Iraq: One Year Later

Mr. Schell is the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of the recently published The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People .

The first anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq has arrived. By now, we were told by the Bush Administration before the war, the flower-throwing celebrations of our troops' arrival would have long ended; their numbers would have been reduced to the low tens of thousands, if not to zero; Iraq's large stores of weapons of mass destruction would have been found and dismantled; the institutions of democracy would be flourishing; Kurd and Shiite and Sunni would be working happily together in a federal system; the economy, now privatized, would be taking off; other peoples of the Middle East, thrilled and awed, so to speak, by the beautiful scenes in Iraq, would be dismantling their own tyrannical regimes. Instead, 530 American soldiers and uncounted thousands of Iraqis, military and civilian, have died; some $149 billion has been expended; no weapons of mass destruction have been found; the economy is a disaster; electricity and water are sometime things; America's former well-wishers, the Shiites, are impatient with the occupation; terrorist bombs are taking a heavy toll; and Iraq as whole, far from being a model for anything, is a cautionary lesson in the folly of imperial rule in the twenty-first century. And yet all this is only part of the cost of the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. To weigh the full cost, one must look not just at the war itself but away from it, at the progress of the larger policy it served, at things that have been done elsewhere-some far from Iraq or deep in the past-and, perhaps above all, at things that have been left undone.

Nuclear Fingerprints

While American troops were dying in Baghdad and Falluja and Samarra, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman, was busy making centrifuge parts in Malaysia and selling them to Libya and Iran and possibly other countries. The centrifuges are used for producing bomb-grade uranium. Tahir's project was part of a network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the"father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb. This particular father stole most of the makings of his nuclear offspring from companies in Europe, where he worked during the 1980s. In the 1990s, the thief became a middleman-a fence-immensely enriching himself in the process. In fairness to Khan, we should add that almost everyone who has been involved in developing atomic bombs since 1945 has been either a thief or a borrower. Stalin purloined a bomb design from the United States, courtesy of the German scientist Klaus Fuchs, who worked on the Manhattan Project. China got help from Russia until the Sino-Soviet split put an end to it. Pakistan got secret help from China in the early 1980s. And now it turns out that Khan, among many, many other Pakistanis, almost certainly including the highest members of the government, has been helping Libya, Iran, North Korea and probably others obtain the bomb. That's apparently how Chinese designs-some still in Chinese-were found in Libya when its quixotic leader, Muammar Qaddafi, recently agreed to surrender his country's nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The rest of the designs were in English. Were Klaus Fuchs's fingerprints on them? Only figuratively, because they were" copies of copies of copies," an official said. But such is the nature of proliferation. It is mainly a transfer of information from one mind to another. Copying is all there is to it.

Sometimes, a bit of hardware needs to be transferred, which is where Tahir came in. Indeed, at least seven countries are already known to have been involved in the Pakistani effort, which Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, called a"Wal-Mart" of nuclear technology and an American official called"one-stop shopping" for nuclear weapons. Khan even printed a brochure with his picture on it listing all the components of nuclear weapons that bomb-hungry customers could buy from him."What Pakistan has done," the expert on nuclear proliferation George Perkovich, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has rightly said,"is the most threatening activity of nuclear proliferation in history. It's impossible to overstate how damaging this is."

Another word for this process of copying would be globalization. Proliferation is merely globalization of weapons of mass destruction. The kinship of the two is illustrated by other details of Tahir's story. The Sri Lankan first wanted to build his centrifuges in Turkey, but then decided that Malaysia had certain advantages. It had recently been seeking to make itself into a convenient place for Muslims from all over the world to do high-tech business. Controls were lax, as befits an export platform."It's easy, quick, efficient. Do your business and disappear fast, in and out," Karim Raslan, a Malaysian columnist and social commentator, recently told Alan Sipress of the Washington Post . Probably that was why extreme Islamist organizations, including Al Qaeda operatives, had often chosen to meet there. Global terrorism is a kind of globalization, too. The linkup of such terrorism and the world market for nuclear weapons is a specter that haunts the world of the twenty-first century.

