A TPM reader (TW) writes in with a thoughtful critique of the article about Israel, Iraq & the United States I wrote yesterday in Salon.
He says I miss the point in criticizing the Bush administration's muscling of Iraq. If, as a result of our muscling, the other Arab states get together with Iraq and get the Iraqis to behave, that isn't a failure of US policy, but rather a success. I couldn't agree more.
For some time I've been skeptical of the criticism of the Bush policy on Iraq, even as I myself am critical of it. What if, at the end of the day, Bush's belligerence got the Iraqis to readmit weapons inspectors, perhaps with a brief even more robust than their previous one? Who could say the president's bluster wasn't successful? Where would that leave the critics? Or what if it spurred a change of regime in Baghdad? That's something I see as far less likely. But what if ...?
Here is why I think what happened in Beirut a couple days ago doesn't fall into that category. The Iraqis put little or nothing on the table in terms of complying with international resolutions -- as this article in the Times makes clear. Yet they have gotten the other Arab states to place themselves on the side of defending, rather than attacking the Iraqis. At least for now.
The error here -- as I see it -- is that the administration really wasn't pursuing a bluster strategy. It was pursuing a military strategy. Or at least it's focus was so solely on a military strategy that it undermined the bluster strategy. Rather than moving deftly and making the Iraqis worry that we might be successful in isolating them, the administration moved cavalierly and got the Arab states to preempt us.
The potency of our bluster is now rather diminished. As is our ability to use threats to get the weapons inspectors back in. At least that's how it seems right now. If your response is to tell me that our strategy has always been military and that that's exactly how it should be, well ... that's fine. But how does our military position look to you now?
Under the influence of Brooks and other conservative worthies, the president is trying to shape himself in the TR mold. And the White House has thought it was talking loudly and carrying a big stick. For the moment though I think we've been revealed to be all talk and no stick. And a bit foolhardy to boot.