How Should We Use Our Power?: Iraq and the War on Terror
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science
Swarthmore College Kenneth Sharpe
Before I begin the official introduction, let me just mention some of the guidelines and mechanics for tonight. I know that passions run deep around these issues that we're about to discuss, but we'd like to ask you not to applaud the particular comments that are made by any of the participants. We'd like to focus, as much as we can, everyone's attention on the integrity, logic and soundness of the arguments, and not divert attention to which argument has more support in the audience. Thank you for your help with that. The debate itself will go for between 40 minutes and an hour, after which we'll open it up to questions, and we'll run it like this:
Mark Danner and Leon Wieseltier will each make opening statements of seven minutes. They'll then each have seven minutes to respond to those opening statements. They'll then each have another five minutes for further rebuttals. We'll then have a 20-minute period in which I may probe them a little more on some of the issues they've raised, or they may want to probe each other, or if it looks appropriate at that time, we'll allow you to start asking questions. No matter what, at the end of that 20-minute period, the end of the first hour, we'll then open up debate to questions from the audience. When we do that, I'll explain to you how that procedure will work so that you'll have access to a microphone. I'll choose people, who'll then come down to the microphones in a manner I'll then explain.
I've explained to Mr. Danner and Mr. Wieseltier some of the issues that I know many of your are deeply concerned about. I hear them when I go out and talk about this issue in the community, and I hear it from my students here. I've asked them, though not required them, to give particular attention to four areas about which I'm often questioned. First, what is driving the war? Second, what are the consequences for the region, for alliances, for our own society? Third, will the U.S. need to do nation building in Iraq, and is it capable of doing so? Finally, are there any viable alternatives to a war in Iraq?
These are serious questions, and so will some of the other issues that our guests will raise, and reasonable people of good faith can and do disagree about them. We have two very reasonable people joining us tonight. Mark Danner and Leon Wieseltier have actually had a long association with each other. Both have identified themselves as liberals. They have both been strong advocates of human rights, and strong critics of governments that have violated human rights. Neither of them is fundamentally opposed to the exercise of U.S. power abroad. Both, in fact, were vigorous advocates for the U.S. intervention in Bosnia. But today, they differ about the wisdom of going to war against Iraq.
Mark Danner is a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. He's the author of The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War, and of two forthcoming books, one on the former Yugoslavia and the other on Haiti. Danner has co-written and helped produce two hour-long documentaries, four ABC News' Peter Jennings reports, one of which won both an Emmy and a Dupont Golden Baton award. He is currently a staff writer at The New Yorker and a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. He was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
Leon Wieseltier has been the literary editor of The New Republic since 1983. After three years as a graduate student in Jewish history at Harvard University, Wieseltier was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard from 1979 to 1982. He also attended Columbia University and Oxford University. He is the author of a number of books, the most well known are Nuclear War, Nuclear Peace, Against Identity, and Kaddish.
We had some discussion about who would start first and we ultimately settled that issue by a coin flip, which Leon Wieseltier won. He chose Mark Danner to start first. Mark, you've got seven minutes. I won't interrupt you during that time.
II. The Anti-War Argument
Staff Writer, New Yorker
Professor of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley
Thank you Ken, and thank you students at Swarthmore, administration of Swarthmore, President Bloom, and also David Gelber at CBS News. Thank you for having this debate. It seems to be the function of an academic institution, one of its proudest functions in a time of national crisis, and we're in a time of national crisis together. Together, we'll try to understand exactly what our country, of which we are proud citizens, is doing and is about to do.
It looks like — in the coming weeks, and perhaps the next two weeks — that the United States will go to war. American soldiers, airmen, Marines will attack Iraq, bomb its cities, invade its territory, take it over, and occupy it for an indeterminate amount of time. It's unclear how many people will die in this initial assault; it may be a very good war, a very lucky war in which a few thousand will die, or a few tens of thousands. It may be as lucky as the war in 1991, when perhaps 50,000 Iraqis died, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Or it may be much more complicated than that. In a month's time, the American forces may well be surrounding Baghdad and laying siege to it. As a current military officer said to me recently, "Laying siege to Baghdad is like laying siege to Los Angeles. It is an awesome idea."
It seems to me absolutely necessary and right that we should be sitting here before this goes on, trying to understand a few basic things about it. The most basic question, I think, as Ken very ably brought up in his introduction, is why. Why is this about to happen? I think it is no accident that, as Ken said, many of you have expressed confusion about the real reason for the war. Over the last weeks and months, we've heard the administration give a number of different reasons, most recently to bring democracy to the Middle East. At the beginning of the fall, it had a lot more to do with the threat posed by Iraq to the United States. I think one of the central issues on which my old friend Leon Wieseltier and I disagree is the degree of that threat, and I'd like to address that first.
Iraq is a miserable country of 23 million people. Its economy has shrunk by two-thirds in the last 20 years. It has no air force. It has a few missiles, which are currently being destroyed. It has an army that is a third of the size of the army it had 20 years ago — 400,000 troops. The United States is a country of 290 million, with the world's leading military, with almost 2 million men and women under arms. It has the power to strike any nation on the face of the globe within hours, with an intercontinental missile force, an intercontinental force of bombers.
If President Bush decided right now to wipe out Iraq, to destroy every city and every Iraqi, it could be done in about 2-3 hours. How does Iraq threaten us? It is said that they threaten us with weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has no nuclear program; it was destroyed in the 1990s. Mohammed al-Baredai, the current inspector, has found no evidence whatsoever that the program has been reconstituted. It does, I would be willing to concede and stipulate, have some chemical weapons and some biological weapons. It also has a brutal dictator.
But, does it threaten the United States, and does the threat it brings to us merit a war, an attack, as I believe? Can that threat be dealt with through other means, and will the war itself bring much greater damage than any threat that Iraq could pose? What is the threat that Iraq poses to the United States right now?
We hear again and again that Iraq attacks its neighbors, that Iraq has gassed its own people. Iraq did attack its neighbors, once, in the early 80s — in 1980, it attacked Iran. The United States supported that attack. The United States was frightened of the Iranian Revolution and its expansion, and it supported that attack. It armed Iraq, flooded its economy with $3 billion worth of aid, and also gave them targeting information for their gas and chemical weapons. In 1988, the gassing of the Kurds, at that time, not only was the United States supporting Iraq.
Many of the officials who are now in office, who say that Iraq must be attacked because it is erratic, because it attacks its own people, were also in office at the time. Colin Powell was national security advisor, Don Rumsfeld was President Reagan's envoy to Iraq, Wolfowitz was in office, Richard Perle — one can go down the list. It's as if the United States vowed today to attack El Salvador because of what happened during the Reagan Administration, because of the massacres that it committed during the Reagan Administration.
What is the reason for this attack, or for this proposed attack? The United States is responding to 9/11 and it has, at the top of the administration, a division. Some people feel that Iraq will be, sometime in the future, a difficult regime in the Persian Gulf; that is, it will have to be confronted, and that the current situation politically in the United States, with many citizens deeply frightened after 9/11, offers a window of opportunity to launch a war against Iraq without immediate provocation. It's very difficult, politically, to do in this country. Other officials, and we've recently seen them taking a more public role, like Paul Wolfowitz, most notably Douglas Fife, have an idea that to attack Iraq and occupy the country will be the beginning of democracy in the Middle East. We can get to this issue a little later in the debate.
Suffice it to say that the notion of the United States spreading democracy to the Middle East is a breathtakingly ambitious one. It will take years of occupation and, to me, it risks causing the kind of turmoil and revolt in other regimes that will bring more terrorism to our shores.
Let me add one thing. If a year and a half ago — after 19 religious zealots attacked the United States and tried to chase the United States out of the Middle East — if you had said then the natural response to that was to occupy a major Arab country, people would've said you were crazy; it's political suicide.
II. The Pro-War Argument
Literary Editor, The New Republic
There are two questions, I think, that all of us have been pondering. The first one is why is the Bush Administration proposing to launch this war? The second question is, should this war be launched? They're not the same question. Sometimes somebody that one admires does something that one cannot support. Sometimes someone that one does not admire does something that one can support. I'd like to separate, at the outset, the question of the Bush Administration from the question of the merits of this war that they propose to fight in Iraq.
I'm not here to defend the Bush Administration; I want to be perfectly clear about that. In most of its policies, I find it somewhere between offensive and odious. I have no enthusiasm for the heartlessness of its economic policy, for its indifference to the environment, for its non-democratic feelings about the transparency of government, for its religiosity, for its bloodlust in capital punishment executions. None of this arouses any enthusiasm in me. However, I cannot allow my analysis of what I believe to be a serious threat emanating from Saddam Hussein to be shut down by my opposition to the Bush Administration on other grounds. It is possible for sophisticated people in a democracy to support certain things and oppose other things. In any event, we only have one president at a time.
I was a great supporter of American intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s, as was Mark; we were co-conspirators in this. I think that Bill Clinton will go to hell for taking two and a half years to get into Bosnia after not doing anything at all about Rwanda. I greatly admired Republican friends who despised Clinton, as much as some of us despise Bush, who were able to support the democratic intervention in the Balkans because they thought it was the right thing.
The reason I support the war in Iraq is essentially this, and I'll have to speak briefly and therefore crudely. I believe that there is such a thing as an international emergency that requires the international community — whatever on earth that is. We'll have to deal with that at some point tonight: to act, to rise up and stop acts of such criminality, acts of violence against innocent men, women and children that simply constitute a fundamental violation, not only of the peace, but of the standards of a civilized international life.
I do not believe that tyranny is one of those international emergencies; tyranny is as old as the hills, and it has to be fought indigenously. A true democracy needs indigenous roots, so force can sometimes help it along, as we discovered in Germany, Japan, Austria and other places. Nor do I believe that war itself constitutes such an international emergency, but there are two crimes, there are two heinous categories of acts, that I believe require, obligate, every civilized individual to oppose them, into doing something about them. They are genocide and the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
The remarkable thing about Saddam Hussein (he's very distinguished in the field of evil) is that he has actually perpetrated both these international emergencies. He has used chemical weapons against soldiers; he has used chemical weapons against civilians. He started a war that lasted seven years that cost 1 million lives, at the end of which the border had not even changed. He invaded Kuwait. We now know, this is not speculation, that there are thousands, I repeat, thousands of tons of chemical agents in Iraq that are unaccounted for. We know, this is not speculation, that there are thousands of loiters of anthrax in Iraq that are unaccounted for.
