Monday, July 29, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Danger Mouse, 36.

Recovering from a brutal Giants weekend; at least there's still good stuff:

Elizabeth Saunders on Al Gore and Iraq -- plus links to plenty more. I've only read the post, and not the full article, but I suspect I agree entirely (mostly because it sounds pretty similar to what I've said about Gore/Iraq).

While Philip Klein is a skeptic on a GOP shift to a less McCain-like foreign policy.

Perhaps a cheap shot, but fun: Paul Krugman goes all Lincoln on the Republicans.

And Dan Hopkins on messaging and health care reform.


  1. Briefly on Saunders, I can't imagine what "structural factors" leading to war with Iraq they could possibly be talking about. I can see two very different presidents responding in similar ways if Iraq had attacked the United States, or if there were any reason to believe that Iraq was connected to 9/11. The Bush administration, however, basically took advantage of the opportunity to make war on those they considered the backers of world terrorism (and there would have been more if the Iraq scenario had turned out better for them). I have trouble believing Gore would have chosen to go that route or invented the false linkages to justify it.

  2. Scott: Here is Bruce Gillie's summary of Harvey's argument: "Laid out in meticulous fashion, Harvey’s book provides the evidence that Gore was long a liberal hawk, especially on Iraq (Chap. 2); that his advisors and likely cabinet members were no less so (Chap. 3); that bipartisan congressional pressures to do something after 9/11 were immense (Chap. 4); that intelligence failures were not caused by Bush but by the anxieties that followed 9/11 (Chap. 5), as was public support for war against Iraq (Chap. 6); that UN weapons inspectors and key allies, including not just the UK but also Germany and France, agreed that Iraq had committed serial and serious breaches of United Nation containment provisions (Chap. 7); and that if there is a “first image” leadership story to be told about Iraq, it should center not on Bush but on Saddam, whose personalistic regime was deeply war prone..

    ""The reason, Harvey argues, is path dependence: Once “President Gore” had decided to pursue a coercive diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis through the UN—a strategy he had long endorsed and which he would have driven more forcefully in cabinet deliberations than Bush did—there could have been no turning back if the strategy failed. The intelligence community, stung by its 9/11 failure and searching for the most likely source of another one, would have produced largely the same dossiers in cooperation with key allies."

    I don't want to evaluate the argument without actually reading Harvey's book. But it occurs to me that if McCain had won in 2008 and had resorted to force against Iran before 2012, some political scientist would doubtless have published a book arguing that for structural reasons a President Obama would also have had to do the same during *his* first term...

    1. Thanks, David. The pressures to "do something" were real, but I suspect they could have been directed toward Afghanistan and a global search for al-Qa'ida (although the latter would produce less immediate gratification and fewer compelling photo ops). The intelligence failures are only relevant in the context of a debate over invading Iraq. UN inspectors and several European powers agreed on some of the assessments, but none of them concluded that war was the necessary response. (The British decision to go to war was a conscious decision to side with Bush, even though British intelligence had told Blair that the Americans were "fixing" the intelligence to back the invasion argument.) Moreover, in the weeks before the invasion, the UN inspectors consistently failed to find WMD in the places that the Americans told them they would. I think you hit the nail on the head with your McCain/Obama analogy.

  3. Jeff Greenfield wrote a Kindle Single entitled 43* in which Gore wins, 9/11 still takes place, and the Gore Administration finds itself on the defensive in the face of the drumbeat to go after Iraq from the usual suspects. Worth a read, especially since it's about three dollars.

  4. "Recovering from a brutal Giants weekend"

    As a Cubs fan, the weekend was like looking in a mirror, except that the guy in the mirror has two World Series trophies from the last three years. My sympathies.

  5. Hey Scott, you're our recognized expert on foreign policy, what do you think of the theory, (advanced in GHWB's New World Order speech), that Saddam was looking to roll up the region and launch a new Ottoman empire?

    Unlike his son, GHW Bush was a pretty reliable source on such things, no? Shouldn't we think of the sanctions and no-fly zones that followed not as an effort to keep Iraq quiet but rather to give space to the Kurds and Shiites to do what Iraqis do best, overthrow the dictator du jour? As a result, were those policies not failures by 2003?

    To the extent that sanctions/no-fly zones failed to achieve their mission, and containment grows increasingly expensive over time (to say nothing of more unpopular internationally, given the human toll), why would we believe that the status quo was sustainable indefinitely in Iraq? (Other than concluding GHW Bush had no idea what he was talking about in assessing Saddam as an empire aspirant).

    I suppose we could also say "New Ottoman empire, so what?" If nothing else, the existence of a rather large nuclear arsenal in otherwise tiny, neighboring Israel, the sworn enemy of that nascent Arab superstate, should have forced the hand of any President, no?

    1. Don't see anything in there about the Ottoman Empire, but be that as it may. Saddam was certainly aggressive. He gained power in a coup in 1979, was at war with Iran already in 1980, and two years after that one ended, he invaded Kuwait. I think you're probably right about Bush hoping that the Kurds or the Shiites would topple him, or more likely his own military would overthrow him in order to get out from under the sanctions. And you're right that by 2003, it hadn't happened (although there had been attempts) and it was apparent that it wasn't about to happen. After a nine-year war, though, it's a little hard to accept that those sanctions and air patrols were too expensive. (Remember when Larry Lindsey was fired for saying the war could cost $200 billion. If only!) Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a fine thing, but there's a reason the Bush administration never gave that alone as a reason for going to war. As for what we should have done about the deteriorating situation in Iraq at that time, I really wish I had an answer. Now, in the wake of the Bush administration's solution to the problem, we're facing the prospect of a sectarian war that stretches from Iraq to Lebanon. I'm open to suggestions on that one, too.


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