The War and Its Aims

But aren't we supposed to be talking about the Iraq war on this anniversary of its launch? We are, but wars have aims, and the declared aim of this one was to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In his State of the Union address in January 2002, the President articulated the threat he would soon carry out in Iraq:"The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Later, he said we didn't want the next warning to be"a mushroom cloud." Indeed, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell explicitly ruled out every other justification for the war. Asked about the other reasons, he said,"The President has not linked authority to go to war to any of those elements." When Senator John Kerry explained his vote for the resolution authorizing the war he cited the Powell testimony. Thus not only Bush but also the man likely to be his Democratic challenger in this year's election justified war solely in the name of nonproliferation.

Proliferation, however, is not, as the President seemed to think, just a rogue state or two seeking weapons of mass destruction; it is the entire half-century-long process of globalization that stretches from Klaus Fuchs's espionage to Tahir's nuclear arms bazaar and beyond. The war was a failure in its own terms because weapons of mass destruction were absent in Iraq; the war-policy failed because they were present and spreading in Pakistan. For Bush's warning of a mushroom cloud over an American city, though false with respect to Iraq, was indisputably well-founded in regard to Pakistan's nuclear one-stop-shopping: The next warning stemming from this kind of failure could indeed be a mushroom cloud.

The questions that now cry out to be answered are why did the United States, standing in the midst of the Pakistani nuclear Wal-Mart, its shelves groaning with, among other things, centrifuge parts, uranium hexafluoride (supplied, we now know, to Libya) and helpful bomb-assembly manuals in a variety of languages, rush out of the premises to vainly ransack the empty warehouse of Iraq? What sort of nonproliferation policy could lead to actions like these? How did the Bush Administration, in the name of protecting the country from nuclear danger, wind up leaving the country wide open to nuclear danger?

In answering these questions, it would be reassuring, in a way, to report that the basic facts were discovered only after the war, but the truth is otherwise. In the case of Iraq, it's now abundantly clear that some combination of deception, self-deception and outright fraud (the exact proportions of each are still under investigation) led to the manufacture of a gross and avoidable falsehood. In the months before the war, most of the governments of the world strenuously urged the United States not to go to war on the basis of the flimsy and unconvincing evidence it was offering. In the case of Pakistan, the question of how much the Administration knew before the war has scarcely been asked, yet we know that the most serious breach-the proliferation to North Korea-was reported and publicized before the war.

It's important to recall the chronology of the Korean aspect of Pakistan's proliferation. In January 2003 Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that Pakistan had given North Korea extensive help with its nuclear program, including its launch of a uranium enrichment process. In return, North Korea was sending guided missiles to Pakistan. In June 2002, Hersh revealed, the CIA had sent the White House a report on these developments. On October 3, 2002, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs James Kelly confronted the North Koreans with the CIA information, and, according to Kelly, North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister, Kang Suk Ju, startled him by responding,"Of course we have a nuclear program." (Since then, the North Koreans have unconvincingly denied the existence of the uranium enrichment program.)

Bush of course had already named the Pyongyang government as a member of the"axis of evil." It had long been the policy of the United States that nuclearization of North Korea was intolerable. However, the Administration said nothing of the North Korean events to the Congress or the public. North Korea, which now had openly embarked on nuclear armament, and was even threatening to use nuclear weapons, was more dangerous than Saddam's Iraq. Why tackle the lesser problem in Iraq, the members of Congress would have had to ask themselves, while ignoring the greater in North Korea? On October 10, a week after the Kelly visit, the House of Representatives passed the Iraq resolution, and the next day the Senate followed suit. Only five days later, on October 16, did Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, reveal what was happening in North Korea.

