LRC has made anything clear, it is that the Iraq War is tragic,
wicked, and unjustifiable, but the fact is that it is also a failure
in terms of attaining the main national security goal of the U.S.
Not only that, this failure was entirely predictable before the
war began. In short, starting the Iraq War was a senseless and foolish
act – folly – from the point of view of enhancing the security of
the U.S., a Bay of Pigs writ large. This conclusion is not, I will
argue, an exercise in Monday morning quarterbacking.
Folly of Nation-Building
the powers-that-be had restricted themselves to only American experience
and recent experience at that, they would have known that a major
involvement of American forces to engage in nation-building (or
spreading democracy) would be far from a trivial exercise to be
accomplished by incredibly simple-minded shock and awe or any grand
display of July 4th killing fireworks. The Viet Cong
and the rickety succession of South Vietnamese administrations taught
a neoconservative or a high Administration official may confess
as did Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in 1995 concerning
the Vietnam War: "Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong."
In the same
vein, "When McNamara left office in 1968, he told reporters
that his principal regret was his recommendation to Kennedy to proceed
with the Bay of Pigs operation, something that u2018could have been
recognized as an error at the time.'" This defines folly.
officials would have known that even minor involvements as in Somalia
and Haiti failed to play out as planned. They would have known that
the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan was a failure, and
that the U.S. incursion therein was still far from successful in
terminating Al-Qaeda or even creating the mythical stable government
friendly to that of the U.S.
if they had considered the American intervention in Lebanon, they
would easily have found the following evaluation by their own military
of a situation much like that of Iraq. Of the involvement in Lebanon
in 1982–1983, Lieutenant Commander Westra states:
policy was formulated without adequate consideration of the complexity
of the Lebanese conflict or its political and religious antecedents.
Additionally, our policy was pursued from a purely American perspective
without consideration of the goals and motivations of numerous
factions involved in the fighting. As a consequence of these policy
shortcomings, American military forces were mistakenly committed
as a first resort before all diplomatic and other means had been
key problem of our involvement in Lebanon was that American military
forces were mistakenly committed in order to solve a complex set
of political problems that had no military solution. By submitting
future regional conflicts to a “Lebanon Test,” policymakers will
have an in-depth model delineating the multitude of considerations
and pitfalls affecting policy formulation and the use of military
force to secure the objectives of policy in regional conflicts."
many in the military knew better, wouldn't this information reach
the President? Mightn't it even seep out to the bloodthirsty editorial
writers and thence to the gung-ho public?
if the President or any of his estimable advisors had spent 15 minutes
or so studying the experiences of other nations in colonial wars
of intervention or comparable domestic interferences involving whole
societies, wouldn't they have discovered that the world history
of many states and empires is strewn with abundant foreign policy
(and domestic) failures, so many that they are virtually the norm?
was a failure. The War on Drugs was and is a failure. The War on
Poverty was a failure. Both Napoleon's and Hitler's invasions of
Russia were failures. Three Anglo-Afghan Wars over the course of
80 years were failures. The Aceh War fought by the Netherlands in
today's Indonesia over a 40-year period was a failure. These man-made
disasters routinely drain the attacker and undermine his spirit,
and they often last a very long time.
Folly of Preemption
Point speech in June, 2002 outlined his preemption strategy.
– the promise of massive retaliation against nations –
means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation
or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced
dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons
on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.
Yet the war
on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle
to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats
before they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered,
the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation
will act. (Applause.)
will require the best intelligence, to reveal threats hidden in
caves and growing in laboratories."
a President e-mail the CIA or FBI for a personality profile of dictators
who possess weapons of mass destruction (however they are defined)
in order to determine scientifically (unbiasedly) who is or is not
unbalanced ? Can this be done at a distance, without observing or
testing the dictator directly? Does the medical profession accept
"unbalanced" as a medical diagnostic category? Should
a preemptive military strategy be based on a judgment about who
is or is not balanced? If all of the answers to these questions
are "Yes," which they most certainly are not, should a
strategy then be based on the notion that this dictator "can"
use the weapon or "can" give them to an ally, somehow
determined to be "terrorist"? Is shooting first and asking
questions later lawful or prudent?
plain words, what is the President telling us? Our greatest weapons,
our atomic deterrents, are of no use to us. Hidden in the dark are
enemies we cannot apprehend. We cannot contain powerfully mad enemies
who act in secrecy. So we will strike out, we will create a battle,
identify an enemy. Then we will feel good, we will feel safe. Kill
the bastards! (Applause.)
high-toned words of President Bush reflect frustration and fear,
the instinct to fight and kill, emotionalism disguised as statesmanship.
