Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

If We Bomb Them, They’ll Like Us?

One hesitates to make it all Bill Kristol, all the time around here, but if he keeps offering up fodder of this quality, our hand is going to be forced.

Click here to watch Kristol defend his idea to start a war with Iran by deploying the logic that

the Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be — the right use of targeted military force — but especially if political pressure before we use military force — could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates — they are not wonderful people — but people in the government itself who are probably nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness.

Right, so once the bombs start dropping on Iran’s nuclear facilities — some of which are buried deep beneath civilian population centers — the people of Iran will — under bombardment — overthrow the regime for us!

This notwithstanding the fact that even Iranian liberal intellectuals like Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi have warned that Iranians “will defend our country till the last drop of blood.”

This notwithstanding the fact that a recent poll [.pdf] indicates that more than 27 percent of Iranians say that “developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons for defense” should be “the most important long-term goal for the Iranian government.”

And this notwithstanding the whole history of the “rally ‘round the flag effect,” whereby governments facing military crises gain the support of previously conflicted factions in the name of national preservation. Slobodan Milosevic’s popularity ticked markedly upward after NATO bombs started dropping on Serbs, to use just one example.

The American public was told before the Iraq war how easy it would be. Kristol’s fellow neoconservatives provided endless, just-so explanations for a sort of Rube Goldberg-style regime change where all we needed to do was set the process in motion (remember “shock and awe”?) and the miracle of democratic revolution would take off on its own. We can see where that’s gotten us in Iraq.

For Kristol to proffer the notion — with a straight face — that bombing a foreign country is the way for us to get its citizens to overthrow their government is nothing short of astonishing. The neocons have reached a new, dark low in terms of intellectual integrity.

Thanks to Eric Martin for the link.

Reality Sets In on Capitol Hill … Finally

A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill have come forward in recent days with a new “spin” on events in Iraq, reports the Washington Post:

Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) is using his House Government Reform subcommittee on national security to vent criticism of the White House’s war strategy and new estimates of the monetary cost of the war. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse “than we’d been led to believe” and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

The Post’s Jonathan Weisman and Anushka Asthana write, “Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war.”

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.) likened the situation in Iraq to the Bush adminstration’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina. In both instances, the White House/GOP spin was, and is, so at odds with what Americans see on television every day that the party’s credibility on a host of issues is called into question. “I still hear about that,” McHenry told the Post. “We can’t look like we won’t face reality.”

Gutknecht revised his version of reality after his most recent trip to Iraq. He was a leading opponent of a timeline for withdrawal in congressional debate last month, at one point urging, nay chastising, his colleagues, “Members, now is not the time to go wobbly.”

He appears to have come full-circle. “I guess I didn’t understand the situation,” he conceded, and he has concluded: “Essentially what the White House is saying is ‘Stay the course, stay the course.’ I don’t think that course is politically sustainable.” He therefore now supports a partial troop withdrawal on the grounds that it would “send a clear message to the Iraqis that the next step is up to you.”

“If we don’t take the training wheels off,” he went on to say, ”we will be in the same place in six months that we’re in today.”

Amen.

(Gutknecht’s new position is similar to that articulated by Cato scholars for some time. To see the full extent of Cato’s work on the subject, visit our Iraq page.)

The six House Republicans who voted against the authorization to use force against Iraq in October 2002 — Ron Paul (Tex.), Jim Leach (Iowa), John Hostettler (Ind.), Connie Morella (Md.), Amo Houghton (N.Y.), and John Duncan (Tenn.) — should wear their wisdom and foresight as a badge of honor. All other Republicans, and the remaining Democrats who voted for the war and have not yet admitted their error, can recover a shred of respectability by making an intellectual and personal journey similar to that of Shays, Gutknecht, McHenry, Jim Gerlach (Pa.), and others.

Americans can grouse, “What took you so long?”, but the more constructive response is “Thank you for coming to your senses.”

More on Military Tribunals and the Hamdan Ruling

For those interested in the Hamdan ruling and its impact on the law, check out my online debate (pdf) with John Baker, who teaches law at Louisiana State University. The Federalist Society just posted this debate on its website and it is framed in its popular “Five Questions” format, which means I throw five questions at Prof. Baker and vice versa. We then make claims and counterclaims about whether the question is actually relevant. True, this exchange does get pretty legalistic, but that sometimes happens when you’re asked legal questions about judicial rulings.

Why Wait to Bomb Iran? Find Out at Cato Unbound!

Gene quotes warmongering Bill Kristol below:

We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later.

Why wait to bomb Iran? As it happens, the best discussion of this question anywhere is happening right next door at Cato Unbound.

In his reply to Reuel Marc Gerecht’s Kristol-compatible brief for bombing, Edward Luttwak says he is not averse to an in-and-out quick strike to impede the develop of Iranian nukes, if it comes to that in the three or more years it will take Iran to develop the bomb. But, Luttwak says, it may not come to that, because there is plenty to be done in the meantime. Luttwak’s Center for Strategic and International Studies colleague Anthony Cordesman says diplomacy could work, and we should keep doing what we’re doing. Bombing might not actually keep Iran from getting nukes, and even if the U.S. exhausts all non-military options, we should at least wait until we know where the targets are. Cato’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Galen Carpenter says bombing Iran might trigger a “massive regional crisis,” and that “America’s troubles with the Islamic world do not yet constitute a war of civilizations,” but attacks “could well produce that result.”

