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Ephemerides (March 2003)

March 30, 2003
A new left-wing line on the Iraqi campaign has taken shape rapidly: The war plans were formulated by extravagantly optimistic hawks, principally Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, who expected Saddam Hussein's regime to topple at the first push. Overriding the wise counsel of military professionals, they sent an undermanned, under-armed force that is now stymied by the unanticipated resistance of pro-Ba'athist irregulars and the sullen indifference of the Iraqi people to "liberation". Even if massive reinforcements eventually result in Saddam's overthrow, the victory will be Pyrrhic. In the words of Robin Cook, who quit Tony Blair's government to protest the war: "Nobody should start a war on the assumption that the enemy's army will co-operate. But that is exactly what President Bush has done. And now his Marines have reached the outskirts of Baghdad, he does not seem to know what to do next."
The story fits the tone of many newscasts and has a ring of plausibility - except for being utterly false. As Al Smith used to say, let's look at the record.
Critics begin by confusing hopes with plans. No doubt American planners daydreamed about the possibility that the onset of fighting might lead to an internal revolution that would throw the Ba'athists out of power. But they did not shape their forces or actions around that dream. They assembled more air power - vastly more when one adjusts for technological advances - than was employed in the Gulf War and a larger army relative to the size and quality of the opposing force. In the 1991 war, the coalition forces were outnumbered by somewhere between two and five to one, depending on how one counts. In 2003, the adverse margin started at about 1.5 to one. Given the huge Anglo-American-Australian-Polish edge in quality, those numbers don't bespeak overconfidence. (N.B. Included in the coalition total are the troops originally assigned to the aborted northern front, who have been rerouted to Kuwait and will be entering the war zone during the coming week.)
The war began with an opportunistic strike aimed at eliminating Saddam Hussein and his inner circle with one missile. The blow evidently was a partial success - Saddam is now dead, seriously wounded or wretchedly cowering - but it was not called for in the American plan, and the planners did not rely on such a stroke of luck. The ground forces then moved forward, apparently about half a day ahead of schedule (to preempt Saddam's planned destruction of the southern oil wells, according to General Franks), and drove up the Euphrates with scarcely any serious opposition beyond a sandstorm. They stopped advancing only when they reached the forward positions of the Republican Guard. After a probing attack by helicopters determined that the Guard was capable of resistance, the Americans settled down to what has been the pattern of the last few days: small thrusts accompanied by a massive bomb and missile assault. Meanwhile, there have been scattered and ineffective enemy attacks on our forward elements' very long and hastily constructed logistics tail, mostly carried out by Fedayeen death squads and men whom they have drafted at gun point. Headlines typically describe these clashes as "fierce fighting", but the ferocity is on one side. Allied forces have suffered about 60 deaths so far, including accidents and friendly fire. If anybody were counting Iraqi KIA's, the butcher's bill would run into the thousands.
Not being privy the allied planning sessions - just as Reuters, CNN and Robin Cook are not - I cannot say with certitude how closely expectations matched reality. It is evident, though, that any failure of precognition lay in overestimating, not underestimating, the enemy. The spearhead of the advance was a relatively light (though "light" by contemporary American standards is pretty awesome), mobile force suited for fighting the regular Iraqi army. Its progress was much swifter than expected, because the Iraqi regulars didn't fight. Some surrendered; most drifted away. Except for remnants, reportedly kept on the field by Republican Guard or death squad intimidation, they are out of the war. I'd be very surprised if we counted on that development, which has left us, mirabile dictu, with numerical superiority in the field. Its effect was that the Marine Expeditionary Force and the 3rd Infantry Division reached their objectives "prematurely" and probably outran their supplies.
Had the campaign developed in a more "normal" fashion, the American lines would have reached the same perimeter by now, but the going would have been slower, as we would have had to destroy Iraqi divisions instead of watching them vanish. There might have been a few more casualties, but the front line would, ironically, be in better shape from having moved at a less breakneck pace. And, now having made contact with the enemy's best troops, we would be settling into a pattern of small thrusts accompanied by a massive bomb and missile assault.
What if we had sent in the larger, heavier force that second guessers now advocate? It could not have bettered the actual advance by any noticeable margin. The benefit would have been that we would be in a position to forgo softening up the Republican Guard prior to attacking. It is unlikely, however, that we would want to do that. There is little reason to gain a few days at the expense of unnecessary combat losses. In short, we would be settling into a pattern of small thrusts accompanied by a massive bomb and missile assault.
So what is so disastrous, incompetent and disappointing about the allied plan? There are three main charges:
1. No one thought that the death squads would be so strong and active.
2. There has been no huge civilian uprising against Saddam Hussein.
3. We don't know how to take control of Baghdad.
Regarding the first two points, let's return to the distinction between hopes and plans. It would be a good thing if the death squads didn't exist and the Iraqi people were spontaneously taking up arms against the tyrant. It would have been foolish planning to count on either, and, so far as I can see, we didn't. The death squads are a nuisance, but do not inflict significant casualties or interfere with the flow of supplies. Their adoption of suicide bomb tactics is a sign of how feeble they are - and realize themselves to be - militarily. If suicide were a viable tactic, Japan would have won World War II, and Israel would have surrendered long ago. I somehow suspect that the 82nd Airborne is at least as tough as the residents of Tel Aviv.
Similarly, rebellions against Saddam, welcome as they would be, are not essential. The allies have been bypassing towns, not relying on them as bases of support or links in the supply chain. The only point at which our planning acknowledges the presence of civilians is in our elaborate precautions - unprecedented in the history of warfare - against doing them harm.
