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February 27, 2007

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Beautiful, Hilzoy. I wish more Americans got what Gandhi understood about violence.

This is outstanding.

Wow.

I almost want someone to come along and disagree with you just for the sake of argument: on the other hand, really what this post deserves is a long, long thread of applause. The blogging equivalent of a standing ovation.

*bookmarks*
*applauds*

I think you have followed Beinart in a misuse of the term "preventive war".

preventive war is not a way of remaking the world in the ways the South African and Beinart imagine.

I don't think anyone considered SA's government constituted a potential threat to the US. While the Iraq war was considered a "preventive war" by the administration, Beinart's concern doesn't seem to be the preventive part, but the liberation part of the war. Beinarts' quote about "remaking the world with preventive war" probably should have left out the word preventive.

My respect level for you just went way up, and it was already pretty high.

I sometimes think people don't reflect enough on the meaning of "War is hell". What Sherman said was novel and shocking when he said it. (Think about what the words mean, as if you haven't hears that sentence before, and think about who Sherman was and what he did.) It's a shame that it has now become so much of a cliche that you rarely see anyone quote it except as a way of trivilizing atrocities.

If we really remembered what war is, I agree with Hilzoy that fewer of us would have made Beinart's mistake.

Terrific post.

All our presidential hopefuls should be required to read it.

Superb piece. Why can't commentary in mainstream circles ever come close to the level one sometimes finds (as here, for instance) in the blogosphere?

Great post -- worthy of expansion into at least an op-ed.

Mainstream circles meant newspapers, etc. I almost never read anything in the NYT that is as good as this piece was.

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

That is a profound paragraph hilzoy. The whole piece is good but that leapt off that page (screen).

I’m not sure I agree with everything yet (it is a bit to digest) but those 3 sentences will certainly stick with me.

yes, indeed. that was excellent, Hilzoy.

you're damned good at this stuff.

It's not just that we aren't the country Beinart wanted to think we were; it's that war is not the instrument he thought it was.

So beautifully wise.

Nitpick: the invasion of Panama happened under George H.W. Bush, not Reagan.

Since I am one of those rare birds who still looks to literature and poetry to understand the world, I advise a careful reading of Macbeth, in which Shakespeare definitely suggests that the indiscriminate violence at work in Scotland even before Macbeth killed the king (civil war) will continue its lethal course even after Macduff has at last managed to unseat the bloody tyrant Macbeth, thus finding himself in the very place that Macbeth has just vacated. Violence has a way of perpetuating itself with the actors who happen to be at hand. Beware being in the wrong place at the wrong time... We are not as rational, as free, or as independent as we would like to believe.

Thanks, hilzoy: this is great.

The same three sentences that so impressed OCSteve were the three that stuck for me as well.

Astoundingly well written. Your blog is now next to Making Light (from whence I found you) on my subscription list.

It feels churlish to point out that there is no appreciable difference between the Reagan/Bush interventions in Grenada and Panama, and the Clinton intervention in Kosovo, in terms of being fought "against tiny countries who could not possibly have put up any resistance to our army," and that the latter war might also be described as a cheap victory over an insignificant opponent. But since I'm a mean ol' conservative, I will anyway.

That said, this is an outstanding essay, Hilzoy, and the fact that you aren't writing syndicated columns that appear in every major American newspaper is a crying shame.

Hilzoy says: Thomas Hobbes, who actually lived through a civil war, believed that to escape from "the war of all against all", it was necessary to grant a monarch unlimited sovereignty, and that living under such a monarch was preferable to living in a state of war and anarchy. I am not a Hobbesian, in part because I do not believe that those are our only two choices. But I've never been sure that if we had to face that choice, his answer wasn't the right one.

and then later says:
That Stalin was neither good nor wise is beyond question. But to focus on his personal failings is to miss a broader point: that totalitarianism itself is bound to fail to do right by those who live under it

There seems to be a contradiction here (unless you are distinguishing between "unlimited sovereignty" and "totalitarianism"). If Hobbes' solution may, under certain circumstances, possibly be the "right" solution then totalitarianism/unlimited sovereignty may not always fail, at least any more so than the other alternatives.

Sigh, I agree with you that there are more than two possible answers, but I think the big thing is to find the right question(s).

Good post!

I'm with Donald Johnson. I can't recall a piece in the New York Times with the same level of powerful insight as this post offers.

"...and the fact that you aren't writing syndicated columns that appear in every major American newspaper is a crying shame."

They said this over at Making Light. I happen to think hilzoy is important and useful in her day job, and have difficulty imagining many more useful ways for her to apply her talents and skills.

I could be wrong.

Respica te, domina.

When you use force to liberate a country, like Kuwait, that has only been occupied for a short time, you can hope that its people will accept their previous government, and that whatever made that government function in the past will have survived. But when you liberate a country like Iraq, a country whose people have been brutalized, you risk loosing Hobbes' "war of all against all" on its people.

The problem with this approach is that there is no recourse against totalitarian countries.

And liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive regime; it is a matter of creating a country populated by citizens who are, by and large, willing to set aside the idea of resolving conflicts by force and to respect the laws, even when they are imperfectly applied.

In Iraq, in the last 25 months there have been two elections and a ratification of a constitution. That counts for something.

Fine post, hilzoy.

There you go, Jes.

The problem with this approach is that there is no recourse against totalitarian countries.

Recourse by whom? To my recollection, we didn't have to invade the USSR or East Germany.

Recourse by whom? To my recollection, we didn't have to invade the USSR or East Germany.

Or Saudi Arabia, for that matter.

Okay, haven't been able to get a copy of Georges Sorel yet, so gotta wing it, maybe with metaphor. One problem I have with this line of argument is that it always gets extended past its usefulnessm from here in connecting the War against Saddam to whatever the women of South Africa had in mind, which isn't exactly clear. I have seen the virtues of "liberalism" extended to not doing anything socially disruptive, like supporting primary opposition to Joe Lieberman. Are general strikes okay but sabotage bad?

A metaphor would be coercive taxation for social redistribution and the general welfare. If all persons were fully charitable and generous, and wise and efficient in their charity, we wouldn't need to coerce them out of their money. Taxation is certainly violent, in fact, you resist taxation, you are punished, up to imprisonment. So should the non-violent prefer a gradual project of education and enlightenment without coercive taxation, while letting the consequences of greed, callousness, unenlightened self-interest endure.

Perhaps slavery in the US might have died of its own accord in another century. Certainly the War had very high costs without being an unambiguous success. I would have prevented the Stalinist purges or Nanking or Treblinka with a very great sacrifice, and I grant myself no measure of Saintliness for watching and waiting as atrocities occur before my eyes.

In general, I would say the the hard questions of preventative or humanitarian war remain hard questions, questions of empirical & pragmatic calculations in choosing the lesser of two evils. But by choosing peace, we are not always doing good, and should avoid those imputations of innocence.

In Iraq, in the last 25 months there have been two elections and a ratification of a constitution. That counts for something.

and the flight of millions, and the deaths of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands, and the near destruction of the infrastructure and quality of life.

sure a constitution and an election counts for something, but i just don't think it's enough, on balance.

Saddam's Iraq was terrible, but i can't imagine it was worse than what we've given them.

Bravo, hilzoy.

It's interesting -- I was tracking down a Reagan quote today, and came across something interesting he said. "Wars are started by nations who believe the cost is cheap."

