Tag: ahmed chalabi

Wall Street Journal: Romney Should Be a Neocon, but Hide It in Debate

Would you buy a foreign policy from this man?

Imagine a world in which the Iraq War had gone exactly as marketed. The United States invaded in March 2003. The Iraqis, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi, rapidly transitioned to become a stable, liberal democracy allied with the United States against Iran. The marvelous and smooth transformation had ripple effects throughout the region: a handful of Arab states followed suit, and the United States had drawn down to under 30,000 troops in country by September 2003, setting up a basing agreement with the new Iraqi government to stay indefinitely. Few American lives were lost, the swamp of terrorism was drained, and an oil pipeline has just been completed running from Iraq to the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Imagine, at the same time, that opponents of the war, despite having gotten every major judgment about the prudence and consequences of the war comically wrong, had been vaulted to positions of power and prestige in foreign affairs commentary. Meanwhile, the war’s proponents, despite their support for a strategy that yielded huge strategic dividends for the United States at a low cost, were banished to the wilderness, heard from sporadically on a few blogs and at a think tank or two.

It would be strange, wouldn’t it?

And yet that situation is roughly analogous to the one in which we find ourselves today, except in real life the war was an enormous disaster, just as its opponents predicted, and the proponents of the war are the ones in denial about its implications. Foremost among the salespeople for war who have yet to come to grips with the facts are the members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones: they’ve got some advice for Mitt Romney in his upcoming foreign policy debate.

First, the good news: Even the editorial board of the Journal seems to understand that speaking openly about their plans for more wars would be bad politics. Accordingly, the Journal doesn’t “expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine” and they worry about the implications of Obama charging Romney with wanting to get the United States into a third (and fourth) Middle East war. This is in keeping with the previous assurance of Bret Stephens (pictured above) that Romney wouldn’t start any new wars. Romney should deny wanting any more wars while doing a number of things that make them inevitable.

Second, the bad news: Instead of suggesting that Romney actually trim the neocon sail a bit, the article suggests Romney continue his strategy of wheeling out a fog machine and saying “leadership” and “strength” instead of discussing details. The American people who tune in Monday night deserve to hear some specifics. Not the level of specifics that would satisfy the people who think about international politics for a living, sure, but some specifics. Instead, while suggesting that Romney “offer[] a serious critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that doesn’t descend to clichés,” the article suggests clichés but not seriousness.

This blends with the ugly news: like an insular clique of Bourbon royalty, the neocons at the Journal appear to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing about strategy over the last 10 years. To the extent their suggestions do go beyond clichés, they are a reminder that Bush-era neoconservatism still lies at the center of their world view, and the world view of the Republican establishment. A few examples:

  • The war in Iraq, we are informed, had “already been won when Mr. Obama became president.” Mission accomplished? Come again?
  • Obama turned that win into a loss by failing to secure “a viable alliance with Baghdad and a bulwark against Tehran.” When you have allocated yourselves 1,608 words, you may want to show your work about how this could have happened.
  • Another Obama failure is that he allowed Israel to have a partially independent defense strategy. He should have “provide[d] Israel with reassurances that it needn’t consider its own military options” on Iran. If Israelis should just rely on the United States to defend them from the most important threats facing their country, why does Israel have such a powerful military in the first place?
  • Obama’s “policies of premature military withdrawals [in Iraq and Afghanistan] have increased rather than diminished the chances that we will be at war in the Middle East again.” How? In which countries?

One could go on. But more broadly the piece suffers from the flaw that has characterized the whole foreign-policy discussion in the election: the idea that the outside world begins at Algeria and ends at Afghanistan. The sprawling essay says exactly nothing useful when it comes to the most important foreign policy challenges facing the United States: the prospect of a European implosion, the wreckage of our war on drugs in Mexico, and preventing American entanglement in a prospective World War III in Asia.

The essay closes by invoking Robert Gates’s invocation of Ronald Reagan, who said that he had lived through many wars but none of them began because the United States was too strong. Gates and the WSJ’s editorial board probably ought to think a little harder about whether the United States blundered into any costly quagmires as a function of its overweening strength and insulation from the costs of its strategic choices. The answer is obvious.

