Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of terrestrial intelligence.

Loading Table of Contents...
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Iraq Cassandras: No, They Did Not Tell Us So

New York Times uberpundit Paul Krugman wrote in a Dec 2006 column in praise of "those who warned against invading Iraq" and "got it right". Before we examine his list of alleged Iraq Cassandras, let me review what predictions could have changed my mind about invading had I been given reasonable grounds for believing them. The most important is the prediction that, despite the stability in Kurdish Iraq under U.S. military protection, and despite the surprising success America had in deposing the Taliban in favor of a legitimate and representative Afghan government, a sectarian civil war would eventually undermine our effort to liberate the rest of Iraq -- a region much more secular, prosperous, and literate than Afghanistan. The other crucial prediction would have been that Saddam in fact had no WMD programs -- i.e. no active nuclear or biological weapons program, and no systems for the wide dispersal of chemical weapons that otherwise aren't much more worrisome than high explosives, jet fuel, and box cutters.

Did any of Krugman's Cassandras present evidence supporting either of these predictions? No. In fact, with the single exception of Rep. Ike Skelton raising a concern about -- without actually predicting -- Iraqi ethnic strife, no Cassandra on Krugman's list made either prediction even in the absence of an argument supporting it. Instead, Krugman and his Cassandras warned about all kinds of things that never happened:

  • mass civilian casualties of American bombing,
  • US support for continued Sunni oppression of Shias,
  • the Bush Administration prematurely ending its efforts to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq, (hah)
  • wars by the Bush Administration against other rogue states,
  • Iraqi attacks on Israel, possibly using WMDs,
  • first strikes by rogue states cornered into acquiring WMDs,
  • Iraqi WMDs falling into unknown hands, and
  • unrest in moderate Middle Eastern states.

In fairness, half of the above warnings were from Krugman himself and not his Cassandras. However, the above do not include Howard Dean's extensive list of unrealized fears, which included:

  • house-to-house resistance by the Republican Guard in Baghdad,
  • use by the Iraqi Army of women and children as human shields,
  • Iran and Turkey intervening inside Iraq, and
  • environmental disaster in Iraq's oil fields.

Like the proverbial monkey typing on a typewriter, Dean managed to include in his lengthy list an observation that "Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms". However, his grab-bag of unrealized nightmares do not put him in the same league as Skelton, who went 3-for-3 in his sober critique (below) of Bush's strategy. Since Krugman's list included a former President, a nearly-elected President, and several Presidential candidates, I include an analysis of Bill Clinton's pre-invasion position below, to show that no important American leader made either of the two crucial predictions that if substantiated should have prevented the invasion. Instead, the quotes below make it clear that almost all of these leaders granted the premises in the Bush Administration's argument for invasion, and most merely quibbled over how much time to give the UN weapons inspectors.

What Krugman should have compiled was a list of leaders who questioned the evidence for Iraqi WMD. Unfortunately, nobody on Krugman's published list qualifies. In responding to readers, Krugman subsequently mentioned Dennis Kucinich, who like Krugman himself got on record before the invasion as pointing out the weakness of the WMD evidence. However, what I don't see in either's writings is an answer to the observation that Iraq was found out in 1995 to have had vastly more advanced WMD programs in 1991 than our intelligence at the time knew about or that UN inspectors could find. In the light of 9/11 it would have been dangerous to trust the safety of American cities to Saddam's rationality and a mere absence of evidence that Saddam had never resumed the WMD efforts that he was known to have wanted to resume.

Al Gore

Krugman quotes Al Gore as saying in a Sep 2002 speech: "I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century." Here's some of what Krugman doesn't quote from Gore's speech:

