IRAQ UPDATE

My note on the ethics of debating foreign policy drew lots of comment (e.g., from Max Sawicky), but every time I got ready to reply some new event intervened. First the Iraqis said they’d let the inspectors in, which made the strategy of threatening war look good. Then the Bushies rejected the offer out of hand, which made it look as if they were more interested in going to war than in using the threat of war to strip Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and its capacity to produce more.

Then the Iraqis “clarified” their position almost to death, for example by claiming an exemption for SH’s presidential compounds, which apparently means a lot more than the equivalent of the White House plus Camp David. On the one hand, that tended to confirm the wisdom of the initial Administration reaction to the offer; on the other, it suggested that that reaction might have been a diplomatic mistake, since it allowed Iraq to deflect condemnation for its weaseling with the reasonable argument that the Bushies’ bloodlust was so intense that war was inevitable whatever Iraq did or didn’t agree to. (If there’s going to be a war anyway, why should Iraq open itself to an inspections effort with clear tactical intelligence utility to any invader? There seems to be no doubt that US military intelligence made what it could of the opportunities offered by the inspections process in the 1990s.)

The alternative would have been a statement that said, “We’re delighted Iraq says it’s finally prepared to do the right thing, but since its leadership is a bunch of damned liars we only half believe it. In order to satisfy our need to ensure that the SH regime is not accumulating WMD’s, any inspections program must include [X, Y, Z]. Secretary Powell has been on the phone with the Secretary-General and asked him to determine, by next week, whether the UN is prepared to execute, and Iraq is prepared to accept, an inspections program on those terms, which would preclude the need for military action.”

Preclude the need for military action: ay, there’s the rub. Just as many in the peace camp seem willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iraq if the only alternative is war, the true warhawks seem determined to have their war even if Iraq’s WMD capacity could be eliminated without it. Maybe that’s not right, but if it’s not I’d like to hear the President say so in so many words, and say why. Even if explicitness on this point is too much to ask for from official sources, I’d be very interested in a clear statement from one or more of the warbloggers on this point. [Glenn? Eugene?]

No great fan of “international law” in the absence of international cops, I’m fairly comfortable morally (my operational concerns are a different problem) with a pre-emptive strike to keep a regime with a track record of aggression from getting The Bomb or its biological equivalent. [I’ve never been persuaded that poison gas belongs in the same category.]

I’m even comfortable with “regime change” as an objective, when the regime is awful enough, when there’s popular support in the target country, and when the change promises to come relatively cheap in blood and treasure; at least, that’s what I thought about Haiti and Cambodia and South Africa, and still think about Burma (why say “Myanmar”?). But I can’t really see that Iraq’s aggression of a decade ago, plus its truly awful domestic record, would justify a bloody war to force a change of rulers IF (a huge if) we could be assured that he wasn’t getting ready to nuke Tel Aviv or hit New York with Ebola virus.

I’m not going to guess about the domestic politics of this: at the moment, the Bushies seem to be winning, and that has to be the safest forecast about the outcome. But this CBS News Poll suggests that the population at large may be a little less war-happy, and a little more inclined to respect the UN, than the Administration, or the Washington Post. (Oddly, it doesn’t ask the question, “If a Senator from your state were to vote for a less sweeping grant of war powers than President Bush has requested, would that make you more likely to vote for that Senator, less likely to vote for that Senator, or have no effect either way?) The fact that Gore, a Gulf War hawk, just came down fairly clearly on the dove side may or may not mean anything, either as an indicator or in terms of whatever influence he might still have. But what’s Jack Kemp doing in the anti-war camp? (Maybe somebody finally told him that the military was part of the government.) And three retired four-star generals, including Clark and Shalikasvili? Still, the polls are starting to look somewhat better for Bush and lousy for the Congressional Democrats, and the Iowa market agrees.

Whatever the domestic shake-out, it does seem to me that the perception that the Administration is insisting on war, rather than being dragged into it by Iraqi intransigence, has to be a problem as it tries to gather support internationally.

[Footnote: Bush & Co. just openly — and, as it turned out, unsuccessfully — tried to intervene in Germany’s elections. After that didn’t work, they publicly insulted the newly re-elected German government. Don’t I recall a Presidential candidate talking about the value of humility in international relations?]

Michael Walzer has some penetrating things to say in the New Republic. (Not nearly as much fun as listening to him talk about Hobbes, but way above the general run of commentary.) He’s prepared for war, but only as a last resort, and harshly critical of both the Bushies’ enthusiasm for invading and of the European (especially Franco-Russian) unwillingness to push real inspections, both in the 1990s and now. He concludes:

So we may yet face the hardest political question: What ought to be done when what ought to be done is not going to be done? But we shouldn’t be too quick to answer that question. If the dithering and delay go on and on–if the inspectors don’t return or if they return but can’t work effectively; if the threat of enforcement is not made credible; and if our allies are unwilling to act–then many of us will probably end up, very reluctantly, supporting the war the Bush administration seems so eager to fight. Right now, however, there are other things to do, and there is still time to do them. The administration’s war is neither just nor necessary.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com