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Stumbling Into War: a textbook study in how not to wage a diplomatic campaign
September 21, 2003 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Stumbling Into War by James P. Rubin, From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003

Why did most of the world abandon Washington when it went after Saddam Hussein? The war in Iraq could never have been an easy sell, but nor should it have been such a difficult one. The Bush administration badly botched the prewar maneuvering, presenting a textbook study in how not to wage a diplomatic campaign.
posted by y2karl (16 comments total)

 
In the endgame of the negotiations over the second resolution, London could not get Washington to acquiesce to several weeks' delay, despite the fact that waiting could have helped secure majority support and that top military officials said such a delay would have no appreciable impact on the conduct of the war.

The prewar period may have been rife with diplomatic blunders, but this one seems to trump the rest. I would love to know the reason, if any, behind this.

P.S. What's with the shout out to iconomy? Are you guys dating?
posted by Ljubljana at 11:32 PM on September 21, 2003


That's this James P. Rubin, for those who need the heads up.

I suppose, Ljubljana, that that maneuver was predicated on the assumption that there would be some credible WMD find, or WMD use by the Iraqi army, and therefore one could surmise it was intended that the UN would be embarrassed and marginalized. Although (pace troutfishing's obsession) the Bush administration actually is pursuing a much more mixed (mainly realist) foreign policy, this move is arguably pure neo-con. It also suggests that despite the scanty and contradictory evidence, key administration figures truly believed that Iraq presented a WMD threat, although I don't expect that idea to go over well here. Nevertheless, it's consistent with the oft-stated beliefs of several key Clinton administration officials.

Personally, I never thought the Bush administration was focusing on the best case it could make, but rather unfortunately on the fastest case it could make. As I've stated before, the consensus on Iraq had been moving toward relaxing the sanctions. If you were one who truly believed that Hussein had WMD capability, then you must have also believed that the end of the sanctions regime would have been an utter disaster, with the US marginalized as the holdout, and Hussein emboldened to look again at his territorial ambitions including Saudi Arabia, all holding the WMD trump card. Thus the view of this coterie would have been that it would only get harder to make the case for war in the future, thus racing forward was paramount before the consensus could swing the other way.

In this sense I would agree that the Bush administration unduly pushed its agenda, beyond the case it could make, simply because (taking them straightforwardly) they believed they had to. Cynically interpreting their motives, of course, you could come up with other reasons, but the equation of diminishing political opportunity remains.

There are good neoliberals who believed in the greater case for Iraq (the one the administration made, at best, only weakly), and Rubin clearly is one of them. But one could also ask whether a "blunder" that worked is really a blunder. The Bush point of view on this seems to be rather utilitarian.

As for the "Hi, iconomy!", I searched and searched for it in Rubin's article, assuming it was the money quote.
posted by dhartung at 12:53 AM on September 22, 2003


There are good neoliberals who believed in the greater case for Iraq

Some of them are the subject of this Salon article: The crisis of the pro-war liberals.
posted by homunculus at 1:04 AM on September 22, 2003


Rubin also cohosts PBS's Wide Angle.
posted by homunculus at 1:20 AM on September 22, 2003


key administration figures truly believed that Iraq presented a WMD threat, although I don't expect that idea to go over well here

heh. of course it won't, many members' opposition to the unilateral attack makes MeFi a kind PolPotFilter, as we all know

I do feel the pain of those poor DLC Democrat hawks who read too much Ken Pollak and jumped on the "let's-look-tough-on-Iraq" bandwagon (some of them, like John Kerry, rooting through the Capitol's garbage to try to find old Nam medals). unfortunately, that damn Clinton had all the luck: if you don't want to look like Dukakis you just need to execute a brain-damaged man and you're home free. His 2002 buddies needed to look like Bush and followed the White House lies on Iraq to their own extinction (I mean, even the Democratic general is anti-war now, for Chrissakes). So I'm sorry for all those sad campaigns destroyed by the silly WMD reluctance to actually show up, I'm sorry for Edwards/Lieberman/Kerry et. al.

Unfortunately, dhartung, the problem is not the White House possible (or alleged) good faith -- the cynical, borderline fraudulent use of tainted evidence made them all look like Judith Miller, and it's a sorry display of ruthlessness, since the cakewalk has immediately become a terribly expensive "one-dead GI a-day" killing machine.

for the same reason, it's hardly relevant if Bush actually believed the tax cuts would have benefited the middle class without giving birth to the appalling deficit Americans are now stuck with for, possibly, a generation.

you can't have good intentions and INC-fabricated evidence at the same time. "We don't want the evidence to be a nuclear mushroom" anybody? It's the constant spinning first of the motives for war (regime change, no, inspections, no, wait, WMD's or something), it's the lies to destroy Hans Blix's credibility. it's the spinning, dhartung. they had nothing, so they just made up stuff -- like poor Tony Blair and his 45-minutes-to-Armageddon thing.
but at least Blair got his ass kicked by the Hutton inquiry, a truly subversive act in patriotic American eyes (even if, maybe, some sort decency would have required the same Congressional inquiry in the US. (but again, Congressional Democrats are so scared to look like MetaFilterians, are afraid of the Chamberlain slander that would immediately follow, in Ashcroft's America the good old "loyalty oath" thing seems to be alive and well)

then we can argue until we're blue in the face if Bush, in his heart, was really convinced Saddam was mixing his martinis with tortured babies tears (Reagan was convinced in his heart that Iran-Contras never happened, remember?).

the problem is Bush dragged a country (and the world) into a unilateral attack using trumped-up charges and shaky evidence. and now GI's are paying the price. not to mention that some murderous sucidal asshole in Pakistan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia was watching tv during the attack, and soon enough he'll gather a few buddies and make us pay an even higher price, while we're in the office or in the subway or Allah knows where.

if you're going to wipe your ass with the UN flag, invade and occupy a oil-rich country in the middle of the most dangerous area in the world where everybody already hates the US, well you should at least have some fucking good evidence. otherwise, people back home will really doubt your intentions -- even if they're not Leninists
posted by matteo at 3:01 AM on September 22, 2003


So, matteo, are there any good guys in this history?
posted by donfactor at 4:32 AM on September 22, 2003


You, matteo, can write up quite a post when properly motivated.

