Wolfowitz v. Perle?

A mostly political Weblog.
March 3 2003 5:23 AM

Neocon Schism Ahead?

Plus: Don't Rush Me V

(Continued from Page 3)

I'd even take proceduralism a step further than Kinsley, who seems to suggest that if

we knew for sure it would be as easy and cheap as the administration hopes, few folks would object

I'd object. The whole point of the rule against trans-border attacks is to stop nations from thinking "Gee, if I attack my neighbor it will be easy and cheap and well worth the cost, so let's do it." We don't ban murders except when they're easy and cheap and justified according to some utilitarian calculus. It's truer to say we ban murders because they're often easy and cheap and justified according to some utilitarian calculus.

The seemingly sophisticated focus, among antiwar types, on the difficulty of administering postwar Iraq actually undermines the anti-war case, in this sense, because it suggests that without those difficulties a war outside the U.N. would be justifiable. In fact, those difficulties are largely irrelevant to the initial question of procedural legitimacy.

It's also true, though, that following procedures in this case will make an attack a lot easier and cheaper than it otherwise might be.  Kinsley says this is "not just" because a multilateral attack would ease "concern about an anti-American backlash." But itis mainly because a multilateral attack would ease that concern -- and dilute the blowback by spreading it among our U.N. partners.

Under this view, if France vetos an attack, it would be legitimate for the U.S. to try to change the U.N. rules -- to deny France a veto, or to replace France on the Security Council with a nation less committed to anti-Americanism (or even to try to replace the U.N. with a new organization with better procedures). It would be legitimate to continue beefed up inspections, perhaps along the lines suggested by Robert Wright  or Jessica Tuchman Matthews, in the hope of eventually marshalling enough evidence and Security Council support for regime change by force (and in the meantime, to keep Saddam off balance enough to prevent his development of nuclear weapons). It would be legitimate to keep hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops on Iraq's borders threatening an attack. It just wouldn't be legitimate to attack -- unless the U.N. approves, or the clock somehow runs out and we have good reason to believe Saddam is shortly about to get the bomb.

That course might well be worse for the United States than if the French relent and allow an attack. But that's what the international rules mean -- that we sometimes have to do things that are worse for us, including things that increase the risks we face. That's the price of having an international structure of law -- a New World Order, someone once called it -- which will be a handy thing to have when we're combatting terrorism (which we'll be doing for the rest of our lives).

Well, it's a position, anyway -- one I'm perilously close to embracing. I'll try it on for a few days and see how it feels. Feedback welcome, as always.

P.S.: Democracy, which we hope to bring to the Middle East, is basically a bunch of formal procedural rules too, no? We don't ignore them when we don't like the outcome. [Insert cheap shot about Bush actually losing the election?--ed. No! He won by the rules, with the Supreme Court playing the role of France.]

P.S. -- Note to Karl Rove with forbidden thoughts about timing: Suppose we do have to wait through the summer without attacking, with trooops camped in Kuwait, Turkey, and Qatar, while we talk the French into at least abstaining. Taking a repulsively crass political view of it (which, unfortunately, you don't seem to be taking), isn't it politically better for Bush to attack next winter than now? For one thing, the actual popularity-boosting war would be closer to the elections -- and right in the middle of the early primary season, making the anti-war Democrats highly uncomfortable. Plus, given the possibility of post-war chaos and anti-American blowback over the mid-to-long term, an Iraq iintervention is likely to look a lot better, in November, 2004, if it's only 12 months old than if it's 18 months old. ...  12:51 A.M.

Thursday, February 27, 2003