A strong case can be made for the importance of maintaining a strong military, especially when one is at the top of the pile, so to speak. But the stronger it gets, the easier it is to justify using it. The perceived risk begins to drop, and drop, and drop, and suddenly -- like the big kid in the neighborhood who realizes that the rest of the children fear him just enough to give him what he wants -- the moral questions become very abstract.

Now if hilzoy's argument is that the consequences of socially disruptive political action are always ultimately incalculable, which this appears to imply:

"Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to."

...then perhaps Rosa Parks or Gandhi himself were in greivous error.

For those who claim a huge difference between acts of violence, and non-violent acts that compel or tempt or inspire violence, some difference is granted, although for those who died marching on the saltworks in India more significant than for those who organized the action. (Just saw the movie)

Wonderful Hilzoy! Thankyou.

I almost feel like I'm trivializing the beauty of this post to recall the quote you started with, and PB's unconscious admission that he got it wrong because he didn't realize what war is.

It's actually kind of chilling, that there seems to be a whole generation that has grown up thinking that Vietnam was just an especially bad war and that the anti-Vietnam generation were "scarred" by it and have an unreasoning resistence to making war because of it.

Bob, I think you're reading too much into the passage you quote. Hilzoy's talking about armed struggle vs. nonviolent resistance.

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

The first thing that came to my mind:

Yoda: Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.
Luke: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

Long time reader, first time poster, so please excuse any gaffes or poor formatting. I’ll do my best.

My first reaction to this post was similar to the early comments – what a beautiful piece of writing and how exactly and completely true. The path of events towards a goal changes the nature of the goal; liberation from oppression by violence is not the same as liberation through non-violence, and external intervention is not the same as internal uprising, even if at a coarse level they all result in a regime toppled.

On reflection, I think that the difference is not between violent and non-violent change. (Bob McManus pointed out that this distinction is as easy to make as we might like.) Instead, I think the difference rests in whether change is brought about by people who consider what they want to come afterwards and pick their path accordingly. What brought this to mind was the recent President’s Day http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/02/that_george_was.html”>discussion of the American Revolutionary War as prosecuted by http://balkin.blogspot.com/2007/02/tale-of-two-georges.html”>George Washington. That was certainly a violent struggle with significant involvement of foreign powers (France), but Washington paid scrupulous attention to how that war was conducted and what it said about the American nation-to-be. Hilzoy gives an example of the opposite behavior amongst modern Palestinians.

So why the at least apparent correlation between violence and a poor final outcome? Perhaps because the attitude that leads to violent conflict is often that the goal is worth any means – the path in unimportant, only the result, and that often crudely defined.

By this standard, the current Iraq war comes off very poorly. Gulf War I, for example, perhaps less so.

Yup, so I screwed up the links. The first one should be:

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/02/that_george_was.html

and the second one

http://balkin.blogspot.com/2007/02/tale-of-two-georges.html

Apologies for the mistake and the ugly URLs.

"Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to."

As several others have mentioned, this passage blew me away. I've copied it down to quote it in the future.

peter beinart is an ass -- a careerist without morals or ethics who just wants to climbe the ladder and "be famous." all you're ever going to get from someone like this is self-serving drivel.

on the other hand, people like peter, that is, people who speak and act in bad faith, do tend, i think, to justify and even to necessitate violence. you cannot reason with someone who lies all the time.

gandhi once sent a letter to adolf hitler, explaining the shortcomings of violence. his fellow south african, nelson mandela, on the other hand, led a guerilla movement.

there is no unalloyed good. there is no unalloyed evil.

Thanks very much, Hilzoy. You articulate beautifully a great deal of what I've been mulling over for the past few months, years... The conflict I've studied in greatest depth is probably WWI. After reading about the Battle of the Somme, or talking to veterans of more recent conflicts, there's really no glamor to war. It's long struck me that the neocons and the liberal hawks, in addition to not having any military service, apparently never talked to vets or read any good histories or first-hand accounts of wars. Anyone who wants to go to war is an idiot, and not to be trusted. Anyone who thinks it's a good idea is also suspect. I'm glad Beinert has been honest with himself to a degree now, but I wonder if even now he sees how dangerous and immature his views were.

In particular, I like your line: "Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination." Shades of Nietzsche's abyss, a Zen tale or two, and even Skywalker into the tree (although I see I’m not the only one to make that connection).

With your account of the Indian women, I’m also reminded of a former teaching colleague of mine, Jorie, a Quaker. Our school always held special classes on MLK day and we encouraged students to teach some of them. Jorie would always do a workshop on peaceful resolution of conflicts. I’ve got a friend in the Peace Corps who’s done a great deal of similar training. It’s an entirely different vocabulary, socially, emotionally, morally, and frankly, not one I was privy to much growing up. Years ago I read a line by Camus, that war could never be eliminated as long as capital punishment existed, because it suggested violence and death could be acceptable solutions. Finally, I wonder if any of those South African women later worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, because its efforts to introduce a new “vocabulary” really were quite extraordinary. Thanks again.

I'm not the Star Wars "Doug H," but I enjoyed his comment.

This is a wonderful post, Hilzoy!

Violence, even when it "succeeds" is more than likely to fail in its intended purpose. And when it fails, it only makes the situation far worse.

"And liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive regime; it is a matter of creating a country populated by citizens who are, by and large, willing to set aside the idea of resolving conflicts by force and to respect the laws, even when they are imperfectly applied."

I think the United states can and should project its power through non-violent means to undermine despots and create the kind of populations in the above quote. The choice is not between violence and appeasement, as it is so often laid out. Neither one is a strategy for success. It should be common sense that in a conflict you want to emphasize your opponents weaknesses and play to your strengths. Instead, our leaders are drawn to the opposite tact. America's real power comes from ideas and economic strength, these should be our weapons of first choice.

Hilzoy,

I apologize that I assumed you were a man. I couldn't tell from the text (even though you attended a women's conference---men attend that too). Forgive me.

Bob, both of your commwents make good points. I don't think hilzoy is saying that violence should never be used or that nonviolent approaches do not at some points entice in others violent behavior.

I do think her point is that if you are going to turn to a violent approach, be it preventive or for humanitarian reasons, you damn well better have a good understanding of all the different consequences that could come about.

Going to war, even for the most noble reasons, means little if you don't look at all the consequences and prepare for them. In Iraq, this administration did not do that, nor did it prepare our country for thsoe consequences.

Personally, I felt the only possible justification for us going to war for for humanitarian reasons, which was not a justification uttered by this government. And, quite honestly, I don't think the citizens of this country would have felt that it justified us taking action.

DaveC. Elections and a constitution only count for something if they have meaning and positive consequences. Anybody could have an election. Heck Saddam was "elected" numerous times. At this point in time, I don't see them as having counted for soemthing enough to justify all that has happened.

FWIW, I am wondering if anybody saw the ABC special last night with Bob Woodruff. It focused on the brain injured members of the military. Heartwrenching is too mild a term. And the estimate is that 10% or more of our military that have served in Iraq will have sustained some form of brain trauma. As my wife said, every congressperson and member of this administration should be required to see that show.

On re-reading the post, I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the way in which two kinds of purportedly liberating violence are fused: wars of liberation "from above", by a militarily powerful outside force, and "from below", internal political struggles in which representatives of the less powerful use violence to achieve their goals.

Both often fail, but for very different reasons. They go off the rails in very different ways, too.

