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Saturday, October 4, 2003

Final Version: DID THE US BLUNDER INTO WAR WITH IRAQ? SOME THEORETICAL AND FACTUAL OBSERVATIONS

Introductory Remarks About How Wars Start

A student in my upper division class, political science 121 --- international relations theory --- sent a query about the lecture on Thursday, which set out a model of how wars actually begin. We envisaged a spectrum with two polar opposites: 1) wars that begin with at least one state's leaders deciding, deliberately and with calculated efforts, to go to war because they see advantages to it compared to the status quo, at one pole; and 2) at the other pole, stark blundering into war . . . none of the conflicting states really intending to go to war, owing to sheer misperceptions or miscalculations that, in a spiraling manner, suddenly set off the use of force. Some good studies find no war ever started in a sheer blunder manner. Since the theoretical analysis is relevant, among other things, to the recent war to topple Saddamite Iraq, my lengthy reply to the student's query --- sent to the entire class yesterday --- seems worthwhile setting out here . . . especially with its long analysis of how the war against Saddam's regime started, and what seems to be going on in Iraq under US-UK occupation since then.

First though, some theoretical background needs to be sketched in briefly in order to make more sense of the model set out in class: remember, it deals with how wars start using the diagram of a spectrum running between the two polar points just mentioned


THE MODEL BRIEFLY FLESHED OUT

1) Security-Dilemmas and Pre-Emptive War

What's called a security dilemma is near the blunder pole . . . say a quarter or a third of the way back toward the middle. (Remember here: like all models, the current one is a purposeful simplification of complex phenomena, intended to distill the underlying structures, political agents --- unitary states in the present case --and the logic of state interactions that lead to war as fed through a policymaking process in the conflicting states.) As for the meaning of a security dilemma, it refers to a spiral of rising arms competition and of growing mistrust, worry, and fear among conflicting states; eventually, the arms competition --- if the spiral continues --- leads to outright arms racing, quantitative and qualitative (weapons innovations), along with possible worst-case thinking among the states' leaders about one another. At some point, a pre-emptive war could erupt: the leaders of at least one of the states, to put this tersely, fears that its rival or rivals are about to attack imminently, and so they launch an initial attack to get in the first-blow. Note that to be genuinely pre-emptive, the leaders of state getting in the first-blow have to be genuinely convinced that war is imminent, with no alternatives. Invoking a threat that isn't genuinely believed is a rationalization for aggressive or preventive war, not a pre-emptive strike.
Are wars that begin this way out of spiraling mistrust, worry, and fear --- accompanied by arms racing --- frequent?

No, apparently not. The best study of their frequency appeared in 1995, a statistical study of all the interstate wars of the 19th and 20th centuries carried out by Dan Reiter --- around 65 in all. Of these 65, he found, only about 7 or 8 were set off by pre-emption; and even then two or three of these were ambiguous at best. In the end, then, only about 10% of all state wars seemed to fit the pre-emptive model. (See Dan Reiter, "Exploding the Power Keg Myth: Preemptive Wars Almost Never Happen," International Security (Fall 1995), pp. 5-35

 

The Importance of Security Dilemmas All the Same

Note though: it doesn't follow that security dilemmas aren't important. For one thing, as Reiter himself admitted, the belief --- myth --- of a powder-key cause of war as a recurring frequent problem may induce caution on the part of the leaders in conflicting states, leading to restraint that might not otherwise be present.

For another thing, in the nuclear age --- where huge destructive power can be inflicted on another state even half-way around the world in less than a half hour with intercontinental ballistic missiles --- a diplomatic crisis like the Cuban one of 1962 is more dangerous than would be the case in a pre-nuclear world, at least if both sides are armed with nuclear ICBM. The chief reason? The pressures of time in a spiral of rising mistrust and fear can be enormously compressed, and the stress on policymaking markedly enhanced, with a decision to pre-empt occurring because each state s leadership fears the other will get the first blow in. As the outcome of the Cuban missile crisis showed, this outcome isn't inevitable. To prevent it from happening in the future, deterrence theory in the US began in the aftermath of the crisis, in the early 1960s, to emphasize the need to diversify, conceal, and harden our missile retaliatory forces, so that --- in case of an attack --- they could ride out a first-strike of this sort and still have enough missiles and destructive power to retaliate with unacceptable destruction on the aggressor. Not only that, US leaders --- to strengthen crisis stability --- also encouraged the Soviets to do the same: this would, it was rightly thought, reduce their fears that the US would strike first. Measures like these were unilateral. They led to much more stable nuclear deterrence in the US-Soviet competition. On top of that, explicit arms control agreements entailed other ways to stabilize the nuclear competition and deterrence between us and the Soviets: both for crisis purposes and arms racing ones, as well as to remove any incentive to a first-strike.

