Thursday, September 16, 2004
I have been silent on Iraq thus far. In part this is because there were a lot of smart people already talking about it, and also because I wanted to wait until I had thought through the issue enough to have a clear position. But we are at a stage when every person needs to make their views known. So here goes.
Like a lot of people, I believed Colin Powell when he spoke before the U.N. Everyone in Washington, from both political parties, believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, I was tempted by the argument that we had to intervene in order to uphold U.N. resolutions and the peace terms of 1991. I am not opposed to the use of force, as long as it is employed wisely and with restraint.
But in th end I was opposed to the Iraq adventure. There were two reasons. First, I thought that Congress had abdicated too much of it role in foreign policy and warmaking. These are powers that were intended by the founders to be shared among all three branches of the federal government. External relations fall under federative, not executive powers: Presidents therefore had usurped too much authority. This was not simply a constitutional abstraction for me: I questioned whether there had been an adequte debate on the subject, both in Washington and among the citizenry. The media seemed to too quick to ridicule opposing arguments, there was too much blurring of 9/11 and Iraq (which were separate issues), and there was too much exploitation of the issue by the Republicans.
I do not blame people who disagreed with me on invading Iraq. Many people were deceived by the Bush administration. They believed they were voting to give the President the leverage he needed to get U.N. support. If there was no U.N. support, the agreement was that Bush would return to Congress for a second resolution. But he broke his word. At the time, only the most cynical of us could have believed he would do so. In this instance, the cynics were right.
All of this is ancient history, except of course for the lessons we should have learned about trusting George Bush. But there was another factor which made me uneasy: the sheer incompetence of the Bush Administration. I had been appalled by the belligerent, incoherent, and counterproductive foreign policy pursued by Bush the moment he took office. For a moment it looked like 9/11 had saved him (and us), because it forced the President to build an international alliance rather than undermine them. We needed friends to fight the war on terror, whereas before all he had been doing was actively isolating us (confronting the Europeans, Japanese, Russians, and Chinese simultaneously).
But then came Iraq. I heard too many different rationales for going in. I heard nothing about what we would do when we won. It was absence of any apparent plan for restoring stability to the country after we had destroyed it that led me to reject the policy. I heard too many rosy scenarios, when every good strategist knows that most things will wrong. Bush tried to repeal Murphy's Law, and we are all paying the price.
It is this incompetence which brings us to the present. The situation is steadily worsening, as the New York Times has reported, and as Juan Cole has so ably discussed. This administration will never be able to get us out of this mess. So no matter whether you were for the war or against it, you should vote against Bush. As usual, he has botched the job.
Of course, there is a real debate as to what we should do next. A quick unilateral withdrawal is unlikely and unwise, because it would instantly result in a civil war. Kerry seems interested in trying to internationalize the effort and gradually reduce our commitment. It is likely that there will still be a civil war, but there is a greater possibility that we can leave some kind of federated state behind. This is probably the right strategy, but we cannot get into specifics until Kerry has taken office. There will be a substantive debate at that point, a debate we should have had two years ago. But this debate will only occur if Kerry is elected President. Which is yet another reason that he must be elected. Because with Bush, we can only expect more of the same: disaster.