A third re-reading and I find that any quibbles or disagreements I might have would simply seem petty appended to such a great post and I would not want them to become part of the permanent record.

Truly one of your best Hilzoy!

Dan: no problem ;)

And no, I'm not saying that violence is never the right answer. I did, after all, support a whole bunch of wars, not including Iraq, but including the nonexistent intervention in Rwanda. In general, I think that besides self-defense, there are some situations in which, while you have to worry about the consequences of what you do, etc., worrying about loosing the horrors of war on a people is not one of the things you have to worry about, simply because it's already there. (Rwanda.)

john miller is right about my point: "if you are going to turn to a violent approach, be it preventive or for humanitarian reasons, you damn well better have a good understanding of all the different consequences that could come about." And also: understand as well that war has a quite specific set of consequences above and beyond people dying or being wounded; it is not just one of a number of means for arriving at the same end.

Nell: your point is a good one. I'll have to think about it some more, but: you're right.

"President’s Day discussion of the American Revolutionary War as prosecuted by George Washington. That was certainly a violent struggle with significant involvement of foreign powers (France), but Washington paid scrupulous attention to how that war was conducted and what it said about the American nation-to-be."

Yeah, right. Washington was very scrupulous--sometimes. Maybe not when he ordered every Iroquois town to be destroyed as a way of suppressing their resistance (which included some Iroquois atrocities against whites.)

Americans need to stop romanticizing our past.

Just to dissent for the sake of dissent (I too think this is an essay that deserves wide dissemination, and that it puts most of the NYT and WAPO columnists in the shade): while I would never maintain that Stalin was "good," I would argue that he needed quite a lot of "wisdom" to climb to the top of the greasy pole after 1917, industrialize the largest empire that ever existed on this planet, and ultimately to achieve victory over Nazi Germany and a stand-off with his erstwhile Allies after the War.

Crimes and mistakes a-plenty, but the man not only achieved the above, but was beloved by millions at his death.

Hilzoy is wrong again!

Ronald Reagan's wars -- the overt ones, at any rate -- were all against tiny countries who could not possibly have put up any resistance to our army. (E.g.: Grenada; Panama.)

Wasn't Panama actually invaded by Bush the elder?

Otherwise, I'm so consumed with envy at your ability to write that I will use this minor factual quibble to disregard and ignore the rest of this formidable essay.

Eric (and whoever said this earlier): updated. Thanks.

hilzoy,

And no, I'm not saying that violence is never the right answer. I did, after all, support a whole bunch of wars, not including Iraq, but including the nonexistent intervention in Rwanda. In general, I think that besides self-defense, there are some situations in which, while you have to worry about the consequences of what you do, etc., worrying about loosing the horrors of war on a people is not one of the things you have to worry about, simply because it's already there. (Rwanda.)

Right, as do I. Certainly I backed Clinton's bombing of Serbia, for example. I felt it was necessary. But we didn't attempt to go in and "free" the Serbians from their nasty ruler. There are wars, and even interventions, that are justified, but I think the message those Indian women tried to send is far more wise than some may realize about fighting. I wonder something, now that we've had some kind of military conflict going on near constantly since 1914, are we, or have we, approached a point where we can't see solutions outside of military conflict? Have two sides of a conflict reached such a hardening that they don't see any compromise, or that they see a compromise as the death of who they are, and as such won't dare come close to a resolution except by military force?

"...it was necessary to grant a monarch unlimited sovereignty, and that living under such a monarch was preferable to living in a state of war and anarchy."

Anarchy has gotten a bum rap. Seems to me that part of the history and purpose of civilization is the leveling: not only the reduction of power individuals and groups have over each other, but attempts to reduce the advantages and disadvantages that such power is associated with. There are fewer Caesars and Napoleons and Saddams than there used to be, but there remain far too many social and financial benefits to the achievement of power. I do not consider attempts to reduce such spoils utopian, although attempts to eliminate the possibility of spoils might be.

I shouldn't need to go into details. Libertarians might want to reduce the incentives of power by reducing gov't. I might want to reduce theft by eliminating property. Same difference. :)

No, really. The Roman citizen had a gov't sanctioned slave as property and the gov't permission, within limits, to kill that slave. As he could kill his minor children.
It isn't as if there is no relation between property and power.

If I seem to generalize excessively, to move from the micro the macro, well, somebody thought there was something, at least personally, to be gained by the invasion of Iraq.

..I thought the piece was very touching, for some reason. I think I've wanted to hear an american say something like this for the past seven years or so. ;)

Very good piece, hilzoy. To me, it still smells of barely buried presumptions of the kind of moral superiority that always comes along with assertions of unilateral rights to meddle with the world in general without any implicit limits. (For instance, illustrated by the difference between internal struggles and imposed ones, like Nell mentioned, or around the idea of how a clear and undisputed authority is necessary.)

But this is brilliant. To be honest, I savoured every word. That there is even a possibility to take on issues in the essay like the duality between imposed and internal struggles, without reinventing the dictionary, makes it uniquely outstanding.

I once read an article by George F. Kennan where he comments on modern war. One line in particular stuck with me: "Modern war is no longer an instrument of policy. It is an experience in itself. It does things to those who practice it, even the victors." I always remember that quote whenever I listen to someone casually advocating war as an answer to some foreign policy problem.

In a very slightly juster world, Beinart would ask permission to reprint this in various places. Magnificant.

Avedon: "It's actually kind of chilling, that there seems to be a whole generation that has grown up thinking that Vietnam was just an especially bad war and that the anti-Vietnam generation were "scarred" by it and have an unreasoning resistence to making war because of it."

In the run-up to war, realizing how many of my fellow citizens - including no few apparently sane liberalish types - seemed to view war as just fundamentally not that big a deal . . . I don't know: it was like looking over at your spouse - quiet domestic scene - and realizing that they had just thrust their hand onto the lit stove burner to see what would happen. An unexpected erruption of the irrational, the bad, frightening irrational.

And really, that should be: they had thrust the neighbor's child's hand onto . .

hilzoy, I wholeheartedly agree with your points, but, what's been nagging me is this:

doesn't your argument somehow imply that, had the Bush admin been prepared for what they're getting into in Iraq and consequently been able to turn the country into a peaceful and prosperous place, the invasion would have been justified?

I am myself a bit torn on that issue, though I tend to favor a principled stance (preventive war is illegal, immoral and sets a bad precedent) over a consequentialist stance (Saddam is gone, the Iraqis are happy, who are we to complain) and would be interested in your point of view.

doesn't your argument somehow imply that, had the Bush admin been prepared for what they're getting into in Iraq and consequently been able to turn the country into a peaceful and prosperous place, the invasion would have been justified?

But it is not necessarily the case that any amount of preparation, no matter how careful, would have enabled us to invade and turn Iraq into a peaceful place.

novakant: "doesn't your argument somehow imply that, had the Bush admin been prepared for what they're getting into in Iraq and consequently been able to turn the country into a peaceful and prosperous place, the invasion would have been justified?"

I don't think so. For one thing, I don't say much about positive justifications for war at all; just about the reasons for thinking that whatever they might be, the idea that they're just another way of toppling a repressive regime, only faster, is not among them. For another, as BY pointed out, it's not at all clear that any amount of planning would have achieved that result. For a third thing, whether it would have or not, the risks that it wouldn't were (imho) much too great to make invading Iraq a good idea at the outset.

This is a truly wonderful post.

