The Corner

Condi’s Consensus

Let me just add one point to Michael Ledeen’s excellent post on Condi and Steve Hayes’ article on her, which might add something to the other conversations around here as well. It’s largely forgotten now, but in 2003 there was a huge firestorm about Paul Wolfowitz’ interview with Vanity Fair (This old piece by Jim Robbins has many of the relevant links though I couldn’t find the original transcript). In that interview Wolfowitz said:

The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.

I criticized this obsession with boiling the war down to one issue at the time (See here and here for just two examples of many overly enthusiastic columns from back in the day). Michael’s criticism of Rice (and Bush) helps to put Wolfowitz’s comment into an even more understandable light. Rhetorically justifying the entire invasion on the issue of WMDs — essentially charging Saddam’s regime with the geopolitical equivalent of illegal possession of a controlled firearm — was a bad idea even when everyone was positive that he had such weapons. It turned out to be disastrous afterwards. Very rarely do momentous decisions boil down to just one factor. We don’t decide to buy a car because it’s red. (“Excuse me sir, do you have any red cars?”). We don’t decide to marry because of height (“Honey, you’re everything I ever wanted, except you’re two inches under my minimum, I’m sorry. It’s out of my hands.”) And, only rarely do you go to war for a single reason. Pearl Harbor was a great example of a single reason, but we forget how hard FDR was maneuvering for years beforehand to bring American around to war, precisely because he lacked a single compelling reason. There were all sorts of reasons why we invaded Iraq. I think it was the right decision given what we knew at the time and a mistake given what we know now. But you don’t fix the problem simply by cutting and running.

For what it’s worth, if you want a short explanation for why we invaded Iraq, I think Robert Kagan offered a pretty good one recently:

…after September 11, 2001, American fears were elevated, America’s tolerance for potential threats lowered, and Saddam Hussein naturally became a potential target, based on a long history of armed aggression, the production and use of chemical weapons, proven efforts to produce nuclear and biological weapons, and a murky relationship with terrorists. The United States had gone to war with him twice before, in 1991 and then again at the end of 1998, and the fate of Saddam Hussein had remained an unresolved question at the end of the Clinton administration. It was not so unusual for the United States to go to war a third time….

Personally, I think freedom (manifested ultimately as democracy) must be part of any major undertaking of this kind of magnitude. But it can’t be the only concern. We aren’t about to forcibly liberate China any time soon, nor should we try. I think democracy in Iraq could have waited as we developed liberal institutions and the security they need to survive. And I think an administration with a better communications operation, starting with the communicator in chief, could have trusted the American people with a bit more complexity of argument, both before the war and after.

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