Tag: Iraq

Did We Miss Out on the Bargain of the Century in Iraq?

Stuart Reid’s Twitter points to this Condi Rice discussion with Katie Couric in which the following exchange takes place over the decision to invade Iraq:

RICE: …I’m also, frankly, just very glad [Saddam Hussein is] out of power. Now, to be frank, we tried to take him out of power without going to war. We tried to take him out of power by – we got a report from an Arab state that shall remain nameless that he would take a billion dollars to lead – to leave. We said, deal. Right? (Laughter.) We tried to (find ?) him –

COURIC: Has that – has that been made public before?

RICE: Yeah, I – it may be in President Bush’s book. I’m not sure. I don’t remember. But we did. We said, if he’ll go, everybody’s happy.

A colleague intrepidly Googled this, and turned up this 2007 article in the Washington Post.  The article reports that for a billion dollars and if allowed to “keep information on weapons of mass destruction,” Saddam Hussein told Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak that he would have been willing to go into exile.  President Bush’s own book, per Secretary Rice’s mention, covers the matter in this way:

…Our last ditch hope was that Saddam would agree to go into exile.  At one point, an offer from a Middle Eastern government to send Saddam to Belarus with $1 to $2 billion looked like it might gain traction.  Instead, in one of his last acts, Saddam ordered the tongue of a dissident slashed out and left the man to bleed to death.  The dictator of Iraq had made his decision.  He chose war.

Lots of people like to make fun of President Bush’s prose style, but even for him (or his ghostwriter) this is pretty peculiar.  First of all, it isn’t clear why “person who cuts off dissidents’ tongues and leaves them to bleed to death” is mutually exclusive with “person willing to take a billion or two dollars and go into exile.”  Saying Saddam cut a dissident’s tongue out doesn’t necessarily bear on his willingness to take a payout and go into exile.

Second, it’s almost certain that this was pursued and didn’t go anywhere, but if there was anything approaching a realistic opportunity to make this happen, we really missed out on the bargain of the century here.  You’re looking at something like 500%-1000% returns, not counting several thousand American and a-hundred-or-so-thousand Iraqi lives saved.

Thirdly: Belarus?

What War Does to Our Society

The Department of State recently released newly declassified documents covering U.S. policy toward Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from January 1973-July 1975. At a State Department conference commemorating the release of these documents, diplomat, strategist, and Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger bemoaned the torment that consumed a generation of Americans as the conflict wore on. The insight Kissinger provides–possibly unintentional–underscores why assessments of war should go beyond critiques of its political and geostrategic ramifications; they should also extend to the various ways that war affects our society and public more generally.

In Kissinger’s somber assessment of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia, he said he regrets that what should have been straightforward disagreements over the U.S. approach to Vietnam became “transmuted into a moral issue – first about the moral adequacy of American foreign policy altogether and then into the moral adequacy of America.”

He goes on to say, “To me, the tragedy of the Vietnam war was not that there were disagreements—that was inevitable, given the complexity of the (conflict)—but that the faith of Americans in each other became destroyed in the process.”

Kissinger called himself “absolutely unreconstructed” on that point.

“I believe that most of what went wrong in Vietnam we did to ourselves,” he said, adding, “I would have preferred another outcome—at least another outcome that was not so intimately related to the way that we tore ourselves apart.”

Disappointingly, much of what Mr. Kissinger said is true.

Certainly, much of the burdens associated with our foreign policies do not affect the average person; they are absorbed by America’s all-volunteer military. Still, wars and debates over wars have the power not only to tear our society apart, but also to destroy our faith in each other in the process. These factors are latent, ignored, and often misunderstood, but are detrimental to our country nonetheless.

In this respect, criticism of war should not end at an aversion to deficit spending. Certainly, increased public debt and diminished civil liberties are enduring, adverse effects of war. As writer Randolph Bourne famously declared during World War I, “War is the health of the state.”

But in addition to expanded government power, wars also become a template for regimentation in other areas of life. As we witnessed in the lead up to the war in Iraq, war can erode what should be the public’s normal propensity to question authority and lead to a herd mentality that demands blind obedience to state authority.

Over time, and through decades of continual foreign intervention, wars can radically alter our national character and transmogrify the spirit and moral temperament of our society. Sadly, such a perilous path could doom our nation to a fate that befell history’s other predominant great powers.

Check out the most recent volume of State Department reports on Vietnam. You won’t be disappointed.

Cutting the Fuse

I’m thrilled to be participating in a day-long conference on Capitol Hill next week to coincide with the release of a new book from the University of Chicago, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Co-authored by Robert Pape and James Feldman, the book builds on Pape’s earlier pioneering work, including here and here, into the causes of terrorism. Drawing on data compiled by the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism (CPOST), the book includes chapters on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Chechnya and Sri Lanka.

The authors’ concluding observations offer some hope for those of us who have been calling for a new narrative pertaining to counterterrorism, one that begins with the presumption that fear is the terrorists’ true weapon. A strong, resilient society retains the ability to kill or capture those who would harm innocents to make a political point, as the United States has done since 9/11. But a country of more than 300 million people shouldn’t cower before a few hundred individuals with delusions of world domination, but who are too frightened and weak to show their faces for years.

