Daniel W. Drezner

IR scholars weigh in against Iraq

A small group of IR scholars called the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have amassed 650 signatures from international relations scholars in the United States and allied countries to sign an open letter blasting the Bush administration’s foreign policy. This is from the text of the letter: We, a nonpartisan group of foreign ...

A small group of IR scholars called the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have amassed 650 signatures from international relations scholars in the United States and allied countries to sign an open letter blasting the Bush administration’s foreign policy. This is from the text of the letter:

We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists…. The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case. Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.

Before anyone starts claiming that this is just an example of radical academics engaging in Bush-bashing, they should check out the list of signatories. There are some scholars on the list who would be considered by mainstream Americans to be “out there” in their beliefs, but there are also a wide array of realists, rational choice theorists, democratization activists, area experts, and liberal institutionalists. I concur with Henry Farrell — this is a group that cannot be lightly dismissed. To answer the obvious question: I did not sign it. In part my reticence to sign comes from a misplaced comparison made in the letter between Iraq and Vietnam; another part of it comes from the failure to articulate an alternative strategy (which, to be fair, was probably impossible with such a diverse group of signatories). The second graf of the letter hints that U.S. force should have been deployed against Pakistan, and I’m not sure that would have turned out any better than what’s happened in Iraq. And as my last post suggested, it’s just possible that Afghanistan has not suffered too badly from the attention on Iraq. And I seriously doubt that any of the signatories believe that the military resources deployed in Iraq should have been deployed in North Korea. Another big part is that the letter conflates two different objections to the administration’s foreign policy; the initial decision to invade Iraq, and the poor execution of the post-war occupation. I concur with the second assessment, but I still think that had the pre-war planning been a little better, the post-war effects in the region would have been much more positive than negative. However, in all honesty part of the reason I didn’t sign it is that I’ve been wrong enough about Iraq to be gun-shy in making any declarative statement about the future of U.S. policy in that country, good or ill. I made a fair number of arguments in support of invading Iraq in the run-up to the war, and at least some of them have been proven wrong. I’m used to being wrong, but being wrong on this scale is discomfiting to say the least. Even if I didn’t sign it, however, I’ve come to reluctantly agree with a fair amount of the letter. So go read the whole thing (there are footnotes and everything!) and tell me what you think. UPDATE: Many of the comments refer to this as “Monday-morning quarterbacking.” However, many of the security scholars who originated this letter also participated in a Fall 2002 paid advertisement in the New York Times op-ed page urging the Bush administration not to invade Iraq — click here for more.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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