To be or not to be done with all this

Allow me to say what I hope will be my final words on the whole Iraq debacle. Those who have been reading this site from its inception will know that my views on this subject have changed on more than one occaison, which I don’t hold to be anything to be ashamed about in regards to a subject so inherently volatile, since it seems to me that only someone totally intransigent would have remained completely unperturbed through the entire course of it. I have tried to reconcile my sympathy for the hypothesis that the world is almost always better off when the number of megalomaniacal dictators is reduced with my disapproval of the manifest incompetence which has poisoned the effectiveness of this whole adventure to a surprising extent. I suppose in the end I fall in with that whole group that I have often mocked in the past that is fairly supportive of the ostensible goal of ridding the world of said murderous regime while remaining extremely skeptical of the method by which it has actually been carried out.

Let me make the following analogy: suppose a man leaves his house and murders several neighbors one day. The government in response puts him under house arrest. Then a bit later on someone else alleges that he left his home and procured a number of pistols and other firearms. The police demand to enter his house and he refuses, then relents. They show up, don’t find anything, have some arguments with him about where they are and are not allowed to search, and then leave. Two weeks later they show up with a judges’ decree condemning him for uncooperativeness and cut his head off. If this is not the most lurching, inconsistent, arbitrary sort of justice imaginable, I would like to see what is, even if everybody, most especially the neighbors, would be better off if he were removed from their proximity. Of course the U.S. military is not exactly an accepted world governing body, but since it is essentially assuming the prerogative of enforcer of “international law” then it might at least act as a responsible government and propogate a coherent set of policies, infractions, consequences, etc. This is purely practical self-interest, since the single greatest consequence of this whole mess for the U.S. is that America is seen as the aggressor by the rest of the world. I can understand the point of view of those who hold, as the above example suggests, that the whole thing was actually a defense of international laws or principles or whatever, but that’s trying to have it both ways: the American government is exempt from being constrained in any way, but it can enforce “international regulations” whenever it chooses, no matter how inconsistently.

I think that the end of the Iraqi regime has been beneficial to Iraq, and the world, as a whole, especially when one considers that all the terrorism and violence since then has been largely, in my view, a continuation of that regime’s attempt to regain power by setting off a civil war, and that this would almost certainly have been the result no matter how or when the regime fell. However, ironically enough it seems to me that America has incurred the most needless damage in this whole thing, what with the military commitment and the cost and the overall degradation of its image abroad. As one of my friends said the other day: “Do you remember when Americans were popular in the world?” It is in the interest, as well as being the obligation, of any peaceful nation to remain at peace until threatened by an aggressor, and above all never to become the aggressor. I can understand that aggression can come in more subtle forms these days than tanks overriding a frontier, but if arms stockpiling is the new standard, than that must at least coalesce into a clear principle, and of course even then it must fall within the bounds of reason.

Saul Alinsky said that the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative, but I don’t think that those who approve of the dictatorship coming down but still deplore the circumstances are liable for inconsistency or even obligated to propose an alternative means by which it could have been destroyed. After all, everyone wishes for things for which they are not willing to sacrifice everything, and I wouldn’t have spent the price of the last three years for the questionable benefits that Iraqis may have gained by it, just as the forty years of the Cold War were preferable to some sort of Ragnarok with the Soviet Union in the late ’40’s. These types of governments have a tendency to implode sooner or later, and since the U.S. is much more stable and powerful than any of them, time is always on its side. There is no reason to squander that advantage by bringing matters to a head and subjecting everything to the perfidies of fortune. Freedom is a cause worth fighting for, but likewise a people that desires freedom should fight for it themselves, because only they can ultimately adjudicate the best form of social organization for themselves. This was as true for Russia as it is for Iraq.

4 Responses to “To be or not to be done with all this”

  1. Dave Says:

    This a very good summation of the situation, except I don’t know that I can entirely accept your conclusion that we should always let things go the way they will, hoping that the tyrants will eventually be ousted. The problem is that each time you act you face two dilemmas. First you can’t project what it will cost to act or if you will succeed and then you can’t know if would have been had you left things alone. Had we just let Saddam be he would probably slipped out of the sanctions by now. If you remember the people most critical of the war now were always the ones crying about the Iraqi children dying because of the lack of medical care and food. If they were it starving it was because Saddam was using the money to supply his military and build palaces for himself. The US was spending 40 billion a year to enforce the no fly zone, pilots were wearing out their planes doing this. What would have been the result of this stalemate? No one has any idea but what ever, we now face an entirely different situation. The critics of what we did do, have a pretty stereotyped little song and dance that they go through again and again, but don’t often address what would have happened if we had done nothing. It is funny because you see all sorts of debate about whether Lincoln should have started the Civil war. All I know is that even if Bush has not gone into Iraq, things would still be bad. Then there is the question of America’s image, but that’s a whole other subject. To be brief, during most of my life I have been told that many people hate America, so how does it hurt if they hate more than they did, or is the whole hate America thing just a meaningless concept? French hate Germans and English. Koreans and Chinese hate the Japanese. Vietnam and India hate China. Everyone hates the French and the Jews. Basically it is a hate filled world, or at least the newspapers would have you think.

