FRED LOGEVALL: I hope you can hear me. My name is Fred Logevall, and I'm just delighted to welcome you to this year's Lund Critical Debate. This is part of the Mario Einaudi Center's Foreign Policy Initiative, which has now been going for several years, and which was really formed with the idea of making connections across campus among faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, staff who have an interest in foreign policy issues broadly conceived.
The Foreign Policy Initiative has now been going for about six years, I think it's fair to say, with great success. And this event is obviously no exception. I'm delighted to have this opportunity as the director of the Einaudi Center to really introduce our moderator.
I do want to say just a few things. I want to mention, first of all, that we have an upcoming event. A very distinguished political science, or international relations theorist, Robert Keohane, will be with us as part of this Foreign Policy Initiative, as part of our Distinguished Speaker Series. Professor Keohane of Princeton University will be here on October 13 at 5:00 PM to speak. That's in Lewis Auditorium. He will be speaking on the subject of, "When Should the US Intervene? Criteria for Military Intervention in Weak Countries." That's Professor Keohane on October 13. I hope you'll be able to join us for that.
Today, however, we're here for the fourth, I believe, annual Lund Critical Debate. Today's subject, as I think you know, is 9/11 @ 10: What Have We Learned? It occurs to me it could have been 9/11 @ 10 on 12, in terms of the day that we're here.
But the question is really, what have we learned in this past decade? And I was reminded in thinking about today of something that Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor under Gerald Ford, and also National Security Advisor under George HW Bush, Bush the elder, something that Brent Scowcroft said in an interview in The New Yorker in the fall of 2005.
Scowcroft, of course, being a charter member, if you will, a leading member of the foreign policy establishment, and in particular, the Republican foreign policy establishment, was asked in this New Yorker piece about Iraq. This is the fall of 2005, and so the insurgency in Iraq is raging. And he was asked for his opinion.
Scowcroft rather famously had opposed the invasion prior to it happening. And now he said-- and I'm paraphrasing-- yes, there is a chance that the United States will succeed in Iraq. But look at the cost. But look at the cost. And that comment by Brent Scowcroft in the context of Iraq is, it seems to me, apropos in a way what we're going to be discussing here this afternoon.
By many measures, the United States has been successful in the past 10 years in this so-called war on terror. Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is in turmoil. Radical Islam, one could argue, has suffered a dramatic decline in support. United States military remains unchallenged in the world. But again, let's look at the cost. Let's discuss the price that has been paid for this success. And perhaps that issue is one that will come up today.
I'm very honored to be here and to have the chance to introduce our moderator. Before I do, I just want to acknowledge and thank Judith Lund Biggs, who is a graduate of Cornell, 1957, who majored, when she was here, in American studies and government. She also earned a master's degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and has maintained a lifelong interest in foreign affairs, foreign policy.
She serves on the board of the Foreign Policy Association, and maintains close connections with this campus and with the Einaudi Center. We are so grateful for Mrs. Biggs' support for what we're doing at the Einaudi Center with foreign policy, and in particular, for this annual debate. And so I want to thank her.
And I also want to thank our moderator, Nick van de Walle, who is going to introduce the panel. And I just want to say a few words about Professor van de Walle. I think many of you are familiar with what he has done. He is a past Director of the Einaudi Center, my predecessor, and is currently the Maxwell Upson Professor of Government, the Chair of the Department of Government here at Cornell.
Professor van de Walle is also a Non-Resident Fellow of the Center for Global Development in Washington. He has published widely on democratization issues, as well as on the politics of economic reform and on the effectiveness of foreign aid and structural adjustments in poor countries, with a particular emphasis on Africa. He's the winner of many prizes in the past. He has a PhD from Princeton University. And before coming to Cornell, Nick was a professor at Michigan State. Please join me in welcoming Nick van de Walle.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Famous communist leader of China, Zhou Enlai, was asked in the late '60s whether he thought that the French Revolution had been a success. And he famously replied that it was too early to tell. It's probably too early to tell similarly what the long-term impact of 9/11 will be. But it's clear at the same time that it's likely to be a contentious topic for quite a long time. And today, I think we want to explore the meaning of 9/11 and discuss a bit the different attitudes that exist out there about 9/11.
Preparing for today's debate, I just looked up a couple things online. And you know, the sharpness of disagreements about the meaning of 9/11 really, really struck me. On one end, Cornell's very own Paul Wolfowitz, writing in The Weekly Standard, called on the readers of The Weekly Standard to celebrate the anniversary of 9/11, and in particular, to celebrate the sacrifices of people since then, which had made possible the very successes which the article enumerated in the US response to those events.
This week's editorial of The Economist, on the other hand, in a piece that admits to certain successes, talks about, quote, "mistakes galore," and argues that, quote, "there's precious little to show for a decade of sacrifice." Reflecting, I think, a majority view in Europe, Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, just a week ago, said that the US response to 9/11 was, quote, "among the most inept and counterproductive errors in the history of modern statesmanship."
So just there, from three relatively mainstream-- I mean, I'm not even talking about the blogs which deny that 9/11 ever took place. From three relatively mainstream outlets, we have really, really different views. And so it strikes me as very useful to start assessing more seriously what 9/11 continues to mean for the world and for the United States.
We have, today, I think a great panel to do this with. And I'll present them in a second. Let me first just say a word about the format of the debate. Each speaker will start with a 10-minute basic presentation of their views on three questions, which we have asked them to address. A, what is their assessment of the American response to 9/11? B, what is their take on where we stand today, given that response? And C, how would they interpret the meaning of 9/11 for world politics?
After this initial 10 minutes, I will try to ask follow-up questions and pry out some of the differences and disagreements among the three speakers. And they'll each get a chance to speak for another three minutes. Then we'll open the floor up for questions. And I do mean questions rather than comments. And then at the end, the speakers will each get a chance to give their final thoughts on the issue.
OK. So in the order that they will speak, let me introduce our distinguished panel. First, Peter Beinart will start us off. He is the Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, as well as an Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York. He is also the Senior Political Writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to TIME magazine.
His first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals-- and Only Liberals-- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, was published by Harper Collins in 2006. His second book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, was published in June 2010.
He's written for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, Reader's Digest, and I skipped some. And of course for The New Republic where he was managing editor and then senior editor, and then just editor [INAUDIBLE] in the '90s. He was also a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2007 to 2009. The Week magazine named him Columnist of the Year for 2004.
Let me say also that he's appeared on a number of TV shows. Meet the Press, ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, and that most intellectual show, The Colbert Report, as well as a number of other television and radio outlets. Peter Beinart graduated from Yale University in 1993, winning a Rhodes Scholarship for study at Oxford University. After graduating from Oxford with an MPhil in international relations, he moved to The New Republic as a journalist.
OK. Our second speaker will be Cornell's Jonathan Kirshner. He's my colleague in the Department of Government, and he's the Director of the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies here on campus. He's the author of a number of books, including Currency and Coercion: The Political Economy of International Monetary Power, published in 1995, and Appeasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War, published by Princeton University Press in 2007, which won the 2009 Best Book Award from the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
He's the co-editor of the volume The Future of the Dollar and of the multidisciplinary book series Cornell Studies in Money. He's currently working on three manuscripts, American Power After the Financial Crisis, Classical Realism in World Politics, and The Politics of 1970s Film.
Finally, our last speaker will be Stephen Peter Rosen, who is the Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs at Harvard University. Among several teaching awards for the term 2002 to 2007, he was named a Harvard College Professor, an award given in recognition of excellence in undergraduate teaching. He also was Master of Winthrop House from 2003 to 2009 also at Harvard University.
Currently, he's a senior counselor to the long-term strategy group, an organization which is focused on the cultural, anthropological, and biological dimensions of current strategic problems. He has a long history of work in Washington in and for the government.
