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December 11, 2007

Comments

But the improved financial condition gives the people who think your friend smoking crack is fine and dandy and, in fact, think your friend should stay smoking crack forever, something shiny to waive in front of the faces of people who aren't up to speed on all the facts about your friend and distract them from the whole non-crack smoking promise, allowing your friend to smoke crack for six more months, at which point another shiny distraction will be found and another six months will go by, and soon we're in January 2009, and all is fine with the pro-crack smokers is it's someone else's problem.

one major difference between the example I just made up and the actual surge is that the surge doesn't just involve spending a lot of money.
Another major difference is that presumably you weren't responsible for getting your friend addicted to crack in the first place, whereas if the United States hadn't invaded (and completely bungled the occupation from the start) there wouldn't be this sort of chaos in Iraq now. That difference makes me feel queasy whenever people take the path of blaming the Iraqis, however convenient that path may be for US political purposes. That's not to say that I have a better solution.

Sadly at some level, US death toll is what matters most (all?). So as long as our death toll runs <30/month, there will not a strong push to depart by our populace. Additionally, war supporters will argue, "why should we leave when the cost of remaining is not high". $$$ is really not that important to most folks when it comes to the Iraq War (would say that's true on both sides).

I have noted the US death tolls are way down, but am now curious to pull up the latest Brookings report (unfortunately i have to produce a report for work now) but will be curious how/whether Utilities and oil production have improved noticeably recently.

Epic epic simile. I'd only add that, even if this guy finally quits smoking crack in 2012 or something, you have to ask yourself whether it was worth all those years of giving that guy your last penny/drop of blood to bring it about.

I think we should be charitable towards our conservative friends. Everything they have supported has been a failure. They have had to cope with so much bad news that I'm happy to indulge them their good news. I'll celebrate with them.

But a tactical success in pursuit of a strategic impossibility is still a failure. Charles XII of Sweden won almost every battle he fought in, yet his fundamental strategic goals were impossible and his entire reign was nothing but a disaster for Sweden. Sure, he won lots of glorious battles, but when he left Sweden a worse country than he found it. The same thing can be said for Napoleon: he won lots of battles but ultimately lost the war. Now, Mr. Bush is no Charles XII and he certainly is no Napoleon, but his strategic goal (currently declared to be the establishment of a stable democratic government in Iraq) cannot be achieved in anything less than, oh, forty years and not without many more billions of dollars.

If you smoke enough crack, though, you might get purple fingers.

"Now, Mr. Bush is no Charles XII and he certainly is no Napoleon, but his strategic goal (currently declared to be the establishment of a stable democratic government in Iraq) cannot be achieved in anything less than, oh, forty years"

I actually think it's quite possible Iraq will semi-settle down into a half-working semi-democratic state, with continued violence, but not necessarily worse than that of Northern Ireland at its worst, and in only parts of Iraq, within ten years.

(Note: "possible" isn't "definitely," or even "most likely," or even "likely." It's merely "possible.")

I don't see that that would make the decision to have invaded in 2002 correct and worthwhile, but I don't have to be as pessimistic as to go to not-for-forty years, or even twenty or fifteen, to think that, since I already think that the massive death and suffering up to now were too large a price to pay.

If there had only been a few thousand Iraqi and foreign violent deaths in Iraq after 2003, while any kind of improvement on Saddam Hussein had been left governing Iraq, with relative peace after that, one might have called that some kind of "victory," and argued it was worthwhile. I'm not saying that argument would have necessarily been correct, but there would have been a case.

But this? This?

Too much "we had to destroy the village in order to save it," super-sized.

Dear Megan -

Yes, things are incrementally better in Iraq. And yes, it's likely due at least in part because we've sent more troops there.

If we were send even more troops, perhaps another 75 or 100 thousand, we might even be able to establish a basic level of security on the ground across a wide area of Iraq.

If we were able to accomplish that and sustain it for, say, 25 years or so, Iraq might even develop the stable indigenous political institutions needed to let its people sort out their internal issues politically, rather than by force.

In other words, what Erasmussimo said.

There are things we could do on our end to help all of that along. Not least of those would be letting the Iraqis decide for themselves how to organize and operate their oil industry, and how to distribute the revenues that flow from it.

In other words, deal with them in something like sincere good faith.

In the meantime, we need to do what we can to insure that Afghanistan and Pakistan don't slide back into chaos. Pursuing the original Al Qaeda gangsters would probably also be a good thing, even if just to settle old scores.

Let me know when all of this is on the table as a realistic option.

Yours truly -

russell

Lest we lose sight of the Big Picture here, a reminder for everyone: the reason Iraq is such a complete disaster is because every move made by the U.S. was done for the sole purpose of providing the Republican Party with some short-term advantage over the Democrats. Every move.

That's not fair, Johnny. Some moves were made for the purpose of enriching military contractors.

....but, KC, those military contractors, like Blackwater, then gave back to the community by giving massive campaign donations to the GOP. The snake swallows its own tail, this circle jerks itself.

For the modern day Republican, war is crack.

Stepping back a bit, it seems that Ms. McArdle et al. are engaging in a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc, while the actual causation is considerably muddier.

Yes, both military and civilian casualties have declined materially recently (and hooray for that, whatever else), and certain aspects of less-disordered life have begun to reassert themselves. But from what I've read, it is far from certain either that the "surge" has been responsible for -- or even a major cause of -- these events, or that they will last, even if the "surge" itself continues.

It has been reported, and it seems entirely plausible, that much -- perhaps most -- of the decline in violence has been due to two causes: (1) a turnabout in the political relationships between Sunni tribal/local leaders and the militants responsible for much of the violence from the Sunni side, and (2) a deliberate reduction in activity by Shia militants, allegedly at the behest of leaders such as Moqtada al Sadr. The provenance of the first has been repeatedly linked to a "hearts and minds" campaign by the US that has included the provision of a great deal of weaponry to said Sunni leaders. The provenance of the second is murkier, but it could easily be in part simply a reaction to the first.

In other words, we've bought a temporary peace with a lot of guns.

The question, of course, is what circumstances will lead to those guns being used. Or worse, assuming they will be -- which is by no means a farfetched assumption -- how can we affect the situation now to minimize the carnage?

One trusts Ms. McArdle has answers to these questions as easy and glib as her celebration of today's (relatively) reduced violence.

Bleh, there's also (3) sectarian killings are reduced because in many areas the members of ethnic minorities are all dead or have fled, so there's no one left to kill.

By the way, is there any chance you could pick a name that's not an interjection? We have to grandfather Ugh, but bringing in huh and bleh and whoever else shows up could get confusing.

