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December 17, 2009

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Well, that's good. As a commenter who jumped on him, I retract my own snark as well.

But what if the consequences had been different? What if there was minimal loss of life; what if sectarian violence had remained limited; what if the transition to self-government had happened relatively smoothly, with the support of the vast majority of Iraqis; what if AQI never gained a foothold; and, finally, what if the insurgency never happened? Would they have turned to opposing the war, or would they have continued to support it?

If these things had happened, then I suppose we'd need to rewrite the book on invasion and occupation. An invasion that didn't produce a big pile of bodies would be a new and amazing thing. So would an occupation that didn't provoke an insurgency*. So would an occupation that produced a stable, non-repressive, not-hopelessly-corrupt government*.

* Post WWII Japan and Germany may be exceptions, but they experienced total defeat abroad, unconditional surrender, shame for their atrocities, and the threat of Soviet occupation.

People who expected a short, clean, and practically corpse-free invasion and occupation were not simply incorrect -- they were wrong despite the availability of ample evidence to the contrary.

Yup.Plus theres that whole "supporting/arming Saddam" thing in the first place.
Cracks me up two men deeply involved in passing armaments to the Iraqi's- Cheney & Rummy- were given the job of creating a pretext for & execution of a war against him.
You'd think they would be behid bars for arming "Hitler", but no......they are off counting the swag.....

Neocons and others who argue that Iraqis are "better off", are like unto a drunk driver who smashed into a family van and killed the poor parents and a kid or two....but later point to the the new homes the surviving kids were placed in as being evidence that the whole thing wasn't so bad after all.

Well it's a question of tradeoffs. Most Iraqis have not died or been refugeed, (as low a bar as that is) so it's entirely possible that on average, Iraqis benefited. It's a question of whether hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and millions of seriously dislocated Iraqis is balanced out by the remaining tens of millions of living Iraqis living under a slightly better government. Probably not, but it's entirely possible.

" and the threat of Soviet occupation"

Good thought, let's threaten Iraq with Soviet occupation.....

elm wrote, * Post WWII Japan and Germany may be exceptions, but they experienced total defeat abroad, unconditional surrender, shame for their atrocities, and the threat of Soviet occupation.

Patrick: Not to mention that Post WWII Japan and Germany had already experienced enormous loss of life and the death of nearly a generation of young men during the actual war.

UserG: Factor in the friends and family of the dead. For example, even if I survived but my brother or sister or mother was killed, I wouldn't feel better off. Surely that's not a uniquely American sentiment.

"UserG: Factor in the friends and family of the dead. For example, even if I survived but my brother or sister or mother was killed, I wouldn't feel better off. Surely that's not a uniquely American sentiment."

Unless I had several children and nieces and nephews who now have a substantially better life, then maybe the sacrifice was worth it.

I don't know if it could possibly be seen as just or justified by any Iraqi. I don't know how oppressed or afraid they felt or whether they feel better or safer now I don't know how they will feel in a year or two.

But the speculation seems circular and unseemly.

Unless I had several children and nieces and nephews who now have a substantially better life, then maybe the sacrifice was worth it.

You know, if some drunk driver killed my wife, I would be filled with rage, sorrow and despair beyond imagining. And if said drunk driver's insurance company wrote me a check for $1 million, it wouldn't alleviate one bit of my rage, sorrow or despair. Now, I'm not an Iraqi, but my family is from the middle east and I just can't see how most Iraqis would differ from me in that regard. When you kill someone's spouse, they are going to be enraged and sorrowful beyond imagining. And they're not going to consider a few extra bucks to be "worth it". How many extra dollars would it take for you to sacrifice your wife? Or mother or father? Hmm? What dollar value would justify having your spouse killed?

This isn't rocket science Marty. This is basic common sense. How much extra money would the 9/11 victims' families have to have gotten before they considered 9/11 to be "worth it"? The question is completely absurd. Not just absurd, but violently offensive. You would never ask such a question in a million years, but you have no trouble asking an equivalent question of Iraqis.