In short, from June 2002, when the CIA delivered its report to the White House, until October 16-the period in which the nation's decision to go to war in Iraq was made-the Administration knowingly withheld the news about Korea and its Pakistan connection from the public. Even after the vote, Secretary of State Colin Powell strangely insisted that the North Korean situation was"not a crisis" but only"a difficulty." Nevertheless, he extracted a pledge from Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, that the nuclear technology shipments to North Korea would stop. (They did not.) In March, information was circulating that both Pakistan and North Korea were helping Iran to develop atomic weapons. (The North Korean and Iranian crises are of course still brewing.)

In sum, the glaring contradiction between the policy of"regime change" for already-disarmed Iraq and regime-support for proliferating Pakistan was not a postwar discovery; it was fully visible before the war. The Nation enjoys no access to intelligence files, yet in an article arguing the case against the war, this author was able to comment that an"objective ranking of nuclear proliferators in order of menace" would put"Pakistan first," North Korea second, Iran third, and Iraq only fourth-and to note the curiosity that"the Bush Administration ranks them, of course, in exactly the reverse order, placing Iraq, which it plans to attack, first, and Pakistan, which it befriends and coddles, nowhere on the list." Was nonproliferation, then, as irrelevant to the Administration's aims in Iraq as catching terrorists? Or was protecting the nation and the world against weapons of mass destruction merely deployed as a smokescreen to conceal other purposes? And if so, what were they?

A New Leviathan

The answers seem to lie in the larger architecture of the Bush foreign policy, or Bush Doctrine. Its aim, which many have properly called imperial, is to establish lasting American hegemony over the entire globe, and its ultimate means is to overthrow regimes of which the United States disapproves, pre-emptively if necessary. The Bush Doctrine indeed represents more than a revolution in American policy; if successful, it would amount to an overturn of the existing international order. In the new, imperial order, the United States would be first among nations, and force would be first among its means of domination. Other, weaker nations would be invited to take their place in shifting coalitions to support goals of America's choosing. The United States would be so strong, the President has suggested, that other countries would simply drop out of the business of military competition,"thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." Much as, in the early modern period, when nation-states were being born, absolutist kings, the masters of overwhelming military force within their countries, in effect said,"There is now a new thing called a nation; a nation must be orderly; we kings, we sovereigns, will assert a monopoly over the use of force, and thus supply that order," so now the United States seemed to be saying,"There now is a thing called globalization; the global sphere must be orderly; we, the sole superpower, will monopolize force throughout the globe, and thus supply international order."

And so, even as the Bush Administration proclaimed US military superiority, it pulled the country out of the world's major peaceful initiatives to deal with global problems-withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol to check global warming and from the International Criminal Court, and sabotaging a protocol that would have given teeth to the biological weapons convention. When the Security Council would not agree to American decisions on war and peace, it became"irrelevant"; when NATO allies balked, they became"old Europe." Admittedly, these existing international treaties and institutions were not a full-fledged cooperative system; rather, they were promising foundations for such a system. In any case, the Administration wanted none of it.

Richard Perle, who until recently served on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, seemed to speak for the Administration in an article he wrote for the Guardian the day after the Iraq war was launched. He wrote,"The chatterbox on the Hudson [sic] will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions."

In this larger plan to establish American hegemony, the Iraq war had an indispensable role. If the world was to be orderly, then proliferation must be stopped; if force was the solution to proliferation, then pre-emption was necessary (to avoid that mushroom cloud); if pre-emption was necessary, then regime change was necessary (so the offending government could never build the banned weapons again); and if all this was necessary, then Iraq was the one country in the world where it all could be demonstrated. Neither North Korea nor Iran offered an opportunity to teach these lessons-the first because it was capable of responding with a major war, even nuclear war, and the second because even the Administration could see that US invasion would be met with fierce popular resistance. It's thus no accident that the peril of weapons of mass destruction was the sole justification in the two legal documents by which the Administration sought to legitimize the war-HJR 114 and Security Council Resolution 1441. Nor is it an accident that the proliferation threat played the same role in the domestic political campaign for the war --by forging the supposed link between the"war on terror" and nuclear danger. In short, absent the new idea that proliferation was best stopped by pre-emptive use of force, the new American empire would have been unsalable, to the American people or to Congress. Iraq was the foundation stone of the bid for global empire.

