The man recruits three ships full of men to make this unbelievably dangerous, scary voyage to what turns out to be America . . . and we can’t close the stock market for one rotten little day?

Sorry there was no column yesterday – I thought it was a long weekend.

We will get back to your good comments on Rob and the Mideast tomorrow, but for today, just this one, from Paul Berkowitz, who writes: ‘The most succinct summary of the Mid East I have seen: If the Arabs laid down their weapons, there would be no more violence. If the Jews laid down their weapons, there would be no more Israel.’

Okay. Let’s talk Iraq. Two ‘must-reads’ are the relatively short statements of the junior Senator from New York – who voted with the President – and of a long-time Democratic congressman from California, who did not:

  • Senator Hillary Clinton “will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.”

Which of these two statements most closely reflects your views (click to see them)? Whichever it is, my great hope is that by rattling our saber we will not have to use it – or not without UN sanction, anyway.  Or, at the very least, not without considerable allied support.

The fear is that the White House hawks really don’t see the huge downside in a unilateral invasion.  Nicholas Lemann had a really important piece in the September 16 issue of The New Yorker – long, but very much worth reading if you can find the time.

In part:

The contrast between the Democrats’ faith in international treaties and organizations and the hawks’ mistrust of them [the piece reads in small part] couldn’t be more deep-seated; it reflects fundamentally different views of human nature. Do you get people to behave the way you’d like them to through power and force, or by encouragement and friendship?

As one of you kindly wrote me not long ago, it’s sort of the difference between a martial plan and a Marshall Plan.  (Both, of course, may be needed.  But Democrats tend to get more excited by the latter than the former, and vice versa.)

We made a terrible mistake declaring war on terror generally and not on Al-Qaeda specifically, Lemann’s piece argues.  And we badly bungled Tora Bora and the subsequent Operation Anaconda.

One of the most thought-provoking passages in the piece comes from Harvard Professor Stephen Walt.  He tells Lemann:

We didn’t get Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. We’re killing civilians. We’re killing friendly forces. This is ultimately a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world. When your village just got levelled by an American mistake, the conclusions you draw will be rather different from what we’d want them to be.

Americans do not yet perceive a cost to having a freewheeling foreign policy. We stayed in the Persian Gulf for ten years, and lost fewer than three hundred people. We knocked off the Taliban in a few weeks. But imagine going into Iraq. If things go badly, we end up there for a long time. There’s a point where the costs start adding up. It will generate higher and higher levels of resentment. Empires start generating a lot of resentment. I’d leave Saddam right where he is. Keep him bottled up. Wait for him to die. What do we do if we’re successful? How many coups were there in Iraq between 1958 and 1968? It’s a country riven with internal divisions. That’s why the Bush people didn’t go to Baghdad in 1991. Iran is much more powerful and important than Iraq—how do Iranians react? I have limited confidence in our ability to run countries we don’t understand. Why, in the middle of pursuing Al Qaeda, would you decide, “Oh, let’s take a big country and invade it and create a giant political mess there!” We’ve seen people attempting this in the Middle East before, and it hasn’t worked. You never know how these operations will go. History is not on the side of the advocates here.

The one thing we know for sure is that the timing of all this is starkly cynical.  After all, George W. Bush knew as a candidate all the things about Saddam he has told us as President.  Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds, the invasion of Kuwait, the plot to kill his dad, the absence of inspectors since 1998 . . . he knew all this!  (“It’s as if he’s been watching the History Channel and thinks it’s Headline News!” moans CNN’s Paul Begala.  “Wait til they show him the briefing book on Tiananmen Square!”)  Why didn’t candidate Bush campaign on this then?  “And if you elect me, I will lead us into a unilateral invasion and American occupation of Iraq!”  Or if not during the campaign, in his inaugural address?  Or over the summer of 2001?  Or last spring?  Or – having held off over this summer – why not hold off to November 6?  Why just now has the debate been so necessary?  Why just now is he truly alarmed about Saddam?

Republican strategists have made it very clear that the war is their way to win the election November 5 – thereby to get a more conservative Judiciary for their rightwing base and to make permanent their multi-trillion-dollar tax cut for the best off.

The first slide of the PowerPoint found on a floppy disk near the White House in June outlining Karl Rove’s strategy for Republican candidates in the midterm election was titled: “Focus on War.”  Get prescription drugs and educational and job losses and Social Security and deficits and Harken and Halliburton off the front page.  Focus on War.

They are a tough crowd when it comes to winning elections.  Florida in 2000 may have been just the beginning.


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