Morning in America
By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007; A19
To understand how much the Iraq war has transformed the way most Americans think about foreign policy, consider what passed for shrewd analysis four years ago.
The words on the "in" list included "unilateral," "bold," "robust," "transformative" and "sole remaining superpower." The words on the "out" list included "multilateral," "nuance," "patience," "diplomacy," "allies," "history" and "prudence."
Today, the "in" and "out" lists would be almost exactly reversed. The new "out" list includes such additions as "reckless," "arrogant" and "incompetent."
With so many establishmentarians now running away from the war, many would prefer to forget the political mood at 10:15 p.m. on March 19, 2003, when President Bush announced that "at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."
Politics did not stop at the water's edge. The edition of The Post in which Bush's speech was reported also included this headline: "GOP to Hammer Democratic War Critics." The report began: "Congressional Republicans are implicitly challenging the patriotism of some Democrats who have criticized President Bush's war plans, a sign that the divisive politics marking the 108th Congress are unlikely to cease during wartime."
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, then chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted that Democrats would "pay a political price" for feeding the perception that they opposed disarming and deposing Saddam Hussein. Those who bemoan our politically polarized foreign policy debate should remember how it started.
When the argument over invading Iraq was publicly joined in summer 2002, many mainstream Republicans were queasy. That September, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) told me his constituents were "concerned about a go-it-alone strategy," and Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) said voters in his district expressed "concern about whether we know what we're doing or how we're going to do it."
The concerns of those good citizens were never answered because the administration was so successful in creating a lock-step mood, trumping doubters with extravagant claims about perils emanating from mushroom clouds and aluminum tubes.
The process of twisting the facts continued for four years. Every setback in Iraq was first ignored, then denied and then explained away as temporary. Some new strategy was always hyped as the beginning of a successful end. It's no wonder the war's remaining supporters get so little traction when they claim that the surge is working and that Bush should be given one more chance to get the war right. Patriotic skeptics have heard it before.
Foreign policy hawks fear an "Iraq Syndrome" involving a pathological wariness about the use of American force and an unhealthy mistrust of every word coming out of the White House.
On the contrary, this botched war is far more likely to lead to what might properly be called the Post-Bush Awakening. It is an awakening to the danger of viewing critics as traitors, to the costs of making everything about politics and to the sad tendency of establishmentarians to seek refuge within the boundaries of prevailing opinion.
It is also an awakening to the wise skepticism of everyday Americans toward ideologues who believe that optional wars of their design can miraculously change the world.
Here's what Vice President Cheney said in late August 2002 about the transformative potential of a war with Iraq: "Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced."
The uneasy constituents whom Camp and Petri were meeting with around the time Cheney spoke were too realistic to accept this nonsense whole. Next time, they will insist that their questions are answered and their doubts allayed before their sons and daughters are sent off to war.
None of this means that American opinion has become isolationist. The country's determination to defeat terrorism has not slackened. Most Americans still believe the war in Afghanistan was a proper response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and wonder why it was left unfinished so the ideologues could go off in pursuit of Utopia on the Euphrates. The men and women who wear the nation's uniform have never been so popular.
But those who spent the past four years hyping threats, underestimating costs, ignoring rational warnings, painting unrealistic futures and savaging their opponents have been discredited. This awakening is the first step toward rebuilding our country's influence and power.
By Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, March 20, 2007; A19
Back in 2003, when U.S. forces first took custody of the notorious al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, there was much speculation about what his capture might signify. Some thought he might possess information about other planned operations, some predicted his loss would fatally damage al-Qaeda, some guessed his arrest would lead to additional arrests. Others, among them Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, used his capture to float interesting theories about torture: when and how it might legitimately be used, for example, given a candidate who might seem so clearly deserving of it.
Here is one thing nobody predicted back in 2003: that when the notorious Mohammed eventually stood before a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal and took responsibility not only for the Sept. 11 attacks, the deadliest crime ever carried out on American soil, but also for the horrific death of the journalist Daniel Pearl and some two dozen other operations, the world would greet the confessions with skepticism and indifference.
The Daily Telegraph, normally the most pro-American newspaper in Britain, wrote that it hardly mattered whether Mohammed was guilty, since whatever conclusion is drawn by the military tribunal that will try him, "the world will condemn the procedures by which the verdicts were reached." Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung concluded that "the Bush administration has nobody but itself to blame for the fact that the actions and motives of the perpetrator are now playing second fiddle to the practices used by the Americans in fighting terrorism." In many places, the confessions, which took place nearly a week ago, still have hardly attracted attention.
A small part of this international indifference perhaps derives from the transcript of the confessions, which seem boastful and exaggerated. (What else will he confess to? The murder of JFK?) Most of it, though, surely comes from the widespread, indeed practically universal, assumption that Mohammed was tortured, not in theory but in practice.
Certainly during his hearing at Guantanamo Bay, there are references to "certain treatment [he] claimed to have received," though the relevant parts of the official transcript remain classified. But the assumption that Mohammed was tortured comes from the fact that, as we all now know, the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department were also debating the merits of torture about the time of Mohammed's capture. Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, now better known for his disastrous performance as attorney general, had advised the president as early as 2002 that torture might be permissible under certain circumstances. And all of us have seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib.
It is true that the administration has now stated clearly that torture, at least by the administration's definition, was not used in Mohammed's interrogation. ("We don't do torture" is how the White House press secretary cavalierly put it.) But even if we were to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, which hardly anyone will, the circumstances of Mohammed's detention have been unacceptable by American standards. Even if he was not tortured, he was held in secret, extralegal and completely unregulated conditions, possibly in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, certainly under nothing resembling what we in the United States normally consider the rule of law, either international or domestic. The mystery surrounding his interrogation -- when it was carried out, how and by whom -- renders any confession he makes completely null, either in a court of law or in the court of international public opinion.
This is concrete proof, as if more were needed, that it is not merely immoral to operate outside the rule of law; it is also ineffective and in fact profoundly counterproductive: There is no proof that it produces better information but plenty of evidence that it has discredited the United States. Indeed, there could be no more eloquent condemnation of the Bush administration's torture and detention policies than the deafening silence that followed Mohammed's confession: Who could have imagined, in September of 2001, that one of the deadliest terrorists in history would admit to the destruction of the World Trade Center -- and that the world would shrug its shoulders?