Still, of the 7 or 8 current nuclear states in the world --- the US, Russia, France, Britain, India, China, Pakistan, and Israel --- the nuclear force of Pakistan is a big worry, not meeting any of these conditions (in fact, not clearly immune to a terrorist take-over); and to an extent that's true of the Indian and even Chinese forces. Any further proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states --- North Korea, say, or Iran --- would increase the dangers of pre-emptive blows by their rivals . . . especially since the leaderships of both states do not enjoy legitimacy, seem to behave at times irrationally or support terrorism, and may be doubly menacing for these reasons. (North Korea too, we know, would likely try to sell nuclear weaponry to any state or terrorist group with lots of money; it already, according to David Kay yesterday, head of the US-led inspection team in Iraq, was supposed to deliver missile capabilities of up to 800 miles range to Saddamite Iraq.) So again, the dangers inherent in a powder-keg war can't be neglected.

 

2) Deliberate, Calculated Wars

As for a deliberate, calculated war, other solid studies have looked at several hundred inter-state wars over the centuries, and two of them find that no wars ever broke out in a strictly blundering manner --- one by an Australian scholar, Geoffrey Blainey, whose book The Causes of War had a big resonance when it came out in the 1980s in several editions, the other is by a British scholar whose name escapes me, though he was at one time the Liberal M.P. (Member of Parliament) representing Oxford University in the House of Commons (Oxford's, Cambridge's, and the MPs of some other old British universities have since been abolished). More concretely, examining all the interstate wars of the last several hundred years, neither study could find one war that fitted clearly the full model of a clear blunder-into-war --- by which is meant that none of the conflicting states had an intent to use force because it saw gains to doing so. A security-dilemma and pre-emption, as we just noted, is a variant . . . where one state's leadership is genuinely fearful war will be launched imminently and decides to get in the first-blow; and even it, for all that's been talked about it, turns out to be fairly rare.

What, if we were to model further the calculus that leads state leaders to initiate war against rivals, would a deliberate calculated decision to start a war consist of? Again, keep in mind the instrumental nature of all models: they deliberately simplify in order to distill the underlying logic and processes within a certain structured realm of interaction. In this case, a rational decision-making model would fit deliberate warfare if the leaders who initiate a war adhered, roughly, to these four steps. Note that steps 3 and 4, as we'll see, make possible counter-balancing and deterrence:

1. Dissatisfaction with the Status quo.

The initiating state's leaders are unhappy with the status quo that involves one or more other states --- whether out of aggressive intent or fears for the future (including shifts in the distribution of power, the nature of the other states' political systems or ideologies or religions, its economic wealth and resources, its provocative nature short of war and so on). Since, by contrast, American leaders and elites are not dissatisfied with the status quo involving, say, Canada, there is no likelihood of our going to war with it, nor does the Canadian government worry about this.

2. Benefits to Fighting.

Dissatisfied with the status quo, at some point the leaders of a state decide that they prefer to use force --- go to war --- to remove the danger or seize the wealth or territory of the other. (The motives prompting the unhappiness with the status quo can be multiple, remember.) Bluntly put, there are benefits the leaders see in fighting.

3. The Probability of Winning.

Before initiating the war, the leaders of that state --- including those of allies whose support you can count on if they exist (Bush and Blair, for instance) --- assess the relative military capabilities and options and believe that they a proper strategy they can win. Bluntly put again, there is a decent probability their side will win. What is a decent probability? In the abstract, that's hard to say. Leaders vary in their risk-taking: think of Hitler or Mussolini or world-conquerors like Alexander the Great. It would seem strange, except in one circumstance, for a state's leaders to decide to fight if they didn't think they would win. That circumstance would emerge if, not fighting and inflicting damage, the hostile state would treat the conquered people with more harm: seize more territory and resources, occupy it longer, and so on. Tiny Finland, 4 million, fought the huge Stalinist Soviet Union in the winter of 1939-1940; and though it lost, it was able to maintain its independence after WWII and not be Communized.

At the extreme, on the other hand, an aggressive imperial state might decide that once a war has been won, it will exterminate the other side's population: the Romans did this deliberately to Carthage, say, in the Punic Wars of the 2nd century B.C.E., and the Spaniards both deliberately and indirectly (through spreading disease) to the Amerindian civilizations of the Incas, Aztecs, and others in Latin America.

