The War Over Iraq: Why Saddam Must Go . . . and Why America Must Lead

March 5, 2003

The War Over Iraq by William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan


JOANNE MYERS: I’d like to thank you for joining us as we welcome William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan to our Books for Breakfast program. This morning they will be discussing their book, The War Over Iraq, which will be available to purchase at the end of the program today.

The countdown to war has begun, and with each passing day the Bush Administration appears to be taking one more step that will seal the fate of Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of terror. With war clouds swirling over the Middle East, millions of people, not only in the Islamic world but in Europe and America as well, look upon the prospect of a second American-led onslaught on Iraq with deep misgivings. To some extent, their concerns arise from a fear of the unintended consequences that war may bring and the threat of American hegemony for the world at large. Although these views may be valid, for Mr. Kristol and Mr. Kaplan there is no alternative but to liberate Iraq and to liberate ourselves from the dangers that Iraq presents.

But why Iraq and why now? These two veteran journalists contend that the war is clearly about more than the Iraqi threat, the future of the Middle East, and the war on terror. In their view, it is largely a war of competing ideas about the path America should take in the twenty-first century. Simply put, they see this war as a means of demonstrating to the world what America stands for: the compatibility of our ideals and leadership. It is this philosophy, our guests posit, that has persuaded the Bush Administration to pursue a course that will lead to a regime change, the promotion of democracy, and the wielding of American influence in the region.

If America is successful in its campaign in Iraq, it will presumably be the end of Saddam Hussein. But will it also be the beginning of a new era in American policy and the global legitimization of American leadership?

William Kristol is someone who is familiar to many of you, first and foremost, as the editor of the influential Washington-based political magazine The Weekly Standard. He is also widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading political analysts and commentators. Mr. Kristol regularly appears on Fox News Sunday and on the Fox News Channel. Before starting The Weekly Standard in 1995, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Prior to that, Mr. Kristol served as Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush Administration and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan. Before coming to Washington in 1985, he taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Lawrence Kaplan is a Senior Editor at The New Republic, where he writes about U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. He also writes on these issues for Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, and numerous other publications. Before joining The New Republic, he was Executive Editor of The National Interest, the foreign policy journal published by Mr. Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol.

Now I would like to ask that you join me in welcoming our guests today, who will tell us how we got to be between a rock and a hard place.


LAWRENCE KAPLAN: This seems like a pretty sophisticated crowd, at least compared to most of the audiences we address, so I thought I would spare you some of the typical pro-and-con arguments over Iraq, which we’ve all heard ad nauseam, and which, with any luck, we won’t be hearing much longer. I’d like to do this for two reasons.

One is the decision about whether to go to war and when to go to war has, I believe, already been made. Regardless of what we say today, there is a certain inevitability about this. I think it’s fairly safe to say that within a few weeks the country will be at war in Iraq.

The second reason I’d like to focus a little less on pro-and-con arguments actually has to do with you, the audience here today. Bill and I were at a book party a few weeks ago in Washington, sponsored by an organization called The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. The guests included Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, and various other outspoken hawks and proponents of invading Iraq. Bill and I were cast in the somewhat unusual role of being voices counseling prudence and moderation, and I actually don’t think we were too persuasive. Here I have a feeling, just looking at the guest list, which seems to be heavy with representatives of the United Nations, that we’d be similarly miscast in playing to the audience.

But really, the real reason I’d rather not focus on politics is that in many respects the most interesting aspect of the war in Iraq is really the intellectual fissures that have been revealed here at home in the United States. This is a war of ideas in a very real sense.

The particular significance of the war, as we mention in this book, is that it is so clearly about more than Iraq. Iraq has almost become—if you watch the debates and even watch what’s going on in Washington and at the UN—a Rorschach blot for various competing world views. What used to be true of Vietnam is now true of Iraq, by which I mean that you’d ask someone what they thought of Vietnam and instantly their answer would tell you everything you needed to know about this person’s world view, his ideology, and his political preferences. I think the analogy between Vietnam and Iraq in every other respect is quite facile, but I think in this sense it is telling, because Iraq has really become a template which has cast various different world views into relief.

I think this is also true of how successive American administrations have approached Iraq. The Bush team, the Clinton team, and now another Bush Administration, their dealings in Iraq all exposed very, very different world views. At the simplest level, you hear “Well, Bush and Clinton were merely responding to Iraqi provocations, and in doing so were responding as best they could.” But, in fact, they brought their own distinct ideologies to the table.