He was Civilian Assistant to the Director of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Political-Military Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council, as well as a member of the Board of Advisors to the Joint Forces Command, a consultant to the President's Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, a consultant to the Gulf War Air Power Survey, sponsored by the Secretary of the Air Force, and a Secretary of the Navy Fellow.
He has published quite widely articles on ballistic missile defense, systems analysis, the American theory of limited war, the strategic implications of the AIDS epidemic, and strategies for promoting innovation in the American military. Where these articles have come out reads like a who's who of American journalism and public policy, foreign affairs, the Wall Street Journal, international security, The Washington Quarterly, foreign policy, the Journal of Strategic Studies, diplomatic history, the national interest, the public interest, and the American interest.
He's the author of Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military, which won the 1992 Furniss Prize. He is currently working on new problems of nuclear war. He holds both his BA and PhD from Harvard University. So please join me in welcoming our first speaker, Mr. Peter Beinart. Thank you.
PETER BEINART: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. To put it bluntly, I think our response to 9/11 over the last 10 years has been a tragedy and a waste that has left us a weaker country than we were on the day when the Twin Towers fell. And I think at the heart of that tragedy has been the idea that emerged soon after 9/11, that because of the human enormity of what 9/11 meant to Americans, particularly to New Yorkers, therefore, the group, that network that did it, Al Qaeda, must be a geopolitical enormity, the equivalent of the Nazis or the Soviets, that should be the fundamental defining feature of American foreign policy.
Perhaps we were conditioned to make that link, because the last time anything this traumatic had happened had been Pearl Harbor, when in fact America was attacked by a great power that was in alliance with other great powers that really did have the military and economic capacity to be a serious threat to the United States. Perhaps we responded that way because 9/11 happened to hit at a time of very minimal great power conflict, at a time when we really didn't have to spend very much time worrying about other great powers that could seriously threaten the United States. We were essentially free to focus so much on this non-state actor.
I think perhaps more than either of those is the fact that 9/11 hit at a time of enormous hubris in American politics and foreign policy. It hit at a time when America had come off a series of successful military campaigns, starting with the Gulf War in 1991, Bosnia in '95, Kosovo in 1999, which it essentially erased the kind of inhibition, the understanding of the limitations of American military power that had existed, even for conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan in the 1990s. That had essentially been washed away by the series of successes-- really started even before the Gulf War with Panama in 1989. So an enormous sense of American military power.
A sense of virtually unlimited economic resources as a result of the Clinton administration's overcoming of the Reagan-era deficit. So you could have someone like Dick Cheney essentially saying, deficits are not a problem. Look, Reagan ran up some deficits to win the Cold War, and we managed to quickly get out of that with a big economic boom in the '90s. So we don't really need to worry terribly much about economic constraints and how we respond to this. And also, the sense of ideological hubris that had emerged as a result of the great third wave of democratization through Latin America and Eastern Europe and East Asia, which was seen in foreign policy circles more than it really was as an American creation that we could somehow turn on in the Middle East as well at our will.
I think all of these things blinded us to the fact that, to put it very bluntly, Al Qaeda got lucky. Al Qaeda managed this dramatic, spectacular, horrific attack because by and large, nobody in the world was paying very much attention to Al Qaeda. Once every major international intelligence and law enforcement agency in the world-- not just the United States, but in the world, since remember, Al Qaeda didn't have a lot of allies-- essentially started focusing on this particular network almost immediately. Its room for maneuver radically diminished.
Remember, we were told after 9/11 not that we should just expect another 9/11s, but that we should expect 9/11 plus, plus, plus. Famously, as the journalist Ron Suskind said, The One Percent Doctrine. Because there is a 1% chance of this enormously catastrophic attack, we have to essentially put unlimited resources into this struggle, a struggle so broadly defined that in order to change the climate in South Asia and the Middle East, we'll invade two countries.
In fact, Al Qaeda hasn't even managed to accomplish a 9/11 minus, minus, minus. Nothing on the scale of 9/11 anywhere around the world. And I would submit that has very little to do with America's invasion of Iraq, and not even that much to do with our invasion of Afghanistan. But mostly simply the fact that once we started pouring vast amounts of money into Homeland Security and in intelligence efforts against this, and all our allies did as well, this network simply had no capacity to withstand that kind of pressure.
Plus this was not a network that had a message that many people in the Muslim world really wanted to buy. Yes, there were people in the Muslim world who liked the fact that Al Qaeda punched America in the nose, because they hated the fact that America was supporting the regimes that oppressed them.
But what made Al Qaeda different from the totalitarian movements to which they were so frequently compared was that at the moment of their greatest power, the fascists and the communists managed to convince people that they represented a model of the future, including a more prosperous, more broadly shared prosperity than the capitalist West. No one ever believed that about Al Qaeda or about the Taliban, which was the closest they ever came to putting into power. And we've seen this in the Arab Spring now, that ideologically, there was virtually no power here. We've seen that when revolution did come to the Middle East, Al Qaeda was totally irrelevant to it.
And so I think the terrible irony of our response to 9/11 was that 9/11 created a certain kind of vulnerability in the United States. And that vulnerability has never left us since 9/11.
But the tragic mistake was not to recognize that in fact, the deeper vulnerability that Americans were heading into was not posed by Al Qaeda. It was not posed by the losers in the international political system. It was, in fact, posed by the winners. It was posed by the fact that many countries around the world, including very big countries like China and India, were learning to play the game of global capitalism very, very well. And that we were diverted from that challenge for years and years and years, with vast expenditures of money and governmental attention on a network that, yes, of course, needed to be focused on by the CIA and the FBI in conjunction, and Special Forces, but was not the central challenge to American power and to America's way of life.
And because we didn't do the things that we could have to deal with that emerging threat-- which, remember, was still a little bit more nascent 10 years ago, because we didn't deal with our crumbling economic infrastructure, because we didn't deal with the regulation of our financial system, because we didn't deal with the long-term budgetary problems that everyone knew were going to hit as a result of the baby boomers retiring.
In fact, because we dramatically exacerbated those things with huge amounts of spending on two wars and on very large tax cuts, we in fact left Americans as vulnerable to those forces of globalization-- not globalization the way we talked about in the 1990s, which was what America does to other people-- but the new kind of globalization, what others do to us, that we left average Americans as vulnerable to those real threats, those more profound and fundamental threats, as those people were in the Twin Towers on 9/11. When, in fact, we could have spent those years protecting them, beginning to build the kind of systems that would have allowed Americans to not be so vulnerable as they are today in the face of a global economic environment in which, for so many of them, their livelihoods are truly are at risk. Thank you very much.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Jonathan? And let me say that Peter Beinart only took eight minutes and 10 seconds.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Well, that means I've got 12.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: We can be more long-winded later on in the evening.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: OK. Thanks, Fred, Heiki, and Nick for making this possible. I want to just note by saying that 9/11 remains, especially for many in the Cornell community, of course and across the nation, an intensely emotional and too often tragic experience for many. I was in my hometown on September 9 and September 14 of 2001. But I'm going to stick with the analytics, not kind of the personal reaction to the crisis.
What I'm going to do is talk a little bit about the meaning of 9/11, the meaning of the American response, and where that leaves us today, what lessons I see for the future. So starting off, I must say I was not the least bit surprised by 9/11. By which I mean, I was completely surprised by 9/11.
And I can clarify that. I was actually almost embarrassingly completely surprised by the 9/11 attacks. I did not expect anything like that to happen. I didn't even fully comprehend it at first as it was going on.
But I was not surprised at all that there was a major, unanticipated, formative event in world politics. In fact, I had been waiting a long time for that event to come along. 9/11 now is about roughly the midway point of the first 20 years of the post-Cold War era. And in the first few years after the Cold War, international relations theorists and, less self-consciously, practitioners were largely confused. How was the world organized? What are the basic interests that explain what matters and why? What are the purposes of American power?
