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How low are the stakes in Iraq?

02/22/2004

How low are the stakes in Iraq? The usual way of putting the question is, "how high," not how low, and everyone seems to agree that the answer is "very high." (Even I've made this claim in the past. See here to read about the Intelligence Community's opinion.)

But when we look at how a great many American politicians and policy wonks are acting, as opposed to what they are saying, it doesn't look like anyone really thinks that the outcome matters much.

The Bush Administration, of course, is more focused on handing Iraq off to the Iraqis by July 1 than anything else; whether Iraq actually ever has an election seems to be a secondary matter, as long as order doesn't break down completely before the U.S. President stands for re-election in November.

And, sadly, the same sort of thinking seems to prevail in the camp of the Democratic front-runner, John Kerry. His main appeal is his alleged "electability," the idea that he doesn't frighten anyone with radical positions or look soft on our foreign enemies. Earlier, I wrote about how this idea has played out in the national debate over Iraq, with disastrous consequences for our ability to debate issues of war and peace with any vigor or semblance of rationality (here):

It follows that [former candidate Howard] Dean's opposition to invading Iraq in the first place will make him political poison, and that his Democratic rivals, such as Sen. John Kerry, who bent to George W. Bush's insistence on having a war, were exercising the better part of valor.

Such is the counsel of cowardice, and a gross disservice to the United States of America. Following its logic, no political figure ever should have raised his voice against the disastrous adventure in Vietnam, or indeed should ever consider opposing a Commander-in-Chief's decision to use force, regardless of circumstances, for fear of the demagogic blasts that any dissent might reap. We are left with the thought that where national security is concerned, one man should lead and all others ought to follow. This formula reduces debate to an anemic wisp, and exposes the nation to the consequences of all sorts of ill-considered undertakings.

...these tactical considerations aren't worth much, certainly not enough to tempt us to override either our principles or our better judgment about national security. It is an act of necessary statesmanship to do what is right in matters of war and peace, setting aside the imagined or feared political consequences. The alternative would leave the American public bereft of meaningful representation in the nation's capital, and subject to the whims, passions, and vendettas of its leader, who becomes free to use our blood and treasure much as an absolutist European prince might have.

This "alternative" more or less describes the actual result of the votes of Sen. Kerry, Sen. Lieberman, Sen. Edwards, Rep. Gephardt, and the votes of many other Democrats to authorize an invasion of Iraq...

A sad confirmation of this conclusion now appears in an article (subscription required) by Franklin Foer in The New Republic magazine, which describes tensions between Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon, two Democratic foreign policy experts at the Brookings Institution, a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C. Daalder advised Howard Dean, while O'Hanlon mainly has been associated with John Kerry.
For many in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Dean was seen as dangerous. They worried that his strident opposition to the Iraq war would revive old cliches about the party's pacifism and that his claim that Saddam Hussein's capture did nothing to enhance U.S. security would prove fodder for countless GOP ads. No one was more concerned on this score than Daalder's Brookings colleague and occasional co-author, Michael O'Hanlon, who penned scathing op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times [whose conservative opinion pages heavily favor the Republican party] attacking Dean. O'Hanlon, who advises several of the candidates--including Kerry--told me, "More Democrats should have recognized (Dean's) danger and spoken out against him." Within Brookings, O'Hanlon's pieces were seen as a direct assault on Daalder and [Susan] Rice and a break with the institution's genteel mores. One Brookings fellow describes them as "just bizarre. Forgive me, but that was personal, not professional." Others at the think tank reported witnessing loud, uncomfortable hallway arguments between Daalder and O'Hanlon over Dean.
Once again, how low are the stakes in Iraq? To judge by the decisions or either George W. Bush or Michael O'Hanlon, anything that happens in Iraq is secondary to the outcome of the elections in November.

Analyst

My earlier comments on this topic are here. Continued thoughts on the unmaking of American foreign policy are here.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000194.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 09:21 AM CST [Link]

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