We argue in the book that the first Bush Administration approached Iraq from a world view of realism, which led it to wage war to liberate Kuwait and secure the vital interest of a free Kuwait; but then also, unfortunately, led it to turn a blind eye in the war’s aftermath, as tens of thousands of Iraqis, whom the Bush Administration itself had encouraged to rise up, were slaughtered. Strategic choke points—oil wells, canals—were the things that really got the first Bush team excited.

Unfortunately, whether it was in China, whether it was in the former Yugoslavia, or even in the Soviet Union itself, there was a certain attachment to, let’s say, stability over the cause of liberty. I think this attachment manifested itself most clearly in the case of Iraq.

Now, when President Clinton came to office, he was about as far from a realist as one could be. In fact, he explicitly attacked the first President Bush on the 1992 campaign trail for being an adherent of cold-blooded real-politick, and he promised to repudiate this world view. He essentially did this with what can be called a Wilsonian liberal world view, a post-Vietnam brand of liberalism tempered by a healthy dose of political calculation. But to the extent that President Clinton did entertain inclinations or proclivities about foreign policy, they were more or less conventionally liberal ones.

You can see this in the outlines of the Clinton Iraq policy, which, in a sense, really recoiled from the sustained assertion of American power. It followed the lead of the United Nations far too often, and I think, by the end of the Clinton tenure, this was largely responsible for Saddam escaping the boxes, whose confines had been mostly imaginary to begin with.

Now, the second President Bush, our current President, brings to the problem of Iraq a third alternative, which was there all along. He brings a world view that, in a sense, borrows from the most successful elements of realism and liberalism, but also dispenses with much of the baggage that these two world views carry. Now, you can chalk this up to Bush’s Christian moralism, or to his neo-conservative advisors, or, as some on the far right do, to his newfound evangelical Zionism, but I think all these arguments are rather specious, particularly the last one.

September 11th, at least in the President’s mind, did not create the threat of Saddam Hussein, and I think the Administration’s attempts to link the two have been less than completely successful. Rather, it alerted the President, and many in the Bush team who didn’t see Saddam as much of a threat prior to 9/11, to a threat that was there all along.

Unfortunately, the Bush team had not made the case for democracy in Iraq explicitly until last week, but now the President himself doesn’t merely make the case for going to war in Iraq but for toppling a totalitarian regime and bringing democracy to a land that for decades has known only dictatorship.

But, more than this, and particularly in the American Enterprise Institute speech that Bush gave last week, he really breaks with decades of American policy, in word if not yet in deed, and speaks explicitly about carrying this democratization campaign across the Middle East; throughout the Arab world specifically, but really across the globe more broadly.

When people talk about regime change, which of course is a key element in the Bush Doctrine, the Administration really means the end of regime change, which in its own account is essentially liberal democracy. Now, this may strike many as counterintuitive, that George Bush, a man who formerly owned a baseball team and came to power vowing to have a humble foreign policy which would really allow nations to do as they please within their own borders—it may strike many as somewhat odd that all of a sudden the President is embracing this Wilsonian rhetoric. But we stipulate in the book that President Bush has really been transformed, for whatever reason, into one of the most Wilsonian presidents since Reagan, Kennedy, Truman, and perhaps even Wilson.

Normally the objection I get when I say this is, “Well, Wilson was dedicated the League of Nations and multilateralism and a concert of peace.” But really, there were two Wilsons. There was the Wilson who pledged to use American power to make the world safe for democracy, and the Wilson who pledged that it would be counterproductive to belong to any multilateral organization of which autocratic nations were a part, and really did believe in America’s destiny in terms of using its power in the service of its ideals. It’s the second Wilson that President Bush follows in the vein of.

Many people have not paid sufficient attention to the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy, which does reflect the Administration’s thinking. In it the President makes three very strong cases for democracy, all of which, particularly in the past few weeks, he has been making with respect to Iraq.

The first is the strategic argument, which is essentially that if there is a truism in international politics, no two democracies, with very obscure exceptions, have waged war against one another. The President speaks very bluntly about this and says there really is the strategic imperative for America to export democracy because it is in our strategic interest; because a world that is more democratic is more likely to be congenial to the United States.

