Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kaplan on Iraq

"The mistakes made in Iraq since 2003 were so many and so serious that it is reasonable to argue that toppling Saddam Hussein was a wise decision, incompetently handled in its occupation phase." Thus begins Robert J Kaplan's rather carefully parsed reading of the Iraq Study Group's report, in The Atlantic. He's right, I suppose--one can argue the case still, if one wants. Why one would want to though, in the face of the actual consequences (not what might have happened) is beyond me.

Kaplan's argument is a magnificently careful attempt not to apologise for his own endorsement of the war. His politics seem to be elastic enough to bob and weave through a remarkably complex set of positions without actually setting out much of a plan of his own. Maybe borrow this, maybe reject that from the Study Group's report, but don't, at all costs, produce the impression that the central policy--invading a large Middle Eastern country for politically opaque reasons--was anything like a mistake. Blame the unfolding disaster on what happened next, on poor middle management in the Pentagon, dithering generals, anything but the ideologues who set the thing up.

All this policy squirming probably fits pretty well with Kaplan's political profile as a sort of neocon lite. Belonging on a spectrum somewhere between Paul Wolfowitz and Thomas Friedman, he's managed to retain remarkable ideological flexibility. Here, he pulls out all the stops. At times he seems more realist than neocon idealist, as he defends what's left of American self-interest in the Mid East. He even cites Thucydides. He will do almost anything but admit that he was wrong about viability of the most significant American military venture since Vietnam.

Anyone who's read Kaplan's travel books probably finds this sort of thing a bit disappointing. Balkan Ghosts and Eastward to Tartary are entertaining and remarkably well researched. His politics have always been a bit wonky, but he should really know better than this.
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