Thursday, June 24, 2004

Cassandra, and the Persistence of Deja Vu

Tonight, I was looking for some article I wrote for the Primary Source back in the day, and I stumbled onto this. (Yes, the title is a Gwar reference).

The Primary Source (Tufts University)
September 11, 2002

It's funny to read it today - I was apparently right about a lot.

But I was wrong about a lot too. I really thought that if the war happened, it would be an utter bloodbath. Even with all the renewed violence over the last few months, I scarsely would have believed that we'd only lose 600 people in the first month, much less the first year. Things turned out a lot better than I would have dreamed. I alluded to Vietnam, and I had it the other way around - Iraq is patty cake compared to Vietnam.

Not that it's great. Not that we should have gone in to begin with. (Over a year later, I'm still conflicted - yes we, and anyone for that matter, had the right; yes it should have been done; but it should have been both strategically and ideologically rethought). That said, I also cannot stomach the thought that others have had, that it would be better to still have Saddam in power today.

1) Because we didn't have the legal right to remove him when we did. I wish we had waited until we had time to build an international coalition with the express purpose of regime change for human rights.

"No legal right to remove"? Since when do dictators have rights? No dictator or tyrant has a right to power. Perhaps if you define "legal" in terms of what their own countries allow, sure, but moral rights supercede legal rights. Besides, laws have their legitimacy only insofar as they protect liberty. If they undermine liberty, as no sane person would deny that Saddam's laws did, then they can be ignored. And that's not even getting into what binding treaties and agreements Saddam violated...

2) We can't pursue (1) above until we reach a global consensus as to whether it is morally or legally acceptable to pursue regime change for human rights. This discussion will be time consuming, and I wish Saddam Hussein had stayed in power long enough for us to have it.

A "global consensus" is necessary before we can talk about stopping tyranny? Great. I'll wait until the boot is smashing your face, and then we'll all get together as a global community and talk about our feelings, if we really like the idea of someone's face being smashing by a boot. Please. Perhaps the Sudanese chaired-UN Human Rights Committee could do a study...

3) I wish Saddam Hussein was running a secular state and maintaining law and order while we made up our minds.

Saddam's regime offered secularism, and law and order? We may as well compliment the fact that the trains ran on time. Oh, wait. No, they didn't run on time in Iraq. Nothing ran right, and the only sense of "law and order" that existed was that Saddam's gang happened to have the most guns and inspire the most fear. By that standard, if the Bloods or the Crypts took over part of South Central LA, there'd be something advantageous about letting them stay to keep the other gangs in check. And for the record, Saddam's regime was becoming less secular every year to win support of Islamists... Not that secularism means less tyranny. Ask anyone who lived under Stalin or Mao.

4) I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power because we might yet be able to remove him without looking like Iran dupe.

Don't care about Iran, or what other people think of us. Popularity contests are for high school. All that matters is that the right thing be done (how is another issue...). Besides, in a perverse twist, America is probably more popular amongst Iranian youth than any other country in the Middle East, aside from Israel.

5) I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power while we figured out how to create a secular democracy, or even to protect the basic infrastructure of Iraq in the wake of our invasion.

Trade-off... let's see... eletrodes on my genitals, my arms and tongue chopped off, my family raped and murdered before my very eyes OR some damaged infrastructure that Islamist radicals occasionally try to sabotage... hmmm, which would I prefer...

Besides, 1 year isn't bad for the creation of a secular democracy compared to the 6-10 years it took for Japan.

6) I wish Saddam Hussein were in power long enough for us to afford a war.

Actually, there is something to this point - this war could have been done a lot cheaper if my strategy had been followed. But I suspect that critics of the war wouldn't have liked the CIA capturing/assassinating Saddam and his sons, forming and aiding rebel Kurdish, (some) Shia, willing Sunni and possibly some exile militias forment an internal rebellion. But this is a question of how. I'm not comfortable putting a price tag on liberty. It should be framed more like - "Well, we don't have the funds or resources to topple every tyrant, and some are more pressing threats than others, so what can we do with what we have?"

7) I wish Saddam Hussein were still in power because then we could hold a fair US presidential election, which would grant the winner legitimate authority to command our armed forces and make foreign policy.

I hate to break it to you, but like it or not, legitimate Constitutional authority over foreign policy and the military belongs has belonged to George W. Bush since January 2001. We may not like what he does with it, but he has it. And even if he didn't, I don't think the victims who were spared from the previous regime mind so much. I do wish, btw, that as the Constitution provides, he received a formal declaration of war from Congress. But that's par for the course since 1945, alas ...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first Fisk! Nice work. I feel like I've come of age on the blogosphere. More detailed reply later. We're going to the F-9/11 opening in a few minutes.



Friday, June 25, 2004 5:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suppose I steal some office supplies. Ex hypothesi, I have no right to them. But the mere fact that theft is wrong doesn't automatically entitle anyone who disapproves to wrest them from me by force.

It's like that with Saddam. The world is full of illegitimate rulers--arguably they outnumber the legitimate rulers. But we can't affirm the principle that the US is entitled to take over any country whose leader is illegitimate.

Even if we had the right to invade Iraq, it doesn't follow that it was a good idea. I don't expect that Iraq will become a democracy because of our invasion. It's certainly not a democracy now--we've installed a puppet government ruling by martial law. Besides which, if they were to achieve sufficient order for free elections, the Iraqis will probably install a theocracy.

This whole sordid saga is very expensive. Where is the moral or financial return on our investment? Invading Iraq undermined the war on terror. Osama Bin Laden wants to set the Muslim world against the West. This is exactly what our invasion did. I'm not saying that this reaction is justified, or that anything Bin Laden wants is automatically a bad idea. I'm just saying that the benefits of ousting Saddam have to be weighed against the costs of galvanizing more terrorists. I'm not even addressing the lost opportunity costs, the military casualties, or the deaths of innocent civilians. On the whole, I think we should have left well enough alone. The intrinsic good of removing Saddam just wasn't worth the costs.


Thursday, July 01, 2004 9:01:00 PM  

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