Changing Sides in the Debate on Iraq
MICHELE MARTIN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michele Martin in Washington. It's time now for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. Neoconservative Francis Fukuyama originally advocated military intervention in Iraq. But he later switched positions, and laid out his case against the Iraq war in a recently published book called, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. Since then he has become a target for criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. In the Sunday current section of the Los Angeles Times he wrote op-ed titled, Why Shouldn't I Change My Mind? We talk with him today about the difficulties of changing ones mind in today's highly-polarized political climate.
Have you ever changed your mind about something important? Do you think it's a sign of weakness or strength? Join the conversation. Call us at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. Francis Fukuyama is professor of International Political Economy for the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. He joins us now from the studios at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Professor, thank you for joining us.
Mr. FRANCIS FUKUYAMA (Professor of International Political Economy for the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University): Well, thanks very much for having me.
MARTIN: You actually changed your mind about the wisdom of the war a year before the invasion. So, why are we talking about this now?
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well that's right. I had started out hawkish and then as I thought more about the war and we got closer to it, I thought for various prudential reasons that we were not going to be able to manage that situation. I had published, initially, an article that was a critique of a columnist Charles Krauthammer who had defended a kind of pro-Bush position. And then my book laid out in a much more systematic way why I thought the concepts, the neoconservative concepts behind the war, were really wrong. And I've been quite astonished at the reaction to it from both the left and the right, as you said earlier. That people on the right, like Krauthammer, think that I'm a traitor or that I was following public opinion in kind of a cowardly way, and simply, you know, following the crowd.
People on the left, I've gotten many e-mails that said, in effect, well, you're trying to apologize, but you've got blood on your hands. We don't accept your apology. You'll never make this up. And it's just struck me as very odd that since a lot of the information on which the decision to go to war had been based has actually changed, we know a lot of things that we didn't know, you know, it does seem to me quite natural that one should be able to adjust ones position in relationship to changing facts.
MARTIN: Calling someone a coward and traitor is very strong stuff. How do you respond to that, or do you?
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, that particular charge I think is simply based on lack of knowledge of the positions that I had taken, because I did publish a number of things in the year 2000, the year prior to the war, expressing skepticism about whether the transition to democracy in Iraq would work, whether this wasn't a way too ambitious effort that the administration was undertaking. I think that on the right, though, there's a really big problem, because I think a lot of people understand that many of the original justifications for the war are now collapsing, public support is collapsing. I think they feel quite vulnerable and don't wanna be, you know, held accountable for what may turn out to be one of the biggest policy failures of recent years. And therefore, a defection, I think, you know, hurts particularly.
MARTIN: But as you say, you published many of these cautionary questions quite some time ago. Do you think that no one wanted to hear it? Do you think that you were more discreet about the outlets you sought, in part, you know, for whatever reason, because you did not wish to appear disloyal or, you know...
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, no...
MARTIN: I'm curious about why it is that you've been attacked with such fury when, indeed, you did make your concerns public throughout?
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, again, you know, it really depends on whether you're coming from the right or the left. On the left, I think that there are many people now who do not accept the idea that you could have actually had to think about whether the war was a good thing before the war happened. That, you know, to many people the war was such an immoral and obviously unjust thing, that anyone that had to think about it, you know, even slightly, or had ever taken a position in favor, was simply wrong. I think that that's really not a correct position either, because I think there were moral goods on both sides of the argument, especially prior to the war. I think that, you know, the United Nations, for example, has come out with a, in '99, they came out with a doctrine about a positive duty to protect against human rights abuses, and so I think many people, you know, for perfectly legitimate moral reasons thought that if the United States could use its power against Saddam Hussein, it should have.
And so many people that I know that were, you know, thoughtful about this, I think really did have a hard time making up their mind. But I think part of the problem is that, you know, it's part of the nature of our politics right now, that staking out positions is regarded as -- you know, the degree of partisanship I think is probably increased in American politics over time, and, you know, what's valued, I think, is more team loyalty than this idea that one should actually have to look at the world and adjust one's view to, you know, to reality on the ground.
