Thursday, April 15, 2004

Where Do I Stand? What Can Bush Do?

To very belatedly put my cards on the table regarding Iraq: I can no longer pretend that my past (and, to a degree, continuing) willingness to defend (some of) Bush's rationales for the interventionist war he has waged in Iraq can, in any way, be spun into excuses which get me out of being implicated in the consequences of Bush's actual performance as commander-in-chief of this intervention. That is, I'm part of the problem. Whatever my thoughts and concerns about democratic imperialism or national strength or international force, I had every opportunity to acknowledge that evidence of the Bush administration's interest working out a responsible policy which reflected any of these concerns was scanty, at best. We saw the lack of thought in the way the Bush approached the U.N., dealt with Turkey, conducted the war in Afghanistan. The fundamentals of Bush's decisions were defensible; the level attention paid to them was not. I ignored the signs, and went with my ideological preferences. It was wrong, or at least not sufficiently thoughtful, for me to do so. (Sound of crow being consumed.)

Of all the liberal nationalists/neo-Wilsonians/democratic internationalists my thinking was most affected by--Hitchens, Packer, Walzer, Berman, Ignatieff, etc., and of course Tony Blair--Walzer appears to have had the most steady grasp of things, as he always counseled against "this war" but not necessarily against (some of) the principles under which it was fought. Blair, of course, politically can't say what he thinks of Bush & Co.; someday we'll learn, and it should be interesting to hear. Hitchens is in profound denial, and Berman is too invested in linking Iraq to his grand philosophy of Islamic fascism to accept any rethinking. Packer and Ignatieff's comments are, I think, closest to where my thoughts are now. Packer clearly still thinks, as I do, that no one in their right mind would still want Saddam Hussein in power, yet is willing to think about (look here and scroll down) "the limits of war as an instrument of political transformation and the limits of America as its standard-bearer. Liberal democracy requires participation and consent, and as long as American military power is the prime tool for building it, Muslims around the world are unlikely to change their ideas. We need to decouple America and the promotion of democracy; the Iraq war did the opposite." Ignatieff does even better in this piece, where he writes:

"I supported an administration whose intentions I didn't trust, believing that the consequences would repay the gamble. Now I realize that intentions do shape consequences. An administration that cared more genuinely about human rights would have understood that you can't have human rights without order and that you can't have order once victory is won if planning for an invasion is divorced from planning for an occupation....The administration, which never tires of telling us that hope is not a plan, had only hope for a plan in Iraq. Hope got in the way of straight thinking, but so did fantasy: that the Shiites, whom George H.W. Bush told to rise up in 1991, only to stand by and watch them be massacred, would greet their erstwhile betrayers as liberators; that a privileged Sunni minority would enthusiastically adapt to permanent minority status in a Shiite Iraq. When fantasy drives planning, chaos results....All interventions entail some element of illusion, but if intervening requires this quantity of illusion for an administration to be willing to risk it, we should be doing less intervening in the future."

In the meantime, as every serious person knows, we have to ask ourselves the question of what is to be done. There are, of course, numerous plans and agendas out there (including John Kerry's, or at least the one which appears under his byline), any and all of which can be more productively discussed by people more knowledgeable than me. All of the plans I prefer depend, to a certain degree, on getting people with a different perspective on things in charge of the occupation, which means getting some new leadership in Washington. But that may not (tell the truth: probably won't) happen. And in that spirit, I have to point out this wonderful post which has its own, entirely different and legitimate take on things. Noah Millman, a Republican who supported the war, looks at things--and Bush's prospects--this way:

"Bush is going to present us with a choice in the next election between a guy with basically the right orientation in terms of how to prosecute this war but a severely limited grasp of the complications of the real world and, worse, a basic refusal to admit that he or his team has ever made a mistake, or to learn from same; and, on the other hand, a guy who shows every sign of being an intelligent, sophisticated, informed guy with absolutely no political courage, who has never made a difficult political decision and has spent 19 years in the Senate compiling a record so thin as to be nonexistent. If you think that absolutely no tough decisions need to be made in the next four years, vote Kerry. If you think good values are all you need, and information is irrelevant to making the tough decisions that we will face, then vote Bush. If you think we'll have tough decisions to make, but you'd like them made by an informed and savvy person, then you--we--have a problem."

His solution (which he admits Bush will not adopt)? Fire someone. Someone important, someone who can be plausibly credited with the screw-ups in Iraq, someone whose departure will signal, at least to those like Noah who really, really want Bush to fulfill the tasks he has set for himself, that Bush is capable to adapting to reality and going forward. As he puts it:

"It would have to be someone very senior. Firing a guy like Wolfowitz or Feith wouldn't cut it. The point is not to purge the Administration of neo-cons, and anyhow these guys don't make the decisions; their bosses do. There are only 5 players senior enough and important enough to the war that their departure would be noted and weighed as significant. They are: Powell, Rice, Tenet, Rumsfeld, and Cheney."

Who does he believe ought to get the axe? Cheney. Why? Read it and see. I agree couldn't agree with him more (but then, I've wanted Cheney gone for a while now).