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 5)

Don't Rush Me IV -- Tough Dove Tough Love: The LAT's Ron Brownstein makes a noble effort to clarify the Iraq debate  -- and, I strongly suspect, promote a position with which he can agree -- by distinguishing two schools of Iraq hawks.

On one side are those who consider international cooperation the key to confronting new threats to global security. On the other are those who see Iraq as the opportunity to prove that the surest way to a safer world is for America to lead through assertive action, even if that increases friction with allies in the near term.

The first position -- the so called "tough dove" school -- is highly appealing to those of us who fear establishing a precedent under which any country can lead a "coalition of the willing" to enforce a treaty obligation or take out an enemy it thinks can't be trusted with powerful weapons (India and Pakistan come to mind).  A precedent allowing a structured international body to remove dangerous rogues seems far less risky. Plus a multinational structure seems the most fruitful way to suppress the terrorist threat without having the U.S. take all the blown-back heat. Brownstein names Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Tony Blair as tough doves.

The problem is figuring out what difference, exactly, tough-dovism would make in practice. Sure we should "[work] through international institutions" (Clark) and avoid "actions that could produce the unintended results of fracturing those very institutions" (Hagel). We should refrain from belittling France and Germany, for example, just because they disagree with our battle plans. And we should give "a higher priority" to "building international support," perhaps delaying an attack to get it. But all that, as Brownstein realizes, is "a matter of degree" and emphasis.

The "tough dove" position would have more utility, as an alternative, if its practitioners would clearly identify the situations in which we'd actually let our allies stop us from taking military action. If the French veto the U.N. Security Council Resolution now being deliberated, would we hold back? Tough Dove Kerry specifically voted against requiring U.N. approval. Tough Dove Clark, on Meet the Press, seems to agree:

TIM RUSSERT: Has the president drawn the sword where he can no longer back down?

GEN. CLARK: I think that's right. I can't quite imagine that he could create a scenario in which it would be OK to just implement an enhanced so-called containment regime with inspectors on the ground; not with all the troops there, not with the determination. ... So I think we can all debate alternative strategies and theories and, yes, maybe containment was possible a year or so ago. Now it's too late. Saddam Hussein has to understand his day is over.

The temptation, of course, is for tough doves to avoid the need for such decisions, to portray their position as the best of both worlds, as in, "We can get our allies to do everything we want to do if only we'd try harder." Sometimes that will be true. (It seems worth waiting through the summer, for example, if that would actually get the French and Russians on board.)  But sometimes, surely, it won't be. Then what? If every time the "tough dove's" position is to go ahead and do what we want to do anyway, their vaunted deference to international institutions becomes something of a sham.  "[T]he tough doves join the neo-cons in believing the United States can't wait indefinitely for U.N. authorization before moving against Iraq," Brownstein writes. Unless there are actions we would wait indefinitely for -- actions we'd really like to take -- the international structure is not really a structure at all, and can't serve its purpose of preventing future unilateral actions by other nations that decide they "can't wait indefinitely" for our approval.

Clark did outline a strategy he says he would have pursued a year ago -- a strategy that avoided an Iraq attack and (presumably) pleased all our allies, France included. Specifically, Clark would have

focused exclusively on al-Qaeda, said, "Here's our target, set Iraq aside, strengthen containment. ..."

But what could this "strengthened" containment have achieved -- especially since Clark is highly skeptical of inspections as a means of uncovering Saddam's weapons? ("I don't have any confidence that the inspectors are going to find anything. This stuff is extremely well- hidden.") Like the tough-dove war strategy, Clark's alternative non-war strategy has a free lunch, best-of-both-worlds quality. We get everything we need and a multinational New World Order too!  (Another obvious question: If strengthened containment without inspectors would have worked last year, why can't strengthened containment with inspectors work this year, avoiding a possible non-U.N.-approved war?)

I'd be happy to be a "tough dove." It sounds so New Democrat. My kind of position! If only I knew what it meant. ...3:36 A.M.