Wednesday, October 3, 2007

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What color is the sky in Joshua Muravchik's world?

From Joshua Muravchik's Commentary essay on the state of neoconservatism:

In any event, the decisions about troop levels and about abolishing Iraq's existing administrative structure had nothing to do with neoconservative ideas. The most that can fairly be said is that Rumsfeld was an ally of neoconservatives and that some among them, enamored of military technology or influenced by the Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi, endorsed his choices. Besides, whatever measure of responsibility may be placed on neoconservatives in this one matter, it pales in comparison to the errors of the realists in the George H.W. Bush administration who in 1991 chose to leave Saddam in power, and of the liberals in the Clinton administration who allowed Saddam's defiance of his disarmament obligations to swell steadily over eight long years. Together, these failures left the problem of Saddam Hussein festering for George W. Bush to confront in the aftermath of 9/11, when it appeared in a more ominous light.
I agree with Muravchik on one point -- some neoconservatives (Kristol, Brooks, Kagan) did want the U.S. to use more troops in the initial invasion, and it's possible that such a troop presence at the start of the invasion could have averted the chaos that has ensued.

Many neoconservatives, however, (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith) were just fine with this arrangement. And while the costs of not ousting Saddam Hussein in 1991 were not insignficant, I'd like to know the empirical grounds upon which Muravchik can make this assertion.

posted by Dan on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM


There is an interesting split between the neo-cons who wanted a big invasion and major reconstruction effort, and those who argued we'd be out in three months, it'd cost nothing, and grateful Iraqis would just make Chalabi president by acclamation. Trying to figure out what connects the neocons who ended up on either side of that line would be interesting.

On the Chalabi bit, I will say that I've been in a position the last few years to get to know some military and civilian officials who were well placed in 2002-2003, senior enough to know stuff but not so senior as to be household names. Everything I've heard tells me that a whole heck of lot of seemingly inexplicably dumb decisions end up tracing back to Chalabi. I think it goes much deeper than what's already come out in books like Fiasco, Hubris, or Life in the Emerald City -- even influencing some tactical military decisions. Future historians are going to be amazed at how this Administration eagerly let itself be played by the INC.

Why some of those principals, including some often known as hard-headed skeptics, bought into Chalabi so thoroughly is a really fascinating question, to which no one has had a good answer (though I have some hypotheses).

posted by: anIRprof on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

It's been suggested that it had something to do with the eagerness of that large fraction of neocons who happen to be conservative Jews to swallow Chalabi's repeated assurances that he could turn the Mideast friendly to the US without Israel having to give up one square mile of the West Bank. (It would certainly be appropriate -- at least from the viewpoint of the sick practical joker who apparently runs the Universe -- for Jewish religious fanaticism to join Moslem and Christian religious fanaticism as a major cause of our current predicament.)

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

As for our failure to oust Saddam in 1991, the New Republic said just a few months after the end of that war that it had uncovered US and Iraqi documents proving that it was mostly due to the fact that Saddam had privaely threatened to use his chemical and biological weapons -- which, in those days, he actually did have -- if we tried to do so. (It would certainly have been elementary common sense for him to make this threat, but elementary common sense doesn't seem to be Muravchik's specialty.)

Indeed, the fact that Saddam didn't repeat this threat -- or, alternatively, threaten to give them away to untraceable terrorists -- before the start of the 2003 Iraq War was the first hint I had that something strange was going on and that he actually might not have them anymore. It is, however, even harder to explain why the Administration made no serious attempt to stop him from doing this by making sure that the first phase of the attack included immediate US occupation and guarding of all of Iraq's likely CBW depots -- or even guarding these sites for WEEKS after the invasion -- despite the fact that the CIA had intensively warned the White House about the urgent need for this in October 2002 As Brad Delong keeps saying, thank God he DIDN'T really have CBWs, or huge amounts of them would now be safely in the hands of You Know Who. One can only ascribe the Administration's failure to occupy and guard the depots either to the fact that it actually knew Saddam didn't have CBWs anymore and lied to us and the world about it, or to the fact that the Administration is run by genuine, honest-to-God idiots. Neither explanation is very comforting.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

True to its origins among people grounded in the malignant Marxist ideology, neoconservatism's adherents do now and will continue to insist that neoconservatism has not failed, because it has not really been tried.