The reliance on force over cooperation that was writ large in the imperial plan was also writ small in the occupation of Iraq. How else to understand the astonishing failure to make any preparation for the political, military, policing and even technical challenges that would face American forces? If a problem, large or small, had no military solution, this Administration seemed incapable of even seeing it. The United States was as blind to the politics of Iraq as it was to the politics of the world.

Thus we don't have to suppose that the Bush officials were indifferent to the spectacular dangers that Kahn's network posed to the safety of the United States and the world or that the Iraqi resistance would pose to American forces. We only have to suppose that they were simply unable to recognize facts they had failed to acknowledge in their overarching vision of a new imperial order. In both cases, ideology trumped reality.

The same pattern is manifest on an even larger scale. Just now, the peoples of the world are embarked, some willingly and some not, on an arduous, wrenching, perilous, mind-exhaustingly complicated process of learning how to live as one indivisibly connected species on our one small, endangered planet. Seen in a certain light, the Administration's imperial bid, if successful, would amount to a kind of planetary coup d'état, in which the world's dominant power takes charge of this process by virtue of its almost freakishly superior military strength. Seen in another, less dramatic light, the American imperial solution has interposed a huge, unnecessary roadblock between the world and the Himalayan mountain range of urgent tasks that it must accomplish no matter who is in charge: saving the planet from overheating; inventing a humane, just, orderly, democratic, accountable global economy; redressing mounting global inequality and poverty; responding to human rights emergencies, including genocide; and, of course, stopping proliferation as well as rolling back the existing arsenals of nuclear arms. None of these exigencies can be met as long as the world and its greatest power are engaged in a wrestling match over how to proceed.

Does the world want to indict and prosecute crimes against humanity? First, it must decide whether the International Criminal Court will do the job or entrust it to unprosecutable American forces. Do we want to reverse global warming, and head off the extinction of the one-third of the world's species that, according to a report published in Nature magazine, are at risk in the next fifty years? First, the world's largest polluter has to be drawn into the global talks. Do we want to save the world from weapons of mass destruction? First, we have to decide whether we want to do it together peacefully or permit the world's only superpower to attempt it by force of arms.

No wonder, then, that the Administration, as reported by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in these pages, has mounted an assault on the scientific findings that confirm these dangers to the world [see"The Junk Science of George W. Bush," March 8]. The United States' destructive hyperactivity in Iraq cannot be disentangled from its neglect of global warming. Here, too, ideology is the enemy of fact, and empire is the nemesis of progress.

If the engine of a train suddenly goes off the rails, a wreck ensues. Such is the war in Iraq, now one year old. At the same time, the train's journey forward is canceled. Such is the current paralysis of the international community. Only when the engine is back on the tracks and starts in the right direction can either disaster be overcome. Only then will everyone be able to even begin the return to the world's unfinished business.

This article first appeared in the Nation and on, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.

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John S Kipper - 3/24/2004

John S Kipper - 3/24/2004

William Livingston - 3/22/2004

Thank you, Chris I. Petit, for saying, "you can find errors in everyone's writing..." That is to say, "Thank you," if you include typos under the category of "errors," I one who rarely makes a posting without a typo or two.

But in regard to Schell's essay it is troubling to me that a lot of folks over on the Left, are so eager to condemn all of the the Bush Administration's polices they didain the positive effects of the campaign in Iraq. For one thing, a mere year to effect dramatic positive change in the social culture of Iraq is very little time. Why not cut the administration some slack & give it a reasonable stretch of time to effect its policies in Iraq before complaining?

