Thursday, 27 March 2003
The Curious Incident.
It's been over a week since the start of the war. Coalition forces are within sight of Baghdad. The Iraqi army has been less a factor than the Iraqi weather. Saddam is missing. The world is watching. There has never been a better time to step out of the shadows and strike at the soft underbelly of Western civilization.
So why is Al Qaeda missing in action?
The obvious explanation is the gung-ho optimistic one: Our counter-terrorist activities have reduced their ability to mount attacks. They're on the run, and it's all they can do to stay hidden; even something as simple and direct as a truck bomb is now beyond their capabilities.
I don't think that's the case, though. An attack on the level of Kenya or Bali doesn't take a lot of resources; that's why they call it "asymmetrical." I can believe that targets like American embassies and warships were made much harder to hit after 9/11, and then secured even further as the Iraq war began—but every nightclub and hotel in Western civilization? Every bridge, power plant, water supply, and landmark on three continents? Unlikely.
I think the more likely explanation is that Al Qaeda is both less and more capable than we generally recognize. Al Qaeda lacks depth: They don't have a pool of operatives and bombs at the ready, standing by to strike on Osama's command; they've never had any capacity to mount timely terrorist attacks, not even to follow up the World Trade Center's destruction. If Al Qaeda had the resources to put a truck bomb on the Brooklyn Bridge anytime on or after 11 September 2001, then their failure to do so was, and is, inexplicable. (Of course, Al Qaeda's failure to follow through is partly explained by the fact that they're fanatical religious nutjobs: When the final step in your plan is "and then Allah smites the unbelievers and our brothers in the Middle East rise up in glorious jihad!", your backup plans may suffer.)
Where Al Qaeda has shown its capability, and why they're a serious threat, is that they can patiently nurture a plan that requires years to develop and implement. The 9/11 attacks were the product of a sustained effort, and somewhere in the world another Al Qaeda cell may be quietly working on a dirty bomb, or nerve gas, or some other asymmetric horror. If so, they likely won't have anything ready as specific retaliation for America's Iraq invasion—but they'll keep working, and their attack will come on some random day that happens to fit their plans.
I frankly expected there would be a rash of suicide bombings to mark the start of the war in Iraq, or at least one significant terrorist attack of some kind: America's embassy in Paris has been a rumored Al Qaeda target for some time, and a bombing there would be especially damaging now in light of the political situation. If there isn't a major attack in the next few weeks, we can assume that Al Qaeda's capabilities have been crippled to the point where they can't mount one—or that Al Qaeda, and other like-minded terrorist groups, will remain in the shadows until a time of their choosing.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:29 am. comments.
Wednesday, 26 March 2003
As I mentioned earlier, I'm on sabbatical this month—Australian
labor law thoughtfully mandates a month's paid leave for every five
years with a company, and I transferred in with twelve years under my
belt, so I've given myself a nice long six-week holiday. As it
happened, my vacation began the day Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to leave
Iraq, so I've been able to give the war my complete and
undivided attention: For seven straight days now, I have read
the entire Internet. I have absorbed every piece of
information that has been blogged about the war, watched every
news channel in existence, and this has been my entire exposure
to the war (well, except for the protest march in downtown Sydney that
made me late for dinner with my parents).
On that basis, I feel uniquely qualified to talk about warblogging,
information overload, and the perception of war vs. the reality. Here's
what I've observed so far:
- American military vehicles have a two-speed throttle. They
are either "racing toward Baghdad" (moving) or "bogged down" (not
moving); they have no other settings. "Bogged down" is a military term
that includes stopping to fire, stopping for the night, stopping for
inclement weather, stopping to secure a bridge, or anything else short
of charging into a minefield at flank speed.
- Coalition forces endanger the lives of innocent civilians.
By contrast, Iraqi troops do not endanger civilians by: Dressing
as civilians, using civilians as human shields, operating out of
civilian hospitals, putting artillery in civilian areas, or firing
mortars at civilians. Nope. No endangering of civilians here. Move
along. Hey, the Americans dropped a bomb on a
er, I mean, on a bus filled with innocent doe-eyed school children and
bunny rabbits! What barbarians.
- We should only fight on odd-numbered days. According to
television reports, the war was going extremely well on Wednesday,
Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, and was becoming a quagmire on Thursday,
Saturday, Monday and today. We should adjust our strategy and fight on
the good days.
- The Iraqi government can avoid violating the Geneva Convention
simply by announcing they aren't violating it.
Execution-style slaying of captured POWs is acceptable, as long as you
publicly declare afterwards that you're treating (surviving?) prisoners
according to the terms of the Geneva Convention. This is apparently the
same logic that led people to believe that Saddam had disarmed in
response to Resolution 1441—because, hey, he announced he
- The Iraqis have downed 74 Apache helicopters, the Americans have
found 37 chemical weapons factories, and the British have encircled
Basra 37 times. I've learned this by reading each warblog and news
report separately, which gives me a clearer overall perspective. I'm
not completely sure, but I may be reading about the same
event more than once.