Just remember folks, it's not about the sex, it's about the lie(s)!
posted by nofundy at 5:01 AM on September 22, 2003


dhartung: "Personally, I never thought the Bush administration was focusing on the best case it could make, but rather unfortunately on the fastest case it could make."

Probably one of the best observations I've seen in awhile.

One might add that the country was in a nationalistic mood that made rational dissent difficult; lawmakers were cowed into submission. It was in Bush's interest to strike before that mood dissipated. To delay was to risk allowing cooler heads to question his actions more directly.
posted by RavinDave at 5:31 AM on September 22, 2003


"...since the cakewalk has immediately become a terribly expensive "one-dead GI a-day" killing machine."

That is the saddest part imho. This is going to be the reality for some time to come.
posted by a3matrix at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2003


To actually return to the article for a moment ...

It's a very solid piece; I had considered posting it before. It took a lot of disparate strands of thought floating around in my head about the war and crystallized them into one coherent thread. Rubin aims to answer the questions, "What went wrong? Why, when the leader of the free world went to war with a brutal and hated dictator, did so many countries refuse to take America's side? How much collateral damage was caused in the process? And what lessons can be learned from this debacle?" And I think he scores admirably.

I'm not going to summarize it for you; the article is as boiled-down a summary itself as one could expect. But I'll give a sample of how broad a brush Rubin uses in his critique of the diplomatic failure:
A final reason for the loss of goodwill toward the United States was the White House's approach to peace in the Middle East. Although most of the world recognizes how difficult stopping Arab-Israeli violence will be, they expect the U.S. government to try. Bush's across-the-board support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, therefore, and his administration's lack of high-level engagement in the peace process prior to this summer made it hard for Washington to attract support for its war in Iraq. Blair, at least, understood this problem and pushed Bush hard to commit political capital to getting both the Palestinians and the Israelis to compromise. Although the White House did begin to move in this direction right before the invasion of Iraq began, its effort was too little and too late to repair the damage done by its two years of studied avoidance of this critical issue.
That's what I argued, a year before the war. And Rubin neatly shows the connections illuminating how policy blunders like this characterize the administration. The article goes hand in hand with the emergent finding that the Bushies decide policy first, and justification later. You really begin to see the mindset behind an administration that can straightface-dly advocate a tax cut when there's a trillion-dollar surplus, and press for the same tax cut after they've run a billion-dollar deficit. Yep, it's the same folks who go through the motions of a diplomatic process, all the while loudly proclaiming in word and deed that they're going to war, come hell or high water.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 6:49 AM on September 22, 2003


the cynical, borderline fraudulent use of tainted evidence made them all look like Judith Miller, and it's a sorry display of ruthlessness, since the cakewalk has immediately become a terribly expensive "one-dead GI a-day" killing machine.

could you translate for me?
I mean, we are taking about politics, war, and diplomatic intentions.
more exact, should we have used tainted evidence in a non-fraudulent manner or would the fraudulent use of untainted evidence sufficed.
posted by clavdivs at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2003


Hold on, here, dhartung. What you mean by There are good neoliberals who believed in the greater case for Iraq, oor more to the point, what do you mean by "neoliberal"? That word seems to have a number of definitions. Do you mean like Milton Friedman?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:50 AM on September 22, 2003


Judith Miller: Duped?
posted by homunculus at 10:38 AM on September 22, 2003


There is a more straight forward reason for the rush to war in the Spring of 2003. Simply the entire war operation, including Karl Rove's marketing campaign which commenced in September 2002, was planned over a year in advance. The launch date for initial attack was fixed long before in the generals' war plan. It had to occur before the onset of the hottest summer weather, diplomacy be damned, with the occupation expected to end by September. Any delay would have pushed the operation back to the end of 2003 and the risky occupation would have extended into 2004, complicating Bush's re-election campaign.

The most significant victim of the bungled operation is the neocon's doctrine of unilateral preemptive strike. Iraq was intended as a demonstration case for America's omnipotence, to earn the fear and respect of the rest of the world and to erase the shame of the Vietnam experience. This quagmire has done just the opposite. The inability to control the situation in Iraq and the exhaustion of both troops and equipment exposes the weakness of "shock and awe" diplomacy. The Bush administration's incompetence will make military intervention a much harder sell in the future. Which is a good thing.
posted by JackFlash at 4:04 PM on September 22, 2003


Ignatius: The Neoliberal Take on the Middle East contrasts and compares two aggressive, internationalist approaches to foreign policy, neither of which is completely palatable to traditional progressive liberals (who are increasingly Jeffersonian/isolationist). The article is parsed by The New Republic, which as I'm sure you know is commonly tagged 'neoliberal', and here show why they're actually not neo-cons.

Although again the distinction may not matter, or be obvious, the further left one is.
posted by dhartung at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2003


...The New Republic, which as I'm sure you know is commonly tagged 'neoliberal'

Given the New Republic's history of backing every neocon war going back to Nicaragua in the 80's, I find it simpler to avoid all the nitpicking and just think of them as Republicans that are okay with sex and drugs.
posted by JackFlash at 1:20 PM on September 23, 2003


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