Your thoughts on this editorial on Iraq

This is a very interesting New York Times editorial on the subject of where to go from here with respect to Iraq. Since there is something in it for posters of almost every stripe, and since it won’t take long to read, I’m not going to post any excerpts or try to summarize.

I welcome comments from those who read it and want to weigh in with their responses.

Note: For those who’ve never registered for the Times, it’s free and no big deal. You can give any old e-mail address that functions, and any name/address that wish to use (or invent) for the purpose.

Please also bear in mind that in about a week the link will no longer function, so if you want a permanent copy of the text you should e-mail it to yourself.

I’ll start.


Bush and his people don’t look exhausted. Maybe the Times editors are exhausted, because they finally had to agree with Bush.

Clearly this outcome is lso possible without more discussion. If Bush decided to attack Iraq today, he already has built a wide coalition. So, more discussion is not essential. At most, it may be desirable.

International support isn’t going to get much larger. Germany, Russia, and Belgium aren’t going to contribute militarily. At most, France might throw in few troops.

Thank goodness for this degree of realism.

This makes sense as far as it goes. But, if Saddam destroyed these missiles, he still wouldn’t be in compliance.

I’m glad to see the Times sweeping away a flawed anti-war argument.

Fair enough, assuming that when the Times writes the US “may have to decide whether it should do the job on its own,” they really mean, that at that point, the US should do the job without the UN.

This is a point that some conservative have been making, e.g. Dick Morris, who wrote, “If Bush is right, the left in the United States will be discredited for many decades to come.”

I am not going to comment on the remainder of the editorial, except to observe that it doesn’t do much to explain what sort of discussion is needed. After all, the point of the editorial is supposed to be that, “More discussion is the only road that will get the world to the right outcome.”

The only thing interesting about that editorial was that the New York Times seems to have finally agreed that the Bush administration was right, and that Saddam needs to go.

But other than that, it didn’t say anything. It was just typical wishy-washy handwringing. Saddam is dangerous, and the U.N. should enforce its resolutions. But it’s too bad there isn’t a bigger coalition. On the other hand, other countries have their interests. The war could go well, but it could go badly. The American people are in agreement about the war, but support is paper-thin.

All of this is true, but so what? What was the point of that article? That geopolitics is a rough game? Duh. That other countries may not always agree with the U.S.? Duh. That the rebuilding effort will be difficult? Duh.

The strangest line in the editorial is that the American people are ‘exhausted’ by the debate. It was only a few weeks ago that the New York Times was criticising the Bush Administration for a ‘rush to war’, and claiming that there had been no substantial debate over the war.

I think that editorial is indicative of one thing - that the editors of the New York Times have finally come around to the ‘pro-war’ side, but that position makes them very unfomfortable. That editorial was just a 2-page exposition of their discomfort.

I think we all feel that way, even the ‘war hawks’. Regime change through military force should not be taken lightly. It’s messy, dangerous, and a lot of people will die. Rebuilding countries from the ground up is dangerous work, and can backfire. No question about it. Anyone who doesn’t lose sleep over this whole situation isn’t paying attention to the risks.

Nevertheless, always taking the easy road in the face of serious threats is a failing strategy.

Point of fact: the New York Times’s editorial position has been more or less what you just read since just after the last inspector’s report.

For now, I await other comments.

Sorry, no time for SDMB in the last couple of days :(.

When I started this thread, I was actually more interested in what those in the moderate to peace-embracing camp stood. If any such person is still reading, perhaps they’d like to weigh in? For the moment though, onto defending against the usual hawkish distortions.

First, I find it very amusing how both of you see the Times as having at last capitulated to Bush. It is much more accurate to say that Bush capitulated to the Times when he sought a UN resolution, and continues to capitulate to their very mainstream, middle-of-the-road position as his administration works towards getting a second resolution. My point, of course, isn’t that Bush has been swayed by the Times. No, he’s been swayed by public opinion: particularly public opinion among supporters such as Britain and Italy where there is strong resistance to war even with a UN resolution.

By consistently urging UN collaboration the Times has more or less hewed to the sentiments of the majority of the American people. So this gloating about the Times’s and its position is most misplaced (though perhaps only to be expected from such open-minded readers as yourselves :wink: ).