The complaints about American G.I.s being killed & injured in Iraq is one of the most arrogantly hypocritical complaints to need wade through, these complaints are virtually always made by people who 1) have never carried a rifle on the field of battle, 2) never will carry a rifle on the field of battle, 3) whose children will never carry a rifle on the field of battle & 4) who know personally no-one who has served in Iraq. Therefore, these complaints appear to be crocodile tears dribbled by people who don't in truth give a flying f... about the American G.I. And they who know no active duty G.I. know less about G.I.s than they do their neighbor's daughter who is a Girl Scout. Nonetheless, they don't hesitate to ponticate about the fobiles of and the injuries done to the G.I. by the hated Republicans. It is tiresome reading.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/18/2004

I suspected that the bankruptcy of US foreign policy was Schell's thesis -- and the need for more international agreements, despite the inability of previous ones to stem proliferation. It's been said that the definition of a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort just as he looses sight of the goal. The ability of one party to cheat at the margin when both superpowers have many nukes, is distinctly different in consequence from the case of a single cheating when both superpowers are supposedly reduced to zero -- in the land of the disarmed, the one-nuke man is king. Thus fails Schell's utopian argument for the abolition of nuclear arms. So too fails Schell's 'more agreements' thrust -- the purported means become an end in themselves.

My only real problem with your continued assertion of the form "we were led to believe ...", is that nobody ever seems to be able to produce the words, or even words to that effect. Maureen Dowd, some months back, was led to assert that Bush had proclaimed Iraq an "easy" task. When challenged on it, she couldn't produce a single quote that even remotely approached support for her assertion. We believe all kinds of things that, upon further reflection, it turns out we really don't know.

I offer -- and I hope you will forgive me this -- your own assertion vis-a-vis Milankovich cycles. I certainly did not lead you to your impression or belief -- you fairly leapt to it on your own. We all do this from time to time, and politicos take advantage of this. Gore, for instance, never said he invented the internet, or that he discovered Love Canal.

I enjoyed our disagreements.

chris l pettit - 3/18/2004

Hahaha...I loved the comparison. I am not a fan of Hayden in any way shape or form. And in re: to the Nation...while I think it dangerous to generalise in the way you have, your complaints against certain authors (Hayden, Klein, Roy, amongst others) are viable as long as you can specify your grievances....last I checked we are all human beings and all can find errors in everyone's writing.

I think we will have to agree to disagree re: Schell's first paragraph...and I think it has to do with political and social leanings, to be honest...and how we perceive what was said before the war and is being said by Schell (narrow vs. broad interpretation). To be honest, the impression given by the US administration, as already stated, was that the occupation would not be a problem, installing "democracy" would be easy, and everyone would be making nice...when in reality they had no understanding of the cultural, political and historical ramifications of their actions or the background behind Iraq. Whether you agree with Schell's way of expressing this is your interpretation and problem, not his writing. What can't be disputed is the way that the war and occupation was presented and the actual outcome are diametrically opposed. And yes, we were told that the democratic system would be functioning well...and democracy in American terms means federalism.

Schell's point, as I see it, is to illustrate the utter bankruptcy of the US policy. For me it is applicable to either Clinton or Bush, so the partisan argument simply does not work with me. If you want me to criticise Clinton and his human rights record I would be glad to. THe fact is that Iraq posed no threat and the "massacres" and "mass graves" that are spoken of are a) thr product of a period when the US was actively supporting and providing chemical weapons to Saddam...should we not then be bombing Daddy Bush, James Baker, Ronald Reagan, and half of our current administration? b) the product of a revolution that Daddy Bush supposedly supported and then allowed to be crushed...when someone revolts and wars against a government, are they supposed to sit back and let it happen because the US says the revolution is "right?" Were there human rights violations...yup....and the leading terrorist state of the last century? The what gives us the right to violate sovereignty if we respect it so much? The danger from iran and North Korea was much greater and continues to be. The hypocrisy of ignoring Pakistan's proliferation is self evident when comparing the rhetoric with the actions taken.

In terms of non-proliferation...i really do not want to make you look too silly about your lack of knowledge in the area so I will let the comments about non-proliferation and its history pass. i will say that I would be happy to recommend some good reading for you from boths sides of the spectrum on proliferation (both history and law). If you care to have the debate after reading this, that is your choice...I just think you might want to read a bit further on the topic before you make statements on it. Please know that I mean no offense by this at all...i just have some scholarship on the topic and am trying to help out a colleague. It by no means is meant to show you up or be self righteous.


