Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Tuesday Worldfarts

Can Dr. Burgess-Jackson have gone soft!? He writes a post titled "Let's Get Out," in which he argues:

This may not sit well with my conservative friends, but I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that the United States should pull its troops from Iraq. This in no way undermines my belief that the war was justified. I believe toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and punishing him for his horrific crimes was more than adequate as a justification. I’m a retributivist. Criminals must be punished.

But nation-building? That’s another matter. We shouldn’t be building nations. Deep in his bones, President Bush knows this. Indeed, he said as much during the 2000 presidential campaign. Let the Iraqis take over. If they botch it, they botch it. They will prove that they don’t deserve liberty. I’ve heard estimates that the United States will be in Iraq for five to twenty-five years. That’s too long. We should get out by the end of 2004, if not sooner.

I don't know. I don't think we can afford to pull out. My main objection when I hear liberal cries for a pullout is that Iraq will collapse and become worse than it was. I see no reason to trust that Iraq will do well on its own, right now, with matters as they are. I think that people like Steven Den Beste, who have thought the matter through and concluded we need to have a presence in the Middle East for the next couple decades, are right.* We gave ourselves this project; we were mostly behind the war when it happened (readers of this blog know I was against the war, but not for pacifistic reasons), and we have to see it through. Whatever the debates may have been regarding the existence or nonexistence of links between Iraq and terrorism before the war, those debates are now as academic as the more general pro-war/anti-war debates. Starting with the observable facts, then: we're there. Iraq is unstable. Iraq is now a haven for terrorists and other parties who fancy themselves resistance fighters. Future action should be predicated on present facts.

[*NB: I also think SDB and other conservative/pro-war apologists have out-thought the President on this. I think those conservatives are in for a big disappointment if/when Bush proves his doctrine isn't nearly as insightful as they've made it out to be. For the record, I think most of the conservative defenders have been right about where we need to go from here and how Iraq relates to the bigger picture. But I think their attempts at second-guessing Bush have been in vain, which is why so many conservatives are expressing varying degrees of disappointment in how the Iraq war/crisis is currently being handled.]

KBJ writes:

Ah, you say, what if another Saddam Hussein rises to power? That could happen. We’ll have to deal with it if and when it does. But it might not happen, and we needn’t assume that it will.

Surely you jest, sir. Iraq is, if nothing else, a great example of that metaphysical bugbear, Murphy's Law. I have implicit trust in this law as it pertains to Iraq. All the people who've used some form of the "hydra's head" analogy have a point: we're dealing with a multipronged, multidimensional threat. I foresee a new Saddam. That, or chaos in Iraq, with Saddam-like puppet masters in countries like Iran and Syria pulling the strings. Either way, there will be larger guiding forces, inimical to our interests, at work in the Middle East, and by extension, elsewhere. If nature abhors a vacuum, then trust that the power vacuum in Iraq will be filled. Better for it to be partially filled by us and by engaged, hopeful, industrious Iraqis than by the darker forces.

KBJ says further:

Our toppling of Saddam should have a deterrent effect on other tyrants, in and out of the Middle East.

Libya seems to be a happy example of this. But is Iran? No: Iran might collapse because of a citizen's revolution as angry pro-democracy students and intellectuals get fed up with their lot. But the current Iranian government doesn't seem to be tilting toward anything like Qaddafi's capitulation. If anything, it's acting entrenched and obstreperous. Maybe a pro-democracy revolt in Iran is effectively the same thing as a governmental capitulation (I wouldn't seriously argue that, though), but my point is that, as far as we can tell, there's been no real "deterrent effect" on the Iranian government, which can look over at the kid-glove treatment we give North Korea and be reassured. Iran is also made safer by the fact that, should we mull an attack against it, a war-weary American public will cry out against such an attack. As bin Laden and his cohorts know, American indecision is their best friend.

One thing that confuses and disturbs me about KBJ's attitude is the apparently sudden abandonment of the Iraqi people, whose misery provided the moral ammunition for those who argued that the war against Saddam was justified. This is a topic unto itself, this question of the moral justification for the war. I was never convinced by it. As I've repeatedly contended on this blog, the moral argument isn't sufficient by itself: it needs to be propped up with other, more relevant arguments, like national self-interest. I'm not implying that national self-interest can't be moral; to be clear, my feeling has been that national self-interest has always been the more honest argument for war in Iraq. But what I think I'm hearing from KBJ is:

a. War was justified because the Iraqi people were in misery. That in itself is enough to justify our war (and I think a trip through KBJ's archives will provide evidence for this argument).

Followed by:

b. War was justified, but if the Iraqi people prove unable to govern themselves, fuck 'em.


I can understand, to a certain extent, how compassion has limits. I'm not a believer in boundless compassion because I don't think it's humanly possible, even if it's ethically/morally desirable. But KBJ's reversal strikes me as coming way too soon in the game. It's also a reversal that seems based on dubious reasons, more about feeling than thinking.

What is KBJ advocating when he says, "...should have a deterrent effect"? Grant KBJ's contention that we're not good at nation-building, or grant the further (American conservative) argument that we're not good at empire. So in the case of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, we should do... what? Invade them and wreak havoc every time they show hints of becoming threatening, then leave with no plans for rebuilding? Why not make it simpler and reconfigure the targeting of our nuclear missiles and hold all these places hostage? To wit:

"Not another peep out of you, or all your major cities get turned into a sheet of glass."

This would be consistent with the undertone of KBJ's post. Such a threat would leave it up to Middle Easterners to govern their own behavior-- to "play nice with others," as one of my friends with a young daughter puts it. A clear list of "trigger issues," i.e., things that could get a country nuked, could be distributed throughout the Middle East, with the final item being "the United States is the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes a trigger issue," thereby leaving Muslim countries no room to interpret those issues in their own favor. If the people of those countries chose to defy the United States at that point, why, we'd just nuke the fuck out of them because they obviously don't deserve to live lives in freedom. Maybe that would quiet the other nations and make them think twice about misbehaving!

This, too, would be consistent with the implied Texas "fuck 'em" of KBJ's post. His post and my analogy beg the question of the nature of our care and compassion for the people of the Middle East. In what are they rooted, this care and compassion? I'd say that KBJ's post shows pretty clearly that they're rooted in national self-interest, conservative ideology, or something along those lines, not in some conditionless humanitarian (or some sort of deontological) standard. That's fine by me; I can live with national self-interest as a reason for war and can respect ideological arguments, but it makes the original moral argument dishonest, in my opinion, because the original argument was framed by so many people with such subtlety-free righteous anger. The truth? It was never as simple as "the Iraqi people are suffering, and that's reason enough-- period." I submit that that argument has been BS from the beginning. If the Iraqi people's suffering is that important, no one should be willing to re-condemn them to slow death under new oppressors, or slow death through national chaos. No one. Keep in mind that such condemnation guarantees the deaths of the innocent along with the guilty-- which is pretty much what the pre-war situation was.

Well, I thought I was going to give you a roundup of other bloggers, but I've got to finish my "Passion" essay for tomorrow.


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