During the Cold War, for better or worse, the answers to these questions were blissfully clear. But after the Cold War and the aftermath of the euphoria, there was also considerable analytical and policy confusion, as there were no longer clear, unambiguous answers to these basic, comforting, orienting questions. And I expected at the time that those answers would become evident in the wake of some dramatic defining event, the responses to which-- the responses to which would forge a new framework for conceptualizing international relations.
In a way, very similar to what Robert Jervis once argued about the Korean War, that the Korean War was both "necessary" and "sufficient" to produce the Cold War as we understood it. And until we had that, we didn't know really what was going on.
And in the 1990s, kind of groping for a New American vision, the Clinton administration first kind of stumbled a bit uncertainly before finally settling on a project, a project of American-led globalization, the vanguard of which was a push at the domestic and international levels for an ambitious and forceful, unprecedented financial deregulation. These bipartisan projects, I would argue, reflected the arrogance that might be expected of a triumphant, hegemonic superpower. I would also argue that they were misguided and rooted in overconfidence.
And it's this overconfidence into the late 1990s then I think is the one underlying continuity from the Clinton years into the start of the Bush administration. Although the Bush administration's supremacy mongering was more overt, more unilateralist, and expressed more clearly in terms of kind of hard power, a self-conscious alertness to America's global military hegemony, and the need actively to assure its continued dominance.
After 9/11, and I would argue probably assisted implicitly, a fear. US hegemonic assertiveness morphed finally into what Peter has already said several times, a hubris, which I think was manifested especially by an egregious overestimation of what could be accomplished by the application of essentially irresistible American military power. This was a largely a mistake of the right, with its willful disregard at best of the limits to what the use of force can possibly achieve.
But I think it's important to remember that it was also a mistake made by some on the globalizing left who failed to recognize that the application of American power abroad, if in the service of what they themselves considered to be noble ends, would not necessarily be considered benign by other states. And this brings us to the Iraq War.
My central argument here is that 9/11 itself is the sound of one hand clapping. The implications of 9/11 can only be understood in the context of the choices made after it. This sets aside for the moment the war of necessity, the Afghan War, and brings us to the war of choice, Iraq.
There have been three major counterfactual moments in post-World War II American history, I would argue. There was the 1947 moment when the debate was settled in the United States, and it would become an internationally-oriented power, and it forged the world order that followed. This was a big fight and a huge choice, and it was world changing.
Less obviously dramatic at the time, but I think arguable in retrospect, was the 1968 assassination of Bobby Kennedy, which I think had a cascading effect, sending America down one contingent road instead of another in a way that profoundly shaped the nature of American politics and society for the 30 years that followed. And I think the 2003 choice to wage the Iraq War was a choice as consequential as those two other counterfactual moments.
The Afghan War, for all its current problems, was understood in every corner of the world to reflect the appropriate use of force rooted in the right of self-defense. The catastrophic Iraq War, which most scholars of international relations opposed as a geopolitically self-mutilating gesture, was rooted explicitly in a unilateral, misguided, and universally rejected American assertion of its right to engage in preventive war. That assertion, codified in the Bush Doctrine, was the basis upon which the Iraq War was fought, and that matters.
On this issue, I don't think I can improve upon what I wrote in January 2003, two months before the war, so I will quote from that. The Bush Doctrine "is based on erroneous assumptions about the nature of international relations, and it fails to understand the crucial distinction between military might and the achievement of political goals. As a result, the United States will be less able to achieve its most highly valued strategic objectives in the short, medium, and long run."
Included, what I see are among the consequences of that Iraq War of choice are, first, the rush to get to Iraq I believe hampered the military effort in Afghanistan. And we can trace some of our problems-- not all of them, certainly-- some of our problems in Afghanistan today to that choice.
More importantly, because politics always leads, I think the Iraq War led to a reinterpretation of American motives that hampered the international politics of the Afghan War. What was initially self-defense began to look more like empire building, a project endorsed by some prominent war advocates. And this affected the politics of the Afghan War, of assessments and behavior made by allies, made by adversaries, made by regional players, changing the entire context of that conflict.
A second consequence of the war-- sorry. Third consequence I'm up to. The bloody, protracted, and often brutal occupation and its association with America is now part of the way the US is perceived in the world, and I think it affects our ability to frame our claims in world politics on the basis of a certain type of American exceptionalism, which I think has always been an important part of American foreign policy.
I think it would be a mistake not to be very attentive to two other consequences that I think are a little less obvious to many. One is the hollowing out of our military. Our volunteer army has been stretched to the limit. It will take a long time to reconstitute our military. That is an opportunity cost I think that matters greatly.
And finally, this war of choice was understood by its makers to be a luxury good, something you buy painlessly on credit. And I think this is also worth discussing further. This was the first war in American history that was not associated with an attendant tax increase. The choice to finance the war on debt added to the macroeconomic vulnerabilities that contributed to the financial crisis. And perhaps even more importantly, inhibited the types of policy responses that could have done a better job of containing it. Those are two different things.
OK. So having said all that, the magical questions, where are we today, what have we learned, and what about the future? Where are we today? I think I'm somewhere close to what Fred was describing. I see a US that is overextended, bloodied, divided, and debt-ridden. And I think that each of these are legacies of the burdens of the Iraq War and how it was fought, and I think we bear those burdens with us as we move forward into the future.
But what have we learned? I don't know what we've learned. Here's what I think we should learn. First, and perhaps even foremost, I think we need to learn or remember that the world is an inescapably dangerous place. And here I might be disagreeing with Peter slightly in that I think we need to acknowledge there was some 9/10 complacency, the idea that there were not significant threats to American security. And I think to a certain extent, 9/11 can be seen as a tragic wake-up call to that cold truth, that the world remains always a very dangerous place.
Having said that, in recognizing the fact that the world is a dangerous place, I think it's also important to remember that there is no end zone. There is no absolute security. Even if our wars had somehow gone better, motivated political contestation will always we reemerge in new guises. And it is therefore crucial to recognize the limits to your power, the need to exercise it judiciously, and always, always to understand that power need be exercised to achieve understood political objectives. Because the game of politics will not end. It will just continue on to the next round.
As for the future, as we wind down two long, difficult wars, we observe a world teeming with tumultuous, in some cases exciting, but nevertheless still tumultuous politics, and we confront our own extraordinarily serious economic problems, I think we need more than ever to revisit those questions I talked about in the very beginning of my comments. Which is, we need more than ever to have a basic understanding as we move forward from this day on as to, what are indeed the purposes of American power? How do we articulate and understand what the American interest is?
I also think, for better or worse-- and I mean that sincerely-- America's destiny remains largely a function of decisions that it will make itself, that are generated by our own domestic political process. Which, again, I think at the moment looks to me like a mixed blessing. Thank you.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Professor van de Walle, organizers of the conference, and most of all, those of you who came in from what must be one of the most splendid late summer days in world history to come to attend, thank you.
Was the American response to September 11 of 2001 appropriate? Peter Beinart says, Al Qaeda is not as strong as Nazi Germany, which is true, but irrelevant. My friend Jonathan Kirshner has said, the war has left us overextended, bloodied, and broke, which is not true.
The fact that people can say such extraordinarily exaggerated things about the war in Iraq goes down to a deeper argument which I will try to uncover. That deeper argument was first articulated or most clearly articulated by my good friend, whose son tragically died in the war in Iraq, Andrew Bacevich.
That argument is essentially that America went insane on September 11, 2001. We went insane with rage. We were blinded by the desire for vengeance. We did things which no professor of international relations would ever endorse, and therefore, it must be bad.
We acted in rage and sought vengeance, creating a hyperpolarized divisive society which puts at risk the liberties of Americans and weakens America abroad. And all for what? All for nothing. We accomplished nothing in Iraq, and we don't even need to be in Afghanistan, as is proven by the fact that we are pulling our forces out of Afghanistan, though the problems created by Al Qaeda certainly remain, and the problems created by Islamic terrorism around the world certainly persist.
