'Bush League,' the apt term for U.S. Middle East policies

The Argument

Books from opposing extremes take on the core questions of Iraq and Afghanistan

Books

March 14, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff

With the one-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion this week, it's a good time to consider two books that offer sharply different views about the invasion of the former Mesopotamia: Between War and Peace, Lessons From Afghanistan to Iraq (Random House, 282 pages, $13.95) by Victor Davis Hanson, and Bush League Diplomacy, How the Neoconservatives Are Putting the World at Risk (Prometheus Books, 233 pages, $26) by Craig R. Eisendrath and Melvin A. Goodman.

With no sign of Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, serious questions about faulty -- or misused -- intelligence, and an overstretched U.S. military dodging bombs and bullets in a country on the verge of civil war, bush league is the right term.

Forcefully confronting the Bush administration's policy, Eisendrath, a former foreign service officer and an occasional reviewer for these pages, and Goodman, a former CIA official and frequent agency critic, argue convincingly that America is now in a "terrible cul-de-sac."

They point out that the neoconservatives -- such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz -- have tossed aside more than a half-century of world alliances by charging into Iraq virtually alone with what Eisendrath and Goodman call "politicized" intelligence, as well as inadequate plans and funding for the post-war administration. While attacking the Taliban-and-Al-Qaida haven of Afghanistan made sense, they write, America can't invade the 40 to 60 countries where terrorists lurk.

Military action is a "blunt instrument" that does not provide a long-term or strategic answer, which can be provided only by international agreements, diplomacy, financial aid and multilateral peacekeeping, they insist.

Such talk makes Hanson all but sneer in his pages. A classics professor, conservative writer, and tree and vine farmer, Hanson has produced an at-times rabid collection of essays, which initially appeared in National Review online. He skewers the Democrats, graduates of elite universities, the media and those residing on the U.S. east and west coasts for questioning the Iraq war, pressing for more foreign aid and looking to reach the Muslim masses.

Hanson, who was a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy during the academic year 2002-2003, lauds the common sense and support for the war on terror that springs from Middle America. He wonders why so many supposedly bright Americans from the coasts adopt instead a "reductive worldview" about the role of the United States. The more America tries to "eradicate medieval fascists and implant democracies in their places," he writes, the more these elitists say "we either could not or should not."

"In war, clarity of purpose -- which is not a relative construct -- counts for everything, being liked by one's enemies very little at all," Hanson blithely declares from the leafy comfort of his California farm.

In one essay, written a month before the Iraq war, Hanson talks of the "monotonous inquiries of the critics" who wonder what Iraq has to do with al-Qaida and ask whether Bush's war on terror is endless. The Iraq war will allow the destruction of a "patron of terrorism" and his "caches of deadly weapons" that either "have gone or will go to terrorists." And the defeat of Hussein will rid Iraq of terrorists and also "send a powerful message" to states like Iran and Saudi Arabia about subsidizing terrorists, he writes.

With this new volume, Hanson adds an introduction to one essay, lamely pointing out that, as of July 2003, "my instincts were proven wrong" that American troops would find evidence of weapons of mass destruction shortly after overrunning Iraq. "We are still not certain" if the weapons are in Iraq, destroyed, sent to Syria or "worse places still," he ominously adds.

"We can only assume that the full tale of their odyssey will emerge only when Iraq is a fully consensual society," Hanson writes. But one year later, U.N. weapons inspectors and top intelligence officials are coming to the conclusion that Hussein destroyed the weapons long before American forces crossed the berm in Kuwait and headed toward Baghdad. The main reason for invasion has evaporated. Oh, well.

At least the invasion of Iraq squashed all those terrorists, right, Professor Hanson? Uh, not quite. At a recent congressional hearing, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that Iraq was in danger of becoming a magnet for terrorists, much like Afghanistan after the Soviets invaded in the 1970s.

And has the war affected the politics of Iran? Yes, but a different kind of "powerful message" has been sent. The religious hard-liners in Iran recently tossed out the reformers from Parliament.

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