  2. Curt Says:

    I didn’t say that “we should always let things go the way they will,” I’m just saying that when you are in the privileged position that America is, when essentially the status quo is almost entirely in your favor, there are quite few situations in which shaking the entire scene up will improve things even more in your favor, and this is one where I certainly don’t feel that it does, esp. when the government knew damn well that the whole threat was vastly inflated because, well, they (among others) inflated it. As for the idea that the importance of anti-Americanism is greatly exaggerated, you will get no argument from me. In some places, for example France, I think much of the hysteria is entirely manufactured by the politicians in conjunction with the press. However, I might remind that the situation throughout much of your life, assuming you belong to the post-war generations, has been somewhat unique in that most other nations during this period have been too feeble relative to the US to muster anti-American sentiment to much effect, and not until recently have sub-governmental groups fueled by the same been able to pose much of a threat. So it is at least possible to imagine that the situation is different than it was 1945-2001 (or at least seemed so at the time). That is the pragmatic argument; of course there remains the whole moral argument, but that is a different issue (or rather a different element of the same issue).

  3. Curt Says:

    So, in sum, it should be perfectly clear that I have not a principled objection to the war. I’m not a pacifist and I don’t put much store in the largely absurd concept of national sovereignty. That’s why I don’t think the labels pro-war or anti-war are adequately meaningful descriptors at least in my case. I’m relatively supportive of the idea of dethroning tyrants, but I feel quite at liberty to criticize the modus operandi in this particular case on practical grounds. Is an editor pro- or anti-the paper they are correcting? Which is why I suppose the specific issue is largely moot now, since I certainly hope things turn out well as much as anyone else, and since I’m not a priori opposed to the idea I don’t find the presence of American troops to be the primary issue, nor is their removal by any means the highest priority.

    Ironically, if this were really to be an exercise in international justice against tyrranical rulers, the whole procedure hasn’t been nearly radical enough. For wars and diplomacy to become a sort of international justice system would indeed be an enormous change, and it would first require a coherent set of principles. Our government’s in this case fortuitous tactlessness led them to insinuate something that governments are usually prudent enough to suppress, i.e. the idea that the universal rights of man supersede those of any sovereign. I’m certainly not opposed to the massive extrapolation of this idea, but, as I say, this would require a much more daring intellectual grounding than we have so far received, other than Bush’s rhetorical declamations about universal democracy (which is not the same thing).

  4. Dave Says:

    Your jaundiced if realistic view has a lot of merit. Less certitude than is usually expressed by the ideologues should not entirely deter one from taking necessary actions that have a chance of success. The anti –Americanism emanating from the Arab world is probably due to a combination of a perception that we are exploiting them and are in league with the corrupt governments that rule them as well as the Israelis. The extremist Islamist violence seems to be a manifestation of their typically medieval thinking. They need to move into the modern world, since we are pouring billions of dollars in oil revenues into their pockets. It is impossible to just sit back and let them finance their worldwide Jihad, with our cash. Although participating in a project to address these problems would seem to be both pro- human rights and in the interests of Western civilization, American liberals, many European nations, and so-called human rights groups such as Amnesty International have resisted our efforts, even though the US has been willing to contribute most of the treasure and blood. It is ironic that today’s liberals assault George Bush so relentlessly as a “liar” or an “idiot” for pursing precisely this cause–deploying American power on behalf of liberty and Western democracy in the world— because this is what the old fashioned liberals of the Roosevelt through Kennedy period espoused, and that was the high point of the liberal’s moral and political trajectory. Now liberals range in type from Ward Churchill to John Kerry, not a very inspiring choice for those of us who are used to the past years when the United States successfully lead the West’s international agenda. What the Bush administration is trying to accomplish is rather courageous in my opinion. Whether it turns out to have been considered foolish depends upon whether or not the terrorists and the liberals can arrange for our defeat. The tactics of the Batthests and Al Qaeda have, save their Anti-Americanism, elicited little support from the liberals unlike the situation during the Viet-Nam era. I have seen no people wearing Saddam Hussein shirts or displaying Al Qaeda Flags at student rallies. The main Islamist tactic consists of merciless and endless application of terror in an attempt to convince the US to withdraw and the others to cease resisting them. Their likely plans are then to carry out a bloodbath against their opponents and reestablish a horrible dictatorship. The truly immoral thing to do now would be to withdraw. The only right thing to do at present is to find a way to prevail. Of course this begs the question of whether things have been conducted properly. The answer is probably no but that doesn’t mean much at this point.

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