That leaves Baghdad, about the plans for which we outsiders currently know very little. Mr. Cook's "He does not seem to know what to do next" is founded on nothing more than the fact that President Bush has not announced to the world a step-by-step program for gaining control of the city. Conceivably there is no plan or a bad one. We will find out over the next few days or weeks. On the other hand, if everybody at CNN knows that urban fighting is difficult, perhaps the Pentagon has figured it out, too, and has thought about how to root out die-hard opposition with the least feasible loss of life. It is a trifle premature to condemn an as-yet-unknown strategy.
Furthermore, if a direct assault on Baghdad looks like too bloody a proposition, we do have an alternative. We can free the rest of the country from Ba'athist control, help set up a transitional government and let Saddam's holdouts wither in the capital. The new leaders will control all of Iraq's oil fields and 80 percent of its population. Those resources will be adequate to start rebuilding the country, without regard to the isolated Ba'athist city state.
When historians begin to digest this campaign, they are not likely to condemn the American strategy as ill-conceived or excessively sanguine. There will, of course, be areas of controversy, particularly, I suspect, over whether "shock and awe" achieved the neo-Douhetist goal of demoralizing the enemy leadership without harming the enemy people. There may be years of verbal warfare between those who see the Iraqi command's incoherent performance as vindicating  neo-Douhetist doctrines and those who attribute it to pre-existing ineptitude. There won't, however, be many students of the conflict who will cast blame on the men behind the U.S. war plan. Those who are rushing to give Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld a monopoly on the credit would be wise to think again.
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March 22, 2003
A few years after this war is over, we will start to learn what really is happening right now. News reports are, at best, a rough approximation from which one can draw only roughly approximate conclusions. Still, it's useful to try to organize one's thoughts about events so far, even at the risk of having to contradict oneself within a few days or weeks.
"Shock and awe". One of the tenets of the original air warfare theorists (Douhet, Mitchell et al.) was that the psychological impact of an assault from the air would be more decisive than physical damage. World War II and the Vietnam War discredited that idea. Vast bombing campaigns failed to break the enemy's will, which led to the counter-theory that, as in the London Blitz, bombs inflame rather than subdue their victims.
The psychological inefficacy of air warfare had grown almost into a dogma when the Kosovo campaign abruptly furnished a refutation. Serbia was driven from the rebel province almost entirely by air attacks, and the decisive strikes were made not against troops in the field but against the distant Serbian capital. Douhet, it now appears, had the right concept, but air forces needed a further 70 years to devise the right tools "smart" munitions, in particular for executing it.
The current air campaign against Iraq represents the flowering of neo-Douhetist principles. While many strikes are no doubt hitting traditional military targets, the main thrust is directed specifically against the morale of the enemy leadership, starting with Thursday morning's "decapitation" strike. The goal is evidently to kill, or, failing that, force into hiding and disrupt communications among, the Ba'athist hierarchs. Judging by results on the ground, that objective is being realized. The Iraqi armed forces show no signs of mounting a coherent resistance to allied advances. Saddam Hussein, if he is physically able to lead, is keeping his head down. My guess is that he is alive but essentially catatonic, terrified that any conspicuous action on his part will attract a cruise missile. As Mark Steyn succinctly puts it:
Whatever happened in that bunker on Thursday morning, the Iraqis are certainly acting as if they're headless. In a tyranny such as Saddam's, local commanders are careful not to show initiative. They do what they're told and, if they're not told, they do nothing. That seems to be what's happening in much of Iraq.
The most remarkable corollary of neo-Douhetism is the absence of disruption to normal life in Baghdad after Friday night's huge assault. One reporter, judging by the sound and fury, instantly compared its intensity to that of the World War II bombing of Dresden, which killed 250,000 people. Yet on Saturday, electricity, telephones and water were all in working order, and Iraqi television claimed a total of three civilians dead. Incidentally, the fact that we haven't been treated to "baby milk factory" footage is another sign that the Ba'athists are losing their grip.
The ground war. As I write, reports indicate that the allies have suffered two combat fatalities in the course of advancing to and beyond the line that they occupied at the end of the Gulf War. There may be a few unreported casualties, but the death toll from enemy action is clearly negligible. We are losing far more men to accidents. (Remember that there would be accidents if we were not at war. During the Gulf War, the military accident rate was lower than in peacetime.)
This virtually bloodless progress results from two factors: feeble opposition and deliberate avoidance of ground assaults. Our tactic is to hit enemy troops from a safe distance, then wait for them to surrender or melt away. In Basra, to take the most conspicuous instance, having secured the most important positions (oil wells, refineries and the airport), we are content to let pockets of Saddamites sit in their bunkers until they realize that their situation is hopeless. Wiping them out would be no more than a couple of hours' work, but some of our men might be killed, and stray shells might damage civilian installations.
The premise of our ground war strategy accords with President Bush's declaration that we are not at war with the Iraqi people. We presume that most of the Iraqi army doesn't want to fight us and that most civilians are our friends. Therefore, we try to inflict as little damage as possible. I doubt that any nation has ever before conducted a serious war on those lines. Of course, we will get no credit for our forbearance, except from the citizens of liberated Iraq.
To expect the "cakewalk" to continue all the way to Baghdad would be highly optimistic. The odds are that we will eventually encounter enemy formations that won't give up and can't be bypassed. By that time, though, they will have little superiority in numbers and gross inferiority in firepower. The resulting battles will be extremely one-sided.