Just wanted to throw in that Gareth Evans and the International Crisis Group have been working on articulating an international concept of the "responsibility to protect" that aims to articulate when states have the right/duty to intervene to prevent atrocious behavior by other states within their boundaries. I think Americans are inadequately aware that there are a lot of people in the world trying to elaborate these sorts of conceptual initiatives all around us. Perhaps there will come a moment when a web of such understandings ties us down a little. Obviously, I like that idea.

great post HIlzoy.

Iraq was never a good idea, except for Halliburton and the various oil companies who are presently wetting themselves at the thought of chowing down on (allegedly)the world's second largest reserves.

had the Bush admin been prepared for what they're getting into in Iraq and consequently been able to turn the country into a peaceful and prosperous place, the invasion would have been justified?

actually, that seems to be more beinart's (and tom friedman's and david brooks' and a lot of other so-called pundits) way of looking at things.

this is a great column. if life were fair you would be writing for a high profile newspapaer or magazine.

thanks for sharing with us.

Really well done.

Recently I was arguing with a self-proclaimed libertarian about the War in Iraq, and the idea of pre-emptive war. I maintained that war, by itself, never makes things better.

Even when a war may be justified as Serbia or Kosovo, or may be unavoidable, as in WWII, after the war, you are left with a hellish mess and thousands or millions of casualties.

The war may- MAY - provide a tactic to effect some desired outcome. But you will be left with disastrous conditions, that then have to be addressed on their own.

As you said, violence doesn't get you where you want to go, faster. And if you are incautious, or incompetent, violence can prevent you from even being able to get where you want to go.

(standing ovation)

I thank Eric at Surfdom for pointing me here, and I thank Hilzoy for what has to be one of the contenders for World Blog Post of the Year.

Wonderful, important post; thank-you Hilzoy, not just for this one, but for so many others, and for the entire enterprise this blog represents.

Ed Boggen; Although I agree with your rejection of notions of unalloyed good and evil, it's too simple to say that Mandela led a guerrilla movement. He followed in the Oliver Tambo/Walter Sisulu ANC tradition of non-violent resistence. In fact, the ANC's first campaigns were modeled on Ghandi's own South African campaigns.

It is true that Mandela came to a later conclusion that the disciplined use of force against the apparatus of the state itself had become necessary, but this was after a trip to Algeria, at which point Mandela explicitly rejected the revolutionary/reactionary notion that posited universal guilt on the part of the enemy, and which animated the Algerian war on both sides, thus justifying the French casting aside their own constitution in dealing with the Algerians, including the use of torture, and conversely, the Algerian resistance's use of random terror against ordinary people, since all French civilians were guilty of oppression by their presence in Algeria.

This is the raison d'etre of terrorism, and of anti-terrorism, of course, and Mandela rejected it when formulating the next phase of the struggle in South Africa, explicitly eschewing the use of random violence against other people, and explicitly requiring that chosen targets of sabotage not generate what we now call collateral damage. The document articulating this new strategy was what sent Mandela to jail.

Ultimately, it was the isolation of South Africa by the rest of the world which finally made that government realize it couldn't go on with it's policies of isolation, segregation, and oppression of its majority black population, but none of that would have been possible without the valiant efforts of that population itself. The price paid by people like Steve Biko and so many others who died in custody, or were beaten or shot during demonstrations was extravagant.

One could argue that it took way too long for boycotts to work, and that the wave of violent criminality South Africa's black government is trying to deal with is a direct result of the decades and decades of mistreatment endured by black South Africa. I personally hold that view, but in the end, I believe that Mandela's post-imprisonment moderation had more to offer than Winnie Mandela's radicalism, which, despite her extraordinary valor, had become corrupted by her own use of a private militia that did not hesitate to mete out violent reprisals against fellow black South Africans.

I apologize in advance for any pedantry other commentators might find here, but these distinctions do matter and the history of non-violent resistance is too often mangled.

Imagine if, upon arriving in Baghdad, the Bush administration had closed down Abu Ghraib and brought in a team of international experts to examine the evidence sequestered there of Saddam's horrific abuse of Iraqis most fundamental human rights as a first step toward an Iraqi led equivalent of South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which would also have been a way to differentiate which Bathist Party members had committed which crimes, and not required the wholesale de-Bathification that has fed the insurgency.

Iraqis were clamoring for just such information during those opening weeks of the occupation.

Yes, the invasion would still have been a bad idea, but one of the reasons it was such a bad idea was the impossibility of imagining its supporters ever turning to the human rights community for anything.

I wish more people would bother to actually read what Gandi wrote. He still has so much to teach us. Aside from his Autobiography, I think the best book ever written about him is Erik Erikson's "Ghandi's Truth."

Do click on that link to the International Crisis Group janinisfaran provided above, they are doing remarkable work there about which too few people know anything.


"Imagine if, upon arriving in Baghdad, the Bush administration had closed down Abu Ghraib and brought in a team of international experts to examine the evidence sequestered there of Saddam's horrific abuse of Iraqis most fundamental human rights as a first step toward an Iraqi led equivalent of South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission,which would also have been a way to differentiate which Bathist Party members had committed which crimes, and not required the wholesale de-Bathification that has fed the insurgency.

Iraqis were clamoring for just such information during those opening weeks of the occupation.

Yes, the invasion would still have been a bad idea, but one of the reasons it was such a bad idea was the impossibility of imagining its supporters ever turning to the human rights community for anything."


I would have had a problem even with this, unless it also focused on American complicity and American war crimes in Iraq. (Among which was the deliberate attack on civilian infrastructure in the Gulf War.)
Even a genuinely "liberal" humanitarian invasion by the US probably would have stunk of hypocrisy in that regard. I just don't want to see the human rights community too much in bed with a supposedly human rights oriented US Administration (obviously not a problem with Bush), until the US is willing to investigate itself or until hell freezes over, whichever comes first. The one problem I have with Human Rights Watch is that I think they sometimes do want that kind of relationship. I think it would corrupt them.

That said, I was very conflicted about the Iraq War, because I wasn't sure that the Western antiwar movement was in agreement with most Iraqis. I suspected then and still think now that many of them, quite likely a majority, welcomed the violent overthrow of Saddam by the US and they might have welcomed it much more enthusiastically if we'd tried to do it right, so to speak. I had opposed the war in Afghanistan, only to be surprised to see the inhabitants of Kabul overjoyed at their liberation by the Northern Alliance (the very group which had partially destroyed the city a few years earlier). So I felt that antiwar types who claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Iraqi people weren't necessarily correct. Which is part of why I think hilzoy's post here deserves a wider readership (maybe with some changes after rethinking the issue Nell raised). It explains pretty clearly on moral grounds why the liberal humanitarian argument for invading Iraq was wrong.

Leah A: (...)Yes, the invasion would still have been a bad idea, but one of the reasons it was such a bad idea was the impossibility of imagining its supporters ever turning to the human rights community for anything.
No, that's not true. The Bush- administration saw it as a political defeat to accept alternative thinking after the war was decided on. But that has very little to do with how the idea of an invasion came out largely uncontested at the beginning. Meaning that the criticism, then as now, came in the form of noting different planning- difficulties and doubts about practical capability with regards to military forces. And the most radical argument against the war came from people like Dean, when he argued that the US could not anticipate the kind of problems that would arise, and therefore should not risk it.

But never did someone proclaiming to speak on behalf of human rights in the States ever suggest that using force in itself might be a problem, or was capable of pushing such an argument in any applicable context.

