A steadying influence

by Chris Bertram on August 9, 2005

Christopher Hitchens in Slate asks :

Isn’t there a single drop of solidarity and compassion left over for the people of Iraq, after three decades of tyranny, war, and sanctions and now an assault from the vilest movement on the face of the planet?

Needless to say there isn’t a mention of the fact that they wouldn’t be under assault from “the vilest movement on the face of the planet”, nor would that movement be as strong as it presently is, but for the policy that Hitchens and his co-thinkers promoted in the first place. Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice at first, but Hitchens doesn’t believe that since he claims:

Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces. None of the many blunders in postwar planning make any essential difference to that conclusion. Indeed, by drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi society and its infrastructure, they serve to reinforce the point.

The “steadying influence of coalition forces” …..

{ 136 comments }

1

Steve 08.09.05 at 6:47 am

Its our fault that suicide bombers are killing Iraqi civilians, because we are there? Are you serious?

2

gzombie 08.09.05 at 6:50 am

Maybe we must destroy Iraq in order to save it.

3

victor falk 08.09.05 at 6:55 am

Come on, the US army is far from beeing the vilest movement on the planet.

4

Brendan 08.09.05 at 6:56 am

I imagine this will be the fall back position for the pro-invasion grouping now. We only have to cast our minds back a few years and we found them (including one C.Hitchens…any relation?) claiming that the war would be won ‘easily’, that ‘peace’ and ‘prosperity’ would shortly follow. In fact I only have to cast my mind back to last year to recall lots of fashionable newspaper columnists writing columns which went along the lines of ‘love Bush or hate him, you can’t deny his pro-democracy strategy is working…..’. This was before the Iranians and the Mauritanians showed just how succesful the policy was proving to be.

However, yet again, this is all eerily similar to Vietnam. By 1967/1968 all the ‘lights at the end of the horizons’ and ‘peace with honours’ had become merely cynical cliches which nobody with any sense believed any more. But declassified documents of LBJ’s discussions of the time showed that senior US government officials were well aware that Vietnam was a disaster. They could hardly deny it. All they had to do was to turn on their TV.
And so their arguments slowly shifted. Instead of ‘if we stay everything will be great’ the argument instead changed to ‘bad as things are, if we leave, things will get even worse‘. This argument of course has the great advantage of being irrefutable: it doesn’t matter how bad things get, you can always imagine something worse. And so (being irrefutable in Popper’s sense) the ‘we must stay’ argument comes more and more to resemble the statement of quasi-religious belief it perhaps always was.

The cynicism of Hitchens, who, being there the first time, is well aware of how people viewed Vietnam at the time, and is well aware (despite the fact that he denies it) that his own position now is the mirror image of what it was then, is truly breathtaking.

5

KCinDC 08.09.05 at 6:58 am

If we hadn’t gone in, the suicide bombers wouldn’t be there. That doesn’t make us responsible for their actions, but it surely makes it ridiculous to say “Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces.”

6

Ray 08.09.05 at 7:08 am

“drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi … infrastructure”

Which is like the Mafia coming round the next day, saying “Hey, we told you this place looked awful flammable”

7

alkali 08.09.05 at 7:08 am

steve writes:

Its our fault that suicide bombers are killing Iraqi civilians, because we are there? Are you serious?

Yes. You are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions regardless of whether your intentions are good.

8

abb1 08.09.05 at 7:16 am

He want me send a check to the guy in Baghdad who is being full of ideas about zero tolerance for broken windows?

With $9 billion (at least) already plundered from the “reconstruction fund” by his cronies, he wants me to give more?

What a pathetic absurd piece.

9

Brendan 08.09.05 at 7:22 am

One last thing, then I’ll shut up. Honest.

One other argument that Hitchens uses (that he simply must remember his political enemies using in the ’60s) is that unspecified ‘terrible things’ will happen if the Iraq war is lost.

To reiterate, this argument was used again and again in Vietnam. If Vietnam was ‘lost’ it was argued, Cambodia would follow, then Laos, then Thailand and Burma, then, unstoppable, the Red Menace would sweep down to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philipines and then back to India and Pakistan. Perhaps even Japan would go ‘communist’ in this nightmare scenario.

Of course, with the exception of Cambodia and Laos (communist takeovers that can be attributable, in large part, to American actions in the region) none of this happened. On the contrary, after a few decades of peace, we found that the Communist Volcano seems to have more or less fizzled out (Nepal excepted).

