War & Its Impact

A nearly Churchillian Tony Blair on theocratic nihilism

Tony Blair speaks to a Labour Party function in Glasgow:

But the old threat [of totalitarian communism] has been replaced by a new one: the threat of chaos, disorder, instability. A threat which arises from a perversion of the true faith of Islam, in extremist terrorist groups like al Qaeda. It arises from countries which are unstable, usually repressive dictatorships which use what wealth they have to protect or enhance their power through chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capability which can cause destruction on a massive scale.

What do they have in common these twins of chaos–terrorism and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction? They are answerable to no democratic mandate, so are unrestrained by the will of ordinary people. They are extreme and inhumane. They detest and fear liberal, democratic and tolerant values. And their aim is to destabilize us.

I don’t think anyone should mention the UN today without, in the same breath, asking whether it will consign itself to the same fate as the League of Nations:

By going down the U.N. route we gave the U.N. an extraordinary opportunity and a heavy responsibility. The opportunity is to show that we can meet the menace to our world today together, collectively and as a united international community. What a mighty achievement that would be. The responsibility, however, is indeed to deal with it.

The League of Nations also had that opportunity and responsibility back in the 1930s. In the early days of the fascist menace, it had the duty to protect Abyssinia from invasion. But when it came to a decision to enforce that guarantee, the horror of war deterred it. We know the rest. The menace grew; the League of Nations collapsed; war came.

Remember: The U.N. inspectors would not be within a thousand miles of Baghdad without the threat of force. Saddam would not be making a single concession without the knowledge that forces were gathering against him. I hope, even now, Iraq can be disarmed peacefully, with or without Saddam. But if we show weakness now, if we allow the plea for more time to become just an excuse for prevarication until the moment for action passes, then it will not only be Saddam who is repeating history. The menace, and not just from Saddam, will grow; the authority of the U.N. will be lost; and the conflict when it comes will be more bloody. Yes, let the United Nations be the way to deal with Saddam. But let the United Nations mean what it says; and do what it means.

The whole essay is well worth reading. Blair is taking the largest political gamble of his career, and is doing so for all the right and moral reasons. I expect it to work out quite well for him, both in 2003 and in the history books.

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If we go it alone

The Washington Post talks about two potential outcomes of a non-Security Council approved war:

Will the administration pay a price for bulldozing ahead — assuming that’s what it does — without responding substantively to critics at home and abroad who are urging a slower, more deliberate squeeze on Saddam Hussein? Or will it be the critics who are embarrassed by a brief, successful war that unmasks Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction with few losses and few long-term negative repercussions?

I’m still expecting Saddam to overreach in the next month by not sufficiently cooperating, and for the French to support us when we attack. We’ll know a lot more this week, when we can see whether the Security Council approves a new resolution with specific, objective milestones and deliverables, such as the destruction of all of Saddam’s illegal missiles.

Of course, I think the second scenario from the quote is the one to count on.

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First Preemptive strike in US history

Why does the impending war on Iraq seem so qualitatively different? The Washington Post, in an otherwise superb report on how the unrivaled US military feels strained, points out that “If the United States does attack Iraq, it would be the first preemptive strike this nation has ever launched.”

The key thing to understand about the connection between 9/11 and Iraq is not there is direct proof of involvement of Iraq with terrorism, but that the war on Iraq is a result of the US lowering the threshhold at which we believe there’s a threat that deserves preemption.

The Washington Post had a superb editorial this week titled The Perils of Passivity that looks at where the approach of live and let live that the French and the peace protesters advocate gets us:

MANY WASHINGTONIANS, frightened after several days of new threats and increased talk of war, wonder whether the nation is foolishly poking a hornet’s nest. Why must the United States attack Saddam Hussein if that will only anger much of the Islamic world? Don’t the latest threats from Osama bin Laden or his proxy prove the recklessness of America’s aggressive stance? Such questions reflect an understandable and justified anxiety. But they also reflect a mistaken view of the broader war in which the United States finds itself, through no choice of its own.

For more than two decades, the country tried a strategy of not poking the hornet’s nest — a strategy of accommodation, half-measures and wishful thinking. In the 1980s the United States sold arms to the Iranian government that had kidnapped American citizens and withdrew its Marines from Lebanon after a suicide bomber destroyed their barracks. In the 1990s a warlord’s attacks prompted America to retreat from Somalia, and a fundamentalist government in Afghanistan allowed thousands of Islamist extremists to learn to kill Americans while America, knowing what was happening, did not interfere. Terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, a U.S. military dormitory in Saudi Arabia in 1996, two American embassies in Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000 — and each time America responded feebly or not at all. During the past decade the United States vowed many times to disarm Saddam Hussein, who made no secret of his hatred and enmity toward the United States; but when the Iraqi dictator resisted, the United States chose to abandon its vows rather than use the force that would have been needed to enforce them. In every case, the calculation, stated or unstated, was the same: Pay tribute, don’t make trouble, and maybe nothing worse will happen.