- Television analysts are much better at war planning than
those idiots at the Pentagon. Having recklessly raced almost all
the way to Baghdad in less than a week, American supply lines are
way too long at this stage; the troops should have stopped at the
halfway mark and, I dunno, planted beans or something, so they'd have
more supplies for later.
- Turkey is on our side. No, wait, they're not. They're
putting troops into Iraq. No, wait, they already had troops in
Iraq, and they're just reinforcing them. No, wait, they're not moving
any troops at all. No, wait, they're seizing Iraqi oilfields. No,
wait, they're clashing with the Kurds. No, wait... darn it, could
someone please embed a reporter on the Iraq side of the
Iraq-Turkey border? I'm getting a headache here.
- The war is taking longer than expected. The television
journalists had all expected to see American armor in Baghdad suburbs by
the end of day five, and were heartily disappointed at Tommy
Franks's lack of progress. (How this fits with the critique of
overextended supply lines, I don't know yet; I'm sure there must be a
logical explanation, though.)
- France has its own doctrine of pre-emption. They're
pre-vetoing American U.N. resolutions on the administration of post-war
Iraq, unless they involve bringing back Saddam and giving him one more
last chance. Normally I'd write a French joke in this space, but I
don't want to compete with Chirac.
More seriously, relying on weblogs for war news is like watching
Rashomon over and over. No, it's like watching five different
remakes of Rashomon, all looping simultaneously at slightly
different film speeds. Getting your news this way is simultaneously
better and worse than relying on one or two old-media sources: Better
because it's easier to detect and correct bias, but worse because it
takes so much more effort—and there's always that sweet, siren
temptation to shut off your brain and cherry-pick the sources that
reinforce your own biases. Blogs, and the "new media" in general,
enrich the national conversation and threaten to splinter it into
factions; it's a double-edged sword for the well-informed citizen.
Nonetheless, once you filter out all the biases, the military war is
going about as well as could be expected (at least, for the coalition):
Saddam's strategy appears to have been to create humanitarian disasters
and blame them on the coalition, throwing as many civilians in harm's
way as possible in the hopes of eroding popular support for the
war—but the allied forces haven't taken the bait, the "embedded"
reporters are generally making it clear who's responsible for what, and
the people of America, Britain and Australia are, according to the
opinion polls, closing ranks in support of the war. It's not over yet,
and at some point Saddam may abandon this strategy and start lobbing
nerve gas at the incoming troops, but in the end this won't save him.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:30 am. comments.
Thursday, 20 March 2003
The USS Donald Cook
was one of the ships launching Tomahawk cruise missiles early this morning in
an effort to kill Saddam Hussein and end the war before it even begins. For
those wondering who Donald Cook is, and why the U.S. named a ship after him,
scroll to the bottom of this
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:54 am. comments.
Thursday, 20 March 2003
Australia's three major television networks
are now showing satellite feeds directly from NBC, CBS, and CNN; Dan Rather
looks a lot older than he did when I saw him last. The Australian networks
will occasionally break in with reports from their own correspondents, and
they've put their own "crawling text" at the bottom of the screen (below the
American ones), but otherwise we're getting American news. A fourth channel,
the one that usually shows foreign-language movies all day, is running the
BBC satellite feed.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 4:07 am. comments.
Wednesday, 19 March 2003
Australian labor law has this wonderful, wonderful provision called "Long Service Leave," which says that if you work for a company for ten years, you get two calendar months of paid vacation, with an additional month off every five years thereafter.
I've only been in Australia for three years, and as an American expat on temporary assignment I wasn't eligible for this benefit anyway. (On the other hand, the company was covering my housing costs, foreign taxes, car expenses, and paying me in nice solid American currency while the Aussie dollar swooned to about US$0.50... so I'm not complaining.) But, last year I stopped being an expat on temporary assignment, and became a regular employee of our Australian subsidiary... and transferred in with twelve years of experience.
So I'll be taking the rest of March and April off. My parents are flying out for a week or two (they've never been to Australia before), and my lady-love and I will join them on a trip to Alice Springs, home of the great big rock in the middle of nowhere (known as either "Ayers Rock" or "Uluru;" it's one of those "Denali" vs. "Mount McKinley" things). But mostly I'm taking six weeks off to just recharge my batteries and relax for a while. I've got a great big stack of books to read—I'm one of those people who can't walk out of a bookstore without half a dozen books in hand, and lately my reading habits have fallen behind my buying habits—and a few odd projects to tackle, but beyond that I'm planning to enjoy my longest stretch of free time since, oh, somewhere in college I guess.