Meanwhile, allied troops north of Baghdad are reportedly forming the nucleus of a local army that will clear out Saddamite sympathizers from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and then, if the war isn't yet over, move south. The major obstacle that they face is not Ba'athist forces but concern about possible Turkish incursions. My own guess is that the Turks, disappointing though their performance has been (see below), will be very discreet about crossing the Iraqi border. Their government must realize by now that it has badly bungled its diplomacy and had better be careful not to give further offense to the only Western nation that has hitherto treated it decently.
Turkey. We may never know what has gone on behind the scenes in Ankara, but I have my suspicions. Before the fateful Parliamentary vote three weeks ago, Turkey had arranged an enviable deal. The U.S. would pay it as much as $30 billion for transit rights that were largely in Turkey's own interest. A major American presence in northern Iraq would (i) shorten the war, thus reducing the risk of spillover into Turkish territory, and (ii) restrain any action by our Kurdish friends that might exacerbate Turkey's own Kurdish problem. Indeed, Turkish troops would be able to police the situation themselves by entering Iraq in conjunction with the Americans. It is fair to say that, up to that point, the Turks had taken Colin Powell to the cleaners.
Then Parliament voted the agreement down, falling four votes shy of the absolute majority needed for approval. (There were more yeas than nays by a small but clear margin.) Direct responsibility for the measure's defeat lay with the secularist opposition parties, which voted nay despite their historically pro-American, anti-Ba'athist stance.
Maybe factors were at work that are beyond my ken, but it certainly looks like the secular politicians took the view that it was better for Turkey to be a hapless bystander in a war just across its frontier than for the moderately Islamicist government to get credit for a diplomatic triumph. It is as if the British Tories had voted against authorizing their country's participation in the war because they didn't want Tony Blair to be successful. In brief, the secularists are putting their domestic political quarrels above their country's best interests. Their fear is that American aid will revive the economy, that American cooperation will dampen the domestic Kurdish threat, and that the strongest argument against a pro-religious administration that it will govern disastrously thus will be destroyed.
I wonder whether, if I lived in Turkey, I would sympathize with the secularists' point of view. The gulf between the parties there is not like that between Republicans and Democrats more like Republicans and communists. It may be rational to give priority to gutting a government that one regards as antithetical to the nation's fundamental principles, but Turkey will suffer badly abroad for this effort to preserve institutional purity at home.
France. The greatest surprise of the past three months the greatest since the end of the Cold War is the abrupt emergence of France as a would-be geopolitical rival to the United States. The challenge is, or course, risible, yet it seems to be sincere on President Chirac's part and wildly popular among his countrymen. Historians will doubtless rank M. Chirac with Napoleon the Little, though this farce will end with a whimper rather than a Sedan.
Americans, stung by an unexpected and particularly irresponsible betrayal in time of war, are understandably indignant with the French, but our response ought to be boisterous laughter. Monsieur le president can bluster about how the Americans, British and Australians have no right to free Iraq or to oversee the transition to a democratic polity, but he is as harmless as a five-year-old throwing a tantrum. He aspires to lead an armada of nonaligned nations against les Anglo-Saxons. So far, the armada consists of France, Germany and mighty Belgium. After the next German election, it will be reduced to Belgium and France.
Aside from the obvious step of making sure that Paris plays no role in post-war Iraq, there's no cause for our doing much about this Ruritanian-level threat. Nonetheless, in the spirit of just retribution, I offer two ideas.
The first was John Fund's: Let's relax immigration restrictions for Frenchmen with technical skills. Many thousands have applied for green cards. Accelerating their admittance could not be construed as a hostile act, but it will do us good and the Chiracists ill.
Second, we can quietly block French interventions in Africa. Since 1960, France has sent troops to that continent 37 times (almost once a year), often in support of butchers like the former "Emperor" Bokassa. (Arnaud de Bourchgrave, "Regime Change à la Français" (3/14/03). We ought to forbid such incursions in the future (in a quiet, proper, diplomatic way, naturally). We could also usefully clean up the mess that France had created in Côte d'Ivoire. We will thus have the satisfaction of mild revenge coupled with that of doing good for a miserable region that we have too long neglected.
Further reading: Fred Barnes, "A Different Kind of War"; Christopher Caldwell, "Hating 'l'Oncle Sam'"
[To comment, click here.]
March 19, 2003
The soft Left's newest cry is that, whatever military success may be in the offing, President Bush has failed as a diplomat. Tom Daschle blames him for Saddam Hussein's failure to disarm peacefully: "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." John Kerry faults him for the fact that we have only 45 or so allies in the fight: "The administration's handling of the runup to war with Iraq could not possibly have been more inept or self-defeating. President Bush has clumsily and arrogantly squandered the post 9/11 support and goodwill of the entire civilized world." In an earlier statement, the Senator called countries that do support us "the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted". Tom Harkin insinuates that the President is a liar: "Back in October, the president, perhaps reluctantly, agreed to work through the United Nations to seek a disarmament of Iraq through peaceful means. I now have to really wonder if President Bush really meant it." (Quotes from Ed O'Keefe, "Bordering on Unpatriotic?")
