After Saddam: A Symposium

The New Republic has published a bracing symposium on the post-Saddam situation in Iraq. The magazine really outdoes itself, featuring thoughtful assessments by a magisterial line up of commentators, including Fouad Ajami, Fareed Zakaria, Thomas “The Mustache” Friedman, Senator John McCain, Anne Applebaum, Kenneth Pollack, and others.

The writings are thoughtful, eloquent, detailed and diverse in opinion. Here are some highlights:

"This was a partisan war. By partisan, I don't mean that it was led by Republicans. It was partisan in the sense that the people who formulated it prized group loyalty above all else. They divided the world, the country, and even their own administration into people who could be trusted and people who could not. And, unfortunately, the people who could be trusted knew much less about how to build democracy in Iraq than the people who could not."

-- Peter Beinart

"The rule of Saddam Hussein was uncommonly brutal. Its destruction represents a triumph of the idealistic strain in American foreign policy. Americans may be proud of having rid the world of such a horror. But the Bush administration's mistakes, many of them the consequences of its various theologies, have somewhat disgraced idealism, and this, too, is a disservice to America. The course of the war in Iraq may persuade many Americans to revert to America's inward-looking habits. And the Bush administration is singularly ill-suited to teach those Americans about the glories of internationalism. Though the president and the vice president are acting with force internationally, they are not exactly internationalists. They are not national greatness conservatives, they are national smallness conservatives. But who are the national greatness liberals?"

-- Leon Wieseltier

"The truth, of course, is that, for all its talk of universal human rights, this is not an administration that actually perceives itself as part of something greater than the united states. For all of its talk about spreading American values to benighted foreigners, this is not an administration that even likes foreigners. It never occurred to me that American troops would arrive in Baghdad and have absolutely no idea what to do next, or who was important, or who was on their side. But then, I hadn't realized that the Pentagon leadership had no interest in or knowledge of the Iraqi people. I thought these were cold warriors, whereas in fact they are narrow-minded American nationalists, isolationists turned inside out."

-- Anne Applebaum

"Much has been said about the potential consequences of failure in Iraq -- how it would provide a new haven for terrorists, deal a blow to reformers and modernizers throughout the region, and encourage radicals in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But perhaps failure's most pernicious legacy will be a further hardening of the Democratic Party's Vietnam syndrome -- its distrust of government and the use of American power.

That syndrome is one reason why, from day one, many of us in Congress pressed the president to level with the American people about what would be required to prevail in Iraq. But he didn't. He didn't tell them that well over 100,000 troops would be needed for well over two years. He didn't tell them the cost would surpass $200 billion -- and far exceed Iraq's oil revenue. He didn't tell them that our children and grandchildren would pay the bill because of his refusal to rescind even a small portion of the tax cut he gave to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. He didn't tell them that, even after paying such a heavy price, success was not assured, because no one had ever succeeded at forcibly democratizing a nation in the Middle East, let alone an entire region."

-- Senator Joseph Biden, Jr.

"Should we have done things differently? Of course. We should have worked harder before the war to get more European allies on board and offered greater political support to those nations that did join our coalition. We should have invaded with more troops, acted more quickly to stop looting, stabilized key cities, secured arms depots and borders, and established checkpoints in key areas. We should have handed power more rapidly to Iraqis. But were we wrong to invade? No. On the biggest question of all -- whether Saddam had to go, by force if necessary -- we were right. I would do it again today."

-- Senator John McCain

"An officer in the Marine Corps, trying to speak to my anxieties about this war, offered a soldier's consolation -- the clarifying power of time and of patience. Tell me in 20 years, he wrote, how this war will have turned out, for it will take that long for it to reveal its full harvest. We judge quicker. Without the soldiers' mission, without their poise, we ride the roller coaster of a war whose justice and heartbreak alternate in endless succession. Nowadays, you dread the Department of Defense releases of the mounting number of those predominantly young men lost in the 'Iraq theater of operations'. Nowadays, you look away in hurt from the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen bringing news of another roadside bomb and another American fatality. It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been cheap, this new military campaign brought about by the coming apart of an Arab-Muslim world unwilling to deal with its despotisms and purveyors of terrorism. It would be a consolation were we to think that, after Kabul and Baghdad, there would be repose and an end to vigilance. But we should know the burning grounds of the Arab-Muslim world better by now. And we can be forgiven the premonition that this isn't the end of the matter."

