Thursday, September 26, 2002
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Responding to the realists
OK, I've slept enough to respond to the realist ad in today's New York Times. Are the realists correct in their assessment of the flaws behind an attack on Iraq? I don't think so. [Dude, aren't some of the signatories senior members of your field? You want to risk tenure for a friggin' blog?--ed. They'd be more upset at me if I disagreed but kept my mouth shut. That's what makes the University of Chicago a great place, as Jacob T. Levy just pointed out. Although let me add that I think they are both smart and handso-- Stop sucking up--ed. Right] Here's the flaws in their logic:
1) An invasion would destabilize the region. There are four elements of U.S. foreign policy that aggravate Arabs at the moment -- taking Israel's side against the Palestinians, maintaining the U.N. embargo against Iraq, stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, and supporting undemocratic regimes in the region. An invasion of Iraq will not solve the first problem, but it partially addresses all of the others. A successful invasion presumably eliminates the need for U.S. forces to be in Saudi Arabia (since there would be no appreciable threat from a post-invasion Iraq, and Iraq would become the new base in the Persian Gulf for U.S. forces), obviously eliminates the embargo, and topples a corrupt, brutal dictator. The Arab News agrees on this, by the way.
2) There is no exit strategy. The argument here is that Iraq is so divided that U.S. forces will have to be there a while. This is a possibility that's worth considering. On the other hand, as Gideon Rose has pointed out, the concern about exit strategies is a fundamentally flawed criticism. He notes, "Instead of obsessing about the exit, planners should concentrate on the strategy. The key question is not how we get out, but why we are getting in." I think the reasons for going in a pretty solid. [What about Bosnia? We still have troops there--ed. We also still have a peaceful, relatively open society there, as opposed to what was going on ten years ago. You make the call if it was worth it].
3) Hussein can be deterred. Therefore, the utility from an attack is not worth the costs. Kenneth Pollack makes a great case in an op-ed in today's New York Times on why Hussein might not be deterrable. Jordan and Kuwait appear to be anticipating an Iraqi attack. Furthermore, the one thing the ad fails to note is that the deterrence strategy has destabilized the region for ten years. The humanitarian cost of the sanctions combined with the presence of U.S. forces near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina are not stabilizing forces. In this way, ironically, a successful invation not only eliminates the Iraqi threat, but over the long run it reduces the Arab resentment that feeds Al-Qaeda.
So I think they're wrong. But the people who signed the ad make some good points, particularly about the possible costs of an invasion (see Michael O'Hanlon's Slate article on this point as well). And the fact that they put up their own money to pay for the ad speaks volumes about the strength of their convictions. Let the debate roll on.
UPDATE: According to the Washington Post, Iraq is planning for urban warfare.posted by Dan on 09.26.02 at 01:01 PM