Sunday, December 7, 2008

Continuing Partisan Debate on Iraq

As the debate over the Mumbai massacre has shown, the backlash against the Bush administration's policy of taking the fight to the terrorists continues to poison reasoned discussion on the future of American foreign policy.

We'll be seeing considerably more discussion of the Bush legacy on Iraq in the near future, as we make the transition from one administration to the next. As it is, leftists are
super-senstive to any meme on the right that credits the administration with the greater security of the nation. On Iraq, leftists continue to decry the origins of the war, harping on "the lack" of international legitimacy for the deployment, and discounting any effect of the virtually treasonous backstabbing we saw among antiwar activists and top members of the Democratic Party both before and after the first shots were fired.

Along these lines, Dave Noon, of
Lawyers, Guns and Money, has published a review of David Horowitz and Ben Johnson's, Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America's War on Terror Before and After 9-11.

Noon's piece, first rejected by the editors of
FrontPageMagazine, is now published at The Edge of the West. Here's the introduction, for some flavor:

In a little less than two months, George W. Bush will leave office as one of the most despised presidents in American history. Taking mild comfort, perhaps, in the fact that he will end his term according to the customary schedule, Bush would nevertheless have much to envy in the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned — amazingly — with lower disapproval ratings than George Bush currently enjoys and could, for all his administration’s flagrant criminality, at least take credit for bringing a pair of Giant Pandas to the National Zoo. Bush, by contrast, may well be remembered as simply the least capable two-term president in the history of the republic. In accounting for this failure, there are almost too many factors to consider, but the administration’s showcase project — the war in Iraq — will weigh heavily on Bush’s historical legacy. On its own merits, the war was a profound disaster for a full four years. The much-vaunted “surge” may have contributed to an improvement in certain conditions, but the likelihood that the United States will ever be able to offer a plausible claim of “victory” in Iraq is slim. No less a figure than Gen. David Petraeus recently conceded as much.

The authors of Party of Defeat are to be congratulated, then, for struggling valiantly (if unpersuasively) upstream in their quest to vindicate this administration’s baleful legacy. They do so, however, by taking a primarily negative tack. That is, they defend Bush’s war in Iraq not so much by hailing its achievements but rather by impugning the motives of its most vocal critics, whom they argue have somehow forced the president to deviate from the path to victory. It is, in the end, a strange argument on which to hang a book. So far as I can recollect, no credible works of history or political science have ever been written based on the thesis that a minority party in a democracy — one that in fact witnessed its minority status intensified over two election cycles — somehow bears responsibility for taking the country to the brink of ruin. But Party of Defeat is not a credible work of history or political science.
Perhaps Noon, despite his training as an historian, is not familiar with the reseach on interwar Britain and France, for example, Peter Corthorn and Paul Corthorn's, In the Shadow of the Dictators: The British Left in the 1930s, or Eugen Weber's, The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s.

The former explicitly examines the British left's refusal to respond seriously to the gathering threat of fascism in Europe before World War II, and the latter examines the collapse of national morale in interwar France that contributed to the country's utter collapse in the face of German power in 1940 (not unlike the evaporation of outrage and resolve among the American left since 9/11).

But no matter.

Historical accuracy is not Noon's design. There's really no rational argument that could shake folks like Noon - who populate the denialist left in ever-increasing numbers - from their hegemonic project of demonization of the Bush administration and the neoconservative right. Rather than engage Horowitz and Johnson's substantive points by other than a wave of the hand, Noon repeatedly hammers the claim that the book is not a "legitimate" work of scholarship:

In 164 pages of prose, the authors cite exactly zero historians and political scientists who enjoy any degree of credibility in the area of US-Middle Eastern history specifically or international relations more broadly. The authors are clearly not stupid men, but their footnotes reveal a research method for which the term “shoddy” is almost too generous a description.
This is such a blatantly dishonest statement I can only shake my head. Looking at the footnotes right now, I see Horowitz and Johnson cite Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay in the footnotes to Party of Defeat on page 174. Daalder and Lindsay are both political scientists and foreign policy experts (Daalder's Ph.D is from MIT, and Lindsay's from Yale). But more than this, the notes from Party of Defeat reveal a research process relying heavily on primary documents, archival materials, and first-person accounts and biographies that are central to the methods of diplomatic history. Perhaps the shift in the historical profession to the new "social history," and the concomitant refusal to teach military history to the youth of today, explains Noon's irresponsible dismissals of Horowitz and Johnson.