And the problem both the left and right has had in the US is described well in hilzoy's post. They have not only come to accept that using force force to solve problems is necessary, but that force can be used successfully if the planning is good enough, and there is good enough intentions. And as I was horrified to discover at one point, traditional conservatives would generally be less eager to accept the idea of a humanitarian intervention than people on your "left". And many of these traditional conservatives had serious doubts about the mission, even though they would go along with it or stay silent. Just as the left had nothing to complain about when it came to the Bush- administration's rationale.

But this is symptomatic for the reasoning, and explains why the opposition is stuck where they are now when it comes to the war. By neither being capable of refuting the arguments made, or capable of explaining where the invasion went wrong.

Perhaps there's no point in bringing it up now, when the "anti- war side" has been all but vindicated with regards to how the war would turn out - but the fact remains that the Bush- administration had very broad support at one point. And it is hardly any sea- change in the opinions on "humanitarian" interventions that has turned this around.

fleinn: But never did someone proclaiming to speak on behalf of human rights in the States ever suggest that using force in itself might be a problem, or was capable of pushing such an argument in any applicable context.

This is simply not true. The American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, organizations with long histories in defense of human rights, argued that war cannot be an instrument of liberation against dictators, particularly when advocated by a government that claims for itself the right to make war on the basis of a perceived, non-imminent threat.

They were the first national organizations working to oppose an invasion of Iraq, in the spring of 2002, before many other people understood that such a war was actually being proposed.

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch made the case for why a U.S. invasion of Iraq would not be a legitimate "humanitarian intervention" at some point in the winter of 2002-3.

No, I'm mistaken; Roth's article was not published until January 2004.

And Roth is someone who is willing to countenance "liberation from above" under some circumstances -- just not those obtaining in this war.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who seriously believed that liberation and democratization was any part of the Bush-Cheney administration's plan for Iraq (other than as a marketing/propaganda technique) was fatally naive.

No, I'm mistaken; Roth's article was not published until January 2004.

And Roth is someone who is willing to countenance "liberation from above" under some circumstances -- just not those obtaining in this war.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who seriously believed that liberation and democratization was any part of the Bush-Cheney administration's plan for Iraq (other than as a marketing/propaganda technique) was fatally naive.

Donald Johnson, if you concede the truth of Hilzoy's argument about the reality-changing nature of war, maybe you need to be a little more charitable to those who've had to fight them, both past and present.

Re Washington vs the Iroquois, you're looking at possibly the last time in U.S. history where a conflict with Native Americans was in any way "existential" for the whites involved: the Iroquois, allied with American Loyalists, were putting up a very good fight in Upper New York. There weren't a lot of rules observed on either side: the area combined the worst of Europeanized civil wars and Indian frontier raids. There was nothing particularly wanton or depraved about Washington's orders to Sullivan, et al given the context.

As for the Northern Alliance, saying they were "the" faction that flattened Kabul is gross-oversimplification. It was Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami artillery that did most of the actual city-flattening; Massoud and the Alliance were in many ways on the receiving end of a multi-factional anarchic conflict where they were just one player. Kabulis' welcoming them over the Taliban is hardly surprising.

"anyone who seriously believed that liberation and democratization was any part of the Bush-Cheney administration's plan for Iraq (other than as a marketing/propaganda technique) was fatally naive."

Do you have the least bit of evidence? Remember that "they didn't have a good plan to ensure it would happen" is not a valid argument about the Bush admin. It seems to me that there were many many reasons the admin wanted to go to war, and since they aren't "turn you all into hermit crabs" concentrated evil and important elements of the pro-invasion crowd have been agitating on Liberty and Democracy for years, it is highly likely that was a goal.

Pace rilkefan, I see no reason to doubt that the delusional neocons behind this operation honestly believed there was a good chance of their "greeted as liberators" scenario coming to pass. The various conspiracy theories that the current state of chaos was all part of the evil plan seem very difficult for me to credit. When Bush expressed frustration a short while back that the Iraqi people hadn't been sufficiently grateful towards us, he seemed to honestly mean it, as crazy as that sounds.

What I suspect I would agree with Nell on is that the "human rights" portion of the case for war was always just a throw-in in an attempt to seize the moral high ground and craft a rhetorical bludgeon with which to beat war opponents upside the head. ("I suppose you'd be happier if Saddam were still running those rape rooms!") No one believes that suddenly, after 9/11, the plight of the long-suffering Iraqi people suddenly became too much for Dick Cheney and his ilk to bear.

Historically, when Republicans gave every indication of only caring about stopping human rights abuses abroad when they occurred under leftist regimes, I didn't believe they were sincere then either.

@rilkefan:

Since the late 1970s, I've been working on the opposite side of many, many issues from the signers of the 1998 'open letter' on Iraq, and the think tanks they populate.

They have a track record of not supporting democracy in this country or abroad. This is the crowd who brought us the "off the shelf" contra war in defiance of Congress, and the Iran-Contra weapons sales, and more. They wanted Gerald Ford to kill the Freedom of Information Act. They seriously believe that the executive branch does not need to answer to any other branch of government.

It's not mind reading, it's their record of action over twenty-five years. Dick Cheney, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Stephen Cambone, Dick Addington... this crowd isn't about liberty or democracy. Period.

Hermit crabs? WTF?

But since you brought up concentrated evil --yes, in my estimation Dick Cheney and his minions are just about the closest thing in American public life to concentrated evil.

They don't believe in democracy here, much less anywhere else in the world. The unitary executive, signing statements, torture, Team B, "The Enterprise"... They truly don't intend to let the opinions of you or me or 75% of the American public stand in the way of whatever they'd like to do.

Josh Marshall doesn't think democracy was any party of the goal, either.

I'm a geezer, a sixties leftover. That colors my perception of anything Nixon retreads Cheney and Rumsfeld try to sell me. Rilkefan, maybe JMM's evidence would be more persuasive to you.

Nell: (...)As far as I'm concerned, anyone who seriously believed that liberation and democratization was any part of the Bush-Cheney administration's plan for Iraq (other than as a marketing/propaganda technique) was fatally naive.
Still.. they were advancing an argument similar to the one on the left. In other words, the Bush- administration's credibility and (false)intentions, etc., was the target, not exactly their theories on the usefulness of war.

@fleinn: I addressed two different points in my comment. First, the AFSC and FCNL, who are organizations linked to the pacifist Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), did make the argument you said no one made: they argued that the use of military force to achieve democratization from outside a country is inherently unworkable. Hilzoy is not a pacifist. However, but the insight that the use of violence is not just another, faster means to an end, but changes the end, is a familiar one to peace activists.

Other people and organizations, very much including me, argued that this war -- despite anything that the administration or its supporters might say -- had nothing to do with democratizing Iraq. Feasibility of such a project aside, democratization was not an actual objective of the people who organized the invasion and occupation. Nothing Cheney, Bush, or Rumsfeldy have done since has given anyone a reason to believe that democratization was an objective.

Finally, there's a third school of thought, exemplified by Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch: that external wars of liberation ("humanitarian interventions") are possible and feasible, but that this particular case of the U.S. and Iraq doesn't meet the criteria for such an intervention.

"Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to."

This has instantly become one of my favorite quotes of all time. Someone please call Bartlett. The fact that our current politico-pundit class (and many of my fellow Americans) doesn't understand this concept says a lot about why we're in the mess we're in, and why we'll have a hard time getting out of it.