What has changed, or rather developed in the Times’s editorial positon (which is not, of course, the same position as each of its various columnists, nor necessarily discernible in its many articles on Iraq) is that the Times now seems to be urging European allies to support the Bush administration’s position that enough time has been given to show whether or not Saddam is complying or means to in the very near future. At the same time, though, the Times remains extremely loath to see the US take proceed with no further UN support. Hence the complexity of this editorial–to which Sam does little justice when he summarizes it in such dismissive fashion. This really is the heart of the problem for a great many Americans and for leaders such as Tony Blair. (My personal views are different but I’m not arguing my own position in this thread.)

december, you quote the Times here:

“If occupation forces unearth proof of a large nuclear program, stockpiles of terrifying biological weapons and real evidence of serious collusion between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists, many of the international leaders who are riding the crest of anti-Americanism now will start looking very foolish.”

and then you offer your own comment thus:

"This is a point that some conservative have been making, e.g. Dick Morris, who wrote, “If Bush is right, the left in the United States will be discredited for many decades to come.”

I’d like to stress that the Times hypothetical is, shall we say, very hypothetical. Real evidence of serious collusion between Saddam Hussen and international terrorists is particularly unlikely to emerge in the wake of the war.

On the other hand, to switch from speculative hypothetical scenarios to something the Times doesn’t say–but which you seem to have in mind–it is quite possible and perhaps likely that the war itself will not be very long.

If your point is that US left will be discredited by a short war, you are making the wrong argument in the wrong context. By and large the left has not been arguing that the war will be long and protracted. Of coure, the left (not to mention the center which has diverged from the Bush line) is not monolithic has made many arguments. Chief among them though are these: 1) that the occupation and "nation-building"of Iraq will be long and drawn out and that the US can only conduct it effectively with a maximum of international support; 2) that the war will cause such resentment in the Muslim world as to exacerbate terrorism and play into the hands of Osama and co.; 3) that the preemptive doctrine is deeply antithetical to what the US has stood for throughout its history and that, therefore, any war without UN support will damage US relations with allies and increase anti-US sentiment, not only among terrorists but within what is called the free world. (There are other arguments but these are the most common and the most mainstream.)

It’s true that if the war is short there’ll be a short-term gain for Bush and his supporters, and perhaps a short term loss for detractors. But the aftermath, by its very nature, will not and can’t be short.

Ahh, remember the good old days when Gore’s camp was chiding Bush for being isolationist? There’s a lot of truth in “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

What the anti-war camp, including France, misses is that moral and philosophical arguments are irrelevant to the debate. At the end of the day, the only thing that is going to matter is whether or not the U.S. succeeds.

The U.S. has drawn certain lessons from Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Does anyone, either on the left or in the Muslim world now have a serious problem with U.S. intervention in these places? Yet there were various levels of anti-war protests and predictions of doom before each of these interventions as well.

Nor has the rebuilding of any of these places been as difficult as anticipated, though the jury is still out on Afghanistan. In Bosnia and Kosovo in particular, post-war reconstruction has been surprisingly successful. The lesson seems to be that if you take a reasonably educated and comfortable population and put them through several years of hell, they’ll jump at the chance to return to a semblance of normality. The betting is that the Iraqis, who vividly remember better days, will be too happy to get rid of Hussein and too exhausted to care about the fine details if you offer them an end to twenty years of isolation, war, oppression, sanctions and economic collapse.

All this is to say that the logic of this war doesn’t turn on philosophy, it turns on realpolitik. Unless something really dramatic happens, like Hussein accepting exile, the U.S., at this point, cannot afford to turn aside, even if the entire Security Council votes against them. For both political and military reasons, the U.S. is not going to accept a delay of five months to give inspections a “chance” to work, regardless of how many countries support that position. Anyway, if the U.S. is able to take over Iraq with a fairly short military action, restore a functioning economy and provide a minimum of freedom and security, opposition to the war will vanish. If the Security Council refuses to authorize the U.S. to go in and if the war turns up evidence of WMD – or if WMD are actually used by Iraq – the UN and to a lesser extent, NATO, will be doomed as a player for the foreseeable future. Unilateralism will have won the day.