4. The Costs of Winning.

The costs of warfare --- in the lives of your countrymen, harm to your economy (which might be offset by future spoils in victory) --- would have to be set against the benefits and probability of winning (technically, this is known as estimated subjective utility . . . utility referring to estimated benefits, subjective referring to guesses about the probability of victory). Even Hitler had to show the German generals who feared getting into a war with all the great powers against them (save Japan and Italy) that he had a strategy for quick victories, based on armored warfare, tactical air support, and blitzkrieg (lightening warfare). They, more cautious professionals, were looking and worried about the huge populations and economic resources of France, Britain, and Russia and the US possibly; a high-risk gambler, he downplayed their worries and the initial quick victories in Poland, and later against Norway, Holland, Belgium, and powerful France in a matter of weeks gave him an invincible aura. In the end of course, the German generals were right. An overwhelming coalition against Nazi Germany and its fascist allies emerged and not only destroyed the Nazi system but conquered and ended German independence, followed by a split of the country for 45 years.

 

THREE CLARIFICATIONS

1. Balancing and Deterrence to Restrain Conflicting States

Age-old balancing against a threatening state --- by raising your own arms levels against it, or by forming an alliance with likeminded states to counter it, or both --- is intended to operate on the 3rd and 4th calculi here: to raise the costs of aggression, and to reduce the probability of its winning. The more, the better on these two counts. If these counter-measures work, then deterrence is enhanced --- the use of explicit threats to retaliate, fight, and defeat an aggressor's military and dictate peace to it.

2. Nuclear Deterrence

In the nuclear age --- despite the problem of a pre-emptive strike arising out of a security dilemma spiral --- deterrence has been all the more effective if the threat can be made credible to retaliate with nuclear weapons against an aggressive initiator.

Thanks to nuclear weapons, the deterrer can threaten to bypass the use of defensive military power to stop an invader, as a prelude if necessary to invading the aggressor's home-territory, and instead strike deeply and directly into the urban-industrial complex of the aggressive state, destroying it as a functioning political system and society. But note. A deterrent threat isn't automatically credible . . . especially if the other side also has nuclear weapons and can deter your use of them if it attacks. This is a complicated matter. In the cold war, to reduce the complexity to shorthand, nobody doubted that the Soviet CP leadership knew that if it ever attacked the US directly, we would retaliate against it with nuclear weapons. But that wasn't the end of it. The big problem for the US lay elsewhere and was two-fold:

* how to make credible the use of nuclear weapons to protect distant allies against an invasion by the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact if it meant we would suffer in turn a retaliatory blow from Soviet ICBMs (our solution: to convince our European NATO allies to mount sufficient forces to defeat with conventional forces a Soviet attack, enhanced by a selective, calibrated use of nuclear weapons against military targets and later political ones in the Soviet Union).

* And how, secondly, to threaten credibly the use of nuclear weapons in even more remote conflicts, like the Vietnam war or elsewhere. In simply terms, we couldn't succeed here; the threat to use nuclear weapons was never credible.

 

3. Pacific Asia and Security-Dilemmas Today

The best example of an emerging spiral dilemma --- full of kinetically charged implications for the US --- is the political fall-out in Pacific Asia of totalitarian North Korea's defiance of its agreements on nuclear energy and rapid movement since throwing out international inspectors last year to acquire nuclear weapons. All the other countries in the region have reacted uneasily, none more so than the Japanese, over whose territory in the late 1990s the North Korean military lobbed a mid-range missile; right now, moreover, the country has several hundred such missiles, capable of targeting the entire Japanese islands from north to south. To stave off growing pressures in Tokyo to acquire Japanese nuclear weapons as a counter-deterrence, the US government has been working closely with the Japanese government and military to accelerate joint-development of anti-missile defenses. In the meantime, the US has reassured Japan that its current anti-missiles deployed on Aegis-armed destroyers and cruisers in the region can handle any nuclear attack from a small force. Should Japan go nuclear, the Chinese and other countries in the region --- even as they worry about a North Korean force (Beijing is now beginning to catch on to the destabilzing forces at work here) --- would show their unhappiness with a nuclear-armed Japan by intensifying their acquisition or build-up of nuclear forces. South Korea's government, seeking to engage diplomatically and economically North Korea, would be especially ruffled; and any effort by it to acquire nuclear weapons would then have noticeable repercussions in Beijing and Tokyo.

All this, mind you, is taking place against the background of fluid and dislocating changes in the power distribution throughout Pacific Asia since the end of the cold war in 1990.

