Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy

Over 700 Scholars from around the world have signed an open letter condemning the foreign policy of the Bush Administration. Among these are our own Arizona scholars Tom Volgy, Spike Peterson, William Dixon, Carolyn Warner, and many others. Here is the body of the open letter:

An Open Letter to the American People:

We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. One result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy—an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation, and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest. We write to challenge some of these distortions.

Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists.

Many of the justifications offered by the Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been proven untrue by credible studies, including by U.S. government agencies.  There is no evidence that Iraq assisted al-Qaida, and its prewar involvement in international terrorism was negligible. Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was negligible, and its nuclear weapons program virtually nonexistent. In comparative terms, Iran is and was much the greater sponsor of terrorism, and North Korea and Pakistan pose much the greater risk of nuclear proliferation to terrorists. Even on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious: the war itself has killed over a thousand Americans and unknown thousands of Iraqis, and if the threat of civil war becomes reality, ordinary Iraqis could be even worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein. The Administration knew most of these facts and risks before the war, and could have discovered the others, but instead it played down, concealed or misrepresented them.

Policy errors during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq have created a situation in Iraq worse than it needed to be. Spurning the advice of Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, the Administration committed an inadequate number of troops to the occupation, leading to the continuing failure to establish security in Iraq. Ignoring prewar planning by the State Department and other US government agencies, it created a needless security vacuum by disbanding the Iraqi Army, and embarked on a poorly planned and ineffective reconstruction effort which to date has managed to spend only a fraction of the money earmarked for it. As a result, Iraqi popular dismay at the lack of security, jobs or reliable electric power fuels much of the violent opposition to the U.S. military presence, while the war itself has drawn in terrorists from outside Iraq.

The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.

Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.

Several of the scholars offered personal comments along with their signature. Many of these demonstrate a wisdom and insight all too lacking in this Administration. All of them demand a reading, but a few are outstanding in my mind and I will reproduce them here.

Robert O. Keohane of Duke University:

“We should draw seven lessons from the U.S. experience in Iraq, and remember them in the next crisis.

  1. Base policy on analysis, not fixed beliefs.

  2. Always have a Plan B. The State Department prepared a much more realistic assessment of the problems that would face the United States in the aftermath. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld not only rejected the plan; he sought to prevent anyone associated with it from being involved in postwar planning for Iraq.

  3. Remember that military power is not sufficient to achieve most political objectives. It does not assure that we will win the peace. To achieve political objectives, it is essential to be able to persuade people that our values and interests are consistent with theirs.

  4. The first principle of foreign policy is to match goals with resources. The key goal of American foreign policy - to fight terrorism - has been undermined by the attack on Iraq.

  5. Occupations almost always generate mobilized opposition.

  6. War is dangerous for democracy. This administration has claimed virtually unlimited authority to arrest and prosecute, without normal guarantees of due process, anyone it accuses of involvement with terrorism, inside or outside the United States. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and is especially needed in wartime.

  7. Dismissing international law is detrimental to our capacity to lead.

More generally, we should remember how misleading, indeed deceptive, have been the claims made by the United States government about Iraq over the last two years. As a free people, we need to be wary of what our government tells us, even - or especially - in time of war. “

Richard Samuels of MIT:

"Sometimes, when intelligence is sound and accepted, leaders can avoid holes in the road ahead. Now, alas, all that is left is for the rest of us to exhort the Administration, which is already in a deep hole, to stop digging."

Avery Goldstein of University of Pennsylvania:

"A wise national security strategy demands more than toughness and persistence. It requires a grasp of vital interests, a realization that resources are inevitably limited, and a recognition that strong beliefs, sincere intentions, and great power alone do not ensure success. The war in Iraq is unwise
precisely because it diverts attention from our most important interest in crushing anti-American terrorist groups, wastes blood and treasure needed for the difficult global struggle against these stateless enemies, and aggravates concerns about the care with which the US will wield its unprecedented global power."

The letter is an impressive effort, and an extraordinary concordance of expert opinion. One would be very hard-pressed indeed to generate an open letter of support for Bush with anything approaching the breadth and repute of this group of scholars. History is not on Bush's side; it is on ours.


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