Angelo Codevilla replies: Invading Iraq was a judgment call, but nation building was an historically big mistake
Bailey, while not commenting on Rumsfeld’s mea culpa regarding the promotion of democracy by “nation building,” makes a point worth considering for itself: Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was wrong because he was not a threat to US national security, and he was not because “national interests, which can be pursued by all means short of war [are different from the] national interest called national security, which is a threat to the existence or territorial integrity of the state. Only in the latter case is military action justified.”
The distinction is meaningful. Its applicability depends on circumstances. Correctly, Bailey dismisses the Bushie claims about “weapons of mass destruction.” Bush settled on these as the basis for action after a near-public debate about what claims would be most palatable. But Bailey is mistaken about “no credible evidence that Saddam was allied with al Qaeda.” There is lots of it, carefully hidden by CIA. The story of CIA’s stupid, gullible love affair with Saddam’s intelligence service is one of its many disgraceful secrets. But, contrary to the tale that CIA with Bush’s cooperation has embedded in our national consciousness, “al Qaeda” is not synonymous with the phenomenon of Muslim terrorism that has been bedeviling the world for a half century. Fact is that Saddam Hussein, after 1991, made himself arguably the principal purveyor of that phenomenon. That includes, among other things, his sponsorship of the first bombing of the World Trade Center. Recall that its principal figures came and went with Iraqi passports and that the principle one returned and disappeared in Iraq. In short, whether Saddam was a thereat to US national interests or to US national security in 2002-3 was a judgment call that depended on whether Muslim terrorism was such a threat.
Now to what Goldman indicates as Rumsfeld’s main point. Yes. After April, 2003 the US armed forces were re-shaped to occupy and reform Iraq and Afghanistan. Big, historically big mistake. But Bush’s decision to “nation build” has had a far worse consequence. Because Bush was a Republican, the logic of US domestic partisanship led the un-thoughtful bulk of the conservative side of America’s body politic to support this ruinous use of American power as “the tough option.” Recall: “nation building” is what, in the 1950s, America’s Left advocated as a substitute for traditional war-fighting. “nation building” was THE U.S. “strategy” in Viet Nam. Opposed by DOD, it became the U.S. government’s default approach because CIA and State supported it. Conservatives argued against it for two generations, even when Bush 41 adopted it in Somalia. George W. Bush argued against it in his campaign in 2000. But then, Colin Powell at State Condoleezza Rice at NSC and George Tenet at CIA, aided by the Saudis, turned Dummy George around.
And so now we have Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal (Bob Bartley must be spinning in his grave) questioning the Americcan people’s character because they are reticent to continue this practice.
Rumsfeld knew how ruinous an illusion the promotion of democracy via “nation building was.” But he failed to object vigorously. Now he confesses. But not loudly enough.