Wednesday, September 25, 2002

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The realist take on Iraq

The realist critique of the war I alluded to earlier is now public: 33 international security scholars took out an ad in today's New York Times entitled “War With Iraq is Not in America’s National Interest.” As I said, they’re realists, which means they don’t care about preserving the U.N.’s reputation, just in advancing U.S. interests. Their main points:

#1: “War with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against Al Qaeda by diverting resources and attention away from that campaign”
#2: “Even if we win easily, there is no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society”
#3: “Iraq has military options – chemical and biological weapons, urban combat – that might impose significant costs on the invading forces.”
#4: Invading Iraq “could spread instability in the Middle East, threatening U.S. interests.”

Their alternative policy is “vigilant containment” plus a commitment to “invade Iraq if it threatens to attack America or its allies.”

I’ll respond to the substance of the criticisms after some sleep, but at this point, two things are worth noting. First, it will be interesting to see if their position moves the policy debate. All of the signatories are highly respected scholars, but whether academics can actually influence the debate at this point will be an interesting test of the power of public intellectuals.

Second, any attempt to paint these people as “fringe academics” will NOT work. Tom Schelling was one of the founders of modern deterrence theory (click here). Parts of Bush’s National Security Strategy look cribbed from John Mearsheimer’s latest book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. (For a longer discussion of Mearsheimer's position on Iraq, click here)

FULL DISCLOSURE: Two of the signatories are in my department here at the U. of Chicago. As a grad student, I was an RA for another one. And I've had a beer with about half of them.

UPDATE: Stanley Kurtz at NRO's The Corner has a response to the ad, though it's not really on point -- it's just a weak attempt to paint some of the signatories as loonies.

posted by Dan on 09.25.02 at 11:28 PM