In the 13 years since then, Russian power in the region has collapsed even though it still has nuclear weapons to protect itself. Japanese influence and prestige have nosedived in line with the decline of its economic prowess and reputation. China is a mighty rising power of unknown internal stability and future diplomatic and military behavior, whose country, moreover, has contested boundaries with every one of its neighbors: Russia, Japan, Vietnam, , India, and --- believe it or not, given its claims to islands in the South China sea and occupation of them --- disputes with the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia as a result. And its efforts to acquire military weaponry, especially from the Russians, to project Chinese power outside its territory has already had repercussions elsewhere . . . including the Indian effort to step up the creation of a naval-air armada, of Aegis-class destroyers, to project Indian power eastward across the Indian Ocean to the Malacca Straits that run between Malaysia and Indonesia and separate the Indian and Pacific Oceans. China, it should be added, has also openly talked about getting Burma to allow it to develop port facilities in that country, which borders the Indian ocean.

 

Various Counters

As counters to all this, especially a potential Chinese threat, the US and Japan have tightened their military alliance since 1998 --- despite Beijing's open criticisms --- while renewing military ties with the Philippines and Indonesia and Australia. At the same time, though, the globally stretched military of the US has also had an impact on US naval and air forces in the Pacific, some of which have been diverted to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Nor is that all. All the while US forces are being repositioned and alliances strengthened, the US and some of the local Pacific countries are especially worried that the North Koreans would be only too happy to sell nuclear weaponry and missiles to any country anywhere, not to mention cash-rich terrorist groups, anxious themselves to obtain these weapons of mass destruction.

What follows?

Without the North Korean nuclear program --- the acceleration of which might genuinely reflect its Stalinist government's fears that it is currently vulnerable to US attack in the war on terrorism --- there still might be the emergence of a security dilemma spiral in Asia, what with the fast-paced fluidity in the power distribution since 1990 and all the uncertainities attached to it. A security dilemma there is all the more likely anyway given that the country with the most rapidly growing economy and military --- China --- is a secretive authoritarian regime that systematically understates its military spending each year. Officially it's around $12 billion. Most outside governments and specialists think it's anywhere from 4 to 6 times that. As for North Korea, it's worse: the most brutal, mass-murdering totalitarian regime left in the world.

 

How To Handle the Security Dilemma

Are there ways to offset a security dilemma and the psychological spiral accompanied by arms competition that it engenders? The answer: yes, but it's demanding. It requires several diplomatic and arms efforts on the part of the states caught up in the dilemma:

* far more transparency and openess in China and North Korea, the latter unlikely to change at all without massive pressures to disarm and allow international inspections

* arms control agreements to limit WMD, including the build-up of nuclear forces in the region: a tall order, not least because Beijing also has some limited fears, it seems, of US nuclear forces at a time when we're rapidly building anti-missile defenses . . . by ourselves and with the Japanese, the Russians, the Australians, and NATO. Its leaders also worry about India's rising power and nuclear forces, as of course do India's about China . . . a major reason, fortunately, for Beijing's understanding the action-reaction nature of a security dilemma in nuclear weaponry and missiles and hence its more forthcoming willingness to take seriously arms control limits. (Beijing would also have to be seriously worried if Pakistan's nuclear forces, which it helped build, would ever come into the hands of Islamist terrorists.)

* confidence building measures, such as joint military exchanges and exercises, something the US military has done with China's in a limited way, with limited results (China's military spending and deployments are still enshrouded in secrecy) since the late 1990s.

* an overall emphasis on rule-based economic development and trade and investments, with all the countries in the region having similar interests here, China seen as both an unsettling diplomatic and power-presence but a big economic opportunity in the future. (There are, oppositely, some rivalries here in attracting multinational investment).

 

The Big Challenge for the US

Ultimately, the US --- the only global super-power --- is especially concerned to coax China as its economic power, technological dynamism, and military power grow into adhering more and more to the global rule-based system that we have largely managed since WWII and to see its future influence and prestige in Asia and world-wide satisfied in non-belligerent ways. That means, globally, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and --- if possible (it's hard given differences among the permanent members over how to advance their security interests and deal with threats) --- the UN Security Council. Regionally, it means more economic cooperation in the region --- creating or strengthening existing organizational meetings and discussions --- and above all arms control and confidence-building.

The history of the 20th century shows how hard it was to assimilate a new, rapidly rising great power . . . especially if it were authoritarian or totalitarian in its domestic system. WWI and WWII attest to that difficulty. If we're lucky and intelligent, we'll do better with China . . . whatever its relative economic and military power capabilities happen to be in the next few decades.



 



Sidebar Observation: The email from the student has been edited for clarity, with an observation tacked on at the end that wasn't in the original, but is commonly expressed by critics of the Iraqi war.

My name is S and I'm in your 121 class. I wanted to ask about today's lecture, specifically point 5 of the 7 that deals with how wars start and the model you used for setting it out: in particular, the polar contrast between, at one pole, wars that begin through deliberate, calculated decisions and, at the other pole, wars that might erupt as a blunder.

