Tuesday, August 21, 2007

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What did the foreign policy community think about Iraq?

James Joyner has an interesting essay in TCS Daily that takes a closer look at what the "foreign policy community" said about Iraq prior to and immediately after the conflict:

While there are several substantive issues within the debate that interest me, what is most striking is that the basic premise - that most foreign policy public intellectuals supported the Iraq War - didn't comport at all with my recollection of the contemporaneous debate. During that period, I was working as the foreign affairs acquisitions editor for a D.C. area publishing house and reading the literature and attending conferences and think tank presentations on a constant basis.

I recalled a security policy community dominated by Realists were almost universally opposed to the war. Perhaps, though, my perceptions were colored by my own biases and the passage of time? I decided that it was worth a long journey through the Foreign Affairs archives to test my memory [Joyner also looks at the Foreign Policy and International Security archives--DD.]. The results are very much a mixed bag....

What's striking [about the archives] is not so much the unanimity of opinion but rather the dearth of articles on the most important foreign policy debate of the day. This trend was to continue for quite some time, despite a bi-monthly publication schedule. Indeed, several issues had no articles at all whose titles or precis suggested more than a tangential mention of Iraq....

In 2004 and afterwards, as one might expect, there were plenty of articles in the magazine critical of the war....

What's striking, though, is how "business as usual" the article selection remained throughout the entire period. Entire issues went by without an article on Iraq or even the Middle East and most issues continued to have the standard mix of articles on Africa, the global economy, environmental issues, human rights, and so forth. Indeed, it might have escaped the attention of a casual observer glancing at the covers (which list the prominent articles in each issue) that the country was at war....

Nonetheless, it appears that the leftist critique, especially Benen's, is right: Despite the overwhelming view of security scholars I encountered in academic conferences and at think tank presentations, the foreign policy Establishment treated the war with dispassion, seemingly afraid to take a strong stand. More importantly, it treated the march to war as a mere curiosity no more worthy of attention than presidential elections in Brazil, whether World Trade Organization judges had too much power, or economic reform in Japan.

That, more than being wrong in their predictions about the future, is the real failure of the foreign policy community. None of us has a crystal ball and our analyses of prospective events are frequently going to fall short. Public policy experts merely owe the public their best reasoning and to engage in a vigorous debate when no consensus exists.

I have a slightly different take than Joyner. First off, a journal like Foreign Affairs is an imperfect subject for this kind of analysis. The lag time between submission and publication can be several months, and I suspect that the speed with which Iraq got to the frontburner overtook publicaton schedules. (Parenthetically, if you check other archives, like The Washington Quarterly's, you'll find some prescient pieces).

[UPDATE: For comparison, I checked the Foreign Affairs archives for 1990-91 to see what happened prior to the first Gulf War. The only pre-war discussion appeared in the Winter1990/91 issue, with articles by Fouad Ajami and Stanley Reed. Neither of those addressed the validity of going to war or not.]

As Joyner acknowledges, "there are forums other than elite foreign affairs journals for experts to influence the public debate." A great B.A. or M.A. thesis, by the way, would be to comb through the op-ed archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today to see what was said there (if someone's done this already, please send it along). [UPDATE: In The American Prospect, Todd Gitlin did a partial analysis of the Washington Post op-ed page.]

Second, there are several reasons why foreign policy public intellectuals would not have written about Iraq in 2002-3. Kevin Drum lists some of the careerist reasons here, and that likely played a part. But another explanation is that it's possible to possess genuine expertise on a foreign policy issue and not have anything close to expertise about invading Iraq (I certainly fall into this category, which is why I only discussed the question on the blog). You can't expect someone writing about presidential elections in Brazil, World Trade Organization judges, or economic reform in Japan to suddenly shift gears and focus on Iraq in thei publications. It might be more accurate for Joyner to criticize the editors of foreign policy elite journals for running too many non-Iraq pieces in 2002-3.

I understand the anger directed at the "foreign policy community" -- I just think the indictment is way too broad.

posted by Dan on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM


A couple of thoughts on this.

I know for a fact that prominent realists like Posen, Mearsheimer, Walt, Van Evera, etc. where cranking out op-ed after op-ed manuscript in the run up to the war, but that they could not get the time of day from the NYT, WaPo, and other major papers. These were papers that both in the past and again after 2003 had frequently run op-eds from these very authors, even soliciting op-eds from them. But from mid 2002 until mid-2003 the door was slammed shut on them.

