Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Scowcroft: Pragmatism vs Ideology

If you haven’t read the article in the New Yorker by JEFFREY GOLDBERG you need to.

Brent Scowcroft, the National Sec Advisor to HW Bush and former AF General, is the central figure in this interview/article. A close friend of the Bushs’ he recently wrote an op-en in the WSJ blasting this administration.

Scowcroft is no pacifist. In fact, he was the main advocate (on the NSC) pushing for military action against Iraq during HW’s reign.

However, Scowcroft demonstrates a pragmatism in foreign policy matters – and in the use of force in general – that this administration wholly lacks.
A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’—but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.”

Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.
Goldberg points out that this administration is plagued by group-think – that they didn’t seriously consider differing opinions: all the stuff we’ve heard from a half-dozen former insiders:
[…]this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protégée; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protégé and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.

According to friends, Scowcroft was consulted more frequently by the Clinton White House than he has been by George W. Bush’s. Clinton’s national-security adviser, Samuel Berger, told me that he valued Scowcroft’s opinions: “He knows a great deal, and I always found it useful to speak to him.”
And as I’ve always thought, a lot of this “policy certainty” is born of evangelical roots: the notion that “we’re the good guys bringing justice to the world”:

Rice’s split with her former National Security Council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration’s impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”
What we need are leaders who are pragmatic; leaders who study and analyze; leaders who seek out dissenting opinions and ideas and weigh the consequences of not only action, but inaction.

This analysis must be done in the light of reason and critical thought, not under the pre-conceived notion of good and evil. Yes, good and evil exists: but taking up the gauntlet against a perceived evil doesn’t necessarily spell its demise… it may be just the reaction evil was hoping for.


Intellectual Insurgent said...

Our leaders are a reflection of us. Americans aren't that thoughtful or pragmatic in their personal lives. It's no wonder their politics aren't that different.

Reign of Reason said...

But we should expect more... and that's the problem: we don't.

I want my leaders to be the most intelligent and thoughtful people in our society... the world is a dangerous place. But I get the feeling everyone else wants a president that's fun to have a beer with.

Intellectual Insurgent said...

You nailed it right on the head. Our society does not value intelligence. It values big-mouthed, muscle-flexing goons who offer hollow cliches to make the masses feel like they are part of something noble. Who wants facts when bullshit is so much more comforting? Who wants to hear that American foreign policy is so unfair that it makes people hate us? Rather, they like cliches like "they hate us because of our freedom."

American culture has been commoditized to a point that it is no longer about substance - it is about what sells. Movies, music, books, news. We have sold our souls (and brains too). Literally.

Adrianne said...

We have become so lazy in so many aspects, emotionally, physically, our "lax" attitude to our government is just another example. (sorry for budding in on your blog)

Reign of Reason said...


Thanks exactly what it is for!

Please post your thoughts anytime.


Adrianne said...

And wow it is so nice to see an engineer I agree with all my days at UW (a Canadian Engineering school) left me determined that all engineers were the same. How ignorant of me!!