You stated that there have been studies that show that there has been no war that was started due to a blunder. This is a hard fact for me to accept, given all the wars over history and including the recent Iraqi war. Now I supported the war in Iraq, but I still fell that it was started due to a "blunder." Why? Let's assume the US didn't really see war as inevitable from the outset. Still, to hold significant clout in the international community, doesn't a great power need to have its deterrent and compellent threats taken seriously? From 1991 until last spring, Iraq had defied the UN and the US, including all our threats and for that matter Clinton's lobbing several hundred cruise missiles at Iraq in December 1998 --- after the UN inspectors left in disgust, lacking any cooperation with Saddam --- in order to try decapitating the Saddamite leadership.

So, my question is this: isn't Iraq's not responding to our call to disarm a "blunder" on its part which then, to save face in the International community, the US government decided to remedy by attacking Iraq this spring? And given the problems we've had since the war's end, didn't we in turn blunder as well in occupying the country?

--- S.

THE BUGGY REPLY

That's an intelligent query, S, and I thank you for it. There is, however, some confusion in how you are using blundering into war, and some contestable claims made about the war with Iraq and especially what's gone on since then.

BLUNDER WARFARE AND IRAQ?

I. First, for the studies that can't find one clear instance of a blunder-into-war --- the term to be clarified in a moment --- see the studies by Reiter and Blainey, mentioned earlier here.

  II. The problem you seem to be grappling with is what "blunder" means. It's the opposite of calculated and deliberate, using the information you have at hand. It doesn't mean that the war turned out as you hoped, or the peace that followed: obviously, half the sides in a war will lose or settle for less than they wanted. Blunder would have to refer to major miscalculations and misperceptions, without any intent to go to war: for instance, the belief that the other side was about to strike and had no intent, and your side (or country) had no interest whatever in war except for this. Neither Blainey nor the British scholar --- examining hundreds of wars over the last millennium --- could find evidence of this.  

III. As for Iraq, if there's any war we've ever fought that was deliberate, calculated, and spun-out over time --- a war, essentially, of full choice --- it happens to be the Iraqi war. Whether and how much the Bush administration was over-optimistic --- not about a quick decisive win, but rather the ability to gain full control in Iraq quickly --- is another matter, and not fully clear other than that there was obviously some over-optimism.  

IV. And the WMD?

The British House of Commons committee --- Labor, Conservative, Social Liberals on it --- found no evidence that the Blair government had deliberately misled the British, even if at times, given inevitable ambiguities and puzzles in information, there was a tendency to opt for the one most congenial to its beliefs that Saddam was a threat. That Committee, by the way, also stood by the British intelligence claim that it had good information that an Iraqi official had tried to buy uranium in Niger, something about which US intelligence was more divided. Blair repeated his belief this week that WMD will be found. German intelligence reported publicly last year that Saddam would have operational nuclear weapons with missile capacity to hit Europe in 2005. Back here, in his State-of-the-Union speech, the President made completely clear that Saddam was not an imminent threat, but that in an era of terrorism, we couldn't wait until the terrorists obtained WMD to use against us, and he then went on to invoke the new pre-emptive strategy. Whether that was accurate can be questioned: obviously. Interestingly, though, NATO has generally moved to adopt something like the pre-emptive change, arguing that the European countries can't wait to be attacked either. It's not identical to US strategy, but the gap has narrowed.

 

The recent interim report by the new chief of the US-UK and other inspection teams at work in Iraq --- which came out in early October has, it should be noted, been widely misinterpreted by the media. Kay did not say that there weren't lots of WMD programs at work in Iraq that his teams have uncovered since he took over this summer: only that they haven't found the huge supplies that all intelligence agencies assumed existed there, including the UNSCOM inspectors who left Iraq in 1998. In the unclassified 10-page summary made public, the following paragraph appears:

"We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."

Then, too, Kay's report stressed how difficult it has been to get the Iraqi scientists working on the programs to cooperate. The chief reason? Their fear of being killed by pro-Saddamite terrorists. In fact, two of them were after cooperating with Kay's inspectors.



  US RATIONALES FOR GOING TO WAR

More generally, as Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary admitted in the long interview with a journalist in May after the war, there were 3 rationales always that the Bush administration had in mind. Wolfowitz said that stressing the WMD was done to create unity in the US government since, apparently, stressing the other two rationales were more decisive. He also said --- as Colin Powell and the Pentagon and the National Security Adviser and the President have repeatedly emphasized --- that they had good reliable intelligence as the basis of their stress on the WMD threat.:

1) the WMD problem, aggravated by Saddam ignoring 16 UN Security Council resolutions demanding disarmament and full cooperation (the initial one, passed in the fall of 1990 before the Gulf War, but with Saddam in Kuwait, specified immediate disarmament and envisaged a quick compliance.)