That's the only reason a group of such scholars eventually took out an ad in the NYT -- it was the only way to get in print. Meanwhile, pro-invasion commentators from Michael O'Hanlon to Michael Ignatieff to Michael Ledeen were published multiple times. Quite a range of perspectives actually -- as long as they were pro-war.

NPR's "This American Life" actually did a segment on "The Realists" in the winter of 2002, pitching it "here are America's top specialists on war, all at our most famous universities, and yet you probably have no idea that they all think invading Iraq would be a disaster".

In Bill Moyer's recent documentary "Buying the War" they claim to have done exactly the sort of count that Dan suggested, and found that the op-ed pages of the NYT and WaPo were skewed at some truly fantastic ratio towards pro-war views only, ditto for "experts" invited to appear on major news programs. I would like to see a more thorough analysis, though I supsect a bit of digging on JSTOR or PROceedings would turn something up that's already been done.

This does raise an issue about what counts as "Foreign Policy Community". The run up to the Iraq war exposed a split that Glen Greenwald underplays. The Iraq War run up was totally dominated by the _DC_ foreign policy elites. There actually was plenty of skepticism among academics, whehter among realists who thought it was unwise, liberal internationlists who thought it'd be illegal, etc. But the debate was completely dominated by the DC circuit: think-tanks, journalists and editors (I'd lump NYT with "DC" for this purpose), government officials, etc. Academics who agreed with the DC elite were brought in for support, of course, but those who disagreed were kept out by the DC gatekeepers. I never seen the DC debate so skewed away from the range of opinions among the academic foreign policy elite (it's easy to see how sordid career incentives could make it happen, though).

I think that's part of the Glen/Dan argument: Glen is focussing more on the debate as communicated in the major papers, news outlets, and influential think thanks, while Dan is focussing on what he knows to be the wider range of opinions among a "foreign policy elite" that includes more academics.

posted by: anIRprof on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

anIRprof, I am sure you are mistaken in your citation of Michael Ledeen as having favored the Iraq invasion. Mr Ledeen has on numerous occasions stated that he did not favor deploying the military in a full-scale invasion of Iraq, and therefore he should not be counted as a pro-invasion commentator.

I have been unable to locate any pre-invasion commentaries where Mr Ledeen supported the invasion as the means to an end of the Saddam regime.

posted by: Escobar on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

It was obvious to anyone watching and listening objectively to the run up to the Iraq War that the Bush Administration was manipulating intelligence to drum up support for the war. To argue whether or not pencil necks had the expertise to write about invading Iraq is disenguous to say the least. One didn't need expertise, one needed eyes open and the guts to speak the truth. The Foreign Policy Elite's (FPE) acquiescence, sitting around with their thumbs up their collective asses while this administration perpetuated one of the greatest crimes in this nation's history is nothing more than cowardly. I suspect the FPE suffers from the same social fear as the Beltway MSM, namely, they want to be invited to the cool parties.

Oh, btw, it hasn't stopped, yet. Where is the FPE and supporting MSM coverage of the continued violations of international law? Illegal spying? Renditions? Guantanamo? Unconstitutional acts? What's the FPE writing about today?

posted by: Karrsic on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

I think anlRprof is on to a worthwhile point. Why would their be a greater divergence in opinion in academia than DC think tanks? One factor that I think has been underplayed is that think-tanks, to remain relevant, need to continually jockey for influence. Given that all sides agree that Bush was going to war in Iraq, come hell or highwater, what was the obligation of the liberal think tanks? To print page after page of condemnation and fall into disuse? Or to try to (unfortunately unsuccessfully) influence the way the war was going to be conducted?

This involves a factual question, of course, about what types of things liberal think tanks were putting out at the time that I simply don't have the answer to. What I think is becoming more and more clear is that we need a reliable analysis of what was being said at the time both by the think tanks, the MSM and bloggers.

A very worthwhile question has been raised, but for the discussion to continue fruitfully maybe we need some factual research.

Who has time?

posted by: Chris on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

Dan, having gone to school in the 1980s with future investment bankers, political science Ph.D's, and other future members of the elite, self-identifying as "liberal" "conservative", "libertarian", etc., what I remember is a near-universal contempt for humanitarian concerns and for passion in promoting them. Those who cared about "collateral damage" and such-like were general viewed as starry-eyed whackos. The underlying assumption of these folks (again, regardless of declared political allegiance) tended to be that violence ruled the world and the opinions of the "losers" who chose not to pursue money, social status, power, and their perquisites were not worth a tinker's cuss.

