Current Comment

Who Lost Iraq?

As Congress and the White House prepare for the assessment due on Sept. 15 of the situation in Iraq, an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs merits their attention. James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of state, asks, Who Lost Iraq? Mr. Dobbins argues that responsibility for this defeat of U.S. policy is not restricted to the White House and those neo-conservative ideologues who sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein prior to 9/11. Congress, including its Democratic leadership, failed to debate properly the wisdom of a pre-emptive invasion. Military planning for the invasion and its aftermath, led by General Tommy R. Franks under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, proved woefully inadequate. Individuals and institutions in the U.S. media have also admitted that their coverage of Iraq was inadequate and amounted to marketing the war.


Mr. Dobbins argues that the lessons to be learned from the Iraq debacle include the retirement of pre-emptive war as a proclaimed doctrine of national security. While the United States has not hesitated to employ force in the past without waiting to be struck first, as Dobbins points out, making pre-emption a doctrine of national security impedes international diplomacy. Furthermore, the promotion of democracy and nation-building remain worthy goals, but they must be pursued with greater realism. In the future, he adds, U.S. voters should insist on leaders who will foster debate and welcome disciplined dissent instead of insisting on ideological loyalty. Finally, the struggle against international terrorism should be recognized as a continuing police action that will depend on international cooperation and shared intelligence.

Replay It, Sam

In football, the technology of the instant replay has served fans, teams and referees well. It not only solves disputes, disclosing the occasional bad call, but it confirms the good ones.

These days video technology has begun to amplify public discussion of all sorts, thanks to the invention of YouTube (, the Google-owned online repository of viewer-donated videos. As sponsor with CNN of a debate among Democratic candidates, YouTube has already contributed to U.S. politics in the first national electoral campaign since its online debut in February 2005. But will YouTube serve the public over the long haul by improving fairness and accuracy?

It could. As long as a video is authentic, it has the virtue of being denial-proof. It shows actual words, facial expressions and gestures and lets viewers hear, see and assess for themselves what a public figure said, precisely how and in what context. Video can be stored and used for comparison, like the recent YouTube footage of Dick Cheney explaining on C-Span in 1994 why the United States should not invade Iraq all alone or set up a U.S. occupation or take down Saddam and asking, What are you going to put in its place? Content matters.

What matters more is how much judgment a YouTube viewer brings to the Internet. It is one thing to watch a politician utter an irritable remark or express a jumbled policy position, but another to know how much weight to assign it. What else has that politician said and done that deserves voter consideration but is not served up on YouTube? Even inconsistency can be attributed to many thingsa change of mind, of heart, of circumstance, of maturitynone of them necessarily negative. As to whether YouTube will improve the political process, the play may still be too close to call.

Guns and Chocolate

Millions of dollars from cocoa revenues funded both sides of the 2002-3 conflict in the Côte dIvoire, according to a new report by Global Witness. The Côte dIvoire is the worlds largest supplier of cocoa for the global chocolate industry. The report, Hot Chocolate, contends that the government and the rebel group Forces Nouvelles spent at least $118 million in support of the conflict. The conflict resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.

The civil war ended with a peace agreement and the governments assuming control of the south, where most of the cocoa production takes place. The country, however, remains fragile and deeply divided, the report observes, adding that just as the cocoa trade financed the war, it still benefits corrupt interests within the Forces Nouvelles and the government itself. Those who have tried to expose the abuses have been threatened and attacked. One journalist, Guy-André Kieffer, disappeared; and a French lawyer auditing the cocoa sector for the European Union was abducted and later freed. Because of a lack of transparency and what the report terms a culture of impunity, corruption goes on. And companies, including American multinationals like Archer Daniels Midland, continue to trade without appearing to question...the misuse of taxes...they pay to the government. Overall, the report serves as yet another example of how a natural resource, like the so-called blood diamonds of Sierra Leone, can contribute to armed conflict.

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