We went crazy. We were driven by blood, lust, and vengeance. I think at bottom, this is what is in the back of people's heads when they say that the war in Iraq was as bad and as catastrophic as it clearly was not.
Allow me to agree and to disagree with the proposition that America lost its senses in a fit of rage on September 11, 2001. We did go to war in Iraq, in part because of rage, but mostly because it was necessary to do so. If a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged, the United States was a benign nation whose house had been broken into and its inhabitants pistol-whipped.
We were enraged. We did have the sense that our house had been broken into. They had come here and killed us at home, and we were going to do something about it. I remember quite well that spirit of rage and that desire for vengeance. We were going to go back, we were going to go overseas, and we were going to do something to them that was going to make them wish they had never done that.
That's not a noble spirit or impulse. It may not have been a totally rational impulse. But it was there. And without that, I don't think we would have gone to war in Iraq. Certainly not in Afghanistan.
But we were not crazy. That national temper was what created a vote in the United States Senate of 77 to 23, endorsing the use of military force against Iraq, a resolution which was supported by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Not a measure supported and endorsed only by neoconservatives or certain segments of the globalizing left. It was a reaction of the American body politic to the fact that people had come here and killed us, and we were going to do something about it.
So there was rage. There was a desire for vengeance. But our response was not of a crazed nation or of a crazed person. What we did overseas was necessary. The actions that the United States had taken to counterterrorism prior to September 11, 2001, were clearly inadequate. The desire to conduct counterterrorist measures that were essentially anti-criminal in nature had failed.
The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was followed by a trial. The terrorists who were caught were dealt with in a criminal fashion. At that trial, the prosecutors were required to list the unindicted co-conspirators of the people who were being arrested and put on trial.
In other words, the people who had been uncovered as being capable and in a position to conduct further terrorist actions were publicly named. And that list of people was made available to Osama bin Laden, who was able to withdraw them, to hide them, to protect them, or to put them in places where we could not touch them. The criminal approach to counterterrorism was not working.
Our efforts, which were underway under President Clinton to find and kill Osama bin Laden consistently had failed because of the legal requirements associated with criminal pursuit of Osama bin Laden. There was a legal injunction out that Osama bin Laden had to be taken prisoner, and only if the effort to take him prisoner failed would the use of force against this person be authorized. And as we all know, Osama bin Laden was finally killed without reading him his Miranda rights.
The war on Saddam Hussein itself was necessary, because he was a threat to the United States and to the region. When the attack on Saddam Hussein began, he was undermining the oil embargo against him. The Food-for-Oil Programme was being duplicitously used by Saddam Hussein and oil companies to supply the Saddam Hussein regime with oil revenues, which he knew he could ultimately use to rearm Iraq.
This was the man who had invaded Kuwait, invaded Iran, had used chemical weapons against the Kurdish population of Iraq, against the Shiite population of Iraq, who was the only world leader to publicly applaud the events of September 11, because he said, the United States deserved to suffer. Even the government of Afghanistan, even the Taliban government did not publicly praise the September 11 attack, and simply denied that it had anything to do with it.
Saddam Hussein, as was determined by the commission that investigated the WMD status in Iraq, was bound and determined to reconstitute his WMD program when the heat was off. Yes, he did destroy his chemical weapons, but he destroyed his chemical weapons because he saw that the United States military was coming to get him. Once that military pressure was taken off, he would have done everything within his power to reconstitute that threat, both to the region and to the United States.
We have been enjoined to think about not only what we achieved by the war, but the costs of the war, and that is quite reasonable. But we don't see many of the achievements of the war. They are not visible. The war fought against Iraq was a preventive war, explicitly so declared. By definition, preventive wars, if they are successful, prevent things which you never then see happen. There are many people in the long history of the 20th century who wish Britain and France had conducted a preventive war against Adolf Hitler in 1937 or 1938.
But as a thought experiment, let's consider. Suppose Britain and France had gone and attacked Germany at that time. What would have been the result? There would have been a military coup against Hitler, more than likely. Democracy in Germany would have been set back. The economic recovery of Germany would have ended. There would have been diplomatic condemnation of Britain and France by Italy, Spain, Portugal, and of course, the Soviet Union.
All the costs of the military action against Hitler would have been visible. And no one could have said, but we stopped World War II. The death of tens of millions of people were prevented. People will say, you're out of your mind. That never would have happened. How can you say-- how can you prove that would have happened?
If the war against Saddam Hussein had not been conducted, what would the world have looked like? He would have wiggled out of the oil sanctions. He would have reconstituted his WMD programs. He would still be a force for instability in the region. And if the war against Saddam Hussein had not occurred, one unintended consequence of the war would not have also occurred.
Though we did not plan it, the war in Iraq turned into a battle against Al Qaeda worldwide. Because Al Qaeda fighters and Islamic terrorists from all over the world, from the Balkans, from Africa, from Afghanistan, came to Iraq to kill Americans, and they were killed. The classic problem of counterterrorism is that it is very hard to find terrorists who hide from you.
Because the United States went to Iraq, the terrorists came to us, and were killed in large numbers. And that is a good thing. And that is part of the reason why we have to worry less about Islamic terrorism today. We did not go to war with that intent, but just as we must take and acknowledge the unintended costs, we should view and acknowledge the unintended benefits.
The human costs of the war are real. Most of those human costs were borne not by Americans, but by the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we should mourn their deaths as sincerely as we mourn the deaths of our fellow citizens. But the reason to prevail in Afghanistan and Iraq is so that their deaths, like the deaths of the Arabs who were willing to face tanks in the Arab Spring, the reason to persist and to prevail is so that their deaths, their sacrifice, will not be in vain.
As for some of the claims about the other costs, American civil liberties, if you will forgive me, are not in jeopardy. Or if they are in jeopardy, they are in jeopardy because President Obama has continued in place the communications intercepts and the interrogation centers in Guantanamo that President Bush initiated.
Are American politics irrevocably fractured? Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1960s will just smile bitterly. Because American campuses were far more prone to upheaval at that period of time. There were far more deaths in the streets, there were far more political assassinations in the United States in the 1960s than there are today. If you want to think about a period in which where America was divided, you can find them, but this is not one of them.
Is the United States' position in the world in tatters? Nonsense. American power is intact. European hostility to the United States is real, and would have existed one way or the other, and will not and has not prevented cooperation with the United States when European interests coincide with those of the United States, as they have in the Balkans, and as they do coincide today in Libya.
Of all the claims that I must dismiss, the idea that the United States is bankrupt because of the war in Iraq is the most worthy of derision. 40 years of deficit spending, a failure to take into account the inevitable geriatric bulge of people of my generation is responsible for the economic woes of the United States. Not the war in Iraq. Not the war in Afghanistan.
Finally, to close, I have acknowledged that the wars fought by America were in part wars of fury and of vengeance. So let me say a word in praise of vengeance. The history of the human race, the history of wars in which some groups have survived politically and physically and some groups have perished. The real question that we are debating today is whether we are at the end of that history or not. And I believe clearly that we are not.
And in that world, it is not enough for the United States to be nice and to be liked. We can't only be nice, and we will never be liked, because we are too powerful. And because we are so powerful, we will be hated for what we do and for what we do not do. We should not seek or try to create hostility, but we cannot avoid it.
In this world, which is still a harsh world, it is important that our enemies know that if they come into our house and kill our people, they will suffer our vengeance. On September 11, the enemy came into our house. We did what we had to do. The meek have not yet inherited the world. Thank you.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: OK. Great. Well, as you see, we have an interesting array of deferring views on our topic. So let me redirect a bit and ask each of the panelists a couple questions.
First, to the last speaker, Professor Rosen, who suggested that the reaction and this desire for revenge was inevitable. But let me ask him, and go where I think Jonathan Kirshner wanted to go, and ask whether not only was this reaction actually really inevitable, but how can one allay the fact that widespread outrage in the US was manipulated for very obvious partisan purposes by a administration that worried about its prospects for re-election? And so we're in the realm of partisan politics rather than a sense of generalized moral outrage.
Secondly, Professor Rosen, you started your discussion by criticizing Professor Beinart's comparison of Al Qaeda to Hitler, but I noticed that you had your own Hitler comparison when you compared Iraq to Hitler. And I--
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: No, I did not. I used a Hitlerian counterfactual, but I did not compare.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: OK. Thirdly, you ended by suggesting that it was inevitable that a powerful country be disliked. But I wonder if you're underestimating the opportunity cost of the tremendous rise in anti-Americanism that has arisen, and that has become its own security factor. OK.
To Professor Kirshner, I would like you to address this idea that powerful countries can't be liked, and that American liberals in particular too often want to be liked rather than feared and respected. Second of all, could you take on Professor Rosen's comment about the sort of opportunity cost of war being nonsense, and that there is really no hollowing out of the military?
And thirdly, I want you to push this idea of a frame. Is terror and the war on terror as a general frame for discussions of American foreign policy, has this peaked? Or do you think it will sustain, it will remain the sort of dominant paradigm for the time being?
To professor Beinart, Professor Rosen spoke about the Senate resolution and the support of the war by people like John Kerry and Clinton. Given the fact that I understand and remember-- indeed, it colored my own attitudes to the war-- that you supported the war, I wonder if you want to address that issue of the sort of partisan politics and the climate in Washington at that time?
Finally, Professor Rosen, suggested that the efforts by Clinton and then by Obama, the sort of timid discussions by Obama to criminalize the war on terror and take it sort of out of the foreign policy and military frame, he suggested that this was and will be a failure. And I wonder if you would talk to that. And perhaps talk about why, if we are talking about such a disaster and a tragedy, the liberal, quote, unquote, "administration of Obama" has basically continued so many of these tragic and ill-considered policies.
I'll give you each a couple minutes to address these minor topics.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: In the order--
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Why don't we do in the same order as previously?
PETER BEINART: Well, let me-- I'm glad you mentioned my own support for the Iraq War, because it actually gives me a chance to, among other things, plug my two books, both of which are really about efforts to grapple with why I supported the Iraq War, why the magazine that I edited, The New Republic, supported the Iraq War, and to try to come to terms with the lessons of having been wrong.
I think there were two factors that explained why so many people, so many liberals and so many Democrats-- not all, but many-- Professor Rosen is right about this-- supported the Iraq War. The first is-- and this is really what my second book, The Icarus Syndrome, was really all about-- was I think the sense of hubris that emerged, particularly for people whose formative experience was post-Cold War, of having seen a series of military successes in wars that were not that costly, either in terms of American life-- sometimes they were very costly in terms of the lives of others-- and in terms of American money that led to an overestimation of, as Professor Kirshner said, of the efficacy of American military power.
Essentially a response to a previous generation that arguably had been so burdened by the Vietnam War that it saw Panama and the Gulf War and Bosnia and Kosovo as the equivalent of Vietnam. I think some of us went to the other extreme. And because those other things were not Vietnam, we assumed that nothing could be Vietnam.
The second force, which I think came into play more for practical politicians, was very self-evidently the feeling that George W. Bush was an incredibly powerful president who had inherited a long-term Republican foreign policy advantage, particularly activated when people were afraid and who feared, very rightly, that they would be clobbered mercilessly politically unless they inoculated themselves. That doesn't excuse what they did. Just as my explanation, frankly. Doesn't excuse what I did. But I think those are the best explanations I can offer.
On the other questions, I think that Professor Rosen has set up a series of straw men here. To say that you needed to move away from the paradigm that we had when we prosecuted the people we indicted for the first World Trade Center bomb does not lead you to need to support the war in Iraq. I He may be absolutely right that there were legal constraints, that the idea that we could not shoot and kill Osama bin Laden, but had to try to arrest him, was something that we should have done away. I think we obviously were going to do away with it. That vanished essentially the minute 9/11 hit, that kind of paradigm.
The question is, was there some middle ground between where we were in 1993 and invading Iraq? I mean, Professor Rosen is a very smart man, and I would say actually in some ways a courageous man to come in a kind of two-on-one argument in front of what will probably be a left-leaning argument, is a left-leaning crowd. But it is still striking that even someone as smart and honest as him, in order to defend the Iraq War, has to imply that Iraq attacked us on 9/11, which is exactly what he did when he said, we were a benign nation who had its house broken into.
I mean, if that doesn't bring you back to the Bush years-- yes, we had our house broken into by Al Qaeda. Iraq had nothing to do with it. Professor Rosen has not said that Iraq had anything to do with it. But it's very important to remember that if it were not for the belief that many Americans had that Iraq had something to do with it, there would never have been a serious debate about attacking 9/11, because there wasn't a serious debate about attacking 9/11 on 9/10, even with the same cast of characters in office. So this is the kind of rhetorical sleight of hand one has to resort to in order to justify the Iraq War.
Let me just lastly-- on the question, on the third question that I was asked, which is about the continuation of policies in the Bush administration. I think-- I'm sorry. Under the Obama administration. I think the Obama administration has been handcuffed by first the power of inertia, essentially pushed by the American military.
I think one of the kind of weird and tragic things that happened after 9/11 was that we gave the American military essentially almost impossible tasks, which was essentially to figure out how to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we also said essentially to them, you can do it on a blank check. And people running the American military are so remarkable, so extraordinary that they actually figured out a way that you could actually do it perhaps on a blank check.
And in fact, many people in the military essentially made the whole focus of their careers this counterinsurgency doctrine, and were very invested in it by the time the Bush administration came into power. Such that if you read Bob Woodward's book about Obama's Afghan policy, what becomes pretty clear is he tried to put serious limits on our military involvement in Afghanistan. And again and again, the military, which was invested in this counterinsurgency doctrine, simply wouldn't listen to him. I think that's a very big factor. The other big factor is the same kind of political fears and anxieties that still hang over the heads of many Democrats even 10 years later.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Perhaps Professor Rosen could respond very quickly, and then--
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: He's going to want to respond to me too.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: He'll respond to you as well later.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Share his--
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Go ahead.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Let me deal with the most striking comment that Peter Beinart made, that I use a rhetorical sleight of hand to equate the attacks on September 11 with Saddam Hussein, which I did not do.
I gave the reasons why it was necessary to go to war with Saddam Hussein, which were the nature of his threats to the region, his interest in reconstituting his WMD programs when it was possible to do so, and the fact that unintendedly the war in Iraq turned into a way of killing Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. I did not say we had to go into Iraq in order to deal with Al Qaeda. As I said, it turned out that we wound up killing a lot of Al Qaeda there, but that was an unintended consequence of the war.
We did not, Mr. Chairman or Mr. Moderator the United States did not engage in partisan rhetoric to conflate the war. Everybody in the American government, everybody on both sides of the aisle, believed that Saddam Hussein in 2003 had weapons of mass destruction. The government of Great Britain believed it, the government of Russia, all the governments with whom we have consulted had very serious concerns about the presence of those weapons.
Again, it's hard to put yourself back into those days. Remember the anthrax attacks. Remember the crash-- entirely an accidental crash. People were afraid. People were seeking to do something. And I acknowledge that there was this emotional component to our actions. I didn't say we went to war because Iraq attacked us. I said, without the Al Qaeda attack, we would not have attacked Iraq. And I think that is politically true.
So I'm not trying to set up straw men. I am not, more importantly, trying to lie to you by saying, somehow in a devious way that Saddam Hussein was really behind September 11, and that's why we went to war. I'm explicitly saying, he was not. There were contacts between Iraqi officials and Al Qaeda. That's not why we went to war. We went to war. against Iraq because of the threat they represented to the region and the threat they represented to us.
And that threat was believed in by people across the American spectrum, by everyone in the American intelligence community in the United States, and in the intelligence communities abroad. The widely shared belief in the American academy that George Bush systematically lied to the American people to trick us into war is simply not true.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Jonathan?
