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Tese issues transcend administrations. Despite the urging
of President Barack Obama to “look forward, not backward”
in terms of transparency and accountability for governmental
actions, I frmly believe it is imperative to take a look back over
the policies of the past 10 years. Tat is the only way to evalu-
ate how to approach ethical, moral and legal challenges in the
Ten years ago, I faced such
a dilemma myself. I had been a
federal government employee
for more than 35 years, frst in
the U.S. military and then at the
Department of State, serving eight
presidents going back to Lyndon
Johnson. Many of those adminis-
trations, of both parties, espoused
controversial policies that I did not agree with. But like many
other public servants, I sought to carry out programs and poli-
cies with which I concurred, morally and ethically.
The Road to War
In late 2002 and early 2003, I became increasingly concerned
about the George W. Bush administration’s march to war in
Iraq. I had just returned from Afghanistan—having been on the
small team that reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in Decem-
ber 2001 and remained there until the frst permanent embassy
staf arrived in April 2002—when I proceeded to my scheduled
assignment as deputy chief of mission in Ulaanbaatar.
Te war rhetoric from President Bush, Vice President Dick
Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Secu-
rity Adviser Condoleezza Rice and my boss, Secretary of State
Colin Powell, increased weekly, as did my unease. I was unable
to fgure out how Iraq could still have had weapons of mass
destruction after intense U.N. inspections, sanctions, quaran-
tines and blockades for 10 years, the imposition of two no-fy
zones and regular U.S. attacks on military and civilian installa-
tions there.
On Feb. 5, 2003, I watched live fromMongolia as Secretary of
State Powell pitched to the United Nations the “evidence” that
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. His presentation did not
convince me, and it did not convince the hundreds of Foreign
Service colleagues who got in touch with me later. Nor did it
deter the millions of U.S. citizens who marched in the streets,
much less the U.N. member-states. Tey quickly voted against
authorizing any military operations against Iraq.
I used the Dissent Channel to express my concerns in a letter
to Secretary Powell in early March 2003, just weeks before the
war began. My concerns were dismissed in the response from
the department, signed by Policy Planning Director Richard
Haass. His response paralleled the daily press guidance from the
department, which rehashed the administration’s rationale for
why Saddam Hussein’s regime was dangerous to the interna-
tional community and should be eliminated.
After revising many drafts,
on March 19, 2003—the eve of
the invasion—I sent my letter of
resignation to Secretary of State
Colin Powell. I became one of only
three U.S. government employees,
all Foreign Service ofcers, to
resign over the issue. Several other
FSOs apparently resigned later for
the same reason, but did not make their resignations public. In
addition, an unknown number of FSOs retired from the Service
much earlier than they had planned because of their opposition
to the war.
However, neither dissent within the government, nor else-
where, afected the Bush administration’s decision to wage war
on Iraq.
“Dissent Is Difcult”
A decade later, I still wonder whether the resignation of a
senior policymaker might have had an efect on that decision.
In a 2006 interview, Sec. Powell’s chief of staf, Larry Wilkerson,
refected: “My participation in that presentation at the U.N.
constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated
in a hoax on the American people, the international community
and the United Nations Security Council.”
Wilkerson went even further in 2011, when he said that his
role in preparing the presentation was “probably the biggest mis-
take of my life.” He regrets both his participation and his decision
not to resign over it.
Six years after the Iraq War began, Richard Haass—who had
delivered the ofcial response to my Dissent Channel mes-
sage—described his own reservations about the decision to go
to war in a 2009
article, “Te Dilemma of Dissent.”
In it Haass, now chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, says:
“Had I known then what I know now—namely, that there were
no weapons of mass destruction and that the intervention would
be carried out with a marked absence of good judgment and
competence—I would have been inalterably opposed. Still, even
then, I leaned against proceeding.”
I believe it matters that
even a handful of U.S.
government employees
resigned in opposition to
Bush administration policy.