Sunday, December 21, 2008

Iraq and the Political Scientists

Daniel Drezner provides a link to a Matthew Yglesias essay, which is one of the more interesting recent commentaries I've seen on Iraq: "Political Science at War."

Yglesias takes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to task for
a recent CNN interview, where she was asked if she had any regrets on the administration's foreign policy:

I absolutely am so proud that we liberated Iraq ...

Absolutely. And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, that this different Iraq under democratic leadership.
The key is the stress on her identity as "a political scientist." In response, Yglesias not only excoriates Rice, but goes on to denounce the entire media/neocon think tank commentariat which backed the build-up in Iraq. To make his case, he relies on survey data from international relations experts in political science, who were almost uniformly opposed the intervention. Here's the key passage from Yglesias:

My colleague Ryan Powers reminds us that, in fact, many of the leading lights of the international relations subfield of political science tried to warn the country against the invasion of Iraq. There was also this interesting article that surveyed opinion among IR scholars in Foreign Policy magazine several years ago ....

One of the most annoying habits of the press and the DC conventional wisdom more generally has been a persistent habit of ignoring these facts in favor of the rhetoric of “seriousness” that casts war opponents as a much of ignorant hippies and foul-mouthed bloggers who, at best, were right about Iraq by accident or something. But the vast majority of credentialed experts in Middle East regional studies, and the vast majority of credentialed experts in international relations have always been extremely skeptical of the adventure in Iraq. The main supporters of the war have been politicians, magazine and newspaper pundits, and a smallish group of heavily politicized think tank-based experts and “experts” who, for whatever reason, are granted privileged access to the media over people in a better position to offer genuinely independent analysis. I think many political observers watching the debate unfold in 2002-2003 would have gotten the impression that most experts were more-or-less backing the president on Iraq. But while it’s certainly true that most op-ed columnist and most Brookings fellows were behind Bush, the broader group of political scientists who specialize in these issues has always taken the opposite view.
If you check out Yglesias' post, which has a graph of opinion on Iraq within the foreign policy professoriate, the views therein break down reasonably close to the classic left-right split among the general population. Of course, since most political scientists are liberal or moderate, it's natural that a majority of professors would be "against the invasion."

Methodologically, Yglesias' "evidence" for a just opposition to Iraq is, well, embarrassingly biased. I'm no "hot shot" scholar of international relations, and I don't expect to be. But had I been contacted I would have indicated my backing of the deployment. Indeed, my support of the intervention hasn't flinched in nearly six years of warfare. Now that the U.S. has prevailed in what might be called the major anti-insurgency phase of the last couple of years, the left now has the burden of justifying its long stab-in-the-back policy of cut-and-run, which would have abandoned our troops in the field and turned the Iraqi people over to the region's terrorist predators and their backers in Iran.

My disseration advisor, Professor Michael Gordon, a great teacher and tremendous scholar, is retired now. He writes a blog off and on, and while he was very critical of the handling of the war, his writing at the time demonstrated intellectual and moral clarity on the international politics surrounding the run-up to the deployment. Here's what he wrote in
a post from 2004:

Despite the errors, bungling, and other problems of the Bush administration, I stand by the intervention in Iraq, [and] believe it will still work out generally well - [and I believe], too, that the repercussions of that in the Middle East will redound to our benefit in the years and decades to come.
Professor Gordon's post is a bit dated on some of his observations, but his basic hunch is accurate, that despite the initial difficulties and incompetence, the fight was worth it and that our engagement would end up creating a positive force for the future of the Middle East.

Despite naysayers, Iraq is on its way to stabilizing its democracy, a free regime which will stand as a regional balance against the region's rogue authoritarian regimes of proliferation and massive human rights violations. As we've seen now, many on the American left have thrown their hands up over Iraq - frustrated that we've actually won - and have now turned instead to mount their nihilist campaign of outrage against the deployment in Afghanistan.

Yglesias is one of these folks. The left, including much of the interational relations academy, took a bath on the long-term outlook in Iraq. No war will be worth it for those marinated in an ideology of weak-kneed internationalism and hostility to American power.

Don't forget to read
Drezner's criticisms of Yglesias, which focuses on Secretary Rice and the poliical science angle.


Van Zan said...

I don't care for the rhetoric of "the fight was worth it", particularly among those who haven't lost anything, but I sincerely hope the future is brighter for the people of Iraq, for what it cost us, for what it cost them.

And the Taliban has to be defeated, once and for all.
It's going to take a very long time, though. The tribes that form the power base of the Taliban - although not all of them are of the Taliban - are tough fighters with almost a culture of insurgency. We'll have to be in it for the long haul, and it might well be the work of more than two administrations.

We need to ditch this left-right debate over this.
We're there. They need us. We have a duty to them.