This is particularly true in the Arab world, where a recognition has dawned on the Bush Administration—and even those at the State Department, even those at the NEA desk, who are particularly attached to many of their friends in the Arab world—that the Arab world’s predicament became our own on 9/11, not least because of the lack of democracy in the Arab world.

And again, there is the argument that repression in the Arab world created the bin Ladens and the hijackers because they had no other outlet for expression other than siding with their governments or going over to extreme Islam; and, more than that, that these governments actively abetted this form of Islam, either through repression or through co-opting it.

In this sense the Administration is beginning to speak very seriously about ending this six-decade-long bargain we’ve had with the Arab world whereby we essentially turn a blind eye to what they do within their borders in exchange for oil, basing rights, and the like. I think even at the State Department you’re seeing very serious talk and policy movement on the democratization front in the Arab world.

The second case Bush makes is a somewhat parochial one, but I think no less true, which is that democracy is really America’s particular inheritance and, as well as being universally applicable, it really is the American creed. And so, in a sense, I think there is a small dose of national egoism here.

But there is a very real sense in which, if only to mobilize the American public, the President has been saying that this is America’s mission, it’s America’s destiny; promoting democracy is not some wooly-headed notion, and that it’s not only in our strategic interest—it’s in our patriotic interest.

The final case Bush makes is actually a classic Wilsonian, classically liberal one. Simply put, it’s a moral case: no people should be governed without their consent. If you listen to the President, particularly in the last few weeks, he really has cast the war as a moral war.

Earlier on, I think the Bush Administration defined the case for war far too narrowly, purely in terms of Saddam’s arsenal rather than in terms of Saddam himself, but now they have come around and they have committed themselves, in words as well as in deed, to democratizing Iraq and to democratizing the region as a whole.

Among other reasons, that’s why this war is so important and the next few weeks are so important, because if the war does not go well, and particularly if the war’s aftermath does not go well, this whole project, the whole enterprise, could collapse. It could really, fairly or not, discredit what Bill and I view as a very worthy world view.

On the other hand, if the war goes well, and particularly the aftermath, and we are able to establish a viable democracy in Iraq, we really will be able to prove the compatibility of our interests and our ideals. And, moreover, it will be a worthy template for American foreign policy more broadly.

Thank you.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: It’s good to be here. Thank you, Joanne, and thank you all for coming out on this rainy morning. It’s nice to be back in New York City, where I grew up, and where Lawrence grew up. I’ll be brief, since I know you have questions and comments, and we’d be happy to try and answer them all.

Just a word about Iraq itself, since Lawrence correctly stressed that Iraq is about more than Iraq. But Iraq is also partly about Iraq, by which I mean it is about this particular regime—a particularly cruel and brutal tyranny led by a reckless dictator who has invaded his neighbors, who is fanatical about developing weapons of mass destruction, and who has links with terrorism. When you put all that together, you have an unusual situation.

I’m all for the Bush Doctrine. Bob Kagan and I and Lawrence and many of our colleagues at The Weekly Standard and elsewhere have made arguments supporting something like the Bush Doctrine for several years, so I’m not at all backing away from the broader implications. But I would also say that we look at the world in a hardheaded way and say, “Where do you have this kind of brutal dictator, way beyond the normal freedom-of-press-depriving/no-elections type, where do you have this kind of tyrant, where do you have the fanatical obsession with weapons of mass destruction, and where do you have the history of aggression?” There are really rather few places in the world. I mean, once you get beyond Iraq and North Korea, you don’t have too many other candidates for this level of concern and, therefore, for this level of American action.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t push for regime change elsewhere, and that isn’t to say we shouldn’t push hard against others, especially in the Middle East, but I think much more of that can be done and will be done politically and diplomatically. So I think we can claim to answer the “Why Iraq?” question in the first part of the book, and I think the President has actually done a pretty good job of making that case.

Why now? That’s something that’s always unprovable until the day after. But we’ve made a pretty credible case and the Administration has made a pretty credible case that we need to act and that the inspections aren’t going to work. Of course, we would not even have inspections unless we had had the threat of war, and the moment that threat recedes, the inspectors will be out again and Saddam will be developing more weapons of mass destruction.

So the case for “why now?” is as straightforward as it can be, which is I can’t prove it has to be now, as opposed to three months or six months or nine months from now. On the other hand, the objection, if pushed too far, would be a recipe for passivity and waiting.

