Thursday, June 26, 2003

William Saletan's latest article on Slate takes aim at Howard Dean's foreign policy stance. Saletan's central point is that Dean made up his mind that war on Iraq would be a mistake prior to having "all" the evidence. But we still do not have "all" the evidence that could justify the invasion of Iraq.

By Saletan's unique brand of reasoning, opponents of the war cannot claim justification for their opposition because we haven't found any WMD. Only once you prove a negative, that Iraq had no WMD, is opposition to war justified. Of course, it also follows from this reasoning that advocates of war must suspend their judgement as to whether invasion was wise until WMD are found. I don't see Saletan chastising anyone for claiming prematurely that the war was justified. Unless he does, his judgement of Dean is simply a double standard.

When the option is to kill thousands of human beings, including women and children, and send our troops into harms way or to continue with other options such as continuing inspections and diplomatic pressure, the default position should rightly be to hang fire and give peace a chance. If Dean made up his mind that the war would be a mistake, it is because the evidence presented by the Administration wasn't persuasive. To call that "opposing the war in equal ignorance" is simply fallacious. One does not need justification to refrain from war, one need only to conclude that evidence supporting the case for war is not yet sufficiently compelling.

Saletan also makes an odd, and naive, distinction about the success of the war and the success of the peace. The two are not separable. War is politics; The ONLY reason to go to war is to acheive political aims. To claim that we won the war but are losing the peace is complete nonsense. If we lose the peace, WE LOSE THE WAR!

It really does disappoint me that we seem to have learned nothing from Vietnam. We seldom, if ever, lost any armed conflict in Vietnam, but we had no clear vision of our political goals. Hence, we lost the war by losing the peace. Armed might is only useful when wedded to realistic and skillfully sought political goals.

Unless there is a clear understanding of the political goals of war, it will cause more problems that it solves. The Bush Administration demonstrated from the very begining that they hadn't a clue about what the political results of war with Iraq would be. They bandied about unrealistic and self-serving ideas about democracy dominoing throughout the Middle East, an immediate, effortless transition to democracy in Iraq, an unrealistically short period of occupation, and have held tenaciously to their short-sighted refusal to place the occupation into the hands of the international community.

Dean, having a reasonable sense of the ridiculous, drew the conclusion that this Administration had failed to justify war, and that Bush's war council lacks the political accumen to successfully execute any war, even though the result of the opening battles were never in doubt. I give Dean high points for understanding early and unwaiveringly that Bush is incapable of winning this, or any other war, because his political ideology simply precludes success.

Dean said, "A president must be tough, patient, and willing to take a course of action based on evidence and not based on ideology." Dean is not just describing himself with this statement, he is drawing a contrast between himself and Bush. Dean is saying that Bush is guided by ideology rather than pragmatism in his foreign policy. A batch of hothouse ideologues in the DoD are Bush's main foreign policy team, locking out the experience and accumen of career diplomats who won't tell Bush what he wants to hear. Thus the goals of the Iraq occupation are founded on wishful thinking, the occupation of Afghanistan is essentially without any goals, and his foreign policy seems bent on alienating everyone while loudly denying the reality of a deeply interdependent world.

When faced with the alarming insipidity of Bush's foreign policy, it is hard for a smart and saavy fellow like Howard Dean not to be confident that he has a better idea of how to run America's foreign policy.

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