2) the links to terrorism, specifically Al Qaeda --- regarding which, again, the evidence is disputable, with the administration still claiming it has evidence of such ties and will find more (this isn't, I add, clear).

3) And human-rights violations of an egregious sort, also condemned in UN Security Council Resolutions.

A 4th rationale --- obviously important in Bush circles --- was a desire in the war on terrorism to go on the offensive and seek to change a dangerous status-quo in the Middle East, where terrorist groups abounded, aided by Iran and Syria and also Iraq (if not in the case of Al Qaeda, something no good evidence has so far been disclosed, save for the claim, still held to by the Czech government, that the Saudi leader of the 9/11 attacks had met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague a year or so before the attacks.) For what it's worth, the 4th rationale strikes me as sound, but it couldn't be vented publicly if you were trying to gain the support of the UN Security Council, which Colin Powell and the rest of the administration thought it had gained in November 2002 with resolution 1441 that called on Iraq to disarm and prove it.

 

There were and are reasoned criticisms that can be offered of all four.

When, however, Senator Ted Kennedy --- just to pick him --- claimed the Bush administration lied, that the Iraqi war was hatched by a Texas cabal (presumably meaning the oil lobby: Rice? Rumsfeld? Powell? The State Department?), that there was no imminent Iraqi threat, and that Bush did it to raise his standing in public opinion --- we are not in the realm of reasoned criticism, but rather demagogic invective. Did Blair join the Texas cabal? Where is there any evidence of deliberate lying? The House of Commons, where the charge was investigated in the Blair case, could find no clear evidence of this, despite criticisms (which may be sound here too) that the government there seized on ambiguities and gave a twist to the interpretations . . . something that happens, it seems, with almost any controversial policy, including in economics. As for the Houston oil lobby, the buggy article on the run-up to war cited the worries in Houston oil circles that the war would destabilize the Middle East and oil shipments and cause uncertainty and there was, to put it mildly, no enthusiasm for the war. What's more, the former high-level advisers to Bush Sr. are far more connected to the Houston oil lobby than anyone in the Bush team save Cheney, and yet Scowcroft (Bush Sr.'s national adviser) and James Baker (his Secretary of State from Texas) spoke out last fall against going to war. (Scowcroft later changed his mind, saying Bush Jr. had done the necessary work to get Congressional approval and work for UN Security Council Resolution 1441).

Similarly, Bush made it perfectly clear in the State of the Union address that there was no imminent threat from Iraq, but that in an era of terrorism, we couldn't wait for an outlaw state, in violation of 16 UN Security Council Resolutions --- "material breach" is the anodyne diplomatic language --- for the terrorists to get nuclear or other WMD. (German intelligence --- in a country whose government said in the UN that it wouldn't support a US-led war whatever the Security Council decided --- went public last year in Germany and said Saddam would have nuclear weapons and missiles to hit Europe in 2005.) As for public opinion, it did rise initially after the quick victory in Iraq, but since then Bush's public opinion standing has plummeted, lower than it was before 9/11.

The US government can be criticized for using some wrong intelligence --- or putting in a reference to British intelligence and Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium from Niger (which the House of Commons committee investigating Blair upheld, but which US intelligence was and remains more cautious and divided about) --- or being over-optimistic about security in post-Saddam Iraq or about the ability of Iraqi oil production to rise above the 2.5 million barrels a day it was pumping before the war. It's back to 1.9 million now, and probably will reach 2.5 million by year's end, though what it would be in the future no one can without first-hand knowledge . . . which I certainly don't. And yes, the cost of rehabilitating Iraq is much higher than the administration projected. But then, so too was the cost of rehabilitating the economies of West Germany and the rest of West Europe with the Marshall Plan after WWII (no German independent government, by the way, was established for four years, only an interim authority as in Iraq; and the same was true of Japan.)

 

MORALITY OF THE WAR Another point follows, again, open to discussion. It's the morality of what happened.

  It's a mistake --- one you yourself don't seem to make, S (it's a little hard to tell frankly) --- to dwell on motives alone or even much when it comes to evaluating the actions of individuals, let alone policymakers in foreign policy and diplomacy. Even in our private lives, our motives for doing something hard or challenging are likely to be numerous, mixed, at odds, and partly unconscious, covered frequently by self-illusion and rationalizations; and this is doubly so for political leaders, concerned with their standing and chances of re-election and with concerns for how history will see them.

What counts much more in our actions --- and those of diplomats --- are their consequences: were they on balance an improvement over the status quo, and how much compared to the costs of changing it?

