2003 12 22
Abu Aardvark writes that the Bush administration’s diplomatic breakthrough with Libya does not provide any support for Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war. Exactly right. But he also writes:
On Saturday I suggested that Libya would pose a test of intellectual integrity to the supporters of the application of the “Bush Doctrine” in Iraq. The Bush doctrine declared that war with Iraq was necessary because international inspections could not guarantee American security against the threat of WMD in the hands of rogue regimes, and that only regime change to a democratic system could provide such security. In the case of Libya, the rather clearly non-democratic regime of Moammar Qadaffi remains in place, with a promise to allow international inspections to verify the country’s surrender of its WMD. In other words, Libya is fairly clearly a repudiation of the Bush doctrine, not its vindication. The test of intellectual integrity, therefore, was this: would advocates of the Bush doctrine in Iraq attack Bush for violating his doctrine in Libya by dealing with a dictator and relying on inspections, or would they praise Bush out of partisan loyalty?
I’m not sure this follows.
For starters, no one thinks that Libya was as dangerous as Iraq. And there was more evidence for Libya’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. than there was of Saddam Hussein’s willingness to cooperate with anyone. So I’m not sure intellectual consistency requires you to take the same position on the two countries. It’s perfectly coherent to say, “Yes, we can let international inspectors poke around in Lybia since the stakes are lower. With Iraq we couldn’t afford to wait.” A difference in the level of (stated) urgency can imply a principled difference in the response.
Nor does intellectual consistency about democracy really seem to require anything as strong as the same basic position on the two countries. After all, proponents of the Bush doctrine were always able to recognize, at least in the abstract, that there would be real practical constraints on what the U.S. could hope to do in the region. Again, it’s perfectly coherent to say, “If it’s feasible, then a democracy is always to be preferred to a dictatorship” and then to go with a dictatorship. That’s because now that the U.S. has invaded Iraq and things haven’t gone particularly smoothly, U.S. capabilities have been reduced to the point at which the project is not feasible.
Of course, that’s just one small point. I don’t think that the Bush doctrine is a particularly wise position, and I would certainly not rate it very highly for intellectual consistency. It’s just that Abu Aardvark’s particular line on this doesn’t strike me as very convincing.