"I believe that we are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion. [...] All Americans should acknowledge that Iraq does indeed pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf region, and we should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. [...] I think it's abundantly clear that the existing U.N. resolutions passed 11 years ago are completely sufficient from a legal standpoint so long as it is clear that Saddam Hussein is in breach of the agreements made at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War. [...] The president should be authorized to take action to deal with Saddam Hussein as being in material breach of the terms of the truce and, therefore, a continuing threat to the security of the region. [The UN Security Council itself said two months later in resolution 1441 that "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq’s failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA".] [...] In the case of Iraq, it would be difficult to go it alone, but it's theoretically possible to achieve our goals in Iraq unilaterally. [...] What makes Saddam dangerous is his effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. What makes terrorists so much more dangerous than they have ever been is the prospect that they may get access to weapons of mass destruction. [...] If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. Here's why I say that; we know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country. [...] If we go in there and dismantle them - and they deserve to be dismantled - but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos, and say, "That's for y'all to decide how to put things back together now," that hurts us. [...] The Congress should require, as part of any resolution that it considers, some explicit guarantees on whether we're proposing to simply abandon the Iraqi people in the aftermath of a military victory there or whether or not we're going to demand as a nation that this doctrine of "wash your hands and walk away" be changed so that we can engage in some nation building again, and build the kind of peace for the future that our people have a right expect. [...] There is a case to be made that further delay only works to Saddam Hussein's advantage, and the clock should be seen to have been running on the issue of compliance for a decade, therefore not needing to be reset again to the starting point. But to the extent that we have any concern about international support, whether for its political or material value or for its necessity in winning the war against terrorism, hurrying the process could be costly.

In the speech Gore expresses only two significant disagreements with Bush on Iraq. First, he says the justification of any invasion should be grounded on the 1991 cease-fire agreements, rather than on a new doctrine of preemption of non-imminent threats. Second, he disagreed (six months before the invasion) that the clock on diplomacy and UN inspections had completely run out. He didn't question whether Saddam had WMD programs, or that there existed a danger of Saddam supplying WMDs to terrorists. Gore's mention of possible instability in post-invasion Iraq was only in the context of arguing against ending a prospective occupation too early -- which is Bush's (increasingly mistaken) position now in 2007. There is absolutely nothing in Gore's speech that said the danger of post-invasion instability was a reason not to invade, and so no serious observer can count Gore as having correctly predicted that a resulting sectarian civil war would make it prove unwise for America to depose Saddam.

Bill Clinton

Clinton said in a Feb 2003 speech:

"But then there were no inspectors in there, nobody knew what he was doing and everybody knew even when they were there he was still trying to build up these programs, but he was having to sneak around and couldn't do it as well. So, President Bush basically, I think deserves a lot of credit for saying we can't just ignore this forever; it's time to deal with this again. [...] If you read the language [UNSCR 1441] implies clearly that this time the penalty for non-compliance can be regime change, not just continued sanctions. And then Hans Blix was appointed to go in and head the inspections team and the inspections preceded. Now they haven't found much yet, but Mr. Blix has also said they are not fully cooperating. [...] Saddam Hussein can't have weapons of mass destruction because it's dangerous for him to have them. Again, primarily not because he'd use them, although he would use them as leverage, but because it increases the prospect that they would be one day used under pressure or that they would be given away or sold. It's a bad place to have a huge stock of stuff. [...] The Iraqi army is weaker now than it was in the Gulf War. Thousands of them would just throw their arms down. And I would be surprised if it took them more than three days to get to Baghdad. [...]

There are three reasons you should be concerned about this. Reason number one is, no matter how we cut it, if we go in alone, or even with a lot of allies, but with substantial opposition in the UN, then our critics will say this is a preemptive attack, not a police action to enforce the UN resolution. [...] Second thing is, there is a risk here in this conflict. Even though I think it will be over before you know it, a lot of innocent people will die, because whenever you drop big bombs, that happens. [...] Also, right now Saddam Hussein has maximum incentive not to use these chemical and biological weapons. If we go to war and he knows he's toast, then he'll have maximum incentive to use or give them away. [...] And the third thing is we ought to want to cost of the peace shared, because it's going to take years to rebuild Iraq. If we do this, we want it to be a secular democracy. We want it to be a model for other Middle Eastern countries. We want to do what a lot of people in the administration honestly want, which is to have it shake the foundations of autocracy in the Middle East and promote more freedom and decency."

Clinton's only criticism of Bush's Iraq policy is that it should be more multilateral so as to strengthen the UN and share the costs and risks of opposing terrorist access to WMD. Clinton did not question whether Saddam still had WMD capabilities, nor did he utter a single syllable of warning that deposing Saddam would lead to a sectarian civil war.

George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft

Krugman quotes Bush the elder writing with Brent Scowcroft in 1998: "Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." However, the context makes it clear that Bush and Scowcroft were worried less about sectarian hostility than about anti-occupation hostility, and even more worried about the New World Order:

"While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish."