That’s France’s big problem right now. In an effort to control the American “hyperpower” they’ve unintentionally created a situation that will likely result in sweeping away the last potential bastions of resistance to American influence. The French have already ensured that Washington will now treat Paris as a spoiler rather than a potential partner for years to come. On their present course, they also going to prove to the world that both France and the UN are completely ineffectual. They have forgotten that it is better to remain silent and have people think you are a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.

So, while it may have been inevitable anyway, French bombast and intransigence has ensured that, at this point, the matter has become a pure exercise in realpolitik, a test of power that the U.S. is committed to winning. It is quite possible the The NY Times now recognizes this and has decided that preserving at least a semblance of UN influence is important. I tend to agree and I hope that France will find some way to back down gracefully rather than exercise its veto and consign the Security Council to irrelevance.

Truth Seeker, you may be right if your assumption that the US will “win” this quickly and painlessly, and furthermore will attempt to and succeed in rebuilding Iraq as a pro-Western democracy. But that’s a fairly audacious and self-favorable set of assumptions, even if they do drive the pro-war rhetoric right now. You’re basing your case on the assumption that the locals will see the war as one of liberation and humanitarianism rather than conquest and exploitation - while that may have been apparent in the oil-less Balkans, it isn’t in Iraq.

What if, as many of us think, little or none of your assumptions is borne out? That enhances the UN and even the French as bastions of wisdom and adulthood, and establishes the US (or at least Bush) as impetuous, overgrown, unrestrainable children. Chirac isn’t the only leader taking a gamble on the future here, or the only one engaging in “bombast and intransigence”.

I do enjoy the commonly-stated rhetoric about the UN “deciding to be irrelevant” and so forth. When Bush made it clear that he was proceeding regardless of whatever the UN said or did, that was what made it irrelevant.

Perhaps I didn’t make my self entirely clear. I was giving the U.S. policymaker’s perspective. The problem is that there is very little upside for France, regardless of how things go in the long term. If the U.S. is going to get sucked into a morass in Iraq, they would have learned the same “burned hand teaches best” lesson whether or not the Security Council backed the invasion. There is no way that the U.S. is going to look back in three years and say, “Gee, the French were right! We should follow their lead!” The French have, in a very real sense, crossed a bridge of no-return with the U.S. America is now vividly aware that French foreign policy is directed almost entirely at constraining America.

As for how it will go, a quick military victory is almost a certainty. The Iraqis are thoroughly out-gunned and have terrible morale. I think the smart betting is that once the troops start landing, there will be massive defections and someone in the Iraqi leadership will at least make a very serious effort to take Hussein out. My prediction: Two weeks after the first troops land, at the outside. Could be as short as 72 hours.

Anyway, a slightly messy war would actually bolster the American position. A couple of SCUDS with chemical warheads landing in Turkey will a)prove that he did have WMD and b) Thoroughly embarrass the French so badly that they won’t live it down for the next twenty years.

As for the aftermath, I agree that it’s far from a sure thing, especially the Kurdish question. Nonetheless, if they pull it off, they will be well on their way to re-making the Middle East and Central Asia. You have to admit, it’s an audacious undertaking.

In way, I hope there are a few unexpected difficulties in re-making Iraq, though I suspect it will be fairly successful in the long term. If the U.S. lucks out as it did in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, they might get the idea that this business is a snap. Eventually, though, it won’t be. North Korea has pretty much put itself on top of the to-do list and it’s a very different proposition, both militarily and geo-politically. A little caution is definitely in order.

Not really. My assumption is based on the idea that the Iraqis will be so happy to have a functioning country again that they aren’t going to get too worked up about the philosophical justification for the war. There is no possible way that the new regime, whatever it is, could exploit the Iraqi people any more than they are being exploited right now. Iraq is such a basket case that doubling everyone’s standard of living will be a snap.

Has anyone heard the following about the famous > 150km missiles (Al-Samoud?). They not only exist, but are STILL BEING MANUFACTURED! Destroying the existing missiles is one thing, but has no one demanded that they cease manufacuring them?

Having “been there and done that” with Saddam’s forces the first go-around, I was fairly disgusted (but acknowledged realpolitik) that we didn’t finish the job when we had that worm on the hook.

