Steven Warshawsky responds to critics

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Response To My Critics: Last week, I argued  that President Bush has made a serious strategic and political miscalculation by committing the United States to establishing a stable, democratic, pro—western government in Iraq.  This article elaborated on my earlier argument  that President Bush has re—defined the Bush Doctrine from a strategy of using preemptive military force against terrorists and their state sponsors into a much more ambitious, and uncertain, project to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East. 

Since then, this website and I have received numerous responses criticizing my argument on various grounds.  Here is my reply:

First, I have been criticized for creating a false correlation between the transformation of the Bush Doctrine (as described above) and declining public support for the war in Iraq.  This false correlation has been attributed either to deliberate misrepresentation or sheer stupidity on my part.

While reasonable people may disagree about the "fit" between the President's changing war aims and his low approval ratings, I believe the timeline and the poll data speak for themselves.  The correlation may not be perfect, but it is persuasive.  Significantly, none of my critics has pointed to any concrete evidence that undermines my thesis.  Instead, a disappointing number of people have made ad hominem attacks on the quality of my education (or perceived lack thereof) and/or my ability to reason logically.  Hardly what I expect from the intelligent and informed readers of this website.

What I find much more troubling, however, is how many people, in "rebutting" my argument, attack the intelligence and decency of the American people.  Apparently, if the American people (or 60% of them) do not support President Bush's strategy in Iraq that makes them idiots and/or cowards.  I could not disagree more strongly, and not just because I consider myself one of these "idiots."  The quickness with which so many of my critics were prepared to castigate their fellow Americans (many of whom, remember, supported the war at one point) as a bunch of worthless bums is dismaying, to say the least.

Second, I have been criticized for misreading the President's speeches about the Iraq War and for positing a change in strategy, when in fact there has been no change.  True, President Bush included some flowery language about freedom and democracy in his post—9/11 speeches, even before the Iraq War started.  American presidents have always done this, of course, because it's part of our character as a nation that we do not go to war for conquest or plunder.

But, first and foremost, we go to war to protect our national interests.  The historical record, including speeches by members of the Bush administration, debates in Congress, political commentary, and public opinion polling data, is crystal clear that the main emphasis prior to the war was on eliminating WMDs and degrading the ability of international terrorist groups to inflict damage on our homeland.  These were the national security threats that the President identified in the aftermath of 9/11 and which required us to take preemptive military action against our enemies.  These were the reasons we invaded Afghanistan and why we invaded Iraq.  We did not invade either of these countries to turn them into democracies.  One may argue otherwise, of course, but I believe this is a gross distortion of the historical record.

Third, I have been criticized for not supporting the President's "freedom agenda."  I have neither the time nor the space to explain in detail why I think this strategy is fatally flawed.  But let me say this.  Plenty of very smart people (e.g., Robert Spencer, Andrew Bostom, David Yerushalmi) have argued, I think persuasively, that Islam at its core is not compatible with western—style democracy.  We see everyday the deep suspicion and animosity of the entire Muslim world towards the West.  Obviously not every Muslim opposes the West or supports terrorism.  But where are the "moderates" in the Muslim world?  Where are the westernizers?  Where are the leaders who are seeking a reproachment with the West?  Not in Iran, or Syria, or Lebanon, or the Palestinian Authority, or Saudi Arabia, etc.  So where comes the faith —— and this is what it is —— that somehow in the midst of all of this hatred and cultural conflict, we will be able to establish a free, democratic, pro—western government in Iraq?  I have yet to see any concrete evidence for this faith, just expressions of hope.  And on the basis of such hope, we're supposed to maintain 150,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely?  This makes no sense to me.

Fourth, this brings up the most frequent criticism of my article, which is that I failed to offer my own "solution" for Iraq.  I concede the criticism, but the point of my article was to explain the inevitable failure, as I see it, of President Bush's declared strategy.  I don't agree that the relevance of my criticism is somehow lessened because I didn't offer my own strategy in the same article (which already was too long).  These are two separate issues.

Nevertheless, as was quite clear in my article, my strategy would return to the essentials of the original Bush Doctrine.  This means we should take military action to prevent hostile nations from obtaining WMDs (as well as using all diplomatic and economic means to achieve the same ends) and search out and destroy Islamic terrorist organizations, using all available means.  In my opinion, whether or not Muslim nations become free democratic countries, as we understand those terms, is not an issue of immediate national security to the United States.  It's their choice to wallow in tyranny and poverty, or join the modern, western—oriented world.  What matters from a national security perspective is whether or not they develop WMDs or allow major terrorist organizations to set up encampments in their terrority.  These are the dangers that call for a swift, harsh response from the United States and its allies. 

If my position must be categorized or labeled, I'm probably what John Derbyshire of National Review calls a "To Hell With Them Hawk."

Lastly, I'll end with the question that I posed to one of my critics who accused me of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq.  When will we have "won" the war in Iraq?  What is the event or condition that will signify victory?  Overthrowing Saddam?  Done.  Eliminating his WMD programs?  Done.  Creating a new government and holding some elections?  Done.  So what's left?  Killing every last Islamic terrorist?  Bringing peace and brotherly love to the warring factions in that "country"?  When, exactly, are these going to happen?  And how?
In short, what does it mean, in practical terms, to establish a free, democractic, pro—western government in Iraq?  President Bush has never answered this question.  So what, then, are we fighting for?  Why are we committing 150,000 troops to this battle when our real #1 enemy, Iran, continues to pursue WMDs?  This makes no sense to me.  Our great military should be used to accomplish bigger and more important goals than policing the streets of Baghdad.

