Monday, March 24, 2008

TOTAL RECALL: March 24, 2003

As we mark the 5th anniversary and 4,000th U.S. military death of the Iraq War, Global Review is recalling views published on its predecessor blog, Instant Replay. Here's a post by yours truly, and a response by frequent commenter DJN that were published five years ago today.

50 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong

My hero in journalism, Thomas Friedman, is reporting from the Western Front. He reports that France, if not Iraq, is shocked and awed. Maybe it's just my love for all things Friedman, but I think his op-ed piece touches a very deep chord in the transatlantic relationship that has made the U.S. and France allies since 1778.

For now, though, Europeans are too stunned by this massive exercise of unilateral U.S. power to think clearly what it's about. I can't quite put my finger on it, but people here seem to feel that a certain contract between America and the world has been broken. Which is why so much is riding, far beyond Iraq, on what the Bush team builds in Iraq.

The idea occurred to me today that this is precisely what Rumsfeld et al intended. It's become clear by now that this geopolitical strategy - preemption, unilateralism - has been a decade in the making, spearheaded by the likes of Perle, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz. This war was intended to have global, not just regional effects. And it is. The world is seeing not only the massive power of the U.S. - which spends just 4% of its GDP to have a military budget bigger than the rest of the world put together!

The shock and awe campaign displays two things prominently. The strength of the U.S. army and, more importantly, our willingness to use it. This may play well with Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. But it is definitely shocking and awing France, Russia, Germany and our other erstwhile allies. They now have ample reason to believe that the U.S. doesn't need them, and they know more than ever that they need us. That is rarely a good situation between allies, especially since the military imbalance is not reflected in economic, social or diplomatic arenas. The U.S. may be set up for a period of isolation and frustration like we have not experienced since before the Spanish-American War.

Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear that the Kim Jong Ils of the world have been unduly impressed. Other state sponsors of terrorism, who are less isolated than Iraq was, may have confidence that they will be able to rally a coalition against the U.S. (not militarily, but perhaps economically) that could thwart U.S. intentions, and put their regime in the good graces of the rest of the world by default. If Saddam had been slightly less odious, this would have been a much harder sell for the Rumsfeld crowd.

Instant Replay calls for a vote of no-confidence in the Rumsfeld Doctrine. Chime in.

Guest Column: DJN

The US entering a "period of isolation"? "Rumsfeld Doctrine"? Eagerness to show off our new weapons? Ah, Chops, what happened to your conservative leanings? We must do something about your Peace Corps indoctrination :)

Before we bemoan our fallen state in international popularity, one might ask first why France, Germany and Russia have gone against the US in its war to topple Saddam.

France sold Iraq its first two reactors around 1980; shortly before completing the transaction, they required the Iraqis scientists to give an explanation for how they planned to use their new reactors. When the Iraqis failed to provide a convincing answer, the French merely doubled the price tag. And when Israeli agents sabotaged of the reactors, at a time when Iraq was weeks away from creating its first nuclear bomb, the Franch condemned the action and quickly set about repairing Saddam's nuclear program.

Germany was similarly responsible for a number of arms shipments to Iraq in the 80s, and is also the primary country responsible for providing Iraq with its chemical and bio weapons facilities. (An American company nearly participated, but smelled a rat and backed away from the sale.)

And, if you check the news from last week, Russian companies have recently been implicated in ongoing arms shipments to the Iraqi government, including anti-tank missiles, night vision goggles and high-tech radar jamming equipment. President Bush has recently charged Putin to stop these shipments... Russia is certainly as interested in Iraq's business (and afraid of losing illicit business) as American companies are interested in Iraq's oil.

So it is questionable whether the dissent voiced by these nations can be taken as legitimate, or whether they actually have ulterior motives. As I think David has mentioned before, this war may mark a shift in international sway away from Europe and the obselete Security Council. Certainly from France (which is no longer the country of importance that it was at the end of WW2). Regardless of what those against war have said, Bush has arguably done his homework on this war. The language in 1441 is clear enough in authorizing action against Iraq, and we have rallied to the cause a coalition of at least 43 other countries. And where WMDs, tyrants and terrorism share a common link in one country, any argument against pre-emption is a weak one after 2001.

China's decision not to support the US may stem more from their desire for autonomy than from anything else; they don't stand to lose much from the regime change. And China is going to be an important country to court in the 21st century, more important than Germany and perhaps even more so than Russia.

If I interpret you correctly though, you're certainly right about this - that how America is perceived from this will have a lot more to do with what happens after the war than during it. And keeping a low profile afterwards woudn't be a bad idea. I thought it was interesting that the army decided not to fly American flags on their tanks going in this time. That sort of attitude will be a good start.
Five years on, who was right? Talk back. (Are you out there, DJN?)

1 comment:

Gandhi said...

Ha. I just saw this post, 2 1/2 months later.

My first paragraph was totally off. I have to give you credit in retrospect for being right about Rumsfeld and isolationism.

There is perhaps a bigger issue than preemption though, and it is preplanning, which we obviously had none of going into Iraq. How stupid to think that the Iraqis would flood the streets everyone congratulating our troops (ok, this did happen in some cities). How ridiculous for us to believe that others would pay for this war, as in Gulf War 1 with Bush Senior's successful multilateralist approach. And worst of all, our lack of understanding of the relations between the three factions, and what would result when we disbanded the Iraqi army.

I still blame the French, Russians & Germans for much of what has happened in Iraq. They were a bunch of lying pansies in the pockets of the enemy, and did not give us a gracious option for an effective multilateralist approach to dealing with Saddam. Don't forget that the current data on WMDs was indicative of massive deception, and Saddam had stupidly propagated such information with intent to intimidate Iran, leading Americans to doubt Hans Blix's misgivings. Go back five 1/2 years and consider, I suggest, what other options we really had given the information available. Who could we work with and trust on the security council other than the English? Our trust was betrayed. Everything else came from that.

Under those grounds, I still support the invasion, but not the Rumsfeld doctrine which ultimately doomed the early victories in Iraq to undermine success for the next four years.

Also in retrospect, most data indicates that are troops are doing well there now. The murder rate in Baghdad is now below the rate in some U.S. cities (I don't condider CBN itself a source, but the blog here cites sources). 4,000 troop deaths in five years is a unbelievably small number for war casualties. The Petraeus strategy has its dissenters, but they seem to be short on data to support their position right now.

I have read some of Friedman's writings and thought that, while he had interesting insights, his writing was highly anecdotal.

Bush's biggest mistake was not sticking by the correct reasons for invading Iraq. He should have either stuck with the WMD defense, or used the pretense of restoring regional stability in the first place, using the SC 1441 resolution as grounds to disarm a noncompliant Iraq that was violating the no-fly zones, hiding ranged missiles until the last minute before we invaded, and generally being undiplomatic.

I hope to put my money where my mouth is. If McCain wins the election in November and we continue our long-term committment in Iraq, and the current need for troops there remains near what it is now, I expect to join the armed forces shortly after the election, or find some equally meaningful way to contribute towards the success of our mission there.