I’d much rather have not only broad-based UN support, but a larger int’l coalition as well. Even if Nigeria just sends a dozen “observers,” if a healthy majority of the UN membership does even that, it’ll be a much stronger signal to Iraq (and the Arab world in general) that the int’l community has had enough.

Otherwise, we may be popping the top on a much bigger can of whup-ass than we think we’re bargaining for. 9/11 may look like a June picnic compared to what an insanely enraged Arab/Muslim world might do to us.

And worse, what we may be forced, out of sheer survival, to do to them.

I heard the same report. As to the idea of demanding they cease manufacturing the missiles, that pretty much goes unsaid. It isn’t just destroying the missiles but also a whole bunch of engines used in the missiles which were recently imported. The thing this story tells me is that Saddam has no intention of destroying those missiles.

On the subject of what will happen after the war, the same damn question was asked after the Gulf War. Because we feared the worst, we left Saddam in power. Basically, we’re now paying for that mistake, but some people just want to make it all over again.

This thread was about the NYT piece, and asked for reaction to it, not for comment on the pros and cons of a war. So here’s my two cents worth.

What exactly did the Op-Ed say, besides that it will be good if it turns out good, but we’ll all regret it if it turns out bad?

But this presupposes that the people you are debating with have read the same rules you have in your hand. Now clearly, the Iraqi’s haven’t. It’s becoming equally clear that the French and Germans are marching to the beat of a different drum, one which says that the US must be opposed everywhere, whatever the case, simply to retain some sense of self-importance. The Muslim governments, being as they are totally unrepresentative (Turkey aside) of anything other than their own despotic interests, wouldn’t recognise an open debate if they tripped over it in broad daylight.

So the bottom line is this. Why are we waiting for another debate? The facts of the matter will not be changed by it. The opinions of the participants will not be changed by it. The danger to open societies will not be changed by it. The only thing that will be changed by a continued debate is that the battle conditions for the troops will become progressively less favorable, the likeyhood of major casualties on both sides will escalate dramatically, and the desired end result will be postponed.

Is this what the Times wants?

Fair enough, then. My apologies for any misunderstanding.

Only for the duration of the Bush Administration, I think. I’m sure most people in the world as well as in the US are able to draw a distinction between “American” policy and intrinsic behavioral characteristics as opposed to the current American government’s. I see no reason to believe that historical warm relations won’t return with the restoration of a realistic administration in Washington, whenever that happens.

I’m also not clear on why you’ve singled out the French as lone rangers here - there is a wide basis to believe they’re acting, at least in large part, on behalf of the rest of the anti-war, pro-sanity world, taking a lead role because of their veto power. If not, it’s at least reasonable of the rest of the world to think so.

Again, that depends on how you define victory. If the real goal is, as many of us suspect, the death of Saddam (note Powell’s comments last week that, if he leaves Iraq, there won’t even be a war), there’s no way to predict how long that will take. Look at Osama’s apparent escape from Tora Bora under conditions much more favorable to US forces, and consider that the same people will be running the show this time. The same General Franks will still be reading reports and faxing orders in his air-conditioned office in Tampa instead of leading the war - how long before we get the weekly body count reports, too? Are you really confident in your above statement, or is that too just a summary of Bush’s thinking? Or are you defining victory in terms that make Saddam’s status minor or irrelevant? If so, it won’t go down well if Bush tries to declare victory while both Saddam and Osama are alive and free.

I’d admit it if I thought there really was a broader vision involved, and committed to, than simply offing Saddam. But, platitudes aside, there’s no history or facts to bear that out. Bush hasn’t even requested a penny for the war, much less a reconstruction project, in his current budget, and has done nothing visible to try to engage the civilized world in this proposed act of civilizing.

That will be a very temporary feeling, won’t it? The consequences, not only for Iraq but for the rest of the region and the world, will be much more long-lasting, and that’s what we have to be considering.

Putting aside whether the current adminstration is realistic, I think it goes much deeper than that. The historical “warm” relations haven’t really been all that warm since de Gaulle pulled out of NATO. Since the early 1990’s, French foreign policy wonks have been kicking around the idea that the U.S. is a “hyperpower” and that French foreign policy ougt to be focussed on weakening U.S. influence and creating a multi-polar world. In effect, the French wish to return to old-style balance of power politics.