The phrase "breakup of the Iraqi state" is the only hint that Bush and Scowcroft had an inkling of an Iraqi civil war. That phrase is employed to worry about regional balance of power, and not about invasion potentially leading to quagmire. No serious observer can count Bush and Scowcroft as having correctly predicted that a resulting sectarian civil war would make it prove unwise for America to depose Saddam.

Howard Dean

Paul Krugman quotes Howard Dean as saying in a Feb 2003 speech: "Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms." Here's some of what Krugman doesn't quote from Dean's speech:

"Saddam Hussein is a vicious dictator and a documented deceiver. He has invaded his neighbors, used chemical arms, and failed to account for all the chemical and biological weapons he had before the Gulf War. He has murdered dissidents, and refused to comply with his obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions. And he has tried to build a nuclear bomb. Anyone who believes in the importance of limiting the spread of weapons of mass killing, the value of democracy, and the centrality of human rights must agree that Saddam Hussein is a menace. [...] We will ensure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. [...]

It is possible, however, that events could go differently, and that the Iraqi Republican Guard will not sit out in the desert where they can be destroyed easily from the air. It is possible that Iraq will try to force our troops to fight house to house in the middle of cities - on its turf, not ours - where precision-guided missiles are of little use. It is possible that women and children will be used as shields and our efforts to minimize civilian casualties will be far less successful than we hope. There are other risks. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms. Iran and Turkey each have interests in Iraq they will be tempted to protect with or without our approval. If the war lasts more than a few weeks, the danger of humanitarian disaster is high, because many Iraqis depend on their government for food, and during war it would be difficult for us to get all the necessary aid to the Iraqi people. There is a risk of environmental disaster, caused by damage to Iraq's oil fields. And, perhaps most importantly, there is a very real danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror. [...] If you talk to military leaders, they will tell you there is a big difference between pushing back the Iraqi armed forces in Kuwait and trying to defeat them on their home ground. There are limits to what even our military can do. Technology is not the solution to every problem. And we can't assume the Iraqis have learned nothing over the past twelve years. [...]

Nor has the Administration prepared sufficiently for the possible retaliatory attacks on our home front that even the President's CIA Director has stated are likely to occur. [...] We must do more - much more - to protect our water supplies, our buildings and monuments, our bridges and highways, our dams, and our nuclear power plants."

Thus, after agreeing with the major premises of the Bush Administration's justification for deposing Saddam, Dean's warning about ethnic rivalries is merely a a third-tier entry in a list of nine "possibilities", the other eight of which did not come true. (So much for Krugman's invocation of Cassandra: "all her prophecies came true, and so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq".) The only other arguably prescient warning Dean made was about the "danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror", but since 9/11 those fires have not so much as singed "our water supplies, our buildings and monuments, our bridges and highways, our dams, [or] our nuclear power plants". Cataloging worst-case possibilities is not the same thing as prescience, and no serious observer can count Dean as having correctly predicted that a resulting sectarian civil war would make it prove unwise for America to depose Saddam.

Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich said in a 2003-02-27 interview:

All Americans want to see Saddam Hussein disarmed. I think the inspections can work, and certainly America has a powerful deterrent force. However, the administration has not made a case for attacking Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, with al-Qaida's work in 9/11, with the anthrax attack upon this country. Iraq does not have missile technology, which can strike at this country. U.N. Inspectors have not found that Iraq has usable weapons of mass destruction, which constitute a threat to this country. [...] The policies of this administration will continue a path of war and will continue to plunge this nation into conflicts throughout that region and perhaps in other places in the world. [...] We do not have to bomb Iraq. We do not have to invade Baghdad, to occupy that city in the country, to reconstruct it after we ruin it. We can save the American taxpayers over a trillion dollars, which... money which would be surely needed for health or education or retirement security. We can spare the people of Iraq untold suffering and misery and death. We can pull back and we should. [...] In a technologically complex society with so many nations possessing various weapons of mass destruction, we must learn to settle our differences without war, or we will surely find ourselves involved in war on a scale that perhaps this world has never seen.