Indeed, Noon should pay more attention to the very scholarly literature he so pompously pumps. The Security Council authority for the use of force in Iraq embodied in a series of resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament and compliance with multilateral demands dating from 1991. Resolution 1441, which many focus on in discrediting international action, was in fact
a huge victory for the U.S. and the world body in signaling that Iraq risked a preponderant display of force in flouting the will of the international community. And even in the absence of a secondary resolution in the run-up to March 19, 2003, the U.S. - based on power, values, right, and responsibility - was obligated to act against Saddam's breach of faith.

Noon reacts to this as follows:

There are some real whoppers, such as their insistence that U.N. Resolution 1441 provided sufficient authority to launch a war against Iraq.
It's not a question of whether Resolution 1441 was "sufficient," but whether the world body in fact was prepared to act when objective international circumstances warranted it. As political scientist Anne Marie Slaughter argued on the legal rational for regime change in Iraq, Resolution 1441 and the French resistance to it:

If the United States has a majority and the French vetoes, then the United States will go ahead and will have the better of the legal argument, assuming the war is as the United States predicts—both short and successful.
At this point, how we reconcile all these views is less important than the larger divide between left and right on the legitimacy of the use of force in international affairs.

As
Arthur Borden, the author of A Better Country: Why America Was Right to Confront Iraq, has written:

It is time for the nation to overcome the partisanship that has split us for the past five years. The current administration may have made errors in prosecuting the war, implementing post-Saddam renewal within Iraq, and communicating its message at home. Nevertheless, the underlying policy of protecting U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf as prosecuted by the Republican George W. Bush was in line with the long-standing bipartisan consensus as articulated clearly by Democrat Jimmy Carter and understood subsequently by both political parties.
It's the Democratic Party that has obliterated this same bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. This is what Horowitz and Johnson document in painstaking and scrupulous detail, and this is why leftists have placed their book in the nihilist crosshairs.

David Noon, unable to discredit these arguments on the merits, attacks Party of Defeat from some assumed but flimsy perch of academic superiority. As such, as I've noted previously, he "epitomizes the contemporary pacifism of the hard-left of the Democratic Party."

9 comments:

Stogie said...

David Noon comes across as a sneering, dogmatic ideologue. His long screed of sneers and put-downs are his unsupported personal opinion, e.g., claiming the a victory in Iraq will never be possible. Lacking any coherent arguments, the Left is once again reduced to the level of school boy name calling.

And he dares to question the footnoted references of Horowitz and Co? Where are his?

You did a good job showcasing Noon's intellectual vapidity.

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Stogie:

These people are unbelievable.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

In my opinion,

Some of the most thorough research on the topic of Iraq and the war has been done by Scott Malensek, Mark Eichenlaub, and Roy Robison.

Scott's gone directly to sources, reading intell reports, UN documents, and a host of books. Though not widely read, his Iraq The Smoking Gun and other related material are invaluable to dispelling the silly lie that "Bush lied" us into war.

For those who only read the accounts of critics, to be fair, they should pick up Douglas Feith's book, "War and Decision". I don't care if you're left or right, anyone who is a serious student of history should read Feith's book. He was there. He provides a wealthy appendix of information and perspective.

LFC said...

OK, you've quoted Anne-Marie Slaughter completely out of context, and it's obvious.
She was arguing *for* a second Security Council resolution -- which the US did not get -- and saying that if the US got a majority vote in favor and then France vetoed, the US would have the better case. But in the event, of course, it was a case of clear opposition by a majority of the permanent members -- France, Russia, and China -- plus others, so the France-casting-a-veto scenario never materialized. The Slaughter quote has *no* bearing on Res 1441 that i can see. You rave on about Dave Noon's (alleged) deficiencies, but you have no compunction about quoting someone out of context when it suits your polemical purposes.

Donald Douglas said...

LFC: You don't read well, man.

Actually, she's saying we wouldn't need a resolution if France wouldn't get on board out of pacifism, because we have power and right to intervene in Iraq without the U.N.

Noon's a hack, and I've quoted Slaughter exactly as she meant it ... we "will have the better of the legal argument, assuming the war is as the United States predicts — both short and successful."

What part of better legal argument don't you get?

You lose...

LFC said...

In this March 4, 2003 interview she said:
1)It would be better to act with than without Security Council authorization;
2) *If* the US gathered a majority of votes for a Sec Council res which France vetoed -- which didn't happen b/c the US didn't gather a majority,as i recall -- then the US would have the better of the argument *if* the war was short and successful;
3) the war wasn't short and successful, so it's a moot point.