The French government has now demonstrated that it has bought into the “hyperpower” analysis and believes that a few spectacular failures by the U.S. would be a very good thing. No conceivable U.S. administration will overlook what is, in effect, France’s public declaration of their desire to see the U.S. taken down a few notches. In this respect, the French would like to style themselves as the leader of a powerful coalition and be treated by the U.S. much as the Soviet Union was treated. They are, however, far more likely to find themselves treated much as Cuba was when it styled itself as a leader of the “non-aligned” movement, i.e, as irrelevant.

Also, I think you are probably severely overestimating the amount of disagreement in the U.S. foreign policy establishment regarding France. I think you’ll find that both republicans and democrats strongly agree that France has earned itself a prime place in the axis of annoyance. Rumsfeld’s comments about “old europe” were indelicate, but they also represent what a great many people of all political stripes really think.

I disagree. I think there is actually a quite audacious plan to completely transform the geopolitics of the middle east and central asia. It’s been discussed here.

Anyway, there is certainly something more afoot than you make out. You might think Bush is stupid, but Rice and Powell sure aren’t.

I posted several times in the thread you pointed out, as you might have noticed, and found no evidence of the real long-term commitment to democratizing the Middle East we agree is necessary. The discussion was more about a new-generation US empire, in fact.

At no time have I ever suggested that Rice and Powell are “stupid”, either, as you accuse, but that is not synonymous with intellectual dishonesty or political immorality, either. Some of history’s most brilliant minds have been used for utterly depraved purposes. “The Best and Brightest” gave us Vietnam, for instance.

Re the French government, no doubt they can be and are annoying at times, but that doesn’t mean the situation is permanent - the current cross-purposes exist only in the last few months, and can not reasonably be considered permanent. It simply is not significant to the countries’, or the world’s, longer-term situation that the current administration is exasperated that other countries are independent-minded, too. Bush has been in office only 2+ years, and the chances that another President with very different views will take office in less than 23 months is growing daily.

Plainly I cannot convince you that the French situation is transient, for reasons that remain unclear to me (and I’m done trying), but others read these threads too.

Elvis, good points, and I agree with your stance on the French: regardless of what the current administration says or even really thinks, the French stance will be little more than a memory a year or two down the line. Firstly, Chirac is doing what he has to do: the populace of France is heavily anti-war, and he has a very large Muslim minority in the country that does not want to see the French pandering to the US at this time. It would be foolish of the French government to ignore this for the sake of supporting the US in what looks to be PR disaster in the making. Domestic political considerations are important in the long term, as they are what keep the current leaders in power a little longer.

Secondly, the EU is the equivalent of a “superpower”, economically; France is key player, and will always be one. The US would no more ignore or shun France then it would the PRC; regardless of whether we agree with their policies or stances, it makes economic and strategic sense to work with them.

Truth Seeker, I would like to see some cites for your latest assertions; I think most of what you state flies in the face of the history of relations between us and France. We and France have gotten along fine, historically, since WW2: from Vietnam to the Libya attack in 1986 (they were the only European country to allow us to refuel over their airspace) to Desert Storm (they made up a large portion of the coalition forces, and provided an armored division as one of the spearhead units). When it comes to the ME, however, the French have a different take then we do: they have closer ties through their former colonies, and there are many Arabs that call France home. They may have a different viewpoint, but the chances of their being treated like “Cuba” are non-existent.

Thanks -


I can’t really see the need to get snippy. I guess we’ll just have to see how things play out. If it clears it up at all for you, I don’t believe the French situation is transient because I don’t see the current French opposition as a one-off case. Rather, it’s merely the most recent manifestation of a deep current in French geopolitcal thought. It crops up in lots of other ways, too. The French offer of a few years ago to become full members of NATO again if the American role in NATO was sharply reduced. Chirac’s recent castigation of central and easter european countries for backing the U.S. position instead of siding with “Europe.” The French push for the Euro on the grounds that it would offer competition for the U.S. dollar, etc. etc.

In other words, it’s not so much the the U.S. is “mad” at France, it’s that the French are structuring their foreign policy around weakening U.S. dominance. You can’t expect U.S. policy makers to look kindly on that goal, regardless of their political leanings.

Actually, no. They and Spain were the only European countries to deny the U.S. overflight rights.