Great Foreign Affairs article on pre-Iraq war diplomacy

“Stumbling Into War, by James P. Rubin”

I can’t recommend this article strongly enough; it’s a perfect summary of how Bush blew the pre-war diplomacy, and we’re going to be paying the price.

…preventing the United States from being seen as an aggressor would have required a comprehensive game plan.

Actually, this would have required a bag of faerie dust, since Chirac, Schroeder, Putin, and others have made it explicitly clear that they would have opposed military intervention in Iraq under any circumstances.

This reticence has little to do with Saddam and everything to do with counterbalancing American power.

Fourth, the belated effort to achieve a second Security Council resolution could still have succeeded, had the United States been willing to compromise by extending the deadline by just a few weeks.

Rubin’s points 1-3 are debatable, but Point 4 is an outright fantasy.

One of the main sources of European skepticism toward the U.S. campaign in Iraq was the sense that Washington was determined to go to war regardless of what Saddam did.

When Hans Blix described Iraq’s Dec. 8 declaration as “wholly inadequate,” one might have assumed that the UN was well on its way to concluding that Saddam was not interested in complying with Security Council ultimatums. One would have been wrong, of course.

Above all, it was the belief that the military buildup in the Persian Gulf was driving the United States’ policy decisions that led many to conclude war was inevitable.

Excellent point – because once it became obvious that war was inevitable, that was FGR’s [France, Germany, Russia’s] cue to obstruct the UN process as egregiously as possible, earning the contempt of even Colin Powell. The purpose of this obstructionism was to isolate the US; the decision had nothing to do with any moral business.

The administration simply did not care very much whether it had international backing or not, and the Europeans knew it.

Couldn’t agree more. America and Britain stepped forward to enforce international law, primarily as a matter of specific self-defense and secondarily as a simple matter of being the only nations with the capability and will to do it. That other European countries obstructed this effort should come as no surprise to folks like Zbigniew Brzesinzki, who noted in 1999 that “France will play a role on the international stage much along the lines of the role Gary Payton plays in the NBA – a good but unexceptional player taunting the league’s superstars.”

The unanimous passage of Resolution 1441 in November of last year had masked a number of major differences among key members of the UN Security Council.

Chief among these differences is the fact that FGR were unwilling to support military intervention under any cicrumstances.

Washington, however, was caught flat-footed by these developments [partial compliance by Iraq], and the result was disastrous.

TIME OUT – How can Rubin possibly claim this? “Partial compliance” was the exact reason that Washington did not want to go to the UN in the first place. It was assumed that Saddam would stall, prevaricate, and otherwise confound the effort to fully determine the status of his WMD programs. Washington knew all along that Rubin’s “fourth scenario” was the one that would actually come about.

Above all, it was the so-called preemptive strike doctrine, published in last September’s National Security Strategy, that harmed America’s diplomatic cause. Viewed through this lens, the war in Iraq looked less like a way to uphold UN Security Council resolutions than like the manifestation of a new American approach.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. FGR’s intransigence post-1441 had nothing to do with 1441 or any other Security Council resolution or lack thereof, but with a simple desire to obstruct US foreign policy prima facia once it became clear that US foreign policy meant business now.

Much of the world became determined to prevent the Security Council from rubber-stamping American decisions to conduct preemptive strikes.

Deeper into the heart of the matter. “Rubber-stamping American decisions” is the way FGR describes the enforcement of UN resolutions aimed at controlling the WMD programs of unaccountable regimes.

The real surprise was that the world’s democracies did not see the importance of upholding UN disarmament demands or ending the misery of the Iraqi people.


Public diplomacy is supposed to persuade, not infuriate.

At last, after flirting with the heart of the matter – we reach the aorta. The world opposed the war in Iraq because the US was not polite/humble enough in asking for it. This is Rubin’s essential thesis, and I agree with it whole-heartedly. The rest, as they say, is academic.

As a result of Paris’ position, many Iraqis continue to associate France with the hated Saddam regime…

As well they should.

To be fair, the administration had compelling rationales for war beyond the threat of Iraqi WMD…But each of these arguments, although perhaps otherwise convincing, were undermined by the administration’s record or reputation.

I’m surprised McCullough linked to this. I’m impressed with Rubin. He understands, quite perceptively, that the world was unwilling to back US action because Bush & Co. were the pitchmen for that action. The intransigence and obstructionism had nothing to do with the case, and everything to do with disdain for the lawyer.

The lawyer and the case aren’t separable, but then again, I don’t see why they would have gone along with Clinton acting like such an asshole, either.

[Rubin] understands, quite perceptively, that the world was unwilling to back US action because Bush & Co. were the pitchmen for that action.

McCullough linked to it for precisely that reason; I think he, like a lot of us libruls, agree that the many of the UN reasons for obstructing us were spurious.

However, this article also (only but somewhat indirectly) points the finger at the American people for putting such a diplomatic dim bulb as Bush and Cronies as our proxy to the civilized world community. We’re not an island. We need to elect presidents palatable to the rest of the world (at least in part), not just to beltway bible-beaters and the AEI apologists.

