Just when you might have been feeling a bit of euphoria over President Obama's orders to close Guantanamo and ban torture, along comes Dianne Feinstein to bring us back to earth and remind us far we still are from having a truly sane foreign policy. Actually, the California Senator started off her first meeting as Senate Intelligence Committee Chair just fine with her vow that there would never again be "a National Intelligence Estimate that was as bad and wrong as the Iraq NIE was." She went on to explain that "I voted to support the war because of that and I have to live with that vote for the rest of my life." And there comes the problem -- the presumption that invading Iraq would have been right if the intelligence report had been right.
Certainly we can appreciate Feinstein's contriteness. 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry also claimed to have been misled, yet still argued that his vote for the war was right -- a stretch of logic that certainly figured significantly in the failure of his candidacy. But what if the NIE had been correct?
Its central claim was that Iraq had the "weapons of mass destruction" that were so famously never found after the invasion. Specifically, it read, "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."
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Among the resulting charges leveled against Iraq was that the development of a nuclear weapon would have placed it in violation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. Seldom reported in the US, however, is the fact that many nations feel that the five signatories currently possessing nuclear weapons, the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China, themselves stand in violation of the portion of the treaty calling for "negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament" and the conclusion of a "treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
Now we could argue treaty interpretations until the sun goes down, but one thing that just about all Americans would agree to is that no other nation has the right to enforce their interpretation of our treaty obligations by invasion. Fortunately, we don't even have to take such a possibility seriously because there's no country that would consider it. Other nations do not have that luxury, however -- so long as the US maintains the position that it is entitled its enforce its views by military force.
Is this simply an academic exercise? Unfortunately not. While Obama's willingness to actually talk with Iran is widely and understandably treated as a significant advance upon Bush's refusal to entertain the notion, when asked whether the "military option" remained on the table, Obama'a spokesman Robert Gibbs was quite clear: "The president hasn't changed his viewpoint that he should preserve all his options." Imagining our reaction if a foreign leader directed a similar statement at us might give us some measure of just how far we still have to go.