-- Fouad Ajami

"I never believed that Saddam possessed any WMD that could threaten us, and I never believed his alleged WMD was a legitimate rationale for going to war in Iraq. Saddam was always deterrable by conventional means--because he loved life more than he hated us. I did believe, though, in the importance of regime change and reform across the region, because I always believed that what threatens us most from the Arab-Muslim world were the "people of mass destruction" -- the PMDs -- produced by failing Arab states. These PMDs are undeterrable because they hate us more than they love life. These are young Muslim men and women ready to commit suicide, spurred by their own humiliation at how far behind the rest of the world their civilization has fallen and by bad ideas--ideas of intolerance, anti-pluralism, and anti-modernism, produced in a cauldron of misgovernance and religious obscurantism."

-- Thomas Friedman

"... Saddam again proved himself to be exactly the kind of dangerous decision-maker that I, and other Iraq experts, feared would make him difficult to deter if he were to acquire nuclear weapons. Here I want to take issue with an assertion that Tom Friedman has made--that, since Saddam was not known to be suicidal, he could have been deterred, even if he were to acquire nuclear weapons. While I have the utmost respect for Tom, I think this point is ahistorical at best. The annals of warfare abound with leaders who embarked on foreign policy adventures they did not believe would result in their own destruction--political or literal--but that did. Napoleon did not think he was committing suicide when he invaded Russia, but he was. Hannibal did not think he was committing suicide when he attacked Rome, but he was. Not even Hitler thought he was committing suicide when he launched World War II, but he was. There is a long, long list of other examples."

-- Kenneth Pollack

"The real lesson of the last year is that the Bush administration's inept version of nation-building failed. The administration's strategists used Iraq as a laboratory to prove various deeply held prejudices: for example, that the Clinton administration's nation-building was fat and slow, that the United Nations was irrelevant, that the United States faced no problem of legitimacy in Iraq, that Ahmed Chalabi would become a Mesopotamian Charles de Gaulle. In almost every case, facts on the ground quickly disconfirmed these theories. But, so committed were these government officials to their ideology--and so powerful within the administration--that it took 14 months for policy to adjust to these failures. In the last month, the United States has finally reversed course, sending more troops, scaling back de-Baathification, dumping Chalabi, bringing in the United Nations, and listening to Iraqis on the ground. This shift in policy is already making a difference, easing the anti-Americanism and the sense of international isolation that has plagued the Iraq mission. If they keep up the reversals, Iraq still has a chance."

-- Fareed Zakaria

"In the meantime, the United Nations itself is not anxious to put its personnel or declining prestige at risk -- an echo of its indifference to events in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide of epochal dimensions in Rwanda. Much of this inaction is directly attributable to Kofi Annan. Right now, another vast genocide is taking place in Sudan, with Muslims killing Christians and Arab Muslims killing African Muslims. The United Nations has merely wrung its hands. There are roughly 10,000 UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When a rapacious mob entered the town of Bukavu, the blue helmets simply dissolved into the bush. In both Sudan and the Congo, it would not take much to enforce a separation between the warring bands. But who will put their men in harm's way for the sake of African lives? No one. Certainly nothing will be done without the Americans. But, for the moment, the Americans are otherwise engaged, putting their lives at risk in a faraway country about which we know not as much as we should. It is an honorable undertaking."

-- Martin Peretz

"The U.S. failure in Somalia led to a different kind of U.S. failure in Rwanda. There will surely be Rwandas in the future -- there is one right now in Darfur, Sudan (where the ethnic cleansers come out of the same mix of radical Islamism and Arab nationalism that has caused so much suffereing in many other places, including our own places). Who in his right mind is going to call for U.S. intervention? Doubtless, in the future, when things are not so grim for us, some people will, in fact, call for U.S. interventions, and justly so. And yet, other people are going to say, Oh, right, and let's put Donald Rumsfeld in charge. And this will be a devastating reply."

-- Paul Berman (read his Terror and Liberalism!)

It's a whole lot of reading, but it's all worth it, and essential to evaluating the presidential candidates against the backdrop of the biggest issue of our age.

Posted by John-Paul Pagano at July 1, 2004 5:40 PM