Newsweek devoted this week's cover to the theme that America is an "arrogant empire" whose actions since George W. Bush became President have "alienated friends and delighted enemies". The supposed proof of our diplomatic incompetence is that, "while the United States has the backing of a dozen or so [sic] governments, it has the support of a majority of the people in only one country in the world, Israel". Leftist commentator Al Hunt offered a pithy summary of the same idea: "I still think this administration's ineptitude over the last couple months has been stunning. Somehow around the world there's a moral equivalency with this murderous thug Saddam Hussein." (Mr. Hunt urged Democrats last year to make protecting "this murderous thug" from forcible deposition their leading campaign issue.)
All of these accusations have a superficial similarity, but they allege three different failures:
1. The crudest charge is Senator Daschle's: that military action could have been avoided through more skillful diplomacy. Of similar import are Senator Harkin's doubts about whether "President Bush really meant" "to work through the United Nations". The hidden premise is that Saddam Hussein could in some way have been persuaded to disarm peacefully. Tony Blair gave the answer to that pipe dream in his speech yesterday to the House of Commons: "Looking back over 12 years, we have been victims of our own desire to placate the implacable, to persuade towards reason the utterly unreasonable, to hope that there was some genuine intent to do good in a regime whose mind is in fact evil." If Saddam had good intentions, he had over a decade to demonstrate them. Belief that he would have converted at the 11th hour, if only George W. Bush and Colin Powell had fashioned an 18th U.N. resolution calling on his regime to behave, belongs to the realm of fantasy.
2. There is more substance to the notion that we stumbled in assembling "the coalition of the willing". In one case, that is pretty clearly true. As Joel Mowbray has detailed ("Snubbing Turkey"), the effort to win basing and transit rights in Turkey was conducted in an amateurish fashion, most likely owing to overconfidence rather than, as Mr. Mowbray darkly hints, sabotage by the State Department bureaucracy. Balanced against that defeat (which the new Turkish premier is eager to reverse) is the amazing fact that Arab nations that ostensibly oppose the war, including Saudi-controlled Arabia, are letting U.S., British and Australian forces operate from their territories.
Among countries that are traditionally friendly to the United States, there are three significant defectors: Germany [1], Canada and France. It is difficult to imagine anything that diplomacy of the most Metternichan brilliance could have done to win those three over. Looking elsewhere, though, we have the backing of all of the rest of NATO except Belgium, most of the former Soviet satellites, Australia and Japan. Otherwise, the world lines up about the same way that it did during the Cold War, during which, as we surely have not already forgotten, only a minority of governments gave U.S. policy open and unequivocal support.
The point most often emphasized by those who wish to deride the coalition is that only three of its members the United States, Britain and Australia will be doing any fighting. The detractors apparently think that support isn't sincere unless it's backed up by bullets. (Several nations are sending support units, which free up Anglospheric forces for the attack but are nominally non-combat.) No one applies the same standard to opposition. Not only do France, Germany and Belgium not send battalions to fight at Saddam's side, but they allow free transit to the anti-Iraqi coalition's men and equipment. There is, it should be noted, no real danger in defying the United States on that score. In other recent conflicts, we have been scrupulous about asking permission to pass through other nations' land and air space and have not retaliated against the occasional recalcitrant. Still, the denunciations of the "illegitimacy" of America's course of action are not accompanied by counteraction, suggesting that our diplomacy has not been utterly ineffective.
3. But the comeback to a recitation of how many governments support us and how few are actively opposed is that those governments are acting contrary to the will of their peoples. Polls tell us that most people in most other countries it may well be true that Israel is the lone exception are against finishing the Iraqi war.
Let us assume that the polling data, about which news stories disclose little background information, are reliable. Is American diplomacy the cause, or are other factors at work?
Newsweek expresses not a shadow of doubt that the fault lies in the Bush Administration's "unilateralism":
In its first year the administration withdrew from five international treaties?and did so as brusquely as it could. It reneged on virtually every diplomatic effort that the Clinton administration had engaged in, from North Korea [sic! -- wasn't it Pyongyang that was caught breaking its promises not to develop nuclear weapons?] to the Middle East, often overturning public statements from Colin Powell supporting these efforts. It developed a language and diplomatic style that seemed calculated to offend the world. (President Bush has placed a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt in the White House. TR's most famous words of advice are worth recalling: "Speak softly and carry a big stick.") Key figures in the administration rarely traveled, foreign visitors were treated to perfunctory office visits, and state dinners were unheard of. On an annual basis, George W. Bush has visited fewer foreign countries than any president in 40 years. Still, he does better than Dick Cheney, who has been abroad only once since becoming vice president.
That's quite a list of offenses, but, as an explanation of why foreign populaces fear and dislike America, it rings rather odd. How interested is the average Spaniard or Dutchman or Pole in the extent of the American President's and Vice President's travels abroad? Or in the quality and quantity of White House banquets? The affronts listed here are almost all directed at government officials, yet those officials have, by and large, rallied behind the U.S., supposedly against the wishes of their constituents.
Norwegian blogger Bjørn Stærk has suggested a different reason why American policy fares so poorly in public opinion surveys. The public gets its information through heavily anti-American filters, and its opinions reflect what it thinks it knows:
The high-brow weekly paper Morgenbladet published a 40-page special edition on Iraq this week. Regular blog readers wouldn't find much here that they haven't read before. It's a bloggish collection of articles and speeches, by pundits and politicians from across the spectrum: Americans, Europeans, Arabs; pro-war and anti-war.
It's skewed against the war, and could certainly have been done better, but that's not the point. The point is that this is the first serious attempt I know of to raise the Iraq debate in Norway to a level bloggers and blog readers have taken for granted for a year and a half. There are articles here that actually explain why the US is going to war against Iraq, as well as the overall direction of it's post-9/11 foreign policy in the words of supporters of that policy.
