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On the Way to War

In response to:

The War in Syria from the July 11, 2013 issue

To the Editors:

In the July 11, 2013, New York Review of Books, one of your authors, David Bromwich, has used my alleged views on Iraq as a critical point of criticism of Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker. He claims that I was “an influential advocate of the Iraq war.” This is simply not true. Since I was neither a congressman nor a senator in 2002, I never faced the agonizing choice of whether to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq. I say “agonizing” because I did believe (based on reading twelve years of highly classified intelligence reports) that Iraq had substantial chemical and biological weapons capability and because I also believed (along with Chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix) that without the threat of military force the Iraqi regime would not comply with UN resolutions on disarmament.

As a frequent TV commentator, I was never asked my personal views on the wisdom of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. I opposed the way President Bush took the United States to war because I believed that the pre-war diplomacy was deeply flawed and the post-Saddam planning was woefully inadequate. Indeed, shortly after the invasion I wrote an extensive review of the flawed pre-war diplomacy for Foreign Affairs, entitled “Stumbling into War.” I also authored an opinion piece in The New York Times in the summer of 2002, six months before the war began, arguing for a comprehensive post-Saddam plan.

As an American living in London in 2003 and 2004, I did appear on television after the war began and was certainly an advocate of America succeeding in its military effort once President Bush took us into the war. But to describe me as “an influential advocate of the Iraq war” is a profound misrepresentation of my views as a commentator and a former official, and I respectfully request that you publish this letter so that Mr. Bromwich’s false claim is not allowed to stand unchallenged.

James P. Rubin
Visiting Scholar
Rothermere American Institute
Oxford University
Oxford, England

David Bromwich replies:

James P. Rubin says he was not a member of Congress and did not vote for the October 2002 authorization of force. Also, he opposed “the way” that George W. Bush launched the Iraq war, though he spoke out for the war once it began. He thinks it is therefore false to suppose that he was an influential advocate of the war. To restate the facts in other words: Mr. Rubin was a well-known commentator who, in urging the need for a plan for a “post-Saddam” Iraq, presumed the necessity of regime change. He preferred a slower timetable in order to draw international support. He did not expect the change to occur without military force from outside, and he defended the war while it was on.

A few details may be added. In his August 23, 2002, Times Op-Ed, Mr. Rubin asked: “Why should we wait until war is imminent to spell out for the Iraqi people and the world the benefits that will come from getting rid of Saddam Hussein?” Note: “wait until,” not “judge whether.” On August 7, 2004, when he was serving as foreign policy adviser to John Kerry, Mr. Rubin told The Washington Post that “in all probability” a Kerry administration would by then “have launched a military invasion” of Iraq. (On August 25, 2004, he was compelled to withdraw that statement, because it did not represent John Kerry’s view.)

In short, in the years 2002–2004 Rubin supported the idea of preventive war against Iraq. Why does he now pretend that Hans Blix agreed with him? Blix, in his briefing of the Security Council on February 14, 2003, said that UNMOVIC had “conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites” and the findings were “consistent with Iraq’s declarations.” Mr. Rubin, in his September–October 2003 article for Foreign Affairs, reached a different conclusion. “No country,” he wrote, “doubted that Iraq was failing to cooperate with the UN inspectors,” and “Tragically, the truth about Saddam’s WMD may never be known.”

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