You missed one of the biggest reasons for the drop in violence: the sectarian civil war has largely run its course to ethnic cleansing. At the start most of Baghdad's districts were mixed. Now only 1 is - and it still has substantial violence. Civil wars are generally finite things. Ours only lasted four years - one less than the five years since Bush invaded. There's no reason at all to give the surge credit because violence has plummeted in the British regions - and all they did was stop patrolling and pull many soldiers out. Fading violence results from what the Iraqis are and aren't doing, not from what we have.

It's also amusing that after spouting off about "surrender monkeys" Petreus' strategy in Anbar has basically been - to surrender. He stopped attacking the insurgents, gave them political control of Anbar, and even gave them weapons! It's a pity Bush's plans caused so many horrors before the lieutenant realized the best strategy was to - give up.

With half a million Iraqis dead, trillions spent, and our reputation in ruins, Iraq is a catastrophe no matter what happens now.

Gary, I realize that forty years sounds pessimistic but look at the experiences of other countries. The closest example would be Turkey, which started down the road towards democracy in 1922 (under the benevolent dictatorship of Ataturk), slowly evolved in that direction, underwent a number of military coups, and finally, FINALLY started to look democratic in just the last five years. That's 80 years it took!

Don't make the mistake of using Germany and Japan as examples. They both started tinkering with democracy in the 1870s. More important, both had a strong sense of the rule of law at the end of WWII, so it really wasn't that difficult to start up a functional democracy.

"Gary, I realize that forty years sounds pessimistic"

I take it "Note: 'possible' isn't 'definitely,' or even 'most likely,' or even 'likely.' It's merely 'possible.' was unclear, since you seem to be attempting to disabuse me of an opinion I directly said I did not hold.

If we settle for some lesser goal than democracy, then maybe we'll achieve that goal in less than 40 years. Stuff happens. I'm sure that over the next few decades life in Iraq will get worse, and better, and worse, and better, and worse, and at certain moments things will look like something that someone could call success.

If we're willing to settle for an Iraq that's in more or less one piece, that's ruled by a stable dictatorship that manages to prevent civil war and keeps armed gangs from terrorizing most people, that's somewhat anti-American but not actually a security threat to the United States--well, that might be a realistic hope and we might manage to achieve it in less than a decade. Just think: with enough effort, we might even manage to bring Iraq up to the level of freedom and security that it had in 2002.

Erasmussimo: first invasion of Germany in the name of democratic liberalism, republicanism, the Rights of Man, the whole shebang?

1792 in the Wars of the French Revolution.

Ignoring Iraq, Germany is not a good example of interventionism's brilliance.

I think a significant part of Germany welcomed the invasion of the French revolutionary army and Napoleon later brought a lot that people would have liked to keep (and the Code Civil even remained as the book of law in the West of the country until replaced by the BGB a century later). The innovations had to be suppressed violently by the reactionary elites. On the other hand the French did not come at that time to steal the oil (or coal at the time). That motive came later (and was shared by the German leadership that wanted the French coal).
Nonetheless Germany at whatever time is a highly flawed analogy to the Iraq of today.

Nonetheless Germany at whatever time is a highly flawed analogy to the Iraq of today.

are you saying that all the people who compared Saddam to Hitler and [genreic Democrat X] to Chamberlain were wrong ?

impossible! there were too many of them for them all to be wrong!

Wait - are people saying that all answers to history, and all rock- solid predictions about the future, cannot be found within the last fifty- sixty years? Tell me it ain't so!

KCinDC: Another major difference is that presumably you weren't responsible for getting your friend addicted to crack in the first place ... That difference makes me feel queasy whenever people take the path of blaming the Iraqis, however convenient that path may be for US political purposes.

As well it should. Blaming the Iraqis is an obscene ploy, given the massive suffering our invasion and occupation brought about and continue to inflict.

Leave aside the continual deaths from U.S. artillery collapsing houses onto men, women, and children and helicopter gunships spraying cars and sidewalks. Just focus for a moment on the two million Iraqis who have become "internally displaced" (a nice sanitary phrase that fails to capture the sheer grinding misery of living in tents and abandoned buidlings for months and years).

Reflect on the million or more driven to Syria and Jordan, where the overwhelmed authorities are going Tom Tancredo on them: hunting them down, enforcing visa violations, and sending them back. Only the most prosperous are able to dig in.

Women, just as in the aftermath of the horrendous war with Iran, are left responsible for whole families. Some are resorting to prostitution to survive. Children are traumatized on a scale and to a degree that is almost impossible to imagine.

A wave of anger and shame and horror overwhelms me when I let myself see these Iraqis. And it takes a personal effort of reading and imagining, because the U.S. media are not often putting their images before us.

So when I hear politicians and commenters blame Iraqis -- whether they do so as a way to justify staying for years or leaving immediately -- it's a struggle to keep from loathing most of my fellow Americans. Because presumably this disgusting political tactic is designed to maintain in the U.S. population the sense that whatever we do in the world, bad results are not really our fault. We're good, our intentions are good, it's all about spreading that democracy.

Can we handle the truth? The flight from self-knowledge after the Viet Nam war was pretty rapid.

Oh, and: welome back, Hilzoy!

"Just think: with enough effort, we might even manage to bring Iraq up to the level of freedom and security that it had in 2002."

Speaking of smoking crack...

It's difficult to take you "moderates" seriously when you don't immediately mock such statements. This may be an accurate statement WRT security (though I think that depends upon the individual Iraqi in question), but freedom? I do realize, of course, that Bush is worse than Saddam, and that we really can't speak our minds in this country without fear of being shipped off to the Gulag (and that under Saddam they at least had the freedom to know that they wouldn't be hauled off in the middle of the night), but could you really call that "freedom?"

Serious question for you Crimso:

Can a country and it's people ever be truthfully said to live in freedom when the country and it's people are occupied by a foreign military?

Crimso, the comparison there is between the level of freedom under Saddam Hussein and the level of freedom in Iraq now, not the level of freedom under Bush in the US, and not the level of freedom in some ideal situation that we would actually use the word "freedom" to describe under normal circumstances.

It's very easy for something to be better than something else without being good. Bush is better than Saddam, despite being a catastrophically bad president. Similarly, although the situation in Iraq under Saddam was bad, there are plenty of indications that the current situation is worse, especially for women and ethnic minorities.

Hilzoy is just painfully smarter than McArdle; it's uncomfortable to see the comparison in action.

It's difficult to take you "moderates" seriously when you don't immediately mock such statements. This may be an accurate statement WRT security (though I think that depends upon the individual Iraqi in question),

Hm. As long as you aren't counting those 2 million Iraqis, it seems.

Not sure you have a good grasp of what's going on over there (and that's more than a tad ironic)...

Crimso, it's just a fact: before the US invaded Iraq, 50% of Iraqis had far more freedom than they have now.

