Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Musings on Iraq

Jeromy over at Seeking Goliath has posted some thoughts about the war in Iraq. He notes that he did support it at the beginning, but is not quite sure how he feels now. While I was never sold on this war, I can understand those who did think it may have been justifiable in the beginning. What I cannot understand are those people who think the war has gone swimmingly and think any criticism of it is not just wrong, but blasphemous (*coughNormanPodhoretzcough*). Jeromy certainly does not shy from questioning and he brings this point up in his post as well as some others.

1. Constitutional rights were created to be upheld in difficult times, not done away with. It is precisely those difficult times that reveal the constitution’s merit. Freedoms cannot, primarily, be forsaken in the name of “national security,” whether they be our freedoms or those of another nation. Nor can we take away the rights of non-Americans and simultaneously demand the rights of Americans either domestically or on the foreign stage without staring squarely in the face of our own hypocrisy.

Of all of the problems from this conflict, I think this is perhaps the most troubling. Torture, warrantless wiretapping, stripping habeas corpus. This is America. The one thing we have been able to rely on for a long time in foreign policy is our reputation as a bastion of morality. No more. That has been flushed down the toilet. And it is not just our current President and his administration. It is everyone in Congress who has only given lip service to the notion of standing up for this. It is the American people who have been complacent or even applauded these acts. It has only taken seven years for our reputation to be demolished. It will take far longer to rebuild it.

2. You cannot wage a global war and simultaneously expect no consequence to a global economy.

I don't think this administration honestly thought about most of the consequences of their actions, not just any economic impact. In fact, I think their only thoughts on economic impact were "Overthrowing Saddam and replacing him with someone friendlier to us will help us maintain access to oil."

3. War solely for the sake of peace is not justifiable. For centuries wars have been fought in the name of peace, and for centuries no war fought in the name of peace has resulted in peace. The two concepts are innately opposed to each other. It’s like saying I’m going to build a tree house by digging a hole.

"The aim and result of war necessarily are not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual 'war to end all war.' -Wendell Berry

War is peace.

4. There is a time for war. Ecclesiastes bears this truth. History provides evidence as well- there is a time to fight. However, if I am being completely transparent, I have to admit that I don’t yet know when that time is.

Perhaps at this time it might be helpful to review some of the criteria for entering war (jus ad bellum) as laid out by such thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, and others.

1) Just cause

Did we have this going into Iraq? I don't believe so. Even if the intelligence had born out and Saddam did have WMDs, I don't think that gave us reason to invade. The notion of preemptive strikes is tricky, but I think there needs to be and imminent, clear and present danger to justify preemptive action. Saddam possessing WMDs does not meet this criteria. Satellite imagery showing Saddam fueling long-range rockets might.

2) Legitimate authority

We had this, sort of. Many nations did buy into the President's story (thanks, Colin Powell) and supported us. Many did not, however, and we did not have a UN Resolution to support us. Now, I do not think that the US needs to have UN permission to take action to protect its interests. That said, it is helpful to have such, especially when your primary case for going to war turns out to be a dud. We do not need anyone's permission to take action, but we should be very cautious if we do not have it. We may be the most powerful nation on the planet, but events in Iraq certainly demonstrate that we are not invulnerable.

3) Right intention

This is certainly a gray area and the answer of whether we had this or not probably depends on how partisan one is. Personally, I do not believe many in this administration had right intention. I think that many supporters of the war (at least at first) had right intention. Leaving the whole oil issue aside and even WMDs, I want to talk about "bringing democracy to the Middle East." This was widely touted as a good reason for invading Iraq, especially after the absence of WMDs. Is this a reason to go to war, though? I do not believe so. There are other, better ways of encouraging democracy. We have only served to inflame many people in the Middle East against us. Our arrogant, we'll-bring-democracy-to-the-backward-Arabs has made the task of spreading freedom harder, not easier. Democracy isn't something you can give to a society. They have to want it enough to take it themselves.

4. Probability of success

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the US military machine was astronomically superior to the Iraqi military. No one doubted that we would be able to go in and thwart them without breaking much of a sweat. It is one thing, though, to defeat an army that a bunch of Girl Scouts could have smacked around. It is another thing completely to rebuild a nation. Sadly, our administration showed a stunning lack of planning on this and has bungled it horribly. Even if it had been planned better, though, it is hard to say whether we could have succeeded in this.

This is where it becomes important for the society to want the democracy for themselves. We have opened up a nasty can of sectarian strife where too many sides are striving for their own ends and not the interests of the nation as a whole. It doesn't help that many Iraqis do not view themselves as such, but as members of one tribe or another or a Sunni or Shi'ite. Violence is down, whether because of the surge or not, but there has been little to no progress on the political front. We can't force the Iraqis to come to terms with each other.

5. Last resort

Some will say that we gave Saddam more than enough chances to comply with UN Resolutions requiring disarmament and that he (and the world) were laughing because we showed no spine. I tend to side with those who say we didn't use force as a last resort, especially since it has come out that the administration has been less than honest with the intelligence we had and many inspectors at the time were clamoring for more time, saying they believed the WMD story was being blown out of proportion. Sure it is easier to say after the fact (no WMDs? Whoops), but I have been against this war from the beginning. I do not think this was a last resort effort. Bush was talking about provoking Iraq by dressing up a plane in UN colors and flying it over their airspace hoping Saddam would shoot at it. This is not the actions of someone wanting to use force as a last resort. This is the action of someone determined to use force and just trying to find an excuse.

I think that based on these criteria, our military action in Iraq was not justified. We could get into the jus in bello, too, (ah, torture, how I miss thee), but that's another post.

5. There is a difference between patriotism to the ideals that the constitution upholds and patriotism to the current ruling government. Thomas Jefferson felt that skepticism was an important part of being a citizen,

"for nothing can keep it right but our own vigilant and distrustful superintendence."

Patriotism has been manipulated by those in power of both parties who are simply seeking the favor of the masses. Patriotism is defined (though “patriots” would not put it this way), as a blind loyalty to the actions and motivations of the presiding regime. What America wants, America has a moral right to, and if you disagree you are an unpatriotic, ungrateful coward.

Few things are more aggravating than ridiculous, blowhard rhetoric about patriotism. My kneejerk reaction anymore is to think "pompous dickhead" when some pol or pundit starts bloviating about what it means to be patriotic. Occasionally, its someone with some sense, as Jeromy above, but, unfortunately, most of the time it's verbal diarrhea.

I think that the Iraq war and its fallout may become a defining cultural moment for us as Vietnam was for a previous generation. We need more sane discussion of it so we can come to terms with it.

No comments: