I got an email from my friend the hot-shot lawyer in Paris, whom I shall refer to as ParisLawyerPundit. He’s an American, but grew up all over the place in Europe, so he is a genuinely trans-Atlantic guy. PLP is also a product of the University of Chicago Econ Dept., so he is some kind of honorary ChicagoBoy, too. PLP described how an American pundit of his acquaintance was on French TV last night:
… [H]e tried to convince French politicians and pundits that just because the US is outraged over 9/11 et seq. the unilateral decision to station 200,000 troops on the border at circa. $100 million / day is cause sufficient to stop waiting, forget international law, and Just Do-It, and unilaterally regime-change a despicable dictatorship. I think Zbig Brzezezeinski is right on the money when he says, the “global legitimacy of American leadership” has been “progressively undermined in the course of the past 6 or 7 months”, the “world has moved from surprise at the unilateral raising of the Iraq issue, to concern at a solitary war to general uneasiness at the priorities of the Bush administration”. As he says, “the US needs to face up to the fact that the Middle East’s political problems have proven to be the springboard for Middle East terrorists.
This seems to capture the most sensible possible Francophone position I have seen yet – agree with Zbig that Dubya is way off the ranch. I responded with less than cool rationality as follows (with minor editing):
Wow, I wish I’d had the chance to make that pitch to the French! It would have been fun.
But punditry doesn’t matter at this point. The French think we’re crazy. They have their reasons. In fact, they are kinda right. The US got smacked on 9/11 and it has its blood up. Bush is leading us one of the USA’s intermittent crusades. The rest of the world wets its knickers when this happens because there’s no saying how it is all going to come out. But Bush’s logic is simple. The Muslims live in shitty countries and blame us, so they hate us and want to kill us. We have to knock out Saddam anyway, the crazy bastard, since he’s gonna get a nuke. And the US Gov. really does believe this and fear it, as do I. So, Iraq gets to be the petri dish where we’re gonna try to grow something like an Arab-speaking democracy, where we will undo the root causes of terrorism by changing the whole region, starting with Iraq. We have to do this because the long-term alternative is more and more and worse and worse terrorism, culminating in the USA treating the whole Arab world as if they were the Apaches, which would be a catastrophe for them, physically, and for us morally. So, Bush, who is nothing if not a high-stakes gambler, is putting all his chips on this Fukayama-esque root-causes scenario. As a great Chicagoan said: “Make no small plans”.
If the foregoing does not convince you, then we are left with the argument many American’s find even more compelling: “fuck it, let’s roll”.
If it works, it is the wonder of the age. If it fails, the Donks get to clean up the mess after their blowout victory in 2004.
I can see why some other people in the world of a less sunny and optimistic bent might say, “uh, wait a minute … .” Or, if they are cynical, saying, “the USA cannot possibly mean this, what is their deep, dark, REAL reason … .” But it is just what Bush says it is. I watched his speech the other night. He means it. He radiated a visionary sense of messianic purpose. We are going to bring freedom to Iraq. Look out world.
Oddly, for a Hobbesian-derived U of C product like me, trained in the systemic-determinist school of thought by Prof. Mearsheimer, and the heartless logic of Hirschliefer’s microeconomics text, I think we have a pretty decent chance of achieving something spectacular in Iraq.
Anyway, at this point, everybody wins, except Saddam, who dies. Bush gets his war. The Iraqis get rid of Saddam and his torture chambers and get American chow, medicine, roads, etc. for a while. The French get to enjoy their temporary role as “the other superpower” by being the rallying point for anti-Americanism worldwide, which no doubt provides them with delectable, near-orgasmic thrills. The Arab “street” will get to enjoy a period of sullen calm since it respects and fears force and despises and attacks weakness — so they get a little break.
What’s not to like?
One thing, at least, Brzrzenzxnski is wrong about: “solitary war”? Mais non! Every inconsequential country is on our side, something like 40 of ’em. Plus, Britain is a player, and they are in this. Blair survived that big vote the other day. He aint goin’ anywhere. So it is the perfidious Anglo-Saxons shoulder to shoulder in a return performance fighting jointly against tyranny. I am whistling ”British Grenadiers” as I type this. Bully and pip pip!
The main thing is that Bush is taking a huge risk with his eyes open. That’s the kind of guy he is. This post from National Review Online linked to this story, which nicely captures this aspect of Dubya’s leadership:
The downside for Bush is that he’s the undisputed father of any future failure. If the war doesn’t go well, if post-Saddam Iraq erupts in chaos, if other Middle East governments fall, if there’s an upsurge in terrorism, if the economy continues to flatline, there’s no one else to blame. Bush has so personalized these battles that the outcome will determine the fate of his presidency.
Bush isn’t afraid of any of this. He decides what he wants to do and does it. He looks at risks, looks at the potential rewards, and throws the dice. This must be terribly frustrating for the people who disagree with him. But, so far, I like it.