Kucinich clearly implied that Iraq's "untold suffering and misery and death" and reconstruction costs would be the direct result of America "bombing Iraq", but in fact only a small fraction of Iraqi deaths since the invasion have been due to U.S. munitions. In a 2003-03-21 statement, Kucinich falsely implied that the "shock and awe" campaign of precision-guided air attacks was designed to attack civilians:

By all accounts this attack will rain thousands of bombs down on a heavily populated area. The ‘shock and awe’ air campaign is a horrific acceleration of the United States’ unprovoked attack against Iraq. This air campaign is designed to aim the full might of the United States military apparatus at the center of a civilian population.

Kucinich rightly questioned the evidence for Iraq's nuclear program in statements on 2003-03-19:

The President at the State of the Union address, and Secretary Powell in front of the United Nations, said that they had evidence that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Niger. Their main argument for going to war was that Iraq posed a threat because of their capabilities to acquire nuclear weapons. But this evidence is completely false. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei said that the documentary evidence was not authentic. The Washington Post reported the evidence to be sloppily forged letters. Even the CIA, which examined the evidence back in 1991, never found the evidence to be reliable. And yet, this Administration, all the while knowing, has completely misled the international community and the American people. By repeating falsifications and misrepresenting reality, this Administration has led America to launch an unprovoked attack against another country. [...]

Despite misleading claims by the Administration, Iraq is not a nuclear threat. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El Baradei has said that there is no evidence of resumed nuclear activates in Iraq. And, despite numerous claims by the Administration that Iraq has ties with Al-Qaeda and the potential to share weapons of mass destruction with Iraq, its own CIA Director told Congress that this unlikely to happen.

In the month before the war, Kucinich's many statements about Iraq warned repeatedly (and arguably incorrectly) that war would increase the risk of terrorist attacks against America, but never once warned of civil war in Iraq. None of Kucinich's statements explain why America should have believed in the 2003 absence of evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, when the record had shown that our 1991 belief in that absence had been horribly wrong. Nor did Kucinich explain why the safety of American cities should be based on the "unlikelihood" of Saddam Hussein doing something risky and evil.

Barak Obama

Krugman quotes from an Oct 2002 speech in which Obama said:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

It would be ludicrous to count this comment as a successful prediction that deposing Saddam would lead to a Sunni-Shia civil war. Obama also said in that speech:

I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.... The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors...and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

Obama's speech gives no hint as to how the "international community" was going to ensure that 1) Iraq could not follow through on its undisputed and then-unaccounted-for earlier WMD efforts, and 2) any Iraqi WMDs would never fall into terrorist hands.

Rep. John Spratt

Krugman quotes Spratt saying in Oct 2002: "The outcome after the conflict is actually going to be the hardest part, and it is far less certain." What Krugman doesn't tell us is Spratt's next two sentences: "We do not want to win this war only to lose the peace and swell the ranks of terrorists who hate us. A broad-based coalition will raise our chances of success even more in the post-war period." Spratt gave no inkling of an Iraqi civil war, and instead was talking about the prospect that a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq by America would expose America to more terrorism.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi

Krugman quotes Pelosi saying in October 2002: "When we go in, the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited." Here's the context that Krugman doesn't quote from Pelosi's statement:

I applaud the President’s focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein. [...] Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, and he is trying to get nuclear weapons. [...] So another cost is not only the cost on the war on terrorism, but in the cost of human lives of our young people by making Saddam Hussein the person who determines their fates. [...] So let us do what is proportionate, what is appropriate, which mitigates the risk for our young people. In addition to the cost in human lives, the cost to our economy and the cost to the war on terrorism, an attack on Iraq has a cost to our budget. This cost can be unlimited. There is no political solution on the ground in Iraq. Let us not be fooled by that. So when we go in the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited - $100 -$200 billion, we can only guess. We will pay any price to protect the American people, but is this the right way to go, when these costs can be avoided?


Thus Pelosi's comment about an "interminable occupation" was in the context of fiscal costs to American taxpayers. Her discussion of "the cost in human lives" is explicitly about American lives, and she makes no reference to the costs in Iraqi lives -- and certainly not such costs incurred by possible Iraqi civil war. (Note that Pelosi did not question Saddam's possession of WMD.)

Sen. Russ Feingold

Krugman quotes Feingold saying in October 2002:

I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. ... When the administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the administration's motives.