In the same way, using precisely the same arguments, Hitchens argues that ‘I think that those who supported regime change should confront the idea of defeat, and what it would mean for Iraq and America and the world, every day.’.

To which the only response is: ok, i can more or less work out what ‘defeat’ will mean for Iraq. But what, precisely, will it mean for America? Or for the rest of the world for that matter?

The Onion once had a satirical article in their ‘History of the World’: ‘United States loses Vietnam War: Le Duan becomes President of the United States.’ The point this article was making should be obvious.

But I think we should ask some hard questions of Hitchens here. What precisely, is be implying? That Iraq will conquer the US? That Arabic will supplant English as the official world Lingua Franca? That Islam will supplant Christianity as the major religion of Europe, the US and Canada? That the US will soon become an Iranian style theocratic regime?

Hitchens knows of course that none of these things will happen, but it’s important in this form of discourse that you don’t actually say what might happen: making predictions (as Hitchens well knows) opens yourself open to the possibility or likelihood that you will be proved wrong. Instead you hint. Dark things might happen. Terrible things. Things too awful to mention before the children have gone to bed.

In any case. Make no mistake. What Hitchens is alluding to here is nothing less than the resuscitation of the Domino Theory. This was a theory with one purpose: to justify US actions in Vietnam (and, later, Nicaragua). Likewise, the sole purpose of its new and unimproved version is to justify the Iraq war.

10

dsquared 08.09.05 at 7:29 am

The next hill on this road, by the way, is when the US gets tired of this horrible business and pulls significant amounts of troops out, leaving a few behind to make sure that the new government doesn’t completely go over to Iran. At that point, Hitchens and gang switch over to castigating “the liberal left” for not having believed that it was ever possible for the Iraqis to take over their own security (remember “purple fingers”). How stupid we look now, etc etc.

The one after that is “my God the left is viler than we thought; they support the fascist insurgents even now the Americans are no longer in charge”. Then it’s helicopters on the embassy roof, and after that it’s downhill all the way to “The Coalition could not have been defeated militarily; it was undermined by the fifth column back at home”.

Oh yeh and at some point we get framed up for spitting on returning veterans.

11

Dan Kervick 08.09.05 at 7:32 am

Its our fault that suicide bombers are killing Iraqi civilians, because we are there? Are you serious?

Unlike a few other places in the Middle East, in Iraq the Islamist movement was once firmly under the thumb of its ruler. Then we broke the Iraqi state, and let them up off the mat. Once free to act, the prospect of the golden opportunity at hand to bloody the US, and thwart its plans for the region, drew thousands more Militant Islamists into Iraq.

Yet the radical Islamist movement is only one source of insurrectionists in Iraq.

12

abb1 08.09.05 at 7:39 am

But what, precisely, will it mean for America? Or for the rest of the world for that matter?

This terrible thing is like to happen: the US will lose appetite for ‘liberations’ and ‘regime changes’ for a while. People abroad will have an opportunity to deal with their problems themselves and, perhaps, their governments will do things without getting permission from the US ambassador first.

That is an abomination and insult to humanity.

13

soru 08.09.05 at 7:47 am

However, yet again, this is all eerily similar to Vietnam.

Yes, the resemblences to the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia are noticable, as historical analogies go. Somewhat unpleasant regime responds to provocations by vastly more unpleasant regime, deposes it easily without UN authority, fights and wins a rather dirty guerilla war with majority local support against a stubborn ethnic minority, sets up a more or less friendly local regime and leaves.

Or is that not what you meant?

soru

14

Matthew 08.09.05 at 7:56 am

“it’s downhill all the way to “The Coalition could not have been defeated militarily; it was undermined by the fifth column back at home”.”

Oh we’ve had that since at least the middle of 2004, e.g.
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-5_21_04_MK.html

15

Barry 08.09.05 at 7:57 am

Good one, Soru. And if that happens, you’ll be correct. However, all of the trends seem to be pointing the other way.

16

abb1 08.09.05 at 8:04 am

Soru,
I think one significant difference (aside from the fact that the level of Iraq regime’s atrocities in 2003 was nowhere near the Khmer Rouge) is that Vietnam and Cambodia are two neighboring countries with similar culture, language and so on. It’s quite different when a Western superpower invades and humiliates a weak third word country, much more difficult to expect majority local support.

17

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 8:21 am

alkali wrote:

You are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions regardless of whether your intentions are good.