I'll still be blogging, but it'll be more travelogue than warblog for a while, which is probably just as well. I'm one of those people the pundits call a "liberal hawk," which means I believe we have a moral obligation to remove Saddam Hussein from power, that force is the only means by which this goal can be achieved—and that I'm holding my nose while Team Dubya takes makes a dog's breakfast of that compelling moral argument and shreds our international credibility. The raw-throated war chant "if we can't make them love us, we must make them fear us!" is good policy for Al Qaeda, but Dubya is applying it to Mexico, Chile, France, Germany, Russia, China, Turkey, Canada, Cameroon, South Korea and, well, everyone else—and it's not working. We're trashing our own reputation. The fire-eaters are counting on a swift victory in Iraq to rehabilitate America's image abroad, but I'm living abroad, and I can already tell you: It won't.
I think John Scalzi nailed it yesterday when he observed that America has, until now, successfully kept other nations from banding together against us, by honoring the polite fiction that we actually cared what other countries thought: We dutifully consulted the Frances and Britains and South Koreas of the world, politely asked their opinions, and at least gave the illusion that we were respectfully considering their views before we went off and did what we wanted regardless. Now the illusion is wearing thin, and as a result we're losing allies we should have persuaded. We're making it difficult and unpopular to back America, even in nations like Britain and Australia, whose mutual interests with America are so obvious and compelling that it should be a snap decision.
In any case, the bombs will start falling in less than 48 hours, Saddam will finally be removed from power, and then perhaps we talking heads can turn our attention to more urgent problems. (Sam Nunn is the American Cassandra.) I think everyone will be relieved when it's over; in spite all the rhetoric about "rushing to war," we've been on the road to Baghdad (and talking about little else) for months, if not years. To the troops I give my prayers and support: No matter how much I doubt Bush's diplomacy, I have nothing but confidence in America's armed forces—and nothing but admiration for the men and women who risk their lives for our country. Good luck and godspeed.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:20 am. comments.
Saturday, 15 March 2003
Steven Den Beste repeats his call that America
should retaliate against the French for their pro-Iraq, anti-America
stance in the United Nations. After listing several options for
punishing France, Steven declares:
Some will claim that all of this is motivated by spite. It is not. It
is, rather, motivated by the fact that if we do not retaliate against
the French after their recent performance, other nations will be
encouraged to act in the same way towards us. It is clear to the world
that American friendship is valuable; it must be equally clear that
American enmity is expensive. That way we encourage other nations to
cooperate with us.
The reader who prompted Steven's article also asked the interesting
question, "How far should the punishment go and what
risk of scoring own-goals in the process?" The question is
revealing, in part, because of Steven's answer to it: He gives none.
He analyzes the merits of different punishment sticks for twenty
paragraphs or so, without even considering the question of
whether punishing France could backfire upon America and harm our
Steven prides himself on his analytical mind, and frequently cites
examples from his engineering background to boost his arguments. But
how effective is an engineer who disregards laws of nature? Steven's
analyses fall short of the mark, due to blind spots that he himself
proudly declares: He is a Jacksonian, and puts little faith in the
tools of diplomacy (that is, anything more subtle than the "carrot and
stick" approach), and he is willfully ignorant of foreign
opinion—he "doesn't care why they hate
us," where "they" means not only Al Qaeda but pretty much
anyone not in the Jacksonian definition of "us."
As a fellow engineer, I'll challenge Steve to incorporate new
information into his theories. Steven cites Yugoslavia as an example
where "punishment" was effective and "diplomacy" was not: By punishing
the Serbs, we were able to enforce our will upon them and make it "more
expensive" for them to ignore us. (I'd say this example is better
suited to explain why inspections only work when there's a 250,000-man
army standing by on the Iraqi border, but we'll set that aside for now.)
Is this the only data that history provides regarding the effectiveness
of "punishment" as a diplomatic tool? Is it the most relevant example?
Let's look at another.
In 1770, Britain was the most powerful nation on earth, and the American
Colonies slept under a blanket of security provided by British soldiers.
Less than twenty years before British redcoats had bailed out the
Colonists during the French and Indian War, and the cost of maintaining
that defense had been a continuing drain on British coffers. The
average Brit thought the Colonials had been getting a free ride from the
mother country, and believed the British Parliament should recover
Colonial defense costs by imposing taxes on the Colonies. The Colonists
resented taxation because they had no say in how it was imposed, and
believed the British Parliament was trying to dominate their
affairs—but, up to this point, they had largely limited their
objections to peaceful protests and boycotts. There was a vocal and
growing minority calling for rebellion, but the majority of Colonists
were, and wanted to remain, loyal and friendly to Britain.