In fact, Feingold didn't merely make glib complaints about the invasion justification. He also warned of the so-far-unrealized danger that the invasion of Iraq would 1) scatter Iraqi WMDs into unknown hands and 2) lead to "unrest in moderate states" elsewhere in the Middle East:

I agree that Iraq presents a genuine threat, especially in the form of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons. [...] We cannot do nothing with regard to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We must act. We must act with serious purpose and stop the weapons of mass destruction and stop Saddam Hussein. And I agree a return to the inspections regime of the past alone is not a serious, credible policy. I also believe and agree as important and as preferable as U.N. action and multilateral solutions to this problem are, we cannot give the United Nations the ability to veto our ability to counter this threat to our country. [...] Is this war against terrorism going so terribly well when we see the possible explosion of the French tanker in Yemen? When we see the tremendous difficulties in trying to pursue stability in Afghanistan itself? And when we realize that we're not certain at all whether Mr. Osama bin Laden is alive or dead? [...] I oppose this resolution because of the continuing unanswered questions, including the very important questions about what the mission is here, what the nature of the operation will be, what will happen concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as the attack proceeds and afterward, and what the plan is after the attack is over. [...] Before we vote on this resolution, we need a credible plan for securing W.M.D. sites and not allowing materials of concern to slip away during some chaotic course of action. [...] What if actors competing for power in a post-Hussein world have access to W.M.D.? What if there is chaos in the wake of the regime's fall that provides new opportunities for nonstate actors, including terrorist organizations, to bid on the sinister items tucked away in Iraq? [...] we will need to take action to ensure stability in Iraq. This could be very costly and time consuming, could involve the occupation -- the occupation, Mr. President, of a Middle Eastern country. Now, this is not a small matter. The American occupation of a Middle Eastern country. Consider the regional implications of that scenario, the unrest in moderate states that calls for action against American interests, the difficulty of bringing stability to Iraq so we can extricate ourselves in the midst of regional turmoil. [...] In Afghanistan, the government and President Hamid Karzai work under constant threat and instability plagues the country outside of Kabul. Many Afghan people are waiting for concrete indicators that they have a stake in this new Taliban-free future. The task is daunting. Mr. President, we've only just begun that task. What demands might be added in a post-Saddam Iraq? [...] as far as I can tell, the Administration apparently intends to wing it when it comes to the day after or, as others have suggested, the decade after. [...]

Thus Feingold never even mentioned the prospect of sectarian strife in Iraq. His concerns about "stability" in Afghanistan were on the same level as his concern over a terrorist attack on a "French tanker in Yemen". The best that can be said of Feingold's warnings is that he was right that there were unknown "demands [...] in a post-Saddam Iraq". However, Feingold's vague fretting just doesn't add up to successful prediction that Iraq would descend into sectarian chaos.

Rep. Ike Skelton

Krugman quotes Skelton saying in Sep 2002: "I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq's forces and remove Saddam. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it." As with Feingold, Krugman's quote doesn't do justice to Skelton, who raised several prescient concerns in the letter to Bush from which Krugman quoted:

1. How to manage Iraq's transition to a stable post-Saddam regime. [...] The extreme difficulty of occupying Iraq with its history of autocratic rule, its balkanized ethnic tensions, and its isolated economic system argues both for careful consideration of the benefits and risks of undertaking military action and for detailed advanced occupation planning if such military action is approved. Specifically, your strategy must consider the form of a replacement regime and take seriously the possibility that this regime might be rejected by the Iraqi people, leading to civil unrest and even anarchy. The effort must be to craft a stable regime that will be geopolitically preferable to Saddam and will incorporate the disparate interests of all groups within Iraq-Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurd. We must also plan now for what to do with members of the Baath party that continue to support Saddam and with the scientists and engineers who have expertise born of the Iraqi WMD program.

2. How to ensure the action in Iraq does not undermine international support for the broader war on terrorism. [...] Actions without broad Arab support may inflame the sources of terrorism, causing unrest and anger throughout the Muslim world. This dynamic will be worse if Iraq attacks Israel-perhaps with weapons of mass destruction-and draws them into the conflict. Iran, which has the potential to seize a reformist path, may well move away from the United States in the face of attacks that could next be taken against them.