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Thanks, Nick. Just a couple of items. To respond to your first question about liking, I want to be very clear about this. I am not in the like business. I don't worry if we're liked, and I think if they say they like us, they're probably lying.
I'm in the politics business, and so my point was really that our behavior will be interpreted through political lenses abroad. And the way in which people interpret our behavior informs how they will respond to it. And thus, their perceptions of our intentions and motivations can be good or bad for our interests abroad. And I think phrasing it in terms of opinion polls or liking is not the-- those are good intervening variables, but not really what's capturing my concerns about the consequences of certain acts that the US takes, and how well they will be in bringing about political goals the US is interested in achieving.
In the interest of not having Steve's hypnotizing performance dominate all of our conversation, I just want to point out two small disagreements I have with Peter in which I want to count myself in this debate as kind of thinking you underestimate the danger associated with Al Qaeda and other threats that exist in the world. So I think on the average day, Steve and I probably have a closer view as to how scary the world is. We just disagree on, what's the best way to go about living in a scary world?
And I wasn't comfortable-- we won't have time to discuss it in this debate-- about the parallels you so quickly drew between the economic conflicts we might be facing and the military conflicts that we face. Although I do think that those problems are real, and I do think that the opportunity costs of the war were important in many of those regards. But I would have engaged that differently.
Several points now turning to Steve. So in my first draft I wrote bankrupt, but I crossed it out, because we're not bankrupt. And my phrase was debt-ridden. And we are debt-ridden.
And I don't think that's a small difference, because I do think the war was fought on credit. And I think it was fought on credit because I think that they were afraid to pay for it. And so the choice of the Iraq War does get implicated in not the bankruptcy issue-- I don't think we're bankrupt. I think it's a debt issue. We're unwilling to sign our checks. That's different. You can have the money, but you still have to-- if you don't pay your bills, then you're debt-ridden. And so I think that distinction matters, and I think that that was an important part of the way in which we conducted ourselves across that entire decade in a very consequential way.
I must also say that I know your views on a lot of things, and I respect them, and I don't think that you were saying things that were technically untrue. But I heard lumping too. I would have come away from this talk thinking that you were saying that Iraq had broken into our house. So the way it came across to my ears was the kind of lumping of the wars and the breaking house metaphor, did seem to bring me back to the smooshing of those two conflicts that I think was part of the packaging toward the war.
You did nevertheless quite explicitly give a list of reasons about the Iraq War, about why Saddam was a bad guy, which he surely was. And then you explicitly embraced the idea of preventive war. And here is just a kind of analytical disagreement.
I think preventive war's a blank check. I think it's a blank check for us. I think it's a blank check for others around the globe. And I think it's an invitation to serial catastrophe. I think if you have to go to war on the basis of preventive war doctrine, you're making monumental mistakes, and you're making the world a more dangerous place. And in a longer debate, we could fight out the Nazi counterfactual.
And on the war more generally, my favorite analytic device is the write it down and slide it across the table test. We did sit in an office, I assume, some time in the run up to the war. And if we had each written down what we would have found to be a tolerable cost of the war or a tolerable outcome to the war and just given a long list-- if this happened, that was pretty good. If these things happened, that was pretty bad.
Then you kind of fold it up, put it in an envelope, slide it across the table, I think most people, even many war supporters, would have written down things in the intolerable letter that have very much come to pass. And I think we have to evaluate the war on that basis, not on trying to look back and say, well, we got these benefits from it anyway.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: OK. Well, why don't we--
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Do I get a chance to respond to Jon? Or that gives me two bites at the apple, and that's not fair?
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Go ahead.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: I don't mind being bitten.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Good. And then we'll take questions. So are you going to have people come up? But, yeah. Go ahead.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Just very quickly, on smooshing, which is a bad thing, I was trying to unsmoosh. I was saying that the September 11 attacks primed and the United States emotionally to do things against Iraq which they never would have been willing to do otherwise. And I think that's simply politically true. But still, the reasons for going to war against Iraq may be good or bad. I listed the ones that I thought.
On the issue of debt just very briefly, the reason I get slightly impatient with this is the housing crisis, the housing bubble is not the result of the war in Iraq. The bailout program, with successes and failures, is not the result. 40 years of American deficit-- for God's sakes. The fact that Americans are net dissavers is not result of the Iraq War. I mean, we have big financial problems. The fact that there are lots of baby boomers getting old is not the result of the Iraq War. And if you're worried about a hollowing out of the American military, please vote against the proposed budget cuts in the American defense apartment that the Obama administration is preparing to roll out.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Nick, I want one sentence.
It's a subtle point on the debt. It was the pro-cyclical accumulation of massive debts coming from a period of surplus that hamstrung us at the time of a financial crisis, so that the stimulus and the policy reaction that we were able to get it were inhibited. And now we see ourselves handcuffed, because people can point to the massive debts that we have accumulated.
And I do think had we just followed kind of Clinton-era policies through the decade of the 2000s, we would have still had the financial crisis. We would have still had all the problems that you referred to, that I've complained about in other settings. But I think that our policy hands would have been less tied by the mistakes of debt accumulation that were made that are attributable mostly of the Bush administration, and the way it fought its wars.
PETER BEINART: All right. Bush also inherited a surplus. That's my sentence.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Sorry? Can you say that again?
PETER BEINART: I said, Bush also inherited a surplus. That was my one sentence.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: OK. Why don't we open the floor up? Please tell us your name, and keep your question short so we can get as many as possible. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Hi. My name's Noah [INAUDIBLE]. I want to thank all of you guys for coming. This has been great. Professor Rosen, I had a great lunch with you. Very much respect your opinion. But I just have a quick question.
This summer, when I got to Cornell, at my house outside, there was a huge fly problem. And some of my friends decided to create fly traps. So they put out half-eaten yogurt containers, and they caught all these flies in the yogurt containers. And they thought that they were catching all the flies. Me and my other friends were in another point of view, which we thought they were attracting the flies with their yogurt traps. Huge point of contention I'm not willing to relent.
But the question I'd like to ask you is, you say that an unintended consequence of the Iraq War is that we drew all these terrorists, which implies that there was a finite amount of terrorists around the world who were then drawn to this great opportunity to do battle with the Great Satan. Is it not possible that instead, what we did was create a narrative for recruitment that then garnered all this support around the Muslim world, therefore drawing terrorists to Iraq? Thank you.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: You come eat my lunch, and then you give me a hard question.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: That's OK. A very reasonable question, and thank you for asking it, because it allows me to expatiate more on the true dimensions of the issue. The real issue is not-- clearly, the number of terrorists in the world is a variable. If you take actions which create more, then even though you kill some, you're worse off-- and that's perfectly logical in truth. So it's an imperial question.
We do have some social science studies conducted by Jason Lyall at the Yale University, which shows, counter to what most of our intuitions are, that the use of indiscriminate fire power against areas which harbor terrorists in fact reduces the incidence of terrorist recruitment. Because presumably, there is a social effect in which people said, just don't do that stuff. It gets us killed.
In the particular case of Al Qaeda in Iraq, I think the idea that we created a narrative which somehow globally produces a larger number of terrorists is possible. But again, you would have to, I think on your part, spell out more of just how that worked. As opposed to the more national impulse, which is terrorism is created by local grievances. Terrorism is created by people who come and hurt you where you are. Or terrorism is created by anomalous individuals who are drawn from whole bunches of different reasons into terrorist activities, and in ways which are not simply the result of the construction of any kind of narrative.
But I think one thing we can look at-- and we will be looking at this-- whether the incidence of terrorism worldwide is going up or down. Because if the global supply of terrorists is going down-- and the incidence of terrorism worldwide has gone down. The number of terrorist events went up in 2004, 2005 because of what was going on in Iraq. But there does seem to have been a draining effect that there were not an infinite number of terrorists. More of them were in Iraq, less of them were elsewhere.
