Thursday, July 24, 2003
DEBATING THE CAUSES OF WAR: Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste probably don't agree on much in life -- but they do agree on the underlying reasons for the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Marshall first:

[O]ver time after 9/11 one overriding theory of the war [with Iraq] did take shape: it was to get America irrevocably on the ground in the center of the Middle East (thus fundamentally reordering the strategic balance in the region), bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism.

That is why we are in Iraq today. That is the theory of this war. I have little doubt that many in the administration and in certain think-tanks in DC who really don't like much of what they've been reading on this website recently will have little to disagree with in that description.

Den Beste agrees. His take is almost identical on this issue:

In fact, the real reason we went into Iraq was precisely to "nation build": to create a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society in a core Arab nation. To create a place where Arabs were free and safe and unafraid and happy and successful and not ruled by corrupt monarchs or brutal dictators. This would demonstrate to the other people in the Arab and Muslim worlds that they can succeed, but only if they abandon those political, cultural and religious chains that are holding them back.

Marshall and Den Beste also agree that this motivation was not mentioned all that frequently by Bush or Blair -- instead, the rhetorical emphasis was on the WMD question and whether Hussein's regime was in league with Al Qaeda.

The disagreement is over the ethical and practical implications of these tactics. Marshall takes a dim view:

But an insight or even a broad strategy is not a plan -- a fact which we're now seeing played out before our eyes. The fact that the administration never leveled with the public -- or in some ways even itself -- about this shielded it from the kind of scrutiny which would have revealed just how little the administration had thought through the sheer complexity of what it was trying to accomplish. This created the need to goose up secondary issues like WMD to gain a public rationale for the war. If you're wondering why so little planning seems to have gone into what on earth we were going to do once we took the place over it's because so little of the debate leading up to the war had anything to do with these questions or for that matter what we were actually trying to achieve by invading the country....

If you don't level with the public that you're getting into a very long-term, extremely costly enterprise you may find that your tough talk about having the staying power to finish the job isn't matched by public sentiment, or that you face a backlash over getting the country into far more than you led voters to believe. You may find that the public really isn't on board for what you're trying to accomplish. And that's a big problem if the public doesn't have the staying power and you have to leave the task half-finished, because this is one of those things that is better not to have tried at all than leave half-done....

[Q]uite apart from partisan considerations on either side, we're never going to figure out what we're doing in Iraq, do it well, or accomplish anything good for the future security of the United States unless and until we start talking straight about why we're there, what we need to accomplish, and how we're going to do it.

Den Beste's position is pretty much the polar opposite of Marshall:

Honesty and plain speaking are not virtues for politicians and diplomats. If either Mr. Bush or Mr. Blair had said what I did, it would have hit the fan big-time. Making clear a year ago that this was our true agenda would have virtually guaranteed that it would fail. Among other things, it would have caused all of the brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs in the region to unite with Saddam against us, and would have made the invasion impossible. But now the die is cast, and said brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs no longer have the ability to stop the future....

Americans have gained a reputation elsewhere for being flighty, mercurial; there's some truth to that, but it's also true that we can stick with things for decades if we think it's worthwhile. We stuck with the occupations of Germany and Japan for 50 years. I feel confident we'll stick with this, too....

Once we actually began the invasion, certain political issues became faits accomplis. The question of engagement in the Arab sphere is no longer debatable; we're going to be engaged. That was still in doubt, right up until the first tanks rolled over the border from Kuwait into Iraq. Now it isn't.

No, we're not going to give up on this. The degree of our commitment may change up or down; there will be debate and argument. But one way or another, we're going to stick with this. Ultimately, we have no choice.

Den Beste is even blunter about the virtues of rhetorical misdirection in this post.

Who's right? You'll be hearing my thoughts on this tomorrow [But I want to be enlightened now!!--ed. Patience, my Simpsons-obsessed friend]. For now, however, read both arguments, because they set up a veeeeerrrrryyyyy interesting debate.


Post a Comment

Blog Archive