The Realist Who Got It Wrong
Now that Cindy Sheehan turns out to be a disaster for the antiwar movement -- most Americans are not about to follow a left-wing radical who insists that we are in Iraq for reasons of theft, oppression and empire -- a new spokesman is needed. If I were in the opposition camp, I would want a deeply patriotic, highly intelligent, distinguished establishment figure. I would want Brent Scowcroft.
Scowcroft has been obliging. In the Oct. 31 New Yorker he came out strongly against the war and the neocon sorcerers who magically foisted it upon what must have been a hypnotized president and vice president.
Of course, Scowcroft's opposition to toppling Saddam Hussein is neither surprising nor new. Indeed, we are now seeing its third iteration. He had two cracks at Hussein in 1991 and urged his President Bush to pass them both up -- first, after Hussein's defeat in the Persian Gulf War, when the road to Baghdad was open, and then, days later, during a massive U.S.-encouraged uprising of Kurds and Shiites, when America stood by and allowed Hussein to massacre his opponents by the tens of thousands. One of the reasons for Iraqi wariness during the U.S. liberation 12 years later was the memory of our past betrayal and suspicions about our current intentions in light of that betrayal.
This coldbloodedness is a trademark of this nation's most doctrinaire foreign policy "realist." Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what's happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.
Realists prize stability above all, and there is nothing more stable than a ruthlessly efficient dictatorship. Which is why Scowcroft is the man who six months after Tiananmen Square toasted those who ordered the massacre; who, as the world celebrates the Beirut Spring that evicted the Syrian occupation from Lebanon, sees not liberation but possible instability; who can barely conceal a preference for Syria's stabilizing iron rule.
Even today Scowcroft says, "I didn't think that calling the Soviet Union the 'evil empire' got anybody anywhere." Tell that to Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents for whom that declaration of moral -- beyond geopolitical -- purpose was electrifying and helped galvanize the movements that ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.
It was not brought down by diplomacy and arms control, the preferred realist means for dealing with the Soviet Union. It was brought down by indigenous revolutionaries, encouraged and supported by Ronald Reagan, a president unabashedly dedicated not to detente with evil but to its destruction -- i.e., regime change.
For realists such as Scowcroft, regime change is the ultimate taboo. Too risky, too dangerous, too unpredictable. "I'm a realist in the sense that I'm a cynic about human nature," he admits. Hence, writes Jeffrey Goldberg, his New Yorker chronicler, Scowcroft remains "unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East."
Particularly in Iraq. The difficulties there are indeed great. But those difficulties came about not because, as Scowcroft tells us, "some people don't really want to be free" and don't value freedom as we do. The insurgency in Iraq is not proof of an escape-from-freedom human nature that has little use for liberty and prefers other things. The insurgency is, on the contrary, evidence of a determined Sunni minority desperate to maintain not only its own freedom but its previous dominion over the other 80 percent of the population now struggling for theirs.
These others -- the overwhelming majority of Iraq's people -- have repeatedly given every indication of valuing their newfound freedom: voting in two elections at the risk of their lives, preparing for a third, writing and ratifying a constitution granting more freedoms than exist in any country in the entire Arab Middle East. "The secret is out," says Fouad Ajami. "There is something decent unfolding in Iraq. It's unfolding in the shadow of a terrible insurgency, but a society is finding its way to constitutional politics."
Ajami is no fool, no naif, no reckless idealist, as Scowcroft likes to caricature the neoconservatives he reviles. A renowned scholar on the Middle East, Ajami is a Shiite, fluent in Arabic, who has unsentimentally educated the world about the Arab predicament and Arab dream palaces. Yet. having returned from two visits to Iraq this year, he sports none of Scowcroft's easy, ostentatious cynicism about human nature, and Iraqi human nature in particular. Instead, Ajami celebrates the coming of decency in a place where decency was outlawed 30 years ago.
It is not surprising that Scowcroft, who helped give indecency a 12-year extension in Iraq, should disdain decency's return. But we should not.