In the ruins of Lower Manhattan in September 2001, most Americans saw evidence that this calculation was incorrect as well as craven. The nation’s enemies would not be deterred or mollified by a gentle response; they would be emboldened. President Bush rightly concluded that the nation had to defend itself more vigilantly — but also that no defense could succeed unless accompanied by an offensive against the terrorists and the states that sheltered them.

The resolve to disarm Saddam Hussein, finally, 12 years after the United Nations first insisted, grows inescapably from this new understanding. He shelters terrorists who have killed Americans and who would like to kill more. He owns large stocks of chemical and biological weapons and has considerable experience in their use. To allow him once again to outmaneuver the United Nations and continue his quest for nuclear weapons would subject Americans to unacceptable risks. It would also show other terrorist sponsors that, brave 9/11 rhetoric notwithstanding, they still have nothing to fear. The longer he remains unchallenged, the greater the risk.

Last week’s orange alert and this week’s al Qaeda tape remind the nation of real perils. The audiotape shows the Islamicists’ willingness to set aside their disdain for Iraq’s secular rule in the greater shared struggle against America. Al Qaeda does not need new pretexts to launch new attacks, but it may seek to time attacks to coincide with American war or preparations for it. Americans are right to prepare as best they can and to insist that the government do more to inform and defend — and they are right to be nervous.

Yet they would be wrong to let fear cloud their judgment. A war with Iraq, if it comes to that, won’t automatically make the world less dangerous; much will depend on America’s commitment to help Iraq rebuild and reform. But what is certain is that the attacks will not stop, nor the dangers fade, if the United States backs down in the face of threats. That approach has been tried.

Note how artfully the editorial weaves together the Iraqi and the terrorist threats, that may or may not be connected. But have no doubt that Iraq (and in less than 6 months, North Korea) represent a direct threat to the US and the international order we represent, and that post-9/11, the US will never again sit on our hands and hope for the best when confronted with such a threat. So the question of the UN (and specifically the French) is whether the US will act within the confines of collective security, or will be forced to act with the coalition of the willing.

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What a war in Iraq can do for terrorism

Joseph Klein in The New Yorker on postwar-Iraq:

I asked [Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy] whether an American military victory in Iraq could help curb terrorism by organizations like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, which operate with the support of other countries in the region. He nodded. “One of the principal strategic thoughts underlying our strategy in the war on terrorism is the importance of the connection between terrorist organizations and their state sponsors,” he said. “Terrorist organizations cannot be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don’t have support from states. They need a base of operations. They need other types of assets that theyperative fashion with the U.N., and if the United States leads a coalition and overthrows that government, I think that the combination of those two actions will influence the thinking of other states about how advisable it is for them to continue to provide safe harbor or other types of support to terrorist organizations.”
perate with efforts to clean out Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. As Syria moved to a more pro-American stand, so would its client state, Lebanon. That would leave Hezbollah, which has its headquarters in Lebanon, without state support. The Palestinian Authority, with most of its regional allies stripped away, would have no choice but to renounce terrorism categorically. Saudi Arabia would have much less sway over the United States because it would no longer be America’s only major source of oil and base of military operations in the region, and so it might finally be persuaded to stop funding Hamas and Al Qaeda through Islamic charities.

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Some quotes on Iraq

The Economist says: “A body which thinks that ‘serious consequences’ spells ‘more inspectors’ does not deserve to be taken seriously.”

Hans Blix reported that: “At the meeting in Baghdad on the 8th and the 9th of February, the Iraqi side addressed some of the important outstanding disarmament issues and gave us a number of papers…. Although no new evidence was provided in the papers and no open issues were closed through them or the expert discussions, the presentation of the papers could be indicative of a more active attitude focusing on the important open issues.”

A short review of French military history.

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Pathetic French self-contradicting remarks

French President Jacques Chirac said today: “As far as we’re concerned, war always means failure.”

James Taranto in the WSJ’s blog responds: “CNN doesn’t say what language he was speaking when he said this, but if it was French and not German, the statement refutes itself.”

Yes, we’re dangerously close to Godwin’s Law here, but the idea that there is nothing worse than war is so utterly inimical to Western values of freedom and democracy (values that have continually required defending at the point of the gun) that Europeans should be embarrased not to at least be open to the idea that force is sometimes utterly necessary and proper.

As Bill Saffire says in tomorrow’s NYT, “Pyrrhic victories [such as appeasing Iraq] are part of the backdrop to the existential crisis that the Security Council is bringing on itself. The Iraq issue is not war vs. peace. It is collective security vs. every nation for itself.”

France should recall how they fared the last time they walked away from their collective security committments (by shamefully selling out Czechoslovokia at Munich).

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The Rise and ?? of the American Empire

Michael Ignatieff from the NYT writes on the American Empire:

The Greeks taught the Romans to call this failure hubris. It was also, in the 1990’s, a general failure of the historical imagination, an inability of the post-cold-war West to grasp that the emerging crisis of state order in so many overlapping zones of the world — from Egypt to Afghanistan — would eventually become a security threat at home. Radical Islam would never have succeeded in winning adherents if the Muslim countries that won independence from the European empires had been able to convert dreams of self-determination into the reality of competent, rule-abiding states. America has inherited this crisis of self-determination from the empires of the past. Its solution — to create democracy in Iraq, then hopefully roll out the same happy experiment throughout the Middle East — is both noble and dangerous: noble because, if successful, it will finally give these peoples the self-determination they vainly fought for against the empires of the past; dangerous because, if it fails, there will be nobody left to blame but the Americans.