Interesting. So those who voted for Nader in 2000 are responsible for the foreseeable actions of GWB? And opponents of the invasion of Iraq, had they prevailed, would have been responsible for all subsequent murders by Saddam Hussein? And if my daughter is kidnapped and I don’t pay the ransom, I am responsible for her death?

18

Brendan 08.09.05 at 8:22 am

The salient point about the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia is that it was carried out in self defence. This makes it a very different situation from attacking and invading a country thousands of miles away that could not possibly have posed a threat to you.

Again, the other possible example sometimes quoted of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ (Pakistan/India) is again marked by the fact that the countries involved were right next to each other . (In any case, in that dispute, again, Pakistan attacked first).

So there was obviously a Casus belli in terms of national self-defence in both cases.

Vietnam (and India) could therefore have claimed (and in fact did) that their counter-attack was justified under international law. If a country is attacked ‘first’ it doesn’t need UN approval to defend itself.

This is again very different from invading a country many miles away which did not and could not have posed any threat to the attacking power of any sort whatsoever.

In any case the point is moot. We have no less an authority than Christopher Hitchens, who tell us that we have to face up to ‘the reality of Iraq, which was […] on the verge of implosion’: in other words that the Saddam Hussein regime was collapsing, what many of us always argued. It’s nice to see him admitting that the invasion was purposeless.

Presumably Hitchens would have had the US invade Poland and Czechoslovakia and Romania (and who knows, maybe Russia?) in 1988. It seems that just before the overthrow of the tyrant is the most dangerous time, at least for the United States. Who would have thought it.

19

David B 08.09.05 at 8:26 am

I think Hitchens’s comments (in this instance) are verging on fatuous, but some of the above comments aren’t much better. The implicit position of some of the anti-war brigade is that Saddam may have been a bastard, but only a bastard like Saddam could have kept those stupid, vile Iraqis under control. Isn’t this a bit … er… racist?

20

jet 08.09.05 at 8:33 am

Alkali

Yes. You are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions regardless of whether your intentions are good.

So when a judge sentences a neo-nazi to prison after receiving death threats from his gang, the judge is responsible for the ensueing gun battle at the court house? Is the US responsible for the (short lived) German insurgency after WWII? The US may be responsible for killing or assimilating the Iraqi insurgency, but the US is not responsible for their existance just like the judge is not responsible for the neo-nazi’s existance.

Abb1,

…much more difficult to expect majority local support.

And yet the US only faces a minority of a minority in Iraq. Most Shi-ites want the US to finish up before leaving, and most Sunnis want the fighting to stop.
And since when was Iraq weak? In 1991 Iraq was the Middle-East superpower, and even in 2003 Iraq was either the strongest or second strongest military in the ME.

21

Hektor Bim 08.09.05 at 8:45 am

A lot of the Vietnam and domino comparisons are apt, and should definitely embarass Hitchens.

There is one ethnic group in Iraq that our invasion has unambiguosly helped, and that is the Kurds. They were able to free their ethnic brethren from Saddam Hussein, return many of their refugees to their homes, consolidate their autonomous region, and have military primacy in Iraq due to the destruction of the Iraqi army. Turkey’s refusal to aid the invasion means that the US was able to ignore Turkish concerns and prevent Turkey from “intervening” in Iraq (which would have meant thousands of deaths and large-scale fighting). Many of the Kurds get along well with Iran, so the enthronement of Shiites as the political powers in Iraq means there is something of a convergence there, at least in terms of relationships with Iran, which actually allows public teaching in the Kurdish language, unlike Turkey and Syria. Syria’s government has been weakened, and Kurds will almost surely gain more rights in Syria as a result. Even Turkey is being forced by the presence of the Kurdish autonomous region and the prospect of EU membership to relax its horrific oppression of the Kurds, although the guerilla war is heating up again, so we may see more burned villages and ethnic cleansing in Turkey.

It is not at all clear that the Kurds would have come off as well with the eventual fall of the Hussein regime, so the Kurds are probably pretty pleased with the ways things have turned out, at least so far.

22

Peter 08.09.05 at 8:54 am

Our oil companies need some Lebensraum too.

Brendan, the invasion was pitched as a preventative war: there were WMD on every street corner, they could launch them in 45 minutes or less, and that Sadam Hussein personally trained the crew of every plane on 911. Now that all those lies from Chalabi have been exposed, the bushistas want them carefully forgotten. Basically, we deposed Sadam on behalf of Iran, and won the Iran-Iraq war for Iran. Own goal is the most appropriate term for this invasion.