I think that the book’s conclusions might be a bit too optimistic as far as the politics of counterterrorism goes. There are still ample incentives for people to hype the threat of terrorism, and not enough competing pressures to dial back the most extreme claims of impending doom. But perhaps we are approaching a “period of understanding” as Pape and Feldman claim?

I certainly hope so.

Iraq Drawdown: What Took So Long?

President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will meet the August 31 deadline for removing combat troops from Iraq is welcome news. It is encouraging that the president remains on track to end the war in Iraq as he promised to do.

The president should continue this progress and adhere to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and remove the 50,000 troops that will remain in Iraq by the end of 2011. Although political and security uncertainties remain, these concerns should not delay the withdrawal. There will always be excuses, especially from those who favored the war at the outset, for an open-ended presence.

Such a policy reversal would be neither warranted nor wise. An expeditious military withdrawal from Iraq, and a handover of security responsibilities to the Iraqi people is in America’s strategic interest. The war in Iraq has already consumed far too much blood and treasure, and our troops are straining under the burdens of repeated foreign deployments.

It appears that President Obama will keep his promise to end the war in Iraq, and bring all the troops home from that shattered land. His decision to dramatically expand the war in Afghanistan, however, signals an unwillingness to truly change the course of U.S. foreign policy in a direction that advances U.S. security, and at far less cost than our current strategy. The war in Iraq was, and still is, a great tragedy. It would be more tragic still if the President and his senior advisers fail to heed the lesson that attempts at nation-building are costly and counterproductive.

At Least They Spelled Our Name Right. Oops.

The folks at the Center for American Progress, in their daily anti-right email, wrongly call the Cato Institute conservative and wrongly spell our name CATO.

But what I find more amusing is that the email, prompted by Michael Steele’s confused remarks about Afghanistan and the reaction against him, is titled “The Right Wing’s Addiction to War.” They have a point. But who’s running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now? Isn’t it the man who once said

I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home.

and

I was opposed to this war in 2002….I have been against it in 2002, 2003, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8 and I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused.

The right wing may be addicted to war, but it seems to be a left-wing president who’s on the sauce now. I look forward to seeing the Center for American Progress start asking President Obama when it will be 2009.

Ed Morrissey on The Struggle to Limit Government

Ed Morrissey kindly mentioned The Struggle to Limit Government and responds to the advice for Tea Partiers in my video.

Morrissey says:

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that some Tea Partiers “like” big government; it’s more like some aren’t enthusiastic about dismantling as much of the federal government as others, especially the more doctrinaire libertarians.

In the video I noted that polls showed a majority of the people who identify with the Tea Party movement also thought the entitlement programs were worth their cost. My colleague, Jagadeesh Gokhale, has estimated that paying for current entitlements would require 9 percent of GNP in perpetuity. This is unlikely. Entitlements will have to be changed since too much has been promised. People who think the programs have been worth their cost are not likely initially to support reining in the entitlements. In saying that, I expressed a concern, not a prediction. It may be that Tea Party people will also come to recognize, as Ed Morrissey does, that the entitlement state cannot continue.

I said in the video that Tea Party people should recognize that “Democrats are not always the enemy.” Morrissey rightly says I should not talk about enemies in domestic politics. He adds that the current House Democratic caucus does not deserve support because its leaders favor expanding government. He’s right. Divided government is what we need now. However, I had in mind the more centrist Democrats that supported the tax and spending cuts of 1981 and the tax reform of 1986. I am urging Tea Party people to avoid becoming too partisan. Perhaps some of them will still be in Congress in 2011.

Then there’s the question of foreign policy and defense spending. In the video I said that a limited government movement like the Tea Party should start thinking outside the box on spending. I suggested rethinking America’s expansive commitments in foreign affairs as a way to reduce our military spending.  I did not deny – who could deny it? – that the Constitution entrusts the common defense to the federal government. I also recognize that the United States continues to have enemies. The question is: what should the government do to provide the common defense consistent with limited government?

In the past decade, we have spent enormous sums trying to transform two nations and the entire Middle East into liberal democracies. This was our “forward strategy” for dealing with terrorism. It reminded me of past Progressive crusades at home and abroad.   The strategy was a domestic political disaster, and we shall see whether our massive outlays eventually produce stability in Iraq or Afghanistan. For my part, I remain partial to the conservative virtues of realism, restraint, and prudence in dealing with other nations.

The United States is currently spending about half of all military spending in the world. We have some room for restraint without endangering American lives. We will still have a Navy that protects trade routes to the extent they are threatened. As I said in the video, we need to rethink our overall place in the world if we are to corral the big government beast. The Tea Party folks can lead the way here.

The Pentagon is not most of the federal budget. It is the only part historically, however, that can vary downward as well as upward. Sometime soon, the non-defense parts of the budget are going to have to vary downward rather than just upward.  Being serious about limiting government, however, requires that all spending be considered. Since I think the Tea Party movement is serious about cutting government, it would be better if they had a look at all spending from the start.

Tuesday Links

  • Was the Iraq War worth it? Malou Innocent: “Don’t believe the hype. The Iraq war remains a mistake of mammoth proportions. And Iraq’s election represents a pyrrhic victory, as the economic, political, and moral costs of the occupation far outweigh any benefits.”
  • Doug Bandow on the problem with international alliances: “Washington collects alliances like people collect Facebook friends. …Contrary to the U.S. government’s current practice, America needs fewer allies. Washington should no longer act as the world’s 9-1-1 number.”
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