A Realist (Scowcroft) Doesn’t Get It

December 26, 2008

[This Fictional discussion between Scowcroft, the realist, and me, the so-called idealist, is as relevant today as it was when first published in October 24, 2005. Now, in later 2008, there have been two democratic elections in Iraw, and a fair and open democratic vote for the constitution that now governs Iraq and under which there is a functioning democratic government. The anti American occupationo and Iraq government terrorism and rebellion has been largely defeated. It is fair, therefore, to say that Scowcroft was wrong.]

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Brent Scowcroft, military assistant to President Nixon, and National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and H.W. Bush, continues his attack on the bush foreign policy and Iraq War in an interview by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker (not available without subscription). In The Washington Note, Steven C. Clemons provides excerpts (here) from the interview:

A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’ — but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”

. . . . “This is exactly where we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a fair chance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”

RJR: Yes, lets look at the cost. Nearly 2,000 American soldiers killed, not even the near 3,000 American civilians murdered in the 9/11 attacks by terrorists; and for Iraqi civilians it is a death toll of 26,690 to 30,051 (see here). Compare this to the million of his own people that Saddam Hussein probably murdered, the additional million killed in the war Saddam launched against Iran, and the probable 30,000 civilian and military killed in the Gulf War Saddam initiated with the invasion of Kuwait.

For an incredibly small cost, we have won a victory of vital importance to American security in our War on Terrorism (Saddam supported and encouraged terrorism), we have saved the Iraqi people from a murderous repressive dictator, we have removed the chains that bound them, we have helped put them on the road to democracy, and we have encouraged democracy elsewhere in the Middle East.

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.” Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

RJR: The Iraqi Constitution is hardly modeled on American-style democracy. True, we are promoting democracy, but this is another way of saying that we are freeing people from the chains that bind them so that they can enjoy the freedom that is rightfully theirs.

“I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

RJR: Of course, this is a way to encourage democracy, unless you have an absolute and murderous dictator who, as all the intelligence agencies around the world said, was developing WMD, and in any case was supporting the terrorist enemies of the United States. Then, once you remove his threat, democracy follows. What should we have done otherwise? Take him down, and then leave the poor Iraqis to another dictator?

The neoconservatives — the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war — believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.

RJR: Nonsense. The Iraqi War was not launched to spread democracy, but to deal with vital threat Saddam posed. Helping the Iraqi’s to establish democracy then came after — it was an answer to the question as to what we do with military victory, and Bush gave the same answer we applied to defeated Italy, Japan, and Germany after WWII.

Scowcroft on Iraq & Israel

In August of 2002, seven months before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft upset the White House with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The headline read, “DON’T ATTACK SADDAM.” Scowcroft would have preferred something more nuanced, he told me, but the words accurately reflected his message.

RJR: More nuanced like what? Multilateral discussion with European no-sayers? More debate in the hopeless Security Council? Nuanced, indeed. How about unrealistic?

In the article, he argued that an invasion of Iraq would deflect American attention from the war on terrorism, and that it would do nothing to solve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which he has long believed is the primary source of unhappiness in the Middle East. Unlike the current Bush Administration, which is unambiguously pro-Israel, Scowcroft, James Baker, and others associated with the elder George Bush believe that Israel’s settlement policies arouse Arab anger, and that American foreign policy should reflect the fact that there are far more Arabs than Israelis in the world.

RJR: Rather than deflect attention from the War on Terrorism, the invasion was at the heart of this war, and has defeated a chief state supporter, put the terrorists on the defensive, and encouraged a democratic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The obsession of the region . . . is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Scowcroft wrote in the Journal. “If we were seen to be turning our back on that bitter conflict — which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve — in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us.” Scowcroft went on to say that the United States was capable of defeating Saddam’s military. “But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive — with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy — and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.”

RJR: How wrong his predictions were is obvious, and yet he is unyielding in his criticism.

Scowcroft’s Frustration Communicating with Bush 43

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There may have come a time when we would have needed to take Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t recovered from sanctions.” Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a Washington insider, was by then definitively on the outside, and there was no one in the White House who would listen to him. On the face of it, this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protege; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protege and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group. . . .

RJR: Why the Whitehouse doesn’t listen to him is obvious from the above. Also, note that he believed that Saddam had WMD, and yet he does not see the national interest in taking him out.

. . . . Scowcroft’s Deteriorating Relationship with Condoleeza Rice

The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was a political-science professor at Stanford when, in 1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council.

Scowcroft found her bright — “brighter than I was” — and personable, and he brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to several people with knowledge of the call. “She said, ‘How could you do this to us?'” a Scowcroft friend recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling at him was the fact that here she is, the national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in hearing what a former national-security adviser had to say.”

RJR: Typical of these people who have been on the inside. What bothers Scowcroft is not that he wasn’t listened to, but that his advice was not taken.

Scowcroft on Rice’s Foreign Policy Deficits & Israel Policy

. . . . They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

RJR: Peace? Rather war by other means — genocidal murder bombing, killing ambushes, and assassination.

Scowcroft’s Realism on the Middle East

Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not as a victory for self-government but as a foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we have to worry about — the sectarian emotions that were there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”

Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change.”

RJR: Enough. What is clear is that the Scowcroft is an unreformed real politics guy, while Bush bases his foreign policy upon the democratic peace. The gulf between Rice and Scowcroft developed when Rice grew to accept this policy (as well she should, being a professional student of international relations, a field that now accepts the democratic peace as axiomatic). Those who share Scowcroft’s view, which is a good part of the Washington establishment, see the tools of foreign policy as diplomacy, (jaw-jaw, smile-smile) multilateralism, alliances, foreign aid, trade, and the UN, all aimed at developing or maintaining stability in critical regions, like the Middle East, and a stable balance of interests and power. They see the idea of a democratic peace as Wilsonian idealism, utopianism, and as an excuse for a missionary like crusade for democracy.

These “realistic” analysts and experts do not realize that if by realistic one means consistent with history and facts, then it is the democratic peace that is most realistic. Policies based on stability, which when they were applied to the Middle East meant stable dictatorships, have consistently failed. The democratic peace has passed hard empirical tests, such as those below. The policy of realism has not.

Democratic Peace Chart