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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy

Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have drafted an "Open Letter" that is not kind to the Bush administration.

Before I quote it, let me note that I am among the 650+ foreign affairs specialists who signed the document:
We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. One result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy—an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation, and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest. We write to challenge some of these distortions.
The policy distortions are quite familiar to my readers:
Many of the justifications offered by the Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been proven untrue by credible studies, including by U.S. government agencies. There is no evidence that Iraq assisted al-Qaida, and its prewar involvement in international terrorism was negligible. Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was negligible, and its nuclear weapons program virtually nonexistent. In comparative terms, Iran is and was much the greater sponsor of terrorism, and North Korea and Pakistan pose much the greater risk of nuclear proliferation to terrorists. Even on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious: the war itself has killed over a thousand Americans and unknown thousands of Iraqis, and if the threat of civil war becomes reality, ordinary Iraqis could be even worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein. The Administration knew most of these facts and risks before the war, and could have discovered the others, but instead it played down, concealed or misrepresented them.
Some of these same concerns were previously voiced by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy -- and by numerous scholar critics in late 2002 and early 2003.

I gave several community talks that made the case against war during that time. Iraq was widely viewed as an incredibly weak state, destroyed by war and sanctions.

The policy errors noted in the letter are also pretty damning. After giving credit for attacking al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the letter notes:
It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists....Policy errors during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq have created a situation in Iraq worse than it needed to be....

The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.
There is more detail in the letter, so I urge you to read it. I've deleted the footnotes.

Here's the conclusion, which reflects my own commitment to public deliberation. Indeed, this recommendation is largely why I signed it:
Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.
We're hoping for some media attention.

If any journalists are reading this, I'd be happy to talk about the letter or to write an op-ed piece based on similar arguments.

Finally, here's some information about the group and its purposes:
Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy is a small group of academics who are concerned about American national security, and about the quality of the American debate on national security and foreign policy topics. We take no money from any sources outside of the scholars who have signed the letter, and their families.

As educators, we are especially concerned that while most experts consider the war in Iraq to have been a mistake that harms the fight against terrorism, the American public is unaware of the many Bush Administration blunders that are harming American security.
Anyone who knows the field can tell you that the scholars reflect a diverse range of views about international affairs -- realists, liberals, neoliberals, social constructivists, and even critical theorists coming together. The signers include academics from Red, Blue and Purple states and from US allied nations.

Update: Common Dreams has the press release. The Guardian has an article and the story is covered in a variety of Australian newspapers. Other than a few other international outlets (including Al-Jazeera), I've seen nothing yet in US media outlets. I'm keeping my eye on Google News.

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