Connecting History

Connecting History logo

Milestones

Milestones logo

Hot off the Press

Book Reviews logo

History Talk

History Talk logo

Meddlers Hamstring Iraq Policy

by Itai Sneh on Sep 13, 2002

Itai Sneh

Until recently, the Bush cabinet has been in disarray in its policy toward Iraq. Adding to the confusion was antiwar advice given by self-appointed experts from past administrations, Republicans and Democrats alike, who think they deserve deference.

Visible conflicts between the State Department and the Pentagon have always hindered the articulation of a coherent policy. These days, such conflicts take familiar form: While Defense argues that war is necessary, State pushes for multilateral diplomacy.

When retired officials elbow their way into such a conflict, only more trouble results. Zbigniew Brzezinski is a prime example. Appearing on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sept. 1, Brzezinski used the same techniques he honed during his term as the national security adviser in the Carter administration to oppose any pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

From 1977 to 1981, Brzezinski positioned himself as the voice of prudence, the realpolitik strategic thinker compelled to inform the naive, idealistic newcomers from the South about national interests and international relations. He did this by sabotaging Carter’s focus on human rights as the heart of U.S. foreign policy.

Implementing this part of Carter’s original agenda would have meant censuring oppressive, pro-Western regimes during the Cold War. Brzezinski deemed such conduct ignorant and misplaced. Instead of opposing the commander in chief directly, Brzezinski cited administrative and procedural reasons to forestall any meaningful action to advance civil and political rights in countries such as Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey. As a result, Carter lost his momentum for a change in the nation’s approach to other nations. He looked indecisive and hypocritical, given his promises to incorporate morality in relations with such states while maintaining strong alliances.

Now Brzezinski claims that there is a “right way” of waging a war, a prolonged process that would reveal classified operational tactics to friends and foes alike. He has come up with a variety of legal and strategic reasons to assert that attacking Saddam Hussein, an aggressive user of military force and non-conventional weapons, is unjustified.

Brzezinski’s diversions include steps that in peaceful times might be warranted: obtaining permission from Congress and consulting with foreign governments prior to the deployment of troops abroad. But this crisis involves a brutal regime that has violated all possible human rights and poses a danger to the entire world.

Neutralizing executive powers is wrong unless there is a credible alternative or a reason to suspect that President Bush and his current team are not competent to make crucial decisions on a clear and present danger, as opposed to economic and social matters.

Brzezinski does not question the conclusion that Iraq is a menace, but undermines any strategy to eradicate Hussein’s grip on Iraq. It would be better if erudite former officials offer their counsel in private. Otherwise, the quality of their analysis is compromised by inappropriate intervention when matters of life and death are involved.


Itai Sneh is an assistant professor of history for world civilizations, human rights and international law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York.