Steven M. Warshawsky      9 16 06

Response To My Critics: Last week, I argued  that President Bush has made a serious strategic and political miscalculation by committing the United States to establishing a stable, democratic, pro—western government in Iraq.  This article elaborated on my earlier argument  that President Bush has re—defined the Bush Doctrine from a strategy of using preemptive military force against terrorists and their state sponsors into a much more ambitious, and uncertain, project to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East. 

Since then, this website and I have received numerous responses criticizing my argument on various grounds.  Here is my reply:

First, I have been criticized for creating a false correlation between the transformation of the Bush Doctrine (as described above) and declining public support for the war in Iraq.  This false correlation has been attributed either to deliberate misrepresentation or sheer stupidity on my part.

While reasonable people may disagree about the "fit" between the President's changing war aims and his low approval ratings, I believe the timeline and the poll data speak for themselves.  The correlation may not be perfect, but it is persuasive.  Significantly, none of my critics has pointed to any concrete evidence that undermines my thesis.  Instead, a disappointing number of people have made ad hominem attacks on the quality of my education (or perceived lack thereof) and/or my ability to reason logically.  Hardly what I expect from the intelligent and informed readers of this website.

What I find much more troubling, however, is how many people, in "rebutting" my argument, attack the intelligence and decency of the American people.  Apparently, if the American people (or 60% of them) do not support President Bush's strategy in Iraq that makes them idiots and/or cowards.  I could not disagree more strongly, and not just because I consider myself one of these "idiots."  The quickness with which so many of my critics were prepared to castigate their fellow Americans (many of whom, remember, supported the war at one point) as a bunch of worthless bums is dismaying, to say the least.

Second, I have been criticized for misreading the President's speeches about the Iraq War and for positing a change in strategy, when in fact there has been no change.  True, President Bush included some flowery language about freedom and democracy in his post—9/11 speeches, even before the Iraq War started.  American presidents have always done this, of course, because it's part of our character as a nation that we do not go to war for conquest or plunder.

But, first and foremost, we go to war to protect our national interests.  The historical record, including speeches by members of the Bush administration, debates in Congress, political commentary, and public opinion polling data, is crystal clear that the main emphasis prior to the war was on eliminating WMDs and degrading the ability of international terrorist groups to inflict damage on our homeland.  These were the national security threats that the President identified in the aftermath of 9/11 and which required us to take preemptive military action against our enemies.  These were the reasons we invaded Afghanistan and why we invaded Iraq.  We did not invade either of these countries to turn them into democracies.  One may argue otherwise, of course, but I believe this is a gross distortion of the historical record.

Third, I have been criticized for not supporting the President's "freedom agenda."  I have neither the time nor the space to explain in detail why I think this strategy is fatally flawed.  But let me say this.  Plenty of very smart people (e.g., Robert Spencer, Andrew Bostom, David Yerushalmi) have argued, I think persuasively, that Islam at its core is not compatible with western—style democracy.  We see everyday the deep suspicion and animosity of the entire Muslim world towards the West.  Obviously not every Muslim opposes the West or supports terrorism.  But where are the "moderates" in the Muslim world?  Where are the westernizers?  Where are the leaders who are seeking a reproachment with the West?  Not in Iran, or Syria, or Lebanon, or the Palestinian Authority, or Saudi Arabia, etc.  So where comes the faith —— and this is what it is —— that somehow in the midst of all of this hatred and cultural conflict, we will be able to establish a free, democratic, pro—western government in Iraq?  I have yet to see any concrete evidence for this faith, just expressions of hope.  And on the basis of such hope, we're supposed to maintain 150,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely?  This makes no sense to me.

Fourth, this brings up the most frequent criticism of my article, which is that I failed to offer my own "solution" for Iraq.  I concede the criticism, but the point of my article was to explain the inevitable failure, as I see it, of President Bush's declared strategy.  I don't agree that the relevance of my criticism is somehow lessened because I didn't offer my own strategy in the same article (which already was too long).  These are two separate issues.

Nevertheless, as was quite clear in my article, my strategy would return to the essentials of the original Bush Doctrine.  This means we should take military action to prevent hostile nations from obtaining WMDs (as well as using all diplomatic and economic means to achieve the same ends) and search out and destroy Islamic terrorist organizations, using all available means.  In my opinion, whether or not Muslim nations become free democratic countries, as we understand those terms, is not an issue of immediate national security to the United States.  It's their choice to wallow in tyranny and poverty, or join the modern, western—oriented world.  What matters from a national security perspective is whether or not they develop WMDs or allow major terrorist organizations to set up encampments in their terrority.  These are the dangers that call for a swift, harsh response from the United States and its allies. 

If my position must be categorized or labeled, I'm probably what John Derbyshire of National Review calls a "To Hell With Them Hawk."

Lastly, I'll end with the question that I posed to one of my critics who accused me of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq.  When will we have "won" the war in Iraq?  What is the event or condition that will signify victory?  Overthrowing Saddam?  Done.  Eliminating his WMD programs?  Done.  Creating a new government and holding some elections?  Done.  So what's left?  Killing every last Islamic terrorist?  Bringing peace and brotherly love to the warring factions in that "country"?  When, exactly, are these going to happen?  And how?
In short, what does it mean, in practical terms, to establish a free, democractic, pro—western government in Iraq?  President Bush has never answered this question.  So what, then, are we fighting for?  Why are we committing 150,000 troops to this battle when our real #1 enemy, Iran, continues to pursue WMDs?  This makes no sense to me.  Our great military should be used to accomplish bigger and more important goals than policing the streets of Baghdad.

Steven M. Warshawsky      9 16 06