Isn't it fair to say that those disputing the war never did so invoking the difficulties with creating institutions, law, police, politics, and so on? In favour of simply condemning the idea of a violent intervention and a struggle altogether? Because what I saw coming from those you mention was the idea that the difficulties with the invasion would make it categorically impossible. Which is a very unconvincing argument. Not in the least because it makes the outside intervention your best bet for change implicitly.

And it was my impression that the Bush- administration steamrolled the "human- rights" advocates in the States early on by simply declaring that if Iraqis craved liberty, they would get it, and things would run on rails. Which is in direct response to the arguments mentioned.


I may be wrong, but I saw these human rights- advocates have a tremendously difficult time dealing with the Bush- administration simply because the reasoning they gave is identical to the one the Bush- administration came to offer. They only difference being on the prospects for success. While what is lacking is the conscientious look at just what an invasion can accomplish.

You may scoff at this and say - well, this is not a new argument - but I have seen what american think- tanks who should be on "my side" have been advocating lately, for instance in the middle east on reforms and democracy. Which, if not for my endless supply of good assumptions on people's thinking, I would simply label the modern equivalent of imperialistic missionaries spreading only good by accidental luck, but who would always be more likely to provoke political animosity, and so cultivate nothing but misery with their (quite possibly) genuine appeals for hope. And in so doing, naturally, justifying their own presence, their high moral grounds, and their essential role for facilitating change.

In other words, taking a good look at the actual arguments, rather than letting the implicitly assumed sentiments translate effortlessly into reality, you will see how unique hilzoy's careful consideration of this really is, in american political life.

(Go find a publisher for a column, hilzoy! Do it now!)

(...note: I know this is not a very friendly and appreciative post, that it is high on moralism and low on constructive criticism. But I don't know how to put it differently, and I can't keep my mouth shut. Or avoid writing this, anyway.)

Fleinn, if your comment is a response to mine, then, no: I take serious issue with your characterization of the arguments made by AFSC and FCNL. I'm also unable to make sense of your first paragraph, no matter what organizations you're referring to.

I saw these human rights- advocates have a tremendously difficult time dealing with the Bush- administration simply because the reasoning they gave is identical to the one the Bush- administration came to offer. They only difference being on the prospects for success. While what is lacking is the conscientious look at just what an invasion can accomplish.

That may describe some human rights organizations; which ones are you thinking of?

I have seen what american think- tanks who should be on "my side" have been advocating lately, for instance in the middle east on reforms and democracy. Which, if not for my endless supply of good assumptions on people's thinking, I would simply label the modern equivalent of imperialistic missionaries spreading only good by accidental luck, but who would always be more likely to provoke political animosity, and so cultivate nothing but misery with their (quite possibly) genuine appeals for hope. And in so doing, naturally, justifying their own presence, their high moral grounds, and their essential role for facilitating change.

This does not even remotely describe the position of AFSC and FCNL, who differ from organizations I would describe as "liberal interventionists" by their adherence to the principles of self-determination as well as their understanding of the destructive effects of military intervention regardless of the intentions of those directing it.

I'm in agreement that Hilzoy's thoughtful examination of the issue of democratization by force is unusual in American political life. It's not quite as unheard-of as many here seem to think.

Nell: "Hermit crabs? WTF?"

(Googlable) Time Bandits quote - more or less God referring to Satan.

"Josh Marshall doesn't think democracy was any party of the goal, either."

Note JMM is relying very heavily on "key" - you made a much broader statement. Cheney runs the admin, he's not the admin. (Anyway, I think JMM's argument is very weak - they don't believe in liberty/democracy by our standards here !-> they don't believe in it for Iraq, the admin != Cheney, {black, white} != everthing.)


I don't believe we would have gone to war without the liberation/democracy advocates' participation.

It probably won't help things for me to admit that I don't have any idea what 'Time Bandits' is... but I'll google and educate myself.

Re role of liberation/democratization in war motivations:

In this administration, as far as the decisions to go to war against Iraq were concerned, the only people who mattered were Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Unarguably, the decision had been made by March 2002 (Downing Street memos, Time article in 2003 reporting the "F*** Saddam, we're taking him out" remark; Abramoff email of March 2002 referring matter-of-factly to the coming invasion of Iraq). Money, personnel and equipment were diverted from the Afghan war to preparations for an attack on Iraq in January and February 2002 (Frontline 'The Dark Side', COBRA II, among other accounts).

There is good reason to think that the decision had been made when the Bush adminsitration took office. Paul O'Neill's account of the first national security meeting of the new administration, in February 2001, conveys his impression that the decision had already been made to invade Iraq, and the question was how and when, not whether. His perception was that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had agreed on this goal before any meetings of the NSC.

Shortly after the September 2001 attacks, alarmed by Bush's, Rumsfeld's and Cheney's focus on Iraq, Blair agreed to support a future invasion of Iraq if the administration would focus first on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The arguments the administration made for invasion that moved the public and Congress were made in the summer and fall of 2002; they were based on a supposed threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons possessed by Saddam Hussein, intensified by his regime's (supposed or potential) cooperation with Al Qaeda, and the risk that he would allow such weapons to get into the hands of terrorists.

There were many potentially influential people whose initial support for (or lack of opposition to) the invasion had to do with the idea that, whatever the situation with weapons, deposing Saddam Hussein would be a good thing for the Iraqi people. These people helped enable the war, but their support or lack of opposition is not evidence one way or the other for whether or not liberation/democratization was any part of the objectives of the administration's policy of invasion.

The Pentagon leadership, i.e. Rumsfeld, was allowed to cast aside the military's insistence on having enough troops to keep order post-invasion. He was allowed to cast aside the State Department's planning for the postwar. Bush vetoed the install-Chalabi plan, but nothing was put in its place. When Garner planned early local elections, he was quickly replaced by Bremer and the sectarian, exile-dominated IGC was imposed. The administration rejected any plans for elections until Sistani's mobilization of the Shiites made it impossible to refuse.

Where is the evidence that anyone in a decision-making position in this administration had the liberation or democratization of Iraq as an important goal of the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath government? When those in power have an important objective, they exert themselves to see that it happens. There is no sign in the conduct of the occupation that there was any such exertion.

To this day, the American public and even the foreign policy elite are deeply divided on the question of the administration's real reasons for invading Iraq. Some may chalk that up to an extraordinarily ineptness on the part of this administration. I attribute it to multiple objectives, none of which involved actually democratizing Iraq, compounded by an unwillingness to be honest about those objectives and motivations.

I believe that the available evidence, including all we know about the history of the major players, supports my view.

"In this administration, as far as the decisions to go to war against Iraq were concerned, the only people who mattered were Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld."

I think you've gone wrong already with your list; also you've moved from "plans for Iraq" to "decisions to go to war".

Nell: I believe that the available evidence, including all we know about the history of the major players, supports my view.

So do I.

Rilkefan: I think you've gone wrong already with your list; [Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld]

Who else in the Bush administration can you show had any authority over the decision to invade and occupy Iraq?

"any authority over the decision"

Moving the goal-posts.

Rilkefan, I've provided evidence, as you asked in your original response, for my contention that it was fatally naive to believe that democratization was any part of the administration's objective in invading Iraq.

If we've been talking past each other because my original wording was "any part of the Bush-Cheney administration's plan for Iraq", then I apologize for imprecision. Two of your responses referred to "the goal", though, so I understandably assumed you grasped the essence of my point and simply disagreed with it.

