But they probably don't want to go back to the Hashemite monarchy either. They want something newer and better, not the present or past horrors. The tragedy is our betrayal of the hopes of ordinary Iraqis who longed for a better world after the removal of their dictator. Anti-war liberals viewed the national security threat of Saddam with skepticism in 2003. They were right to do so. Anti-war liberals also viewed the humanitarian claims of the Bush Administration with jaded eyes. And they were right to do so.

That we anti-war liberals were right is hardly an occasion for joy. Our nation's honor, and the Iraqi people's dreams, are now in tatters thanks to the bloviating idiots in and around the Bush White House. We all now pay the price.
"The Iraqi program was completely shutdown by the inspection regime and would have taken several years to reconstitute. They also would have had to rebuild from essentially nothing (one centrifuge buried in a garden) their fissionable material infrastructure."

So why were we told that **anyone** reading these documents could build a bomb in under one year? That was, after all, the reason given for removing the documents from the internet.

I do not think you could equate what is going on in Iraq as genocide.

I attended a meeting the other day where the guest speaker discussed counter-terrorism.

An audience member asked, in relation to Iraq, whether a country should go to war with another country when the majority of the people say not to go. The speaker stated that it was too late, we are already there (in Iraq).

However, the question is revealing because it shows how quickly people forget the facts. I do not recall the war starting with the majority of the population disagreeing with the concept.

Hindsight experts are always right.

With regard to Genocide - I do think that Sadaam's efforts to eliminate the Marsh Arabs might be in the league.
[dearieme said] Why should a liberal apologise? It was a Liberal Imperialist adventure. Any conservatives who supported it should apologise.
I would tend to agree that it is better seen as a fairly liberal foreign policy, to remove a strongman and, perhaps even moreso, an Arab one, although I've taken some blogsospherical flak for saying so.

However, the main point here would be that it ought not to have been an "imperialist" adventure by necessity. It only became so when the Conservatives, of a variety of stripes, decided that they were going to try put their imprimatur too greatly on the project. (This is also what is leading Beinhart to wring hands about not "winning", unfortunately.)

Don't send a militarist to execute a liberal idealist foreign policy stroke. The Conservative Party have screwed it up altogether. Newt Gingrich, for one, has declared a 'defeat' of sorts, already.

Basically, a Conservative dominated government has lead their party, without all traditional allies, to what is in their own minds (and on their own realist philosophy) a failure. That ought to end any notion that they are the party that is strong on defense for at least a generation or two, I would think.

[elrod said] What's most tragic is that we removed a genocidal dictator and replaced him, through our own arrogance and incompetence, with sectarian genocide.
The sectarian violence is indeed grave, but at the same time, it doesn't have scale, yet. (Not that it has to, perhaps, to achieve what those trying to foment it desire.)

Still, I'm not sure why this kind of punishment of virtue is especially troubling to liberals.

Put another way, were one to come across the situation, not knowing the past history, and observe a region - any region - (its not really the whole nation, at this point) on the verge of sectarian strife, who would be more likely to advocate some type of intervention to quell the potential tide of escalating conflict, liberals or conservatives?

The role of the UN, which PP indicates that PB leave out, perhaps we might say that the greater the uncertainty (of outcomes, of threat perception), the greater the importance of multilateralism.
Ok, its 2003, US doesnt invade. Saddam dies, Uday takes power, the Shiites rebel, AQ jumps in, etc, etc. Do we stay out and let AQ establish a base? Encourage the Iranians to take over cause at least theyre better than AQ? Or do we go in anyway (and note, in this case there are still unresolved doubts about what WMDs Iraq actually has)

Why do we assume Saddam would have maintained stability, and that a failed state wouldnt have happened anyway? Folks dishing against liberal hawks and neocons for not predicting every rumsfeld screw-up, every Sistanti mistake, every UN decision to runaway (as they did in august 2003)sure do assume THEY knew exactly how history would turn out. dont they.
We are currently worried about nukes in Iran and North Korea, and the impression is that it is getting easier to put these things together.
Time passes and what was once advanced physics shows up in an engineering study, thence, eventually, to a technician's manual. See your computer manual.
Time passes and the folks who had the plan but not fissile material get the fissile material and we start to wonder why we ever thought they would/could never get it.
Itinerant nuclear scientists travel or send plans.
In this world, SH's problems in getting nukes would decrease at the same time his program moved forward.
The only question to answer is whether SH would have pursued nukes if he'd not been in jail.
What do you think?

Deniers operate with factors in isolation:
The design recently taken off the web was old. Can't use it and improve it?
He didn't try to get ore in Niger. Except he did, and had some in hand already. And could have gotten it elsewhere.
He doesn't have missiles. Except he did and had programs to make more.
He only had one centrifuge. Can't buy more? Iran did.

Only question is, again: Would he have pursued nukes if he'd had a chance?

If the answer is no, give us some reasons. If the answer is yes, tell us whether he would have succeeded.
Why is the current situation in Iraq not genocide? If Darfure is, why not the systemic slaughter of Sunnis by Shi'ite death squads? Or the murder of Shi'ite civilians by Sunni car bombs. Iraq is a case of mutual genocide, where the civilian population is a deliberate target of the militias and insurgents.

Saddam committed acts of genocide against the Kurds at Anfal, the Shi'ites in 1991, and the Marsh Arabs in the late 1990s. By genocide, I mean the targeted murder of civilians simply because of their ethnic or religious identity.

Some genocides are obviously more "complete" or "systematic" than others. Every genocide need not be Hitler or Pol Pot in order to qualify. The important point is that the diffuse mass murderers in Iraq are not merely targeting government officials, but rather are trying to murder innocent people simply to eliminate them from the country.

There is no way to know how those counterfactuals would play out. All I know is that in January 2003, Hans Blix reported that the CIA was telling him where the WMD were and Blix kept saying "BS. They aren't there. You don't know what you're talking about." In response, Colin Powell invented a scenario through which Iraq actually moved the weapons moments before the inspectors arrived. It was the last chance to make the case. Within a week, various experts like El Baradei and Blix himself showed that the UN presentation was deeply flawed. It was at that point that I concluded that Iraq either does not have WMD, or at the very least, we have no cause for war based on the sound assumption that he does have them. Simply put, I trusted Blix more than I did Bush.

Saddam was a vicious and despicable thug. He murdered 300,000 people just so he could stay in power. He invaded two foreign countries and led to millions more deaths. And the sanctions used to contain him in the 1990s brought untold horrors on Iraqi children. That last point was always - and still is - the best case for war. Sanctions worked: Saddam wanted a WMD program but couldn't get one because the US and UK wouldn't let him have one. The result of sanctions was the total breakdown of the health system of the country - Saddam, of course, redirected oil-for-food money to his own pocket, but we all knew he'd do that.

The case for war was always weak, but it could have been salvaged by a successful execution. And when Rumsfeld scoffed at the looting, I knew that he never took seriously the post-war plans for political transition.

My point is that there was plenty of evidence of dishonesty and incompetence in the early days of the war to justify suspicion of the whole project.
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