Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cobra II 

I bought Cobra II yesterday, and let me tell you, it is chock full o' bloggy goodness. I just read the first two chapters, but there are already some things I want to blog about. First off is why we went to war in Iraq, and then I'll bring it around to the current issues with Iran. Atrios still thinks we don't know. I disagree (although Atrios may be saying that we've never been given a official answer that makes sense, which is true). The real reason for invading Iraq was, ironically*, the Tom Friedman reason--we decided we had to kill us some Arabs. Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor lay this out pretty clearly on page 18-19 of Cobra II, when discussing a Pentagon meeting with Libby, Chalabi, Perle and other terrible people in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (the meeting in question was September 19 and 20, 2001):
Rumsfeld showed up toward the end of the session and made a broader point. Yes, it was important to topple the Taliban as quickly as the U.S. could, but that would not be enough. The United States needed to do more to demostrate that there were serious consequences for mounting an attack on the U.S. and to show it would not suffer unsavory governments that were affiliated with terrorists. There was no flowery talk of inculcating democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Rumsfeld was advocating a demostration of American power. It was a reprise of the brainstorming sessions the defense secretary had carried out with Feith and his aides soon after the 9/11 attacks. Rumsfeld had not proclaimed Iraq to be the next target, but he had made it clear that he felt there needed to be a Phase 2. [Emphasis added]
So, it was because we needed to show strength. That, in all seriousness, is stupid enough to not really warrant further comment. But, even more warped is that the bolded passage above assumes we correctly answered the question of "Consequences for whom?" Obviously, much was said before and after the start of the war that it was stupid to attack Saddam to avenge something done by Bin Laden. So, as with a lot of the press over Cobra II, this is really not new news, but just newly confirmed news. Now we have real documentation that Rumsfeld decided Iraq was attacked not for weapons, not for democracy, but for retribution for something they didn't do. You may draw your own conclusions concerning the role of race.

In any event, why does this matter w/r/t Iran? Here I link to Matt Yglesias:
It's hardly a secret at this point, but one of the things reading Cobra II drives home is the extent to which the fix was already in during the final months of hand-wringing and diplomacy over Iraq. The administration had decided to invade, and the purpose of the diplomacy was to try and create a political environment -- both domestic and international -- that was maximally favorable to the invasion plan. Even Saint Colin Powell regarded the possibility that Saddam would back down and cooperate with inspectors as a threat to be avoided because was was the desired outcome. You can't think straight about the Iran situation unless you appreciate this reality and it's significance.

It's worth saying at the get-go that this doesn't merely reflect some kind of cynicism on the part of Karl Rove or an eccentricity of George W. Bush. It's part of a considered, and wrongheaded, view of America's foreign policy which holds that reaching diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes is always a bad thing. The preferred method is the use of force and intimidation. The problem is that neither the American people nor the international community is prepared to endorse fighting wars for no reason at all. Thus, when the Iranians approach us with peace feelers, the offers must be rejected out of hand. Iranian intransigence at the IAEA isn't a problem, but an opportunity for war. I don't say that everyone in the administration thinks this way, but many of them do, and they're joined by many conservatives outside the administration. It's no secret, for example, that lots of folks have been pushing for action against Iran since long before the current iteration of the nuclear crisis broke out.
Matt's point is that, prospectively, we shouldn't get into an argument about how to best to pressure Tehran to avoid war and whatnot, because the pro-war factions will just use those arguments to bring about the very war we're trying to avoid (and that the administration claims they are trying to avoid). Therefore, in such a fucked-up environment such as this, the key is simply to be against a war with Iran. (Read the rest of the Yglesias piece to get a clearer picture of this dynamic.)

This makes sense, as, in retrospect, Bush got his UN resolution (well, the first one), got his inspectors on the ground, the inspectors, after some initial "hide the ball" by Saddam, were getting nearly unfettered access to the suspected WMD sites, and what did Bush do? He pulled the inspectors and started the war. Why did he pull them? Well, obviously because he wanted to go to war, but specifically because the more they had full access in Iraq, and the more they didn't find anything, the weaker the case for war. And the inspectors weren't there to enforce a weapons ban, but, in Bush's mind, they were there to set conditions favorable to war. I'll conclude with more from that Matt Y. post:
I'm by no means opposed to the idea of more aggressive diplomatic and economic pressure and what have you. But I most certainly am opposed to starting a war. And insofar as twists and turns in policy are likely to be just smoke and mirrors -- as we saw before Iraq -- designed to smooth the path to war, I don't think people should waste their time talking about this stuff. The President has it within his power to alter this dynamic any time he wants. All he needs to do is say that, no, he's not going to start a war with Iran, but he does want to deal with the nuclear issue. With war taken "off the table," then we can have a conversation about diplomacy, the UN, sanctions, isolation, etc., etc., etc. But as long as war is on the table, then war -- not diplomacy -- is the issue, and the "military option" is a terrible one.
Hopefully I'll be doing much more on these issues as I make my way through this important book.
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