The United Nations — that is to say, the international community — quite correctly, 12 years ago, and then again in [U.N. Resolution] 1441 recently, demanded that he disarm. We sent inspectors and he turned the inspections into a scavenger hunt. The inspections were not supposed to be a scavenger hunt; what the international community required of this man was that he make a strategic decision to disarm. This is a decision that, not only has he consistently refused to make, but that his refusal to make has enabled him to actually use his weapons, either actually, or for the purpose of the threat of terrorizing various opposition groups and ethnic groups in other states and so on. Saddam Hussein is the only figure in the discussion of the weapons of mass destruction, about whom all the chilling theories of deterrence and all the ominous scenarios of game theory do not apply, because he has already used them. He has already used them; he is the only figure in contemporary history of whom that can be said. This is not a small thing.
There are those who point out that the old scenarios of deterrence apply because he has never used them against people by whom he could be deterred. I will confess that that is attributing a little too much rationality after genocide, for my taste. In any event, even if Saddam Hussein is the rational actor that certain people who are opposed to the war think he is, he happens to have been a colossally, stupidly dangerous rational actor, who has committed two of the most extraordinary strategic miscalculations in modern history. The first one having to do with starting that ugly and unbelievable was with Iran, the second one having to do with the war with Kuwait.
Let me say a word about terrorism. I do not believe this war is about terrorism; I do not believe there is any direct link that has been demonstrated between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. But I will tell you this. Everything we know about this man, about what he has done in the past and about what he is capable of doing in the future, does not lead me to believe that there is some part of his conscience that would make it impossible for him to cooperate with terrorist groups of all kinds. He has already cooperated with a variety of terrorist groups, and there are thousands of tons of chemical agents that are unaccounted for.
A word about democratization: I do not believe, in the words of a famous folk singer in the 1960s, that we are the cops of the world. I do not think that democratization alone is a sufficient reason for the United States to launch a major war against a tyranny in the Middle East. But I do believe that the only real solution to the problem of proliferation is political development. That is to say, Saddam Hussein, I believe, for the sake of hundreds of thousands of innocent, not even necessarily American ones, because we are not the United States of America because we believe only in the welfare of ourselves. This is not just about the security of people who have an American passport; this is about the role that any large power, that claims to be a decent power and have a conscience, must play.
Mark Danner: We have, as you see very clearly, a strong difference of opinion on the character of the Iraqi regime, and whether or not the United States and its allies can deal with it in a way other than a war and occupation. I think we disagree strongly on this. I think you should all ask yourselves why, when many of the events that my dear friend Leon has just described were actually happening, and in the years since, you have not heard them described in such vivid tones. Of course, you all remember the gas attack on Halabja, that is, the time when Saddam gassed his own people. You all remember the enormous outcry from the Reagan Administration. You don't remember?
Audience Member: We were too young.
Mark Danner: I'm afraid that's not the problem, that you're too young. The problem is that, even if you were very much a sentient age at the time, as I indeed was, and writing about that part of the world, as I indeed was, you would have been deafened by the silence that greeted those terrible attacks in Iraq on the Kurds. Saddam drove northward after the end of the Iran-Iraq war; he bombed them with chemical weapons. He killed thousands, or tens of thousands, and the Reagan Administration, which was indeed floating the government, which was arming the government, and which was finally supplying through our intelligence agencies, the ones that you support, was supplying the Iraqi government with targeting information for their gas weapons. The same officials who were doing this are now pointing to the graves of the Kurds, graves that they could've kept from being filled, and saying, "Because he did this in 1988, when, by the way, I was in office, because he did this in 1988, he is erratic, he is dangerous, he is murderous, you must send your young men and women to fight him, supplant him and occupy his country."
It is not to stand here and simply demonize Republicans, to say that when you hear an argument like that, you should ask yourselves, "Are we citizens, or are we dupes?" Citizens look at history and try to understand when historical argument is being made. The one that Leon has just made is an historical argument, and the one that George Bush has been making is an historical argument. It's about Saddam Hussein and what he has done, and how what he has done in the past is a guarantee that he will threaten you in the future. To know whether or not that is true, you have to look at what he did in the past.
I repeat, what he did in the past was invade Iran with the support of the United States. Why? Because the United States found its vital interests threatened by the possible spread of the Iranian revolution. Saddam did his job; he stopped the spread of the Iranian revolution. That is why we paid for a lot of his arms, and that's why we gave him targeting information, and that is why we said nothing when he did what he did to the Kurds. What is the historical weight of this? I would say the first thing it should tell you is when you hear these arguments, you should think, "What is this really about?"
An argument is being made to the public that is based on threat, because the public is ready to hear about threat, because the public is frightened. It's a testament to citizens in this country that, even though they are frightened, they are still proving increasingly skeptical of these arguments. Saddam, if you look at his history, is indeed a rational actor. Leon, I esteem him for his writings, in particular on nuclear weapons. I urge you to buy his book on it, his small book; it's wonderful, brilliant. But what he said about deterrence is absolute rubbish. The idea that Saddam cannot be deterred because he's already used these weapons, and so he's non-deterrable, is ridiculous.
He used these weapons when the United States was on his side and fighting the Iranians. He did not use them in the Gulf War, because the United States said, "If you do this, we will respond in the severest terms." There is one way to guarantee he will use these weapons, and that is to attack him in such a way that he has absolutely nothing to lose. There is one way to ensure he will distribute these weapons to terrorist groups, and that is to ensure that he has nothing whatever to lose.
There is a way to contain him and to deter him, and that is, and I'll say this briefly:
This is a policy that can work, that your allies would agree to prosecute. Indeed, if it doesn't work in six months or perhaps in a time certain beyond that, then the United States — if this is a complete failure, could indeed prosecute a war then. There is no reason to do it now, no reason whatever. The Iraq tail, for the United States, is wagging the world dog. It is causing dissension with our allies, problems in Asia, problems with North Korea. We are sacrificing everything to this obsession.
Leon Wieseltier: I understand the view that one is against the war; I'm now trying to understand the view that one is against the war now, because if the war's going to have to happen in six months, a year, or two years, then essentially we'd make the same analysis of the problem. If that's the case, that's not just a concession to me and this debate; that's a concession to a certain analysis problem.
Mark Danner: I don't say it has to happen.
Leon Wieseltier: I think it would happen; I think you're quite right, because I think that containment has been a failure. I think the inspections are a farce. I'm delighted that the United States went to the United Nations and went through the inspections regime, because I don't believe that the Bush Administration should launch a major war without trying to get as much international support, international legitimacy as possible. The mixture of sloppiness and contempt with which it handled various nations of the world until now, are now the chickens coming home to roost. They're simply reaping what they sowed. That diplomacy was not just tactically stupid; it was also something deeply distasteful about it. What the rest of the world thinks has to mean something.
All of this I agree with. This is not about the past. This is not about the righting of a historical wrong. This is about the fact that — unlike the man who committed the massacre at Srebenica, who is now writing his psychotic memoirs in a prison in The Hague. The man who committed the massacre in Halabja is now the head of a state, an autocratic state, with all the weapons that I listed before, and with a record of having used them, and with no record for brilliant strategical or tactical behavior. This is not about the past; this is about what might happen.
It is also not about the American past, the hypocrisy of the United States government of the United States, on the question of Iraq is well known. It is also well known that there were people—I was one of them, you were one of them—who, at the time, when he attacked Halabja, attacked Rumsfeld and Reagan and Schultz and Brejinsky and all kinds of people who went along with this dirty game with Saddam. It was not the case that the United States was just monolithically doing terrible things, and now we pretend that we don't. The United States policy right now, by the standards of its own history towards Iraq, is hypocritical.
But I will say that there are worse sins than hypocrisy. When, if you believe that the stakes are very high, and that there is a threat—not just to oneself, I keep insisting, but to thousands and even scores of thousands of innocent people—then to stop the discussion by pointing out that the United States once supported the state that we're now going to attack, strikes me as a debater's point, which is fine in a debate, but it's not good of you're actually making national security policy. If one believes, as I do, that Saddam is an international menace, then the fact that the United States policy now is hypocritical is something that we should search our souls about, and the Republicans should search their souls about, and that everyone named Bush should search their souls about.
I do not believe that it should inhibit the United States, this moral power that we claim to be, by the logic that you just enunciated. Clinton should never have gone into the Balkans in 1995 because it was hypocritical. After all, we hadn't gone in 1992, we hadn't gone in 1993, he hadn't gone in 1994. Why, all of a sudden, would he be going in 1995, to which the only response is, "Better late than never." The emergency still held. The analysis was still correct. The man was a dirty hypocrite, but he happened to have been the President of the United States and, therefore, the one single human being on the planet Earth who had the power to stop this.
You're right; I think that Halabja is Srebrenica. I see no significant moral distinction. I do not understand how, not you, Mark, but other people, who supported Western international or even unilateral American action, which I certainly did, to stop the Bosnian genocide and the systematic rape and the concentration camps and so on. I do not understand how anyone who supported the use of force against the villain of Srebrenica, would not support it against the villain of Halabja.
The United States, like any state in any war, does not have clean hands. Innocence is for babies; it's not for states, and it's not even for moral agents. It's not even for grown-ups. The question of whether or not this is a just war or not a just war is a legitimate question, but if a war is just, a just war will also be an unclean war. Innocent people will die; there's no question about this. That is why there are people among us who call themselves pacifists, and their position, philosophically and morally, has enormous integrity in my eyes. They're right; if it is, indeed, clean hands that you with, if you believe that all war is illegitimate, if you believe that there is no war that can be just since every war will lead to the killing of innocents, then I accept the pacifist's position. I assume you're not a pacifist; I know you're not a pacifist.