September 11 matters a lot to the President, because he saw what happened when previous Presidents, and he himself in his first six or eight months, accepted recommendations of caution and passivity and “this isn’t the time” and “we need to mobilize more support” and “we need more evidence.” And look what happened.

Let me just make a couple of points about different implications of the moment, and particularly for Europe and the UN. It’s an interesting moment in U.S.-European relations. It’s not a happy moment for people like me, who have always been—contrary to this image that we’re wild unilateralists over at The Weekly Standard—very concerned about our allies and about our alliances and have tried hard to strengthen them and work with them.

We do have, on the other hand, real differences with at least some governments in Europe, and I think we haven’t done a good job of making our case to the European public. We haven’t had a lot of help from certain European governments and media outlets, however. The truth is the proof will be in the pudding. If this war goes well, if Iraq is liberated, and if we discover weapons of mass destruction, the public reaction will be one thing. If we go in there and Hussein really doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi people are extremely upset to be rid of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, then obviously that will be a very different story.

The nostalgia for the Cold War and a lot of vague talk about our common heritage of values, though important and true to a degree, doesn’t really address the current situation, which I would summarize in a somewhat simplified way as this: America is a nationalist country, believes in the nation-state, believes in America, and doesn’t think that’s going to or should change. America is a country that believes military force will probably be necessary in the twenty-first century, as it has been in the twentieth century—God knows, we all hope for less rather than more. But I think if you polled Americans and said how many times will the American military have to fight in the next twenty or thirty years, people would say, “Two, three—we don’t know; we hope it’s not much; we hope it’s not with great casualties either for Americans or for others; but we don’t expect a world without war.” And you can see that in our behavior. We spend a reasonable amount on the military—not quite enough in my opinion—but we spend 2.2 percent of GDP on the military. We take it seriously. It’s a honored profession. Generals who retire are major figures in America. That’s really quite different from the European view of the twenty-first century.

So we’re nationalists. We are—I won’t say militaristic; that’s somewhat pejorative—but we believe in a world where military force remains relevant, maybe even an essential underpinning of all the other good things that we like about the world. And this is a very huge topic in Europe—Americans are reasonably religious people. I wouldn’t overdo it, but about a third of Americans go to churches or synagogues or mosques or other forms of worship each weekend. About a third of Americans, when you look seriously at the data, are seriously religious—that is, religion is important and central to their lives. The comparable number in most European countries is probably 5-to-10 percent.

Now, if a sociologist came down from Mars and looked at two continents where one of them is nationalist, believes that military force remains very important, and has a strong dose of religious belief; and the other explicitly seeks to be post-nationalist—and I don’t have any objection to that; Europe is entitled and, given its history, probably wise, to move beyond an excessive attachment to the nation state; but that is the European project, after all—deeply believes that military force needn’t be as central to the next century and shouldn’t be as central to the next century, and, to their credit, in Europe isn’t central , you are going to have differences.—no one thinks there are going to be big wars in Europe especially, and the Balkans, hopefully, was the last sort of instance of an intra-European armed conflict, and I was a supporter of intervention there, for all the obvious reasons, and I think it has gone actually pretty well—we were a little slow.

So, hopefully, you have a Europe where military conflict is internally almost unthinkable now. But if you look at the European nations’ behavior, they spend 1.5-1.7 percent of GDP on military. And ultimately, they don’t seriously think, with the exception of Britain and to some degree France, that they are going to have to fight serious wars, the way national leaders have assumed they would for the last three, four, five—or I guess indefinite—number of centuries. So you have a continent that is post-nationalist, post-militaristic, post-military, and post-religious.

So if you were a sociologist who came down from Mars and looked at these two bodies, they would say there are going to be differences between them. It would be amazing if there weren’t differences. It would be amazing if America and Europe, given just the sociological and cultural differences that have emerged, would have a similar or identical world view.

So they don’t. Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re enemies, it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be able to work together on a million practical multilateral efforts. But it does mean that you don’t have the same situation you had when the Soviet threat was pressing, and really before these cultural differences became larger.

So I don’t say this polemically, and I don’t think my colleague Bob Kagan does either. I just analytically think this is a true statement that serious political leaders have to take into account.

For now, we have a lot of recriminations and bitterness. We’re claiming that we’re being betrayed by the French and the French are claiming that Americans are out of their mind. But at some point this will settle down to really thinking hard about the ways in which we can work together and the ways about which we are simply going to have to agree to disagree.