However, they add up to utterly senseless foreign policy.
speech next girds us and the military to "confront the worst
threats before they emerge." This means that the U.S. will
eliminate what it perceives to be a threat that could enter the
set of "worst threats" before it matures into a "worst
threat" member. Apparently, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
fall into this category since they were so minor that they were
never used by Iraq or found. Be that as it may, this doctrine appears
to be the product of minds with an excess of confidence in themselves
plus an excess of self-righteousness, who proclaim their ability
to determine threats before they become threats, who declare the
right to interfere with them militarily and summarily, without talk,
without negotiation, without exploring other avenues of threat reduction.
Has diplomacy been ruled out or cast aside as a means to achieve
does the U.S. stand to gain by announcing such a policy? Here the
U.S. is threatening retaliatory action upon threats that it perceives.
This is basically telling other nations that the U.S. retains the
option of preventing any nation it designates as an enemy from developing
a variety of weapons and weapons delivery systems. It is difficult
to imagine how the U.S. can enforce such a threat or policy without
turning itself into an aggressor and alienating the rest of the
world, because of the subjective factors involved and the intrusions
on the sovereignty of other nations. If other nations adopt such
a policy, then virtually any attack on any nation is justifiable,
or even attacks on internal parties designated as threats or potential
a most basic level, the preemption policy is folly because it overlooks
the basic moral thought patterns of human beings. If Iraq had attacked
another country, then a war against it would be understood and supported
widely. On the other hand, if the U.S. attacked Iraq without such
a clear provocation, then it would supply a pretext for all sorts
of retaliatory measures against the U.S. The U.S. would foster terrorists
who would feel justified in their acts. In addition, the rest of
the world would not support the U.S. and its influence would wane.
Folly of Mis-Identifying the Enemy
main national security goal of the U.S. was stated
as follows in September, 2002: "Defending our Nation against
its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the Federal
statement is unobjectionable, although in fact the U.S. Constitution
places the establishment of justice and insuring domestic tranquility
ahead of providing "for the common defence."
Iraq War is the consequence of taking this mission into strategy
via the preemption policy:
enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of
mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so
with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts
to succeed…And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense,
America will act against such emerging threats before they are
fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping
for the best. So we must be prepared to defeat our enemies' plans,
using the best intelligence and proceeding with deliberation."
the first step is to identify an enemy correctly. Who is the enemy?
How is an enemy to be identified? This is a central issue. One of
the problems with our political system is that the President identifies
Iraq the enemy? During an
interview on August 10, 2002, the President said it was and
President, yesterday in an interview I guess with Scott, you described
Iraq as the enemy."
"I described them as the axis of evil once. I described them
as an enemy until proven otherwise. They obviously, you know,
desire weapons of mass destruction. I presume that he still views
us as an enemy. I have constantly said that we owe it to our children
and our children’s children to free the world from weapons of
mass destruction in the hands of those who hate freedom. This
is a man who has poisoned his own people, I mean he’s had a history
enemy is one whom the President describes as an enemy, for reasons
he gives shortly. To be removed from the enemies list, there exists
some mysterious process of proof to the contrary, but who carries
out this proof or how it is done are unknown.