Here's the part that I don't get. Conservatives are supposed to be the ones who talk incessently about the universality of human beings and human experience (none of this cultural relativism for them, no siree) while also being the ones talking about moral absolutes, like, you know, "killing someone's spouse is a horrific moral evil". Both those lines of argument converge nicely here, yet now we have a conservative arguing, with a straight face, that those alien Iraqis might think that having their spouses and children brutally tortured and murdered might be a fair trade if said torture and murder put an extra couple of bucks in the pockets of their other family members.

But the speculation seems circular and unseemly

To be clear, I was responding to Hamid's statement that "undoubtedly" the Iraqi people were better off.

That is not only speculation, but unequivocal speculation.

My response was that for many Iraqis that was not the case. Certainly, the hundreds of thousand dead Iraqis are not better off. I find that to be neither speculation nor unseemly to suggest.

then maybe the sacrifice was worth it

To make a sacrifice implies making a choice. I don't want to quibble about the words, but I think it's important not to imply that the people of Iraq had any choice in the matter, any more than the people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Someone else imposed these horrific losses on them without, to say the very least, consulting their wishes in the matter.

Turb, I have no idea what you are talking about. I never mentioned nor imagined money. While we killed many people there were many Iraqis engaged in fighting for a better society with us and among themselves.
And for JanieM and Turb, the counts of the dead and injured include what they did to each other, was that not a choice. I do not dismiss our reposnsibility for this, I also don't dismiss theirs. Do their chidren have a better future now than they would have under Saddam? Surely that is not a value particular to Americans.

Depressingly, Janie, while that's true, I know some of the more blinkered defenders of that lovely little war will still deny it - after all, we certainly consulted exile groups, didn't we, and unlike the passive cowards who stayed in Iraq, those Iraqis had the courage to act on their convictions, so they plainly were the real authentic voice of the Iraqi people. And never you mind that they weren't going to have to bear the brunt of the suffering the Iraqi people would undergo - hello, only lying commie traitors claim the US military would ever do anything to make a civilian population suffer, and even if they did (which they wouldn't), the people would be better off and grateful for it, so it wouldn't be real suffering. And so on.

Also, the portion of the sentence you quote is ambiguous. In the sense that you (and the sentence's author) use sacrifice, choice is indeed required... but alas, there is another more relevant sense in which choice for those who will suffer is neither necessary nor even desirable...

"the counts of the dead and injured include what they did to each other, was that not a choice"

Oh, sure, they chose that. Well, if by "chose" you mean "were killed by rampaging ethnic death squads after a foreign army overthrew their country's government and shattered law and order".

I mean, if a foreign army invaded the US and overthrew the government, leaving chaos in the wake, and you were murdered by a gang of thugs bent on eradicating your ethnic group, I'm sure you'd consider that a choice you made. Right?

And you'd presumably be happy about that choice too, as long as sometime years later some of the kids felt they were better off.

Admittedly, they'd probably be the kids of the people that murdered you. But this is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who...

And for JanieM and Turb, the counts of the dead and injured include what they did to each other, was that not a choice.

Not really, no. In 2002, there was no war in Iraq. There was a stable central government, pubic order was maintained, and public services were operating as best they could within the chokehold of the sanctions. In 2003, we destroyed that government, and with it public order and much of the fragile infrastructure. The Iraqi people did not choose to start the war. We did. When the nation descended into chaos, it was because we destroyed the government. Worse, we didn't replace it with anything functional. We left the ministries (except for the Ministries of Oil and of Interior, natch) to be looted - which is to say we passively but willfully enabled the destruction of the existing mechanisms for the restoration of the public order we eliminated. We then conducted political purges of what was left, disbanded the army, and otherwise continued to prevent the Iraqi people from reconstituting meaningful public order. The chaos in Iraq was imposed from without, and this is not changed by any amount of glib insinuations. Chaos arose when we destroyed order. We bear ultimate responsibility for enabling and encouraging it to do so. The Iraqi people did not choose the war, or subsequent civil war. That was our doing.

I do not dismiss our reposnsibility for this, I also don't dismiss theirs.

That's not how it looks from here. You seem to be throwing your hands up in the air and claiming that, okay, maybe we caused a few deaths here and there, but because (after we wrecked the nation and planted the seeds for civil war) Iraq did not en masse passively "just behave", or close its eyes and think of England, or what have you, they're at least as responsible for the deaths arising from our invading Iraq and destroying the government as we are. You're attempting to impose a moral equivalency, and while it may be true you're not outright dismissing US responsibility for the state of Iraq and the countless dead, you're striving mightily to minimize it, and for that matter, blame the victim.

