Some random notes, while waiting for the other shoe to drop

Notes from two long conversations yesterday with pro-war, pro-Bush foreign policy experts:

1. Even if this goes well, it’s going to be bloodier than the first Gulf War. But the country hasn’t been prepared for that. Saving up trouble.

2. Will Bush really impose a peace deal on the Israelis? He could, and doing so right now, or as soon as the rubble stops smoking in Iraq, would yield some big dividends diplomatically without hurting him much politically. But it would be very uncharacteristic.

3. Good chance SH actually uses chem and bio weapons in the field, and blows the oilfields.

4. Once we win, we’re going to start digging up tons of forbidden, which is going to make the doubters look pretty silly.

5. An Afghan-style in-and-out occupation isn’t going to make Iraq a democracy. On the other hand, it’s not clear that the Iraqis, or the other Arabs, would really hold still for a German or Japanese-style long occupation. Anyway, who do we have who could do the job? Powell could, but would he take it? Clinton might do it well, but Bush would never give him a chance to rehabilitate himself politically.

6. Going back to the Security Council seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect it was a disaster. What Napoleon said about war is right about diplomacy: “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

7. Not getting France to go along is understandable; a vote of 12-1 with two abstentions would have been a technical defeat, but a diplomatic victory. Not getting Mexico and Chile to go along is astonishing.

8. Turkey was mishandled six ways from Sunday. We should have pulled out all the stops to get them the EU entry date they so desperately wanted last year, putting a chit in our favor bank with them, rather than just trying to pay them off at the moment when we needed them.

9. The theory that Bush was gunning for Iraq from the git-go isn’t consistent with his behavior about Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, and the ABM treaty. Given that we were going to need other countries to go along, why annoy them? “It’s hard to negotiate effectively when you spend all your time giving people the finger.”

10. On the other hand, shafting Fox and Castaneda on the immigration issue happened after 9-11, with Iraq clearly in view. Maybe the real story is a characteristic failure to think ahead and to consider the stakes of other players.

11. Rice and Powell both come out of this looking bad, especially Powell. But he’s probably too loyal to quit and to big to fire.

12. Iraq is the easy problem. North Korea is the hard problem. Taking out SH won’t be a huge strain, and leaving him in power for a couple of years wouldn’t have been very risky. Taking out Kim Jong Il would be extremely hard, and leaving him in power would be extremely risky. The border-crossing precedent we’re setting in Iraq isn’t important; the precedent that your first nuke makes you invulnerable, which we seem about to set in Korea, is frightening. The case for doing to Yongban what the Israelis did to Osirak — and doing so without tipping our hand in advance, or asking anybody’s permission — is very strong.

Update Dan Simon points out that Tony Blair also doesn’t come out of this looking very skillful. Following his lead has both slowed us down and made our diplomatic situation worse. Since we needed Blair on board, perhaps it’s unfair to blame the Bush crew for going along with what turned out to be Blair’s ideas, which did him some good both domestically and internationally but were nothing but bad news for us.

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