Critics of the bush administration's Iraq policy finally stepped forward -- and they are Republicans rather than Democrats. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger argue that the United States should attempt to contain Saddam Hussein diplomatically while giving equal, if not more, weight to securing Afghanistan and achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Proponents of an immediate invasion fought back vigorously -- not by advancing a clearer version of their own but by impugning the critics' credentials. Whereas The Weekly Standard branded Scowcroft an "appeaser," The Wall Street Journal identified Scowcroft's views with those of the "anti-war left." The New York Sun enumerated Scowcroft's current business ties and his founding of a "front group" that includes a "plo apologist" on its board. As for Hagel, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page accused him of trying to "grab a fast headline." And in an article titled "Sen. Skeptic (R., France)," the National Review insinuated that the Nebraskan was more European than American in his views.
But the hawks didn't expend most of their ammunition on Scowcroft and Hagel. Instead, they took aim at The New York Times and its new executive editor, Howell Raines. The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Times and columnists Charles Krauthammer and George Will charged that The New York Times was promoting opposition to the administration's Iraq plans by publishing false information about the dissenters in its news pages. Their case in point was a front-page article from Aug. 16, in which reporters Todd S. Purdum and Patrick E. Tyler numbered former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the author of a long, difficult to follow column about Iraq policy, among the dissenters.
The war promoters insisted that Kissinger was one of them and not a critic. According to The Weekly Standard's William Kristol, Kissinger's position in the column was an "endorsement of the President's policy," and the Times had "shamelessly mischaracterize[d]" his views. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page accused the Times of "spinning." Krauthammer concluded, "Not since William Randolph Hearst famously cabled his correspondent in Cuba, 'You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war,' has a newspaper so blatantly devoted its front pages to editorializing about a coming American war as has Howell Raines' New York Times."
This much heat suggests the presence of light, but in this case it merely points to a common neoconservative political source. Contrary to these charges, a close reading of Kissinger's column reveals that The New York Times' reporters were correct to include the former secretary of state among the administration's critics. They respected the differences between Kissinger's position and those of more forthright critics such as Scowcroft or Hagel. They also noted the telling similarity between his arguments and those that Secretary of State Colin Powell has been making privately.
To understand Kissinger's rambling column on Iraq policy, you have to know something about how he operates politically and thinks diplomatically. As he first revealed in his impressive study of Metternich, A World Restored, Kissinger is a European realist for whom diplomacy is a struggle for power rather than one between good and evil. As Richard Nixon's national security adviser, Kissinger learned how to survive vicious bureaucratic battles while maintaining a semblance of these convictions. Kissinger got through the Nixon years relatively unscathed, but when he served as secretary of state in Gerald Ford's administration, he was savaged by Republican conservatives, including Republican presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan. Reagan based his challenge to Ford in 1976 on attacking Kissinger's support for détente with the Soviet Union and for a Panama Canal treaty.
Kissinger could have reacted to these attacks by defying his critics, but he responded instead by doing everything he could -- short of entirely abandoning his convictions -- to ingratiate himself with rising Republican conservatives. In May 1976, Kissinger even tried to advise Reagan secretly through their mutual friend William F. Buckley Jr. while still serving as Ford's secretary of state. Since leaving office in 1977, Kissinger has always tried to keep his hand in Republican power circles -- either directly through participation in presidential commissions or indirectly through protégés such as Scowcroft and Eagleburger. When necessary, he has tried to curry favor among conservative Republicans by muting his own opposition to their policies.
In the Reagan administration, Kissinger was the chairman of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. Two decades later, he is serving on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, which former Reagan administration official Richard Perle has turned into a propaganda unit for promoting war with Iraq. During the Ford years, Kissinger fought a losing battle with Perle over détente, and he would not be eager to cross swords with him over Iraq. Yet as a continental realist whose views are close to those of Scowcroft and Eagleburger, Kissinger could be expected to dissent from Perle's crusader mentality.
In writing his column, Kissinger adopted a twofold strategy for concealing while expressing his views. First, Kissinger, who is capable of writing with clarity, turned delphic in his pronouncements, writing what appears on the surface to be an endorsement of the president's position but what is in fact a vigorous dissent. Second, he pursued -- probably in concert with Powell, Scowcroft and Eagleburger -- a strategy of placing hurdles in the way of the administration's invasion plans rather than opposing them outright. (Former Secretary of State James Baker would later use the same tactics in an Aug. 25 New York Times op-ed.)
Kissinger praises Bush's "eloquent address" at West Point on June 1, when the president announced America's commitment to a strategy of overthrowing regimes through preemptive war. And Kissinger avers that the threat of terrorism could justify a preemptive strike. He also says that invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam could have "beneficent" consequences: eliminating the threat of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction against Saudi Arabia and Israel and warning the Arab street that "the negative consequences of jihad outweigh any potential benefits." These statements, which have been quoted by the hawks, make Kissinger's column sound like an endorsement of the president's position.
But if you read Kissinger's column carefully, he actually rejects Bush's proposed change in America's global strategy. Kissinger warns that Bush's "revolutionary" tack could inspire other countries to initiate preemptive strikes against their enemies. India, for instance, could "apply the new principle of pre-emption against Pakistan." And he concludes that "it is not in the American national interest to establish pre-emption as a universal principle available to every nation."
Kissinger also takes issue with the underlying assumption of administration policy: that the objective in Iraq should be "regime change." Kissinger writes, "The objective of regime change should be subordinated in American declaratory policy to the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from Iraq as required by the U.N. resolutions." That leads Kissinger to dissent as well from the administration's rejection of UN diplomacy. Kissinger proposes that the United States work with the United Nations to get Iraq to adhere to a "stringent inspection system." He wants the United States to deploy forces in the region "to support the diplomacy to destroy weapons of mass destruction and to provide a margin for quick victory if military action proves the only recourse." In other words, he wants the military to give credibility to diplomacy. An invasion would be the last resort, not the first.
Kissinger's column also includes numerous conditions that must be fulfilled before an attack could take place. These include "a comprehensive policy for America and for the rest of the world," "congressional and public support," the "availability of an overwhelming force capable of dealing with all contingencies" (i.e., the Powell doctrine) and the development of a "program of postwar reconstruction" for Iraq, which would include a political program for preventing the country from splintering into religious factions. Kissinger knows that the Bush administration is approaching Iraq the same way it has Afghanistan -- as a military rather than a political and diplomatic mission -- and that if it attempts to meet these conditions, it will never get around to firing off its missiles at Baghdad.
In short, The New York Times gets Kissinger's position right. And that story belongs on the front page. It revealed that an important part of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, including Kissinger, opposes the administration's Iraq strategy. If anything, Purdum and Tyler understate Kissinger's dissent from Bush's strategy. In subsequent television interviews, Kissinger tried to evade the critical implications of his own column, but his careful demurrals retained the ambiguity of the column itself. Anyone who has followed Kissinger's career and knows his opinions could recognize the double game he is playing.
Why did the promoters of war with Iraq, who know the former secretary of state only too well, raise such a fuss about the way the Times characterized Kissinger's views? Kristol, Krauthammer and the other proponents of invasion appear to be following a strategy first practiced successfully by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1970: In the face of opposition to your views, attack the national media for harboring a "liberal bias" against them. Don't try to refute your opponents, but silence them by intimidating the newspapers, magazines and television networks that report on and feature their opinions. If the proponents of invasion get their way, Howell Raines will think twice before he puts another story about Iraq policy dissent on the front page of The New York Times. Let's hope that he doesn't pay the slightest attention to them.