HAVING AN honest and serious foreign policy debate is not an easy thing in contemporary American political culture. Television sound bites, bumper-sticker cliches passing for ideas, single-issue interest groups and highly partisan politics all work against a thoughtful evaluation of realistic U.S. options. Yet even for the sole superpower, acting in a state of delusion is not a prescription for a successful foreign policy.
Take Iraq. It should be apparent by now that the United States went into Iraq without a serious foreign policy debate. There was little critical examination of intelligence justifying the war, what the war was supposed to accomplish, or what postwar planning would be required. How did this happen?
Beginning in the late 1990s, a highly vocal group of neoconservatives--many involved in the Project for a New American Century--started a crusade for regime change in Iraq. In letters, articles and speeches, they argued that there was no other way to deal with Iraq than by wholesale regime change--and they did not hesitate to attack those who disagreed with their assessment as unpatriotic or cowardly. Removing Saddam Hussein was deemed to be such a priority that, almost immediately after 9/11, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was arguing that the United States should attack Iraq before dealing with Al-Qaeda's sanctuary in Afghanistan.