Now, one way in which we have difficulty agreeing to disagree is this whole question of the UN and multilateral institutions, the more specifically the question of whether one needs UN authorization for the use of force.

Kofi Annan has made this statement absolutely clearly—and I don’t quarrel with his right to say it, and it is what you would expect the UN Secretary General to say. Kofi Annan says that the use of force internationally is only legitimate when authorized by the UN or by the UN Security Council. And the French and Germans have sort of tiptoed up to that statement.

But, nonetheless, that is the European view of how international relations should work and of the status of international law, even though I would argue its quite different from the way international law has been historically understood.

Its a legitimate point of view. It has a very respectable philosophical pedigree. It goes back to Kant and to many others. It is not the American point of view. And it is not the liberal American point of view, let alone the conservative American point of view.

The notion, which I think many Europeans have, that somehow “well, the Americans are going to come around on this” is just not the case. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe twenty years from now we’ll be living in a world in which American presidents defer to a UN Security Council or to other multilateral bodies to the degree to which many European elites think America and other nations should defer, but I don’t expect it. So that’s also a practical problem we have to live with.

Now, does that mean that multilateral institutions are finished? No, of course not. Does that mean that the Bush Administration is incidentally pulling out of and wrecking all multilateral institutions and all treaty arrangements? This really is a wild exaggeration. I think we pulled out of one treaty, I guess; we’ve refused to move ahead with one or two others; and, in this particular instance of Iraq, we are at loggerheads with some of our allies, and conceivably with the UN. There are still a million multilateral engagements in which we will be engaged, and should be.

But it does mean that it might be a new moment for thinking about the character of those institutions. The way I would put it is this: you can be for multilateral efforts and skeptical about the UN. I think there has been a huge conflation of the UN and multilateralism, which isn’t legitimate. We have other arrangements. There are many important international treaties that, of course, operate outside the UN scope. There are many important international bodies, some of the most important, that operate outside of—or in a sort of dotted-line relationship, let’s say, with—the United Nations.

What looks weird to some Americans is this kind of excessive faith in the United Nations compared to the practical results. I mean, if the United Nations worked great, if the United Nations had saved hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda, and if the United Nations had been effective in Srebrenica, and if the United Nations were a body that really was effective at doing what it was supposed to do, I think Americans would have a different attitude towards it.

One has to judge by results, and so I’m a skeptic about the United Nations, and I suspect the Bush Administration is as well, which isn’t to say that the UN doesn’t do lots of useful things and it’s not going to continue to function.

My simple point again is that one can be committed to working with allies without necessarily deferring to the United Nations, or without assuming that every alliance and multilateral relationship is of equal importance or of equal status; that if one decides in one case to go it alone or to abrogate a treaty—for example, in accord with the actual words or language of that treaty, in the case of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty—that somehow means you have a country that’s just sailing off into the sunset all alone.

One last word on President Bush. I was not a big Bush supporter in the primaries. I worked for his father, and was proud to do so in many ways. But I was also a critic of his father’s Administration, and I knew George W. Bush, now President Bush, at that time, and hadn’t really been that impressed by him. I preferred McCain in the primaries, mostly because of foreign policy, because McCain articulated something much closer to what has now become the Bush Doctrine, in terms of a muscular internationalist American foreign policy that addressed both American interests and American principles. I was for McCain because of Kosovo, basically.

Incidentally, people forget that the whole McCain phenomenon was generated in large measure because of his leadership on Kosovo. One of the many ironies that we all experience in politics and history is Bush becomes President, not McCain, and now has something that looks much closer to the foreign policy that McCain expressed in various speeches in 1999 and 2000 than the foreign policy that Bush expressed.

But I am a supporter of Bush post-9/11. I think he has, to his credit, seriously rethought his view of the world because of 9/11. It’s not to say that 9/11 necessitates the Bush Doctrine. Obviously, one can look at 9/11 and have very different interpretations. But I think he and his senior people have really tried to think through its implications and come to some views that Lawrence outlined.

I remember the day before Election Day. It’s really amazing, when you look back at the 2000 campaign, how it really was another era. It makes you realize how big a deal 9/11 is in domestic American politics. We had a whole campaign in which foreign policy barely entered. If anything, Bush’s critique of Clinton and Gore was that they were too interventionist, too aggressive, too involved everywhere. Bush was going to be more humble and avoid nation-building and avoid getting us involved except where we had vital interests.