Iraqis who were able to wear Western-style clothing are now forced under threat of rape or murder to wear the hijab and the abaya before leaving the house: Iraqis who do not abide by strict fundamentalist dress-codes and behavioral codes, are being found, decapitated, with notes pinned to their bodies saying "She was a collaborator against Islam."

One straightforward effect of the US invasion seems likely to be that Iraqis who had more freedom under the secular civil code instituted in 1958, will now be forced to live under the restrictions of Sharia law.

Another straightforward effect of the US invasion was outlined by Roz Kaveney* a few weeks ago:


All of the religious factions and militias and Kurdish nationalists and government police in Iraq have one thing that they can agree on, which is killing queers.

Most weeks, three or four people are hacked, stoned, burned or shot to death for being lesbian, gay, bi or trans. The highest Shia religious dignitary Sistani has again promulgated a fatwa calling for the execution of all non-repentant LGBT people - people talk of him as a liberal and in this degree he is - he allows people to repent on pain of death when most of his rivals would just kill. Contacted by the UN about this campaign of murder, the Iraqi government has refused to acknowledge that it is even a problem.

*Note: the link goes to Roz's livejournal, and you may see an "adults only" warning. Don't worry, this is just more livejournal silliness: it's perfectly safe-for-work.

It's difficult to take you "moderates" seriously when you don't immediately mock such statements.

You have a point here, and the statement gave me pause as well.

But after I thought about it for a few minutes, it struck me that, amazing as it might be, at a purely pragmatic level a lot of Iraqis were probably more free under Hussein.

Kind of shocking, but it's likely true.

Thanks -

Obligatory reminder: a country doesn't need a despot to lack freedom.

Crimso, in an interview on60 Minutes one of the few remaining Chritians in Iraq was asked if he had been better of before the innvasion under Saddam's rule. He laughed. He said thhat there was no comparasion. Before thhe invasion there was a thrivinng Christina community with five or six chhurches in Baghdad and no religious persecution. Now the handful of survivors meet inn secret. No Iraq is not more free now.

It may be a shock to some of our libertarian friends, but giving people the freedom to murder each other without government interference is generally not a positive thing . . .

Reading the Megan McArdle post hilzoy linked to, I was sruck by how closely it resembled Charles Bird's piece here of a few days ago. The same litany of caveats and disclaimers about how &$@!%#-up the occupation of Iraq has been, and how %$#!@*-up the country still is; the same careful exhortation to "cautious optimism" over recent casualty statistics; and the same leading-up to the same basic point: a scathing jab at opponents/critics of the war/occupation. As if "Ha ha - we were right all along!" were some sort of conclusive argument.
At least Charles padded his post with nifty graphics.

Oh, and Crimso: if you want to make a point about the war, just a hint: the reductio ad Saddam ploy is getting a little stale at this point in time. After nearly five years of war and destruction, and given the vast expenditures in lives and money the invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost this country (not to mention what it has cost the Iraqis) - self-righteously whining "But Saddam was Eeeeevil!!!!" really doesn't cut it as a talking-point any more.

Was Germany better off in 1938, or after Hitler's suicide in 1945?

--So much for stupid questions.

Reading the Megan McArdle post hilzoy linked to, I was sruck by how closely it resembled Charles Bird's piece here of a few days ago.

"I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on." -Dan Bartlett

It may be a shock to some of our libertarian friends, but giving people the freedom to murder each other without government interference is generally not a positive thing . . .

Bingo.

Most self-described libertarians I have seen are actually mere government-phobes. They don't actually care about liberty, only about less government. These are not the same thing at all. Good government is the greatest possible protector of liberty -- and even most bad governments protect a minimal amount of liberty as a byproduct of securing stability. Anarchy limits one's options (and life) starkly.

What Jay C said, with a tinge of envy because of the way he said it.

"Iraqis who were able to wear Western-style clothing are now forced under threat of rape or murder to wear the hijab and the abaya before leaving the house: Iraqis who do not abide by strict fundamentalist dress-codes and behavioral codes, are being found, decapitated, with notes pinned to their bodies saying "She was a collaborator against Islam.""

A good reason for staying?

"Was Germany better off in 1938, or after Hitler's suicide in 1945?"

A better question might be whether Germans were more free in 1938 or 1946. They were unquestionably "better off" in 1938, unless you happened to be the wrong ethnicity. But then, the same could be said for the Iraqis under Saddam.

Problems with reading comprehension there, Jay C? I didn't write "But Saddam was Eeeeevil!!!!" though I have no doubt that's what you read. It says more about your mindset than mine.

What I did do was take issue with the statement that Iraqis were more free under Saddam. And I have enjoyed the responses. The commenters here do in fact generally offer thought-provoking responses.

A good reason for staying?

you really think we can create a secular society in a place where we can't even create a stable society ?

Crimso: A good reason for staying?

A good reason for allowing any Iraqi who wants out of Iraq asylum in the US. Especially, any Iraqi woman, and any Iraqi LGBT person.

Why do I think there's no way that's going to happen?

A better question might be whether Germans were more free in 1938 or 1946. They were unquestionably "better off" in 1938, unless you happened to be the wrong ethnicity.

Or a woman. Or gay.

Oh, never mind. Godwin's law.

Crimso,

What criteria are you using to gauge said "freedom"?

Women's rights, as mentioned above, have been severely curtailed. Iraqis are less free to walk around Baghdad. Sunnis/Shiites are less free to live in certain neighborhoods, or even enter certain neighborhoods. Iraqis are less free to take cabs for fear that the cabby might kidnap/cleanse them. Iraqis are less free from violent crime and banditry in general. Iraqis are less free to practice minority religions such as Christianity. Iraqis are less free from a LGBT rights perspective.

Iraqis do not have a functioning justice system, or an independent judiciary. There are no prisoners rights, and torture and extrajudicial execution are commonplace. The police force is hopelessly corrupt.

Roughly 2 million Iraqis deemed the unbridled of freedom so intense that they opted to leave (and continue to do so). Another 2 million exercised their "freedom" and chose to relocate internally to another, more homogenous region (from a sectarian vantage point).

During Saddam's reign, odious and brutal as it was, there was never so acute an exodus (internal or external).

So, other than the vote, what has gotten better in terms of freedom?

(Please exclude Kurdistan because that region was already doing better prior to the invasion)

I don't understand this, Crimso:

A better question might be whether Germans were more free in 1938 or 1946. They were unquestionably "better off" in 1938, unless you happened to be the wrong ethnicity. But then, the same could be said for the Iraqis under Saddam.

Germans in the Western zones were unquestionably "more free" in 1946 than they'd been in 1938. Germans in the former East Prussia, not so much (especially German females).

But in 1946 the Rhine river ran clear for the first time in decades; all the factories had been obliterated. So German fish were definitely freer.

And Iraqis in Baghdad can now enjoy the thrill of cholera-laden water in their taps. What do these cases have to do with one another? Nothing whatsoever.