In 1773, after years of protests that fell on deaf ears, a group
of colonists staged an act of civil disobedience called the Boston Tea
Party. (Just to set the record straight before we
go any further: I am most emphatically not drawing any parallels
between the American Revolution and Al Qaeda. Any such analogies are
repulsive, and anyone who makes them is stupid. This is a comparison of
1774 Britain to 2003 America, and no other metaphors are expressed or
implied. Thank you.) The British judged that if they let such
brazen defiance go unanswered, the Colonists would never cease to
defy Parliament's will—and so they enacted legislation to punish
the colony of Massachusetts. These laws, collectively called the
"Coercive Acts" or "Intolerable Acts" by the Colonists, closed the port
of Boston and all but revoked the Massachusetts Colony's charter; they
also gave British soldiers the right to be tried in Britain for any
crimes committed in the colonies, to ensure a fair trial for the
soldiers. (Wonder what the 1774 British would have thought of the
International Criminal Court.)
The British expected the other twelve Colonies to see what was happening
to Massachusetts, and be deterred from any further acts of rebellion.
The Parliament believed quite sincerely that their punishments would be
effective: They wouldn't be loved by the Colonists, but they would be
respected or feared. The Colonials were weak, ungrateful, insolent, and
they deserved to be spanked—and the British frankly didn't care what
the Americans thought, or about their reasons for defiance in the first
The results, suffice to say, were not a glorious outcome for Britain.
The American reaction to Massachusetts's "punishment" was not to abandon
defiance, but to band together in support of Massachusetts and present a
united front to the British—and, less than two years later,
escalate their defiance to open military rebellion. They even turned to
Britain's old enemy, France, for support and aid. Britain, still the
world's most powerful country, faced the impossible task of bringing
America to heel by force... and ultimately had no choice but to retreat
in disgrace and acknowledge American independence.
Now, which of these historical situations is a better predictor for what
will happen if America "punishes" France in 2003: NATO vs. Serbia in
1999, or Britain vs. Massachusetts in 1775? Which are the French
more likely to pick as a suitable analogy? The Swedes? The British
left? We're not "punishing" France to stop a genocidal attack on a
neighboring country, as NATO did to Serbia in 1999; Serbia could hardly
mount a diplomatic appeal to preserve its right to commit mass murder.
France, on the other hand, will eagerly portray American
"punishment" as a sign that America betrays its own principles regarding
freedom of speech, and that America is not a trustworthy protector of
liberty: America protects those who obey it, they'll say, and punishes
those who dare to speak out. Do you really want to hand France
that kind of propaganda victory?
And if the propaganda doesn't matter, if nations only act in
terms of rational self-interest and never listen to irrational
arguments, then how did the British end up losing their American
colonies? Why is France opposing us when, from a rational
point of view, French interests would be better served by
quietly negotiating a deal under the table?
Steven Den Beste, as I said before, makes his arguments without
considering these points, because he has deliberately blinded himself.
His mantra is "I don't care why they hate
us"—and he applies it not merely to Al Qaeda, but to
any foreign entity. He declines to analyze the impact of
American policy on other countries, even of a policy specifically
designed to influence other countries, because that would
require a cognitive exercise that he has declared off-limits. It's
foolishly short-sighted to recommend a policy toward France without
analyzing whether that policy will have the desired effect on
France, and not some hypothetical robot country that reacts to
stimuli like a rat in a Skinner experiment.
Oddly enough, I don't have a problem with many of the "punishments" that
Steven proposes: I fully support individual and corporate decisions to
find alternatives to French products, I think Japan or India would be a
welcome replacement for France on the Security Council, I think we
should be diplomatically civil but not friendly to France (and not snub
them), and I think the Iraqi people will undoubtedly want to thank
France appropriately for their role in propping up Saddam. But I
shudder at formal government policy to "punish" France, and I
cringe at Steven's logic when it's not supported by the evidence. Any
overt attempt on our part to intimidate the French will have the
opposite effect, and encourage them to continue playing David to our
Goliath. We are already losing diplomatic battles we should be winning,
due to the tone and delivery of our message (e.g., the Turkish
parliamentary vote, Schröder's re-election campaign, et al.); let's
not continue that trend.
Besides, if we're right about all this (and I think we are), we don't
need to "punish" France. France will suffer the consequences of
being on the wrong side of history, and the indignities of showing the
world just how unreliable a partner and friend they are. If we really
want to punish France, if we really want to wound their Gallic pride and
frustrate them to no end, all we have to do is pat them on the head and
go about our business. Imagine France's chagrin when we dutifully
consult with Britain, Spain, Australia and Bulgaria about how best to
administer post-Saddam Iraq, and France's unsolicited advice gets a
polite nod and no action. For the French, that's a punishment far worse
than economic boycotts or political snubs: It signals to them, and the
rest of the world, that France is not important.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:44 pm. comments.
