This is opposition?

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

The Wall Street Journal

We're pleased, we guess, that The New York Times thought our article on Iraq by Brent Scowcroft last Thursday was important enough to lead its front page two days in a row. We'd be more pleased, though, if instead of trumpeting our story to advance a tendentious theme, the Times kept its opinions on its editorial page.

The Times's theme is that the Scowcroft article means the Republican Party, or at least some major faction of it, is in revolt against the Bush foreign policy. This is not news; it's a wish in the eye of the remnants of the old anti-Vietnam left. The Democrats have been pretty much cowed into silence by fear of the voters; the latest Washington Post poll shows 69% of Americans favor military action to force Saddam from power. This leaves a vacuum to be filled by a few maverick Republicans with assorted motives, amplified by a media looking for August news or with an ideological agenda.

Dick Armey, in any event retiring from Congress, is fundamentally a libertarian. He was also the last Republican to sign on for the Gulf War; we wish his views on economics were deemed as newsworthy as those on foreign policy. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel knows he can grab a fast headline by opposing his President; his crack volunteering Pentagon adviser Richard Perle for the first wave was particularly shabby.

While the Times was spinning such opposition into a major revolt Friday, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times gave page-one headlines to Condoleezza Rice's case that Saddam Hussein "is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us." Except for a brief editorial put-down, the Times left this to the following day, wrapped into a story on the President "listening" to dissent.

Not only that, but the Times front-page stories on both Friday and Saturday enlisted Henry Kissinger as another Republican opponent of the war. Here's what Mr. Kissinger actually said in his most recent op-ed, appearing in The Washington Post last Monday: "The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, the demonstrated hostility of Saddam combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action." This is opposition? Which brings us to Mr. Scowcroft, who does speak for a point of view worth debating. Honest debate is nothing that advocates of regime change in Iraq, whether President Bush or us, need fear. Indeed, we solicited the Scowcroft article precisely to put on record a view that has a long and honorable tradition, particularly within the Republican Party.

This view describes itself as realism. It upholds national interest narrowly defined, striving for balance of power in the old European sense. It resists a foreign policy with a strong moral component or one designed to expand U.S. principles and democracy. So it typically favors "stability," even when it's imposed by dictators, over democratic aspiration.

This is a legitimate point of view, but its track record doesn't inspire confidence. Mr. Scowcroft (and Lawrence Eagleburger) favored keeping Yugoslavia together, even under Slobodan Milosevic. That mistake kept blood flowing for a decade until even the Europeans begged for U.S. intervention. Mr. Scowcroft also presided over the first President Bush's "Chicken Kiev" speech that argued for keeping the Soviet Union together under Mikhail Gorbachev. And of course he urged that same President Bush to stop the Gulf War early, based in part on a CIA fear that a divided Iraq without a dictator was worse than a "stable" Iraq ruled by Saddam or his Baath Party successor.

Colin Powell was complicit in all of those mistaken judgments, as was the State Department over which he now presides and which is usually the home of such Realpolitik. It dominated Bush I, but not the Reagan years, and it looks to be losing under Bush II. Vice President Dick Cheney, also involved in the Gulf War decisions, has come around to favoring Saddam's ouster, though he is too loyal to say so publicly.

And after all, the leading spokesman for Realpolitik used to be Henry Kissinger, who has since declared that realism needs to be tempered with a dose of American idealism. And on September 11 we learned that in the modern interdependent world national interest cannot be narrowly defined, that the internal character of even the most remote regime can be a life-and-death matter to Americans. Indeed, while reports of Mohamed Atta visiting with Iraqi intelligence in Prague are obviously not conclusive evidence, the probability that Saddam was complicit in September 11 is not zero.

Mr. Kissinger's actual point is that the U.S. has to think through how it goes about ousting Saddam so it can succeed in a way that creates an entirely new era in the Middle East. It's ironic that Mr. Scowcroft's narrower view of "stability" is now championed by the anti-war left, which never before had any use for Realpolitik. Its current stance shows how little faith an increasingly elitist left now has in promoting democracy and U.S. principles.

President Bush has from the beginning understood the broader moral and strategic implications of the war on terrorism and its state sponsors. He has increasingly cast his foreign policy in Reaganite terms of freedom and self-determination for Muslims -- for Afghans, Iranians and even Palestinians. This is something most Republicans, and indeed most Americans, instinctively understand and will support if Mr. Bush decides to liberate Iraq.

This editorial was published Monday in The Wall Street Journal.

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