So EM, I'm confused. Are you advocating staying and doing something to make things better, or leaving and letting the chips fall where they may? Or another option altogether? I don't think there's any question that the average German was far better off in 1938 vs. 1946, but would that be an argument for letting things go on as they were?

"Germans in the Western zones were unquestionably "more free" in 1946 than they'd been in 1938."

Really? Even though they were under military occupation by foreign powers? Who knew it was possible?

The French did manage to tidy up Germany, in a sense -- they got rid of the detritus of the Middle Ages, like the Holy Roman Emperor -- but they never really set up a collection of democratic states.

In fact, in Spain, the association of liberalism with the foreign occupier retarded progress, I am told.

Crimso,

I take it from this:

Really? Even though they were under military occupation by foreign powers? Who knew it was possible?

that you are unequivocally answering "no" the serious question I asked you above at 9:52 AM?

Hmmm, I'm not sure if I would have been so categorical. But, still, it's a fair answer.

Thank you for addressing it.

So Crimso, I'm confused.

You completely dodged the question. First, you seemed to be making the claim that things are freer in Iraq now than under Saddam, and you questioned the motives/bias of those that disagreed with your contention. You actually resorted to a straw man argument ad absurdum about Bush being worse than Saddam, and American freedoms being equivalent to Iraqi freedoms.

Then, when asked to clarify what criteria you were using to define this freedom that was so obviously more bountiful now than under Saddam you...resorted to another non-sequitur! As for said non-sequitur:

Are you advocating staying and doing something to make things better, or leaving and letting the chips fall where they may?

I would answer with a question: How, exactly, do you propose we stay and make things better? Can you define the strategy, the costs and the paramters?

If we can accomplish something worthwhile at acceptable costs in a reasonable time period, then I'm all for it. If not, then we have little choice but to face the inevitable. As of yet, I have not seen such a plan. And wishes, you see, are like ponies.

Either way, I would actually rather have an answer to the question that I posed to you: please define the metrics you are using to claim that Iraqis are so much freer now that, to disagree with the contention, is to betray an immoderate bias.

"First, you seemed to be making the claim that things are freer in Iraq now than under Saddam"

No. I was rejecting the assertion that the reverse was true. In plain fact, I don't know which is true. Again, it would likely depend very strongly on the Iraqi in question. Better now for the average Joe on the street? Beats me. Better now for the Sunnis? As a sweeping generalization, probably not.

Good post Hilzoy;

Islamic texts lay out what a hudna is. It is a temporary peace, up to ten years, in which war may be suspended in order to re-arm and then strike with strategic advantage.

Mohammad struck ten-year hudna with the Quraysh tribe that controlled Mecca in the seventh century. Over the following two years, Mohammad rearmed and took advantage of a minor Quraysh infraction to break the hudna and launch the full conquest of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

Hilzoy: "I have no idea whether McArdle is right about the liberal blogosphere ..."

McArdle's record of being right on anything is poor.

What's always interested me about her is that she's a Cohen or Friedman or Dowd, but in larval stage. I didn't really think that these pundits were born; I sorta felt that they were made in secret factories. But here we have one, growing up from blogger to (internet) Atlantic columnist.

We'll watch her shill shamelessly from power for decades to come.

But Crimso, "better" in what ways?

You still haven't addressed that question.

But I won't flog this horse any more.

"But Crimso, "better" in what ways?"

That is indeed the question. So when someone asserts Iraqis were more free ("freer" sounds too weird) under Saddam, then it would be legitimate to question what "free" means. The way I see it, this argument eventually reaches the "but the trains ran on time" excuse. As a point of argument involving what I consider to be a real human right that at least a couple of commenters have invoked, why should I care if gay people aren't treated as equal, as long as I'm okay with my life? I might consider myself "free" in the current situation, but do people who self-identify as LGBT generally feel as though they are accorded all of the benefits of society? Probably not. So are they "free?" In a very real legal sense (and often in more common senses), not as free as I am. So I guess it depends upon who you ask (and believe).

It's difficult to take you "moderates" seriously when you don't immediately mock such statements.

In plain fact, I don't know which is true. Again, it would likely depend very strongly on the Iraqi in question.

Some say the ability to entertain multiple points of view simultaneously is evidence of a keen and subtle mind.

Crimso, I bow.

Thanks -

McArdle's recent reportage on her trip to Vietnam, where she assembles, by hand, every fatuous observation that can be made without acknowledging the fact that here was a country that the US tried to blow back to the stone age for the better part of two decades, making it a paean to the free market.

But the true key can be found in this post, where she recounts some marginalia left by her college boyfriend, who wrote

Remember, every time you do something stupid, it will leave a memory with which you will have to live for fifty years. This is the great advantage of drinking to excess: memory loss.

McArdle, contrarian that she is, decided that she could forget about all the stupid things she had done if she just wrote as many stupid things as possible. It certainly seems to work for the blogosphere, as I would have thought that someone running around with an Ayn Rand handle would have hopelessly embarrassed herself and made any opinions null and void.

That is indeed the question. So when someone asserts Iraqis were more free ("freer" sounds too weird) under Saddam, then it would be legitimate to question what "free" means. The way I see it, this argument eventually reaches the "but the trains ran on time" excuse.

Well, not really.

Freedom as we usually definite it depends on a stable society and a substantial middle class. If the vast majority of society is shoved back down to a survival or subsistence level, then the potential for freedom is much, much lower, due in large part that you can't even begin to think about freedom because you spending more time thinking about survival. Literally.

"Crimso, I bow."

I would bet that many of you would be surprised about my views on any of a number of subjects. The fact that I don't truly know whether "the Iraqis" were better off under Saddam or under U.S. military occupation has no bearing on whether someone who asserts that they were in fact better off under Saddam should question their assumptions.

"the fact that here was a country that the US tried to blow back to the stone age for the better part of two decades"

Now see, that's what I'm talking about. "Tried?" Please. If we'd tried then they'd be there. And it'd take two hours, not two decades.

"depends on a stable society and a substantial middle class."

That's kinda what I'm getting at when I use the term "trains run on time."

Really? Even though they were under military occupation by foreign powers? Who knew it was possible?

A few things:

1) "More free" != "free". A subtle, but important point in the above argument.

2) Many of the people who would have been "more free" in 1946 Germany were unable to enjoy this freedom on account of being dead. Not just the victims of the Holocaust, but vast swathes of more "mainstream" Germans. This has, or should have, a profound effect on any such analysis.

[Much as any serious analysis of the differences between American post-colonialism and post-colonialism elsewhere needs to account for the fact that most of the indigenous peoples of the colonies were long dead.]