Saturday, 15 March 2003
With the Iraq endgame almost in sight, I'll pull out the crystal ball
and risk a few conjectures about how events will unfold over the next
few weeks. (We can revisit these later and laugh at how wrong I was.)
- America's next move. Bush will address the nation, read the
relevant sections from UNSC
Resolution 1441, and announce that
the United Nations has failed to live up to its obligations to America
and failed to enforce its own plainly worded resolutions. He will
not announce that America is withdrawing from the U.N., but he'll
make it clear that America will not be bringing any of its security issues
to the UNSC in the future—and that, once the dust has settled in
Iraq, he intends to propose significant U.N. reforms (read:
to eject France from its permanent Security Council seat). In the
short term, the only part of the speech that will matter is the part
giving Saddam a week or less to disarm and announcing the start date
for military action.
- Britain's next move. Blair will tough it out and send Britain to war
alongside the U.S., hoping for a fast, clean war without many casualties
on either side. If this happens, which is likely, he will emerge with a
personal victory—but with a lot of unanswered questions about the
reliability and unity of Britain's Labor party, and how the U.K. will preserve
its "special relationship" with the United States in light of the rift
between America and some of Britain's European Union partners. More
than any other player, Tony Blair would really benefit if Iraq's
vaults and secret files revealed damning evidence of French or German
collaboration with Saddam, as others
in the blogosphere have speculated.
- Russia's next move. The Russians have calculated, correctly,
that France is going to take the fall for whatever Russia does this round.
If a resolution does actually come to a vote, there's a chance Russia
will abstain at the last minute, to preserve some influence over post-war
Iraq's oil contracts and debt repayments; otherwise they'll continue to
play France for the fool, and try to leave Americans with the impression
they could be convinced to abstain under certain (undefined)
circumstances. It's a low-risk, no-lose scenario for the Russians, and
with the relatively low stakes on the board for them, it's one they're
happy to pursue.
- France's next move. Having made the maximum use of its
Security Council seat to weaken Tony Blair and damage American interests,
France will deliver its coup de grace after the dust settles in
Iraq: A new UNSC proposal to declare Israel in "material breach" of UNSC
Resolution 1435 (which it is), and threatening "serious consequences"
unless the Israelis pull back to their pre-1967 borders and begin
dismantling settlements. France will then pull out the diplomatic stops
to decry "American hypocrisy" and portray the U.S. as all too eager to
enforce UNSC resolutions against Arabs, but absent or veto-wielding
when it's time to police the Jews. This will deepen the rift between
America and France (to put it mildly), but if Chirac stays true to form
this will not concern him—and in any case France will be looking
to change the subject after the American-led coalition prevails in Iraq.
- Saddam's last move. Saddam almost certainly has a stash of
nerve gas and some rockets squirreled away, but his diplomatic strategy
has boxed him in: He can't threaten to use these weapons without admitting
he has them, which eliminates their value as a deterrent. (His other
problem is that these weapons aren't going to be that effective against
the United States military, either: For well-prepared, highly
mobile troops, "decon and move on" is the name of the game. The only
effects of these weapons on American soldiers will be to delay
them half an hour and really tick them off, which is probably
not going to help Saddam any.) To use a weapon of
mass destruction effectively, Saddam needed to be able to threaten
retaliation against a fixed and valuable target—most likely Tel
Aviv or Kuwait City—but either such threat would prompt an
immediate call to arms, and at this late date it would simply trigger
the invasion that's already on his doorstep. There are a few
"vengeance" options that Saddam could pursue, such as handing over his
smallpox cultures to an Al Qaeda agent as the bombs begin falling, but
frankly that doesn't seem to be his style: He'll go down fighting,
probably waste his chemical weapons in a futile attack (or lose them to
Special Forces before the war begins), and then most likely die at the
hands of his former subjects.
- The war itself will last for about as long as it takes an M1A1
Abrams tank to roll from the Kuwaiti border to the Baghdad city
limits. The rules of the game change dramatically once the first
American soldier's boot touches Iraqi soil; once that happens, the odds
of Saddam remaining in power are nil, and most Iraqis aren't interested
in dying for a lost cause. Casualties will be higher than in Afghanistan,
but lower than the number of civilian deaths that would have resulted if
Saddam had remained in power for the rest of 2003.
- North Korea will begin an all-out effort to produce enriched
uranium within 72 hours of the war's start. Beyond that I won't try to
predict the behavior of Kim Jong Il; he's just too insane. I suspect,
though, that before it's all over at least some part of North
Korea will be radioactive.
