|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, August 16, 2002
I don't understand why Brent Scowcroft's argument against invading Iraq is being taken seriously - if it really is. Here is an argument which depends on such choice pieces of drivel as : "Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict." Mr. Scowcroft deposits this factoid even as Israel is pleading with the United States not to delay attacking Iraq!
Undeterred by the obvious inconsistency between Israel's long-established understanding of its own security interests, which he surely has long known, and his patronizing attitude towards those same interests ("Brent knows best!"), Mr. Scowcroft commits more howlers:
Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict--which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve--in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.
The best that can be said for this paragraph is that it rejects the ersatz posturing found less than twenty lines above that Mr. Scowcroft is really looking out for Israel's interests more than Israel itself is looking out for those interests. Here, Mr. Scowcroft admits his argument just advances "a key interest of the Muslim world." But this article should bear a warning: "DICTATED BUT NOT READ."
Mr. Scowcroft is certainly entitled to craft arguments advancing what he sees as key interests of the Muslim world. But as a matter of historical fact, many of those "key interests" have of late been defined by current and recent Muslim leaders to be opposed to American interests - as Mr. Scowcroft admits ("in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest"). For example, the utter and complete destruction of Israel is seen by most current Muslim leaders as "a key interest of the Muslim world" - and the preservation of Israel "is seen to be a narrow American interest." That is by no means the only example. So why does Mr. Scowcroft even think generally that the United States should not be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest?
In connection with the recent Afghan invasion, people sounding a lot like Mr. Scowcroft repeatedly warned of the risk of violent reaction in "the Arab street" to almost every American move. These arguments were utterly discredited in the fact. It is just impossible to take Mr. Scowcroft seriously where he again argues that "in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us" without demonstrating why this argument means more than did it's utterly discredited Afghan forefather.
Mr. Scowcroft's argument that Mr. Hussein will use whatever weapons of mass destruction it has if we invade ("Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.") is all but frivolous. The United States can make clear that Mr. Hussein will not be personally, physically harmed unless he engages in what we consider unreasonable measures going forward, including unleashing weapons of mass destruction, genocidal acts and war crimes. One of the advantages of being a decent country like the United States with an honorable President like Mr. Bush is that promises of this sort will be taken seriously. That would give Mr. Hussein plenty "left to lose."
Perhaps most tellingly, one would think Mr. Scowcroft's complete resume would bear more attention. The Journal says: "Mr. Scowcroft, national security adviser under President Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, is founder and president of the Forum for International Policy." But the Journal should have written: "Mr. Scowcroft, national security adviser under President Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, was a key member of the White House team that decided not to depose Saddam Hussein and invade Baghdad during the Gulf War.
Identifying him that way might have made Mr. Scowcroft's bizarre Journal screed more understandable. Indeed, at least one book on the Gulf War says Mr. Scowcroft is "a workaholic with a bland exterior. His only passion is arms control, a subject he argues with "voice rising almost to a screech and his arms waving."
It is certainly interesting that the predictably absurd New York Times editorial exploiting Mr. Scowcroft's article, and the corresponding front page article (Why does the Times bother formally separating putative news and opinion now, anyway?) dwell much more on the fact that Mr. Scowcroft has presumed close personal relations within the GOP, especially with the President's father, and do not tarry over his incoherent argument. The Times editorial, for example, sweeps the substance of Mr. Scowcroft's argument under the rug with the wonderfully daffy: "Mr. Scowcroft and others are making abundantly clear that dealing with Iraq is a highly complicated matter that carries great potential to produce unintended and injurious consequences if handled rashly by Mr. Bush."
Did we need Mr. Scowcroft to show us that war is "a complicated matter", or that any serious issue in the Middle East is "a complicated matter"? Did we need Mr. Scowcroft to enlighten us that a war "carries great potential to produce unintended and injurious consequences if handled rashly?"
Or perhaps the Times or Mr. Scowcroft mean to argue that no such potential would exist if a war were handled rashly by someone other than Mr. Bush. The Times, at least, has believed and advanced stranger positions. For example, the Times front page article presents Kissinger as opposing an Iraq invasion. But OpinionJournal points out that "if you read on in the Times account, you'll find that Purdum and Tyler are not telling the truth about Kissinger, whom they quote as saying only that good planning for Iraq's postwar reconstruction is crucial--an assertion with which no reasonable person disagrees."
UPDATE: Now the Times says that Mr. Bush says that he is listening. That's good. It's good to listen. It's good for a President to listen. I just hope he's listening to things that make a lot more sense than what Mr. Scowcroft wrote in the Journal. For example, I hope the President is listening very carefully to the details of what will be involved in a logistical sense in mounting an invasion with little near-by support from Iraq's neighboring countries. Kuwait more than owes us one on that score.
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