Do their chidren have a better future now than they would have under Saddam?

The living, unmutilated, undiseased, unorphaned, non-refuge ones? Maybe. Maybe not. Given the brutality of our sanction regime (which was massively amplified by our attacks on civil infrastructure in the first Gulf War) we were imposing for the decade prior to our invasion, you're setting a pretty low bar for your NABA claim to clear, but even so, I expect the dead (and their survivors), the crippled, and the refugees might possibly not be looking at the rosy, "better" future you claim they are. Even those lucky enough to avoid the aforementioned categories aren't perforce going to be all that thrilled with life in a devastated nation, nor is it yet clear we've not substituted one tyranny for another.


1) Some Iraqis asked us to help, others celebrated when we got to Baghdad, others turned on each other just as quickly. Yes, we should have understood that would happen, but we did not force them to kill each other.

2) Iraqis killing Iraqis is, no matter how you want to make it seem something different, Iraqis killing Iraqis. Call them death squads, call it ethnic cleansing, call it neighbors killing neighbors, use any words you want.

It was a horrific example of the effects of living for decades in constant fear and then being freed to act.

3) I did not, and I don't really believe anyone else posting has, enough information to answer this question.

4) And, I agree with NV "nor is it yet clear we've not substituted one tyranny for another.", so my guess is that they are not sure yet either.

"others turned on each other"

Murder & ethnic cleansing of civilians by armed militants is not a mutual, consensual activity. There is no "each other" to being murdered.

Agreed, Jacob. More broadly, claiming as Marty does that "they" chose to kill "each other" requires a very plastic referent for "them". Group identity is not the simple thing you make it out to be, Marty. Nor is collective guilt so easy to ration as you do so above. It is one thing to say the US military caused chaos and death in Iraq, as they are a unified organization with a clear and unified chain of command. It is quite another to say "post-Saddam Iraq" did so.

However, all of that can be firmly set to one side. The US destroyed order in Iraq. This allowed some portions of the Iraqi populace to prey upon others. As occupier, we had a legal obligation to prevent that. That it happened none-the-less made it our responsibility as the occupying power. This is neither all that complicated nor open to interpretation. It was our legal responsibility and our moral one. That the government we created from the ruins and handed off power to continued to kill Iraqis may have absolved us of some of the ongoing legal responsibility, but it did not remove our ultimate moral responsibility.

"Stuff happens", but not without people causing it. You can't have it both ways with causality, as you've sought to here. You argue the war and death may have been worth it because our actions set up an environment where something "good" might one day arise (for those left alive and undisplaced). So, we can judge our actions just. However, if our actions set up an environment where in the mean time terrible things have occurred... whoa, hey, that wasn't us, that was those crazy Iraqis, doncha know?

NV,
Everything you said accurately expresses our responsibility. It is still not clear why we can't accept our responsibility, yet point out the responsibility of the Iraqis. You act like the people killing each other were all imported from some foreign planet or were preformed militias waiting for someone to turn them loose. The were Iraqis who formed militias to kill other Iraqis.

I don't understand why any circumstance makes that ok? All of the objections to holding them accountable sound pretty arrogant, like they were children who shouldn't be expected to act reasonably in changing circumstances. So we should have left them under Saddam because they don't know how to act if they have a choice, and we should have known they couldn't.

I have not argued for or against whether it is a just war. Typically, pointing out that the assertion of one side or the other is incorrect gets interpreted as taking the other side.

I don't understand why any circumstance makes that ok? All of the objections to holding them accountable sound pretty arrogant, like they were children who shouldn't be expected to act reasonably in changing circumstances. So we should have left them under Saddam because they don't know how to act if they have a choice, and we should have known they couldn't.

We should have left them under Saddam because we apparently (and entirely predictably) don't know how to maintain order in a country we invade*. We had a choice about whether to destroy the forces of order in Iraq. We had a choice about whether to replace them. We had a choice about whether to allow Iraqis to replace them in a timely manner. We chose yes, no, no.

