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Friday, May 02, 2003

We're So Good

Many nice people feel the need to remind those of us who opposed the Iraq invasion that freeing the Iraqi people is a good thing. I understand this, but I think it needs some examination.

(In any event, for any visiting freepers, I would just like to say that going forward, any discussion by me of foreign policy and war on this blog implicitly carries the disclaimer that I am happy that that bastard Saddam is gone, I believe that it is wonderful that the Iraqi people at least have a chance of a government of their choosing and of course, I support the troops and hate the Dixie Chicks.)

Under different circumstances, I would have supported deposing Saddam purely on the basis of his horrifying human rights record. However, as much as I agree that a free Iraq is a good thing, just as free North Korea or free China or free Sudan or free Tibet would be good things, I believe that allowing the Bushies to get away with using that argument is a mistake for all people who believe in human rights.

By agreeing that the ends justify the means in this case we are allowing them to pretend that the motivation of the US was always to free the Iraqi people (a fact which is clearly untrue since they haven't even seen fit to free the Cuban people who live just 90 miles off our shores and whose exiles are a powerful political constituency.) Their arguments must be evaluated on their own terms by what they hoped to accomplish and what the results have been.

In that light, the best they can claim is that freeing the Iraqi people was a collateral effect of whatever it was we really wanted to do, whether it was eliminating the threat of WMD or terrorism or something else entirely that was never mentioned. Personally, I believe the administration officials who now admit that they were "sending a message" to the world that we are not soft. In fact, it's the only thing that makes complete sense. (We could have easily cut lucrative deals for the oil by lifting sanctions.)

So, on their own terms of "sending a message," was the end achieved and was it worth it? Was that a justifiable reason to flout international law and severely damage our relationships with allies? It's too early to know for sure but regardless of the ultimate result, it is unprecedented and many, many people around the world are not likely to understand or support it.

There is already some collateral damage from this action, one of the most serious of which is the disintegration of American credibility. That means nothing to those in power who believe that "might makes right." But, I don't believe we are omnipotent and this administration, in behaving as if we are, may have set a very dangerous series of events in motion. By creating an order in which the United States does not believe that credibility is important and one in which the rule of law is inconsistently applied, we have made ourselves difficult to understand and predict.

Those who believe that force is the only viable way to ensure security think this is a good thing. But, history suggests that it invites miscalculation and overreaction. Therefore, because the stated goals of Iraq were so confused, I believe that in addition to freeing the Iraqi people, the "ends" are also likely to be an escalated arms race and a breakdown of the international rule of law among powerful and near powerful nations, on top of the "rogue" states who already flout the rules.

The people of the US deserved to know that in order to "send a message" (and incidentally free the Iraqi people) we may have destabilized the world and made it more dangerous than it has been since the height of the cold war, if not longer. Perhaps the American people would have sanctioned freeing the Iraqi people anyway, in which case I commend them for their generosity and compassion. But if that's true, it seems strange that on the heels of our great victory over tyranny (at very little cost to ourselves in lives) we aren't seeing a groundswell of sentiment to free any of the other of the billions of oppressed people on this earth.

Which then begs the question of whether we are also, after the fact, "sending a message" to ourselves --- of warm and hearty congratulations for our righteousness and good intentions. The fact that it was all based on lies will not be allowed interfere with the overwhelming good feeling and love we now have for ourselves, regardless of the real means or the real ends.