Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Target Choice

Yglesias writes:
I think folks who supported the war on these grounds (Tom Friedman, etc.) are suffering from a serious case of false consciousness. In other words, it's not the case that they have a big idea -- The Need for Reconstruction -- and then the small idea -- Invade Iraq -- follows logically from TNFR. Rather, they had a big idea -- TNFR -- and no real idea of what followed from it. At the same time, there were all these people out there saying "invade Iraq!" "invade Iraq!" "invade Iraq!" so they manaed to convince themselves that invading Iraq would be a good way to implement their big idea. But it isn't, and it wasn't.

I wouldn't put it exactly that way. I would say that other, only partially related factors -- for instance, the idea of "unfinished business," the unwieldy and expensive sanctions, Saddam's violation of the end-of-war terms and direct hostilities against the US (e.g. firing at our planes patrolling the no-fly zone) bumped Iraq to the top of the go-to-war list. The fact that the War on Terror is our primary reason doesn't mean we can't include all those other considerations.

However, I have to agree with Yglesias; Iraq was not the optimal target. I would have either gone after Syria (a clearer direct threat to a free people, and accessible from the sea, and also a stepping stone to Iraq if necessary) or Iran.

I still disagree with Yglesias on the specifics of what a better choice might have been. He seems to advocate using pressure -- with the leverage he says we have (or had before the Iraq War) withother Middle East countries to try to get Egypt to reform. My response is that we couldn't possibly have done that fast enough. We needed to invade somewhere beyond Afghanistan. The Middle East is a target-rich environment, and one country hardly makes a dent. We needed something that would make other dictators change to create a hostile environment for terrorists and open up to the west by introducing greater economic and solcial liberties, rather than just trying not to get caught like Afghanistan. If the US policy of invasion had stopped at Afghanistan, it would not have been a War on Terror. It would have been, essentially, a Clinton- (and pre-9/11 Bush-) style proportional retaliation. Instead, we have made it clear that we expect not merely no traceable offenses, but cooperation. And Qaddaffi, among others, seems to have gotten the message. Iraq may not have been the best country to invade. But something had to be done.

Second-guessing about which country to invade is unhelpful because I don't recall many Democrats proposing alternate invasion plans at the time with which we can now meaningfully contrast the Iraq invasion (with the exception of the usually unserious call to take on Saudi Arabia).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Yglesias expresses his idea as clearly as one could. Thanks for helping me understand him. In any case, since you said, "And Qaddaffi, among others, seems to have gotten the message," who are "the others?" The answer to this question would seem crucial to your thesis, since you think the constructive purpose of the invasion was to be a deterrent and persuader of other countries.

I am disappointed in the level of revisionism by the Democratic candidates and the U.S. Senators. Maybe they made a mistake in supporting the invasion, but it seens disingenuous to blame it on President Bush and the CIA. We had been attacked, we expected more attacks, Saddam Hussein seemed complicitous at the time. Our judgment was not and could not have been as precise as the military actions to follow. If Members of Congress made a mistake, let them take responsbility for it along with Bush!


12:43 AM  

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