Richard Henry Morgan - 3/17/2004

Pakistan was in the doghouse right up until it had its own weapon, proving that the entire international regime of non-proliferation is a joke, as well as the insufficiency of American foreign policy to deal with it. Just what does Schell suggest? Does he suggest that failure to sign on to Kyoto lead to proliferation? Is he suggesting that preoccupation with Iraq by Bush lead to proliferation elsewhere? Strange, when the proliferation was running apace under Clinton. I can't follow the ultimate point he is making.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/17/2004

As for tone, been there and done that. I'm trying to teach myself not to respond in kind -- not always with success. The pages of this site are scattered with my mea culpas.

You're right about the opening paragraph, and my attitude toward it. Did the Bush Administration tell us a year ago that the institutions of democracy would be flourishing in Iraq by now? No. Did the Bush Administration tell us that the various groups would be happily working together in a federal system by now? No. Let's call a spade a spade -- these are inventions of Jonathan Schell who, being an intelligent and well-read guy, must surely know they are inventions. So too must the editors of the Nation. Yet that somehow hasn't stopped them from publishing them.

This is standard fare from the Nation, which puts it on the same level as or, and explains why few but the converted worship at the Nation's temple.

There is another hilarious entry in the latest issue of the Nation. Tom Hayden wades in. He says that Ms. Fonda was right to call pilots who claimed systematic torture liars. He does this on the basis of the fact that systematic torture by the North Vietnamese ended in 1969. Just to understand the structure of this argument, let's consider an analogous assertion:

"Anyone who says I systematically beat my wife is a liar, since I stopped systematically beating her in 1969."

This argument has the obvious weakness that the law of non-contradiction has generally been recognized since at least the time of Aristotle. The Nation is undisturbed by either Hayden's or Schell's sophistry -- in fact, they both share the "distinction" of being "fellows" of the the Nation Institute. One suspects that, rather than being published despite their sophistry, they are published because of it. And that is why the the Nation will continue to be viewed as the definitive voice of the infantile branch of the Left.

chris l pettit - 3/17/2004

Besides...there are several articles on the guardian that verify that Libya was so desperate to join the international community that they started making overtures years ago. Their oil wells were in disarray, their economy is non-existent, the dictatorship is having problems controlling discontent and feeding the population. The Iraq war had very little to do with Libya disarming...if anything.

Iran has frozen nuclear inspections of the IAEA and is insisting that the program is solely for energy reasons. The North Koreans have long taken a hard line stance towards the US and have admitted to making nukes. Talking goes on all the time in diplomatic only gets into the mainstream when things become serious enough for the press to say something. Schell absolutely hit the nail on the head when he stated that North Korea, Iran and Pakistan were more important than a nation that was not a threat to us at all. THis works on the basis of attacking the most desperate problems first...a good way to work in the world. Plus...Schell's statement that the Bush administration identified Iraq's WMD as the main reason for the invasion when there were and are more pressing options.

I just find Schell to be dead on in his assessment and someone to be heeded.


chris l pettit - 3/17/2004

Sorry about the tone of the posts...I was in the wrong mood to write the posts....I did not mean to take such an antagonistic position. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I will take pains to ensure it does not happen again.

Schell happens to be in my opinion a very good historian and his factual basis is very strong. Is this article a bit political? Yes, however, his basic point is well stated and very easy to support. If that is your complaint and reason for terming it a "straw man" I believe your definition of a "straw man" is different than my own, or the standard definition, which is why I think it is just a better idea to state what you have a problem with than use a rhetorical divece that, as I stated, has been used to blow off some high quality reasoning.

Just for reference: straw man - a weak argument set up to be easily refuted (I did look it up!)

