Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

The Glass Is Three-Quarters Empty
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 15 2004 1:15 PM

Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Fareed Zakaria makes the most eloquent and persuasive case for war. If we all get together again in five years and his scenario has come to pass, I will arrive at the reunion with mea culpa in hand. I turned against the war last March not out of pacifism, faith in the United Nations, or solidarity with France, but rather out of sheer skepticism—not only about the Bush administration's dubious motives and mendacious ploys but also (and primarily) about its ability to pull the thing off, particularly in the "postwar" phase (which our officials, in fact, so thoroughly botched that it has devolved into a second, deadlier phase of the war itself). In their diplomacy leading up to the war, Bush & Co. proved themselves so maladroit at dealing with long-familiar allies and entities, I figured they'd be hopeless at untangling the internal ethnic tensions that would boil to the surface after Saddam's lid was blown off.

Fareed lays out an enticing plotline in which the emergence of a stable state and a civil society in Iraq inspires progress and moderation throughout the Middle East. He points to steps that have already been taken in this direction by Libya and Syria—and I agree that these steps are, in large measure, a direct result of the war. However, I would argue that we are still at a very early stage of this story. Iraq could evolve into a viable, Western-leaning nation; it could devolve into a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism, à la Khomeini or worse; it could deteriorate into fragmented anarchy, even civil war. I don't see any one of these possibilities as more or less likely than the others. If one of the latter two scenarios comes to pass, the impact on Iraq, the region, and the rest of the world—and the United States' standing in it—will be devastating, the exact opposite of the noblest intentions.

Advertisement

I'm not dogmatic about this point. Fareed, you may be proved right. I hope you are. I guess the difference between us, for now, is that you see the glass as one-quarter full; I see it as three-quarters empty.

The Bush officials have changed their tune somewhat in the past few months. They seem now to realize, to some degree, the need for a more multilateral approach. Baker's trip to Europe (which I think was about more than debt-forgiveness) is an intriguing sign in this regard. What they are doing, diplomatically, in the Middle East is less clear. The Libyan gambit is promising, but it would be nice to see some pressure on other powers, not least Israel, too.

The Bush people also appear more responsive to the desires and demands of Iraqi leaders. (You don't hear Wolfowitz waxing on de Tocqueville much anymore; when it comes to what we all see as an acceptable political outcome, the bar has been considerably lowered, to accommodate a shift from fantasy to realism.) And the military leadership—thanks, mainly, to the new Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who rose through the ranks as a special ops commander and therefore knows the nature of "low-intensity conflict"—is adapting as well, attempting to strike a more effective balance between banging down doors and capturing hearts-and-minds.

Maybe it will work out. Maybe it won't. If it doesn't, the war will have unleashed forces far more damaging than might have been brought on by a continuation of containment, smart sanctions, and other, subtler pressures. Certainly I agree with you (and Tom Friedman, who has been making this point repeatedly in the Times as well as here) that the next few months are decisive and that the administration has got to start playing this game much more shrewdly than it has until now.

Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring. Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor toSlate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slateand is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon. George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq. Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World. Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.