Consider appeasement in the 1930s. The appeasers of Hitler in France and Britain in that decade --- or isolationists here that hampered FDR's diplomacy --- weren't evil or bad men, and were well-intentioned for the most part. They wanted to avoid war. They failed, and the result of their behavior --- as Winston Churchill would note later --- was disastrous: it encouraged Hitler and the other aggressive dictators to think the western democracies were lacking in will and resolution and emboldened them to up their demands and eventually launch a war when their relative power was far greater than it was earlier in the 1930s. In the upshot, 50-60 million people were killed in a war that finally destroyed them, and in Europe, it brought the Stalinist totalitarian regime into several countries that it communized.

  To return to Iraq and clarify the complexity of moral judgments here. The costs to the US in fighting the war to topple Iraq and reconstructing it have to be compared with the benefits of destroying Saddam's brutal mass-murdering regime, ending his defiance of the UN Security Council, and ending too his threats to other countries in the region . . . while producing, the Bush administration and its supporters hope, a better, friendlier, more moderate government in Iraq. If decent success materializes on these counts, then the rest of the Middle East's corrupt, despotic regimes will face intense pressure to reform too. Some of those regimes, it needs to be stressed, are outright terrorist-states, supporting international terrorism for their own purposes while pursuing programs of nculear or chemical or biological weaponry: Syria and Iran, whose governments are already drawing certain consequences in their support for terrorism because 140,000 American troops are on their borders.

Then, too, there's Saudi Arabia, ruled by a royalist gangster clique of 4000 cousins, which has squandered 2.5 - 3.0 trillion dollars of oil revenue (in 2002 dollars) since 1973, a fair amount of it allocated for pushing Wahhabi extremist Islam in the world, including in the US and fanning racist assaults on Jews, gays, women, liberals, democrats, and the like. We also know --- witness the administration's censorship of the joint House and Senate intelligence committee on 9/11 --- that high-level political leaders in the royalist Mafioso were actively funding terrorist movements, including Al Qaeda, led by a Saudi. Was it an accident that the leader of the 9/11 massacres in New York and Washington D.C. was Saudi, and most of the terrorists from that country too? Shortly after 9/11, as we found out later, the Saudi government carried out a secret poll of men in their country between 19 and 39 years of age, and guess what: 95% supported Al Qaeda and Bin Laden! Fortunately, all this may be changing too ("may": Saudi Arabia is one of the most censored and secretive societies in the world, with a pervasive secret police presence). In particular, American troops have withdrawn, and pressures are now being exerted on that corrupt gangster regime --- whose per capita income for 21 million Saudis is now one-third of what it was in 1980, with unemployment among men over 25%! --- to alter its support for Islamist extremist and terrorism. The reports filtering from the US government to the media indicate, for instance, far more energetic cooperation in stopping financial support for terrorist networks like Al Qaeda.

Against these, there are costs. Some harm to NATO unity, though except for France, US relations with Germany have improved noticeably again (as with Putin's Russia), and NATO seems to be functioning generally well again . . . even if we can't expect much help from them over Iraq (in part, domestic opinion even in the EU countries that supported Bush --- Italy, Spain, Denmark, Holland, and the much poorer 8-10 new East European members in the EU by the end of this year --- is still strongly opposed to their involvement, with the exception of Poland). There has been, too, some strident politicized polarization about our policies in Iraq since the end of the war: even moderates like Wesley Clark running for the Democratic Party nomination have moved more rapidly to strong criticism than their previous support indicated, never mind Howard Dean . . . whose appeal to the left-wing of the Democratic Party, with all the stimulating impact on activists, seems generally limited to it. And of course, there is the cost of rehabilitating Iraq --- $87 billion asked for the coming fiscal year (just started now) --- that the Bush administration clearly had under-estimated in its earlier over-optimistic projections. It's an important point. We'll return to it later.

I discussed the moral side of all this in a buggy prof article this summer. See the link here.

(Sidebar observation: predictably --- the prediction repeatedly made in several buggy articles about the diplomatic wrangles before and immediately after the Iraqi war --- France has ended up antagonizing and dividing the EU, leaving itself increasingly isolation . . . a result that is now being voice more and more frequently in France itself. Again and again, that's what has happened to clever French schemes to leverage its influence and prestige in the world by using the EU for that purpose, while gathering domestic support in France itself, a badly divided country on almost all other issues. See, "For French Intellectuals, France Falters" Also The Economist.