AUDIENCE: I'd like to thank the panel again for coming. I wanted to ask, how is this pair of wars different from any other war in American history, whether it's a new Vietnam, whether it's a new Pearl Harbor, and whether we'll be seeing the tactics and methodology of conducting such a war in the future, in the post-Cold War era?
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: I can take a crack at it, but Steve's the military historian on the panel.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: The Iraq War-- I could be wrong. The Iraq War might not have on balance been necessary, and might not have been to the interest of the United States. I'm perfectly prepared to discuss that and argue it. But what is not controversial is the war in Iraq and its costs to the United States was much smaller than the Korean War, much, much smaller than the cost of the Vietnam War, and was smaller on net than the United States war in the Philippines, undertaken at the beginning of the 20th century.
Although we talk about it and we are outraged by it one way or the other, it was a small war. It was a very small war. And its impact, therefore, we would expect to be, on net, quite small.
Whether or not it will be repeated, I can't answer, but it's an interesting question. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said, anybody who proposes another kind of war like the war we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will want to have their heads examined. But I'm old enough to remember that Lyndon Johnson said, you know, I'm not going to send American boys off to Asia to fight a war that Asian boys should be fighting. In other words, there's a long history of American political leaders saying, we'll never do this kind of thing again, and wind up doing it again.
I don't know what we will do if the government of Pakistan implodes. I will not-- I don't know what we'll do if the government of Afghanistan turns into a Taliban-like government. But the idea that the United States will never get involved militarily on the mainland of Asia against an Islamic enemy seems to me still possible.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Just a quick response. I think for me, the big difference of our recent wars is, love them or hate them, win, lose, or draw, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, even Vietnam, I think we had a clearer understanding of what our political objectives were. That is, if we won and left behind something, we knew what we wanted to do, and we had a vision for doing it.
Now that didn't work out in many of those cases. But what I find particularly unsettling about these wars is I think there was much less of that, both in the pre-war planning and in the ongoing operations of the war. Which even, in kind of months of moments that are a success, didn't really fill in that grand scheme of, so here's the post-war political vision. Here's the political objectives that we're fighting this war for, and here's how we're going to get to that end zone in this way. It was kind of like moving forward one attempt at a time.
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: And I agree completely with Jonathan on this point. He trotted out his pre-war article on April 1, 2003. I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal as saying, the American military is about to win this war against the Iraqi army. It has not done anything to prepare to actually make the Iraqi people secure once the war against the Iraqi army is over.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Peter, do you--
PETER BEINART: I just think it's worth saying that-- I'm not an economist. But when Professor Rosen says that this was a war that didn't cost us very much, he may be right in historical terms. I just think it's worth knowing, he's arguing against people like Joseph Stiglitz, a pretty esteemed economist who calculates the cost in trillions of dollars. And that's not to say it's the single biggest driver of our financial problems or our budgetary problems. I don't believe it is. But I think it's insignificant. You're going to be arguing against some pretty serious economic firepower who would say it is.
I would just say, I think that one other difference between this war and past wars, which I think is particularly disturbing, is that this war has really been forgotten by the American people. It is striking to me, if you look at cable TV or you listen to presidential candidates, you very rarely hear much discussion on the stump or on cable talk shows about the wars in Afghanistan and the wars in Iraq anymore.
And I think that's a function, of course, of the fact that we've essentially outsourced these wars to a fairly small part of the American population that's not in much of a position to really vocalize its protest. And I think that is, to me, one of the really disturbing cultural elements of the war that I think has particularly been the case in the last two or three years.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Good.
AUDIENCE: Yes. I'd like to thank the panel as well. My question is for Professor Rosen. When you gave your list of reasons why the United States invaded Iraq, you didn't mention the idea that the United States would spread freedom and democracy to countries who don't have it. And I'd like to know if you thought that that played a role or should have played a role in the invasion of Iraq?
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: Yes. It was part of my motivation for supporting the war. I thought the tyrannical nature of the Saddam Hussein regime was such that I thought the effort at regime change, to use the now famous or infamous term, was justified. And I was on a panel with Pierre [INAUDIBLE], who later became a member of the [INAUDIBLE]. And he also ultimately support that position.
We have not made much progress on that front. If I would plead guilty to the claim of hubris, it would be in that area, that the hopes for the development of something more moderate in terms of Iraqi politics was too high on my part. The belief among neoconservatives, of which I am one, was that the East European model might be relevant to the Middle East. That once you remove the autocratic hand of a tyrannical regime, the natural liberal impulses of a society will re-emerge, and you'll have a middle class.
I had engaged in conversations with Bernard Lewis who said, there's a large and vigorous Iraqi middle class, which is just waiting to be allowed to take its proper place in Iraqi life. And I believed it. We now have a better, more better sense of what is and is not likely to happen in the near term. It's more than likely, if it's ever to be successful, to be an effort that's going to last decades.
But you and I, I think, can look at what our reaction is to the events in Libya and Algeria and Syria, maybe in the future in Iran, and realize what kind of dilemma we're facing. These are men and women whose human aspirations are ones that we share. These are men and women who have a shot at liberating themselves, and they're asking for our help.
And I'm not a realist. It's only the cold, hard calculus of power which lead to terror. Because I'm an American, and Americans include the support for our values abroad as part of their national interest.
So is it possible, is it legitimate for us to consider what we might be able to do? Yes. But then as Jonathan correctly says, it comes down to nuts and bolts. What can you really do?
And what we can really do, and what I hope we really do not do, is stay in Iraq. Stay in Iraq with a limited military presence, which creates enough stability to give the current Iraqi regime more of a fighting chance. Which it may not be able to take advantage of. But it's going to have a harder time if we walk away from them.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: I guess we have time for two more questions. So go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Well, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I have a two-sided question. First, is it true or is it not true that Saddam Hussein, prior to the invasion of Iraq, was negotiating huge contracts with Chinese state oil companies and was moving to price his oil in euros? And second, does the further study of terrorism require the acknowledgement of the tyranny of industrial dominance state corporate misleadership? Thank you.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Why don't we take the second question? And then we can go around. And maybe you can incorporate answers. So go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. My question's mostly directed towards Professor Rosen as well. Two comments and a question. They won't be purely comments, I guess. But I had some issues with your basic-- the way I interpreted it, you're basically justifying what was happening at Guantanamo based on your disagreement with what was going on in terms of treating terrorists as criminals before September 11. And I'm curious if you think the ands of maybe protecting American citizens justify the means of Guantanamo?
My second question is related to the first question that was asked, about killing terrorists in Iraq, and the fact that we have killed terrorists there, but without really acknowledging the human costs of the American military where thousands of people have died. And I hear a lot of times people say, well, we haven't had another attack on American soil. But you have had thousands of American soldiers being killed. Yes, there have been terrorists killed also, but there is a cost to that.
And my final question is, I hear a lot people saying, the reason we can't take preventative action in Iran, a la your Nazi Germany counterfactual, is because we've been so spread out from Iraq and Afghanistan. And I wonder what you think about that theory, that we can't take preventative action in Iran, given that we're so spread thin? Thank you.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: OK. We were going to do a wrap-up with three minutes each. So maybe I can ask you to take four minutes each and answer these last two questions in your final wrap-ups. That OK? So let's see. We're going to go in, I guess, once again, the same order?
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: Well, you always say that, but then you switch it.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: So Peter.
PETER BEINART: OK. I think, to state the obvious, these questions about whether it was worth invading Iraq, whether it was worth even invading Afghanistan, are all ultimately about trade-offs. Was there a potential threat from Saddam Hussein? OK We acknowledge Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. But perhaps he could have built weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps he could have had, again, chemical and biological weapons in particular, which would have been easier for them to accuse. I think we'd all agree that the nuclear weapons program would have probably taken decades.