You may not realize how rare something like this is in Norway. Bush and Powell's statements are widely quoted, of course, but only superficially, and their views are filtered through reporters and editors who tend to strongly disagree with them. There is no pro-war presence in the Norwegian media. . . .
In other words, much of the underlying American reasoning behind this war has not actually been presented to the Norwegian people, and when it is, only by those who oppose it. Many remain ignorant about the nature of the fundamental change of perspective that September 11 inflicted on American opinion, believing that the Americans are simply angry and vengeful, that they are gut-level patriots in need of an enemy image. That there might actually be some amount of intellectual activity going on behind the scenes of the Bush administration, activity that is motivated by any higher principles than winning the next election and gaining control of Iraq's oil, would be an utter surprise to many Norwegians - for the simple reason that we haven't been told that any such intellectual activity exists.
Every possible reason for being against this war has, on the other hand, been explored thoroughly and with eagerness. The result has been a debate without meaning, between an articulate anti-war movement and flagwaving strawmen. . . .
Norway is typical. I don't, however, want to claim that anti-Americanism is simply the product of left-wing media bias. There is a further factor that both lowers resistance to anti-American views and, ironically, renders them less dangerous: Very few people in the rest of the world care very much about U.S. foreign policy. Leftist ideologues care, and there are enough of them to turn out superficially impressive numbers of protest marchers. The minority that follows public affairs closely cares, too, but no one else has much reason to believe that he needs to pay close attention to what America does or why. We aren't going to invade Norway. We aren't even going to ask Norwegians to expend blood or treasure in our behalf. If Norway were to turn its back on America entirely, the most serious consequence would be, as our ambassador recently had the temerity to intimate, that Americans might stop thinking of Norway as a friend. Which would mean, I suppose, that we might be slow to come to its aid against an invading Australian armada.
Because the United States is so strong in relation to any conceivable combination of other countries, it places few burdens on friends and exacts few penalties from non-violent enemies. Therefore, it is not important for the average citizen to hold informed opinions about America, and, with admirable intellectual economy, most don't bother. Thus what they tell pollsters is likely to be superficial, based on impressions casually picked up from newspaper headlines, TV sound bites and the steady stream of "America the menace" commentary. Someone who reads no more than "U.S. Defies U.N." will probably show up in a poll as disapproving of U.S. policy, but the disapproval is shallow. We would naturally be gratified if it didn't exist, but should we therefore direct our policy toward garnering nice-sounding headlines, regardless of the substance of our actions?
Newsweek would, it seems, say "yes". Its version of multilateralism is "go along to get along", leavened with veiled but unmistakable contempt for foreigners, who are seen as so thin-skinned that withdrawing from treaties "brusquely", instead of with a smile, outrages them and so gullible that gestures like token adherence to the International Criminal Court (which could not in practice arrest an American citizen) would appease their wrath. If we followed that prescription, we would gain friendships as insubstantial as the present hostility, at the cost of adopting policies that, at best, were chosen for reasons unrelated to their merits and, at worst, undermined our liberty, security and prosperity.
Winning popularity contests abroad is not a central function of government. We ought to pay attention to what other nations think and accommodate their reasonable interests. We ought not to let "world opinion", particularly not the half-formed velleities captured by polls, tell us what our own reasonable interest is. Inevitably, as is happening at this moment in the Middle East, our judgement will now and then differ from the world's. When that occurs, the only sensible course is, in Davy Crockett's words, "be sure you're right, then go ahead". That is not failed diplomacy but successful policy making.
 
[1] "Germany" here means the German government, which has lost three länd elections in a row and trails the opposition CDU/CSP, which has openly declared its support for the U.S., by two-to-one in public opinion polls. The causes of the government's unpopularity have nothing to do with foreign affairs, but it looks like new elections, which may come within not too many months, will leave France all alone in its anti-Yankee sulk.
Further reading: Michael Barone, "Diplomatic Debacle? Not So"; John Vinocur, "France and Germany Wondering If Matters Have Gone Too Far"; Fred Barnes, "Enter the Allies"
[To comment, click here.]
March 15, 2003
Is Bill Clinton jealous of Jimmy Carter? Verily, I believe he is. The 39th President has lately enjoyed a loony left limelight, enlisting in the Stalinoid Daily Mirror's "not in our name" campaign and penning an extraordinarily fatuous op-ed for The New York Times. Now the 42nd President evidently wants a share of the inglory. Speaking in New York the other day, Mr. Clinton offered two thoughts on foreign policy, a self-contradictory one on immediate concerns and a sophomoric one on long-term goals. Taken together, they do not quite equal Mr. Carter's dementia but are a good warm-up for a later sprint for Idiotarian of the Year honors.
On the issue of Iraq, Clinton said he supports booting dictator Saddam Hussein out of Baghdad and destroying his weapons, but he said Bush has made it more difficult to line up international cooperation for a possible war.
Right after winning UN Security Council support in November for weapons inspections, the White House "sent 150,000 troops to the gulf, which convinced everybody we weren't serious about UN inspections. That's how we got into this political mess."
Leaving aside the fact that a strong majority of European countries support the U.S. position (Mr. Clinton, like M. Chirac, seems to think that "Europe" consists of France, Germany and a bunch of nobodies that ought to learn to shut up), can anyone seriously imagine that the situation in Iraq would be better with American troops half a world and several months' deployment time away? Even Herr Blix acknowledges that it is only the propinquity of our troops that extracts from Saddam Hussein such limited and grudging cooperation as he gives to the U.N. inspectorate.