Bush’s speech on this day focused on education, which was one of his top priorities. He famously said at this speech that he thought it was very important that each American parent ask himself or herself the following question about our schools: “Is our children learning?”

And Bush was ridiculed for this. That evening, he gave another talk and he, of course intelligently, joined in making fun of himself and repeated the line, and everyone laughed, and he said he didn’t see what was wrong with it. And then, he got sort of serious for a minute and said it had benefited him in his political career that his opponents had always “misunderestimated” him.

I would just say, as someone who has not been a huge Bush supporter—and, incidentally, as someone who has never been forgiven by the President himself, I believe, and his senior people for not having been a huge Bush supporter—I do think he is right about that, that he is very easy to “misunderestimate.” In that respect, I’m optimistic that he will be serious about following through on the principles and on the doctrine that he has elaborated and that Lawrence spoke about just a few minutes ago.

Let me stop there.

Question & Answer

QUESTION: Mr. Kaplan, you mentioned that the decision to go to war has already been made. I wonder if you can enlighten us as to what you think the likely timing is, and whether the determining factor is the time required for the military buildup or the time required for the diplomatic efforts at the UN and elsewhere?

A second question to you, Mr. Kaplan, is you again built up a case for this being a war about democracy. I’m curious about the fact that this seems to be a war about democracy that requires a lot of allies in the region who are not particularly noted for democracy, and whether the corollary of your suggestion is that the war would have to logically extend to deal with the undemocratic nature of the allies in the war for democracy?

As for Mr. Kristol, you made the interesting argument about international law and the fact that many countries elsewhere regard the Security Council’s deliberations as a source of international law and the U.S. does not. But while you’re right we could argue about the pros and cons of that, have you thought about the practical implications of the international legitimacy that comes in the Council, on the assumption that in most actions, including military actions, the U.S. needs allies elsewhere, the fact that for those countries the international legitimacy of the Council matters? There are countries in Europe whose constitutions, for example, would not permit them to provide military forces or overflights or bases except if there were a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. And certainly, as a political matter, many countries in the region find it much easier to say, “We are doing this with the U.S. because the Security Council has voted a Resolution,” rather than, “We are doing this with the U.S. because the U.S. has asked us to.”

WILLIAM KRISTOL: We’ll be brief here in answering these questions. We’ll go in backwards order.

You’re absolutely right about the practical case for having as much international support as possible. One way to have the most international support possible is by having a UN Security Council resolution. That’s why the President went to the UN Security Council and that’s why they worked so hard to get a fifteen-zero vote of the UN Security Council. We now see there are competing interpretations of 1441, but we don’t need to go into all that.

But I take the practical point, and I think the Administration takes the practical point, and they went six months ago to the UN, quite effectively. On the other hand, they were told that, “Hey, you go to the UN and all those European publics who believe so deeply in the UN, this will really strengthen the U.S. case.” I don’t know that European public opinion is more pro-American now than it was prior to September 12, 2002, and I don’t think that’s just because in the last few weeks we’ve gotten in a fight with the French or because Don Rumsfeld said “old Europe and new Europe.”

To put the ball back into your court, was the Kosovo operation unpopular because it didn’t have Security Council backing? I don’t know. Was the first Gulf War wildly popular in the European street because it did have Security Council backing? Was the price of not removing Saddam, which was partly conditioned by the coalition we had at the time, the right decision, or even a popular decision?

Any responsible American administration is going to take into account the importance of the United Nations. Whether we should contribute to giving it even more political weight is an interesting question, on the other hand.

Let me also address the first question on the war timing. I don’t know that I can say that a decision to go to war is made until the President literally signs the order committing U.S. forces. And, obviously, things could happen. But also obviously, since the summer, the President has assumed that we would end up having to use military force to remove Saddam, that he wouldn’t voluntarily disarm, and I think his assumption has been correct. So any prudent planner would have gotten the forces in place.

At this point, I do believe the President will be driven by what he regards as the best military case. I’ll put it this way: he would not put American lives at risk—nor, incidentally, Iraqi lives, Iraqi civilian lives, the lives of others in the region—for the sake of making Monsieur Dominique de Villepin feel better by delaying for two weeks. So at this point, it would be wrong to take more casualties, either American casualties or others, to run greater risks of Saddam’s use of biological and chemical weapons, for the sake of some gestures to some vague body named world opinion.

