I enjoy ‘The Claremont Institute’ and its review of books. It’s hard to say enough regarding the quality and style of the writers, their website, and the depth of experience afforded by this well oiled organization. I encourage you to become a member.
Charles Kesler, the editor of Claremont, has written an article named “Iraq and the Neoconservatives” which is well worth reading. In it Mr. Kesler makes a well considered argument that the Bush Doctrine (the aggressive support for global advancement of democracy) is failing.
First, he notices that the doctrine attempts to walk a fine line between the misdemeanor of tying our domestic security with other countries’ political structures, and the felony of imperialism or even colonization. This point is an incredibly important one, and we’ll return to it in a moment.
Much of the far Left’s hate for American foreign policy arises from the ‘realist’ stance which dominated American foreign strategy for decades, despite the four year revolving doors of American politics; Democrat or Republican. That view in essence preferred stability above all else (especially where we had interests) and led to our alignment with dictators like the Shah of Iran and the Marcos family in the Philippines, amongst others. The obvious issue with supporting totalitarian regimes is that they also tend to harbor massive government corruption, despotism, nepotism, and political repression and human rights violations. We appear to be saying to people that we want to live well over here, but we’ll fund a butcher over there if it helps us mine your treasure. We still remember the news articles chronicling Imelda Marcos fortunes when she fled to the US with untold billions of dollars and her thousand pairs of shoes.
The ‘realist’ view also extends to the view that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ and led us to fund Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and Osama bin Laden during his resistance to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. It is that view that Bush rejected. It is that view that Jim Baker and his Iraq Study Group represent, and their suggestions on Iraq are their best attempts, given the circumstances, to return to such a policy. There are many Congressmen and Senators on both sides of the aisle who long for a return of those halcyon days of realist foreign policy. Arguably one of the principal reasons for the attraction to such a policy, favored by a defined, leftist State Department, is that in the heady grayish, never an entirely black or white moment at the negotiating tables of inter-governmental departments, it can be seen as a non-interventionist, and therefore morally defensible stratagem.
Others would say respecting statist governments that do not respect the rule of law and property rights isn’t defensible by argument of non-intervention after all; it’s cowardly and indefensible, hypocritical and spineless at the least. More directly it’s a lawyer’s view of the world, where silently supporting reality is different than actively changing it. In both situations one is an active participant. Worse, the silent statist positioni allows a backdoor approach to public and foreign policy, quiet acquiescence, bribery if you will, both in public relations and in monetary buttress. For those of us who wondered why Bush 41 and his realist friends found no reasonable argument to specifically find and put Hussein and his sons down during the First Gulf War, it has been hugely disappointing to watch these same tired players trotted out to offer some half-baked, tired, ‘realist’ solution to the quandary of Iraq.
But back to Kesler’s article. Bush’s only other choice seems to be full blown imperialism. In the interest of brevity, we shall leave our response to that statement for another day (there is a lane a mile wide here that Kesler does not address), except for one remark in exactly the opposite direction. The utility of a more controlled, ‘hands-on’, imperialistic approach, if you will, to Iraq has not been discussed nearly enough. Intelligent discourse here would highlight tactics that we almost bone headedly neglected since our invasion of Iraq almost four years ago, and which we thought entirely appropriate after WWII in Germany and Japan.
Kesler then goes on to describe neoconservative history and evolution, including their break from earlier realist thinkers (many of them an earlier generation of neocons), and their views on society, culture and non-intervention and more recently, the interest in spreading democracy. Incidentally, it is unfair for Kesler to neglect Natan Sharansky and others on this topic; it implies neoconservatives have birthed some of this thinking in a vacuum. The reality is that for many people in this world who are sitting and suffering behind the cultures and laws and guns of police states in which they find themselves, the US represents not only their one remote hope for rescue and salvation, but as a guiding light of comfort. They like to think that at least somewhere in the world, there is honesty, and freedom and what is yours can never be taken away. I know; I’ve met them. In a way more poignant than any coddled Leftist could understand, it is them we must answer to when we support that realist poppycock. For the guns we help buy will kill them.
Lastly, Kesler outlines the major Neoconservative mistakes:
1. “As an abstract matter, Americans would like to see every nation in the world enjoy the blessings of liberty and democracy, because we know how fine these are. But the matter at hand is a question not of good will but of good policy. Is Iraq worth it?” Sure, Iraq had done all these nasty things, and played the UN for spineless fools. But at the end of the day, “Iraq was not that important to us. It could seem that important to us, as important as Germany and Japan had been, only by imagining that an utterly transformed Iraq would become an outpost of liberal democracy in the Middle East, a bulwark against terrorism and Islamic fanaticism; and that Iraq in turn would utterly transform the whole Middle East into a land of milk and honey, not to mention democracy and peace. It is never a good idea to multiply improbabilities as the basis of one’s foreign policy.”
2. They minimized how tough democracy is to achieve; “what a high and difficult calling republicanism is.”
These points are well taken. Ultimately though, they fail. First, Iraq doesn’t need to be as safe as Toronto before we leave. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be as safe as Washington. We are further along than his first point implies. Iraq in many ways has already won.
But most importantly, Kesler is arguing the failure of a strategy (Bush Doctrine / Invasion of Iraq) because of the failure of our tactics. It is a rational folly to do so. No good planner denounces his strategy because his tactics did not work. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. Had we treated Iraq from its inception as an occupation (which the Surge is now trying to do), and began immediately rebuilding and concentrated on funding local governments rather than taking a state department, big government, corrupt, top down approach (which is what the Surge is now trying to do) who knows where we would be now? If we had jailed and tried abettors like Iranian soldiers from the beginning, rather than some spineless catch and release program, who knows the affect on public discourse? If the White House had run even a fair to middling PR campaign on the War and its progress, rather than leaving its enemies (including by now the western press) to define every moment (including many they made up), how would that be affecting this essay?
The hard fact remains: if one believes there is a serious problem in the world regarding seventh century type theocratic, violent thinking, then the non-responses we made to the Iranian embassy kidnapping, the Cole bombing, the bombing of our embassies, the bombing of the World Trade Center, the Achille Lauro, etc. only embolden the enemy. As the largest shop keeper in the world, we can not continue to cower in the corner while the ‘Mafia’ throws stones through the window and we pay bribes under the diplomatic table for them to stop.
Lastly, what are our alternatives? To think we can leave them alone and they will leave us alone is akin to the conspiracist thinking regarding 9/11; it is naïve and stupid. To think we can retreat into some realist policy or fortress America version of same is short sighted and cowardly and hypocritical and self-defeating. In that regard the neoconservatives had it right; it was well past time we called the butchers in the world on their bluff. So we had two choices; go in and kill Hussein and leave, or stay and help.
Were we silly and stupid to think we could pacify hundreds of years of grudges from a Green Zone? Shall we call ourselves a failure when the going is now terribly tough? Shall we run back home because our first foray into standing tall was not conducted smartly and with ADD time-lines? Shall we trundle on with ‘acceptable losses’ and treat the perpetrators as criminals? How many permanent refugee camps spawned from unresolved conflicts can the world afford to have?
Look, the Middle East is crying out for a ‘beacon on the hill.’ The world’s well-being is at stake. Let’s face it now: if Iraq nominates a murdering mullah we shall be forced to re-engage. We must get it right. And it’s worth it.