MARTIN: I want to spend some time on that point, but first I want to go to a caller in Cleveland, Ohio. And Marcus(ph), welcome.
MARCUS (Caller): Well, hi. Hi to everybody. I also had to change my mind on the Iraq war too, and my friends and family have no problem pointing out that I'm a hypocrite. And also...
MARTIN: Why are you a hypocrite?
MARCUS: Why? Because I was all for the war in the beginning. I was all for it. I was caught up. And after finding out the truth, or at least what is probably known as the truth now, I kind of say to myself, wow, like, I can't believe I was swept up in the propaganda, to a certain extent. And also, I've really changed my mind on should the U.S. get involved in foreign lands in general. We should let that stuff go. We shouldn't be in 120 places around the globe, which is what the U.S. military is at right now, over 120 places.
MARTIN: So Marcus, very briefly, if you don't mind?
MARTIN: What changed your mind? Was it the level of violence? Was it that the conflict is more difficult than you thought it would be? What specifically changed your mind?
MARCUS: No, that's not it. What exactly changed my mind was the lack of the weapons of mass destruction. I always said if they'd just found a suitcase in Iraq with some chemicals in it, or a bomb, I would be like, this was all justified. But they did not find one thing. And now it's turning into a war for freedom.
MARTIN: Okay. Okay, Marcus, thank you so much for joining us.
MARCUS: Thank you.
Prof. FUKUYAMA: You know I must say that last point that Marcus made was absolutely right. I think that everybody believed prior to the war that there would be large stocks of chemical and biological weapons and an on-going nuclear program. And that's one of the facts that emerged in the months after the war that that simply was not there. If you imagine going back to February 6th, 2003, when Secretary Powell was making his big pitch to the United Nations, and at that point, instead of saying, well, there's 50,000 tons of chemical weapons that we know are there, he'd said, well, we know for a fact that there are no weapons, there's no on-going nuclear program, but we think that there's an intention to create one after sanctions are lifted, you know, obviously people at that point would never have been persuaded to authorize the war. So, I think, facts, you know, they emerge, and I think they should have effect the way that we think about the rights and wrongs of these big foreign policy choices.
MARTIN: You obviously have a very complex argument that you lay out in your book, but what were the key components of your change of mind on Iraq?
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, as I said, I don't think that you need to apologize for having believed that as a human rights issue, if you had the power to depose Saddam Hussein, you ought to. I think the conditions were really prudential. Could you do it in a way that would not entail costs that were much greater than, you know, the cost of leaving him in power? And there was also, I think, a big issue about legitimacy of the United States itself taking the lead without the United Nations, without a lot of allies, and the like. And in my mind, you know, probably the biggest consideration, just on the eve of the war, was the realization that Americans, you know, I think are basically not an imperial people. We've gotten involved in a lot of these nation-building interventions in the past, and while some like Japan and Germany have worked, a lot of them haven't. Because the American public tends to lose interest after about four or five years, and then, in many cases, we exit and leave the country in question worse off than it was previously. And so it was that kind of, you know, judgment that we were taking a big roll of the dice, an unacceptably big roll of the dice in this case, that I think was the final thing that, you know, pushed me to not like the idea of the war.
MARTIN: Let's go to a caller in Parkersburg, West Virginia. And Kathleen?
KATHLEEN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. And Professor Fukuyama, I think it's really important, as you've set, you know, shown us. That it's important to change your mind, especially if you get verifiable evidence that supports that change. But I don't buy the argument that I've been hearing some people use that if only we knew then what we know now, because I'm a soccer mom in southeastern Ohio, and I heard Professor Zinney (ph), and Albert Rudai (ph), and Scott Ritter (ph), and many, many people, prior to the invasion, say that there are no WMDs, and so I'm wondering how, as a soccer mom, I could've realized that, and serious professionals, other professionals, wouldn't have recognized that, based on what I was hearing from experts. And so I also want to know why are you serving on the advisory committee of the Libby's legal defense fund, if you were against this war? Yeah.
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Right.
MARTIN: Okay, Kathleen, thank you.
