Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chirac was right

An interesting observation by Julian Barnes in his NYRB review of That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, by Robert and Isabelle Tombs:

Although public opposition to the Iraq war in Britain is high, it would take a lot more fair-mindedness than most British (or Americans) are capable of for them to utter, instead of "Blair [or Bush] was wrong," the simple words "Chirac was right."


mrjumbo said...

I have not substantiated this quote, but it's fascinating if true:

I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we'd have had to hunt him down. And once we'd done that and we'd gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we'd have had to put another government in its place.

What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi'i government or a Kurdish government or Ba'athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it's my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.

--Dick Cheney, Soref Symposium keynote speech, 1991

mrjumbo said...

Actually, this link appears to substantiate the quote.


Andrew Shields said...

That's rather standard, isn't it? I mean, that the hawks for the war in 2003 were largely supportive of GHWB's decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

mrjumbo said...

What I like, though, is that he pegged exactly what the problems turned out to be.

One thing, for example, if someone says, "Well, last year was the wrong year to invade Texas, because X, Y, and Z. But this year, X, Y, and Z have changed."

But in fact Cheney's words in 1991 described in some detail exactly what kind of mess would result, and they were dead-on accurate.

Twelve years later, when the U.S. did go to Baghdad, no benefit was gained from this analysis. Had someone sat down and said, "Well, these are the likely outcomes, and this is what our plan is to make it work out right," the story might have gone differently. But the U.S. never made a plan (as we all know). And old speeches like this make it very hard for anyone in the Administration to act surprised.

If the U.S. had indeed "liberated" Iraq, if sectarian violence had simmered down and the economy had picked up and a stable government were in place, the chatter about the war would be very different today. Not to say it would be right or wrong to have gone in--but it's one thing to break eggs to make an omelet, and a whole different thing to break eggs just to . . . break eggs.

The U.S. appears to owe the Iraqis, the Middle East, and the rest of the world an omelet that the U.S. is at this point mighty ill equipped to deliver.

Andrew Shields said...

I'm pretty sure that there were people in the government who were doing the kind of analysis you suggest — in the State Department, for example — but they were being ignored by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis, the trio who were only listening to what they wanted to listen to.

Cheney could have quoted the famous words of some old German Bundespräsident (don't remember which one): "Was interessiert mich mein Geschwätz von gestern?"

Why should I care about my babble from yesterday?