Mark Danner: I'm not, indeed.
Leon Wieseltier: I know you're not a pacifist, certainly not in debate. In any case, the idea that the inspections will work...we mentioned dupes. As I said, it was a very smart thing that Bush acceded to Powell's advice and said to go through the United Nations. I was very delighted that the inspection process recommenced, if only because it made it perfectly clear that this man is hiding what he has. Iraq is the size of California. There are 50 inspectors. Let's quadruple the number of inspectors; let's send 1000 inspectors. This is simply a fancy way of avoiding the problem.
As I said, the international community, the United Nations, which we all respect and admire and think should not be destroyed by the Bush Administration, even though I must say that Saddam Hussein has been in contempt of the United National for 12 years, not the United States. The United Nations demanded that this man make a strategic decision to disarm. It said, "We know what you have. You must give it all up. You have used it; we may never allow you to use it again. Where on earth are these devices?" This man is playing a little game with all of us. The idea that, by increasing inspections, by trying to refine containment, which is anyway about as poor as a piece of cheese, that I think is a policy that will make dupes out of us, and that will lead us to have this same debate at Swarthmore eight, 12 or 16 months from now. At that debate, I hope to think that you might still be wrong. It's hard to tell.
Ken Sharpe: Leon, thank you. Mark?
Mark Danner: This isn't about clean hands. It isn't about innocent hands. I've tried to make clear that this is not about the past, that the question of what the United States has done. The history of United States' relations with Iraq is vitally connected to the present, because the public case that's being made, and that Leon has made, has to do with threat.
I am arguing here tonight that if, indeed, we are talking about the threat that Iraq poses to the United States, that that threat can be handled in other ways than an aggressive war, and occupation—an invasion, an occupation, that will last we don't know for how long, because our government hasn't told us. I am arguing that the war and the occupation are more dangerous than the ways that Saddam can be contained now. I am arguing that the enormous threat that Leon sees is fascinating in the sense that it is only visible, apparently, to the American government, and sometimes to the British government, and occasionally to the Spanish government. That is, a very large chunk of the world, that is just about all of the world, looks at this and says, "What is the United States doing, and why is the United States so set on attacking Iraq now? Why?" When I talk about the rest of the world, I'm talking about many, many countries that are a lot closer to Iraq than we are.
Leon's argument about these weapons, it is true; I freely concede he still has some of these weapons. The notion that inspections are a joke is, however, itself a joke. This has been a regime that's gone on for 12 years, and it's had some very large successes. It destroyed its nuclear weapons, it destroyed a substantial number of its chemical weapons, and some of its biological weapons. I propose the four-point—I think it was four points—program that I just did, not because I want to delay a war, but because I think it could prevent a war. Indeed, if the threat that is being identified here tonight, and that the administration is talking about, is the reason that we're about to go to war and invade Iraq, then that threat can indeed be confronted.
There are 100 inspectors in Iraq right now; there could easily be five times that many. They might work for six months, they might work for a year, and they will steadily find weapons. His arsenal will steadily be reduced. The idea that this can't work is belied by history. It has worked, and it will work. During that time, the aggressive tendencies that Leon ascribes to this regime, and I agree about its aggressiveness, will be kept in a box. The regime will be steadily weakened; its territory will be divided between the southern no-fly zone, the northern no-fly zone, and the rest of the territory, which will be crawling with international inspectors. If, indeed some of these sites are not open to inspectors, they can be attacked from the air without further delay.
What is the necessity of invading, occupying and becoming the imperial power in Iraq? I submit to you, to all of you out there, that the case has not been made, that Iraq needs to be occupied with American troops for five years? Seven years? Nine years? If I were Osama bin Laden, whose goal is to start a worldwide war and crusade (forgive the use of that word) between the Islamic world and crusaders and Jews, as he put it in his 1998 fatwa, I would look at this with great relish. The United States is about to prove itself to be exactly what Osama bin Laden has been saying it is for the last decade: an imperial power, an occupier of Arab lands, a humiliator of Arabs. This will produce many more terrorists; it will give a vivid push to Osama bin Laden's movement, and we will take on the duties of an imperial power that are at best difficult, impractical and expensive, and at worst absolutely doom-laden.
It is hard to run a country of 23 million people that is put together out of three separate provinces of the Ottoman Empire, that has always been ruled by a strongman, by a Sunni minority. It is difficult to conceive of what kind of government will be installed there, how to solve the problems of the Kurds in the north and their relations with the Turks, what sort of voice the Shi'ites will have, who will make these decisions, and how do you produce so-called democratic politics. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm saying it's extremely difficult.
I covered Haiti for many years, a fascinating country. The United States invaded its 7 million people, one of the poorest countries on earth. The United States invaded, spent billions and billions of dollars there. My first article, many years ago in 1986, was for the Times magazine titled "Haiti's Transition to Democracy." That was in 1986; there has been no transition to democracy, and it's not for lack of trying. I'm not saying these projects are hopeless; I'm saying they're extremely difficult when you have an old political culture, when you have habitual ways of political confrontation. They're very difficult for an occupying power to accomplish, because you're bringing to the table an overwhelming strain in the politics of the occupied country, and that is nationalism.
We are about to make 23 million Iraqis into very nationalistic Iraqis. It may take six months, it may take a year, but that is one of the things that will happen under this occupation. The notion that the United States can blithely accomplish this, and in so doing start a tsunami of democracy through the Middle East, as one of President Bush's fans described it, to me is a pipe dream. It's not a pipe dream because I'm fatalistic and I think democracy can never come to the Middle East. It's a pipe dream because things don't happen that way. Napoleon said that you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it, a wise man. He meant by that that military power has its limits. You cannot create viable politics solely with military power.
People talk about Germany and Japan—very different situations; ethnically homogenous, and they had the threat of the Soviet Union that pushed them to depend on the United States to reconstruct their politics. Outside of Iraq is not a looming Soviet threat, but in fact the minions of Osama bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalists. It's entirely different.
Ken Sharpe: Mark, thank you. Leon, five minutes.
Leon Wieseltier: I think it's a little cheap to suggest that what we're about to do is going to vindicate Osama bin Laden's analysis of the United States. Osama bin Laden does not believe that we're an imperial power; Noam Chomsky believes that we're an imperial power. Osama bin Laden believes that we're a satanic force in the universe that must be extirpated to the last man, woman and child. That's what he believes. Nothing that we can do or have done is either responsible for such psychotic (inaudible).
What you say about the inspections startles me, because even Hans Blix says that the inspections are not exactly working. The idea that the inspection should provide more grounds for hope simply mystifies me. If the inspections have worked, then why are we here? Unless you believe, which I don't think you do, that we're here because of Halliburton oil, since I don't believe that. Clearly, we're here because there were inspections that went on for 12 years, he defied the United Nations for four years, there were no inspectors, etc. There are now, as I said, all those demonic tons of chemical agents and biological agents that are still there. Again, that's a way of being duped.
I understand that it is an important political fact and historical fact that a great many people in the world oppose what we propose to do in Iraq. I have to say that the motives of the various states, societies, groups, heads of state, and demonstrations in opposing us differ. I have a great deal of respect for some of the motives for opposition; I am not yet on my knees in reverence for Jacques Chirac. I think that, anyway, this is not a popularity contest. The merit of a proposition has nothing to do with its popularity. We may wish to do something with which the whole world agrees, and we may still be wrong. We may wish to do something with which the whole world disagrees, and we may still be right. Who's to say? That's a good question, but we have to do the best we can with our reasoning minds, and with our consciences, and try to arrive at something that we think is right.
Whereas I think the Bush Administration, in its condescension and its contempt for a lot of the opposition, both at high levels of state and in the streets, has been a little disgraceful. Actually, I don't think it's that hard to persuade people of the moral justification of a war against Saddam Hussein, or of its timing right now, which I think has very little to do with September 11, by the way. On September 12, between the time that Bush was inaugurated and September 10, the American government lived in an orgy of triumphilism. We were not only the world's remaining superpower; we were so much stronger by so many orders of magnitude, that we were virtually omnipotent, invincible and invulnerable. We were going to militarize space, and we were going to run the whole world by means of a few buttons in Langley and in Reston.
Anyway, September 11 happened, and something very important happened, not just to the Administration, but to a lot of Americans, which is we learned that the most potent country in the world is not omnipotent. There suddenly was developed a very vivid sensation of fear, of anxiety about our security. This sensation, I think, has a basis in reality. You cannot attack the Bush Administration—I mean you, one cannot—attack the Bush Administration for its triumphilist, neo-imperialist complacence about its invincibility, and at the same time, suggest that there's nothing to worry about. Suggesting that there's nothing to worry about is another version of Rumsfeldism. Rumsfeldism, to me, represented the idea that the United States after the Cold War, after the computer and digital revolution, had nothing any longer to worry about. It was over. We were going to rule the universe, and quite easily. That turned out not to be the case. As I say, I don't think that this is a popularity contest.
Finally, the aftermath — this is a very complicated subject. You don't know that we'll occupy it for 5-9 years, and neither do I. My gut tells me that the United States doesn't keep troops for 5-9 years anywhere anymore, even to a fault. Afghanistan shows this. I have some doubts about the aftermath of this kind. I think that this administration has been incoherent in its rationales for the war. Some of its rationales don't go with certain other of its rationales. I do believe that there are people in this administration who genuinely understand that if they deprive Saddam of his arsenal, which by the way means deposing him from power; if you leave him where he was, again, we're back to where we were and we'll be back at Swarthmore in a couple of years. If they understand that, they also believe that, therefore, they cannot leave Iraq without trying to institute some democratic liberal institutions.
You know very well that Iraq happens to be one of those Islamic societies in which a social basis for democratization and modernization exists. It is like Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, and a little like Indonesia. There is a Westernized educated middle class, industrial class that has been kept under wraps by this woeful man. But, as I say, this is just one of the administration's motives. The other is the glory of an American protectorate to the oil field. It is not lost on some people that, as a consequence of September 11, the United States will have troops both in Uzbekistan and on the Gulf, which is an oil company's dream. It's a strategic energy boon of a kind we could've never arranged on our own. I worry that after the war, if you said to me, "Are you certain that this administration can be counted on to carry through the democratization of Iraq?" which I do believe should take place, in part for philosophical reasons, because I think that every human being in every society in the world deserves the right to live in an open society. I actually do believe that every human being in every part of the world wants to be free in his or her heart.
