TCS Daily

Foreign Policy Fetishes

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - September 5, 2002 12:00 AM

Recently, two figures who have loomed large in the creation of recent American foreign policy, and who have close connections to former President George H.W. Bush, have spoken up to urge caution, and even reversal of any warplans concerning Iraq. One such figure is a person both Presidents Bush know well; Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security advisor to Presidents Ford and Bush the Elder, and who serves the current President Bush as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). Another is James Baker, who served as Secretary of State to the elder Bush.

Scowcroft's editorial, which appeared a couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, concedes that Saddam Hussein is "a menace." Scowcroft also admits that Saddam "devotes enormous effort to rebuilding his military forces and equipping them with weapons of mass destruction. We will all be better off when he is gone." However, Scowcroft argues that we should not attack Saddam Hussein, claiming that we would be alone and isolated if we do so. While Baker seems to accept the need for regime change in his recent editorial, he also stresses the need for a coalition to do so, claiming that "we should try our best not to have to go it alone." Additionally, both Scowcroft and Baker raise the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and fear that it may be exacerbated if the United States were to go after Iraq in a unilateral fashion.

As such, Baker and Scowcroft appear to make a fetish of two specific policies: the creation of a coalition, and the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They elevate coalition building as an end unto itself, and misdiagnose the significance of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its relation to the ongoing conflict between the United States and Iraq.


Let's address the fetish of coalition building first. While it would be ideal, as Baker points out, to receive coalition support in any action against Saddam Hussein, the question remains; what should the United States do if it were to receive no coalition support whatsoever? Does the lack of coalition support make the threat Hussein poses any less dire, or mean that such a threat has been overstated? If not, if the threat remains even if a coalition is not in existence, then shouldn't the United States act to remove Saddam regardless?

I presented my argument for why Saddam should be considered a threat in my previous Tech Central Station article, so I won't recapitulate that evidence. Suffice it to say that such evidence should, at the very least, be taken seriously. What Scowcroft and to a lesser extent, Baker, appear to be arguing, is that even if the threat from Iraq is real, we can and should live with that kind of threat if we do not have allied support to launch a military operation designed to overthrow Saddam.

But the creation of an international coalition is ideally designed to be a means to an end. In the case of Iraq, such a coalition would have as its end goal, the removal of the Ba'athist regime. However, Baker and Scowcroft appear to cause the creation of a coalition to become an end unto itself.

This kind of thinking has dangerous consequences. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly and rightly warned against letting a coalition determine the military mission against terrorism. It is the mission that should determine the nature of the coalition, not the other way around. The formulation advanced by Baker and Scowcroft would in essence diminish the ability of American policymakers to determine the evolving character of the American response to the threat from terrorist groups, and from states like Iraq that sponsor terrorism. It would instead place that control in the hands of other nations in a coalition, thus allowing for the potential dilution of what may be required as the response.

It was Lord Palmerston who famously remarked "Britain has no permanent friends, nor permanent enemies. She has only permanent interests." While America should seek to have as many permanent friends as possible, she should not forget her own permanent interests. Those interests include the safeguarding of American citizens and allies from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the hegemonic ambitions of a Stalinesque dictator. The potential absence of a coalition should only restrain the United States from working to depose Saddam if, and only if we decide that we are prepared to live with an Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, sponsoring terrorism against Americans and American allies, and an Iraq that adheres to a modern day ideology that demands the equivalent of Lebensraum. However, if such a prospect poses a threat to our security interests, we should not allow Baker and Scowcroft's insistence on a "coalition" to serve as some sort of palliative to the hard task that may be necessary to preserve our national security and interests.

There exists a better policy route than Baker and Scowcroft's coalition fixation. It involves stating clearly and unequivocally American concerns and security interests, as Vice President Cheney did recently. It is better to create a coalition around a series of set policy goals and public facts concerning the activities of Saddam Hussein's regime, instead of allowing some form of a pre-set coalition to set those goals partially on behalf of the United States. Coalitions are supposed to be built around policy goals. Policies, however, are not supposed to remain vague and undetermined until an arbitrary set of nations gather in a coalition to decide what those policies are supposed to be.

Arab-Israeli Conflict

It is important to address Baker and Scowcroft's concerns about the Arab-Israeli conflict as well. Baker tells us that "[w]e cannot allow our policy toward Iraq to be linked to the Arab-Israeli dispute, as Saddam Hussein will cynically demand, just as he did in 1990 and 1991." Quite true. But then in the very next sentence, Baker goes forward and makes the very linkage that Saddam so desires, however inadvertently, saying that "we need to move affirmatively, aggressively, and in a fair and balanced way to implement the president's vision for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, as laid out in his June speech. That means, of course, reform by Palestinians and an end to terror tactics. But it also means withdrawal by Israeli forces to positions occupied before September 2000 and an immediate end to settlement activity."

If Baker really wants to avoid linkage, he should practice what he preaches. He should explicitly reject any and all connections between answering the terrorist and hegemonic threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To the extent that there is any such connection, it is to highlight the fact that Saddam's support for terrorism consistently serves to exacerbate the Arab-Israeli conflict, given Saddam's financial support for terrorist groups, and his payment of blood money to families of genocide bombers. In order to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the supporter of such terrorism should be eliminated from the political scene as soon as is feasible.

Scowcroft also makes a fetish of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while repeating shopworn concerns. He warns us that "[t]he obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict - which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve - in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us." This is the same warning about explosions in "the Arab street" that we heard from other foreign policy mavens prior to the commencement of American military action in Afghanistan. It wasn't right then either. The people of the Middle East respect above all the successful and overwhelming application of the instruments of national power. Such application in Afghanistan rendered concerns about "explosions of outrage" moot. There is no reason to believe that such will not be the case when the United States deposes Saddam Hussein by force of arms.

The formulation of national policy should not confuse means with ends. American policymakers should not make a fetish of certain means to achieve security goals and declare that absent those means, the goals themselves are not worth pursuing. The issues of coalition building and the Arab-Israeli conflict have been red herrings that have distracted from the core of the debate. Saddam Hussein is a major supporter of terrorism, and seeks to destabilize the region and attack the United States through terrorist tactics, and through the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. As an important incidental matter, Saddam continues through his policies to perpetuate violence in the Arab-Israeli conflict. For these threats to be removed, there must be an unequivocal resolve from U.S. leaders to defeat Saddam by force of arms, and remove him from power. With others if possible. Alone if necessary.



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