I just happened upon this excellent piece by James Fallows in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly. As you might imagine, it's about Iraq. And it's one that should be on the top of your list to read if you want to think seriously and in depth about this very important and quite pressing subject.
In this article at least Fallows doesn't draw any real conclusions, at least not explicitly. What he does is dig into all the details of what the 'day after' of regime change would look like. He doesn't spend much time with the more outlandish scenarios -- cleaning up after a nuclear blast, treating thousands of people for exposure to Anthrax, some follow-on confrontation with Iran, etc. He sticks to the ones we know we'd face: feeding everyone in the country, setting up a new government, courts, bringing in an American military police force to prevent people from killing each other -- both in ordinary criminal ways and out of politically-tinged revenge.
All together it's a very, very sobering picture. The sheer immensity of the effort is staggering to consider. And the prospect of doing this all on our own dime (which we almost certainly would) and with our own personnel is daunting. It's not so much an article about arguments as simple wealth of detail, a reality check to drag you back down from the hot air balloons of slogans and rationales on both sides of the regime change debate. In any case, read it or at least dip into it. It's well worth your time.
Fallows himself played a small but pretty influential part in the evolution of my own thinking about the Iraq question. I interviewed Fallows at the beginning of my reporting for the article on Iraq I wrote in the Washington Monthly last Spring. Going into that conversation I tended to view all the big pushers of regime change as warmongers, hysterics or trouble-makers. Coming out of it I gave up the thought the arguments of at least the more serious regime change advocates could be easily dismissed. After reading Fallows' own piece this evening -- or I guess, this morning -- I wondered whether Fallows' own reporting for this article had changed his thinking on the question and how that conversation with him would be different today. I wondered; but the answer remained obscure.
Since I started reporting intensively on Iraq almost six months ago my own thinking has strained quite a bit under the push of unfolding events. As readers of this site know I wrote a long article in which I tentatively came out in support of military action to remove Saddam from power -- albeit by the means I think Colin Powell favors rather than those embraced by the Iraq-hawks.
In recent weeks I've mulled over this judgment again and again. Some of this is simply the fact that judgments like this become weightier as the prospect of actual action moves closer. On balance, though, I'd say I remain comfortable with what I wrote then.
There's also an issue people don't like to talk about, but which is an undeniable reality for many. Military action is easier to contemplate if it's being planned by political leaders who you support and whose values you share. One might say this is mere partisanship, agreeing with what politician X wants to do because he's a member of your party or vice versa. And there's always some of that. But it runs deeper. Following political leaders into war requires a deep measure of trust on a variety of levels: trust in their judgment, trust in their analysis of factual information that can never be shared with the public, and so forth. If your general sense of an administration is that they're not trustworthy or that they don't share your values it's difficult not let that color your opinions. Of course, to some degree it should color your opinions. But it's important to evaluate these questions as much as possible simply on the merits. And I've tried to do that to the best of my ability in my writing about Iraq on this site over the last several months.
But let me discuss with you for a moment what I find the most difficult about this debate. The more ardent supporters of regime change lie a lot. I really don't know how else to put it. I'm not talking about disagreements over interpretation. I mean people saying things they either know to be false or have no reason to believe are true. Perhaps the word 'lie' is a very slight exaggeration. Perhaps it's better to say they have a marked propensity to assert as fact points for which there is virtually or absolutely no evidence. How's that?
Let's just take one example, one among many. In the proposed use of force resolution the president sent to Congress on Thursday it cites as one reason for war "the high risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so." Whether Iraq would give WMD to terrorists to use against the United States is debatable. But is there a high risk that Iraq will launch a surprise attack against the United States? Really? Is there any risk this will happen? Is it even conceivable that this will happen? I don't think anybody of sound mind seriously believes this. That doesn't mean that Iraq isn't a serious threat or that an Iraq with nuclear weapons is not an eventuality we cannot allow to come into being. But a surprise attack against the United States? It's not a serious statement.
So why is it there? I assume it is just there as one more throwaway line that has no relation to the truth but sounds good and ups the ante. And the carefree indifference to the truth that that sort of statement betrays is worrisome in the extreme -- even if it's said in the service of a goal you think we should pursue.
I have more to say about this. But, alas, I must go to sleep. If you're dying for more you can read this article on Iraq which I published this evening in Salon.