If the US were invaded, and public order was destroyed, that would be the responsibility of the invader. If they neglected to restore it, and obstructed Americans from doing so, they'd also be responsible for that. If in this lawless environment, e.g. roving bands of Aryan Nation and KKK thugs seized the opportunity to rove the countryside killing every non-WASP they could lay their hands on, and nationalist resistance groups killed collaborators and collateral-killed random Americans, that would not be the responsibility of "Americans" writ large. That would be the responsibility of the the armed bands and the negligent occupier. It would be beyond insulting for someone to then pontificate about how "Americans" had chosen to kill "themselves", so "they" were responsible for the ensuing carnage, and in fact had "chosen" it.

*Setting firmly to one side the banal truth that we should have left them under Saddam because it was obvious that we would kill and displace uncounted numbers of Iraqis to free the remainder, where "free" very possibly would (and still may yet) mean putting them under the heel of a pliant strongman.

"If in this lawless environment, e.g. roving bands of Aryan Nation and KKK thugs seized the opportunity to rove the countryside killing every non-WASP they could lay their hands on, and nationalist resistance groups killed collaborators and collateral-killed random Americans, that would not be the responsibility of "Americans" writ large"

Yes it would be Americans writ large responsibility to establish order. As it is today.

No, it would be the responsibility of the occupying power until such time that the successor regime was capable of doing so. If the occupying power actively undermined efforts by Americans writ large to re-establish order after that time (or washed their hands of the responsibility before there was a capable regime), that would extend their responsibility.

Of course, the degree to which the analogy carries over to Iraq is questionable, because the successor regime in this case was more or less a subset of the aforementioned armed factions. Still, it is ridiculous to claim that Iraqis writ large "chose" chaos and civil war. The Americans created a power vacuum. They did not move to fill it themselves in a more than cursory manner, at least not in terms of civil order, and in fact made moves to destroy some of the remaining government structures that could help provide order. The factions that arose and armed themselves sought to fill it, quite bloodily. The US supported some factions, opposed others, and sat back and let others kill each other (and civilians belonging to no faction; mustn't forget them, though you seem willing to). We played a part in all this. We're responsible for the chaos arising, and we're responsible for much of its severity, both because of what we did and what we prevented from being done. Individual Iraqis actors and factions bear responsibility for their own acts, but we bear responsibility for creating and nurturing the overall lawless environment (as well as directly supporting some of the Iraqi actions, and of course the deaths we inflicted ourselves). The Iraqis writ large are not anywhere near as responsible for the deaths that occurred there over the last six years, nor did they "choose" to suffer them. It's not for nothing that instigating war was deemed the supreme crime, rather than simply waging it.

Allow me to make a point of clarification: unless you are subscribing to an anti-statist political theory, it is not the responsibility of the civil population of a nation to maintain order. That is the responsibility, and indeed the right, of the government; it is the justification and natural consequence of the state monopoly on lawful violence. Calling acts of violence within a nation the responsibility of the population at large (rather than the positive responsibility of the specific subgroups or individuals committing them, or the negative responsibility of the forces of order for failing to prevent them) requires either hypocrisy on this point, or rejection of political statism to some degree or another.

Thinking more about this make me curious: you hold that the Iraqi people as a whole are responsible for the violent actions of some of their members; would you claim it to be a positive or negative responsibility?

NV,

I hesitated to answwer this because I can't articulate it clearly out loud. I believe that every citizen has a positive responsibility to act for the good of the state and vice versa. In the context of our discussion I am not sure I have been clear, or that I can be clear.

I believe that the Iraqi people are responsible for the actions of the Iraqi militias, ethnic or otherwise, and their support, active or passive, of them. This is in the same way Americans are responsible for the acts of our military and police, etc. and yes the KKK if we allowed them to roam free of inhibition killing people.

In my simple view, chaos decreased when the Iraqi people made the choice to act with those who would prevent more violence, thus meeting their responsibility.

Whether it is Iraq or Afghanistan or any American city or town, people have a responsibility to act in the defense of order and security, at their own peril, to meet this positive responsibility.