3) The occupation of post-war Germany is a sickeningly complicated subject. Suffice to say that one's "freedom" in 1946 would have varied quite highly depending on a) where you were and b) what you were trying to do. Speaking purely of Berlin, the Soviet sector was not the American sector was not the British sector was not the French sector, and each piece had its own set of rules and priorities; and once you start talking the country as a whole, all bets are off.

4) The all-consuming point which your posts above fail to address: post-war Germany was not in the middle of a bloody internecine war, nor was it ever in any danger of so being. [Potentially a bloody externally-imposed conflict, but that's not the same thing at all.] Whatever fight the Germans might have had in them had been stomped out by six years and some of the most horrific battles the world had ever seen. Their nation-state had gone to war and lost; they'd pretty much had enough of war at that point.

Further, none of the religious or political violence attendant to Iraq -- hell, none of the religious or political tension attendant to Iraq -- was present in post-war Germany. Even after the Cold War emerged in full force, Germans on both sides of the Wall considered themselves "German" -- that particular barrier had been ultimately broken by Hitler, irony of ironies -- only of differing political ideologies; it's fair to say that a large number of people in Iraq are identifying themselves tribally and/or religiously first, nationalistically only a distant second.

By the by, if all you were saying was "Look! Sometimes military occupations don't end in a bloodbath!", well, congratulations, but that's a point that's been made thousands of times on both sides of the aisle. The relevent question is whether the preconditions of a peaceable occupations had been met which, well, they kind of obviously had not.

Crimso: The fact that I don't truly know whether "the Iraqis" were better off under Saddam or under U.S. military occupation has no bearing on whether someone who asserts that they were in fact better off under Saddam should question their assumptions.

Why? Because Saddam was a priori the worst fate that could befall the Iraqis and that a priori the US military occupation must be better? Someone here certainly needs to check their assumptions, but it ain't us.

Now see, that's what I'm talking about. "Tried?" Please. If we'd tried then they'd be there. And it'd take two hours, not two decades.

The time-frame would depend on whether we used nukes or conventional weaponry but yeah, that's pretty much accurate.

That's kinda what I'm getting at when I use the term "trains run on time."

But you're kinda missing the point. Yes, Mussolini made the trains run on time while being a bad bad man, but, as abhorrent as the Fascist government was, it was by no means the worst that Italy could have undergone. Hell, consider the state of the Italian peninsula just a few centuries earlier; the murder rate in Florence alone would make you blanch. Likewise, Hitler's Germany was bad, but the Red Army's Germany -- I'm referring specifically to the invasion of Germany in '45, which was as close to anarchy as one could imagine -- was a whole hell of a lot worse for a whole hell of a lot more people*. Rampant anarchy isn't just comparable to totalitarianism, it's almost always worse,** at least from a utilitarian standpoint: instead of a single centralized entity with a monopoly on force, you have the seeds for a decentralized epidemic of violence. Which is really a libertarian argument -- look! decentralization really does work! -- so I've never understood why more people don't grok it.

All of which leads me to my central point over the last years: the measure of how badly we f***ed up Iraq is precisely that Iraqis, en masse*, were better off under Saddam than us. How awful is that?

* "Whole lot more people" (above) and "en masse" (below) being the key words here. The surviving Jews in Germany during the Red Army offensive were almost certainly better off than under Hitler, but Germans, especially German women, were categorically not. In Iraq, Marsh Arabs are far better off now than they were previously; OTOH, the women of Baghdad are far worse off, and there are a hell of a lot more of them, and god only knows who all is getting shat upon in the sectarian strife.

To put it in a more visceral way: Uday and Qusay could only rape a handful of women at a time, but there's no limit to the number of women who can be abused now. That's not really an improvement.

** Obligatory exception made for the Khmer Rouge, of course. It's hard to imagine much worse than that.

That's kinda what I'm getting at when I use the term "trains run on time."

If so, then I think you do a terrible disservice by dismissing the idea.

As others have said, "free" is not necessarily a binary condition. You can be freer and less free. Dismissing an argument as you did seems to be treating the condition as a binary concept.

Spending more of your time thinking how to feed yourself and your family seems to me to be less free than spending more of your time thinking how you could rid yourself of the dictator. You have more resources in the latter than you do in the former. And it seems to me that there are more people in the former situation than in the latter.

That is indeed the question. So when someone asserts Iraqis were more free ("freer" sounds too weird) under Saddam, then it would be legitimate to question what "free" means. The way I see it, this argument eventually reaches the "but the trains ran on time" excuse

Because the ability to leave the house without wearing an abaya and to hold down a job and earn a living, without having your head cut off for being a traitor to Islam, is equivalent in your mind to trains pulling into the station on time?

That is the level of freedom and security that Iraqis had in 2002. Half of all Iraqis now don't have that right.

LGBT Iraqis, in 2002, had this level of freedom and security: they were not being killed on discovery. LGBT Iraqis in 2007 don't have that level of freedom and security.

I'm still waiting for you to explain why you can't take us "moderates" seriously because we don't immediately mock statements wishing Iraqis the freedom to live openly without being murdered - the level of freedom and security they had in 2002.

It's worth noting, too, that the new backlash isn't restricted to LGBT individuals in Iraq, either. Assyrian Christians, who enjoyed relative safety under Saddam's secular regime, are now being executed in religious attacks as well.

Iraq, for better or worse, was one of the most "Western" countries in the Middle East in terms of equality for minority groups. Saddam was a brutal dictator who terrorized his enemies, to be sure. But the fact still remains that many groups are now suffering -- dying -- because the country's social and religious mores are being pulled back to Mideast's violent standards.

Crimso: That is indeed the question. So when someone asserts Iraqis were more free ("freer" sounds too weird) under Saddam, then it would be legitimate to question what "free" means. The way I see it, this argument eventually reaches the "but the trains ran on time" excuse....I guess it depends upon who you ask (and believe).

So you'd rather ask no one and believe no one? Make no judgment at all? You can't be seriously trying to pass off this sophomoric, po-mo wankery as cogent analysis or critique.

Pick any measure you want, and Iraqis as a whole are measurably worse off than they were in 2002. That's not a "trains run on time" excuse. That's how you distinguish functional societies (however nasty and screwed-up) from ones that are near collapse.

While we're on the subject of crack-addict analogies, might I suggest a different one. The benefactor gives the crack addict some money to undergo a 12-step program. After a serious case of withdrawals and methodone treatments in the first couple of steps, the fella has come around, showing progress after completing the third step. However, there's plenty of work ahead before that person's life becomes stabilized, and it's unclear which way that person's going to go. He should've gone into treatment two years earlier, when he had a better chance at recovery, but alas, it didn't happen because the person's parole officer was incompetent.

That's where the current COIN plan is right now. Counterinsurgencies take time to take hold.

