New York Times Book Review:
"Everybody Is A Realist Now," by James Traub, review of The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq Edited by Gary Rosen, and A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq. Edited by Thomas Cushman.
"Occupational Hazards," by Fareed Zakaria, review of George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq.
James Traub starts his review of two essay collections with a charming story of losing a bet over U.S. casualties in Iraq. He doesn't tell us what the stakes were, but I think we can safely eliminate "Swearing off treating war as a spectator sport" or gambling with other people's lives.
Like any gentlemanly handicapper, Traub pays off before he lets us know that the winner was just lucky:
She's been vindicated as well on the W.M.D. front, for, like quite a few people with no apparent access to intelligence data, she "always knew" that Saddam Hussein no longer had his weapons of mass destruction, just as she always knew the whole venture would miscarry. Well, I tip my hat to her foresight; the news from Iraq has in fact been so hellish that many doubtful supporters of the war - the 55-45ers, as I like to call us - have been forced to rethink their calculus.
Lefties, y'see, just put all their chips on Red every time, so the occasional win is just blind luck. The real sharpers like Traub, the guys who know all the angles, can lose their shirts and still walk away knowing they were right. Because they were playing with somebody else's money.
Of course that's one of the attractions of language: you can make anything turn out the way you wanted it to. It's no coincidence that we were led into this war with words, we screwed up the planning with words, and words now ride to our rescue.
Care to take the same tone about Scott Ritter, Mr. Traub? Or Hans Blix?
There are an awful lot of people around who are absolutely certain about things they can't possibly know; otherwise our churches would be empty. It's not an argument about anything. And it's far beyond the time when you "55-45" warfloggers faced the real arguments--and your own culpability. Like every non-expert I had no idea whether Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or chemical or biological weapons stockpiles. What I did know, and what you knew, and the neocons knew, and everybody else knew, was that he didn't have an intercontinental delivery system. And he wasn't ever going to get one. His weapons programs, had they existed, posed no threat to the United States. That was the argument against going to war. Answer it, and quit shouting down the peaceniks and hippies in your imaginary debating class.
...the case for war did not actually depend on the threat of imminent attack - even if the White House said otherwise. Virtually all of the essays collected in "The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq," edited by Gary Rosen, the managing editor of Commentary, and in "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq," edited by Thomas Cushman, the editor in chief of The Journal of Human Rights, were written after October 2003, when the weapons inspector David Kay put the kibosh on President Bush's prewar claims. And while several of the authors closest to the administration try to fudge the facts, and others have in fact changed their minds, most argue that Hussein's reckless expansionism, and his peerless brutality, justified the war even without vats of anthrax.
No, that's not an answer. It's another exercise in word play. With no imminent threat there was no reason for an invasion in March 2003. Inspections had done precisely what they were supposed to. If Hussein posed a real threat, gathering but not immediate, there was time to reach an international consensus about it, and not bear the costs, money and blood, by ourselves. That was the only sensible course. That the same group which assured us the war was in our vital interests had a fallback position ready when the whole thing fell apart proves nothing. What proves something is that it did fall apart.
And lest Saddam=Evil not sway all those leftist know-it-alls, Traub trots out that other demon with a mustache:
Could we afford to guess wrong, given the evidence of Hussein's intentions and capacities? Jeffrey Herf, a historian whose essay appears in "A Matter of Principle," a collection of articles making the "liberal internationalist" case for war, observes that a pre-emptive war against Germany in 1938 might have prevented World War II and the Holocaust, though it would have been roundly criticized since Hitler had not yet shown his hand.
Strangling him in his cradle would have worked, too. So what? Other than proving that Goodwin's Law operates only on the Internet I've never been able to figure out who was supposed to be swayed by this sort of argument. This isn't 1938. Hitler wasn't facing a world superpower with the capability of destroying him a thousand times over the minute he made an aggressive move. You'd think the great minds of international policy debate would recognize the distinction.
Like Traub, warfloggers Fareed Zakaria and George Packer, whom he reviews, now want to catalogue the Bush administration's failures to excuse their own. It's yet another way of avoiding the issue: argue that the disastrous handling of the war and its aftermath spoiled a perfectly good idea:
Hard as it is to believe, the Bush administration took on the largest foreign policy project in a generation with little planning or forethought. It occupied a foreign country of 25 million people in the heart of the Middle East pretty much on the fly. Packer, who was in favor of the war, reserves judgment and commentary in most of the book but finally cannot contain himself: "Swaddled in abstract ideas . . . indifferent to accountability," those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq "turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one," he writes. "When things went wrong, they found other people to blame." [ellipsis in original]
Again, why is that hard to believe? It happened right in front of our eyes, and you two gentlemen supported it as it occurred--and if not for "abstract ideas", for what?
That the Bush administration was hell-bent on invasion, on a pre-determined timetable which probably pre-dated the 2000 elections, was clear. There was little national debate and almost none in the Congress. It was obvious we were prepared for nothing but the rosiest of scenarios. There was no military buildup, no tax increase, no call for public sacrifice. Yet dozens of public citizens, liberals and "realists", supported the war and the rush to it, and now try to wash their hands of its aftermath.
SO the Army's original battle plan for 500,000 troops got whittled down to 160,000. If Gen. Tommy Franks "hadn't offered some resistance, the number would have dropped well below 100,000," Packer says. At one point, Franks's predecessor, Anthony Zinni, inquired into the status of "Desert Crossing," his elaborate postwar plan that covered the sealing of borders, securing of weapons sites, provision of order and so on. He was told that it had been discarded because its assumptions were "too negative."
We're all-too-familiar with how the administration and its echo chamber invented entire battalions out of vapor, and continued moving them across the situation maps long after the jig was up--Look out, Syria, you're next!--but it's particularly pathetic to find Bush's neo-critics adopting the same line. If it's not obvious now that we did not have 500,000 troops to send to Iraq in 2002 what will it take to prove it to you? We had to extend the tours of 20,000 troops this year just to keep 130,000 in the field. Is there any excuse for Packer, or Zakaria, not knowing this? Raising a half-million troops would have meant a massive readjustment of American forces worldwide. We've already undertaken the largest realignment in postwar history just to stay where we are. Or we could have instituted a draft, which of course would have changed the political equation completely. Either way we are talking about a year's delay at minimum, a delay which would have meant there was no reason not to accede to the wishes of Old Europe and continue the international containment program, a year which would have meant it would have become clear to all that Iraq did not possess WMDs. Goodbye, Munich analogy.
No sir. But me no buts about troop levels, de-Bathification, and crony politics from the Right. If you supported going to war when we did you got the war you wanted, a perfect laboratory of American interventionism. The administration made things worse, but we were always headed for disaster. I'm glad you were able to forgive yourselves so quickly. Perhaps someday you'll be able to credit the people who were right all along with something more than a lucky guess.