LFC said...

Also, France's opposition to the Iraq war did not stem from "pacifism". Pacifism is opposition to all wars in all circumstances, i.e. to war in general. France (and Russia and China and etc.) were opposed to *this* war.

davenoon said...

Oh, Donald... You are being paid by Horowitz, aren't you? If not, you should -- this level of hapless devotion should not go unrewarded.

On the alleged errata in the review, you're almost as sloppy as the authors themselves, but then again, we'd expect nothing less. Weber's book, for example, makes nothing close to the argument you claim it does, while the other book appears to focus almost exclusively on the Left-Labour rivalry. Have you even read these book? I haven't, but it took about five minutes of effort to confirm what I suspected, which is that you were making a dishonest claim.

As for the Daalder/Lindsay citation, I'll cheerfully amend my critique of their footnotes to read, "in defense of their argument, the authors cite exactly zero historians and political scientists who enjoy any degree of credibility in the area of US-Middle Eastern history specifically or international relations more broadly."

As for the rest of this, you've achieved Hall-of-Fame levels of wankery to suggest that the methods of Horowitz and Johnson bear any resemblance to diplomatic history. Golf claps for you. Like I said, you should be getting $500 from these folks...

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

The need for a new resolution was hotly debated amongst the principles. The ultimate decision to seek it was a political one, not a legal basis. The Administration felt they already had legal basis for military action, both unilateral (self-defense- rather shaky, imo- and the protection of its own interests against the dangers Saddam posed) and multilateral (the invasion of Iraq was legal under 678 and 687 as well as the subsequent resolutions that “recalled” those two. Plus, the 1991 Cease-fire had been broken before the UN even ratified it).


1441 muddied the discourse, focusing the world's attention narrowly on wmd stockpiles (stockpiles which could include a teaspoon of anthrax or a vial of botulinum toxin- try hunting for those in a country the size of California).


Also, France's opposition to the Iraq war did not stem from "pacifism". Pacifism is opposition to all wars in all circumstances, i.e. to war in general. France (and Russia and China and etc.) were opposed to *this* war.


Let us be clear that these countries were not opposed for idealistic reasons, but for selfish ones, at the expense of the world's collective global security. All had illegally circumvented sanctions to do business with Saddam. Why would Russia want to see the regime removed from power when Iraq owed them $8 billion in military equipment? Why should UN envoy Primakov put the world's welfare at the forefront of his job concerns when he was personally being paid off by Iraq?

French oil contracts?

And who sold Saddam most of his weapons arsenal? It wasn't the U.S. Not be a long shot. A Swedish study shows the U.S. accounted for something ridiculously small- like .3% or 1-3%.

When the U.S. and Coalition forces engaged the Iraqi army, it wasn't M16's they faced; no American-built missiles; nor Abrams or Patton tanks; there were no American F-15's.

Iraqis were flying MIGS bought from the Russians, and French Mirages.

Saddam's army was equipped with Soviet vehicles, Chinese small arms, French high-tech weapons, and chemical weapons from chemical plants built by West Germany.

China sold a great deal of arms, illegally and unopposed. The Iraqi secure communications network that carried secret commands from Baghdad to SCUD missiles in the '91 Gulf War was a custom-designed and built Chinese fiber optic network. It was rebuilt by the Chinese after attacks in 91, 4 Clinton airstrikes; and up to OIF, the Iraqis built up billions in debt owed to the Chinese.

Liberals like to show the picture of Rumsfeld (a civilian at the time) shaking hands with Saddam as we shook hands with Stalin against a greater threat in a previous war; but Chirac was the real friend of Saddam, working to end UN inspections and lift sanctions; and even visiting the nuclear reactor at Osirik which the French helped to build, and which was capable of producing weapons-grade uranium (leading Israel to destroy it).

For 12 years, both France and Russia sought to end economic sanctions.

These handful of countries stood in opposition to Saddam's removal for good, selfish reasons: They had hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and contracts with the Butcher of Baghdad.

1441 was a gamble, giving Saddam an opportunity to play the game smarter than the U.S. and engage in the cat-and-mouse charade all over again.

Countries like France on the Security Council with veto power, by seeking the new resolution, gave them the opportunity to condemn Saddam's history of noncompliance; requiring a second resolution before we could act militarily gave them the opportunity to basically vote both ways on an issue: the first offered more of the same- tough words, amounting to more of the same 12 year sizzle of meaningless resolutions, and the second, denying us the steak of actual, meaningful action and enforcement.