Ken Sharpe: I'll ask you to (inaudible).Mark?
Mark Danner: I'm sorry. I thought we were—this is how—
Ken Sharpe: No, you have another five minutes. Oh wait, that's true, you started.
Mark Danner: I'll take the five minutes.
Ken Sharpe: Let's go another short round. Why don't you take another five, then back to Leon, then I'll—
Mark Danner: We clearly have very basic differences on a number of fronts here. One is the role of history and the real reasons for this war. Another has to do with, indeed, what the threat is, and whether that threat can be managed. A third has to do with the history of inspections, and it's simply not correct to say that inspections have been a failure throughout. They haven't. There is no nuclear program now because it was destroyed. A lot of other weapons were destroyed. Just because the administration says again and again that he's had 12 years to disarm and he hasn't done it, and it's been 12 years of failure, doesn't mean that you have to accept it. Read a book. Don't take my word for it. Read some of the history of this and you will find that, in fact, this is a complicated history.
A lot of weapons were destroyed; they were done through an inspections regime. The issue of other countries, and this is not a popularity contest. Leon is very eloquent on that point, and I agree with him. It is not a popularity contest. My point about the difficulty we've had on the world stage diplomatically, in convincing countries to go along with us, is after all, the prime policy of the most powerful country in the world. The resistance that this has elicited was to try to make the point that perhaps our analysis of the threat is not absolutely shared by everybody, and that we cannot take it as a given that Saddam Hussein is about to unleash chemical weapons on us and other countries simply because he is evil.
Many of the countries that oppose this are in his neighborhood. Leon is quite right; if it's the right thing to do, we should do it. The question is, is it the right thing to do, and the question also is, what are the risks of going to war as opposed to the risks of not going to war? Not going to war, that road is not simply the road of appeasement, as some in the administration have said, comparing it to Germany in the late 30s, which is a ridiculous comparison. There is another road, and another policy on the table that can deal with Iraq, that can deal with this regime, that can gradually weaken it, and that eventually will usher it from power in one way or another.
What I am against is the war and the occupation. The dangers of it are much greater than containment and deterrence. It is absolutely inconceivable, astonishing and amazingly threatening to think that a megalomaniac who has killed his own people, thousands and thousands of them, could get nuclear weapons and we could live with that. Think if Stalin had gotten nuclear weapons. I'm not suggesting the Saddam should be allowed to get nuclear weapons.
What I'm saying is, that this case, this doomsday scenario, parallels one that was made in the late 40s and early 50s, then very far into the right it was, of people who believed in rollback: Curtis LeMay, who wanted to take out the Soviet weapons and the Soviet Union; McArthur, who indeed tried rollback, not incidentally, on the Korean Peninsula. Others like George Kennan, even Paul Nitze, hardliners many of them, argued for a policy of patient containment, that this policy could work, that it worked to the United States' advantage as a prosperous, vigorous, confident nation, that the nation didn't have to jump into a cataclysmic war that could hurt its national interests in the end. Those who were in power at the time were able to listen to this sort of doomsday scenario and deflect it. George Kennan, bless him, lived to be old enough to see his predictions come true.
Iraq is not the Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein, despite his admiration for Stalin, is not Stalin. The United States, and this is about what kind of country we're going to be, what kind of country you're going to live in as you grow up. This is a moment similar to 1919, similar to 1945, to '50, when the U.S is defining itself. Are we going to work with other countries in a patient, prudent way to contain our adversaries and eventually defeat them, or are we going to go against the rest of the world through a policy of bluster and mount an aggressive war in the Middle East and occupy Iraq, despite what everyone else thinks? Is the threat vital enough, do you feel it strongly enough, to justify that, to justify that kind of risk and to define what the United States is in the future?
All of these fights with the French, the Germans and the Turks now, which has been fascinating, are absolutely critical to what this country will be. We're redefining ourselves now after the Cold War, and this decision about how we deal with a threat, it's going to be reproduced, and it's going to happen again.
Ken Sharpe: Mark, thank you. Leon.
Leon Wieseltier: This is not about Curtis LeMay; this is about Wes Clark. It is true that when you say Saddam is not Stalin, you remind me of something that I know you would've recoiled from hearing when you heard it ten years ago, which is that Milosevic is not Hitler. Milosevic was not Hitler. Hitler was not the standard. Hitler was very distinguished in the field of evil. Saddam is not Stalin; Stalin is not the standard. He doesn't have to be Stalin; I think it's quite bad enough that he's Saddam Hussein.
Mark Danner: The question is, can he be contained?
Leon Wieseltier: I have every certainty that containment has failed over and over again, and that we have been duped by this man, some of it for good reasons. We tried as hard as we could to allow international institutions to operate, because we did want to find an international consensus. We did not go into Baghdad at the end of Desert Storm in '91 only because Bush, the father, believed that it would break up the international consensus that supported the war, which is why we're here tonight.
Mark Danner: Because he believed it would break up the country.
Leon Wieseltier: The question of the sanctity of the territorial integrity of Iraq is a separate subject. That it's ipso facto sacred is not obvious to me, given the other risks.
Mark Danner: We're talking about the reasons why we didn't go to Baghdad.
Leon Wieseltier: I think that we're not rushing into this war. I certainly am not rushing or keen to see American troops go into battle. This situation has been going on for a very long time. In the 1970s (whatever it was) when the Khmer Rouge was really going into Cambodia, George McGovern, who's someone I usually do not quote, proposed that the United States raise an international force and invade Cambodia and stop Pol Pot. He was right. He was right that it is a permanent stain on the United States of America, that whatever our role in the formation of Pol Pot and the creation of Pol Pot, and whatever villainous misdeeds we commit in Indochina, that we couldn't get it together to stop what was an obvious and outrageous genocide.
Mark Danner: When you compare Srebrenica and Halabja, there is a difference; in Halabja, we were on the side of the genocider. We were actually backing him, and the idea is that, 15 years later—
Leon Wieseltier: Which means what? I once committed a misdeed, now I have an occasion to commit a good deed and prevent a terrible deed from happening, and because I was once guilty, I'm prohibited from acting?
Mark Danner: Our history with Iraq is a history of rank hypocrisy. Do you believe the Bush Administration wants to attack Iraq because he committed genocide? If this is a war about human rights, do you really believe that?
Leon Wieseltier: I believe it's a war about proliferation, and I believe that a war about proliferation, in the case of someone who has used these devices, is a just war. I also believe that the problem of proliferation will never be solved in any authoritarian society until the great experiment of democratization is at least launched. I hope that this administration, which can morally obtuse in many areas of life, will not be morally obtuse about this particular case.
Mark Danner: So do you believe that because Iran used gas weapons also in the war, that if that country didn't evolve in this direction—do you really believe that war is about--?
Leon Wieseltier: No, no. We are in no danger of going in everywhere. I do not believe we should go in everywhere, and the United States is not about to fight 56 different wars in 56 parts of the world. Obviously in the case of Korea, we have no military option for the simple reason that it went on too long and we are deterred. So the administration has discovered, much to its embarrassment after a lot of incompetent diplomacy, that it's going to have to sit there and talk to this maniac because he has the ability to burn Seoul in a day. Korea has the very ironic consequence, to my mind, of vindicating this war against proliferation in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is now strong enough to be a menace, but not strong enough that we can do nothing about.
Mark Danner: The North Koreans were able to deter us before they had nuclear weapons.
Leon Wieseltier: I understand that.
Mark Danner: This is not about nuclear weapons. We're deterred by their conventional power.
Leon Wieseltier: That's correct, but right now all the plutonium in North Korea has gone missing, as far as I understand. It simply vanished. It used to be that plutonium worth one bombs full is missing; now all six bombs full are gone, thanks to the Bush Administration.
Mark Danner: It's easy to lose these things.
Leon Wieseltier: It's easy to hide these things. Again, inspections. If somebody is coming to kill X, and this person sets out with 10 guns, 10 weapons, and along the way to his innocent target, he is in one way or another rid of two, and two, and two, and one, and two of his weapons. Finally, he arrives at this target with only 1-2 weapons left. From the standpoint of the security, safety or self-defense of that particular target, the slow, gradual disarmament of the inspection regime will have accomplished exactly nothing. I would not protect my own family, put the security of my own family hostage to the terms of this kind of inspection regime. Disarmament was supposed to mean disarmament.
There is only one reason that this man refuses to disarm, and that is because his arsenal is the essence of his regime. If he gives up his arsenal, he gives up his political reason for being. He gives up his ability to terrorize his region. He gives up his ability to terrorize his people. He gives up his reason for being cared about by anyone under the sun.
Ken Sharpe: I'm going to interrupt for a second. Just to go back to you all, there's 1-2 small threads that I want to pull on that you two have raised, but I think need a little more elaboration. One that I think has gotten short shrift, although both of you said some interesting things about it, is the question of nation building and democracy inside of Iraq. Leon, I think very interestingly said that democracy needs indigenous roots. The military force can't guarantee those but, in some cases, military force can actually lay the groundwork. You mentioned Austria, Germany and Japan after the war. We know that in other cases, where the United States has tried nation building in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Leon Wieseltier: That was a modernization.
Mark Danner: Actually, we thought it was at the time. We knew that it wasn't.
IV. Moderator Question
Nation-building and democracy in Iraq
Ken Sharpe: Some people would say that the jury is still out on Afghanistan. The key element that I'd like to hear both of you talk about, and I think the audience would too, is, as you look internally, given what you all know about the internal character of Iraq, compared to these other countries, because we can't just use the metaphor without understanding the internal situation. What is the likelihood of democracy, even of stability, after the war? What is the likelihood of instability and a kind of, as Mark has indicated, a kind of perhaps continued killing that would make both of you very concerned about the consequences? Let me let Leon start in this case, then you'll respond.