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, the last one is easy to answer. I mean, Scooter Libby was one of my oldest friends, and, you know, my serving on his defense committee, and its going to cost him several million dollars to defend himself in his case, it's not a political statement one way or another, but just a mark of friendship. I know that a lot of people believe, at this point, that the whole argument about weapons of mass destruction was simply a fabrication on the part of the Bush administration. I think that they are guilty of really bending the truth in other areas, particularly in the relationship of Iraq to al-Qaida and to global terrorism, where I think there was a lot of dishonesty involved. I think, in the case of the WMD, at least with the chemical and biological weapons, there wasn't that much disagreement. I think the UNSCOM, the U.N. inspectors that had been in Iraq and that went back in, in the fall of 2002, really believed that those stocks were there. French intelligence, the Russians, you know, most people that had looked into this, I think, were genuinely fooled by the absence of those weapons. The nuclear program was a little bit different, because the evidence there was a little bit sketchier, and in that case there was, you know, more stretching of the truth. But, you know, again, I think that there was a genuine surprise in the entire global intelligence community when the United States military went into Iraq, and after scouring the country for six months, really couldn't come up with a single chemical warhead.
MARTIN: Professor, let me just pause briefly to say, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Professor Fukuyama, what I hear you say is that this was a difficult question. This was a close question, it was a hard question, that reasonable minds could look at the same data and come up with different conclusions. So, therefore, it should not be shocking to people that with additional evidence that the line might move. You know, the needle might move to the no column, because it was barely in the yes column to begin with. And I think a lot of reasonable people realize that this is a close question. So, why then is there so little nuance to the discussion, as you pointed out. You are either, you know, you're a liar and you made it up and you should've told the truth to begin with, or, you know, you're a coward and traitor and you're cutting and running. Why is it that those are the only two templates for conversation about this?
Prof. FUKUYAMA: Well, in a way, your guess is as good as mine. I suspect that in an issue like taking a position for or against a war, it's a serious matter. A lot of people get killed, the stakes are extremely high, and I think as a result, people's investment, if you, for example, were a strong advocate of the war on the grounds that Iraq, you know, possessed these weapons, and then all of a sudden, you know, the situation turns out to be one of actually an unnecessary war, you know, it's actually terrible to have to contemplate, you know, the consequences of that mistake, that mistake in judgment. I think people that were against the war from the beginning now are so angry about the whole thing that, in a sense, they're not willing to admit that there were legitimate arguments on the pro-war side. And so, now they've moved from saying, well, this was a terrible error of judgment to saying, well, this was a criminal conspiracy right from the beginning. And obviously the partisanship that I think effects American politics more generally has played into it. I mean, there's a larger story here that goes beyond the war itself. I think that, you know, the degree of polarization, at least in public discussion, I'm not so sure that Americans themselves are necessarily so polarized, but certainly the public discussion and the way that these things are treated in Congress tends to accentuate, you know, this team-versus-team dimension of American politics today.
MARTIN: Do you think that there's something about the particular era we are in that makes this very difficult to do? For example, during the 2004 election, the issue of changing one's mind is called flip-flopping, has been derided as flip-flopping. Do you think that there's something about the way we live now, politically, that just makes this all the more difficult and, I'm not sure what word I'm looking for, but, hysterical? I'm not quite sure.
Prof. FUKUYAMA: No, sure. No, I think that there have been... Yeah. There's certainly been long-term changes in our society that have abetted this kind of polarization. And one thing is in Congress, because of the way that congressional districts are districted now, by letting the parties or the courts do it. We have now extremely homogeneous congressional districts, and there's only, you know, a handful, 25 to 30, that can change parties from one election to the next, and so most people in the House of Representatives, at least, tend to speak to constituents who are ideologically very much like themselves. And therefore, don't have to make an argument across party lines or reach out to voters that are, you know, diverse in terms of income, race, political opinion, and the like.
MARTIN: Thank you. Okay, thank you. Thank you, Professor. Sorry to cut you off. It's been a very rich discussion. Francis Fukuyama is Professor of International Political Economy for the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. His latest book is called, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. He joined us from the studios at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington.
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