Saturday, August 18, 2007

Foreign Policy Revisionism

There's an interesting debate going on among the blogosphere's mandarins about whether there's a cabal of foreign policy mandarins who stifle dissent in their own ranks. As a result, argue bloggers, they circle the wagons on any non-neocon view--a practice continuing even now. [See Yglesias, the young mandarin, Atrios, the older one.] Kevin Drum, the wonky one (and my fave), adds this:
Sure, the war skeptics might have been afraid to go against the herd, but I think that was just an outgrowth of something more concrete: a fear of being provably wrong. After all, everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and unpredictable thug and almost everyone agreed that he had an active WMD program.... This meant that war skeptics had to go way out on a limb: if they opposed the war, and it subsequently turned out that Saddam had an advanced WMD program, their credibility would have been completely shot. Their only recourse would have been to argue that Saddam never would have used his WMD, an argument that, given Saddam's temperament, would have sounded like special pleading even to most liberals. In the end, then, they chickened out, but it had more to do with fear of being wrong than with fear of being shunned by the foreign policy community. [Itals Kevin's]
I don't know about the whole foreign-policy community argument, but Kevin repeats a somewhat perverted version of history that's fast becoming the standard. Not that anyone reads this blog or cares, but I think several points are worth mentioning in service of reclaiming the past. (Gassho to Orwell.)

1. Not everyone agreed he had an active weapons program. Everyone agreed--or assumed--he had active weapons. But over ten years of embargoes, bombings, and inspections had taken their toll, and the extent to which he was able to continue these programs was unclear. Moreover, the skepticism of this claim skyrocketed when Hans Blix got on the scene. Particularly outside America, the notion that he had active programs was definitely disputed.

2. There were at least four reasons for foreign policy types to oppose the war that trumped the supposed existence of WMD: international law, which allows invasions only under imminent threat; derailing the real and serious effort to reign in al Qaida; international disapproval, particularly in the mideast, which we were ostensibly trying to pacify; and the obvious near-impossibility of dealing with the aftermath. Foreign policy analysts were offering these points and, outside the US and UK, they were pervasive.

3. Kevin offers an interesting tell that I picked up in late 2002 with his business about Saddam's instability and readiness to use WMD.* If the US were actually fearful of a bristling arsenal of Iraqi WMD, why did we invade so quickly and with so little preparation? The antiwar analysts should have seen this as an obvious indication that the White House wasn't really serious about their own claims.

*Kevin's wrong about the instability, too. He was one of the most reliable and predictable despots in the mideast and to my knowledge never did anything the US didn't anticipate.

1 comment:

cwilcox said...

Obama stood against the war. I remember feeling a great sense of foreboding and told my family how stupid it was that we actually invaded Iraq. Even when they showed the toppling of that big Sadham statue I got a sick feeling in my stomach that we should not be there. Those who voted for the war did so because they were wrapped up in the moment, they wanted revenge and it made them feel tough and patriotic to do it. Shame on them.