Good for him

Looks like George Tenet isn't rolling over this time. He is sticking to the circumstantial case for ousting Saddam, which on paper still doesn't look so bad, while standing by the CIA's inconclusive findings of WMDs in Iraq before the war. This is a strong, valid position for him to take and I hope he doesn't get steamrolled on it. There should be no question about what the intelligence establishment's conclusions (or lack thereof) were about Iraq's threat. It must be up to the President to explain why, if we had the CIA's estimate all along, he should have to 'admit' there was an intelligence failure, or, more to the point, the appearance of one.

The problem, I am coming to realize, is that the Iraq war was sold on too many levels--as too many different animals if you will. The human rights asserting- democracy promoting intervention type, which I still have sympathy for, is an intervention of fundamentally different character than the self-defense, shoot before they shoot you intervention. The reason alliances are created for the former (real alliances, not the U.S. and Britain + a handful of troops and no cash from a bunch of brown nosing poor nations) is because this intervention is a new very delicate sort of use for national militaries, one that we are still learning to do right. To invade a sovereign nation by force without provocation or overriding self-interest flies in the face of the crude but fundamental principle of world stability. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but it has to be done right, it has to earnestly desire legitimacy, and it has to be coupled with a winning moral argument. Not trying to win, but actually winning. Note that this doesn't signal we have to go through the UN by any means...that body is valuable but not suited to every situation.

That is very different from the latter type of intervention, which is the most basic form of national defense short of *directly* responding to an attack. The rules and objectives here have little in common with the first sort of engagement. The goal is to quickly and decisively smash the offending country's capacity to attack. The outcome, at a bare minimum, is to ensure whatever form of government remains is loyal to you. One would certainly hope not to install a government that bred too much instability, but the fundamental mission only aims for containment of the threat.

The problem with trying to sell a war based on both these arguments at the same time is that the reasons needed to justify each are radically different. The humanitarian intervention isn't a success unless you produce some positive path for that country. Almost by definition, it assumes an indefinite occupation period and continued surveillance and involvement in that country's affairs. That's why international institutions are useful. Because they guarantee that cost, risk and a continuing presence will be shared. When engagement is not provoked by indisputable national interest, these burdens are often far too great for one nation, even the U.S., to sustain internally. Internal politics, funding priorities, and popular support are all bound to change in the short term. These dynamics have little in common with the single mindededness rallied in defense of national interests, the public expectation that a single objective will be achieved and sustained, regardless of cost or internal politics.

The Bush administration tried to have it both ways, a clever marketing ploy, but ultimately detrimental to either argument.


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