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|Posted February 3, 2003|
|The Brains Behind Bush's War|
|By TODD S. PURDUM|
ASHINGTON, Jan. 31 Any history of the Bush administration's march toward war with Iraq will have to take account of long years of determined advocacy by a circle of defense policy intellectuals whose view that Saddam Hussein can no longer be tolerated or contained is now ascendant.
Like the national security experts who were the intellectual architects of the Vietnam War, men like McGeorge Bundy, Walt W. Rostow and others branded "The Best and the Brightest" in David Halberstam's ironic phrase, these theorists seem certain to be remembered, for better or worse, among the authors of the most salient evolution of American foreign policy since the end of the cold war: the pre-emptive attack.
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At the center of this group are longtime Iraq hawks, Republicans like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz; Richard Perle, a former Reagan administration defense official who now heads the Defense Policy Board, the Pentagon's advisory panel; and William Kristol, who was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now edits the conservative Weekly Standard.
But the war camp also includes more recent and reluctant converts like Kenneth M. Pollack, an Iraq expert in the Clinton White House, who has become a prominent advocate for an attack on Saddam Hussein as the best way to avoid, as he calls his recent book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" (Random House 2002); and Ronald D. Asmus, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
"Saddam Hussein and his regime must go, both because his pursuit of nuclear weapons endangers the vital Persian Gulf region and because a longer-term strategy of promoting democratic change in the Greater Middle East is all but impossible as long as the modern-day Stalin maintains his brutal totalitarian state," the two wrote last year in Policy Review, a journal of the conservative Hoover Institution. "This is going to require a full-scale invasion of Iraq."
Not all of these officials agree with each other on every point. Some have relatively modest aims of disarming Iraq and defusing a threat to stability in the Persian Gulf and the broader Mideast. Some are more concerned about assuring a broad coalition before combat begins, others less so.
Mr. Asmus, for example, now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, argues that "the democratic transformation of the Greater Middle East should be the next big trans-Atlantic project following the fall of the wall and the consolidation of a peaceful Europe, including the former Eastern bloc." He added that "the Democrats can't leave this project to the Republicans," pointing out that Senators John Kerry, John Edwards and Joseph L. Lieberman have all embraced the general idea.
Mr. Wolfowitz sees a "liberated Iraq" as a vanguard of democracy, the first potential piece in a kind of reverse domino theory in which the United States could help foster the fall of authoritarian regimes in a reshaped Middle East 50 years after it began fighting to keep pro-Western regimes from falling in Asia.
The big unsettled question, though, is whether these theorists' ideas will someday lead to "perhaps similarly disastrous consequences," as Leon Fuerth, Vice President Al Gore's former national security adviser, wondered aloud, or claim a role in an important military and foreign policy victory.
Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was the co-author of a Dec. 1, 1997, editorial with Mr. Kristol in The Weekly Standard, to which Mr. Wolfowitz contributed an article. The cover headline: "Saddam Must Go." Mr. Kagan and Mr. Kristol both take pride in their views but also warn against overestimating their influence.
"The Vietnam War was not the brainchild of three or four people," said Mr. Kagan, whose new book "Of Paradise and Power: America vs. Europe in the New World Order," has just been published by Knopf. "It was a product of a whole way of thinking about the world. It was, for better or worse, the logical consequence of the policy of containment. And the breadth and depth of support for American policy in Vietnam, certainly in the elite intellectual class, was enormous: journalists, government, policy. Let's not suggest that this was somehow just the Bundys or Walt Rostow. This was national consensus."
One difference in the current debate over Iraq is that intellectual consensus is not so widespread. Indeed, as Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, noted, "If you look at nongovernmental experts on Iraq or use of force, what is striking is that pure academics are almost uniformly against the war, but people who have been in government or Washington think tanks tend to be, on average, more supportive."
It was President Bill Clinton who made "regime change" in Baghdad the declaratory policy of the United States, and who came close to war in 1998, settling instead for airstrikes. Virtually all the contenders for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination support the use of force against Iraq, with varying degrees of caveats and reluctance. The essence of all the arguments in favor of war with Iraq is that the cold war doctrine of containment, predicated on rational action by the Soviet Union, has limited effect in a world where the threat is shadowy terrorist organizations and their "rogue state" allies like Iraq, who are not susceptible to traditional notions of deterrence.
|It was Clinton who made 'regime change' in Iraq official U.S. Policy.|
It is not a new concept. More than a decade ago, as undersecretary of defense for policy in the first Bush administration, Mr. Wolfowitz was charged by Dick Cheney, then defense secretary, with drafting a new "Defense Planning Guidance," a broad directive that was intended to govern policy in a second Bush term. An early draft proposed that with the demise of the Soviet Union, American doctrine should be to assure that no new superpower arose to rival the United States' enlightened domination of the world.
The United States would be "postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated," and the guidance was accompanied by scenarios for hypothetical wars, including one against an Iraq in which Saddam Hussein rebounded from his defeat in the Persian Gulf war. The language was later attacked as too bellicose, and was softened, but it has effectively re-emerged as official policy in the current Bush administration.
"This group kept their ideas and never lost sight of them for almost a decade when they were out of power, and when they returned to government, they added a drop of water and activated it again," said Mr. Fuerth, the Gore adviser.
The attacks of Sept. 11 also played an important role in reviving such concepts. Mr. Kagan likened it to the way North Korea's invasion of South Korea suddenly spurred a big increase in the Truman administration's defense budget and in its willingness to confront the Soviet Union more aggressively, an approach that had been urged by Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze but resisted on budgetary and other grounds until war began.
"Those of us who had argued for many years that we had to do something to get rid of Saddam Hussein were in a stronger position to make the case that we couldn't take these risks any more," Mr. Kagan said.
Mr. Bush himself, at a news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, said today, "After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water as far as I'm concerned."
The hope at the end of the last gulf war was that Mr. Hussein's regime would be so weakened as to collapse of its own weight, or as a result of a coup. As time made those possibilities seem increasingly remote, the drive for harsher action has steadily built.
The drive was often led by a group called the Project for the New American Century, which was started in 1997 by Mr. Kristol and others to promote robust American engagement in the world. In 1998, the group urged Mr. Clinton to adopt a "full complement" of diplomatic and military measures to remove Mr. Hussein, in a letter signed by Mr. Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others who now hold senior administration jobs.
"The Europeans sometimes make it seem as if we're about to invade Madagascar, and the only way to explain it is that six people have been obsessing about it for a decade," said Mr. Kristol, the author, with Lawrence Kaplan, of a forthcoming book, "The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission" (Encounter Books, 2003). "I'm happy to take some credit for making the argument on this, but a lot of other people are responsible, too, including some liberals. I wouldn't minimize the importance of events on the ground, especially 9/11."
All the same, Mr. Kristol acknowledged in a telephone interview: "I do lie awake at night, worrying. Something could go wrong. Chemical weapons could be used against American troops. A biological weapon could be set off in an American city. I would still argue, I think, that this is a necessary thing to do. But having had some tiny role, I do feel some responsibility. I do."
Mr. Kristol later called back to add: "It's also fair to say that people who advocate doing nothing would also have to take responsibility. To govern is to choose."
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