3. How to ensure that the United States can execute this operation successfully as well as its other military missions [...] How many casualties must the American people be prepared to take in a worst-case scenario? What military operations might we have to forego because of continued demands in Iraq?

Even though Iraq did not attack Israel, Skelton emerges from Krugman's list as the only Cassandra who actually warned of sectarian strife without burying that warning (as Dean did) in a laundry list of other warnings which didn't come true. Ironically, Skelton has one other significant difference with the Krugman Cassandras whose predictions were variously wrong or off-point: the prescient Skelton is the only Cassandra on Krugman's list who supported the war.

Paul Krugman

So what about Krugman's own record? Let's look at his Iraq-related columns in the few months before the invasion. Krugman wrote on 2002-09-24:

The experience of the Spanish-American War should remind us that quick conventional military victory is not necessarily the end of the story. Thanks to American technological superiority, Adm. George Dewey destroyed a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay without losing a single man. But a clean, high-tech war against Spain somehow turned into an extremely dirty war against the Filipino resistance, one in which hundreds of thousands of civilians died.


Krugman now cites this column as an accurate prediction about Iraq, but of course it isn't. The problem in Iraq hasn't been Iraqi resistance to American occupation. The problem in Iraq has been a sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shia. This Sep 2002 column makes no prediction whatsoever regarding sectarian civil war. On 2003-02-11 Krugman said he shared Europe's alleged

lack of faith in Mr. Bush's staying power — a fear that he will wimp out in the aftermath of war, that he won't do what is needed to rebuild Iraq. [...] Mr. Bush apparently regards Saddam Hussein as a pushover; he believes advisers who tell him that an Iraq war will be quick and easy — a couple of days of shock and awe, followed by a victory parade. Maybe. But even if it does turn out that way, is this administration ready for the long, difficult, quite possibly bloody task of rebuilding Iraq?

Nowadays, by contrast, Krugman is complaining that Bush has too much "staying power" in Iraq. On 2003-02-21 Krugman wrote

The Bush administration intends to preserve most of the current regime: Saddam Hussein and a few top officials will be replaced with Americans, but the rest will stay. You don't have to be an Iraq expert to realize that many very nasty people will therefore remain in power — more moral clarity! — and that the U.S. will in effect take responsibility for maintaining the rule of the Sunni minority over the Shiite majority. If this all sounds incredibly callous and shortsighted, that's because it is.

Fourteen months later, the hard-to-please Krugman was complaining about Bush "blunders" that included "disbanding the Iraqi Army, [...] appointing an interim council dominated by exiles with no political base and excluding important domestic groups." Krugman spent his 2003-03-07 penultimate pre-invasion column exclusively on the danger that the Bush administration would encourage a backlash against Hispanics because of Mexico's reluctance to support the invasion in the UN. Then on 2003-03-14 Krugman wrote:

The original reasons given for making Iraq an immediate priority have collapsed. No evidence has ever surfaced of the supposed link with Al Qaeda, or of an active nuclear program. And the administration's eagerness to believe that an Iraqi nuclear program does exist has led to a series of embarrassing debacles, capped by the case of the forged Niger papers, which supposedly supported that claim. [...] Need I point out that North Korea, not Iraq, is the clear and present danger? Kim Jong Il's nuclear program isn't a rumor or a forgery; it's an incipient bomb assembly line. [...] We all hope that the war with Iraq is a swift victory, with a minimum of civilian casualties. But more and more people now realize that even if all goes well at first, it will have been the wrong war, fought for the wrong reasons — and there will be a heavy price to pay.

On 2003-03-18 Krugman wrote:

Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease. [...] What frightens me is the aftermath — and I'm not just talking about the problems of postwar occupation. I'm worried about what will happen beyond Iraq — in the world at large, and here at home. [...] [The Bush team] seems to believe that other countries will change their minds once they see cheering Iraqis welcome our troops, or that our bombs will shock and awe the whole world (not just the Iraqis), or that what the world thinks doesn't matter. They're wrong on all counts. [...] Will Iraq really be the first of many? It seems all too likely — and not only because the "Bush doctrine" seems to call for a series of wars. Regimes that have been targeted, or think they may have been targeted, aren't likely to sit quietly and wait their turn: they're going to arm themselves to the teeth, and perhaps strike first. People who really know what they are talking about have the heebie-jeebies over North Korea's nuclear program, and view war on the Korean peninsula as something that could happen at any moment. [...] What scares me most, however, is the home front. Look at how this war happened. There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998. But it's not a case that the Bush administration ever made. Instead we got assertions about a nuclear program that turned out to be based on flawed or faked evidence; we got assertions about a link to Al Qaeda that people inside the intelligence services regard as nonsense.