Why wait? Well, those are a few reasons. And containment? Carpenter, for one, argues that if we successfully contained a nuclear Soviet Union and China, we can contain a nuclear Iran. Don’t miss the detailed discussion about the future of American policy for this hotspot in the volatile Middle East.

War without End

Here’s the money quote from the Bill Kristol piece George Will went after yesterday:

“We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions – and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”

And here’s a front pager in today’s Washington Post about neoconservative anger towards the Bush administration because of its newfound restraint in foreign policy. Prominent Iraq hawks like Max Boot and Cakewalk Ken Adelman are upset that their favored tactic, “bomb today for a brighter tomorrow,” no longer commands the respect it once did in Washington.

Now, you could marvel at the brazenness of all this: the same people who helped lead us into the biggest foreign policy disaster in 30 years trying to push another war (or wars) on us without so much as a prefatory “sorry about the whole Iraq thing, old boy.” But the current squawking also strikes me as a useful reminder of how very, very important war is in the neoconservative vision. It is as central to that vision as peace is to the classical liberal vision.

For the neoconservatives, it’s not about Israel. It’s about war. War is a bracing tonic for the national spirit and in all its forms it presents opportunities for national greatness. “Ultimately, American purpose can find its voice only in Washington,” David Brooks once wrote. And Washington’s never louder or more powerful than when it has a war to fight.

In 1997, Fred Barnes pouted about the “ennui” accompanying that decade’s peace and prosperity:

“The last great moment in Washington was Desert Storm…. It was exciting to follow and write about … Every press conference, I watched. Desert Storm was all I thought about or talked about. My stories concentrated on President Bush’s heroic role in the war.”

Indeed, for many neoconservatives, the 1990s were about the search for an enemy. Who it was didn’t much matter. That can be seen in this 1996 Foreign Affairs article by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, in which they seem distinctly unsettled by the apparant lack of anyone for the U.S. to fight:

“The ubiquitous post-Cold War question – where is the threat? – is thus misconceived. In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness.”

To dispel any notions of weakness, a little therapeutic bombing is sometimes in order. As AEI’s Michael Ledeen apparently put it some years ago:

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

It could be the Serbs. It could be Iraq. If we’re really feeling our oats, it might even be China. Even now, when the United States faces a genuine enemy in Al Qaeda, some neoconservatives are hedging their bets: If we wrap up this war on terror thing too quickly, let’s give great-power conflict a chance.

Who we’re fighting is secondary. That we’re fighting is the main thing. To be a neoconservative is to thrill to the sound of gunfire. (From a nice, safe distance, generally.)

“A Monumentally Stupid Idea”

That is how Augustus Richard Norton, a Middle East specialist at Boston University, characterized a proposal to send UN peacekeepers to southern Lebanon, an idea championed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and others at the just-concluded G-8 summit.

Norton should know. He once deployed to southern Lebanon as part of a small U.N. observer force that has been there since Israel’s first incursion in 1978. He is also a retired army colonel, a former West Point professor, and the author of several books on Middle East politics and culture.

But Norton is not alone in questioning the wisdom of an expanded UN force in southern Lebanon, as this Washington Post article by Peter Baker and Robin Wright points out.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Timur Goksel, who, like Norton, served with the U.N. force. He now teaches in Beirut. Goksel told the Post, “If the intention is to observe, there is already a force in place. If they are talking of a deterrent force to prevent fighting, it will immediately be seen as an occupation force here. And when you have an occupation force, no matter what your flag, even under the United Nations, that’s when the trouble starts. This is a most ridiculous idea. Nobody will accept it.”

But some people are accepting it – and promoting it, despite the fact that an international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is unlikely to succeed in bringing an end to the violence.

Consider the tragi-comic exploits of the current UN mission, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The force was first sent there in March 1978, nine days after Israel invaded southern Lebanon in pursuit of PLO terrorists holed up in the territory, and UNIFIL has since witnessed not one but TWO more Israeli incursions into Lebanon, in June 1982 and now in July 2006. On Monday, as the Post reports, UNIFIL issued a statement complaining “that it was unable to supply food and water to its own troops, much less help deliver humanitarian aid to civilians, because Israel had not guaranteed free passage.”

The international impulse to just do something – despite the long track record of failure – might be overwhelming. An argument (not a very good one) could be made that a larger force with a clearer mandate might succeed where the current UNIFIL mission has failed.

Regardless of those particular details, however, the U.S. military should not be involved. As Norton warns in the closing line of the Post article: “The military is overstretched. Most of the army is wrapped up in Iraq. A deployment in Lebanon would potentially be interminable.” 

Our men and women in uniform have more than enough on their plate right now, and the last thing that they (or we) need is to become embroiled in yet another long-running conflict.

 

George Will vs. the Neocons

Apropos of yesterday’s post plugging George Will’s condemnation of the Weekly Standard and neoconservatism, Will extends his remarks in his column for today’s Washington Post.  It’s tough to excerpt, but just to convince you it’s a George Will column, it ends with a baseball analogy:

Neoconservatives have much to learn, even from Buddy Bell, manager of the Kansas City Royals. After his team lost its 10th consecutive game in April, Bell said, “I never say it can’t get worse.” In their next game, the Royals extended their losing streak to 11 and in May lost 13 in a row.

Keep an eye on the Weekly Standard’s blog for a response.  Thanks to Steve Clemons for the tip.