is an enemy because it has a desire for weapons of mass destruction,
even if it does not possess them. The small threat that could grow
into a "worst threat" is a desire. The President arrogates
to the U.S. the option to brand any group or nation an enemy and
then attack them, on the basis of a subjective determination by
the U.S. that they desire weaponry. There could not exist a much
more flimsy basis for aggression than this. The so-called leader
of the free world has here abandoned any moral standing to be that
enemy is one who "still views us as an enemy," not even
actually but presumably, according to the President. In other words,
if I think that you think I am an enemy, then I am entitled to attack
and the President here sounds like he really means it, we have a
duty to rid the world of tyrants who hate freedom and possess weapons
of mass destruction. This statement is overkill since actual possession
is not necessary to justify the attack. However, it appears that
the enemy is also one who hates freedom. And how does one determine
that? Probably if the country fails to hold an election according
to the rules that the U.S. prefers, but not if it forces its citizens
into Social Security and Medicare. Presumably, if President Bush
had been governing in 1949, the U.S. would surely have attacked
the Soviet Union, but 20 or more other countries may have qualified,
many under the U.S. aegis.
October 7, 2002, in a major
prepared address to the nation, President Bush made his detailed
case for Iraq being an enemy.
In this speech, he led off by referring to Iraq as a "grave
threat." How so? From Iraq's "history of aggression"
and "its drive toward an arsenal of terror." However,
the U.S. was non-neutral
during the Iraq-Iran War, and its inept
diplomacy played a role in catalyzing
the Iraq-Kuwait War. In addition, whether Iraq's weapons arsenal
was intended to be used for defense, aggressive war, suppression,
or terror was hardly known to the President. Apparently, the U.S.
arsenal is never to be regarded as an instrument of terror no matter
what its deadly impact because of the honorable intentions of its
foreign policy at this moment seems to have abandoned sober consideration
and entered a shadowy world of its own, critically dependent on
perceptions of threats before they become threats, subjective assessments
of states of mind and intentions, and the emotional gratification
of doing something, anything, to overcome frustration and fear.
Is this the foreign policy of a "feel-good" generation?
President went on to his well-known remarks about Iraq's possession
of "chemical and biological weapons," claims we now know
not to be true. We also now know that the Administration knew these
claims were false. Here was both a false rationale and a lie (one
of many) told to the American people.
comes in many guises. An attack on Saddam Hussein, being something
of a folk hero, by a power like the U.S. whose designs could easily
be interpreted as imperialistic, would almost surely drive a wedge
between the U.S. and Islamic nations, alienating the man on the
street. The enhancement of Iran's position would be a natural consequence – but that would not deter a White House confident of moving from
neoconservative victory to victory.
Iraq an enemy, a threat to the national security of the U.S.? Most
definitely it was not, all assertions and propaganda to the contrary.
sum, President Bush mis-identified the enemy. He put into play a
strategy of nation-building that would almost certainly fail. He
did this on the basis of an unethical doctrine of preemptive war
that can only be applied in a highly subjective way. Thus, from
the point of view of national security, his own goal, his decisions
were folly, Bush's folly.
Omar Bradley said of General MacArthur's strategy of invading China,
which fortunately was never implemented, that it "would involve
us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and
with the wrong enemy." Regrettably, either no Omar Bradley
stood beside President Bush or he chose not to listen if there was
Bush's Folly Occurred
will probably be a long time before we know how and why Bush's Folly
occurred. At the moment, I offer the following thoughts and perspective.
Bush is a cunning man, in my opinion. He knew that the 9/11 attacks
had changed American attitudes or at least opened them up to change.
On 9/20, the President seized the initiative to shape the public's
conceptions and interpretations of 9/11. He supplied
a story that placed the events of 9/11 in a perspective of his
own making. In his speech, the President, among other things, declared
a very broad war on terror, presented the Taliban with an ultimatum,
as a prelude to war, and outlined an agenda related to the war on
terror. These are the acts of a man who knew enough to latch on
to an historical moment and use it to amplify 9/11 into a cause
many Americans at that critical moment displayed the psychological
characteristics of a crowd, then President Bush used that moment
highly effectively to advance his agenda. Even those who support
democracy as a form of government should understand that this process
does not follow the hallowed democratic script. Massive power lodged
in the Presidency, a one-sided opportunity to be the focal point
of a crisis, the first mover in providing doctrine and leadership,
a crowd prepared to receive direction – all of these short circuit
what is supposed to occur in a democracy, namely, open debate and
exchange of information leading to a public consensus and then action.