I believe that the Iraqi people are responsible for the actions of the Iraqi militias, ethnic or otherwise, and their support, active or passive, of them. This is in the same way Americans are responsible for the acts of our military and police, etc. and yes the KKK if we allowed them to roam free of inhibition killing people.

I understand your difficulty in articulating this - I think I understand the underlying motivation to label Iraqis as a whole responsible. The problem is that it presumes the matter of group identity here is cut and dry, when it's not.

The e.g. Sunni "cleansed" by a Shiite government death squad did not choose that. They are not responsible for their own death. They may or may not consider themself to belong to the same "group" as their killer, and it's fairly clear their killer doesn't think the victim is Iraqi in the same sense they are. In a case like this, it's meaningless to say "Iraqis are responsible for the killing", because they're not. In the example given, the killer belongs to a different subnational group than their victim, and does not act on behalf of their victim (despite being employed by the Ministry of Interior or whoever). The victim does not share responsibility with their killer for their death in any meaningful way, and the government is not acting as an agent advancing the interests (or preserving the security) of all groups equally.

This is the fundamental problem with an overly simple assertion that "Iraqis" are responsible, that "Iraqis" chose to kill and be killed. All citizens have a duty to act in the defense of order, to prevent "more violence"? Violence to whom? If one subgroup is being targeted by the forces of order, does that mean the targeted subgroup has a responsibility to take up arms and attempt to create order that prevents them from bearing a disproportionate amount of the violence... or does that mean they need to sigh, bow their heads, and silently die for the sake of "order"?

It is not informative to speak of a nation that does not consider itself a homogeneous unified entity as though it is one. It's sloppy, to say the least.

Two parting points: one reason chaos decreased was because the fighting subnational groups succeeded in carrying out a great deal of ethnic cleansing, thus making themselves more geographically distinct. Another is because some power sharing was brokered, making the government more an agent of the whole of the populace. Both observations underline the heterogeneous nature of the Iraqi people, and the degree to which they do not consider themselves an undivided people. It's all well and good for an outsider to lump them into one arbitrary mass, but it's not particularly useful, beyond allowing for simplistic and misleading statements and judgments.

Secondly, people may have a responsibility to act to maintain order, but if they cannot do so under the aegis of a single government with a monopoly on violence, the multiple actors will very probably have competing visions thereof and quite possibly will clash. Even if a unified government is established, if that (not-overly-representative) government starts killing some of the citizens (or turning a blind eye to their deaths), do they "maintain order" by not fighting back, or by fighting back? If a foreign occupier is propping up the government, should they be resisted too? Should they try to defend themselves, or petition the occupier to reign in their proxy before too many victims die to it and its paramilitary allies? On the flip side, if a subgroup finds itself at the helm of government, should they attack other subgroups if their members attack them, should that be judged the best route to promoting "order"? You seem to be calling for private citizens to at once commit violence for the sake of order, and to "behave" and eschew violence. However, it bears mentioning that the Iraqi people had created a social structure that was (at their peril) maintaining order and security. That would have been the government the US chose to topple, and to prevent from being reconstituted to restore order. That was our choice. And then we didn't let the Iraqis create a new government for a goodly long while. Subnational groups sought to restore their (competing) visions of order, and to have us legitimatize their choices. Some we did, some we didn't. But at no time in any even vaguely meaningful sense did the Iraqi people as a whole "chose" chaos over order.

The overarching point is that national identity is not a simple matter, and the subject is obscured rather than clarified by simultaneously placing blame for social disorder on both its perpetrators and victims, rather than opting for finer-grained distinctions.

"and the subject is obscured rather than clarified by simultaneously placing blame for social disorder on both its perpetrators and victims, rather than opting for finer-grained distinctions."

Yes, it is less clear by using the generalization Iraqis. However, I do understand now why it is hard to articulate. I simply don't find it valuable to take the rather long list of actors in the "Iraqi" generalization and desscribe at what level they bear responsibility. All bear some measure.

It seems to me, though, that as difficult as it is to define the detail, your generalization that Iraqis bear no responsibility because of that is clearly false

I'm not saying that "Iraqis bear no responsibility". I'm saying it's uninformative (and in fact misleading) to make simplistic moral judgments about Iraqis as a whole. Sure, the 10-year-old orphan or random apolitical deathsquad victim can be seen to bear some shred of responsibility for a random chunk of violence if one does the requisite logical contortions. However, it's almost meaningless given how marginal the degree of "responsibility" we're talking about would likely be.