- Iran will experience a popular uprising against the hard-line
clerics, which will probably succeed without much in the way of outside
help: Once the Iranians see their neighbors getting a liberal democracy,
they're going to want one of their own. With the American military
machine parked next door in Iraq, the mullahs will be unable to bring out
the heavy guns and crack down on civil unrest. A cautiously friendly
government (about as friendly as Jordan, say) will rise to power, and end
Iranian funding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
- Germany will experience a wave of self-doubt as the Americans
pack up and leave their army bases, never to return: The troops who
depart Germany for Iraq will not be coming back again. Schröder
will leave office in disgrace (though perhaps not immediately), having
gained nothing and lost much from his anti-American misadventure.
- And what of Al Qaeda? I think they may have been trying to
stage a major terrorist attack on American soil to coincide with the
start of hostilities, but with the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
those plans may have been disrupted or compromised. I don't believe the
rumors that Osama bin Laden has been captured, but the evidence coming
from Pakistan suggests rather strongly that he's still alive—which
means, of course, that he's up to no good. They'll launch an attack in
the first week of the war, but it'll be something on the order of Kenya
or Bali: A truck bomb against a "soft" target, with little to no effect
on the Great Game.
That's ten forecasts; we'll look at them again in a month and see how I did.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 2:18 am. comments.
Monday, 10 March 2003
I sense a great disturbance.
More Australian intel, this time from a source inside the White House....
INTERIOR: WHITE HOUSE -- CONFERENCE ROOM.
Eight senior government officials sit around a black conference table.
Imperial stormtroopers stand guard around the room. TOM RIDGE, a young
Cabinet member, is speaking.
RIDGE: Until our missile shield is fully operational we are vulnerable. The
Iraqis are too well equipped. They're more dangerous than you realize.
RUMSFELD: Dangerous to your duct-tape brigade, Ridge, not to our soldiers!
RIDGE: The French will continue to gain support in the Security Council as
Suddenly all heads turn as RIDGE's speech is cut short and DICK CHENEY
enters. He is followed by his powerful ally, The Secretary of State, COLIN
POWELL. All of the officials stand and bow before the Veep as
he takes his place at the head of the table. The Secretary stands behind
CHENEY: The Security Council will no longer be of any concern to us. I've
just received word that the President has dissolved the council permanently.
The last remnants of the United Nations have been swept away.
RIDGE: That's impossible! How will the President maintain control without
CHENEY: The regional army bases now have direct control over territories.
Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of our armed forces.
RIDGE: And what of the French passing information to Iraq? If the Iraqis
have obtained a technical readout of our battle plans, it is possible,
however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.
POWELL: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.
RUMSFELD: Any attack made by Iraq against our armed forces would be a
useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. Our
military is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it!
POWELL: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed.
The ability to destroy a nation is insignificant next to the power of
RUMSFELD: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Powell. Your
sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up support
from Old Europe, or given you clairvoyance enough to find Iraq's hidden
Suddenly RUMSFELD chokes and starts to turn blue under POWELL's spell.
POWELL: I find your lack of tact... disturbing.
CHENEY: Enough of this! Powell, release him!
POWELL: As you wish.
CHENEY: This bickering is pointless. Secretary Powell will provide us with
the location of the French holdouts by the time our missile shield is
operational. We will then crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke.
Just as I suspected. I knew this foreign policy was familiar from somewhere....
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:13 am. comments.
Thursday, 06 March 2003
Facing the future:
Last week I wrote that the Democratic Party risked sliding into
irrelevance if it did not directly address the issue of terrorism:
You can't win elections after 9/11 without a foreign policy, and you
can't develop policy by just reacting to what the other party does. If
the Democrats are to succeed in 2004 and beyond, they must present a
foreign policy that is principled, consistent, and credible enough to
attract voters (or, at the very least, that is sufficient to stem the
tide of voters who would otherwise defect from the party).
Carping from the sidelines is a lot easier than offering real
suggestions for what the Democrats should adopt as policy,
though. It's easier to criticize than it is to create, and I don't
claim that I have all the answers. But I do know what
I'd like to see, and I think I can put together a statement of
policy that would give the Republicans a run for their money (so to
speak). For better or worse, here's the foreign policy theme that I
think the Democrats should adopt.
Note that in several places below I use the words
"we" and "us" to refer to the Democrats. This is not so much an
expression of my personal party affiliation (I have none) as much as
that it becomes awkward to write a statement of policy without using the
Democratic policy must be true to Democratic principles. It must speak
to the party's legacy of protecting human rights, and of promoting
justice and equality. It must appeal to the party's history of
multilateral engagement, of reaching out to other nations and helping
them reach their potential. The Democrats fought and won World Wars,
created the Marshall Plan and the United Nations, sent men to the Moon,
fought for civil rights, and embraced the future where others feared it.
Where the Republicans deride the United Nations as a sterile debating
society, the Democrats remember why our party created it: To provide
the world with alternatives to war. By exploring all possible options
on Iraq, the U.N. is doing exactly what it was designed to do,
and America as a peace-loving nation encourages all sincere efforts to
achieve a peaceful and satisfying resolution to the Iraq situation.