I've provided a number of pieces of evidence that support my belief. They may not be enough to convince you; that's okay. But it's not the case that I'm moving the goalposts in an effort to win a discussion point here.

Rilkefan: Moving the goal-posts.

What Nell said.

If by "Bush-Cheney admin" you meant Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and no one else; and if by "plan for Iraq" or "goal" you meant "decision to go to war"; and if you have some sort of access to Bush's brain that allows you to know what in the world he was thinking, then fine. I for one believe it's quite likely Bush thought he was going to be known as the liberator of Iraq and the father of democracy there and that was a fine fine thing in his mind (esp. since neither applies to Bush père) and one of the dozen or so reasons he was eager to go to war; and that anyone who believed or believes otherwise was or is fatally naive.

Rilkefan: and if you have some sort of access to Bush's brain that allows you to know what in the world he was thinking

Of course not. But we do at least know what he said, and what he did, both from when we know the decision had definitely been made to attack Iraq, and after the invasion. By what Bush said, and what he did, Nell's analysis makes perfect sense, and yours makes no sense.

However, if you have some sort of access to Bush's brain that lets you know he "thought he was going to be known as the liberator of Iraq and the father of democracy there" despite everything he said and did, do share.

By 'Bush-Cheney administration' I meant 'the people within that administration with the power to make decisions that would stick'. In any administration, that's a fairly small group of people. In this one, I believe history will record that it was, for the relevant period 2001-2006, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

As I have made plain in my comments, by 'plan' and 'goal' I meant 'a serious objective of the invasion'.

As I have also made plain, this has nothing to do with mind-reading. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld together had agreed on invading Iraq long before September 11, long before the invasion was sold to the American public. The three men have histories. Cheney's is the most relevant.

Bush may have thought this would paint him as the liberator of Iraq. His conversation with Mickey Herskovits in 1999, however, supports the idea that the Liberator image was more important than the actual liberation: he thought a war would give him enormous "political capital", which he was determined not to squander as he thought his father had after the 1991 Gulf War.

Rumsfeld was eager to test out his theories of the 'lean and mean' military, the "Revolution in Military Affairs".

Cheney is on record in 1999 as saying that U.S. access to Iraq's oil would be an excellent move for our security, and he's been on record for thirty years as an advocate of the executive branch doing what it thinks best and the hell with anyone else, including the law.

The objectives of a war of choice are determined by the actors who choose to bring it about, not those who enable it or carry it out. Evidence for their objectives can be determined from: how the case for war is made (deceptively, with multiple rationales, few of which had anything to do with liberation or democratization), how the war is prosecuted (again, to put it mildly, democratization does not seem to have been Priority One), and what objectives the war-supporters seem to give the highest priority when things get difficult and hard choices must be made. The answer to that last one is: domestic political objectives (as in, failure to raise revenues to pay for the war; failure to increase the size of the armed forces when the military began to show the strain) and long-term strategic objectives, i.e. U.S. military bases.

Bush has said troops will not leave Iraq during his term. He rejected the Iraq Study Group's recommendations as "a flaming turd", choosing instead to escalate troop levels. The decision-making group in the administration now is not any larger than it was when the invasion was first agreed on.

Rilkefan, you seem to regard 'fatally naive' as some sort of name-calling. I'm not immune to fatal naivete myself; for most of last year, until mid-December, I believed the administration would seize the gift of the ISG report as a way to withdraw some troops, leaving behind the bases that I believe are still a prime objective. I underestimated the extent to which Cheney and Bush work together: the idiot princeling who can be played like an instrument by the snarling vizier.

I guess I don't understand the distinction.

If we're going to allow millions of people to live with agony, oppression, and rampant death, because it's in our best interest to do so: how is it any less moral to inflict said agony and death when it is in our best interest to do so?

The alternative to toppling Iraq and establishing a government was toppling Iraq and not establishing a government (or standing by idly while it toppled itself, which is effectively the same thing). It's as if the argument is that we can justify massive amounts of death and oppression as long as a) our finger isn't on the trigger, even if we built the gun, and b) we have no illusions about helping the people involved.

Or perhaps the argument is that we can just ignore the whole problem, and it will go away. As if the solution to the expression of Arabic discontent that was 9/11 is to turn up the volume on our stereos.

Yes, war is hell. And it often fails. But doing nothing is not remarkably noted for its success rate, either.

I guess it boils down to this: would you rather shoot a man in the face, or watch him starve to death?

The alternative to toppling Iraq was not toppling Iraq. There was no urgency and Saddam was no more evil than any number of other dictators that we are not toppling.

The source of Islamic extremist hatred of the US is our support for Isreal, not Saddam. It was unnecessary, indeed counterproductive, to respond to 911 by invading Iraq.

It is baffling how the very people who insist that we HAD attck Saddam are the ones that had no issue with Bush One being friennds with him. There was no rightwing support for toppling Saddam at the time Saddam was killing Kurds.
Saddam only became the evil dicator who had to be deposed when it was convenient for domestic political reasons to characterize him that way.

Israel. Wow. V-8 moment.

Ya know, Saddam Hussein celebrated 9/11.

And he paid terrorist suicide bombers in the winter and spring of 2002. And there was a huge onslaught of the terrorist attacks at that time. By my thinking, that classified him as a state sponser of terrorism. Well, yes, the suicide bombers that he paid killed people in Israel. But those events turned me. Even though it was only a friend of a friend that was likked at Hebrew University, that was enough for me to decide to be unwaveringly pro-Zionist and want to bring down Saddam's regime.

The people who do the terrorist attacks in Iraq are not US. Generally speaking, most of the violent terrorist attacks are still done by Al Qaeda in Iraq. True, not sponsered by Saddam, but sponsered by our enemies nevertheless.

gah,

Killed, not Likked.

Nell: (...)Fleinn, if your comment is a response to mine, then, no: I take serious issue with your characterization of the arguments made by AFSC and FCNL. I'm also unable to make sense of your first paragraph, no matter what organizations you're referring to.
I understand I'm not making any friends now, and I know you take issue with my characterization. But I still don't see a statement or an argument made officially that attempts to argue for instance that war in itself brutalizes the population so much that it invalidates the human rights aspect of the violent struggle, which is what I was asking for. I admit I'm not really that familiar with the groups you mention, though.. and I mean, I'm an amnesty guy for political purposes. I.e, I reject large scale intervention on principle. Because, I believe, the idea of insinuating influence on half- way media created problem- spots always will be translated into a call for government intervention. It never fails, and it never goes well. And we're simply only lucky when we can get a government to do nothing, or to restrain itself, and much less do something right, when it comes to these kinds of things. Or so is my opinion. In other words, it is my conviction that it will not do to expect an imposed solution to work.

And if you're talking about the quakers, they are no better than the other groups. The idea is to come down from above and.. help. To sprinkle about magic dust of freedom. Frankly, I can count on my left hand the instances of unprejudiced sympathy I've seen when it comes to these kinds of prominent issues, like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. It's not been exactly improving in the last couple of years either. Not that these groups never do anyhting good, mind you. I wouldn't want to say that, and it would not be fair.