This democracy in this instance as in many others replicates a sort
of mob rule, when its leader cleverly coordinates a fearful crowd,
inciting them to support his actions.
Bush's Iraq War is folly, it was quite clear at the time when Iraq
was attacked that our leadership could never have taken seriously
the notion that Iraq had missiles and atom bombs ready to fly, that
it was preparing a war against America. This notion is so far-fetched
that we must wonder how it could ever have been promulgated to the
American people much less believed. After all, whatever puny power
that Iraq possessed had already been greatly reduced by previous
wars with Iran and the U.N. coalition; and for a decade, the major
powers had overflown and inspected the country as well as embargoed
it without mercy. We did not need a Downing Street memo to have
understood in 2002 that the U.S. already had determined to attack
Iraq regardless of pretext or legal justification, both from public
statements and by actions to move military forces to the Middle
then did the President go ahead with this war? Was it to gain political
capital, as some have suggested?
This is plausible, but there are other possibilities.
James Ostrowski gives us a sturdy
foundation for understanding war-making by democracies. He emphasizes
that wars are made purposefully to achieve particular ends of particular
people and groups of people. Wars, he says, occur to achieve one
or more of the following goals for their proponents:
political goals, such as a war serving as a distraction from domestic
troubles or a temporary remedy for them.
of a political agenda under the war's cover, such as control over
industry or extension of police state methods.
to special interest groups that benefit from the action, such
as defense, construction, and oil industries.
of messianic goals, such as spreading freedom and democracy, or
making the world safe for democracy.
of imperialistic power or rule to a new region.
this list, I add ends that public-minded politicians and statesmen
of geopolitical goals such as securing a warm water port or securing
an oil supply.
of life, liberty and property.
of a treaty or similar obligation with an aim such as collective
matter which of these ideas or others motivated the President, this
war shows clear error, with the sought after national security producing
the opposite result, and weakening the U.S. morally, spiritually,
politically, militarily, socially and economically. Bush's War is
folly for countless innocent people who have been killed and wounded,
it is folly for us, and it is turning out to be folly for him.
a degree of success in Afghanistan emboldened our leaders. Maybe
the foolish mantra of sole superpower, that overemphasizes the military
and overlooks the moral, went to their heads. Maybe the idea of
a New World Order captured their fancy. Whatever transpired behind
closed doors, President Bush (and others) evidently thought that
this war would be easy and result in many benefits. They should
have known better. They stupidly underestimated the potential risks
and losses. They overconfidently peered into the future and saw
many gains within reach and few losses. They miscalculated. Then
again, perhaps we will learn that they failed to calculate at all.
Perhaps they just threw
historians uncover, the important lesson is that the Iraq War joins
a long list of other State-sponsored misadventures. State leaders
do brainless things because, having a monopoly on legal violence,
their accountability for their acts is relatively low, because they
do not bear the full costs of their acts, because the information
and intelligence systems within States are never up to par as they
too involve poor accountability, and because the system is geared
to raising leaders with harmful characteristics to the top. When
leaders possess excessive power, as in the case of the Presidency,
the potential damage is multiplied.
require order, and it can be given by a range of methods, from self-government
to despotism. Our country has over and over again accepted the paranoid
proposition that order requires conquest or control, temporary or
permanent – of the South, of the territory between the Atlantic
and the Pacific, of the Pacific Ocean, of Mideast oil, of Iran,
of South Korea, of Vietnam, of the Philippines, etc. Now the thought
is that Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, and who knows
how many other places, are military fair game because some ill-defined
thing called our "national security" is at stake. Folly,
folly, and more folly, bringing increasing disorder, insecurity,
and totalitarianism. Will the American people please come to its
senses? Let us make self-government our political aim.
helpful comments of Dorothy Gruber-Rozeff are gratefully appreciated.
S. Rozeff [send him mail]
is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.