After all, if another country in the UN elects a diplomatically uncouth leader, they’ll have hell to pay, too. Have Israel’s international affairs been any easier under Sharon? It behooves us all to choose our leaders in a much more global sense if we’re gonna facilitate joint actions in the future. Duh. What makes us so special that we can elect an blithering buffoon and expect the world to chum up?

Oh, that’s right. We’re AMERICA. waves flag

Unfortunately at the time of Bush’s election Foreign Policy wasn’t as much as an issue, because the American people didn’t realize how vital foreign affairs were to their own interests. I think they’re waking up now.

Nah. The election will be won or lost based on jobs and the economy.

I don’t say it’s right. But it’s the way to bet.

Well considering his recent slide in the polls can be primarily attributed to the situation of Iraq I think I disagree

No. If Blix/UN inspectors had said war was the only option, France would have support it. Even Clinton said it : inspections destroyed more weapons than the first Gulf War did. So let them do their job. That’s all.

To further my point, a quote from the article :

A synchronized policy would have had the diplomatic and military tracks converge sometime this fall. All of the key players in Europe now say that they would have been prepared to support or at least sanction force against Iraq if it had not fully disarmed by then. And waiting that long would have demonstrated to all that Washington was prepared to go the extra mile to secure international backing.

I think that sums it up.

A synchronized policy would have had the diplomatic and military tracks converge sometime this fall. All of the key players in Europe now say that they would have been prepared to support or at least sanction force against Iraq if it had not fully disarmed by then.

Umm hmm, and Yassar arafat was just about to crack down on Hamas before Israel launched that rocket.

The great thing about being a terrorist, or a maniacal dictator is that you can rely on the procrastination of the world consensus known as the UN and the slow lag time between public outcry and governmental action. Or inaction, as the case may be.

The hypocracy that they would have approved millitary action now, but at that time it was out of the question, is an endorsement of Bush’s leadership but will be looked at by liberals as the more “sensible” road not taken.

Oh, right, the goddam “liberals”.

As far as France is concerned, Chirac never said war was not out of the question, he said time more should be given to inspectors. And then, after a delay (not 6 years, but more like 6 months), if war was to be waged, then so be it.

The problem is those delays would never have ended. There would have been talk about how the inspectors were making progress, were on some good trails, etc. etc. Just a few more months turns into just a few more years and after a while there’s an election somewhere and then people just don’t care anymore and the political will is gone. France’s economic and internal social concerns absolutely prevent it ever approving the kind of war Bush wanted to fight. And regardless of whether the idea of liberalizing the Mideast by forcible example is practical or insane, it would never have even gotten tried - the status quo would’ve endured indefinitely, and I just don’t see how anyone could describe the status quo in Middle Eastern countries as being in any way positive. Maybe it’s worse now (although I don’t think so), but change of some sort is needed somewhere.

And meanwhile - I know this is a minor point, but I’ll mention it anyway - the Baath thugs would’ve kept running the country for their own profit, Uday would’ve kept raping and branding women, kids would keep getting tortured as pressure on their parents, and all that kind of thing. Small fry, really - just human life, it’s real cheap on this planet - certainly not a reason for armed intervention. See Rwanda.

Ok, then, bonus question: why did the population of the entire world oppose invading? Seriously, the population of every single country opposed the war, excepting Britian, where support was weakly in favor.

There was at least one other actually. The Iraqi stock market kept going up the likelier a war looked.

But a possible answer to your question - because they’re not the ones who have to live with the consequences, so they can afford to jump for a simple answer to a complex problem? War bad. Everyone knows that.

Then how come they supported the first gulf war? How come they supported the war on Afghanistan?

I haven’t seen a coherent explanation of how the entire rest of the world disagreed with the US plan.

Jason, since when does a majority opinion make something the right ? So what if the ‘entire’ world disagrees, did ya ever stop to think that maybe we’re allowed to make a decision without everyone elses consent? Who died and made ‘world opinion’ god?

Your bonus question is more like a boner question. I swear to god you are just contrary for the controversy’s sake. I suppose if a majority of world opinion determined America should be destroyed, then we should lay down, cave to the majority and blow ourselves up?

I’m not asking if its right. I’m asking how conservatives explain the entire goddamn world disagreed with them. Hell, limit it to the first world if you want - how did the entire first world decide Bush was wrong? The usual explanation I see is that they’re a) morons, b) cowards, or c) greedy. This seems a bit ridiculous.

Well, the population of the world, on a whole, opposes gay marraiges, so they must be right, right?

Just because a majority of uninformed, biased, and small-minded people agree on something doesn’t make it correct.

I’d say the paths least taken are usually the ones that are ethically the best. Doing the right thing is often too damned difficult.

Again, I didn’t ask whether it’s a good thing they disagreed with us, or whether they’re wrong. I asked if there’s a coherent explanation of why they disagreed with us that a) doesn’t have anything to do with Bush fucking up the diplomacy like I think he did and b) doesn’t resort to basically calling the rest of the world idiotic, evil, or greedy.

Well, if the question is “what’s the difference between Gulf 1 and 2”, the answer is, Gulf 1 had Saddam blatantly invading somebody else, Gulf 2 didn’t. Much easier to get popular support to shoot at him in that case.

The presence or absence of popular support has no bearing on whether shooting until he’s dead, or shooting until he’s scared off, is the right thing to do.