Yale '62 - The Iraq Dilemma - Chris Snow

"The Iraq Dilemma: Familiar Tough Choices"

By Chris Snow
Bainbridge Island, WA

Plus ca change, plus c'est la mÍme chose. Or so it seems when I compare U.S. Foreign Policy today to what it was in 1962. We emerged from Yale inspired by President Kennedy's rhetoric, determined to make a positive difference in a world dominated by the Cold War. Did we? Or are we going to leave as big a mess as ever for those coming along behind us?

The honest answer is probably a bit of both. With the international community's help we succeeded in ending the cold war, launched an ambitious global economic assistance effort, eradicated smallpox, made major progress against malaria, and created the Green Revolution to helped feed the World's growing population. With help from the United Nations and NATO we contained the Soviet military threat and lowered the temperature in regional hot spots from Korea to Kosovo. During my thirty-five years in the Foreign Service I was privileged to play a small part in some of these successes in Washington, Europe and the Middle East.

Yale '62 Poll
The Iraq Dilemma
(One poll this month)
The following best describes my view of the Iraq situation: (Select one)
Military action against Iraq is necessary in the interests of world peace and should be undertaken even if the U.S. has to move unilaterally.
The United States should lead an international military action only if Saddam does not completely comply with the United Nations resolution.
An attack on Iraq would be a strategic error of great risk to the United States and its population.
A first strike attack against Iraq would be against the American value system.

But we had some failures too and we broke a lot of crockery along the way. Although our motives were laudable, our methods often left much to be desired. Sometimes we went too far or too fast, sometimes not far or fast enough. Other times we overestimated our own capabilities and how much our allies would support us. Often we miscalculated the local response to our efforts. Are we in danger of making the same mistakes with our Iraq policy? I think so.

An invasion of Iraq seems imminent. Our leaders in Washington say there are no other options. Time, they say, is running out. The mid term election results suggest that a majority of voters agree. It wouldn't be the first time the voters were wrong. The Administration has yet to persuade a substantial part of the American public or any of our allies except the British. The resolution the President has succeeded in wringing out of a clearly reluctant Security Council might be a pyrrhic victory. The congressional resolution giving President Bush a green light to invade Iraq begins to look a lot like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Will our invasion of Iraq produce another legacy we will come to regret?

The law of unintended consequences hasn't been repealed. In the last forty years our successes have often thrown up problems as grave as those we had solved. While I was in Tehran, President Carter came to persuade the Shah to open up the Iranian political process. Enter the Ayatollah. I was in Washington dealing with our public affairs operations - the hearts and minds game -- in North Africa, the Near East and South Asia when we helped the Afghans throw the Soviets out of their country. Enter the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And I was in Israel when we pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait, but didn't finish the job -- leaving us with Saddam Hussein.

Do these less than happy endings mean we should compromise our principles or do nothing to influence the course of international events? Of course not. But we must profit from our experiences and give more thought to the long-term implications of our immediate foreign policy objectives -- and how we go about pursuing our foreign policy goals. Which brings us back to Iraq.

No doubt we will prevail on the battlefield, but that is only the beginning. Then comes the challenge of occupation and reconstruction, with not many friends to help us. It will be long, difficult and expensive. Economic reconstruction will be the easy part. Creating democratic institutions and a new political class committed to using rather than subverting them will be hugely difficult. Our experience in Afghanistan is instructive. In Iraq it will take decades, not years, and the American taxpayer is not famous for supporting expensive, long-term projects in remote parts of the world.

So what to do? First let's consider carefully where our best long-term interests really lie. We must resist the passion of the moment and not rush into a war we will probably regret. War is a blunt instrument, a genie that can't be put back in the bottle. Once the fighting begins it quickly limits all other options. Military imperatives become dominant and everything else is secondary -- at home as well as on the battlefield. Only rarely can the generals factor post war considerations into their plans and actions.

Let's not alienate both the Muslim World and our allies by starting a war neither will support. If we can't get other governments to support a military invasion, we can probably enlist them in a coordinated intelligence operation to frustrate Saddam's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. We should certainly press the U.N. to strengthen the inspection regime in Iraq and insist that the Iraqis let the inspectors do their jobs - but without holding a sword of Damocles over Iraq's head. Even if they don't find everything, forcing Saddam to play hide and seek with his research and production facilities is bound to slow him down. And if he stiffs the inspectors, then we will be able to rally international support for military action.

International relationships are denser and much more complex today than in 1962. They demand more sophisticated policies and methods better suited to our time and circumstances. We won't be able to develop or implement them, though, if we are already at war.

What's your view?