Having read your blog sporadically for four to five years, I am afraid that you are a part of this elite mentality that is corrupting, and will probably destroy, the Republic. You routinely, if in veiled, "polite" terminology, express contempt for pacificists and mischaracterize "Deaniacs" as far-out lefties and themselves pacificists. Why don't you devote more time to parsing whether spending a few billion bucks on a B-1 bomber enhance American national security in any way, or challenge the apparently universal assumption among "serious" foreign policy thinkers that the United States needs to increase, rather than reduce, it's military spending?

The fact is that Dean and the anti-Iraq war protesters (I was one in the spring of 2002, and women in the group with me received death threats - but "serious" foreign policy commentators don't take old ladies standing around with signs or the wingnuts who threaten to shoot them seriously) were spot-on about the Iraq War. They were far more realistic than the "realists". And yet you and folks like Pollack continue to mock them.

Anyone who followed the Clinton impeachment with any care, or studied the record of the "Committee on the Present Danger" in the 1970s, or read "Free Republic" would have known well before 2000 that a Bush presidency would be a reactionary, violent debacle. I knew. And you know how "whacko" and left of center I am? A Tsongas Democrat.

Lay off the "crazy" left-wing netroots, and focus on the reactionaries who are undermining the Republic, will you please?

posted by: Niigata on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]


Dump the alliteration and substitute any pro-Iraq neocon you like instead; the point stands.

On Ledeen in particular, though, I know he _claims_ to have been opposed to the invasion, but that's just poppycock. I'll grant that he preferred going after Iran first and was more convinced than perhaps anyone but Perle that you could just arm the INC and win that way, but given only choice of invade Iraq or not he certainly supported it. For just a few of his pre-war expressions of support, see http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_01_15/article1.html

posted by: anIRprof on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

When speaking of being 'silenced' it's good to have an example of actually being silenced; Google does not become your friend. On Mearsheimer
& Walt;googling Mearsheimer, Walt; 2003; NY Times you get href*(http;mearsheimer.uchicago.ed/pubaffairs. html; you get two examples; the Nov 2002 ad and the February 2003, Op Ed. On a similar search for Posen, Evera ; you come to his MIT faculty page;href you get his 2002 "Foreseeing a Bloody Siege in Baghdad" which turned out to be wrong in retrospect. AS was Daryl Press of Dartmouth. In addition there was a September 2002
New Yorker profile of their arguments by Nicholas
Lemann; I remember that particualr article because of the date; it was also the one that had
the profile of Zawahiri by Lawrence Wright. So try
another argument; that they may not have been paid attention; because of the historical circumstances,is another issue.

posted by: narciso on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

Thanks to the tip above, I listened to the episode of This American Life entitled "Why We Fight." You can find it here; fast-forward to 33:40 to hear the Realists' view and the counter-argument from Kenneth Pollack. The big problem with the debate is that we know now Saddam didn't have WMDs, so arguing about how to deal with his possession of nukes is flawed from the start. This segment is based on Nicholas Lemann's article article "The War on What? The White House and the Debate About Whom to Fight Next" from The New Yorker, which is interesting not only for what it gets right about the coming war, but for what it gets wrong about the Bush administration:

But the war on terrorism and the ideas associated with it strike a very deep chord in Bush, aside from whatever political advantages they may offer. During the campaign, when Bush promised to restore honor and dignity to the Presidency, he really meant it—and he meant more by it than just forswearing hanky-panky in the Oval Office. Republicans, and particularly Bush, seem to have a view of Clinton and Gore that goes something like this: O.K., those guys may be more intellectually agile than we are, but we're tougher, more disciplined, more mature. We understand how precious the prestige of the United States is, and we won't squander it in loose talk and half-cocked action. The September 11th attacks gave Bush a chance to display what, to his mind, would be his competitive advantage over his predecessor and his chief rival; all the comments by his aides about how he had found his destiny were in effect admissions both of the extent of Bush's ambition and of a feeling that conditions before September 11th hadn't been propitious for a display of his strengths.

But it turns out they did like loose talk and half-cocked action. In fact, they turned out to specialize in it.

posted by: The Pop View on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

Well a video has surfaced on the internet showing that of all people, Cheney predicted that this sort of thing would happen if we took Saddam's regime down in 1991. I don't think anyone predicted how long this insurgency would last though. It just goes on without end and there hasn't been a great deal of progress, especially on the political level. Iraq actually has a pretty small population (about 22-24 million), and when you consider the Sunni population is only 20% of that, one wonders how they can manage to keep waging this terrorist campaign for as long as they have been.


posted by: political forum on 08.21.07 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

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