So he had had chemical and biological weapons. How exactly would he have gotten them to the United States to kill large numbers of Americans? Is it possible? Yes, it's possible. He didn't have much of a connection with Al Qaeda. He didn't have the missiles to get it to us. Maybe he could have attacked some US troops that were nearby. It's possible. There was a threat.
The question is, when you're facing the trade-offs, the kind of savage, budgetary trade-offs that America is now facing, and that Steven Rosen, he's wrote and said, in fact, that we actually had some reason to believe we would be facing. We have a real unemployment rate of goodness knows what. You know, 16%, higher. People are saying, we can't afford unemployment insurance for those people. They'll say, actually, sorry. We don't have the money to do disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irene. We're firing teachers by vast numbers because so many of our states are bankrupt. In that situation, does the trade-off make sense?
And to put it slightly more personally, since I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old, and my wife's sister has a six-year-old and a two-year-old. And when she deploys to Iraq in a few months-- sorry, to Afghanistan. She's already been to Iraq. She's going to Afghanistan in a few months, for six months.
And we talk about why it is that she will be leaving her six-year-old and her two-year-old for six months, and I try to explain to her, well, you know, it's conceivable that were we to leave Afghanistan too quickly, there would be instability, and perhaps the Taliban could reconstitute. Perhaps they could retake the country. Again, perhaps they would not have learned the lesson of what happened to them when they played around with Al Qaeda last time. Perhaps, although Al Qaeda has been very, very, very badly beaten, they could come back and realign again, and send another group of hijackers perhaps. And this time, we would again let down our guard.
One can't even make those arguments, in all honesty, in the face of a woman who's about to leave her six-year-old and her two-year-old to go and spend six months in Afghanistan in a war that the American people have forgotten about, and that we are fighting because of inertia, and that virtually nobody seriously believes is really in the end going to have any outcome in terms of what ultimately becomes of Afghanistan again, let alone American security. It's simply an argument you can make in academic circles. You can't make it in the face of my sister-in-law. And ultimately, I think that's what these trade-offs are about.
JONATHAN KIRSHNER: All right. Thanks. Just a quick response to one of the questions about Iraq and the euro, I'm in a position to understand this question, and I beg all of you not to dwell on it. There were lots of good reasons to oppose the Iraq War, and sometimes things get bandied about the internet and then seized upon. By It's beyond my imagination that anybody who was constructing this war was thinking anywhere near that type of thing. And I mention that not to pick on the question, but to urge people to focus on the huge chunks of evidence we have in front of us, and not to go out searching for other things that we may not need, and may in fact distract us from the central issues at hand.
And I'll take two minutes to summarize what I think those central issues are. I don't have much to add to what I've already said, but I will kind of try and emphasize some key themes very briefly. Again, I do think that 9/11 served as a reminder that the world is a dangerous place. But I want to bracket that with the further reminder that it will remain always a dangerous place, that political contestation, violent and dangerous political contestation, will form and reform. And there is no magic wand you can wave over a problem and make that problem go away and be done once and for all.
And that given this, it really is important to be aware of the limits of one's own power. If you can't end the game, all you can do is shake the board. And then you're going to play the next round. And so you have to think through what the consequences of every action you take are going to be.
And you'll not be surprised to hear me say that the response to 9/11, by which I mean the choice of the Iraq War, was a blunder that crystallized the meaning of 9/11 for the world political order. And to understand 9/11, I think we need to understand it in that context, because it need not have been. The world could have gone on another counterfactual branch had we followed through on aspects of the Afghan War and not followed through on the Iraq War.
The response to 9/11, the choice of the Iraq War, I think taught us lessons that tragically we should have already learned. One is, again, that war is only meaningful in its political context, that force only works not if it knocks down buildings or kills the bad guys, but advances the underlying political goals for which it is introduced. And it is the limits to that that reflect the true limits to force.
And also, touching on the question Nick raised earlier to me is that war also has international political consequences. It creates the context through which people anticipate and try and understand your behavior. Friends, foes, and bystanders alike respond to our behavior, not to our rhetoric, and they behave accordingly.
Finally, a topic we haven't touched on but I wanted to mention before we left here today, I think 9/11 has raised important issues for the meaning of the United States. It is now, as we gather to observe 10 years after 9/11. And I was one of those professors that expected additional deadly attacks on the homeland 10 years ago. I was wrong about that. Even if the few attacks that we averted had gone through, I still would have radically overestimated the amount of terror attacks that would have taken place on US soil over the intervening 10 years if I had written down my guess on an envelope and kind of passed it across the table.
But I still want to dwell on this issue of potential future attacks, because had there been additional significant attacks, I think there would have been a real possibility that civil liberties in the US would actually have been radically circumscribed, as opposed to the erosions that we observed in the decade of the OTS. There was, as Steve called our attention to, real panic in the air. And I would not discount the possibility of this recurring, should there be a spate of serious terrorist attacks that could occur in the United States. And we need, I think, to be preventively guardians against the consequences of that kind of panic, should we again be faced with acts of catastrophic terrorism directed on our soil.
We need to choose our wars and defend our borders in ways that are consistent with our core values. Otherwise, our wars won't be worth winning and our borders won't be worth defending.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Thank you. Professor Rosen?
STEPHEN PETER ROSEN: The questions that were put to me were good and hard, and I will try to answer them honestly. With regard to the practices we have adopted with regard to prisoners of illegal combatants in Guantanamo and elsewhere, some of them were necessary, as I believe has been demonstrated by the continuance of those policies by President Obama, as particularly Guantanamo retentions. Some of them are shameful. The behavior at Abu Ghraib-- more heads than did roll should have rolled. It was horrible, and it was not excusable.
As Jonathan and Peter pointed out, the fact that what we were doing before September 11 was not adequate does not justify anything and everything that goes beyond that. It has to be reasonable. It has to be correct. And some of what we have done has not been.
As for the claim that we're not doing something about Iran today because we are overstressed because of Iraq, it is an interesting thing to ask it. Why aren't the Israelis taking action against Iran? They're not overstretched by the war in Iraq.
I think the reason the Israelis are not taking military action against Iraq-- they're obviously taking other actions against Iraq, and perhaps we are too-- is the same reason that I am currently still opposed to the use of military force against Iran. We have no confidence we could locate the proper things to attack, given the extensive underground tunneling and deception efforts mounted by the Iranian government. We could conduct a large-scale bombing campaign and really not do any significant damage, while still causing a great deal of political uproar and perhaps strengthening the Iranian regime at home, and maybe even abroad.
But the hardest question you asked me, and the hardest question which Peter in his wrap-up alluded to was the human cost. And not at some abstract level, but the level of looking at people in the face and talking to them about the costs of the war, which is real.
I don't have children fighting in the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. I do have young men who I babysat when they were three or four years old who have gone off and fought. I have numerous students that I taught while they were at Harvard who have gone off to three tours of duty in Iraq. I saw them before they went, and I saw them when they came home.
So Peter, I don't dismiss, and I share with you, the pain of having to ask a very small and focused group of Americans to bear the burdens that some of us at least think are necessary. But the response to that, or at least to me the proper response to that, is not to forget them. Not to forget the war, not to forget why they are fighting those wars. And to honor them, and to take care of them properly, which I think we should do, and which I think, to be honest, we are doing by being here in this room, by having this discussion. So the fact that there are these human costs, and they are very, very real, doesn't mean that we should not undertake them, and it does not mean certainly that we should ignore them.
NICK VAN DE WALLE: Great. Well, let me remind you that there's now a reception in the back, as well as a book signing in the back. So I encourage you all to come, and maybe continue the Q&A directly. In the meantime, let's give a good round of applause.
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Peter Beinart, Jonathan Kirshner and Stephen Peter Rosen debated the effects of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the state and status of the United States, in the Lund Critical Debate, Sept. 12, 2011 in Statler Auditorium. The debate was moderated by Cornell professor of government Nicolas Van De Walle.
The Lund Critical Debate Series, sponsored by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, brings to campus prominent speakers in international affairs.