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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A look back at February 2003

I was cleaning up some files on my hard drive today and found a letter to the editor that I wrote in February 2003. It was in response to syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer's op-ed piece called "Bracing for the Apocalypse." I won't quote extensively from it here. Read it if you want to recall what the American foreign policy debate was like pre-invasion of Iraq.

Short version: Democrats and other critics were being bashed and the Bush administration was walking tall. This is from an extended tirade against Clinton:
The Second Gulf War is about to begin. This is not the Apocalypse. But it is excellent preparation for it. You don't get to a place like this overnight. It takes at least, oh, a decade. We are now paying the wages of the 1990s, our holiday from history....[This] is how one acts on holiday: Mortal enemies are dealt with not as combatants, but as defendants...

On June 19, 2000, the Clinton administration solved the rogue-state problem by abolishing the term and replacing it with ``states of concern.'' Unconcerned, the rogues prospered, arming and girding themselves for big wars. Which are now upon us.

On Sept. 11, the cozy illusions and stupid pretensions died. We now recognize the central problem of the 21st century: the conjunction of terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction.
Krauthammer attempts to blame Democrats for 9/11, virtually all high profile terrorism, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and WMD proliferation.

Worst of all, hawks like Krauthammer vastly inflated nuclear fears to beat the drums of war against Iraq. The columnist claimed that "our species" was "on the brink" of "self destruction." Truly frightening stuff.

This was my (previously unpublished) letter to the editor:
The Sunday op-ed piece by Charles Krauthammer was one of the worst pieces of journalism I've read in some time.

Krauthammer seems primarily engaged in blaming Democrats for current foreign policy crises. His analysis is weak and his history is worse.

The very recent threat against Heathrow airport largely reflects a decision by the Reagan administration to send 1000s of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahadeen in the 1980s. Did GHW Bush clean all that up once the Soviet troops left? No.

Krauthammer, like many current commentators, also completely ignores the impressive disarmament that occurred in Iraq from 1991-1998. The IAEA totally eliminated the Iraqi nuclear weapons program and inspectors have found no evidence that it has been rekindled. Almost all the SCUDS were destroyed. Vast amounts of chemical and biological weapons were found and destroyed. Why can't inspections work? Oh, the inspectors were withdrawn, not expelled in 1998.

North Korea, of course, did not overnight emerge as a nuclear power in 1994 under Clinton's watch. The Reagan/Bush people spent over a decade mostly ignoring proliferation issues. I'm all for making proliferation a higher priority, but lots of smart people all over the world think that will mean much greater US support for on-site inspections in the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. Oh, and the US would need to meet arms control commitments owed under Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty and to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Krauthammer doesn't mention Pakistan, but the US is again looking the other way on what analysts used to call the "Islamic bomb." That threat remains and Clinton-era sanctions were reversed almost immediately after 9/11. What kind of message does that send?

Finally, is there any evidence that the Bush anti-terror strategy emphasizing military power is more effective than the Clinton law enforcement approach? Numerous terrorists (especially in Western Europe) have been captured and jailed since 9/11 because of good law enforcement. By contrast, Israel's militarized approach doesn't look too effective to me, but that's what the US is emulating.

Pessimists wrote similar apocalyptic pieces in the 1950s, but proliferation did not bring catastrophe even though tyrants like Stalin and Mao had their fingers on the button. The promise of US nuclear retaliation can deter minor powers like North Korea and Iraq. It certainly seems like the US is deterred by North Korea's small arsenal.
This three-year-old (pre-blog) exchange highlights a tremendous feature of blogging: instant reaction to journalism.

Heck, I can even publish my own op-ed pieces now.

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