Its our fault that suicide bombers are killing Iraqi civilians, because we are there? The suicide bombers are getting rid of those who are collaborating with the invaders. In the Arab world it is seen as a “good deed” to help their Iraqi brothers overthrow the infidel invaders. And it didn’t help that bush kept using the crusader word to deliberately inflame muslims worldwide by making the war against Iraq a holy war of our own. If some country invaded the US, you’d be quite willing to kill off the enemy and anyone helping the enemy. Before Sadam fell, the only terrorist bombers setting off bombs in Iraq were supporters of Chalabi.

You remember Chalabi? They convicted bank robber and embezzler; the guy who told the Iranians which of their codes the US had been reading? That is the guy who pitched the war to bush.

23

Ray 08.09.05 at 9:01 am

I’ve heard of the eternal recurrence of the same, but didn’t we just have the respsonsibility argument a few weeks ago?

(I don’t see that its controversial to say that if you know X will cause Y, and you do X, you are at least partially responsible for Y. X may still be worth doing, but its childish to pretend that you are only responsible for the good consequences of your actions, when the accompanying bad consequences are entirely predictable.)

24

ed_finnerty 08.09.05 at 9:04 am

Jet

I am not sure what your definition of the ME is but I would have put Iran, Israel, Egypt, Syria, turkey, Saudi Arabia (air force anyways) ahead of them in 1993.

25

CM 08.09.05 at 9:13 am

Would it surprise anyone if Hitchens continued this line of argument ad infinitum? To me, he has joined the society of “people who will never admit they were wrong,” other prominent members of the society being George W. Bush, G. Gordon Liddy, Rush Limbaugh and some of my personal acquaintances who shall remain unnamed.

26

Steve Burton 08.09.05 at 9:17 am

Chris Bertram cuts off the preceding sentence that explains Hitchens’ “steadying influence” remark:

“…Iraq, which was already on the verge of implosion and might, if left to rot and crash, have become to the region what the Congo is to Central Africa: a vortex of chaos and misery that would draw in opportunistic interventions from Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces.”

In other words, had the US not intervened, the regime would have collapsed in due course anyway, with results even worse than what we are seeing now.

I assume that many opponents of the war will be ready to grant the first part of this claim. Many have argued that outside intervention was unnecessary precisely *because* tyrannies like Saddam’s are naturally unstable and inevitably implode sooner or later of their own accord (as witness the fate of the USSR).

So presumably it’s the second part of Hitchens’ claim that they find implausible – i.e., that the aftermath of such an implosion would have been even worse than the present situation.

For all I know, Hitchens’ scenario – civil war plus opportunistic interventions from neigboring states – may be completely crazy. Maybe the Sunnis would have cheerfully surrendered their stranglehold on power. Maybe the Shia would have repudiated fundamentalist fanaticism. Maybe the Kurds would have made no dangerous bid for independence. And everyone would have lived happily ever after: no civil war, no opportunistic interventions.

But I haven’t seen anyone argue convincingly to this effect.

27

ckrisz 08.09.05 at 9:19 am

Good God, WHAT short-lived German insurgency? Not a single Allied soldier died in combat in the ETO after the German surrender.

28

Ray 08.09.05 at 9:22 am

Steve, what about the aftermath of the US declaring victory and running? What’s to stop Iraq from becoming “a vortex of chaos and misery that would draw in opportunistic interventions from Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia” then?

29

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 9:26 am

Ray wrote:

I don’t see that it[‘]s controversial to say that if you know X will cause Y, and you do X, you are at least partially responsible for Y.

Define “cause” as it pertains to decisions made by human beings. Did your post cause this reply?

30

Ray 08.09.05 at 9:31 am

If I hadn’t posted, you would not have replied. Therefore, my post caused your reply.

It was a necessary cause, not a sufficient cause, which is why I said _partially_ responsible. Obviously, a lot of other things had to happen too for my action to have that result. But those other things are largely predictable – this is not chaotic causation on the level of butterflies and hurricanes.

31

tib 08.09.05 at 9:42 am

Steve,

The situation in Iraq has a lot of momentum in the ‘even worse than what we are seeing now’ direction. Hitchens’ civil war plus opportunistic interventions from neighboring states has largely been realized, with Iran the most opportunistic.

