In yesterday's post on 'overreach' as an idea that emerges from failure (Pickett's Charge is another example), I tried to suggest that the invasion of Iraq probably would not have even been conceivable as overreach if it had happened without the massive contradictory breakdown of Western foreign policy that took place between the unanimous passage of 1441 and the Azores conference. Happily Matt Yglesias has put the point expertly with a little help from Bubba, who penned an op-ed on March 18, 2003 that we should all go back and read:
I wish that Russia and France had supported Blair's resolution. Then, Hans Blix and his inspectors would have been given more time and supprt for their work. But that's not where we are. Blair is in a position not of his own making, because Iraq and other nations were unwilling to follow the logic of 1441.
Clinton should have written "because France and Russia were unwilling to follow the logic of 1441, and although Russia has never shared America's basic interests, for France to do this is not just irritating but inconsistent with its very being as a Western democracy devoted to the rule of international law." But even as written it seems to me that this paragraph is unquestionably accurate. Nonetheless, once a Global Force for the Implementation of International Law proved itself to be something nobody really wanted, the possibility of overreach came into being. So Yglesias can cry out as follows:
What Blair believed was right was, of course, invading Iraq. Obviously, it's possible that Clinton wrote a March 18 op-ed urging blind faith in Tony Blair's leadership, then when Blair invaded Iraq a few days later was shocked to see him make such a mistake, but then decided he better not say anything about the wisdom of the invasion until years later, but it's not very plausible. For all intents and purposes, Clinton's public statements on the Iraq issue (like those of Colin Powell and Tony Blair) were part of the push to round up "moderate" support for the war. I remember this stuff. I was one of the millions of Americans who thought that, sure, George W. Bush must be a maniac but if Bill and Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright (and other Clinton-era officials like Ken Pollack) and Joe Biden and so on and so forth think it's a good idea, maybe I should have some more confidence. Obviously, that was a stupid, stupid mistake. But I find it really offensive that people who abused the trust of citizens who admired them by selling us on this mess now want to turn around and do it again by pretending that never happened.
My basic point of contention is that if France and Russia had done as Blair and Clinton wanted them to do -- really, if France had done as it had to do if it took its commitments to international law seriously -- then in all probability 'this mess' would not exist, either because Iraq would not be so messed up as it is now or because the mess that it would be would not be entirely ours, thereby making it decidedly not 'this mess'.
This is a frightening thing for me to say because I recognize that lurking at the heart of every mainstream Democrat is a conviction that Bush very nearly ruined international interventionism for a generation and only Hillary Clinton or maybe Obama can bring it back by proving that Democrats can do the freedom agenda right -- better experts, smarter officials, attitudes more conducive to conflict resolution, no crazy Jesus-based arrogance. And in judging Bill Clinton's paragraph above to be accurate, I am leaving the door wide open to the claim that Iraq could in fact have been done so much 'better' that it would not look like the colossal mistake and overreach that it does today. But I think any anti-war interlocutor has got to own up to this.
Coercive enforcement of 1441 was not ever a doomed enterprise from the get-go, no matter how deeply flawed was the Bush administration's execution of the patched-up substitute that the Coalition of the Willing was supposed to provide. Overreach was not inherent to the West's beating up on Iraq in retaliation for Saddam Hussein's insistence on breaking and flouting international rules. (The wisdom of institutionalizing such an approach in international law, that is, must be debated on terms other than effectiveness.) Overreach may well have been inherent in the US trying to do so all on its own, for a huge number of intersecting reasons. Interestingly, I am making the weird claim that an international occupation of Iraq, structurally speaking, would not have generated the onerous costs to the US that the US occupation of Iraq, structurally speaking, knowably did wind up generating.