Sorry, CB, that is not where the COIN is right now. The COIN may have reduced violence to a minor degree, but nothing has occured anywhere near the crack analogy you have created.

And the biggest problem with the COIN strategy is that counter-insurgency is meant to be against A group of insurgents against a relatively viable government.

There is not A group of insurgents in Iraq, and the current government is hardly viable.

"Some say the ability to entertain multiple points of view simultaneously is evidence of a keen and subtle mind.

Crimso, I bow.

Thanks -"

It's entirely possible to read those two comments of Crimso's as simply indicating a genuine shift of perspective.

Crimso also wrote: "And I have enjoyed the responses. The commenters here do in fact generally offer thought-provoking responses."

I read Crimso's comments as quite possibly indicating a move to considerable less certainty in the proposition that Iraqis were less "free" (a term nobody has bothered to define in any useful way for this conversation, as yet) than Crimson started the thread with.

My confidence in that reading is only so-so, so perhaps Crimso will speak up to agree or disagree.

I'd suggest that the conversation would be more productive if people would get a lot more concrete, and offer a specific metric to use to compare what kind of "free" you're talking about, as Eric Martin asked for.

One might start by distinguishing the different sorts of things we seek to be
"free" from.

Freedom from an oppresive and brutal and unjust governmental security is one type of freedom.

Then there's FDR's Four Freedoms:

The Four Freedoms are goals famously articulated by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the State of the Union Address he delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941. In an address also known as the Four Freedoms speech, Roosevelt enumerated four points as fundamental freedoms humans "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy:

1. Freedom of speech and expression
2. Freedom of every person to worship in his own way
3. Freedom from want
4. Freedom from fear

The EU also guarantees by treaty:
* The free movement of goods;
* The free movement of services and freedom of establishment;
* The free movement of persons (and citizenship), including free movement of workers;
* The free movement of capital.
And for special fun, ya gots your Chomsky Fifth Freedom to go, with fries.

Feel free to offer better concepts or metrics as you like!

I'd focus on how "free" common Iraqi citizens in various regions feel to do whatever they secretly want were, under Hussein, and now, and compare.

Things I'd like to think weren't particular controversial observations would be that most people felt far freer to simply walk the streets and travel the roads and byways and across Baghdad and the country, under SH, than now, although there were certainly limitations.

But fewer people were killed on a daily basis because they traveled to another neighborhood, I'm pretty sure.

Freedom of speech? More now, perhaps, in certain areas, either those that have been ethnically cleansed, or the few that are otherwise somewhat peaceful, if you're of the right ethnicity/religion/tribe. Outside of that, it you were apt to be killed for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place under SH, and the same now. But it's more democratically distributed oppression, without doubt.

There is no doubt that are are various limited ways we can define and observe that people were more free to do a certain thing under Hussein, and the same is true of the post-Hussein period. The underlying question is how does it weigh up altogether?

What I'll say definitively for myself is what I said earlier: overall, I can't begin to see that the cost to the Iraqi and American people, not to mention other countries, has been remotely worth it to any of us, compared to the admitted negatives of having continued containing Saddam Hussein until he eventually was out of power, whether through death natural, or othwereise.

There's uncertainty, of course, in that we can never know very well how such an alternative history would have played out, but it seems to me that it would require less than the most probable courses for it to have turned out worse for any of us.

But that's opinion, to be sure.

Jeepers, I'd never noticed this before:

The Fifth Freedom is the fictional freedom possessed by agents of (fictional) Third Echelon in the Splinter Cell series of computer games. The freedom is essentially "the freedom to do whatever is deemed necessary to protect the four cornerstones of American moral thought", as defined in one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous speeches. Roosevelt articulated these as

"freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear."[1]

Within the fictional world of Splinter Cell, this unofficial Fifth Freedom allows an operative to disregard any law, agreement, or framework of ethical behavior in order to accomplish his mission. As Dermot P. Brunton put it, "all means are acceptable." For example, the operative may kill in combat or by assassination, may torture or kidnap people, may deploy on U.S. soil, and may spy on other U.S. government agencies. Fifth Freedom is also used as a verb. To "Fifth Freedom" someone is another way of saying to kill someone.

That's... so special.

Speechless now.

And the fascinating thing is that it really is the same as Chomsky's Fifth Freedom: just in different words.

Well, one suspects that the connotations intended by Chomsky probably aren't the faux-somber, "it's a dirty job . . . but someone's got to do it" (for that ellipsis please substitute one of the pauses from a Reagan Iran-Contra testimony "I . . . don't remember", along with faux anguish) that the Splinter Cell game is no doubt intended to convey.

Crimso:

"the fact that here was a country that the US tried to blow back to the stone age for the better part of two decades"

Now see, that's what I'm talking about. "Tried?" Please. If we'd tried then they'd be there. And it'd take two hours, not two decades.

Let's talk:
[...] The Vietnam War featured the most intense bombing campaign in military history.

[...]

The Indochina War, centered in Vietnam, was the most intense episode of aerial bombing known in human history: “the United States Air Force dropped in Indochina, from 1964 to August 15, 1973, a total of 6,162,000 tons of bombs and other ordnance. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft expended another 1,500,000 tons in Southeast Asia. This tonnage far exceeded that expended in World War II and in the Korean War. The U.S. Air Force consumed 2,150,000 tons of munitions in World War II – 1,613,000 tons in the European Theater and 537,000 tons in the Pacific Theater – and 454,000 tons in the Korean War” (Clodfelter 1995). Thus Vietnam War bombing represented roughly three times as much (by weight) as both European and Pacific theater World War II bombing combined, and about
thirteen times total tonnage in the Korean war. Given the prewar Vietnamese population of approximately 32 million, U.S. bombing translates into hundreds of kilograms of explosives per capita during the conflict.

[...]

The heaviest bombing took place in Quang Tri province in the central region of the country near the 17th parallel, the former border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the war. Quang Tri province was basically bombed flat during the war, with most capital and infrastructure destroyed; only 11 out of 3,500 villages were left unbombed at the end of the war (Project RENEW report 2004: 3). Provinces immediately north and south of Quang Tri also received heavy U.S. bombing, although less than in Quang Tri. Coastal regions of North Vietnam, as well as some districts of Hanoi, were heavily bombed, while in the South, the so-called “Iron Triangle”, the region adjacent to Cambodia near Saigon, was also heavily bombed.

[...]

For instance, U.S. bombing during the Rolling Thunder campaign of the late 1960s “destroyed 65 percent of the North's oil storage capacity, 59 percent of its power plants, 55 percent of its major bridges” (Clodfelter 1995: 134). 4 Third, population displacement and the destruction of physical
infrastructure, including classrooms, disrupted schooling for millions of Vietnamese. In terms of
other factors, we do not have complete information on unexploded ordnance (UXO), landmines, or Agent Orange use, and do not focus on these in the main empirical analysis. 5 However, there is obviously a strong correlation between bombing and later UXO density.