The alternative to invasion, the eventual collapse of the Saddam regime and a power struggle, would at least have preserved Iraqi civil institutions and made a less violent transition possible. We may not have liked those institutions, but the mounting death toll of each passing day makes them look preferable.

The case many people made against regime change was that it rarely works, and never on the cheap. A homegrown overthrow has a much better chance of transitioning to legitimate government.

32

reuben 08.09.05 at 10:00 am

So when a judge sentences a neo-nazi to prison after receiving death threats from his gang, the judge is responsible for the ensueing gun battle at the court house?

But in this example the judge is responding to a violent action, rather than initiating the conflict. It’s apples and pears.

Invading Afhganistan was, to my mind, a sensible response to a provocative act. I have to say that if striking back at the Taliban increased or increases terrorist activity, then that’s extremely unfortunate, but if that’s a necessary part of the equation, so be it.

But the invasion of Iraq wasn’t a response to terrorism, and wqasn’t going to gain us anything in the battle against it. So when it quite predictably increases terrorism, well, that’s not an unfortunate but perhaps necessary part of the bigger struggle: it’s piss poor planning.

Now I suppose Neil Cohen’s going to make fun of my bruschetta or something.

33

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:02 am

ckrisz wrote:

Good G-d, WHAT short-lived German insurgency? Not a single Allied soldier died in combat in the ETO after the German surrender.

Let’s see. By specifying “ETO” I suppose you’re intending to rule out Werwolf attacks on Russian soldiers. By specifying “died in combat”, are you also intending to rule out sniper victims, like the French officer who was shot and killed in Lindau on May 23, 1945?

34

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:08 am

Ray:

Thanks for the clarification. So you are asserting that it is not controversial to say that, for example, the women having abortions are partially responsible for the bombing of abortion clinics?

35

Brendan 08.09.05 at 10:10 am

Steve,

my argument wasn’t against Hitchens’ specific argument it was against that argument per se. You can justify anything by arguing that “if I hadn’t done it things would have been worse”. Maybe so, but how would you know? It’s a strictly unfalsifiable hypothesis.

It’s safe to say that it doesn’t matter what happens: Iran and Saudi and Syria being drawn into the war, Israel backing the Kurds and fighting Iranians and Saudi troops directly, a wave of suicide bombs in the US and the UK and Israel, nuclear retaliation by Israel, millions of refugees, mass starvation, anything you want, Hitchens will still be arguing that “things could have been worse”. And of course he could be right. But how could you possibly know? The correct response to this argument is simply “so what?”. We have to live in this world, not some hypothetical one. You do not counter the fact (and it is a fact) that the US have made a disastrous mistake by going into Iraq by proclaiming the fact that if they hadn’t other people might (or might not) have made even more disastrous mistakes.

I might also add that one of key planks of Hitchens critique of Kissinger is (or should that now be ‘was’) Kissinger’s doctrine of ‘stability’. In other words, Kissinger was always terrified of actions that might threaten stability in any given region.

But that’s Hitchens position now!! He is arguing that the US must stay in the Middle East to guarantee the ‘stability’ of the situation!!

The increasingly hectoring and hysterical tone of Hitchens’ own arguments actually says to me that he’s wrong, he knows he’s wrong, but he simply can’t face the humiliation of admitting it, and he’s decided to ‘come out fighting’.

36

jet 08.09.05 at 10:12 am

ed_finnerty,
So would I, but I was discussing 1991 and 2003.

ckrisz,
There were cases of bob wire being strung between buildings in attempts to decapitate soldiers and the SS holdouts in the Southern mountains. You’re right, probably not enough of an insurgency to call it an insurgency. But that really doesn’t change my arguement.

37

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:12 am

Reuben wrote:

But in this example the judge is responding to a violent action, rather than initiating the conflict. It’s apples and pears.

Just so we’re clear, do you accept or reject Alkali’s original statement which doesn’t appear to distinguish between varieties of fruit?

38

soru 08.09.05 at 10:16 am

is that Vietnam and Cambodia are two neighboring countries with similar culture, language and so on

Is there some ‘Encyclopedia of Wrong’ some people pull all their ideas about the world from? It can’t just be ignorance, if they made random uninformed statements they would be more right than wrong 50% of the time.

soru

39

Ray 08.09.05 at 10:24 am

“So you are asserting that it is not controversial to say that, for example, the women having abortions are partially responsible for the bombing of abortion clinics?”

