Couric & Haass Discuss Wars of "Choice" and "Necessity"

War and Peace Review Media

Last night at the venerable 92Y, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass took a few questions from a smiley, curious, leggy Katie Couric. Haass has a new book out, War of Necessity, War of Choice, and The MANTLE would love a good progressive critique of it--so get crackin'!

I wasn't expecting too much. Perhaps some softball question from Couric and some artful dodging and non-answers from Haass--in other words, run of the mill talking heads type stuff. For the most part I was right, nothing too shocking or provocative or out-of-the-box came out of the evening.

EXCEPT! Toward the end of the evening Haass elicited a subdued gasp from the audience. Asked if he would support Bush/Cheney's "enhanced interrogation techniques"--i.e. TORTURE--and he said yes, especially if useful information were to be gleaned from the process.

Equally intriguing... Haass is against establishing a bad precedent with a post-Bush, American style Truth & Reconciliation Commission to air grievances, dirty laundry, etc. Neither truth nor reconciliation will come out of it, Haass says. True? Perhaps, considering he worked for both Bushes, the last one up until 2008, he's hedging his bets.

For the record - Haass claims the first Gulf War was one of necessity while the current Iraq Debacle was one of choice. What makes the difference? Well, if one takes into account immediate state interests in combination with a real chance for success and it can be done without detriment to the state's resources--it's a war of necessity.

Preventing the genocide in Rwanda, Haass says, would have been a war of choice. I took issue with his state-centric motivations behind his analysis and asked (well, the question was on a card that Ms. Couric read from): wouldn't prevention or cessation of genocide be a war of moral necessity? Haass: No. Unskillfully dodging the moral part of my question he reverted back to the conditions (state's interests, etc) that distinguish wars of choice from wars of necessity.Thus, involvement in Rwanda or Darfur or any other place would not warrant moral reasonings--state's rule in his mind (a thought, unfortunately, that pervades the American politico-psyche)

Other highlights:

- Couric mentioning that in the run-up to the Iraq War there wa a "surreal unity" in the public behind the effort. Perhaps she meant a "surreal unity" in Mass Media, because I sure as hell didn't see unity for the invasion on the streets I occupied.

- Is it the role of the U.S. to establish democracy worldwide? Haass: No, but it is one role.

- Haass says an attack by the U.S. on Iran would be a war of choice because there is no real, provable, imminent threat emanating from the country. "You can't destroy what you don't know" he said, referring to Iran's nuclear weapons in/capability. Sounds a lot like the dialogue we had before the Iraq War...

- Would an attack by Israel on Iran be a war of necessity? Haass again says no, one of choice, for the same reasons listed above.

Seems to me Haass' attempt to line up wars into either ones of choice or necessity is problematic and full of "ifs" and "exceptions." I'll reserve judgment until I read the book. What I'd like to know now is where he would put proxy wars on his spectrum.

Israel, Iraq, Darfur, Torture, Rwanda, Richard Haass, Katie Couric