Neoconservatives never had complete control over Bush's war policy; Commentary never published any articles demanding that the Bush administration order the disbanding of the Iraqi Army; just because democratization has gone nowhere in the Arab world doesn't mean it won't succeed in 20 years, or maybe 50. Iraq was a great success; Afghanistan was a great success; whether pursuing our current course in either place will lead to that great success being repeated is, and will remain in perpetuity, yet to be determined. So "we" -- the first person plural neoconservatives tend to use in place of the third person plural "they," meaning the American soldier -- must persevere.

To be fair, there is always the matter of responsibility. How can we really say that neoconservative commentators and....what is that term of art?..."resident scholars," neither holding nor desiring to hold any position of authority in the government, are responsible for anything? They can write pieces for friends working for friendly magazines, can show up at cocktail parties in Georgetown and maybe help some politician raise money every now and then, but none of this activity creates disasters like the Iraq adventure, and to the extent it defines the contribution of specific neoconservatives to public policy we can't really say neoconservatism is to blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq and elsewhere over the last nearly seven years.

That rationalization isn't available to people like Paul Wolfowitz or Elliott Abrams, of course. But what ideology doesn't have a few bad apples? The neoconservative connection with George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, so firmly established in the public mind that it will be passing difficult to repudiate gracefully, will be a harder thing for devout neoconservatives to obscure. Bush and Cheney have been theirs, and vice versa. Bush and Cheney met the neoconservatives' great fear as neoconservatives chose to define it; they fought the war neoconservatives begged them to fight. Neconservatives' influence in government will wax or wane in the future based on how much support Republicans who cleave closely to George W. Bush's person and record are able to muster in national politics. I don't expect to see much waxing, not in the immediate future anyway.

posted by: Zathras on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

Has Mr. Muravchik ever been on Jon Stewart's "Specularium"?

posted by: Robert Bell on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

I believe where the "neocons" might have gone wrong is in thinking we were liberating Iraq. Liberating meaning the people of Iraq wanted another way of life and saddam gone. The democrats frequently averred the Iraqi's were not fit or capable of being democratically free and not worth the effort....perhaps they were and are tragic for them and for us.

posted by: Judith on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

Liberating Iraq was/is vitally necessary for achieving a peaceful world. The neocons got that right, and continue to get that right. Drezner is right in that there was no consensus over the methods of liberating Iraq, but he does nothing to debunk the neoconservative ideology. Indeed his smear equals a common theme: denouncement without any evidence. A professor should be more thoughtful and prudent.

posted by: dm on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

I believe the military and the administration both wanted a larger military force for the invasion. Specifically, the plan called for the 4th Infantry Division to move through the north of Iraq toward Bagdad but the Turks would not let us base the 4th ID on their soil and the plan was abandoned.

And maybe the Iraqis were not ready for "liberation." None of the world's problems would ever have materialized if we had not pressured the British to dismantle their empire. That is the basis of a thesis no graduate student would dare to submit, truth of the matter notwithstanding.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

Ok, let make the point:

1) Neocons believed that military technology would allow a easy victory.

2) Neocons believed that Iraqis just wanted democracy made in the USA.

3) Neocons believed that Saddam was a new Hitler with whom negotiating meant appeasing.

In sum, they said it was easy to go, Iraqis wanted us to go, and we had to go - for our own security.

Realists have always condemned this invasion.

According to M. the current mess is due to realists.

I think it is typical of bankrupt ideas to accuse the others of their own faults and mistake.


posted by: agilli on 10.03.07 at 11:41 AM [permalink]

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