28 September 2004

Reply to a Bush Supporting Former Colleague

My Bush supporting former colleague, in a running dialog, asked, "Is it a good thing to fight people that set off car bombs, kidnap and murder civilians for the sole reason they look, believe and have a different nationality than you? Yes or No. "

My answer:

...To answer your question, there is obviously a major difference of philosophy. Interventionism vs. reserved realpolitik, or whatever you want to call it.

Car bombs, terrorism in foreign countries, etc. are evil. I won't go into the "one man's terorrist is another man's freedom fighter," argument, because I don't make it. I think killing innocent civilians for a cause is almost never justified. (The qualification is because there are situations, during major conflict, where it's unavoidable). Having said that, the question boils down to are we as a nation justified in playing the world's policeman?

There obviously is no simple answer to this question. There are times when our national interest is served by involving ourselves in actions overseas to try to address a specific security threat or honor alliance commitments, etc. Generally, however, I think we are not made safer, in particular, by trying to police the middle East. This is an area, as you seem to acknowledge, where there is a culture of violence, and where ethical values of the Islamic civilization do not value the rights and lives of individual human beings the way we do. But short of re-colonizing and governing the entire region in order to impose Pax Americana (probably both impracticable and far too expensive for 21st Century America's resources), I don't see how any rational foreign policy can be based on anything other than our own national interests, which primarily center on our own national security. I harangued you already about the role of seeking peace in Palestine / Israel as an essential component of this equation, which the Bush administration has contemptuously ignored, so I won't try to make that point all over again.

But the national interest question is, so to speak, the rub. The case that Iraq posed a threat to our national security was made on the basis of lies and deception. You may disagree, but that's my conclusion. Iraq was not a significant threat to the U.S., and even though its dictator presided over a neoStalinist regime, it did not ally itself with Islamist terrorists, did not have a military capability to threaten the US, and was contained and containable. Again, you may disagree, but evidence to the contrary is very weak. Such a case can more sucessfully be made against Iran and Syria, or as to the military threat part, N. Korea, than against prewar Iraq. The limited police action launched by the U.S. against Iraq toppled its weakened dictatorship, but the chaos that ensued was the result of horribly bad planning, bad leadership, bad execution, and woefully inadequate resources. There is no reason, if this was worth doing, for the US to assume the entire burden. Without international participation, especially money, the case for doing it on a humanitarian basis just doesn't make sense, in terms of U S national interests. Again, this is my opinion. It's also the opinion of roughly 55% of the American people, according to current polls.

Obviously, war begets chaos and violence. That doesn't mean that Bush is responsible for the car bombings and beheadings, of course he isn't. But the fact is that the policy has led to this situation, and his administration is to blame for the mismanagement of the post-conquest situation. They had no realistic plan for occupying Iraq, and the current mess is the result.

It is a terrible situation there, which whoever is the next president, will be tremendously costly and difficult to work through. There's no turning back the clock. We have a presence there and cannot just walk away tomorrow. But I would feel a lot more secure with another captain at the helm, one who didn't just make an arrogant and petulant speech to the United Nations; one who is not contemptuous of allies who are almost monolithically in disagreement with our policies. It is arrogant of us to assume that we must be right and they must be wrong, without listening to them. Many of the more negative assessments of what would occur in the wake of a US invasion have been proven correct.

So, sure, in the abstract, we want to fight these evils. But in the concrete, real world, we cannot defeat every evil, especially not alone, and this war, and especially its aftermath, has been handled very badly. I believe it has made America less safe, not moreso, and has made it virtually impossible in the near term to work towards a general peace in the Middle East. The neo-conservative agenda is based on unrealistic assessments and wrong beliefs about what the people in that region want, and how they feel about the West.

As an example, I read where a large percentage of even the "peaceful" folks in Iraq, the ones who just want the power back on and for the fighting to stop, believe that America faked 9-11 in order to have a pretext to invade Iraq. With this kind of distorted worldview, lack of free information, lack of modern critical thinking, lack of Western style ideation, to use a semiotic term for it, you can never win the "hearts and minds" struggle. It becomes an exercise in futility, and the most rational policy is the same as the policy during the cold war: containment, not open conflict.

I won't even go into the role of oil in the mix, but as a basis for war, I think it is a moral cipher. We have no right to wage war for resources, and if that is, to whatever extent, a reason we're doing it, then it's not justified. Again, some will obviously disagree, but that's my view.

1 comment:

  1. Well that is a very well thought out and nuanced answer. I assume the short version of the answer to the question would be "no". I happen to think the most self-evident response would be a "yes" but there you go ...

    The US does not have to be the world's policeman (justification or not). But every once in a while it should, along with every other decent country, be its firemen. The "allies" that are not on board in Iraq have rather dubious connections to the Hussein regime and "oil for food" joke perpretated on the people of Iraq and the US. I am a little disturbed by the guy who in the middle of the biggest job interview in the world essentially says we will do exactly as you are doing but we will do it better. Not a real well-thought out plan in my book. But since it appears that the overwhelming majority of Kerry supporters are voting for him by process of elimination I am sure we will have an interesting 4 years nonetheless.

    The root of islamic terrorism may be in the Israel/Palestine issue but short of the massacre of every Jew in the middle east I don't think that there is much of a solution in sight. Keep in mind that in many mosques throughout the world Islamo-fascists not only want all of the Jews dead, they want a return of Spain to the muslim Caliphate and the subjugation of the British to sharia law among other highly "progressive" plans. I think they may also be a little annoyed that the West allows women to vote and homosexuals to live but I may be misinterpreting the execution videos shown on the internet but not talked about on the nightly news. There is no amount of negotiaions to solve this problem. We will either learn it now or in the near future at a higher death toll paid by those who never signed up to fight.

    It is always right to kill, capture and contain those that set off car bombs and kidnap and kill innocent people. No explanation of insufficient troop strength or Haliburton contracts will change that.


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