At Large

Hawkish Nerve

It might be worth remembering that overseas interventions can bring about unintended consequences.

By 8.14.02

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I have just returned from West Africa, and am only now catching up with the news. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to pursue more aggressive covert actions against al Qaeda. Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, wants a change of regime in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the hawks on Dick Cheney's staff and elsewhere can hardly wait to attack Iraq. Call me timid, if you must, but these guys make me nervous.

I know, of course, that al Qaeda must be stopped, and that the Saudis are corrupt and despotic. I also know that Saddam Hussein is a monster, and that force may be needed to overthrow him. But I know too that overseas interventions can bring about unintended consequences. Drop a bomb in Baghdad, and the blast will reverberate in Cairo and Istanbul and God knows where else.

But our hawks, it seems, will not be deterred. Speaking softly and carrying a big stick just isn't their style, and in print and on television they keep calling for action. Meanwhile their bellicosity appears to be roughly proportionate to the years in the 1960s they spent in graduate school and not in Vietnam.

Thus we must take out Iraq, either alone or with allies. We may need 250,000 troops to do the job; then again only 80,000 might do. Most likely, though, we will need only air power and Special Forces. Apparently the Republican Guard will crumble and there will be no house-to-house fighting. Indeed, at the first sign of war Iraqis will take to the streets to denounce Saddam. And if, just possibly, he should use chemical and biological weapons, perhaps out of sheer spite, we can worry about it later.

So I exaggerate, but not by much. The half dozen or so -- it depends on how you count -- Iraqi opposition groups that met in Washington over the weekend with their consultants, flacks, and advisers suggested a scenario very much like that. They also said they had reconciled their differences and would work to make Iraq a democratic pluralistic society. Many of our hawks insist they believe them.

Nonetheless I must admit that I've never been in the Middle East and so I really don't know much about it. But as I said, I've just returned from West Africa, and I do know something about what things are like there. And what strikes me, as it also has when I've come back from other trips before, is that the West Africa I know does not have much to do with the West Africa of think tanks, foundations, and supposed foreign policy experts. They invent instead a West Africa for their own purposes. Something similar, I suspect, is going on now with our professional hawks, and if that doesn't make you nervous it should.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.