Is Jane Doe really in a position to predict that if she has an abortion, a clinic will be bombed, but if she doesn’t it won’t?
If some woman was in a position to know that – for example, she knew she was being trailed by pro-life nuts, who had made credible threats to bomb any clinic she visited – she would bear some responsibility, yes. I’m having trouble seeing the similarity between this situation and the invasion of Iraq, at anything other than the level of “knowing an action will have particular results”, but sure.

40

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:26 am

Brendan wrote:

“You can justify anything by arguing that “if I hadn’t done it things would have been worse”. Maybe so, but how would you know? It’s a strictly unfalsifiable hypothesis.”

Don’t opponents of the war make the mirror image argument that “if you hadn’t done it things would have been better”? And isn’t that also a strictly unfalsifiable hypothesis?

41

soru 08.09.05 at 10:28 am

A clearer example would be the politician who passes a law allowing abortions.

soru

42

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:31 am

Ray wrote:

“Is Jane Doe really in a position to predict that if she has an abortion, a clinic will be bombed, but if she doesn’t it won’t?”

Okay, how about Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider who had received over 200 death threats and ended up being murdered by an abortion opponent with a high-powered rifle? You would say that he was partially responsible for his own murder, right?

43

Brendan 08.09.05 at 10:37 am

‘Don’t opponents of the war make the mirror image argument that “if you hadn’t done it things would have been better”? And isn’t that also a strictly unfalsifiable hypothesis?’

Hmmm….fair point. But actually most opponents of the war don’t tend to make that argument (at least not explicitly) they tend to argue that the war was illegal or immoral or both.

Opponents of the war tend to be more specific in their accusations as well. It is objectively true that the Fallujans would not be in their present (appalling) situation were it not for the war. Would they be in an equally bad situation if the war had not happened? Well perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that the situation they are in is a good one.

I think you have put your finger on the key problem with consequentialism per se, which is why I don’t really like using those sort of arguments.

In any case, if you are arguing that the argument is false when Hitchens uses it and also false if (and when) the anti-war people use it, that still doesn’t alter the fact that the argument is false.

44

Ray 08.09.05 at 10:38 am

Just like any soldier who volunteers for the army has put himself into a dangerous position, and has to bear some responsibility for that. Just like anybody who chooses to jump out of airplanes for fun is at least partially responsible if it ends up killing them. Nobody chooses to die, but plenty of people choose to do things that make their death more likely. If you look back to post 23, I specifically said that things that have some bad consequences may still be worth doing.

45

Steve Burton 08.09.05 at 10:39 am

Ray: I take it, then, that you would be opposed to the US “running?”

Tib: Hitchens seems to have in mind full scale civil war plus invasions from Iran, Turkey, etc.

You write: “the eventual collapse of the Saddam regime and a power struggle, would at least have preserved Iraqi civil institutions and made a less violent transition possible.” But that’s just the issue, isn’t it? Hitchens is arguing that the civil institutions of Iraq were already in a state of advanced decay and that the chaos following an internal collapse would have finished them off. His assessment may be wrong and yours may be right, but I haven’t seen much serious argument on behalf of either position: just lots of assertions.

Why should one believe that “[a] homegrown overthrow has a much better chance of transitioning to legitimate government?” Would Sunni extremists have been more accepting of Shia political dominance if the US had not been involved? or just more likely to maintain their own power? Is the relatively attractive and legitimate alternative here supposed to be indefinitely prolonged tyranny of the Sunni minority?

46

reuben 08.09.05 at 10:40 am

Don’t have time to split hairs, as I’m at work and on a deadline that I’m already gonna miss by a mile. But it sounds to me as if Alkali is being pedantic. Whether that also means he/she is an apologist for terrorism, I don’t yet know.

To try once again to relate it to real world events, I suspect that the big picture is more important than the semantics of the thing. If someone wants to claim that striking back at the Taliban caused more terrorism, and thus the west is responsible for that terrorism, and thus fighting the Taliban is a Very Bad Thing For That Reason, well, they’re being a silly little teenager. if you think that striking back at the Taliban was the right thing to do, you deal with the ramifications of it as they come, same as we have in other just wars.

But on the flip side, if the pro-war left and right want to argue that just because terrorists are arseholes, Blair and Bush haven’t made things worse by invading Iraq, well, they’re being silly too.