All true, but I fail to see a lot of downsides. Disengagement from the world to a degree where Osama bin Laden wouldn’t target the US is utterly inconceivable. We’ll continue to trade, and to travel, and to interact with people around the world, and this will make us an existential threat to totalitarian fundamentalists who realize that they cannot stand to have their stagnant ideas compared to the market democracies of the pluralist West.

And, so, I think we need to steady ourselves for the coming tribulations of an American empire, even one that’s oxymoronically dedicated to the idea that everyone, everywhere deserves the freedom to make choices about how they live.

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Economist’s fears then and now

Brad DeLong quotes the Economist year-end double issue, which always contains thoughtful fodder. (A article on the travel industry that I read 10 years ago this week inspired me to start my Internet company, NetMarket, while I was at the London School of Economics, which directly led to where I am today.) Brad says:

The world continues to go to hell in a handbasket. The three big threats that may turn the twenty-first century into an abbatoir are (i) the possible emergence of an expansionist, militaristic Wilhelmine China, (ii) a failure of “transition” that results in the emergence of a Weimar Russia, and (iii) Hindu nationalistic communalism leading to the emergence of a Fascist India–a place where encouraging mobs to kill Muslims and burn their houses wins lots of votes. (The threat of an Islamic Reformation leading to lots of wholesale terrorism and the occasional repeat of what Christians did to each other on St. Bartholomew’s Day ranks fourth.)

BTW, an abattoir is a slaughterhouse, but I’m sure you already knew that.

While I agree that all of the items on Brad’s list are of concern, I personally put both China and Russia on the track of nation-states entering the Western fold through economic development, and with a little good luck, think they both will make it to fully developed market democracies. I put his India and Islam concerns in the larger realm of totalitarian fundamentalism:

Just as the once apparently doomed forces of western liberalism defeated totalitarian fascism in 1945 and totalitarian communism in 1991, we now face a war against totalitarian fundamentalism. (Note that I mean western as a moral appellation, not a geographic designation.)

I took the terms totalitarian fascism and totalitarian communism from one of the best pieces the Economist ever published, where they excerpt a history book from 2992 looking at democracy’s post-1991 failure. What I find so amazing is how different Brad’s and my concerns are from that Christmas 1992 Economist article, which includes the isolationist “Buchanan doctrine” issued by the US president in 2003. (Note also the lachrymose reference to Somalia.) The article is worth reading in full, but I append the opening to taunt you:

THIS was an opportunity of a magnitude the world had rarely seen before. As Chapter 12 explained, the three-sided War of Ideas that had occupied most of the 20th century ended in a sweeping victory for the once apparently doomed forces of liberalism. The defeat of racial totalitarianism in 1945 having been followed by the defeat of communist totalitarianism in 1989-91, the victorious pluralists seemed to have the future at their feet.

The collapse of communism brought universal agreement that there was no serious alternative to free-market capitalism as the way to organise economic life. It was almost as widely agreed that multi-party democracy was the best form of politics; only a handful of authoritarians anxious to preserve their own power — most of them in Muslim south-west Asia — and the old men still running China openly stood aside from a new orthodoxy. To this ideological triumph was added, in the Gulf war of 1991, a military success that appeared to confirm the new balance of power. The pluralist alliance possessed a technological advantage in the weapons of war that could, it seemed, defeat almost any possible adversary.

All this was potentially a greater change in the course of history than Britain’s defeat of Napoleonic France in 1815. That decided who was to be militarily dominant in the 19th century, but it did not put an end to the ideological fallacy that had begun in France in 1789 and reappeared in new shape in Russia in 1917. The events of 1989-91 could also have proved more decisive than the victory of the Reformation in the 17th century. That changed the ideological scene, but it did nothing to decide the military and political balance of power in Europe.

Perhaps not since the battle of Actium in 31BC, which made possible the Pax Romana of the next two centuries, had there been such a chance to remake the world; and in AD1991, unlike 31BC, the central idea on which the remaking would have been based was the victors’ belief in every man’s right to political and economic freedom.

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History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce

Marx wasn’t right about much, but this superb WSJ story shows Poland becoming a NATO Disneyland for potential conquering armies:

“Poland’s convenient location in the heart of Europe attracted plenty of uninvited armies in its war-ravaged past. Now the country is cashing in, leasing more land and airspace for war practice than any other European member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which it has belonged for three years. “Times have changed,” says Col. Klaus Haacke of Germany, which, under the Nazis, invaded Poland in 1939.”

We’ve come a long way.

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How crazy is it that

How crazy is it that the recent anti-war march in Washington was organized by “the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956”. The WWP is nuts, including supporting the North Koreans and Milosevich.

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