The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

On War: August 2005

August 11, 2005

On his relatively new blog, The Useless Tree, Williams College political scientist Sam Crane recently posted an excellent entry entitled, “The Sad Lesson of Iraq.” Crane is an expert on Asian affairs, and thus logically discusses the wisdom imparted by Chinese military strategist Sun Tsu.

However, Crane begins where national security experts often begin — by quoting the most famous line written by German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz:

The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.

The importance of this message is obvious. The Bush administration, and even more clearly the key “coalition of the willing partners,” Australia, Britain, and Italy, argued for a war to disarm Iraq of its “weapons of mass destruction,” which allegedly threatened international peace and stability.

We all now know that there were no threatening WMDs; thus, by Clausewitz’s logic, the war is now separated from its purpose. Or at least its original purpose.

So, what is the current purpose of the war? How should a war now be prosecuted? Should the US simply say “nevermind” and go home?

Obviously, to justify the ongoing war, the Bush administration now references human rights abuses by Saddam Hussein and the need for democratization of Iraq. However, there are good reasons to be cynical about the shifting rationale.

War-hawk former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously told an interviewer that the “criminal treatment of the Iraqi people” was “not a reason to put American kids’ lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it.” In a 2000 debate against Al Gore, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush declared that he would not have intervened in Rwanda in the 1990s, even if American action could have saved 600,000 lives.

Hmmm. Would a modern-day Clausewitz think there are other good reasons for the ongoing war in Iraq?

Chris of Explananda worries that one reason the US is still fighting in Iraq is that it wants permanent military bases. And this isn’t good:

I think that as long as the Bush administration – or whatever administration, Republican or Democrat, comes after them – holds on to this ambition, they will do a lot of damage to Iraq in the meantime. The ambition to hold on to long-term bases will surely lead to all kinds of meddling, which is bound to do Iraq no good, and also bound to backfire.

What about oil? This is not something often discussed in the mainstream media, but it is certainly something to consider. Mount Holyoke political scientist Vincent Ferraro argued two years ago that the unstated purpose of the Iraq war was to stabilize international petroleum markets. University of Chicago political scientist John J. Mearsheimer predicted in February 2003 that the US was “going to turn it [Iraq] into a giant gas station.” Mearsheimer thought that was a recipe for disaster, fueling an insurgency against the US. Was he right?

If mentioning oil is impolite, those who note that the Iraq war was in Israel’s security interests are labeled anti-Semitic. However, this angle carries a lot of weight in the Arab world. Moreover, that paranoia was liekly fed by the recent indictment of Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin, along with two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Franklin was allegedly giving classified information to AIPAC officials since 1999. And the story could get worse:

The charges are related to information on Iran and terrorist attacks in Central Asia and Saudi Arabia that was allegedly exchanged with three U.S. government officials and three staffers at Israel’s Embassy in Washington.

A source close to the defense [of the AIPAC officials] said one of the U.S. officials involved, who has not been indicted, was recently appointed to a senior Bush administration post. The source, who asked not to be identified, would not name the official.

Hmmmm, who could that be? So many guessing games

If the US is going to insist that the Iraq war was about human rights and democracy, then it probably needs to rethink policy toward Darfur, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.


Update 8/12/05:As Digby points out, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of the soldier killed in Iraq, is asking the right question about the war: “what was the noble cause”? She’s waiting around in Crawford, Texas, trying to get an answer from the President.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.