I guess I’d say that in the second case (ie Iraq) we are more responsible for encouraging terrorism than in the first case (Afghanistan). In the first case, we were responding to it. In the second, we weren’t, and have definitely (to my mind) helped create more of it by giving terrible people with terrible ideas fertile ground on which to sow those ideas. Our reasons were fatuous, and the response (from very bad people) was predictable. In the first case, our reasons were sound, so it’s much easier to live with negative responses.

47

jet 08.09.05 at 10:40 am

Heh, this “partially responsible” BS sounds like insurance lawyers explaining that the accident was 50% your fault because if you wouldn’t have gotten out of bed and tried to drive the work, knowing how dangerous the roads are, you wouldn’t have been rear ended at the stop light.

48

Ray 08.09.05 at 10:46 am

Steve, my point is simply that you have to compare end states. If someone jumps off a 30 storey building, they’ll most likely be dead 2 minutes later. If someone jumps off a 300 story building, they’ll be alive two minutes later. That doesn’t mean that jumping off 300 storey buildings leads to better outcomes than jumping off 30 storey buildings.

49

nik 08.09.05 at 10:49 am

Saying someone is “responsible” for something doesn’t just mean that they “caused” it. The word also has another meaning: “liable to be held to account for”. Parents are responsible for making sure their children go to school. This is regardless of whether they caused their children not to go to school. You can be responsible for things you don’t “knowingly cause”.

That’s the problem with Jimmy Doyle’s post about responsiblity. He’s obsessed about causation. Prior to 7/7 it was pretty uncontentious that the government was responsible for making sure bombs don’t go off in London. They repeatedly said it in public when they were trying to pass anti-terror laws. It’s only after the bombs went off that people started to switch between meanings, and the bombers had “full responsibility”.

I tend to thing the US and UK government are “responsible” for the wellbeing of Iraqis – given that they were running the country for quite a while.

50

nick 08.09.05 at 10:51 am

Bad as Hitchens may look now, it is nothing to what he would have become without the steadying influence of Johnny Walker Black Label.

51

Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 10:57 am

Nick wrote:

“Bad as Hitchens may look now, it is nothing to what he would have become without the steadying influence of Johnny Walker Black Label.”

He smokes, too. See if you can’t work that in next time.

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 11:27 am

‘Hitchens is arguing that the civil institutions of Iraq were already in a state of advanced decay and that the chaos following an internal collapse would have finished them off.’

The vast majority of pro-invasion arguments were based on the idea that no internal collapse would or could occur (too many references to mention, but google it). Instead, many (like a certain C. Hitchens as I recall) argued that Saddam would pass power peacefully over to one or other of his sons, who would then hold power for most or all of their natural lives.

For Hitchens to now argue that the Saddam regime was crumbling (which is, let’s not beat around the bush here, exactly what the anti-war people were arguing ) is a complete volte face, and I am genuinely stunned that he hasn’t noticed it himself.

To argue that Saddam’s regime was crumbling but that it would have crumbled ‘in the wrong way’ is a completely different (and far weaker) argument from the majority of those used before the invasion. It would seem to imply that the Yugoslavian civil war would have justified an American invasion of Yugoslavia in the mid ‘eighties. And of course, because any dictatorship might collapse in the wrong way, it would seem to justify the invasion of any dictatorship or tyranny anywhere. Perhaps that’s what Hitchens means. In which case, the question to ask all of the pro-invasion left is: what are they possibly going to say if and when the Bush administration (or its successors) calls for an invasion of Cuba?

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Cryptic Ned 08.09.05 at 11:29 am

Interesting. So those who voted for Nader in 2000 are responsible for the foreseeable actions of GWB?

Yes, as was argued during the runup to the election.

And opponents of the invasion of Iraq, had they prevailed, would have been responsible for all subsequent murders by Saddam Hussein?

In that they chose those murders over the foreseeable murders by US forces and nihilistic insurgents, yes.

And if my daughter is kidnapped and I don’t pay the ransom, I am responsible for her death?

In that you could have prevented it, yes.

Perhaps we have different definitions of the word “responsible”. Mine doesn’t involve any sort of moral judgment.

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soubzriquet 08.09.05 at 11:29 am

Nat said: “Okay, how about Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider who had received over 200 death threats and ended up being murdered by an abortion opponent with a high-powered rifle? You would say that he was partially responsible for his own murder, right?”

