I am basically ignorant when it comes to analyzing politics. However, this gives me the right to toot my own horn when it looks like I do get something right. A while back I spewed my thoughts on the Iraq War, its motivations, and its implications. Briefly, the conclusion I came to was that the provided rationale for going to war (support of terrorism, WMD's, nuclear program, humanitarian concerns) was contrived and probably totally specious, and that the war would accomplish none of the stated primary goals of operation except remove Saddam Hussein from power. In fact, this is pretty much how it has worked out: there was no weapons programs, consequently there was no potential for the former regime to aid terrorists, and there has been little immediate progress against "the forces of terrorism" - in fact, it seems you would have to be deceiving yourself to say the current environment in Iraq hasn't attracted new jihadists to the area. I also said that I thought the main motivating reason behind the war was democratization. Democratization has two aspects:

1) Democratization of Iraq prope. This is desirable because a democratic Iraq is inevitably much friendlier to its neighbors and to U.S. interests than a dictatorship, especially one that is run by a sworn enemy. Accomplishing this objective at minimum is important because at the very least, it means that the U.S. has one less enemy and a sphere of influence in the middle east.

2) Democratization as an example for the greater Middle East. This is desirable for many reasons. One, the huge antagonistic force we are fighting at this point in time is Islamic totalitarianism, exemplified by bin Laden and his associates. Reasonable people may disagree about the extent two which these forces currently pose a threat to the United States, but it is undeniable that the ideology is extremely dangerous and antagonistic. Democracy necessarilly excludes Islamic totaliaranism and its success in the middle ease will be a huge blow to it. Second, an implicit belief of the Bush people seems to be that turning Arab countries into democracies will significantly lower the tension that characteristically plagues the area. Third, as before, other democracies are more likely to turn out regimes friendly to the U.S. and U.S. interests. This means more U.S. influence in a region that is vital to our economy.

Back in October I predicted that the democratization objectives of the war would turn out decidedly more positively than any other causes. With what's going on in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, and to some extent Syria, it appears that my prediction was right. Of course the by all counts successful election in Iraq goes to this credit as well.

On the other hand, I said before that I am totally against the way all of this was carried out. One can say without cynicism that Administration cronies exploited the fear environment created by 9/11 to sell a distorted case for a war, and that is not acceptable. Presenting false intelligence and rationales to the American public, probably with the knowledgeable intent to deceive, is a terrible precedent to be setting - especially when the issue in question is something on the magnitude of a war. Further, word has it that the war itself was not particularly carefully or well-executed. I can't comment on this aspect; I'll let the reality speak for itself, and leave commenting on it to those with greater knowledge of miltary policy, or greater pretense to know about such things.

The dillemma I face is was any of this possible without the mendaciousness, deception, and strong-arm tactics with which this administration carried out this war? Is it really possible to say, "I like what is going on now, but I would have gone about it better"? The central question there is whether the country ever would have bought into a war based exclusively on subtle and long-term structural goals like democracy reform in the middle east. It's possible that the country would have bought into that rationale alone, but it would have required a much longer period of selling the war, which the administration just didn't have time for. Or it's possible that all the best political analysis said that the democracy pitch was a big loser. Ultimately, this war forces us to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the foreign policy process in our country. In theory, war is supposed to only be declared by Congress representative of the wishes of its constituents, whereas the President is only supposed to be able to suggest war to a critical Congress, and then choose when to carry it through once it has been passed. In reality there are all kinds of vaguely worded loopholes that allow for the use of force in "extenuating circumstances" and "matters of urgent national interest" and the like, and the War Powers Resolution which allows for the unmediated use of force for 60 days. In fact, a formal declaration of war has been resorted to on only 5 occassions in U.S. history. De facto, we have a situation where the president who is elected has unlimited control of military force, within reasonable constraints. We should be asking what role the public should play in foreign policy decisions, and how much accountability Congress should have to the public on these matters, which is currently very little. We should also be asking whether in matters of national interest in which the public is not informed is it OK for authorities to present a distorted case for a benign foreign policy action. Basically we have to clarify the precise role that the public, and presumably Congress which is supposed to represent them, is going to play in the formation of foreign policy decisions in the future.


knibilnats said...
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knibilnats said...

I enjoyed your post, you were obviously right on many accounts. However, I'm not sure that the war in Iraq, or the subsequent elections really had anything to do with the situation in Lebanon. They have been occupied by Syria for years, and Syria's attack on a beloved former Prime Minister sealed the fate of the pro-Syrian government.

Charles Malik said...

The Iraq War and Lebanon are two very separate issues. Our motivation to come out to the streets came from our hearts and our own oppression, not because of anything in another country.
What the United States did help with, though, is that the Syrians and their Lebanese government cronies did not massacre us in the streets.