I do not think any of the arguments employed by Schell could be defined as such. An exaggeration (and a slight one at that) such as the one employed by Schell to illustrate his general point does not qualify as a straw man in my mind, especially when, if it were stated slightly differently, would be an accurate statement.

Again...the complaint that he politicised his statements in the preface to the article a bit much is a viable complaint that is open to interpretation and political leaning. If that is what your beef with the article is, you are most welcome to it, but I would hope that you would take the principle behind the article in substance and acknowledge that Schell's point should be well heeded.


Richard Henry Morgan - 3/16/2004

Schell states that the Kyoto Protocol is to "check" global warming. He then asks:

"Do we want to reverse global warming and head off the extinction of the one-third of the world's species that, according to a report published in Nature magazine ara at risk in the next fifty years? First the world's largest polluter has to be drawn into the global talks."

This does not, of course, suggest that talks are sufficient to reverse global warming, but it does suggest they are necessary. My point is that there is good evidence that no amount of curtailing pollution will check or reverse global warming. That is not a counsel for doing nothing -- just an assertion that Schell, quite literally, doesn't understand all the causes of global warming (something that doesn't prevent him from spouting off, apparently).

Nor did I assert, or imply, that Milankovich cycles were all we had to worry about (another straw man?). Your assertion that Libya giving up its weapons has nothing to do with Iraq ("not in the slightest") -- though expressed with confidence and gusto -- seems to beg for evidentiary support. You can find at the Guardian, Jan. 2, 2004, an article about the seizure in October 2003 of centrifuges bound to Libya for an illegal weapons program. Thus, even as Libya was trying for the last ten years to end its isolation, it continued its nuclear program. You may prefer to believe that the seizure of these centrifuges, combined with our military action in Iraq, had not the slightest to do with Libya giving up its weapons -- but if that is the "real world" you inhabit, then I'll take my own.

In your "real world", international law, via mandatory resolutions of the UN Security Council placing an embargo on weapons shipments to the Balkans, served to ensure that the Serbians had a free hand in their genocidal campaigns in Bosnia. Not just a free hand, but the UN was nice enough to gather thousands of Muslims in Srebrinica, with a promise of a safe haven, and then turned them over to their murderers -- in fact, they were nice enough to provide fuel to the murderers so thay could truck 8,000 Muslims off to the killing fields. I don't know what we would do without the good offices of the UN and international law. In fact, it was only the illegal intervention in Kosovo that prevented another genocide.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/16/2004

My point was not that nobody had actually used the words of Schell that I quoted -- my point was to make sure that I was not adversely paraphrasing him, but making him responsible for his own words.

You're right. I should have put a question mark after "straw men". I'm merely asking for the sources to back up Schell's assertions. Your admission that he is "stretching things a bit" is gratefully aknowledged.

"Straw Men" is not a semantical device, nor an absurd "non-sequiter" [sic]. It describes precisely Schell's techniques here. As you put it, he is stretching things a bit. That is just what a straw man argument is: you impute to your opponent a weaker position beyond what he asserted, and then you refute it. You can look it up, as they say.

chris l pettit - 3/16/2004

1) read some international law to see why we should not be taking on any of them - militarily at least
2) the Kyoto Protocol is not supposed to reverse global warming, it is supposed to curtail global warming, and the US is by far the largest producer of the pollutants that cause global warming in the world...this is not to say that there are not problems with the Kyoto Protocol, but how can one strive for tougher measures when the US refuses to sign onto basic ones? by the way, India and CHina should not be exempt...and the gripe about the Milankovich cycles is absurd: if they were all we had to worry about, we would not have ice caps melting and the Gulf Stream is the man made effects of global warming that are the straws that break the camels back and proceed to bury it so far underground it may be too late to dig it back out.
3)Lybia has been trying for 10 years to negotiate an end to its international isolation...last I checked, Bush was not in power 10 years ago when Lybia started making overtures and negotiating. Did this happen on Bush's watch? Yes. Does he deserve some credit? Sure...but not as much as you would give him. Does Libya's giving up its weapons have anything to do with Iraq? No, not in the slightest. Are Iran and North Korea talking? No...they are proliferating and generating more nuclear weapons.

