Friday, June 13, 2003

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Intentions and outcomes in Iraq

Matthew Yglesias and David Adesnik have a good debate on the role that good intentions played and is playing in U.S. foreign policy. Yglesias first:

There are some genuine neoconservative idealists in the administration — Wolfowitz, most famously — but I think the main purpose they serve in the administration is to rhetorically co-opt hawkish wilsonian liberals (TNR, Nick Cohen, Tom Friedman, etc. you know the type) into supporting Bush's half-assed warmaking against their better judgment. The administration's actions in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq have, however, made it clear that humanitarianism — like everything else — is a banner to be picked up and then discarded according to the immediate needs of political opportunism.

Adesnik responds with New York Times and Washington Post stories demonstrating that things are improving in Iraq. For an even better example, click on this Chicago Tribune story on the U.S. position on the Marsh Arabs, a group that was the target of what can only be described as a Baathist effort at genocide.

Adesnik concludes:

While Matt is right that no one -- especially not liberal hawks -- can afford to be complacent about the Administration's foreign policy, it is no less imperative for doves to overcome their their resentment of the President and recognize that, for all his flaws, he has done certain things very right.

Mediator that I am, I think both Yglesias and Adesnik are correct. I agree with Matt that Bush principals control the neocons and not vice versa. This was why I thought all the conspiracy theory hysteria of the past few months was so absurd.

However, just because the key Bushies are not closet Wilsonians does not mean they do not recognize that frequently countries do well by doing good. Everyone acknowledges that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam, but that is but one example of this. The administration decision to increase foreign aid by 50% and create a new AIDS initiative fall under this category as well.

I suspect there is a deeper debate underlying this question -- should individuals be rewarded for good intentions or good outcomes? If a leader acts in an altruistic fashion for self-interested reasons, how does one evaluate such behavior? I strongly suspect that one's answer to this question depends on one's political affiliation.

posted by Dan on 06.13.03 at 03:35 PM