We didn't nuke Vietnam, which we could have done in "two hours," and therefore the entire horror of what U.S. bombing did to Vietnam -- along with the ground-based killing and corruption -- aren't even worth acknowledging.

You can do better.

"Yes, Mussolini made the trains run on time while being a bad bad man"

God, I wish people would quit saying that.

Pro-fascist urban legends suck. It's as true that "Mussolini made the trains run on time" as it is that arbeit macht frei. Why do people keep repeating this fascist Big Lie?

Because it fills a conversational lacunae, apparently, in which people need something to fill in with in the "but at least [Bad Person] did [Good Thing]" genre.

But it's simply Mussolini's propaganda from 1929.

I should add that I otherwise agree with every word of Anarch's 6:40 p.m. comment.

I would bet that many of you would be surprised about my views on any of a number of subjects.

No worries, Crimso, I'm just taking the p*ss.

I bet you'd find that folks here would not be all that suprised by, and in fact might be interested in, your views were you to simply state them.

Thanks -

I would have thought that someone running around with an Ayn Rand handle would have hopelessly embarrassed herself and made any opinions null and void.

The thing I'm always struck by is how all the folks who are infatuated by Rand always see themselves as one of the few, the proud, the "individuals of the mind".

It's really annoying.

How many freaking "individuals of the mind" can there be?

And who will pick up the garbage in their brave new world?

Somehow I think that when these bold Atlases shrug, noone will really notice the difference.

Thanks -

What's always interested me about her is that she's a Cohen or Friedman or Dowd, but in larval stage.

That about sums it up. I've never understood her appeal.

Now see, that's what I'm talking about. "Tried?" Please. If we'd tried then they'd be there. And it'd take two hours, not two decades.

Five times the bomb tonnage that was dropped on Germany during WWII was dropped on North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by the US.

With regard to your last sentence, take a good luck at a map. Do you honestly believe that anyone other than Curtis Lemay would have decided to use a nuclear device on a nation that has a 500+ mile border with China?

Thanks Gary, I missed that Crimso was speaking to my comment. I initially typed one decade, then changed it to 2, but am still not sure how one would define the period of time. And, of course, I was referring to the air force general (and George Wallace's vice presidential running mate) Curtis LeMay's quote about bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age, though it was just an allusion to quote rather than an actual quote, since he said it in his 1968 memoir and it may have been LeMay taking a line 1967 Buchwald column. link

Sorry, Gary. Missed your earlier response to Crimso

"How many freaking 'individuals of the mind' can there be?

And who will pick up the garbage in their brave new world?"

I always found Rand pretty laughable, but I'm not sure this a real problem in her work. It's been decades since I read her, so I may well be remembering her entirely wrongly, but my admittedly vague recollection is that her thrust would be along the lines that a garbarge collector should take pride in being the best possible garbage collector, if that's the best possible thing they can do. Or something to that effect.

"That about sums it up. I've never understood her appeal."

I remain friendly with Megan because political differences aren't something that get in my way with that unless someone crosses certain lines on certain issues, largely of bigotry. If they don't cross my lines on those points, I'm good friends with people I have vastly stronger political differences with than Megan, or Charles, for that matter.

I also distinguish strongly between opinions and actions. Even the most vile opinions, if unattached to any damaging action to anyone -- which is a separate question -- have limited evil effects.

And Megan and I and a bunch of others were blogging back in 2001 and 2002, back when there was a lot of blog consensus, and relatively little political division.

And lastly, I find her views far less disagreeable than innumerable others on the right side of the blogosphere. Jeepers, there are so many of them that do offend me, Megan is just someone disagree with on a number of matters. BFD.

Not to say any of this should matter to anyone else, of course. But since you effectively asked the question.

Oh, and she linked to my post last week, and suggested people donate, so full disclosure there and all. But, what, I'm gonna think someone is a big meany, then?

That's, again, I point out, entirely separate from saying I find her analysis always compelling.

Though there are certainly and infinite number of worse, and dumber writers.

I wrote: "One might start by distinguishing the different sorts of things we seek to be
'free' from."

Poor phrasing compells me to add "or free to do."

Good little piece by Cullather, LJ, and quite correct.

These people should spend their days in shame and penance for the consequences of what they advocated, none of which they themselves have felt.

Jes, the actual position of German women (despite nazi rhethorics) was better in the 3rd Reich than in the 50ies (though worse than in the 20ies). The rollback of women's position by the Nazis was effectively compensated by the needs of war*. The post-war "restauration" really turned the clocks back and it took the forgotten 4 mothers of the new constitution a long and nasty fight to even secure (on paper) equal rights for women. It took at least 2 decades to get rid of the worst legal violations of that.

*and the nazi method of undermining the family in favour of loyalty towards nazi organisations worked in many cases for not against women because it weakened the power of the patriarchs over their daughters.

Hartmut; Jes, the actual position of German women (despite nazi rhethorics) was better in the 3rd Reich than in the 50ies (though worse than in the 20ies).

I'm no expert on German history, Hartmut, but according to my understanding, the women who before Hitler came to power had worked as doctors, as civil servants - had had ordinary full-time jobs - were sacked in the first few months of the Third Reich, and within a few years, very few German women were in full-time work. If this is true - if the proportion of women in full-time work went down after the Nazis took power, and if women who were working at the time were sacked for being female, I don't see how you can argue that women's status was better under the 3rd Reich.

(Though obviously, when WWII started and the skills shortage inside Germany became acute, like most other countries at war, women started doing work outside the home again.)

rant:

In the wake of the Iraq invasion there is a disquieting tendency among some parts of the left to adopt a Kissinger style nonchalance towards the concept of freedom. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a free country by any definition. The GDR, which was an infinitely better place to live in than Saddam Hussein's Iraq, was not a free country by any definition. Those pointing out that one could live a reasonably normal life under SH's rule if one toed the line are making the same mistake as the leftwing apologists for the GDR made when they played down the fundamentally inhumane nature of this comparatively restrained regime. The fact that the situation was worse in Iran or the USSR respectively is not relevant to the question if these societies were free. The fact that western democracies are deficient in implementing ideals of freedom is also irrelevant. The fact that crazy warmongers have used the lack of freedom in Iraq under SH to justify a criminal and botched invasion is not relevant either.

Talking about the freedoms enjoyed by some people living in fundamentally unfree societies flies in the face of the very idea of human rights, which are universal, inalienable and indivisible.

/rant

"In the wake of the Iraq invasion there is a disquieting tendency among some parts of the left to adopt a Kissinger style nonchalance towards the concept of freedom. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a free country by any definition."

Which person or article are you attempting to refute?

I assume you have a bunch of cites? Why not just link in the first place?