Krugman's vague aside about "the problems of postwar occupation" cannot count as a prediction of the Iraqi civil war. The "series of wars" he warned of has not materialized. "War on the Korean peninsula" has not happened. No "targeted" regime has "struck first", and while Iran and North Korea have continued their already-existing efforts to develop nuclear technology, Libya in late 2003 renounced all WMD efforts. Krugman was right to question the evidence about Iraq's nuclear program, but he didn't predict that Iraq would turn out not to have such a program. On 2003-04-11 Krugman wrote:

Credit where credit is due: the hawks were right to say that a whiff of precision-guided grapeshot would lead to the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. But even skeptics about this war expected a military victory. ("Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease" was the opening line of my start-of-the-war column.) [...] Why worry? I won't pretend to have any insights into what is going on in the minds of the Iraqi people. But there is a pattern to the Bush administration's way of doing business that does not bode well for the future — a pattern of conquest followed by malign neglect.

Thus in Krugman's first post-invasion column, he admits having no foresight about the fateful question of how Iraqis will react to liberation, and again worries that Bush will not devote enough attention and resources to Iraq. The best that can be said for Krugman's prognosticating is that his faith in the Bush Administration's incompetence was rescued by the willingness of Iraqis to squander their liberation with a civil war. That's certainly not being "right about Iraq", and it's arguably not even being right about Bush (unless Krugman can show that a civil war was preventable). Krugman was right to focus on nuclear WMD and the lack of evidence that Iraq still was pursuing them, but his shrill claims of Bush Administration malevolence reflect an unwillingness to grapple with the systematic problems confounding US intelligence about Iraqi WMD (as documented in the definitive 2005 618-page report of the commission on WMD intelligence). The two fundamental problems were both CYA. First, the US intelligence community was determined not to repeat the errors it had made before the 1991 war that were discovered in 1995, when Saddam's defecting son-in-law revealed that the U.S. had vastly underestimated Iraq's nuclear and biological weapons efforts. Second, the Bush Administration was determined not to be blamed for allowing Iraq-produced WMDs to be used in any repeat of 9/11. If Krugman has ever addressed these two issues, I'd love to hear about it.

2 comments:

Gene Berkman said...

OK, the people you quote are analogous to someone at Jonestown saying "don't drink the cool-aid, sugar causes cavities." Yes, they warned about the wrong danger, but you are like someone saying, "go ahead and drink the cool-aid,I am not worried about cavities."

Many articles posted at antiwar.com noted the lack of evidence for a continuing WMD program. Jack Kemp pointed out that sanctions on Iraq were working to prevent rearmament, and a war would be unnecesary and costly.

Since your own predictions about Iraq have been so off the mark, why do you think that incorrect predictions by those who opposed the war somehow justify the fiasco that we now have to pay for for the rest of our lives?

Brian Holtz said...

The cavities analogy fails utterly. Of the failed predictions of anti-invasion Cassandras, the following eventualities would have been arguably worse in terms of America being rightfully blamed for the lives lost:

* mass civilian casualties of American bombing,
* US support for continued Sunni oppression of Shias,
* the Bush Administration prematurely ending its efforts to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq, (hah)
* wars by the Bush Administration against other rogue states,
* Iraqi attacks on Israel, possibly using WMDs,
* first strikes by rogue states cornered into acquiring WMDs,
* Iraqi WMDs falling into unknown hands

My biggest forecasting mistake was the one I document these Cassandras making: not predicting the Sunni-Shia civil war. Since I didn't issue any of the failed predictions I document these Cassandras making, my record is arguably better than theirs. Also, even 18 months before that civil war boiled over in 2006, I was saying that it's "turning out that Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites are not as ready for self-rule as Iraqi Kurds". By 2005 I foresaw that "America's political system will not tolerate a total cost over 3000 U.S. fatalities or $500B".

Again: if antiwar.com was so far-sighted, quote it predicting the Sunni-Shia civil war.