More Sensible Voices on Libya

My Cato colleagues have written on the current goings on in Libya (especially here and here), and I concur with their recommendations that the U.S. government should avoid intervening militarily in the conflict. For my part, I have hesitated to weigh in, convinced that I couldn’t offer much to the discussion.

But just when I thought I had seen enough regarding what the United States should do in Libya, I stumbled upon two posts over at the National Interest blog that deserve a closer look. Paul Pillar on Friday pointed out that the same people who were such strong proponents of war with Iraq – Charles Krauthammer, in this case – are back in the game, apparently unfazed by their disastrous predictions of the past. Pillar is particularly devastating in his critique of Krauthammer’s claim that if Egypt were as politically developed a year from now as Iraq is today, “we would think it a great success.” Pillar notes, correctly, that such a claim “speaks to how drastically standards of success were lowered as the United States sank into the Iraqi quagmire.”

Jacob Heilbrunn picks up on Paul’s point today and runs with it. I dispute the title, which suggests that everyone in the GOP agrees with the neocons about war, but the bottom line is sound. Challenging the Wall Street Journal’s contention that President Obama’s supposed passivity is synonymous with George H.W. Bush’s refusal to intervene on the side of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991, Heilbrunn notes:

there is a distinction. The Obama administration did not encourage Libyans to overthrow the loathsome Gadhafi. Instead, Libyans are doing it themselves. Which is why Obama is right to be wary about inserting himself into a Libyan civil war that Gadhafi is likely to lose, whether or not American forces assists the rebel forces.

I commend both Pillar and Heilbrunn for their wisdom, and add them to the long list of sensible voices opposing U.S. intervention in Libya. The neocons can count Ahmed Chalabi in their corner.

Iraq: Making Few Friends and Less Profits

When the Bush administration started its misguided adventure in Iraq, the president and his Neocon chorus presumed that the U.S. would be acquiring a loyal, even obseqious ally.  With the American-subsidized bank embezzler Ahmed Chalabi in charge, Baghdad would create a Western-style democracy, enshrine women’s rights, recognize Israel, provide the U.S. with permanent military bases, and offer a new market for American businesses.

Alas, we’ve struck out:  zero for five.  Although America’s uber-hawks bridled at reference to our “occupation” of Iraq, Iraqis had no hesitation in using the word and surprised the Bushies by demanding a deadline for the withdrawal of American forces.  And Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation has affected their attitude toward Americans in other areas.

Although none of this is, or at least should be, surprising, the lack of success by private U.S. companies should provide a particularly powerful lesson of the perils of intervention.  Reports the New York Times:

Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent.That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.

Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, “there are two or three American participants, but I can’t remember their names,” said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq’s state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons, of mass destruction.

The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business.

American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country’s investment in Iraq. Some American businesses have calculated that the high security costs and fear of violence make Iraq a business no-go area. Even those who are interested and want to come are hampered by American companies’ reputation here for overcharging and shoddy workmanship, an outgrowth of the first years of the occupation, and a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.

While Iraq’s imports nearly doubled in 2008, to $43.5 billion from $25.67 billion in 2007, imports from American companies stayed flat at $2 billion over that period. Among investors, the United Arab Emirates leads the field, with $31 billion invested in Iraq, most of that in 2008, compared to only about $400 million from American companies when United States government reconstruction spending is excluded, according to Dunia Frontier Consultants, an emerging-market analyst. “Following this initial U.S.-dominated reconstruction phase, U.S. private investors have become negligible players in Iraq,” Dunia said in a report.

So much for the old theory of mercantilism.

Think about it.  The U.S. overthrows the dictator, pours in billions of dollars for reconstruction projects, and promotes democratic elections — and instead of applauding America and filling the land with statues to George W. Bush, the locals prefer to buy goods from other people.  Maybe invading and bombing other countries, disrupting and wrecking other societies, and killing and injuring other people isn’t the best way to promote good relations with the rest of the world.