The Clinton scenario is, I suppose, that, if we were in no position to depose Saddam quickly, the rest of the world would readily assent to our theoretical right to do so. That's probably correct. Six months ago, France and Germany voted for Resolution 1441, which demanded Saddam's immediate and unconditional disarmament, backed by the euphemistic specter of "serious consequences", which, as everyone knew, meant American military action. It was only when the time came to carry out those consequences that our "allies" balked, just as they would have balked at the moment of decision if we had delayed our buildup by any number of months.
Unike Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton claims to will the end "booting dictator Saddam Hussein out of Baghdad and destroying his weapons" but he opposes the only feasible means. Either he is incredibly stupid, or he lies when he says that he wants to see Saddam eliminated. No one has ever claimed that Mr. Clinton is a stupid man.
On longer term prospects, stupidity or deceit gives way to silliness.
The U.S. should be strengthening the UN and other "mechanisms of cooperation," Clinton said. "We need to be creating a world that we would like to live in when we're not the biggest power on the block."
Long-term thinking is prudent, and the day will come, in the course of nature, when other countries will be more powerful than the United States. Mr. Clinton takes it for granted that, when it arrives, America will be in the position of France, envious of the "hyperpower" and reluctant to support its efforts to stamp out odious tyrants, rather than that of Great Britain or, say, Portugal, whose Foreign Minister recently justified support for the U.S. position on Iraq by noting that, if his own country were attacked, only America could effectively come to its defense.
Unless human nature changes, there will never be a future in which "mechanisms of cooperation" are the ultimate guarantors of peace and civilization. That task falls to the strongest powers. If they shirk it, it doesn't get done. In our own era, all of Europe was impotent in Kosovo. The United States ended Serbian domination in a few weeks without suffering a casualty. The United Nations was impotent in Rwanda. Because the President of the United States (hint: George W. Bush's immediate predecessor) took no interest in the area, nothing was done, and the world's first real campaign of genocide since World War II claimed nearly a million lives. The International Atomic Energy Agency was impotent to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. The United States assumed responsibility for dissuasion and unhappily bungled it (also under President Bush's predecessor). The IAEA is still impotent.
What America would like to see, when its own preeminence fades, is a successor committed to liberty, peace and civilization, so that we can be a Britain to its America. If we are unlucky and must live in a world dominated by malignant powers, a legacy of "mechanisms of cooperation" will do us no good at all. On the other hand, if today we let those mechanisms shield the common enemies of mankind, the present will be worse than it has to be, and a dismal future may arrive all too soon.
Update, 3/18/03: In the spirit of Walt Whitman ("Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself,/ (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"), Bill Clinton offers these thoughts in an article published today:
After 150,000 US forces were deployed to the Gulf, they [France, Germany etc] concluded the US was not willing to give inspections a chance anyway. The problem with their position is that only the threat of force from the US and the UK got inspectors back into Iraq in the first place. Without a credible threat of force, Saddam will not disarm.
A pity that Bill didn't realize that just four days earlier.
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March 12, 2003
The parallel between Gulliver/America and Lilliputians/French is a natural one, used today as a Wall Street Journal editorial headline "Bush in Lilliput". There is, however, a key difference: The Lilliputians bound Gulliver with real chains; those that M. Chriac employs are imaginary "the emperor's new chains", one might call them.
The United States has voluntarily given France the opportunity to delay and harass military operations conceived in our own self-defense. Moreover, according to another story in today's Journal, "France Sees Little Cost in Veto" [probably for subscribers only].
Having done their best to block America's plans to wage war on Iraq, French leaders are assessing the cost of angering their mighty ally, and are coming up with a surprising figure: virtually nothing.
French political leaders and businessmen, ignoring warnings from Washington, express confidence France can veto U.S. plans in the United Nations without paying a heavy price in its commercial, political or diplomatic interests. President Jacques Chirac, in declaring his determination Monday to reject a U.S.- and United Kingdom-backed Security Council resolution that would lead to war in Iraq, refuted the idea that France would suffer for snubbing its allies.
"There is no risk that the U.S. and France, or the American and French people, will quarrel or get angry with each other," he said.
Mr. Chirac's belief in a virtually cost-free veto is shared by many in France, across the political spectrum. "There's some talk of boycott in the air, but that's a human reaction, and we can understand that," says Jacques Barrot, chairman of the parliamentary delegation of the center-right Popular Movement Union. "It'd be wrong for the U.S. to put on trial a country that is standing beside them in the fight against terrorism," he adds.
The instant "human reaction" of most Americans will be something on the order of, "We'll show those frogs!" But M. Barrot is probably right. Banning the name "French fries" from the Congressional dining room menu is likely to be the maximum extent of our retaliation for  what future historians will describe as a deed of vile treachery.
That the French elite can be so insouciant about sticking thorns into a lion's paws exposes the self-contradiction that lies at the heart of their actions. The rationale for restraining the United States is that it is the "hyperpower", which, left unchained, will arbitrarily dictate to the entire world. Yet the reason why opposition is a safe policy is that the hyperpower doesn't act like one. Unless physically attacked, it pretty much lets the rest of the world go its own way. America is the opposite of the militarist, mercantilist superpowers of the past. Until 9/11, after all, the Bush Administration's major foreign policy objective was to reduce barriers to international trade, and every American military action between the end of the Cold War and the intervention in Afghanistan (the first Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo) was carried out more for the benefit of others than for ourselves.
