Before You Read Bill Kristol About 'What to Do in Iraq,' Read Bill Kristol in February 2002 About What to Do in Iraq


Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and American Enterprise Institute Critical Threats Project Director (yes, these people give themselves titles like this) Frederick W. Kagan have a piece up entitled "What to Do in Iraq," which—spoiler alert!—advocates more U.S. military force, more boots on the ground. Excerpt:

This would require a willingness to send American forces back to Iraq. It would mean not merely conducting U.S. air strikes, but also accompanying those strikes with special operators, and perhaps regular U.S. military units, on the ground. This is the only chance we have to persuade Iraq's Sunni Arabs that they have an alternative to joining up with al Qaeda or being at the mercy of government-backed and Iranian-backed death squads, and that we have not thrown in with the Iranians. It is also the only way to regain influence with the Iraqi government and to stabilize the Iraqi Security Forces on terms that would allow us to demand the demobilization of Shi'a militias and to move to limit Iranian influence and to create bargaining chips with Iran to insist on the withdrawal of their forces if and when the situation stabilizes.

In a nod to their diminished reputations as armchair generals, Kristol and Kagan tack on this defensive ending:

Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011. The crisis is urgent, and it would be useful to focus on a path ahead rather than indulge in recriminations. All paths are now fraught with difficulties, including the path we recommend. But the alternatives of permitting a victory for al Qaeda and/or strengthening Iran would be disastrous.

It's never really the right time for neoconservatives to "re-litigate" their past mistakes, since the consequences from them are constantly filling the world with new Critical Threats. But that really shouldn't stop the rest of us.

Want to dislodge the rest of your lunch? Go back and read the entirety of Bill Kristol's February 2, 2002 testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the next steps in the War on Terror. Here's a section that's particularly poignant this week, given the awful news coming out of the Middle East:

The one point I would make is that I think in all the discussion of risks we have lost sight of some of the rewards of a reasonably friendly, reasonably pro-Western government in Iraq. It would really transform the Middle East. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated. I think Syria would be cowed. The Palestinians would, I think, be more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel after this evidence of American willingness to exert influence in the region. Saudi Arabia would have much less leverage, if only because of Iraqi oil production coming on line, with us and with Europe.

Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power would  be a genuine opportunity, I think, to transform the political landscape of the Middle East. The rewards would be very great, and I would also say the risks of failing to do this I think are very great.

After the jump more jaw-dropping wrongness from Kristol (and friends!) 12-plus years ago:

The Bush doctrine seeks to eliminate dictatorial regimes developing these weapons of mass destruction, especially such regimes that have a link to terror, and they all happen to do so. So there is an almost perfect correlation between terror-sponsoring regimes and regimes developing weapons of mass  destruction. […]

As my friend Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post last week: The good news about Iran is that you clearly do have opposition to the regime. There is something of "a revolution from below" going on there. The question for us is how we can accelerate that revolution. One answer is "by the power of example and overthrowing neighboring radical regimes" would, I think, show the people of Iran, it would inspire the people of Iran, "show the fragility of dictatorship," show that dictatorship is not the inevitable way in the Middle East or in the Arab world. It would "challenge the mullahs' mandate from heaven and encourage disaffected Iranians to rise." As Krauthammer points out: "First Afghanistan to the East, next Iraq to the West, and then Iran." I think that is a reasonable strategic template, stipulating always the uncertainties of war and that one has to be ready for anything in this broad war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Flashback: Read the difference between the "Bill Kristol camp" and the "Nick Gillespie camp" during the near-U.S. war against Syria last year. Then read Reason's forum on the Iraq War, 10 years later.