Leon Wieseltier: I never like being made a fool of, but I never also want to think entirely cynically about the question of democratization. I know that democratization, democracy, humanitarianism, freedom, all of these word have been used by the United States and other powers in profoundly Orwellian ways. We know that very anti-democratic results can issue from attempts to democratize. We know this. However, as I said, I have a kind of philosophical commitment, which is that democracy, freedom's not a Western thing. It is a human thing; the democracy may have originated in the West, but that it is based upon a universal analysis of the human person, every human person, and that there lives no human person who genuinely, as I said, in his or her own heart, does not wish to be free. I do thin that democratization must be a priority in American foreign policy, generally. I do not believe that the United States should go around starting democracy wars because, as I said earlier, I think that it's a necessary consequence, I hope, of the war, but not a sufficient condition for it.
My own sense of what will happen in Iraq, as I said, is riddled with anxieties for a number of reasons. The good news, I think, as I said, is that there is a social basis for democratization in Iraq. There is not one in Libya, we thought that there was one in Algeria, there isn't. In Saudi Arabia, it's hard to think of a social basis of any kind. In Yemen, there isn't. In Turkey, there is. In Pakistan, there is. In Jordan, there is. In Iran, there is. In Indonesia, there is a democracy. In Iraq, there is. That's why, when people generalize about Islam and the Islamic world, it's an absolutely pointless exercise. I do think there is a social basis there.
The bad news is, there are two reasons, there are two things that worry me. The first one is the very unholy history of oil and democracy. Oil and democracy have never gone well together. In fact, they've never gone together at all. What the oil business cares for is not democracy, but stability. It has a religion of stability. There will be elements in this administration who will believe in stability more than in democracy. If they do that, I will be the first to say, at the top of my lungs, in print and wherever anybody will let me say it, that they will have seriously visciated what they have done in Iraq. They can lose the war, not just at the beginning, but also at the end. Secondly, I think that this administration has both realist cynics about democracy and, what should we say, mildly dangerous idealists about democracy. I agree with Mark; democratization is not easy to accomplish. It took the West about 2-300 years. John Stuart Mill did not write in the 12th century. There were 300 years in which books were burned and people were burned, and even after democracy was established in the West, fascism and communism, I believe, were both huge reactions, allergic reactions to the establishment of liberal orders, and a great many people died.
Mark Danner: That was well said.
Leon Wieseltier: This is not a simple matter, and I don't think, in Bush's idiotic simplistic way, that we're simply going to march in in some holy crusade, which I know is a word you're not allowed to use, to make Iraq free. However, if there's such a thing as collateral damage, there's such a thing as collateral humanitarianism. Afghanistan is the best example. We went I to destroy Al Qaeda, and the corollary of our attempt, which was a mixed successful attempt, to destroy Al Qaeda, was the destruction of the Taliban. None of us believes that the world is a worse place for the absence of the Taliban. None of us believes that Afghanistan is a worse place. If you had proposed to me that one fine morning, one fine week, the United States sent an invasion force into Afghanistan apropos of nothing, to destroy the Taliban, I would have said along those principles, "We're going to get into trouble." But it happened, as it often happens, that the kind of international emergencies that I spoke of, the kind of regimes that commit genocidal acts, that horde weapons of mass destruction, that harbor terrorists, that use systematic rape for the repression of women, etc., are genuinely anti-modern, anti-democratic, autocratic regimes.
Mark Danner: This is, to me, one of the most difficult subjects because Leon and I, as he said earlier, were co-conspirators on Bosnia. We have very sympathetic views when it comes to human rights and democracy. Nonetheless, I have to say that when I heard him speaking about social basis for democracy, I had an echo from the past.
Ken Sharpe: You live in the past, too?
Mark Danner: I'm afraid I do, I think it's the architecture here that swept me back.
Leon Wieseltier: It's deeper than that.
Mark Danner: I was thinking of Colonel Smedley Butler, who ran part of the Marine Corps during the 20s and was, as he put it in a wonderful memoir that commands your attention, an international gangster for capitalism. He went around and occupied the Dominican Republic, Haiti, as Ken said, Nicaragua, Cuba. He was involved, I believe, in all of these things. At the time, the Marine Corps was the major democratizing element of the United States government. They had a very set ideology of how your produce a democracy. The problem with these countries, they believed, was there is no middle class. We must create one. There's just rich and poor; tiny rich, great numbers of poor. We have to go in and we will establish schools of agronomy, we'll establish schools of medicine, dentistry, law, and we will try to create a middle class. They did this in many of these countries, and indeed, they thought they were in the business of creating stable, eventually democratic governments. That's what they thought they were doing.
My example from this era is Francois Duvalier, who was sent to the University of Michigan to become a doctor, and who came back and, through a strong nationalist movement that he helped create, and that was created out of the occupation itself, the American occupation, he created a dictatorship that lasted three decades. Does that mean that attempts at democratization lead inevitably to dictatorship? Obviously it doesn't. It does mean that political cultures, even in small, weak countries, can be extraordinarily resilient, and there are material problems in changing a political culture, creating a legitimate opposition, creating a judicial system, which is extremely important.
I'm sorry to talk so much about Haiti, but when I reported from there, everyone was talking about, the judicial system has to be developed. It has to be, we have to put money into it, we need the rule of law. You would think, well, they didn't have gavels. That's what they needed. You sit down with a Haitian judge, and it turns out that this fellow has probably been to the Sorbonne or Harvard. He'll show you his Delacroix that his grandfather got when he went to the Sorbonne, very well educated, very well educated legally. It wasn't a matter of education; it wasn't even a matter of money. It was a matter of the social world there, and the social distribution of power was anemical to actually deciding cases in favor of poor people. You have social bases in Iraq, to get back to Iraq for a moment, that are very complicated. Leon has the advantage of me, in some sense here, because I'm very sympathetic to essentially playing the idealistic card and saying, "You know what, the United States should be in the business of making things better. People deserve to live under good governments. People deserve to have good lives."
The United States, as the most powerful country in the world, should spread the opportunity to have good lives elsewhere on the globe. It should make things better. I believe that, but I also fear it, because when you look at Iraq, what we know about it, the job of changing the political culture there is going to be terribly, terribly complicated. That is, our own nationalism, the nationalism we will cause by occupying that country, is going to be an extremely difficult problem for the political system to take. It is a country that's divided largely between three different groups, many more actually, but Sunnis, Shi'a, and Kurds. Shi'a have run it from the beginning of its history as a state, and it is no accident that it's been run by a strong man. It isn't a natural state. That doesn't mean it can't be governed by a better government, but the plans that have been put forward thus far that I've seen—from the opposition movements, for example—the kinds of federalism they've suggested, demilitarization of the country, all of these things strike me as absolute pipe dreams. I haven't seen a real plan that suggests that the United States has an idea of how to make that country better, how to make it a force for good rather than bad, and how to ensure that turmoil isn't created there. The United States' presence in the Middle East doesn't make our security situation, on the streets that you walk down every day, worse rather than better. Those are the stakes here. Would it be safer or not safer?
Leon Wieseltier: How can we sit in a society like this and enjoy a secular order, an open order, federalism, civil liberties, the free press and so on? How can I sit in this country, then turn to my Iraqi dissident friends and tell them, "Tough luck, it's too hard," or "You're trapped in the wrong civilization," or "Your parents should have immigrated to Boston 20 years ago and they didn't?" I can't do that. Nobody denies that it will be hard. The difficulty of democratization in the Islamic world, that notion, not in your case, but in other cases, the insistence upon the difficulty of democratizing the Islamic world has been the fig leaf for a whole variety of right-ring conservatives.
Mark Danner: Talk about what I said.
Leon Wieseltier: When I say that I think that the United States, and I think, by the way, you characterize my position correctly, I think that the United States has a responsibility to make life abroad better for as many people as possible. I say that without embarrassment and without irony, tough, as you know, with a great deal of historical knowledge about how it can backfire and go wrong. I'm not being the idealistic teenage son here.
Mark Danner: You're more optimistic than I am, I think.
Leon Wieseltier: It's not a question of optimism. I think that there are moments when history presents you with opportunities, and I think that one has to see in one's heart, as a society and as an individual, if one is up to that moment.
Mark Danner: But I put forward real difficulties. It's not right to say you're the right wing, you can't.
Leon Wieseltier: Do I believe that the ethnic composition of Iraq will make a "one man, one vote" power sharing kind of system difficult? Yes, I do. But I also do not believe that, because you are a Shi'a in the south, or a Sunni from Tikrit, or a Kurd in the north—by the way, you know as well as I do that in the area of the north where Saddam does not have sway, in Solamania and elsewhere, there are the beginnings of a liberal order and an open society—but I don't believe that a Shi'a in the south or a Kurd in the north or a Sunni from Tikrit have fewer rights than I do. Somewhere buried under all the crust of all their harsh existence—their harsh economic existence, their harsh political existence—somewhere, they would not like the day to come when they will be given an opportunity to try it. Does that make me sound like the idealistic teenage son? Maybe it does.
V. Audience Question 1
Jesse O'Brien '03
Ken Sharpe: I'm going to use this opportunity to open things up to the audience. I'll reserve my moderator's right to maybe step back in again with some other questions. Here's how we're going to do this. There are two microphones in front, but we don't want to form a line at the microphones. I'm going to choose, right now, two people, to come down to each microphone. When the first person finishes, I'll actually choose a second person to replace that person, while the person who is at the second microphone can ask their question. We can keep people rotating fairly smoothly. Would you put your hands up if you'd like to ask a question? I'll see you through the spotlights if I can see you.
These are likely to be questions in which you're both going to want to say something. If we can try to keep it to maybe 1-2 minute responses, as opposed to a long statement about an issue. I think that would move the debate forward in an appropriate way. Yes, sir.