And Iraq was an example...and oil rich...and revenge for Daddy...and an easy mark

When you join the real world let me know...

chris l pettit - 3/16/2004

Usually, when one criticises and author, one has facts and historical analysis to back themselves up. I was hoping you might provide some examples of Schell's inaccuracy, since, although there are some of his interpretations that I find a bit narrow, his factual basis and interpretive basis as a whole is rather sound.

chris l pettit - 3/16/2004

This semantical device...terming anything that you don't like "straw men" seems very popular with the "historians" that post on HNN. Can we make a pact not to use this absurd non-sequiter since it has basically lost all meaning? I have seen it used to describe deductive reasoning, quality analytical assessment, comparative analysis, along with what could traditionally qualified as true "straw men." If you don't agree with something, just say so...if it is faulty reasoning or comparison, state why it is...don't just sit there and call it a "straw man" hurt your credibility more than the authors, I assure you.

To begin with, Schell is one of the better historians of our era. His recent text "Unconquerable World" is truly a masterful should pick it up and actually learn something about historical analysis and the standards historians should be setting for one another.

As for the above article, I believe you can find plenty of quotes about "bringing democracy to Iraq" as well as how US troops would be greeted as heroes and how easy it would be to set up democratic institutions. Individuals were demoted and fired for stating that the war would cost $100 billion plus and that we would be in Iraq for years.

Now, as far as your narrow sighted point about the black and white words used by Schell that you have stated in your post...I will grant you that no one ever stated the exact quotes used by Schell...if he had used actual quotes stated by officials, he would have placed them in quotation marks!! What a novel concept! The point is that the public was led to believe that the war and reconstruction would be a cakewalk. The complaint that the Bushies did not use Schell's exact words is as erroneous as the claim that they never stated "imminent threat" and thus never implied it or led the public to believe it.

Your second claim concerning the harmony of the ethnic groups has a bit more substance to it. i would agree that Schell is stretching things a bit, but in his defense, the public was told that civil war would be out of the question and confrontations between the ethnicities would be unproblematic and short lived...which has been shown not to be the case. You also take the quotes out of context, which a good historian should never you must examine the context in which things are stated and the ideas and principles behind them. History does not stand still or exist as a bunch of individual moments that you can start and stop at any time or simply pick a given point and state that you will start examining history from there. it has become all too painfully obvious (paid for in American lives) that the Bush administration neither understood not cared to try to understand the history of the country they were invading, nor the historical internations between its main ethnicities. Because of this, we are now embroiled in a quagmire that will drain our lives and resources for years to come.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/16/2004

I'm trying to figure out how the Kyoto Protocol will reverse global warming, when the two largest populations (China and India) are exempt, and when variations in the solar cycle and Milankovich cycles account for anywhere from a third to 40% of global warming.

Of course, there's no mention of the fact that Libya has given up 44,000 lbs of illegal mustard gas. We can't give Bush any credit now, can we? Why take on Iraq first? Schell answers his own question -- they were less dangerous. Korea and Iran now want to talk, and Libya gave up its program -- on its own, or due to the Iraq invasion? That's right, we can't credit Bush. I forgot. Things never change at the Nation, do they?

John H. Lederer - 3/16/2004

If I asserted that the Iraq war was actually the result of a scheme by hidden elements of the Comintern combined with Nazi holdouts in Argentina,those seeking to restore the Manchu Dynasty, and a few gold mining concerns -- would that be a reasonable article for publication here?

Isn't there some minimal requirement of accuracy? If so, it must be minimal indeed since Schell would not meet a very low standard.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/15/2004

I'd like to see the source(s) for Schells' claim that "we were told by the Bush Administration before the war" that "the institutions of democracy would be flourishing", and "Kurd and Shiite and Sunni would be working happily together in a federal system". That would be truly interesting, and it shouldn't be too hard -- after all, Schell says it, so it must be so.

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