Moreover, the administration is pushing hard to reframe the debate about Iraq altogether. They are providing a lot of evidence suggesting that Iraqi reconstruction is going well. Moreover, many other states provided diplomatic cover at the UN Security Council and are now starting to pony up some cash. Thus, the administration is saying -- and the world seems to agree -- that Iraqi reconstruction is a top priority goal in the war on terror.
Bluntly then, even if the war was a big mistake, Bush can still win the argument about Iraqi reconstruction and salvage his foreign policy position.
How can Bush's opponents reframe this entire debate so as to highlight precisely why Iraq was a policy mistake -- and should not be repeated? And most importantly, note that it wasn't merely the intelligence agency's fault.
I think the answer is to reframe the Iraq debate in terms of the overall US strategy in the war on terror. Should the US continue to advocate the Bush Doctrine, which makes possible preemptive military strikes against states that sponsor terror and/(or?) pursue WMD?
Yesterday, I received my copy of International Studies Perspectives, which is one of the official journals of the International Studies Association. The issue includes three articles on the Bush Doctrine, including one coauthored by myself and Peter Dombrowski of the Naval War College. It's always nice to see the final product of something like that and I hope some professors in the field use the articles for winter or spring classes on US Foreign Policy or National Security.
In any case, reading through the pieces, I thought again of the ongoing debate about Iraq and the lack of imminent threat. As I argued a few days ago, the administration actively tried to lower the bar on what constitutes an imminent threat.
However, they also overstated Iraqi threats, as is now apparent.
In other words, to arrive at the decision to attack, they lowered the threshold normally acceptable to attack and at the same time they overstated the level of threat to make it seem as if the lower standard had been met.
While it is true that many, many people thought Iraq had WMD, it is also clear that the IAEA had already said definitively before the war that Iraq had no serious nuclear weapons program.
I think the Iraq debate should be reframed with this question in mind: Should the US attack rogue states on the prospect that they have chemical and biological weapons programs?
Of course, this is not how the Iraq debate was framed at the time. National Security Advisor Condi Rice famously stated that the administration did not want to wait for a mushroom cloud to be the smoking gun. I think there are some serious lessons in this for thinking about how to frame opposition to the Bush Doctrine.
That is why I urge people to go back and read Condi Rice's address to New York's Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, October 1, 2002. Rice delivered The 2002 Wriston Lecture on "A Balance of Power That Favors Freedom."
Here are the key paragraphs about Iraq's threat and the Bush Doctrine. I'm bolding some key statements for quick reading:
Tyrants allied with terrorists can greatly extend the reach of their deadly mischief. Terrorists allied with tyrants can acquire technologies allowing them to murder on an ever more massive scale. Each threat magnifies the danger of the other. And the only path to safety is to effectively confront both terrorists and tyrants.In his Press Conference yesterday, President Bush said that he had been claiming all along that Iraq was a "gathering threat." Condi Rice strongly implies that it was also grave. But the key point is that both claims were made in terms of relative threats in the war on terror.
For these reasons, President Bush is committed to confronting the Iraqi regime, which has defied the just demands of the world for over a decade. We are on notice. The danger from Saddam Hussein's arsenal is far more clear than anything we could have foreseen prior to September 11th. And history will judge harshly any leader or nation that saw this dark cloud and sat by in complacency or indecision.
The Iraqi regime's violation of every condition set forth by the UN Security Council for the 1991 cease-fire fully justifies -- legally and morally -- the enforcement of those conditions.
It is also true that since 9/11, our Nation is properly focused as never before on preventing attacks against us before they happen.
The National Security Strategy does not overturn five decades of doctrine and jettison either containment or deterrence. These strategic concepts can and will continue to be employed where appropriate. But some threats are so potentially catastrophic -- and can arrive with so little warning, by means that are untraceable -- that they cannot be contained. Extremists who seem to view suicide as a sacrament are unlikely to ever be deterred. And new technology requires new thinking about when a threat actually becomes "imminent." So as a matter of common sense, the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized.
Preemption is not a new concept. There has never been a moral or legal requirement that a country wait to be attacked before it can address existential threats. As George Shultz recently wrote, 'If there is a rattlesnake in the yard, you don't wait for it to strike before you take action in self-defense.' The United States has long affirmed the right to anticipatory self-defense -- from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula in 1994.
But this approach must be treated with great caution. The number of cases in which it might be justified will always be small. It does not give a green light -- to the United States or any other nation -- to act first without exhausting other means, including diplomacy. Preemptive action does not come at the beginning of a long chain of effort. The threat must be very grave. And the risks of waiting must far outweigh the risks of action.
The debate about Iraq needs also to focus on the bigger picture vis-a-vis the war on terrorism. The Bush administration needs to be very specific from this point forward about what states they view as posing a grave and gathering threat.
Think about it, Iraq was supposed to be the highest priority after Afghanistan. Plus, North Korea seems to be off the table, and certainly there are many signs of diplomatic progress with Iran. That exhausts the axis of evil list.
So is the US thinking of war versus Syria or some other rogue state?
Or, because no states present a "grave and gathering threat," should everyone breathe a sigh of relief that the US isn't really thinking of going to war with any states for the foreseeable future. This would mean, of course, that national security issues would be of much less importance in the 2004 political campaign. And security, of course, is what the Republicans are banking on in the face of a weak economy.
The Democratic challengers for President need to weigh in on the future scenarios relevant to the war on terror and not merely rehash Iraq.
Specifically, they need to describe what they would do about such threats. How serious are they? Would any of these candidates proposal also to attack the rogue nations? What are the costs and benefits? Hell, even Donald Rumsfeld has figured out that the wider war on terror raises many bigger problems.
Surely, the Democrats can think of some creative and non-military means to address problems like the madrassas, Kashmir, Russian loose nukes, US/western oil dependence on the Middle East, the Palestinian problem, etc.
Let the reframing begin.