The War Over Iraq

“The Communist leaders say, `Don’t interfere in our internal affairs. Let us strangle our citizens in peace and quiet.’ But I tell you: Interfere more and more. Interfere as much as you can. We beg you to come and interfere.” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The New Republic on the Left and The Weekly Standard on the Right rarely have the same perspective on substantive policy issues. Whether it is Clinton’s impeachment, the 2002 elections, or tax cuts, the two political rags usually slug it out in the ring of ideas. It is, therefore, rare and surprising when a senior editor at The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan, and the editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, team to present the case for war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission. Since both are disciplined by writing regularly for magazines, their prose does not meander lazily around issues. They make their concise and direct case for war to take down Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in 125 quick pages.

Kaplan and Kristol lay the foundation for their argument by documenting the internal tyranny of Hussein’s regime, Hussein’s history of aggression against his neighbors, and his relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Hussein’s cruelty and immorality is so often conceded in debate, that we sometimes forget just how grisly the regime has been. For completeness, Kaplan and Kristol recount Saddam’s regime’s brutal repression of religious and ethnic minorities, his torture of women and children as a means to punish dissent, and his use of chemical weapons to suppress rebellion among the Kurds. Kaplan and Kristol remind us that Hussein has launched attacks against at least three of its neighbors. Most troubling of all, we are reminded of evidence of Hussein’s inexorable desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, Hussein believes that one of his key mistakes in attacking Kuwait more than a decade ago was that he should have waited until he had acquired nuclear weapons. Such weapons would have shielded the regime from attack.

Kaplan and Kristol’s real contribution is placing the war over Iraq and the war on terror in context. The real issue is more than just Iraq. “It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the world in the twenty-first century. And it is about what sort of world Americans intend to inhabit — a world of civilized norms that is congenial to the United States, or a world where dictators feel no constraints about developing weapons of mass destruction at home and no compunction about committing aggression and supporting terrorism abroad.”

On one side of the foreign policy debate are the Conservatives of the elder George Bush’s generation, the Henry Kissingers, the Brent Scrowcrofts, and the Lawrence Eagleburgers, who practice realpoltik, the balancing of international relationships to maintain stability and protect vital interests, even if at times it means overlooking American values and ideals. Such an approach is an outgrowth of 19th century European power politics and grew in importance during the Cold War, where stability, i.e., preventing an escalation to a nuclear exchange, was the primary imperative.

Under this paradigm, the purpose of the Gulf War after Iraq’s attack on Kuwait was to return the Middle East to the previous status quo. This approach also meant that the US failed to support authentic internal rebellions in Iraq lest they succeed and disturb the status quo. Kaplan and Kristol argue that such a short-sighted emphasis on stability has led to what is now a far more instable and dangerous Iraq.

On the other side are the “wishful liberals” who are so instinctively distrustful of American power that they excessively rely on multilateral institutions and when these fail on the hope that the gentle soothing hand of commercialism and globalization will moderate brutal regimes. Such a policy led to the gradual expulsion of international inspectors charged with verifying Saddam’s compliance with the regime’s agreement to disarm. This failure was punctuated with fretful launches of sporadic cruise missile attacks. What the “wishful liberals” do bring positively to foreign policy is a concern about wedding American foreign policy to American values, sometimes irrespective of self-interest.

Kaplan and Kristol articulate a third way now practiced by George W. Bush. Actually, they argue for a return to a “distinctively American internationalism,” a practice akin to the approaches of Presidents Harry Truman and John Kennedy. After World War II, Truman realized that America’s vital interests could not be narrowly defined only in terms of access to natural resources and strategic waterways. Truman recognized that a world that nurtured freedom and democracy was also in America’s long-term interest and that America should do what it could to spread democracy. Kennedy was so convinced of this proposition that he promised that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” While the US cannot go willy-nilly intervening against despotic regime, the encouragement of liberty and democracy is no less a vital interest than freedom of the seas.

Moreover, Kaplan and Kristol argue that in the age of weapons of mass destruction, the doctrine of preemption needs to be explicitly expanded to not only include imminent threats, but also longer-term threats that would be far harder to deal with later if allowed to fester. Indeed, President Kennedy articulated such a policy during the Cuban missile crisis. He argued that the US had a right to preemptively halt, if necessary through the use of force, the deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba, even if there were not any immediate prospect for their use.

Perhaps the clearest case of effective preemption was the Israeli destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor before it went online. At the time, the entire international community, including the United States, condemned the action, but in retrospect, the destruction of the reactor delayed Hussein’s nuclear program. If Hussein had had nuclear weapons at the time of his invasion of Iraq, it is likely that the rest of the world would not have intervened for fear of initiating a nuclear (if limited) exchange. Kuwait would now be a province of a stronger, wealthier, and more dangerous Iraq.

The liberation of Iraq has now begun. Kaplan and Kristol help explain why such a war is justified both as a way to prevent proliferation of weapons-of-mass-destruction capability to a vicious and aggressive regime and as a way to promote the advancement of liberty and democracy. A peaceful and democratic Iraq is good for America and even better for Iraqis.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.