“Pop” foreign policy commentary

My daughter Laura, a freshman at William & Mary, pointed me to this attack on President Bush’s foreign policy by Paul Krugman, which she found quite obnoxious. Well, Laura, you have to consider the source. In the late 1980s, Krugman was perhaps the hottest economist in the country. When Bill Clinton was elected, Krugman became the odds-on favorite to become his chief economic advisor. Instead, Clinton selected Laura Tyson. Krugman claimed publicly that Clinton selected Tyson only after Krugman had refused to affirm simplistic economic theories (his term was “pop internationalism”) that Clinton wanted to hear, and Tyson stepped into the breach by spouting theories Krugman was too honest to embrace. In presenting this self-serving scenario, Krugman perhaps over-estimated both the extent of his moral superiority to Tyson and the extent of Clinton’s attention to policy issues when it came to making appointments.
In any case, Krugman now brings the same class he exhibited as a disappointed office seeker to the pages of the New York Times. In the column posted above, Krugman attacks the Bush administration for being unwilling to engage in nation-building in post-war Iraq. He finds it “clear” that once Baghdad falls, Bush will provide no monetary support for the reconstruction of Iraq and will preserve Saddam’s regime, replacing a few top officials with Americans, but permitting the remainder to retain power.
Now, in reality, when Krugman wrote his attack piece, he had no knowledge of how President Bush planned to proceed in Iraq after the war. Since then, Bush has articulated plans that are the diametric opposite of the ones Krugman claimed Bush was committed to. Krugman may not believe that Bush will follow through on these plans. But it was utterly dishonest for Krugman to have claimed with such certainty that Bush has nothing in mind for post-war Iraq other than the preservation of its current regime and the exploitation of its oil.
Krugman tried to support his speculation about what will happen in Iraq by citing our approach to post-war Afghanistan. In this connection, he pointed to a budget oversight that resulted in no money being earmarked for that country. But, this debater’s point aside, Krugman did not even attempt to show that our efforts to assist post-war Afghanistan are less than what they should be, taking into account the costs and benefits of a larger role. Other liberals have whined that war lords still control much of the countryside. But one can only imagine the howls from liberals that would accompany any U.S. effort to overthrow local Afghan war lords who pose no threat to U.S. interests. I’ll take liberal criticism of our failure to perfect Afghanistan seriously after I read a column by Krugman, or someone of his ilk, that criticizes Clinton for not perfecting Haiti following our military intervention there. In any event, our interest in being involved in post-war Iraq greatly exceeds any such interest in Afghanistan. Thus, Krugman’s sole ground for claiming that Bush will ignore Iraq is fallacious.
One hopes that it will be a long time before Krugman again accuses anyone of “pop” anything.

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