And that's beside the point, anyway. I was adressing the reasoning and the argument made. And I was simply saying that I did not see an anti- war argument from a human- rights perspective ahead of the war in the US. Instead I saw a range of people who was against the war, but was still for projecting influence and spreading freedom - and could not bring themselve to "undermine" their own rationale for existing. Various degrees of the argument existed, from the point where some would argue for reform backed by the threat of military force (I'm not sure what they're called, they had a tour on my campus, though), to those who would say nothing should be done in any circumstance, because violent struggles are evil, and prayer should be the primary driver (as well as money for support of independent groups of good political persuasion, as far as can be determined). To the idea that the time for invasion had not come, yet. To the argument that change would be brought about in the world at large through loud assertions (in the media) of the value of high moral altitude, in broad and generalised terms that meant nothing.

Never did I see an argument that said - "yes, war will make things happen, but we cannot predict exactly what - even if we know what a war will bring with it, what it will do to the population, and what it will have of direct and certain consequences for a peaceful solution politically in country afterwards - after military interventions are deemed legitimate for humanitarian purposes: for the good of all. And this is why I am against the intervention in the context it is argued, and why the war- argument is bogus, and why war is considered, wisely, to be the last choice". Not once.

And that's why I'm generalising so horribly over this. Noone made the argument. I'm not suggesting these thoughts are unique - as hilzoy points out, these are not new problems by any means - but they appear to be so in the american public sphere. In fact, the arguments sketched out appear to resonate about as much as screaming "America SUCKS!".

So be as it may that there are groups in the US that break valiantly from my assumed picture of the norm - but they're not doing a great job at even making their point of view heard. And to be perfectly honest, I believe that is because of the moral superiority that comes along with the silently assumed right to meddle in the affairs of other countries - for always self- less and pure reasons..

There is no such thing.. but the insistence that it is, is what allowed the Bush- administration to advance the argument very much uncontested (in the sense that their context was not challenged). As I said, the issue was on either their motives, or whether the possibilities for success was small or great. Simply because challenging the foundation of the argument calls into question the potential for a self- less act of charity.

(And btw, if you think I'm cynical about this, I have a tale to tell you about fundraising and government support for human rights groups in the US that is quite fantastic. "I write it off on my tax". Hah. "We are a giving society!". Give me a break.)

Jes: "By what Bush said, and what he did"

Again, you can't straightforwardly do anything with this - and if you look, you'll find plenty of liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda from the admin.

'However, if you have some sort of access to Bush's brain that lets you know he "thought he was going to be known as the liberator of Iraq"'

See, you're moving the goalposts again with "know". You're the one claiming to prove a negative.


Nell: "His conversation with Mickey Herskovits in 1999, however, supports the idea that the Liberator image was more important than the actual liberation"

Unless you want to further reduce your original statement towards tautology (which I'll agree with), that just helps me.

@rilkefan: I don't see how the Herskovits anecdote supports your view that that the actual liberation of the Iraqi people (versus the PR and political capital of appearing to be their liberator) was a goal of the invasion/occupation.

But at this point I'd just like to let it go, if you don't mind. You believe there was a serious intent/goal to liberate and democratize Iraq; I don't (at least not on the part of anyone in a position to bring resources to bear on making it happen). We're not going to convince each other.

Rilkefan: Again, you can't straightforwardly do anything with this - and if you look, you'll find plenty of liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda from the admin.

No, I think you need to look. You'll find, I think, that the plenty of "liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda" from the Bush administration, which we evidently both remember, came well after the invasion: the primary goal given prior to the invasion was that Saddam Hussein had to be taken out because he had WMD, was a threat to his neighbors, had links to terrorism, was in violation of a UN resolution - all in all that Iraq was a threat.

Certainly, once it became clear that Iraq had not been a threat that justified invasion, and the US was not going to be able to produce any WMD to justify the admin's specific claims prior to invasion, Bush & Co started talking up the notion that the US was in Iraq to establish democracy - without actually doing anything to establish democracy, of course.

If you think you can show otherwise - provide links to the "plenty of liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda from the admin" that you claim you remember being spouted by the admin before the invasion, feel free to cite it. Or, when you find that in fact your memory played you false, and the vast majority of "liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda from the admin" came well after March 2003, you could post an acknowledgment that I'm right and you're wrong.

Somehow, I doubt you'll do either.

fleinn, I'm going to have to leave it here with your comment, as well. Feel free to respond if you'd like the last word.

You admit to not knowing much about the Quaker organizations or what specific arguments they made before the war, and then turn around and generalize about them in ways that are simply wrong. One possible source of error is that you seem to conflate the political attitude which assumes American goodness and right to prescribe for the rest of the world (American exceptionalism) with any commitment to and work for human rights.

Maybe you're typing too fast, but I can't even understand (or recognize as Hilzoy's) the antiwar argument you say you never heard in the "Never did I see..." paragraph.

Almost every conceivable argument was made against the war before it began. Just as an example, I took part in a lobbying visit to Sen. Warner's office in August 2002 with thirty other Virginians. We spoke in turn for a minute or so each, and almost no one repeated the reasons of a previous speaker. I was last, and the argument I'd planned to make was still available (against the danger and arrogance of the "Bush doctrine" of preventive war).

Most organizations working to prevent the invasion used multiple arguments, both principled and pragmatic. The case against the war in the flyer we used in our local work (written in October 2002) is fairly typical. It leans more heavily on pragmatic arguments because for most Americans anti-imperialism or anti-interventionism, the idea that neither the United States nor any other government has the right to meddle in the affairs of other countries, is a tough sell.

[Trust me on that; I've been basing my political work on anti-imperialist, right-of-self-determination principles for forty years; it's a minority view. Hell, it took the grandiose Bush doctrine even to bring explicit acknowledgement that the U.S. is an empire onto the mainstream op-ed pages, much less the question of whether it should be -- fifty years after the fact.]

An equally tough sell is the idea that war should truly be a last resort. That was especially so in the atmosphere still prevailing a year after the September 11 attacks, but it's not a genuine, deeply-held belief by most Americans at any time.

If it were, I'd have added a third section to the flyer I linked, entitled: It is wrong. But the reason you don't read that argument so much is that the people susceptible to it are dismissed as "the usual suspects" or "hippies"; they're the people handing out the flyers, not the intended audience.

and the vast majority of "liberating Iraq democracy jaddajadda from the admin" came well after March 2003

You mean, it showed up as the reason it was important to stay the course? That's true - but it also showed up as the reason why the invasion would be a cakewalk - that the Iraqis would want freedom and rise to the occasion. So when the wicked witch was killed, all the smiling people would run around and sing happily.

It also showed up as the justification for why it was "the right thing to do", as Blair famously said ahead of the war, and to counter the argument that this was not an imperialistic mission: It showed up as the entire idea of why it was attempted in the first place, with "the march of democracy", as Condoleezza said before the war.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/middle_east/2690447.stm

@fleinn: On re-reading your last comment, something did occur to me that may help.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation has for years produced literature, and in the last few years bumper stickers and buttons, with the motto:

War is Not the Answer

The blue-and-white buttons and stickers have been displayed by many people since 2002-3 who are not pacifists, who believe that war is not the answer in Iraq or Iran, but that it sometimes may be.

But Friends themselves believe, and make the case, that war in itself brutalizes the population so much that it invalidates the human rights aspect of the violent struggle.

They believe this because of a commitment to nonviolence that springs from the religious belief that there is that of God in every person.

To kill, especially to kill on the scale required of an invasion (even one sincerely intended and reasonably expected to be liberating) is to deny and violate that of God. That violation that sets in motion cycles of violence and puts up barriers to reconciliation.

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Whatnot


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