Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Iraq War Villains

Matt Yglesias has a great post about the Iraq War on his personal blog.  He points out that the "Iraq Question" back in 2002 and 2003 was fundamentally a misguied way of looking at the situtation:
On the actual policy, what holds up reasonably well from the old pre-war case is that the Clinton era “containment” policy on Iraq was crumbling. The endless sanctioning of Iraq was not a viable long-term strategy for the region. That left you with two kinds of options. One—the wrong option—was to get more aggressive. The other—the correct option—was to realize that the goal of military domination of the Persian Gulf is just fundamentally misguided. The project is motivated by fuzzy thinking about oil, and it’s been extremely costly over the decades. Protecting Kuwait from a direct and flagrantly illegal cross-border military attack is a defensible (though arguably not necessary) use of military force, but the whole rest of the undertaking dating back to long before Bush was a mistake.
I think this analysis is right on the money.  At the very least it seems to fall directly into the category of American foreign policy elite applying the lessons (or their constructed story of the "lessons") of the previous conflict to the current one.  Thus the American policy in the Middle East was obsessed with following some sort of absurd (in retrospective) "Cold War Lite" with Iraq being the Soviet Union and everyone else being poor weak Western Europe.  Indeed I've noticed a tendency among certain thought leaders and self style foreign policy experts to try and put Iran in the Soviet role over the past few years with a sort of NATO Alliance of Sunnis lead by Saudi Arabia aligned against Iran.  Obviously this didn't work, and we should have known from the start it wouldn't as the Middle East is a complicated environment with different powers vying against each other for power, a lot more like Europe in the 18th or 17th Centuries than the second half of the 20th.

I recently watched the Kevin Costner vehicle about the Cuban Missile Crisis "Thirteen Days" and one of the things I noticed was how so many people were obsessed in those days with "Remembering the Lesson of Munich" and thus were opposed to any compromises or negotiated solutions to the predicament they found themselves in.  Regardless if that is the real "Lesson of Munich" it certainly wasn't very applicable, because of course any war between the US and USSR would almost certainly destroy both countries.  Thus in the Cold War, war itself could be an enemy as much as the other side.  There's a great scene where JFK asks Dean Acheson to game out his solution to the crisis and Acheson basically says: "Your first step sir will be to demand that the Soviet begin to withdraw the missiles within 12 to 24 hours, they will refuse. When they do you will order the strikes followed by the invasion Cuba, they will resist and be overrun.  They will retaliate against another target somewhere else in the world, most likely Berlin.  We will honor our treaty commitments and resist them there defeating them as per our plans."  Kennedy then points out: "Those plans call for the use of nuclear weapons.  So what is the next step?"  And Acheson doesn't have an answer to him, only saying he hopes cooler heads will prevail at some point.  So basically applying the "Lesson of Munich" here means nuclear armageddon.  Which is a long way to say that the lessons (or the lessons we construct for ourselves in hind sight) of past global conflicts are not necessarily applicable to the present, unfortunately too many of our foreign policy elite haven't learned this lesson.

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