Jesse O'Brien: My name is Jesse O'Brien, I'm a senior here. There's an old Chinese saying that I think is very wise, and I think is very relevant, which is that "When the wrong man tries to do the right thing, it usually ends up wrong." I personally am a pacifist, so I'm coming to this discussion with something from a different angle than both of you. If I weren't a pacifist, and I thought that there was a very good reason to go to Iraq and that it could be a just war… it seems to me like a whole lot of doubts have been raised about what will happen after the war. It seems to me like Bush is very much the wrong man to be in charge, to figure out what will go on after the war. It seems to me like we agree on this, so I wonder, given that fact, why should we look at what will go on after the war as a reason to go to war instead of a reason not to go to war.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you. Leon, I'm going to ask you to take that first because, in some sense, he's representing a position that isn't dissimilar in its assumptions to where you started, in terms of, you had grave doubts about Bush himself.
Leon Wieseltier: Is Bush my idea of a world historical figure? No, to put it mildly. You feel like someone in a car accident who gets to the emergency room and when you look at the doctor on call, you just want to die. On the other hand, you're on that stretcher and he's the doctor on call. I don't know what to say. The Chinese proverb is very wise on condition that one knows confidently who the wrong man is and what the right thing is to do. There is a kind of glib certainty in that proposition. We do know that wring men have been responsible for right things. I have no doubt… I was not a great admirer of Ronald Reagan, though compared to George Bush, Ronald Reagan was pana errant (phonetic).
I have no doubt that Ronald Reagan, who was something of a blockhead, had something to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Empire. Did he bring it down single-handedly? No. If you had said to me "Who is the man in the 20th century who will bring down communism?" I would not have said the star of Bedtime for Bonzo. That's perfectly clear. All I'm saying is, there is an emergency. One can disagree with that. One can say, as my friend Mark does, that actually there is no emergency. But if there is an emergency, then he is the president on call. I believe that what he's about to do may be, insofar as he will deprive, separate Saddam from his arsenal, and depose Saddam is the right thing to do. I believe if he actually succeeds with the help of Iraqi dissidents, not just with the help of Tommy Franks becoming the Muskar of Baghdad for a number of years. But if he does that, then the wrong man will have turned out not to have done a wrong thing. Stranger things have happened.
Mark Danner: Am I the only one who liked Bedtime for Bonzo? I agree with most of what Leon just said. I think my problem with that the policy this administration is prosecuting; I think it has very much to do with September 11. I'm not saying this is a secret reason, but the notion of threat, the notion of needing to secure the country. I agree with Leon that this is part of it. This president, it should be pointed out, came to office talking about amore humble foreign policy. He came to office talking about the need to withdraw American troops from their places around the world, withdraw them from Bosnia, from Kosovo, from Sinai, from Germany. As Leon pointed out earlier, September 11, to some degree, did change their policy.
To me, there's a consistent thread in what they have done, and that is a kind of unilateralism. It's not isolationism, it's unilateralism, it's the willingness and the determination to act alone, to be willing to act alone and to bluster about it, which has alienated many of our allies, in some ways unnecessarily. But it isn't just bluster; it is the policies themselves that they've adopted. I agree with Leon; this is the president we have. To me, the weakness is in the policy itself, and the way they have chosen to respond to September 11, which is an assertion of American power, a redefinition of American prestige through the projection of military force, and an adventure in the Middle East, which I think is deeply, deeply risky. One can put forward an idealistic hope, as Leon did a moment ago very eloquently, about the need to make the world better and the right of everyone to live under a decent government, without relinquishing our power; as thinking human beings, to look at the project that we're talking about, try to evaluate its difficulty, and the sacrifices it will take, and the chances for its success. Every one of you have the power to do that, to look at this question and make a decision.
It doesn't have to do with belief in democracy. It doesn't have to do with the beauty of what I call the old American music, and it's beautiful music, about liberty, equality, about the kind of government we want, about freedom adhering or being the right of every person on the globe. It's beautiful music; we can believe in it. But we do not relinquish our rights, and we do not give up our obligation to look at these claims and try to evaluate them in terms of whether or not we believe that they can be successful.
Leon Wieseltier: I think that's absolutely right, Mark. The other night I couldn't sleep, and in the middle of the night I turned on the TV, and High Noon was on. I suddenly realized something about High Noon, which was perfectly obvious until you see it, which is, everyone says the United States should not behave like Gary Cooper in High Noon. Then I thought to myself, after his wife walked out on him, his deputy quit, the judge left town, and none of the citizens would help him, and his mistress got on the train, what on earth was Gary Cooper supposed to do except go it alone? He could have developed an international commission to open bilateral discussions with Frank Miller. He could have done that, but I thought to myself, I understand that during the Cold War, Gary Cooper in High Noon was a kind of frightening unilateralist. As I said, we have a moral obligation to use our powers of persuasion to try to persuade as many people as we can around the world, not just allies, of the justice of our cause and of the rightness of what we propose to do. I really believe that. I think that the Bush Administration's trashing of Kyoto, I think the whole general contempt, their unilateralism in the beginning, before September 11, which came, as I said, back to haunt him, was not unilateralism; it was plain arrogance. It doesn't deserve to be dignified with an —ism. It was not an —ism. But if it comes down to it, I do believe that.
You don't remember during Bosnia. At the darkest hours, remember, when safe areas were beginning to be under attack, and the concentration camps were, their existence was revealed, and systematic rape was beginning to be demonstrated, and so on. There were liberals who said yes, yes, it's terrible, it's the worst thing in Europe since the Second World War, but it's a European problem, let the Europeans do something about it. There was a perfect consistency to what they were saying. I remember thinking, and you probably thought at the time too, I wish they would just be more intellectually honest and say that they can live with the problem, because the Europeans were not going to do anything about it. To say, "Let the Europeans deal with the problem" was simply a way of saying, "I can live with this problem," and I wish they'd done me the courtesy of saying that.
When we talk about America going it alone, or even when we talk conversely of multilateralism, whether or not the United States goes it alone or has a coalition of the willing, the mainly willing, or the not-so-willing, American leadership in the world is a central fact. There are things that can be accomplished by coalitions of states, but by coalitions that will not be formed unless the United States has a political will to form them.
Mark Danner: I agree, but you can look at multilateralism in 1991 and compare it to multilateralism now. It is fair to say that this failure to put together a coalition, because let's face it, that's what it is—
Leon Wieseltier: It's a terrible thing. Of course it is.
Mark Danner: It's not simply a matter of manners. It's a matter of other states believing that the United States has exaggerated what it believes to be a threat.
Leon Wieseltier: Let's talk about that for a minute. I wanted to say a word about—I wanted to defend Grace Kelly for a moment.
Ken Sharpe: As the Quaker ally of Germany.
Leon Wieseltier: Exactly, very good point. Grace Kelly, as close watchers of that movie, High Noon, will remember, did return and did shoot one of the bad guys in the back, but through a window, which was the smart and prudent and just thing to do.
Mark Danner: I feel Bedtime for Bonzo is a better example, and I felt like you had a stronger grab with that. Go ahead.
Leon Wieseltier: What I wanted to say, Mark, was let's talk a little bit about the anti-Americanism that has arisen as a consequence of the American proposal for the war. I think you'll agree that, whereas the opposition to the United States policy seems, in some places, monolithic, it has many reasons.
Mark Danner: I agree with that.
Leon Wieseltier: Schroeder is trapped in a domestic political situation that we have to believe is making Joschka Fischer sick. Chirac, the less said the better. The countries east of the elbow, which recently had an experience of totalitarianism, are with us. As I wrote in my magazine, if Americans are from Mars, some Europeans are from Venus. The real fact of contemporary anti-Americanism — and I think this goes back to some of what you're saying — is this crisis is happening at precisely at the moment when something is sinking into the consciousness of every sentient human being on the planet. It is that 14 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and then a few years after the computer revolution, the relative advantage of the United States, not just militarily, over every other nation, is now freakishly large. I think that the stupidity, the shortsightedness of the Bush Administration and of certain intellectuals around them has been not to recognize that a certain amount of this anti-Americanism is simply perfectly understandable resentment. Nobody, nobody, has the right to be as powerful as we are now, nobody.
Mark Danner: I agree with that.
Leon Wieseltier: Nobody can have the wisdom to use that kind of power, always wisely.
Mark Danner: I think the problem is, though, that we're not focusing on the real pithe of the matter here, which has to do with the policy itself.
Ken Sharpe: Let me just let Mark have one response, then we'll come back.
Mark Danner: I think, I agree with much of what you just said about anti-Americanism, but that isn't the main thread of what's going on internationally. What's going on internationally, is that many countries do not agree with us about Iraq. That, to me, is the difference. You compared it to Srebrenica, these Bosnian examples are very powerful to me. But there's a difference here; there's not a war going on in Iraq now. People are not being massacred in Iraq now. One can talk again and again about Halabja in 1988, but the fact is that it is not happening now. It is not going on now, and countries do not see the imminence of the threat that the Bush Administration is talking about. They believe that there are other motives having to do with prestige, having to do possible with oil, having to do with strategic position in the Persian Gulf, with many other things, and even indeed, God help me, with the election cycle, which leads the Bush Administration to want to attack now rather than to wait even until the fall. This is a policy difference. This isn't simply anti-Americanism, much as I agree with much of what you said.
Ken Sharpe: This gentleman will go next, and is there a volunteer who will go after him? You at the end of the row, if you'll take that microphone there. Please, sir.
VI. Audience Question 2
George Edwards: My name's George Edwards, I'm a Swarthmore resident, walked up from a couple blocks down. For the students here, when I was 21, I watched them dropping napalm in Vietnam. I would rather have been sitting in a bar having a beer, but that was the draft. I've heard people say that 9/11 has changed us forever. I don't like what it's changed us into, and it showed us, hell, better not be forever. My question is, what if they don't get Saddam after they destroy Baghdad? They tried to blow the mountains apart in Afghanistan, and from what I understand, we don't know if we got him or not. What concerns me is the bombing of Baghdad, destroying the city of Baghdad. If they get Saddam, that's fine. But 9/11 is the fact that got us here, and when I say that over again, it sickens my stomach to see those planes go in.