Ironically, the policy now being pursued by France and Germany could create the very menace that it ostensibly seeks to contain. Salus populi suprema lex. If cooperating with other nations and building international coalitions endangers American self-defense, America will cease to pay attention to the opinions of foreigners. From there the transition to a real imperial role will be a short and easy one.
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March 11 ,2003
John Hawkins, the lively proprietor of Right Wing News, has asked and sought to answer an obvious question that anti-warriors tend to sidestep: What will the future look like if, as the French demand and Democratic bigwigs advise, the United States leaves Saddam Hussein in power, "contained" by Hans Blix? For the short run, our Cassandra foresees
1-2 Years
-- Sanctions are lifted from Iraq & Saddam gets close to developing nukes or does so.
-- North Korea starts producing 20+ nukes a year and selling them to the highest bidder (if we're not willing to deal with Iraq, what makes you think we'll be able to stop N Korea?)
-- Iran acquires nuclear weapons or gets close to doing so.
-- Al Qaeda moves the majority of their operation to the "terrorist belt" (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Disputed territories, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan).
-- Many Islamic nations stop cooperating with us in the war on terrorism or at least only cooperate minimally.
-- The United States will be hit with multiple terrorist attacks.
After that, it gets worse.
Those predictions are frighteningly plausible. I have a few more to add:
By retaining large forces in the Middle East, without the backing of which the Blix Korps will be kicked out of Iraq within hours, the United States will suffer most of the detriments of war without the possibility of victory. We will spend a lot of money, oil prices will remain high, and the economy will slide back into recession.
With a stagnant war and a stagnant economy, George W. Bush will have little chance of re-election. None of his potential successors, with the conceivable but not likely exception of Richard Gephardt, has shown a lively desire to pursue an active war on terrorism. Under the new Administration, America will hunker down in a purely defensive mode.
Successful defense requires preventing every significant terrorist attack. We don't want to live with two or three 9/11's or even Oklahoma Cities every year. As pressure eases on the states that protect al-Qaeda and its imitators (the latter will doubtless become more important than their battered forerunner), attempted attacks will increase and will be thwarted only by increasingly intrusive and draconian defensive measures. If you enjoy airport check-ins, you'll love going through metal detectors to enter the mall and showing your national identity card to get on a city bus.
The big lesson will be, of course, that the United States really is, as Mao Tse-Tung said, a paper tiger and that the international Left has a veto over its actions. There could be no stronger encouragement for all of the enemies of civilization. At some point, the tiger will doubtless rouse itself and begin clawing its attackers, and we will then have to fight savage wars against power foes, rather than execute a quick incursion against Saddam's delapidated army.
I remain confident that, by the end of this month, these prophecies will be reduced to the status of might-have-beens, but they're worth thinking about in the meantime. And afterward, we may want to recall what kind of world M. Chirac and Herr Schröder wanted for their American "friends".
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March 10, 2003
John Kerry is the first serious Presidential candidate with whom I can claim personal acquaintance. We overlapped at Yale, where we were both active in the Yale Political Union. As president of that organization, he appointed me to a minor office. He impressed me then as a pleasant enough fellow insanely ambitious, it's true, but that characteristic hardly made him unique. In those days he was a liberal (he led the Union's Liberal Party for two semesters, taking it from second place to last in number of members) but not a thoroughly committed liberal. When he volunteered for duty in Vietnam after graduation, I'm sure that he was moved more by patriotism than Clinton-like calculation.
Since then, he has, as is well known, transformed himself into a staunch leftist, but I always thought that a sense of patriotism lurked behind the ideological facade until today. Now I am sorely disappointed.
The United States is in the middle of a war, about to embark on a campaign against a murderous despot whose ambition is to kill far more of our countrymen than died on September 11th. The President is trying not because we need a lot of assistance but because he feels that it is the right way to proceed to gather allies, and he has found quite a few. Some of the allied leaders are displaying great political courage in taking a stand that is not, at this moment, popular within their nations. They deserve all Americans' kudos for their support. And what does the junior Senator from Massachusetts have to say about them? They are, he told an audience in Iowa last Saturday, a "trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted", not "a genuine coalition".
On the simple factual level, he could hardly have made a more outrageously false statement. Unless he is an utter ignoramus, he is simply a liar. The U.S. has probably cut a few quiet deals with Arab governments, but that is the way that diplomacy works. The allies with the greatest military clout, Britain and Australia, have certainly not be been bribed, coerced, bought or extorted, and neither have the twenty or so European nations that have come down on our side. If one is looking for motives that won't stand the light of day, look to the opposition: Germany, France, Russia and Belgium. Iraq has offered them huge bribes in the form of cheap oil concessions, and they in turn have tried to browbeat other countries into opposing the U.S. After the Vilnius Declaration, President Chirac threatened to block European Union membership for those nations that had not "taken this excellent opportunity to remain silent" (not that missing out on the EU is necessarily a horrible fate, but it was meant as a threat).
Telling lies that impugn the integrity of friendly nations goes beyond legitimate disagreement with the wisdom of military action. It brings back vivid memories of contemporaries of Senator Kerry who didn't offer to serve their country during the Vietnam War but instead applauded our enemies and strove to strengthen their position. From any member of Congress, the Senator's statement would be indefensible. From one who aspires to lead our nation, hurling insults at those who back us in our hour of peril is irresponsible to the point of dementia. If Senator Kerry makes no apologies and remains the front runner for the Democratic nomination, that fact will tell us all that we need to know about what hold love of country has on his party.