Setting that aside, let's read that stuff, so we can refute it. Cites?

(I'm pretty unclear why people make these sorts of announcements nowadays without including cites in the first place. Why do that, other than to make your cause look like you, you know, have no cites? It seems baffling; do people not understand how to make an argument? Do they set out to say that their argument has no facts behind it?)

The rational part of novakant's rant is his complaint about the use of the word "rights" to refer to the freedom women had to walk around in Western attire before 2003. People under Saddam only had the rights or the freedom to do what he allowed, or I suppose that's the argument.

Nonetheless women did have the "right" (insert whatever term is more appropriate) to walk around in Western attire before 2003 and they don't now, and people are correct in pointing out that Iraqis are suffering more after 2003 than before. Novakant's rant would be appropriate if anyone here were actually speaking in favor of totalitarianism, rather than merely pointing out that anarchy can be worse than dictatorship.

It's nice to have the accusation right in the thread where its accuracy can be checked. Out in the real world anyone (like Howard Dean) who said something about Iraq being worse off after 2003 would soon find himself or herself at the center of a manufactured controversy over whether they actually liked Saddam's dictatorship.

People who thought it would have been a good idea to invade East Germany and violently overthrow its government were wrong. Doing so would have been catastrophic far beyond the (non-existent) harm allegedly caused by a few misplaced utterances by people at the margins of political life in the West.

Whining about what "the Left" says or doesn't say is virtually always misdirection from apologists for authoritarianism.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a free country by any definition.

Quite right, and you are quite right to insist on the point.

What seems undeniable, to me, is that many, many Iraqis live in an environment of extreme chaos and anarchy, in which simply going about their daily lives can result in their dying a horrible and random death. I don't think that's something they had to live with under Saddam.

How that compares, as a real human experience, to living in a totalitarian state, I couldn't tell you. But I doubt it feels, in real, concrete terms, like any meaningful or useful form of freedom.

Thanks -

Apologies if someone already made this point, but I gotta get back to work & don't have time to scan--your analogy's fine, but it doesn't really work unless YOU gave your friend his first vial of crack.

Or, like, broke the lock on the door of the self-storage unit where the crack was kept. That's probably more apt. But still.

Which person or article are you attempting to refute?

Whining about what "the Left" says or doesn't say is virtually always misdirection from apologists for authoritarianism.

It's hard to condense an impression created by observing the political debate over several years into links to a few posts and I'm sure you'd be very good at describing these as unrepresentative or not saying what I think they do, if I did so. But to point you in the general direction, a look at Matthew Yglesias' blog (with whom I agree on many things, just not these issues) might be instructive, as his general outlook is quite close to what I'm criticizing, in that he continually pushes a rather amoral, utilitarian realpolitik angle that doesn't seem to be concerned much with human rights, but more with not rocking the boat out of fear that this would embolden the neocon wingnuts to embark on new adventures.

Or, for starters, have a look upthread. To me, it doesn't make sense philosophically to talk about 'freedoms' and 'rights' unless these are universally guaranteed by law and enforced by an independent judiciary. If people possess these 'rights' and 'freedoms' only as long as the dictator or the regime don't decide to take them away at random or if they only apply to a certain part of the population (as was the case in both the examples I brought up), then, to my mind, they don't have any rights or freedom, since these are by their nature universal and indivisible.

This does make make me a human rights absolutist and puts me (and has always put me) at odds with a sizeable portion of the left - so be it, but do not pretend that there isn't a conflict there and that I am imagining things. This does not make me a neocon or any less left than I am and always have been (I will just ignore the 'apologists for authoritarianism' slur, thank you very much), since I don't favour violent conflict resolution except in the case of ongoing or imminent genocide.

novakant: Talking about the freedoms enjoyed by some people living in fundamentally unfree societies flies in the face of the very idea of human rights, which are universal, inalienable and indivisible.

Interesting turn I think. I agree with novakant in that I think you have to take freedom out of this discussion.

Question for anyone making the “Iraqis had more freedom before” argument: Are the people of Iran in any way “free” today – this morning – right this moment?

Religious freedom?

Political Freedom?

Women’s Rights? Women can vote and serve in parliament so there’s no problem there?

LGBT Rights aren’t a concern because there are none in Iran.

Most Iranians can walk down the street in relative safety, provided they are dressed appropriately and keep their heads down etc.

Are Iranians as a people more free right now than they would be after some kind of regime change that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths? Now I’m not saying regime change via an external event and I’ve been solidly against any kind of military action. Even funding opposition groups is iffy at best and likely offers them more problems than benefit. So let’s call this an internal event. Opposition groups organize and attempt to overthrow the regime and it leads to 5 years of bloody internal conflict. A million people die. Millions more are displaced. After 5 years some things are better and some things are worse. Are they as a people better off today as it is? Does all that carnage and however the new regime works out somehow make them “free” today? Two very different questions IMO.

I don’t think that anything that happens in that scenario should make people look back and say that Iranians are somehow free today. If you keep freedom out of it, then “better off” makes more sense, as in a lot of the population was better off as long as they went along with the regime. But they are not free as a people in any (Western) definition of the word.

This is in part one of those arguments where people agree on the facts and argue about word usage. Whatever.

Where it slides a little into something substantive is in novakant's accusation that people upthread are like Matt Y


"in that he continually pushes a rather amoral, utilitarian realpolitik angle that doesn't seem to be concerned much with human rights, but more with not rocking the boat out of fear that this would embolden the neocon wingnuts to embark on new adventures."

Yeah, right, that's exactly what people upthread were saying.

Time to go look for more interesting threads.

"Five times the bomb tonnage that was dropped on Germany during WWII was dropped on North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by the US."

And the effect was... maybe only to the Bronze Age?

And I was greatly amused at the upthread mention of my "po-mo" reasoning. I am perfectly capable of deploying such reasoning in environments where it will be understood, though certainly not as a tool to enhance my own understanding of the world. I entered this precisely because I felt that the clear meaning of the word "free" was apparently not understood by certain people. I try very, very hard to say exactly what I mean, though I clearly don't always succeed (who does?). But seriously, great stuff to chew on. So, what do we do NOW?

So, what do we do NOW?

we leave

"Free" --a binary state or one with a scale?

"we leave"

So then the women can uncover and the gays can go about their lives and...

Is it entirely possible that in terms used in any given upthread cite about how much better the Iraqis were under Saddam and how much worse off they are now, that it really could get MUCH worse? Becuase I suspect that it could, and that it could do so by us leaving. Not "will" mind you, but "could." Do you take that distinct possibility into account when you suggest "we leave?" How about we leave and then Iran dominates Iraq. Sure, the mullahs will impose law and order, but will women and gays and Jews and...be better off? Or will our leaving result in a return to those great "free" times under Saddam?

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