To the Editor:
I want to express my appreciation to Zbigniew Brzezinski for his generous review of my book War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (“A Tale of Two Wars,” May/June 2009). Praise from someone of Brzezinski’s stature is praise indeed.
I do, however, want to make sure that two matters central to the book are clear. The first concerns the Iraq war initiated in 2003. It is true that my opposition to this second Iraq war was not fundamental, largely because I assumed (along with virtually everyone else) that Iraq possessed at least some weapons of mass destruction. But even so, and as I note more than once in the book, I was “60/40” against the decision to go to war. (I go on to say that had I known then what is known now, that Iraq no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction, my stance would have been 90/10 against.) My position at the time (one expressed in many memos I wrote as director of the State Department’s policy planning staff) was one of skepticism about the need to go to war given all the United States and the Bush administration then had on their plate, all the likely problems a war would trigger, and the absence of a compelling answer to the question, Why now?
The second clarification involves just what is meant by “war of necessity” and “war of choice.” Wars of necessity are essentially unavoidable. They involve the most important national interests, a lack of promising alternatives to the use of force, and a certain and considerable price to be paid if the status quo is allowed to stand. Examples include World War II and the Korean War.
By contrast, wars of choice tend to involve interests that are less vital and the existence of viable alternative policies, be they diplomacy, inaction, or something else. The wars in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Kosovo (and the Spanish-American War a century before) were all wars of choice.