Idiocy of the week

The shameless spinning of a former national security advisor.

By Andrew Sullivan
Published November 22, 2002 7:36PM (UTC)
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It was a remarkable Op-Ed. Tuesday, in the Washington Post, Brent Scowcroft, the former national security advis0r, hailed the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq question. Fair enough. It's been a pretty impressive fall. It pains those who believe in appeasing Saddam, but we now have for the first time in many years unanimous U.N. support for a real inspections regime, a clear opening for war if we need it and Saddam in an ever-tightening noose. Who can complain about that, apart from the pro-Saddam apologists in the antiwar brigade?

Scowcroft tries to spin this as a victory for his argument, famously made last August, that threatening unilateral war against Iraq was a foolish idea, given America's international isolation and the need to "focus" on the war against terrorists. (Scowcroft saw the prevention of weapons of mass destruction from getting into the hands of terrorists as completely independent of a war on terror. Well, I guess we're all entitled to our opinion.)

But here's Scowcroft's argument:

"By credibly threatening unilateral military action to resolve an Iraqi problem that has festered for years, the administration achieved two objectives. First, it induced the United Nations Security Council to face up to its responsibilities. Second, by declaring that the only sure solution to the Iraqi problem was regime change by military force, the administration maximized the odds that Saddam Hussein would take the United States seriously, accept U.N. authority and avoid a conflict that could well involve incalculable consequences for the region. The result: unanimous agreement in the Security Council that an international outlaw regime must return forthwith to lawful behavior, and unmistakable determination to use military force if it does not."

Excuse me, but isn't this exactly what Scowcroft was advising us not to do last August? He wrote that "there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive."

Now no one was suggesting last August that we were going to attack Iraq immediately. So the words "at this time" must surely have meant this fall or winter. So Scowcroft was advocating a diplomacy-first policy and an exclusively U.N. route to disarm or depose Saddam. But now he admits that "credibly threatening unilateral military action" was the key element in the administration's success in these very objectives. So he was dead wrong, wasn't he? In fact, his entire argument that you can separate diplomacy from the credible threat of force has been proved baseless. Does he admit this? Nuh-uh. He just keeps on spinning.

Some have argued, most notably Steve Feldberg at, that, in fact, there is no discrepancy between August Scowcroft and November Scowcroft. Feldberg says that Scowcroft never ruled out military action against Iraq. He just wanted it under U.N. auspices. That's true as far as it goes. But it misses the point that multilateral diplomacy alone, which Scowcroft urged, could never have achieved this. Paradoxically, it was the threat of unilateralism that made multilateralism possible and effective. We needed a real threat from the "cowboy" for the world cops to take notice.

Score yet another one for the moron Bush. And leave Scowcroft to the historical oblivion he so richly deserves.

Andrew Sullivan

Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan's commentary appears daily on his own Web site.

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