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WSJ foreign affairs expert: America is taking the wrong lessons from the Iraq War

"It should go without saying that the military should not be used for social work...should not be put in the service of attempts to redeem culturally crippled societies...America does not have some kind of moral responsibility for fixing other societies."

In an interview with Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor responsible for international opinion, Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator and author of the new book, "America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder," Stephens took a potentially unpopular but interesting position.

Echoing the themes of his "America in Retreat," and reflecting his nuanced views on foreign policy, Stephens defended the Iraq War with respect to deposing Saddam Hussein as a "classic police function," but lambasted the notion of nation-building in the Middle East.

Stephens, one of the more hawkish members of the Wall Street Journal, told us in a portion of our interview beginning at 17:41:

We need to be much more thoughtful about the nature of our interventions.

I to this day believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was absolutely the right thing to do. The guy was a menace to global order.

But we went into Iraq with the purpose of making an example of Saddam Hussein. And we ended up staying in Iraq for the purpose of making Iraq exemplary. We wanted to turn this country into a model Arab democracy.

The first purpose was to enforce global order, to punish and to get rid of a rogue dictator, and that's a classic police function: "Here's a bad guy and he has flouted...international norms long enough, he's crossed too many of our red lines, we're gonna get rid of him, we're gonna take him out."

But then to go from there to this quixotic attempt to create gender balances in the Iraqi parliament, and tell the Iraqis how to bring themselves into kind of a 21st century socially sensitive democracy, I think was insane.

[sharequote align="center"]"[T]o...tell the Iraqis how to bring themselves into ...a 21st century...democracy, I think was insane"[/sharequote]

Stephens added that America has taken away the wrong lesson from the Iraq War, in a sort of new "Vietnam syndrome," something he laments throughout "America in Retreat" as preventing the nation from dealing with the threats to the U.S. and its interests:

[instory-book ISBN="9781591846628"]

[W]e've drawn the wrong lesson from the Iraq War. We've said "Well it just shows that you can never fix these countries."

The point isn't to fix them. The point is to make examples of certain types of rogue behavior, and send a signal to other rogues that at some point, they will pay a price for certain kinds of behavior.

...It should go without saying that the military should not be used for social work...should not be put in the service of attempts to redeem culturally crippled societies.

It can't be done, and any attempt to do it...we'll just spend a lot of money rolling Sisyphus's boulder up a hill.

That doesn't mean that we can't ensure that, or we can't use American power to enforce certain rules of the road, and to make sure that when a Saddam Hussein threatens his neighbors, or when Iran tries to build nuclear weapons, that we are prepared to exact a very high price on them, both in order to punish them, but also to deter their would-be imitators.

Later in the interview in connection with a question about Syria, Stephens elaborated on his point about his belief in the folly of nation-building with respect to former Secretary of State Colin Powell's so-called "Pottery Barn Rule."

[sharequote align="center"]"America does not have some kind of moral responsibility for fixing other societies."[/sharequote]

[B]ecause we've been conditioned by what happened in Iraq, we imagine, "Well if we had gone in then we would have had to have cured the ills of Syria."

I'm not sure that's our responsibility.

One of the points I make in the book is this idea that we get from Colin Powell that there is a "Pottery Barn Rule" in foreign policy -- you know, "You break it, you fix it..." That should not be a rule for the United States.

America does not have some kind of moral responsibility for fixing other societies.

America has a national responsibility for making sure that our own core interests and the interests of our best allies are secured, that we do not allow jihadi groups to be turbocharged in the chaotic environs...that have been created in Syria.

During the interview, we also spoke with Stephens about:

  • Barack Obama's worldview and its implications
  • How America allowed Russia to become the world's largest nuclear power
  • Defense spending versus welfare spending
  • The lessons of the Iraq War
  • Stephens' view that America will be the world's leading country through the 21st century
  • Why "rhetoric as a substitute for action" is such a devastating policy
  • And much more

 

Note: The link to the book in this post will give you an option to elect to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale to a charity of your choice. Mercury One, the charity founded by TheBlaze’s Glenn Beck, is one of the options. Donations to Mercury One go towards efforts such as disaster relief, support for education, support for Israel and support for veterans and our military. You can read more about Amazon Smile and Mercury One here.

Follow Ben Weingarten (@bhweingarten) and TheBlazeBooks on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find all of our Blaze Books interviews on Soundcloud and Stitcher, and subscribe to our podcast automatically via iTunes.

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