Howard the Hawk
Dean's foreign policy message: I'm no sissy.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis' Texan running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, went around the South telling people, "Michael Dukakis will not take your gun away!" This week, in a speech aimed at proving he's no Dukakis, Howard Dean promises not to take your Army's guns away.
Dean delivers the speech Monday in Los Angeles. Afterward, his foreign policy advisers field questions about it at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Warren Christopher, the Yoda of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, kicks things off in Los Angeles by welcoming everybody to "the first major foreign policy speech of Gov. Dean's primary campaign." A minute later, Christopher again mentions "Gov. Dean's primary campaign." Why does Christopher keep saying this? Because he knows it isn't true. This is the third major foreign policy speech of Dean's primary campaign. The reason we're all listening to it is that it's the first foreign policy speech of Dean's general election campaign.
Dean's basic goal is to debunk the idea that he's antiwar or soft on Saddam Hussein. He lists all the military actions he supported: Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan. He repeats several times that Saddam is a bad guy. Actually, "bad guy" is the sort of language President Bush would use. Dean's stuffier description is "frightful person." Dean also pronounces himself "delighted" about Saddam's capture—a word Bush would never use in that context without raising a pinky and an ironic eyebrow.
So does Bush get credit for the capture? Nope. The closest Dean comes is thanking U.S. "military leaders" for nabbing Saddam. Then Dean starts moving the goalpost. He calls the capture an "opportunity" to pursue achievements that are more difficult ("securing Iraq," providing "stability"), are sure to be falsified every day ("protecting the safety of our personnel"), and run against Bush's grain ("repair our alliances and regain global support for American goals"). In short, he sets up Bush for failure. His sneakiest line is, "We hope Saddam will give us information about weapons of mass destruction that led us into this war." If Saddam provides no such information, Dean will argue that he was just a means to an end, and the real prize—the WMD—remains at large.
That's the crux of Dean's case: The real threats to the United States are global terrorism and WMD, and the Iraq war addressed neither. Saddam's terror connections and weapons programs were more than zero but less than what other regimes had. To that extent, the war was a net loss, since it consumed resources that could have been used more efficiently to fight terrorism or WMD elsewhere, and it antagonized countries whose help we needed in those pursuits. Ousting Saddam was good for the Kurds, the Shiites, and probably for the nations bordering Iraq. But it wasn't essential to the security of the United States.
The line that in the speech that draws the most flak afterward is, "The capture of Saddam has not made America safer." But analytically, Dean is right. The people who are safer with Saddam in prison are in Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait. We weren't on the list. I supported the war to punish a scofflaw and put teeth in U.N. resolutions. Bush now defends the war as a rescue mission for oppressed Iraqis. Neither reason has to do with U.S. security.
What would Dean do to keep WMD out of the hands of terrorists? What Democrats do best: spend money. He wants a $60 billion global fund, with half the money coming from the United States, to contain WMD. How would the money solve the problem? Mostly through bribery. A lot of loose nukes and loose nuclear scientists are running around, especially thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We can outbid terrorists for the weapons and the scientists. Dean credits this idea to two foreign policy luminaries, former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Sen. Dick Lugar, R-In., so everyone understands it isn't some loopy left-wing fantasy.
Dean defines his foreign policy in two ways: It would be "mutilateralist" and have "high moral purpose." What's immoral about Bush's foreign policy? Bush didn't tell the truth about Iraq's WMD or its links to terrorism, and he let ideology distort intelligence about both matters, says Dean. That's an accurate and damning indictment. But aside from telling the truth, how would Dean's foreign policy be moral? He says he'd "stand up to the Saudis," yet he also criticizes Bush for rebuking other miscreants too publicly. And Dean's basic critique of the Iraq war is that it wasn't selfish. I don't see how, on more than procedural grounds, his approach is more moral than Bush's.
Dean's case for multilateralism is fishy, too. He notes that when other countries join us in a mission, they lighten our burden. But what if they refuse? In Iraq, Bush resorted to a "coalition of the willing." Dean derides this as a "pick-up team" and suggests that it can't work because the teammates haven't shared training and equipment. I think he's stretching the metaphor. Iraq shows that the Italians can handle one part of the job, the Poles another, and the Fijians another, while U.S. troops do the heavy lifting.
The other problem with Bush's bullheaded approach, according to Dean, is that it inhibits collective action. Dean says that he would have supported ousting Saddam through the United Nations but that Bush "pre-empted" U.N. action by vowing to oust Saddam with or without its help. In the session with Washington reporters after the speech, Dean adviser Susan Rice elaborates on this claim, arguing that if Bush had waited just "a few weeks" more, the U.N. Security Council might have reached a "consensus" to disarm Saddam.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Howard Dean by Jim Ruymen/Reuters.