But, I think what we need, if we want to go over to Baghdad, is to replay the destruction in Baghdad. Let's spend as much time as need be to go through, sifting through and hope we find Saddam and not just innocent mothers, children and fathers that we're going to destroy. Like I said, I've seen napalm dropped, I've heard the B-52s dropping. What they want to do to Baghdad is criminal. What if they don't get him? Where are we going to look for him next?
Mark Danner: It's very hard to predict what might go on in the war, if it comes. I've heard from people within the military that, as opposed to '91, when publicly there was a great deal of worry about how difficult the war would be, within the military there was a fair degree of confidence that we have an army that's laid out on the sand. They have no air power, we know how to do this. This particular informant tells me that, at this point, there's a lot of public optimism, but within the military there's a great deal of nervousness. There's the attitude that we hope the regime falls apart, which is clearly what the military hopes. We have an incredible feat of technology in our military. An immediate attack will cause the regime essentially to shatter, and the rest will be clean up. That clearly is what they hope, and that may very well happen. I don't have the expertise to nudge it. I'm certainly not a prophet.
If it doesn't, at least according to this military man, he is very worried and says that that worry reflects what a lot of officers believe now. You've seen a fair amount of complaint and worry expressed publicly by retired officers. All of that does not… officers are paid to worry, and they do worry a out wars. But I think you can't make an argument about what's about to happen or against what's about to happen based on the risks of the war itself. It has to include the larger project and what will happen afterwards, and I've tried to do that tonight. I certainly agree with the gentleman about the risk of damage and the horrors of war in Baghdad. I just think it's impossible to predict it.
Leon Wieseltier: The one thing I would say just in a word, and this way bring you some cheer; it brings me mixed cheer. I don't think it's true that everything in the United States changed after September 11. I think that, in some respects, we've changed, and in some respects, we haven't. If on September 12, 2001, someone had told any of us that on March 5, 2003, everybody would've been glued to reality television, nobody would've believed you. I think that our way of life, in all its self-absorption, materialism, shallowness, bliss if you will, I think it continues. I don't see that September 11 turned us into a garrison state, or into a society that's living under a siege, or into a paranoid society. As I say, in some ways, this is a good thing, because it means that they didn't win, because the style of life that we have is a valuable style of life, and we have not allowed even that to completely transform it. On the other hand, I think that there is a certain legitimacy to worrying, a certain cultural legitimacy to worrying after September 11, and sometimes I don't see enough of it in various sectors of the society.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you Leon. Someone who would like to go next? Yes, in the back. Is that Mark? Yes, if you'll come down to this microphone, and then this gentleman here will ask the next question.
VII. Audience Question No. 3
Unidentified Audience Member
Audience Member: I'd like to say something first, and then I'd like to ask a question, please, if that's OK. I don't think this war is about democracy and democratization, as you guys have been saying. I'm from the Middle East, and I love democracy as much as any of you do. I think that all Middle Easterner love democracy as well and would love to live in democracy. One reason we're not living under democracy is partly because of the United States and its foreign policy in our region of the world. The United States is known to have supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, it has supported the regime in Iran, the Shah in Iran. The United States has supported dictators and oppressive regimes in these countries. I don't think the Iraqis like Saddam Hussein. I don't like Saddam Hussein; I don't know who would like Saddam Hussein. All of us would like to see him being replaced or removed, and that's why I think an international court or tribunal is the solution to getting rid of Saddam. But the case here is not the U.S. wants to go and attack the country. Just like Clinton couldn't keep his pants zipped, Bush is having a hard time controlling the pockets of his pants too. That's why oil is a huge factor in this. That's something that we shouldn't ignore, and that's primarily why the U.S. is so invested in oil. North Korea has no oil, and you don't see the U.S. wanting to invade North Korea. You see the double standard very clear here.
So my question is about the consequences of this war, which you guys have not really touched upon much, especially in terms of the consequences on the region itself and the neighbors. All of the surrounding neighbors are opposed to this war, and there's a reason for that. World War III is right around the corner, as the seconds (ph) and it can have a ripple effect. The U.S. is in Afghanistan now; where's Osama bin Laden? None of us hear about him anymore. The Palestine-Israel conflict is right now flaming, and who's doing anything? We hear constantly about how Saddam Hussein is attacked by the U.S., might go and attack Israel. This is one thing people fear. One thing we also don't hear about is that, right now, in Ariel Sharon's government, there are people who are advocating ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people and genocide, and transfer of the Palestinians. While the whole world's focus will be on Iraq, nobody will pay attention to what's happening in Israel and to the Palestinians. My question is, what do you think are going to be the effects of a war on the neighbors and the region in general, a region that's completely messed up?
Ken Sharpe: I'm going to have to ask you guys, again, to please refrain from applause until it's over, if you actually want to get through the kind of dialogue and discussion that we've had, please.
Leon Wieseltier: Briefly, I think about Israel and Palestine. I think the Bush Administration has been somewhat irresponsible in just letting the conflict fester the way it has festered. I think the situation there is incredibly complicated and leaves me deeply pessimistic. I do think the obvious solution is a two-state solution. There are a few optimistic signs; there are many pessimistic signs. My hope is, I believe that if this war is waged successfully, it may be easier, not harder, to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together for some partition, for some land-for-peace arrangement, along the lines of the Barak plan, which is, of course, the only solution outline that there can be.
The one thing I would say to the question that I deeply disagree with is that, obviously, in many societies in the Middle East, American foreign policy has not played, shall we call it, an enlightening role in the last 40-50 years. I excluded support for the state of Israel here, by the way; that's a separate matter. On the other hand, I would not insult anybody, any nation, any society, any individual in another country, by suggesting that they are nothing more than the passive victims of American foreign policy. If there was no democracy in Hassad's Syria; if there was no democracy in Nasser's, Sadat's or Mubarek's Egypt, if there is barely a polity an Saudi Arabia; if the governments of Algeria and Libya and so on, find it impossible to maintain a liberal order, that is because they have not yet tried to construct one on their own.
I genuinely believe that democracy happens from inside, not from outside, and the interference with democracy is never for very long sufficient to keep a society down that genuinely want to democratize, but that's just a philosophical belief of my own.
Mark Danner: I agree, again, with much of that, but the question it brings up, the democratic paradox that we really haven't confronted tonight: as much as we talk about democracy, the fact is that many regimes in the Middle East — the Egyptian regime, notably, and Barak's regime, the Saudi regime — the governments are, in fact, much more pro-American than the people, partly because we're essentially paying them off. We give the Egyptians about $3 billion a year. If you want to get to the heart of some of the anti-Americanism in the region, that is at the heart of it. That is, they view the United States as a deeply hypocritical power that talks loud and long about democracy, while underpinning and financing authoritarian regime. That is a fact in the Middle East, and it's a paradox that Americans, I think, have trouble dealing with.
When they talk about, for example, Saudi Arabia, it needs to democratize, it needs to liberalize, that the consequence of that may well be a regime or government that's much less sympathetic to American interests, at least it's presently defined, then the government that's in place now. This is not an accident that these regimes are in power, and I say that agreeing with Leon that democratization has to come from within a society. But it is a fact that American dollars and American power, in many cases, are absolutely underpinning the authoritarianism that we are claiming loudly and long, and most recently in the words of the President of the United States, to detest. Even now, as we talk, some of the regimes in the region are getting ready for this coming war, by doing what? By arresting dissidents. That is, they're anticipating demonstrations in Jordan and Egypt. The security services are busy rounding up people to make sure that you do not have large public demonstrations as a result of the war that could threaten the governments. Their security services are very, very efficient.
If you live in this region — and you see this — you hear the United States is about to launch a war for democracy. You see the immediate result, the security services that, in some instances, are trained by or cooperate with the United States, making arrests to ensure that there won't be demonstrations, and to start a new wave of repression…it's hard not to doubt the motives that the American president professes.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you, Mark, you'll go next, and volunteers for other questions. We're only taking women actually. One here, you take that microphone. Sir, I've got to ask you to take a seat. I will pick people to go to the microphones. You're more than welcome to raise your hand, but we need to actually continue in the form and guidelines that we started with, so if you'd be so generous as to take a seat, I'd be very grateful. Thank you very much.
VIII. Audience Question 4
Unidentified Audience Member
Audience Member: I'd like to propose a position that you both may disagree with. It happens to be my position, which is that, I would support a war if the Security Council votes a war resolution, but oppose a war of the security council does not vote a war resolution. I'd like your comments on that.
Ken Sharpe: Sir, could you say again, support it if—
Audience Member: I would support the war if the Security Council votes a war resolution, but I oppose the war if the Security Council does not vote a war resolution.
Leon Wieseltier: You put your finger on a very important point. Needless to say, I would support a war if the Security Council voted for it, too. Look, I said I was glad the United States went to the Security Council. I was really hoping they would get a second resolution it doesn't look like they will. I don't know how to analyze that situation, because I do believe that the Security Council is a symbol of international legitimacy and, in some ways, though not in all ways, deserves to be the symbol of international legitimacy. But I also believe that the Security Council has made mistakes in the past, and has ignored terrible things in the past. It has voted resolutions and then done nothing about them in the past. Whereas if what you're saying is that the only condition under which the war would be supported would be if it had the endorsement of the international community in the form of the Security Council. I would have to say that I can't concede that degree of moral authority to the Security Council. I wish I could. If you're saying that the Bush Administration has failed miserably in persuading people about what it believes to be the justice of its cause, I would agree with that.
As I said earlier, it all comes down to your assessment of the threat, of the danger. If you believe, as I do, that the danger is real, and that these weapons will be used if they are not destroyed, and that, as long as this man is in power, terrible things are going to happen, then I think you have to go without the Security Council. If you believe that the threat, as my friend Mark believes, I would probably oppose a war even with a second Security Council resolution because he would believe that the international community may agree with the Bush Administration, but the Bush Administration happens to be wrong.
Ken Sharpe: Mark?
Mark Danner: Well done.