We’ve made our case. We haven’t made it as well as perhaps we should have, but that’s all done basically. I think President Bush now has to play the hand that he has dealt himself, and so I do think that we are likely to have action quite fast.

I myself rather expect we will not get Security Council authorization next week, but I think next week is the end. I’d be surprised if next week isn’t the end of the UN process and if the week after isn’t the beginning of the actual attempt to liberate Iraq.

Wars are very tricky and dangerous, and there will be casualties, and Saddam Hussein could use biological and chemical weapons, and that would be very bad. Lots of people could get killed—Americans, Iraqis, others in the region. I would argue that that would strengthen the case for moving now rather than waiting. The Bush Administration deserves some credit for being pretty sober, pretty serious about the risks, and pretty honest that this is not going to be a cake walk. I think some of my fellow hawks on the outside have been a little irresponsible and childish in some of their rhetoric about it, but I would say that the President and the Secretary of Defense have been pretty serious about the way in which they prepare the country for this war.

This is really contrary to the European myth that Bush goes around talking like a cowboy, lusting for some kind of war in the Middle East, that the country is possessed with some kind of militaristic warfare. That’s really not the mood at all.

I guess I’m a defender of the Administration in this aspect of their rhetoric; this charge that they’ve been whipping the country up into a war frenzy is unfair. In my view, they’ve underplayed Saddam’s tyranny, the really ghastly character of his cruelty and his brutality, which could easily have been taken much more advantage of to whip up moral fervor.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN: Regarding the question about non-democracies aiding our efforts in the Middle East on this war, I would even bolster the question and say: what is the one country in the headlines this week who has most visibly frustrated our aims in the region? That is indeed Turkey, which is, of course, next to Israel, the region’s only flourishing democracy.

I think to that point I would say yes, these are obvious tactical setbacks, and yes, these will frustrate our ability to go to war, though in the end not obstruct it. And yes, nations like Qatar and Bahrain, and even Saudi Arabia, are not democracies—but also maybe the fact that one man makes the decision on all of these countries has actually enabled us to move more quickly.

But I would also argue that this is not a tradeoff worth making, that at the end of the day democracy is a messy business, and democracies, as we can see with the tiff in U.S.-France relations, don’t always agree. But, on the other hand, they tend not to murder one another. For this simple reason, I would argue that sometimes we do have to accept democratic outcomes that do not serve our strategic interest. But the notion now is that the Arab world is a zero-sum game: you’re either going to get repressive dictators or you’re going to get Islamic theocrats, and that is certainly the assumption of many American policymakers.

During the Cold War, we heard the same argument: “If our friends in the Philippines or in Chile are replaced, we’re going to end up with Communism.” But I always thought the dichotomy was a bit too simple and that there always was a third force, and the third force is liberalism.

In the Arab world, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, there really are the outlines of a liberal third force. I don’t think the question is between lesser evils. I really don’t even think there we have to continue making these Faustian bargains.And if the price of democracy is that we have some logistical problems in preparing for a war, we should be more than ready to accept that price.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: Just let me address the other part of the question just very briefly.

Of course we can’t change the whole Arab world overnight, and we’re not going to remove the government of Saudi Arabia—we have bases there and we’re going to use those bases.

On the other hand, if you ask me is it consistent with the Bush Doctrine to continue the relationship with Saudi Arabia that we’ve had for decades, the answer is no. If you ask me whether it’s consistent with U.S. interests to do so, my answer would be no. I think that is one of the messages of 9/11.

I wouldn’t put it the way Larry just put it necessarily. I just would say that they have been exporting a very virulent form of Islam and destabilizing the Islamic world for twenty years, to which we’ve turned a blind eye because we thought it was an important strategic relationship. I think it was a bad bargain.

Saudi Arabia is the toughest nut for an American administration to crack because we have a lot of history there and it really requires overturning the entire foreign policy establishment, especially the Republican one, but even the Democratic foreign policy establishment.

I would be very surprised, whoever the next president, if five years from now U.S. attitudes towards Saudi Arabia are the same as they have been for the last couple of decades. I would be surprised if we are not making a major priority in dealing with the Saudis that, if not necessarily internal reform, that at least they stop the export of Wahhabi Islam. And I would be more generally surprised that elsewhere in the Arab world if we haven’t rethought some of these bargains.