Disparaging the U.N. is harmful to long-term American interests; our
thoughtful criticisms are offered in the spirit of improving the United
Nations, not of casting the U.N. aside.
Nonetheless, America must provide for the defense of its citizens, and
we cannot make our security subject to international veto. The U.S. is
the primary target of the enemies of freedom, and we will be patient but
firm in our resolve to end the threat of terrorism and remove the
conditions that support it. To paraphrase President Harry Truman,
terrorism flourishes where the hope of a people for a better life has
died. We must rekindle that hope in the hearts of those whom Al Qaeda
would poison with hatred; we must open the eyes of those whom Saddam
Hussein would blind with lies and deceptions.
We must shift the global debate on Iraq from a pedantic discussion of
inspections to a moral question of justice. The Iraqi people cry out
for freedom, and it is within the U.N.'s mandate and the U.S.'s ability
to grant it; with that power to act comes the obligation to act, lest we
become morally culpable. As Paulo Friere famously declared, washing
one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means
to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. We cannot be neutral on
the question of Saddam Hussein. If not for his sponsorship of
terrorism, if not for his pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons, if not for his genocide of Kurds and Marsh Arabs, if not for
his torture and murder of dissidents, if not for his wars of aggression,
if not for his continuing defiance of the United Nations—if not
for all these compelling casus belli, then for the cause of
freedom and democracy, in the name of justice and liberty, and for the
welfare and security of the United States and the world, we will see
Saddam Hussein removed from power.
Our efforts to remove Saddam Hussein will be as humane and considerate
of life as possible. While we recognize that war is deadly, we also
know Saddam's reign of terror has already ended the lives of
millions—and we remember that our efforts in Afghanistan saved
thousands from famine and millions from tyranny. Our designs on Iraq
are no different from our demonstrated intentions in Afghanistan,
Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Grenada, Vietnam, South Korea,
Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, the Philippines, and every other
nation that has known the American soldier: To give the country back to
its own people, and set up the conditions for democracy to flourish. If
we have made these nations our vassals, then strange indeed is the
American empire; if we have seized their resources, then history does
not record it.
America's role at home and abroad must be the same: To secure the
blessings of liberty and preserve the unalienable rights of the
individual. We will remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, and give
up no essential liberty for the sake of temporary safety; our greatest
safety comes not from surrendering our freedoms, but from protecting
them to the utmost. We will not judge our enemies by their race or
religion, for the enemies of freedom come in every guise; we will not
deny any person their sacred rights under national and international
law. We will battle terrorism not only by fighting
the fanatics and tyrants, but by fighting against poverty, hunger
and despair; the dark and desperate corners of the world will know our
generosity of spirit as well as our ferocity in defense of freedom.
The Democratic Party remembers the mistakes of history. We remember the
end of World War I and the punishing Treaty of Versailles, which served
only to ensure that Europe would go to war again. We remember the
Boston Tea Party and the punishing Intolerable Acts, which served only
to ensure that the Colonies were united in rebellion. We remember these
incidents in light of the recent calls by our Republican colleagues to
"punish" nations who oppose our policies on Iraq. We must respectfully
disagree with their premise. We believe that history will punish the
mistakes of other nations far more ably than any effort of
ours—and that America should mete out punishments no more eagerly
than it would be prepared to accept them. Though America holds a unique
position in the community of nations, we do not presume to be a master
among servants: It is our fondest hope that other nations will rise to
join us in prosperity and freedom, not rise against us in fear of our
The Democrats will repair and strengthen the ties that join nations in
mutual trust and regard. We will renew America's commitment to NATO,
and support international treaties to preserve the environment, ban
chemical weapons, and bring war criminals to justice. We will restore
the lost art of diplomacy to American foreign policy, and treat other
nations with dignity and respect; we recognize that America is held to a
higher standard than other nations, and we will exceed that standard.
We believe as Americans that we must dedicate ourselves not to a
unilateral "war on terror," but to a multilateral effort promoting
democracy, protecting human rights, and providing hope to those who would
We are patriots and liberals in the truest sense: We love America and
believe no country has done more to bring freedom and justice to
the world. We believe liberty and equality are not merely the ideals of
a nation, but the universal birthright of all humanity. We believe
America's strength comes not only from its military stature, but from
its moral prestige: We believe peace and stability are preserved for
all nations when America embraces the foundations of international law.
Now, this is a policy statement that may not be popular with many of the
anti-war protesters who are marching in the streets these days. With
all due respect to the protesters, though, I have to warn the Democrats:
The most you can gain by courting the anti-war vote is the 2.7% you
lost to Nader in 2000, and you'll lose at least 5-10% of the centrists
for siding with Saddam and the French. There was a time and place where
you could have made a principled stand against war in Iraq; the time was
the summer of 2002, and the place was the Senate floor. Opposing the war
now is politically futile and morally inconsistent. Don't do it.