Leon Wieseltier: Thank you
Mark Danner: I thought you were going to miss that point by the time you got to me. I think it would be… a war fought under Security Council mandate would be enormously less bad than a war fought without it. Some of the problems I've identified in the aftermath of the war, some of the political problems, even some of the military risks, have to do with the lack of legitimacy of the present plan. The comparisons to Germany, Japan and other democratizing efforts scant this aspect of an occupying power. That legitimacy is absolutely critical, not sufficient, but certainly necessary. In reality, your question essentially poses this question, that is, would you support a war if it was undertaken, under the conditions that would be necessary to fight it, with the present Security Council on board. That is, if the United States did, indeed, give the inspectors more time, if they indeed, perhaps went the Canadian route and had a longer delay, some of the other aspects I mentioned earlier. I think I've already answered that, which is, the answer is yes. I think eventually, I would support it, but we're nowhere close to that point now, nowhere close. There are many other ways to contain Iraq than we've tried.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you Mark. If someone else would like to take this microphone, but it has to be a woman again, in the interest of balance. Yes, you in the front, would you like to take that?
IX. Audience Question 5
Committee on Global Violence and Security
American Psychological Association
Diane Pearlman: I'm Diane Pearlman. I'm a clinical and political psychologist, co-chair on the Committee on Global Violence and Security for a Division of the American Psychological Association. I'd like to represent the point of view of social scientists; I'm starting a think tank on behavioral science and global security, because that's a voice that's not at all represented, including political psychologists, political scientists, conflict experts. I run a chapter on the psychology of terrorism, on the psychology of nuclear proliferation. One thing I find is that, people are talking, the people who are for war are talking about a very different war than the people who are against war.
People who are for war where we liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and we can take them in. The people who are against war are for a war that's going to unleash unintended consequences. I'd like to say that all of my colleagues, virtually, at the Center on Ethnopolitical Conflict and PEN; the last president of the American Psychological Association, Phil Zimbardo; Robert J. Lifton, whose work, I'm sure some of you know, are extremely concerned about the unintended consequences. Let's say the war is justified; let's go along. Let's say it's justified, but it unleashes massive uprisings against the United States. If it's going to let the cat out of the bag, it will be irreversible.
The people who are the most knowledgeable are the most terrified. Robert J. Lifton says it will create what he calls an atrocity-producing situation. It'll lower the bar; it'll give permission to other countries to take action. Also, I don't call it a preemptive war; it's an incorrect use of the term. I call it a provocative war. There's nothing preemptive or preventive about it. I'm very concerned about Iraqis, about the region, about Israel, but I'm terrified about back here, about Washington, about New York, about L.A. If we think September 11 changed the world forever, if we take the leap and go to war, I think it'll change the world in a far more profound way that will be impossible to recover from. I often feel like I'm watching Romeo and Juliet and they're getting ready to take the poison. I want to tell them to stop.
Also, before going to war, it's very common that the war planners, they exaggerate the threat. They talk about the threat, they exaggerate the success, are overconfident about success and downplay the negative unintended consequences. They're also… there are many alternatives to war. There are combinations of strategies beyond containment, beyond inspections. You're right to say that inspections aren't enough. Also, the reasons given for going to war—that Saddam Hussein is connected to Al Qaeda, that he has weapons of mass destruction and they're hidden and dispersed—if those things were true, going to war would make it… the reasons for war are, if you think deeply, reasons against war.
Saddam Hussein's connected to Al Qaeda, and we go to war, which Osama bin Laden is counting on; it's recruitment for him. We're going to increase recruitment, motivation for terrorism. War's not a last resort; it's the worst resort. It's the solution from hell. It's worse than any problem that can try to solve. It's not worse than doing nothing, but no one's suggesting doing nothing. There are many things—using the Arab League, working with others, doing multilateral talks, finding arrangements for oil, sending in unarmed observers. I'll stop there.
Ken Sharpe: Would it be fair, though, in terms of focus in some of your comments on a question, one of the critical questions that you'd like them to respond to is, what the effect, or the unintended consequences on terrorism and security back in the United States are going to be by going to war inside of Iraq?
Diane Pearlman: It's not a question. I've studied this quite deeply. I must want to say it will absolutely increase nuclear proliferation.
Ken Sharpe: Let me put it to our guests. Thank you very much.
Leon Wieseltier: I'll say one thing, because it's late. I think we're already in an atrocity-producing situation. I think that September 11 happened after years of preparation, with no war in Iraq, with no war in Kuwait. I think that it's a misunderstanding of the enmity of Al Qaeda and enemies like Al Qaeda. We have many kinds of enemies; some we can live with, some it's harder to live with, some we can't live with. It's a misunderstanding of their hostility to believe that it is in some way centrally reactive to what we do. I don't believe that. I think that every minute of every day of every week, they are doing the best they can now, as they were before September 11, to attack us. They are failing. It is getting harder and harder for them to operate. They don't need an American invasion of Iraq to find reasons to try and replicate their success of September 11. I think it's very important, when one has enemies, to fight them.
Diane Pearlman: I've written about the psychology—
Leon Wieseltier: I realize that, and with all due respect, we're entering a realm here which… anyway, I think that it is very important that, when one has mortal enemies—
Diane Pearlman: This is why we need social science.
Ken Sharpe: I'm going to ask Mark to respond..
Leon Wieseltier: If that would bring Saddam Hussein down, I'd be for it.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you very much. Mark, could you respond?
Mark Danner: There are a lot of comments there. I confine myself to this. September 11 was, to some extent, the beginning of a political war. It was about killing people, it was about killing Americans. The weapons were box cutters and airplanes, but the key weapon was the television set. It was about scaring Americans, and as Dick Cheney put it in an unguarded moment, scaring the United States out of the Middle East or chasing the United States out of the Middle East. There was an essential political element to it. The administration, for its own reasons, has since September 11, emphasized, particularly in the president's speeches, and they've been very eloquent speeches, the good and evil. They've followed a long tradition of American rhetoric, back to the Truman Doctrine. The world is divided into good and evil; we are good, we need to destroy evil. The rhetoric has been very effective, but I think it has sidestepped the politics of the people who attacked us.
Having said that, I agree with Leon that you can't base your foreign policy entirely on not angering Osama bin laden and his followers. They will do what they do. On the other hand, there is the question of what, politically, are we doing in the world. What are we doing to affect the Middle East? What are we doing as a broader political policy, particularly in the Middle East? My view is that this war is a foolish thing to do in that context, that it will make things worse. Osama bin Laden's immediate followers, the handful of thousands of people who are in Al Qaeda now, will do what they do. The question doesn't have to do with them; the question has to do with the larger Islamic world, and with the political changes that he is able to provoke within it. I don't believe that this war will cause an uprising in the streets and regimes to fall.
I do believe that it could begin a process of incremental change, in which people's, and this is already happening, and eventually perhaps governments turn against the United States and turn against America. That, to me, is the political risk. Having said that, I don't think it'll happen while the war is going on; I don't think there'll be cataclysmic fallouts of governments. I think this will be a longer process. But, I agree with you that, in the political context, this is foolish and self-defeating. If I thought it was absolutely necessary the way Leon did, because of the threat, I would feel differently. I feel the threat can be managed, and I feel given that, that this is shooting ourselves in the foot.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you Mark. I'm going to have you respond, we'll take one more question after that, and then we'll welcome guests or people in the audience to come down afterwards to ask any questions. Yes, could you take that microphone there?
X. Audience Question No. 6
Audience Member: I'm not nearly as eloquent a speaker as everyone else who's been up here, so I promise my question will be short and I can assure you it'll be bumbling. That said, I'd like to pose my question more toward Mr. Danner, I believe it is, and I'd like to start it with a quote that, it's actually on my friend's AOL profile. It says, "Supporters of the anti-war movement ask for a smoking gun," and he poses the question "Doesn't a gun only smoke after it's been fired?" Repeatedly tonight, you have said we can wait, we can slowly disarm them, take the time. Saddam Hussein will slowly but surely be moved out of power by the fact that he'll have no weapons left eventually. However, Saddam Hussein has made it clear that he's complying very unwillingly. He waited until the last minute before the deadline to disarm any of his weapons. How long are you willing to wait before it's too long of a wait and there's too high of a risk, and we're done waiting for Saddam to make that strategic move that he needs to make?
Mark Danner: I think that's a good question, and it's a question we've thrown back and forth between ourselves all evening. I don't think one can identify a date certain when you can't, when war has to come. I think eventually, I could conceive of identifying such a date. I think that you can design a policy now that will work in gradually disarming him. It would take a long time, and it would be incremental. The value of it is, it avoids a cataclysmic and probably very damaging war. Secondly, It heads you in the right direction. Third, it contains him while it's going on. Military force around him, inspectors in the country, declaratory policy to use air power against his sites. I think this would gradually work. It is possible that one could reach a point where, again, he stopped cooperating. One can see it coming to an impasse; it's quite possible. If indeed the threat at that point was nudged to be completely insupportable, and the policy was not moving in any direction, then possibly war would have to be launched. But, as I've tried to make clear here tonight, I don't see any evidence that we're anywhere near that point now. I don't see any evidence of the imminence of threat that's been suggested.
Ken Sharpe: Thank you Mark.
Leon Wieseltier: All I'd say is that it's worth thinking critically about the phrase "the imminence of the threat" because one hears it in the discussions, especially the discussions of preemption. Certain threats lend themselves to clear perception of imminence, and other threats don't. On September 10, for example, the threat to the World Trade Center was imminent; there was absolutely no way to know it, or if there was some way to know it, the FBI and the CIA hadn't figured it out.
The doctrine of preemption can be interpreted in two ways: either as the height of American historic and strategic arrogance — as a doctrine that will permit the United States simply to start sending troops wherever on earth it chooses — or as an almost commonsensical notion of prudence. There's an old Hebrew saying: if somebody's coming to kill you, be early to kill them. That's preemption. It is not intelligent, if you know that you have a mortal enemy, to allow that enemy to operate against you, to get closer and closer and closer until finally, when the gun's at your head, you fire back. That is simply not intelligent as a security measure.
The interesting problem, which Mark and I have been discussing tonight, is whether the analogy I just gave is, in fact, what's happening with Saddam Hussein. About that, reasonable people can differ, but it's very important to think critically about this notion of imminence, because it's premised on an idea of clarity, a clarity of strategic perception, of military perception.