Again, it can’t be done overnight. In that respect, Bush’s caution is sensible, especially when you need to remove Saddam first. But I do think he is looking at a very big change, as Larry said, in U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis that part of the world.

QUESTION: This is a question for either of you. If you were trying to persuade a skeptic both that this democracy-installing project is a plausible one, and also that the Bush Administration is authentically committed to it, would you point to Afghanistan as proof of that? Would you point to the American role in the Middle East over the course of the last two years as proof of that? How would you in fact show either one of those two things?

WILLIAM KRISTOL: Our magazines have both been critical of the Administration for doing too little in Afghanistan. I think they have slightly corrected that, and I think they’re doing an adequate job—with an awful lot of multilateral help, incidentally. There the criticism of the U.S. being unilateral really is false. So I am a critic of the Administration on Afghanistan, but some of the criticism, to be fair, to that has been a little facile, too. I mean, they had a very difficult situation there.

The Bush Administration is of many minds, as all administrations are. The Truman Administration was of many minds in the late 1940s about what their foreign policy agenda was going to be. I believe the logic of events will, frankly, force them in the direction that we’ve outlined. They cannot let Iraq go the way of Afghanistan. There’s just no way.

And all this rhetoric about they hated nation-building—that was a silly Republic critique, frankly, of the Clinton Administration, and Bush picked it up. No politicians ever say they’re reversing course, but they have come awfully far from that.

And I do feel they’re a little bit “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” now. Half the time, when they meet with the Iraqi opposition and they say they’re going to have democracy, they’re accused of imposing their own vision of imperialism. Then, they step back and say, “Okay, we can’t really plan another country’s future until we get in there and see what happens, so let’s play it by ear a little,” and they’re accused of not having a plan for post-Saddam Iraq

The truth is they have been pretty serious about this. If you look at where America was in thinking about post-war Germany in 1945, which we think of as a wonderful model of nation-building, it was total chaos. They had no idea what they were doing. They had bitter, bitter fights within the Administration,

I would say, given the messiness of politics, they have come pretty far, and I think one can have some confidence that they’re going to do a pretty good job. But I also think people should keep the pressure on them, and we will certainly do so in our magazines. But this is a case where liberals, frankly, do play an important role. If their position is going to be for the next two years to hold the Bush Administration’s feet to the fire in terms of democratization and in terms of nation-building and in terms of helping the people of Iraq and elsewhere, that would be great.

So I’m reasonably optimistic, given the messiness of politics and of life, that they are moving, with all the usual zigs and zags and hesitations, in this direction.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN: If I could just chime in for a second, in terms of concrete initiatives, you’re right—the results so far have been relatively modest. But there have been some tangible ones. Namely, there’s a new Middle East initiative which ties aid to democratization; there’s a $5 billion development fund which does the same; there is, of course, the President’s insistence that democracy be a precondition for the recondition of the Palestinian state, which many people don’t take at face value, but I think is actually very serious business; and, to be sure, there is more to come.

But, more important, there have been major pronouncements on the topic by every single senior official in the State Department, including Powell, Richard Hass, Rice, and others, who were before 9/11 quite openly skeptical, if not contemptuous, of the prospects for democratization in the Arab world. Now many of these people are genuinely convinced.

And then, there are the President’s addresses, particularly his one last week, and the Bush Doctrine itself. You could say it’s just rhetoric, but rhetoric usually precedes policy, and the President, particularly on Iraq, has gone so far out on a limb to make the case for democracy that if in the war’s aftermath it doesn’t happen, it would really create the impression of American hypocrisy and undermine his own doctrine.

I would just add with respect to Afghanistan, there is the distinction to be made, a distinction lost on many members of Bush’s own team, between democratization and nation-building. There’s a difference between paving roads and digging wells and creating effective political institutions.

In post-war Iraq, which, unlike Afghanistan, sits on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves, they’re going to need less the Army Corps of Engineers than a real commitment from the United States to federalism, to democratization, to political empowerment.

In many ways, the war’s aftermath is going to be the most interesting period, because there is an interesting fight shaping up right now between the Defense Department, which, oddly enough, has become the real exponent of democratizing Iraq, and the State Department, which is strongly in favor of a strong central government in Baghdad.

JOANNE MYERS: Unfortunately, our time is up. I thank you very much for enriching the debate.

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