Where the Democrats should make their case is where the
Republicans are weakest: They should push their talents for building
multinational coalitions and holding them together. They should point
out that we didn't need to withdraw from the ABM treaty to
conduct our ABM tests, and how that mistake two years
ago kept Russia out of our corner. They should remind voters that Bush
alienated Europe not once but several times,
and that it is not in America's long-term interest to do
Whatever the outcome of the war in Iraq, the outcome for America's
relations with Europe, Russia, and China is already clear: They have
been badly damaged, and more so than was necessary. Bush will campaign
on a "war President" theme; the Democrats must stress Bush's reckless
mishandling of the U.N. debate. Democrats should remind voters how
Britain's heavy-handed treatment of the Colonies sparked a revolution
227 years ago, and pointedly ask whether we want to repeat that history
with Bush in the role of King George.
That's what I would do, anyway. I haven't tried to address the
Democratic problem of finding a candidate, any of the Democratic issues
on domestic policy (which has been their strong suit over the past
decade), and goodness knows what adopting these positions would do to a
candidate's chances of winning the nomination, which is always a problem
for both parties: Their primaries filter out candidates most likely to
appeal to the swing voters. (McCain would have trounced Gore,
but he couldn't get past South Carolina.) But I think this is a
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:41 am. comments.
Monday, 03 March 2003
As ye sow, so shall ye reap:
At this very moment, the Bush Administration is desperately trying
to call in its markers and muster up nine votes in the Security Council, to
pass a second resolution sanctioning the use of force in Iraq. The only
problem is, Dubya hasn't placed any markers. This is the time
where Bush's sins of isolationism come back to haunt him.
A leader with more foresight might be calling up Vladimir Putin right now, and
saying "Vlad, remember that discussion we had a couple of years ago about
the ABM treaty? You remember how badly I wanted to pull out of the treaty,
and we talked about how that would damage your credibility with the
hard-liners in Russia, and make it more difficult for you to back America in
the future? Well, that was why we agreed to keep the ABM treaty alive, and
negotiated that amendment allowing us to test ABM systems without deploying;
we won't be ready to deploy for another ten years anyway, so that worked
out well for both of us. Now I need you to return the favor, and support us
on this UN resolution."
Or, he might be on the phone to Germany's Edmund Stoiber: "Edmund,
remember your election campaign against Gerhard Schröder? Remember how
my administration ignored Schröder's anti-American rhetoric, and let
him sound like a shrill panderer while you and I looked like statesmen?
(Rummy wanted to snub Schröder's defense minister at the NATO
conference last fall, but I overruled him: We have an old saying in Texas
about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. I think Schröder was
hoping we'd overreact and distract voters' attention from the economy.) I
know the German people are opposed to
war, but I also know they value German-American friendship and cooperation;
that's one of the reasons Germany elected you over Schröder, and one
reason why I hope we'll have your vote at the UN."
Or he could be twisting Chirac's arm: "Jacques, I took a lot of heat
for supporting Europe's treaties on land mines and the International Criminal
Court; there are still lots of people on my side of the ocean who view those
treaties with deep suspicion, and that's why Congress has been so reluctant
to ratify them. I know you're concerned about war in the Middle
East—who in their right mind wouldn't be?—but a lot of my people
are looking at this UN thing as a test of France's commitment to
multilateralism. If France and America break ranks now, then I doubt those
treaties of yours will ever get ratified."
Bush is, as others have noted, from the
Jacksonian school of American politics—and the Jacksonians are famously
poor at diplomacy. They understand carrots and sticks, but
everything else they hold in contempt:
Subtlety and finesse are those things you do when your stick isn't big enough
to get the job done. One can almost imagine Dubya sending Colin Powell to
the UN, with instructions to "go diplomatize them varmints." American bids
for Turkish and Mexican support have the raw appeal of an open checkbook;
Jacksonians cry that if America must choose between being loved and being
feared, then we'll be feared—without stopping to ask if worldwide
fear is really in America's interest, or who the hell limited
our choices to only these two options. No amount of diplomacy will make Al
Qaeda love us, but there's plenty that could be done (and should be
done) to keep Europe and Russia from fearing us.
Ultimately I think Bush will clear this hurdle, for the same reason that
Resolution 1441 passed 15-0: Nobody likes to lose, and France will preserve
its United Nations card to play another day. But Bush's isolationist
tendencies have made this hurdle higher than it should be; I doubt we never
had a chance of bringing France around on Iraq, but we should have been able
to paint them into a corner much more easily than this.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:20 am. comments.