 

 

IRAQ SINCE THE WAR: HAVE WE BLUNDERED INTO A QUAGMIRE

As for Iraq, there are three tracks of changes that have to be monitored and made sense of to determine what's really going on:

  1) political, where progress is being made. Public opinion polls carried out in that country recently by expert pollsters find that two-thirds or so of Iraqis approve of the US-UK occupation and Saddam's overthrow for all the problems of law and order. Both polls showed that, yet you will see all sorts of claims made --- even in the New York Times --- by reporters who say they know what the Iraqis are feelings or thinking about the current occupation based solely on their intuition or their drinking buddies at the tony hotel in Baghdad or from a talk with a highly non-random selection of Iraqis. Be wary of this stuff.

  2) economic, including infrastructure, GDP growth, oil production. Getting good information is hard, but the US economist who headed the team overseeing the economy there said recently, about a week ago, that the economy has been stabilized. We'll return to this matter in a few moments.

  3) security problems, which divide into two sorts: terrorism launched by Saddamite remnants and by Al Qaeda and other Islamo-terrorists, a serious matter.

 

It's worth taking up these tracks, starting with security problems.

First, terrorism. Since the end of May, the number of US soldiers killed by these attacks (as opposed to accidents, some of which could be linked to evasive actions) has definitely trended downward: See this link, which the Wall St Journal then republished later. Again, though, it's not the complete story. The general in charge of US forces said yesterday that the terrorist attacks were growing more sophisticated and numerous . . . presumably, though, without as many US casualties. It's just not clear what the situation actually is; but in the near future, say within a few months, there should be an Iraqi police force, military, and anti-terrorist units in place, with their ability to get intelligence --- the key here --- far greater than our own so far. Remember here too: the inability of the US to open a northern front through Turkey with the biggest digitalized division in the US army --- which was supposed to swoop down to Baghdad in two or three days --- allowed large remnants of the elite Iraqi Republican Guards to slip away once Baghdad was occupied quickly from the South. Most likely, these remnants are the backbone of the forces attacking the US . . . along, of course, with the arrival of Islamist terrorists, including the usual fanatical suicide bombers from the rest of the Middle East.

  The second side of security problems is law-and-order, and its breakdown in a burst of criminality. It's obviously serious, this breakdown --- but not unusual in a system where repression of a ruthless sort ruled and its removal freed criminals and others to be vitalized. Again, getting good info is hard, but the problem is still serious, and it will obviously take both an effective government, police force, criminal justice system on one side and a greater willingness of a still cowed Iraqi population on the other to cooperate more actively with the reformed police and reveal what they know about criminals and terrorists. More generally, on the two sides of the security problems, the Bush administration --- as far as we can tell --- can be faulted for being over-optimistic before the war began. How much of a major lingering problem terrorist attacks turn out to be will depend, largely, on what happens in the next several months . . . especially on how quickly an Iraqi political authority, police, and military can be brought into play. As for law and order, it's hard to know what outsiders can do until a better criminal justice system emerges.

 

On point 2) the breakdown of the infrastructure has turned out to be far more serious than anyone seems to have appreciated not due to the war, but to neglect for a decade and then some sabotage. Oil production too has clearly run behind schedule, but again, we have to wait and see what happens the next year. The oil fields were seized quickly; that we know, and hence sabotage wasn't possible. As we noted earlier, oil production --- despite post-war efforts at limited sabotage --- is now around 1.9 million barrels a day compared to the pre-war level of 2.5. Ultimately, it's hoped, Iraq's very large oil reserves could lead to a tripling of that output or more, the backbone of a new economy if the right economic institutions and policies are put in place.

Is the $87 billion the Bush administration has just asked for --- three-quarters for US forces in Iraq --- worth it? People of goodwill can argue about this, and again the administration was probably over-optimistic about Iraqi ability to earn large amounts of oil revenue for economic reconstruction. that said, what's at stake now in Iraq --- our ability to show we're willing to stand in favor of democratic change, accept casualties, encourage change for the good in the area (nobody really expects Iraq to emerge as a Danish-style democracy), and our ability to pressure successfully for changes in Syria, Iran (where 90% of the people oppose the regime according to Iranian public opinion results last year), Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere seem to me to be worth while . . . especially since the encouraging signs in 1) and 2) need to be considered.

 

Further Reading

For an illuminating, crisply put argument on what's at stake in Iraq right now for us and our allies, see the impressive article by the gifted military historian, Victor Davis Hanson, that was published yesterday. What's It All About? The buggy prof himself will comment further and extensively on the developments in Iraq along all three tracks as soon as good information --- not acerbic partisan sniping from Democrats and Republicans alike, never mind incompetent journalism --- is available. And as always, he will --- even as he sees good reason to continue supporting the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq, a long-term challenge of vast proportions and crucial in the war on terrorism --- continue to handle legitimate criticisms and see if they can be replied to effectively. If not, he will say so.