Further reading: The Wall Street Journal, "Now They Tell Us"
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March 9, 2003
How strange to read in The New York Times not The Washington Times, mind you a news analysis that pretty much comes out and says bluntly that the United Nations has betrayed the hopes that were invested in it 58 years ago. The U.N.'s problem is not just Iraq, though Iraq is bad enough:
Even ardent internationalists worry that the institution finds itself in a lose-lose situation ridiculed as a puppet if American pressure forces a reluctant Security Council majority to support a war against Saddam Hussein, or reduced once more to a self-absorbed cipher if France, Russia and Germany lead the Security Council to thumb its nose at the world's superpower.
The article's sources, almost all of them internationalist liberals, concede that this instance of the organization's impotence is not an aberration. "The arc of hope for United Nations' effectiveness in maintaining peace had its one real high moment in Iraq in 1991." But
That was before Rwanda, where 800,000 people were massacred as the world watched. It was before Bosnia, where United Nations peacekeepers were helpless to prevent Serbs from killing their Muslim neighbors.
It was also, though the article leaves this one out, before Kosovo, where no one not Bill Clinton or Jacques Chirac or Gerhart Schröder bothered invoking the U.N.'s "peace keeping" mechanisms.
In retrospect, too, the "high moment in Iraq in 1991" was an illusion.
Mr. Luck [Professor Edward C. Luck, Columbia University] says the first President Bush's approach to the United Nations was not really different than his son's. "George H. W. Bush said he was only going to stay with the Security Council as long as he knew he was going to win."
In other words, the U.N. looked effective because it got out of the way of the United States. On its own, it could have done no more in 1991 than in 2003.
Another commentator, described as one of the U.N.'s "most prominent defenders", speaks in terms that might as easily have come from Jesse Helms:
For James S. Sutterlin, a former United Nations executive and the author of "The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Security," the question is not the institution's relevance, but its competence."The centrality of the Security Council was evident in its very failure," in Rwanda and Bosnia, he said. "There was the very serious problem that the central organization responsible for security couldn't do it."
When the U.N.'s friends and admirers think along those lines, one needn't be a right-winger to ask why the Turtle Bay facade
That great glass palace
Of mendacity and mendicancy and malice
should long endure. Not only is its track record uninspiring, but its structure guarantees bad results. First, as the Rwandan massacres most gruesomely demonstrated, the pretense that peace keeping a collective responsibility makes it easier for particular nations to shunt aside individual responsibility (another variation on John Locke's "tragedy of the commons"). Perhaps the civilized world would have done nothing the halt the Rwandan horrors in any event, just as it is doing nothing about Robert Mugabe's reign of terror in Zimbabwe, but inaction was made easier by the fact that an international organization was supposed to "take care of" the matter.
Second, when nations feel less lethargic, the U.N. provides a mechanism for kibbitzers with no national interests at stake to hinder the diplomacy of others. Iraq is a prime illustration. Neither France nor Germany has a serious interest in whether Saddam Hussein stays or goes. Their companies that do business with Saddam today could do business with a democratic government tomorrow or they could have, if their governments would, in M. Chirac's famous phrase, have taken advantage of an excellent opportunity to shut up. The leaders of both countries had petty reasons stemming from internal politics to declare their opposition to American action. In a world without the U.N., they would have shouted loudly, then shrugged their shoulders and sadly confessed that they were powerless to alter the course of events, thus reaping internal plaudits without arousing external antagonism.
Instead, because France and Germany are both members of the Security Council, they could not limit their efforts to shouting. The audiences to which their leaders are playing will see through their hypocrisy if they do not use their positions to harass the United States. Everyone is now worse off. For the period that M. Chirac and Herr Schröder delay Saddam's overthrow, the people of Iraq continue suffering, and the tyrant has opportunities to try to destroy oil wells and create other environmental havoc as his regime falls. Meanwhile, American opinions of the French and the Germans, both as allies and as responsible actors on the world stage, have plummeted and are not likely to recover for years. I seriously doubt that either Chirac or Schröder intended for their actions to have such serious consequences. They are, in a way, themselves victims of the U.N.
The burden of proof has fallen squarely on the shoulders of those who believe that the United Nations is an institution worth preserving. Perhaps a sharp change of direction can salvage something. One well-known liberal quoted by the Times tosses out a hint:
As James Hoge, the editor of Foreign Affairs, said: "Except for a brief post- cold-war period, the United Nations has been a service agency its entire life. The experiment, the brief experiment of a decade and half, in which it was there to curtail war, or to confine going to war within some loosely defined international parameters set by the Security Council, has failed."
On the other hand, there is the Times editorial board, whose position, as aptly encapsulated by Andew Sullivan, is "to advocate the long-term delegation of American power to an internationalist contraption whose record has been to facilitate inaction and tyranny". Mr. Sullivan sees a "coming domestic war" over the relative roles of the United Nations and the United States in maintaining peace and order.
When one strips away high-flown rationalizations, the argument for choosing the U.N. boils down to distrust of the U.S. Perhaps, were I not an American, I would feel a portion of that distrust, too. Yet suspicions of American intentions so far have scarcely a scintilla of empirical evidence. Doubts about the U.N. are founded on its long record of disaster, a record that even one-time advocates are starting, it seems, to acknowledge.
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