You are, to be blunt, trying to assign collective guilt. That's at best lazily misleading, and at worst morally repugnant. You may not find it valuable to make distinctions and blame those who commit acts of violence for their commission, but it's certainly not at all valuable to make such sweeping generalizations that the victims of bombings, orphans, and displaced refugees are morally indistinguishable from the death squad members, bomb makers, and suchlike.

If you refuse to address any finer granularity of detail, we have nothing to talk about, as such a conversation rapidly becomes beyond meaningless. If Iraq becomes a shining beacon of democracy in 20 years, it won't be in any way attributable to the American invasion; every nation in the world will bear some (indistinguishable) responsibility for it! WWII wasn't brought about primarily by, say, German or Japanese imperialism; it's simply not valuable to assign a specific level of responsibility to individual nations, so they'll all bear it equally, without qualification! Et cetera, ad nauseum.

However, I will make an unequivocal statement that "Iraqis as a whole" never chose chaos. Even by your indistinct generalization, that's an absurd claim. They had order. We destroyed that order. The most you could claim is they did not quickly agree on how to overcome the chaos, and even that's misleading. But they didn't "chose" to have social order replaced by sectarian violence. We chose to thrust that upon them by removing the (however-reluctantly) agreed-upon guarantor of (relative) peace and order in Iraq, and neither taking up the role ourselves (as we were bound to) nor allowing the Iraqis to quickly replace it (not that that would necessarily been possible even if we weren't concerned with making sure the "right" new guarantor replaced the old one; consensus of the governed cannot be taken for granted, even in a mononational state, which Iraq is not).

If you want to quibble moral responsibility by refusing to make any meaningful distinctions, fine. But don't claim that Iraqis as a whole chose their current situation. That's little more than an insulting whitewash of America's role here. We were the chooser. We chose to invade them. Very much contra your 04:07 19/12/09. We chose to sacrifice them in pursuit of a vision of roses, candy, and pro-American democracy. They didn't choose to sacrifice themselves. Which was the point that you were originally contesting in re: choice.

Marty asked, of a nation in chaos: Do their chidren have a better future now than they would have under Saddam?

No. Why would you think they did?

NV, No more lazy and repugnant than to sa America is responsible, as American orphans, etc really had nothing to do with it. Now your at a level of detail that isn't helpful. It is a straightforward, simple ,d obvious concept made complex for the sake of argument.

NV, No more lazy and repugnant than to sa America is responsible

Yeah, just because the US attacked Iraq and destroyed essential, life-preserving infrastructure, imposed crippling sanctions that killed a million children by depriving them of essential healthcare, then aggressively attacked again, overthrowing a stable if despotic government to kill at least million more people and throw the country into chaos, it is obviously "lazy" to say the US is "responsible".

Marty, it's possible that I've been sloppy upthread and said "Americans" at some point. But I don't think I have. I've been trying to say "the US military", or "the US government". When I say "we", I mean "our government" or if you prefer, "our military". I would hope this was clear after I made comments upthread contrasting the undifferentiated mass of Iraqi citizens from the hierarchically-structured US military. One is a coherent organization with a centralized command structure. It can make sense to discuss the organization making choices and bearing moral responsibility for them. Indeed, the same can be said (to a lesser degree, due to its less-than-strictly-hierarchical nature) of the US government. However, the same cannot be said of the disorganized mass Iraqi people, particularly after we destroyed their existing government, and obstructed their timely formation of a new one, without diluting the terms "choice" and "responsibility" to nigh meaninglessness. Indeed, such measured moral condemnations become little more than platitudes.

This is indeed a simple and straightforward concept, though I'd argue it's being made complex for the sake of obfuscation, not argument. And even if I were being as lazy and sloppy as you suggest (which again, I would point out I have taken pains not to), that does not make your choice to do so any better. Two wrongs do not make a right, certainly not according to the traditional conservatively-loved absolute morality that I've heard praised all my life. To reject this principle is, I have been led to understand, to wallow in situational ethics.

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