In much the same sense as a police officer who gets shot dead by a gang member, yes. Sometimes by doing your job, you increase you chances of injury or death. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. Dr. Slepian knowing accepted some risk (he certainly needn’t have had the expectation of being murdered, loonies send death threats to lots of people every day, and most of these don’t lead to any action), and in the sense that any of us are responsible for the outcomes of our decisions, he is. His murderer, however, is culpable for the murder, which is a very different thing.

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nick 08.09.05 at 11:33 am

He smokes, too. See if you can’t work that in next time.

Nah. Would ruin my chance of cadging a Rothmans from him at Hay-on-Wye. And to be honest, Hitchens’ true steadying influence these days is a bursary from the Scaife and Olin Foundations. That kind of modern GrubStreetery beats getting $0.25/word from The Nation.

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Steve Burton 08.09.05 at 12:33 pm

Brendan writes: “The vast majority of pro-invasion arguments were based on the idea that no internal collapse would or could occur…”

…well, none that would be likely to improve over the status quo, anyway.

“(C. Hitchens as I recall) argued that Saddam would pass power peacefully over to one or other of his sons, who would then hold power for most or all of their natural lives.”

Hmmm…I dunno. Hitchens has been taking the “collapse was inevitable” line for as long as I can remember paying attention to him, but that hasn’t been all that long. Gotta link?

“To argue that Saddam’s regime was crumbling but that it would have crumbled ‘in the wrong way’ [etc.]…would seem to justify the invasion of any dictatorship or tyranny anywhere.”

Well, only if this was a sufficient and not just a contributory reason.

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jet 08.09.05 at 12:35 pm

Cryptic Ned,
The problem is that the dictionary seems to imply that moral judgements are implicit in the definition of “responsible”. 2 out of the 8 definitions at Dictionary.com imply moral judgements and 2 more are explicit out moral judgements. A note at the bottom of the definition complains that “responsible should not be used to describe things, since only persons can be held accountable.”

So if you want to exclude morality when discussing responsibility, then make sure you’re explicit about it. The terrorist use the fact that US soldiers are in Iraq trying to build a functional Democracy while spending billions of US dollars to rebuild the nation as a reason to blow up civilians sometimes targetting children. Now did the US occupation of Iraq cause a 19 year from Jordan to set off a car bomb in a crowd of children? Does someone who sleeps with another man’s wife cause that man to shoot him? He wouldn’t have been shot if he wouldn’t have slept with the guy’s wife, so maybe he was partially liable for his own death, but no one on Earth would say he was responsible for his death.

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abb1 08.09.05 at 12:41 pm

He wouldn’t have been shot if he wouldn’t have slept with the guy’s wife, so maybe he was partially liable for his own death, but no one on Earth would say he was responsible for his death.

Huh? Really? Let alone ‘no one on Earth’, I bet if we polled worldwide, you’d be in a small minority.

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 12:43 pm

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Al Queda is fighting in Iraq only because the coalition has undertaken a rash, quixotic attempt to remake Iraq as a democratic country and worse (from Al Queda’s perspective) a prototype for the Middle East. And further let’s stipulate that the planners of the war should have anticipated Al Queda’s reaction to such a program and that the Iraqi people are now suffering acutely from this failure to anticipate.

Fine. It is still abundantly clear that the people of Iraq “after three decades of tyranny, war, and sanctions” are now under “assault from the vilest movement on the face of the planet”. Is it not?

If you believe that they are victims caught between ‘Bush & Blair’s illegal war’ AND Al Queda that should make them even more deserving of sympathy and solidarity, no?

And yet in the comments here, as elsewhere, my sense instead is that those on the left are hoping for the government in Iraq to fail. Not just predicting but actually hoping for a replay of Vietnam (though, of course, they can’t say so explicitly and loudly deny it). What do I base this view on? I base it on consistent attempts to discredit the nacent Iraqi government as a means of deflecting any sense of solidarity. So the elections were a sham, the purple fingers were crass, the Iraqi government is a ‘vichy regime’, or it is hopelessly corrupt, or totally inept, or completely dominated by Shiite islamists who are little better than Al Queda. Or all of the above. And further, that despite the fact that the insurgents are a minority of a minority, efforts to fight them are futile. Every terrorist attack is considered representative of the ‘real’ state of affairs. Stalemate is considered a sign of the looming, inevitable defeat for the coalition and collapse of the Iraqi government. And so on.

However Iraq turns out, it will be politically very damaging for the left it if ends up being perceived as having been far more interested in failure for Bush and the U.S. than in a decent outcome for the people of Iraq. Being able to say, “I told you so” about WMDs will be worth no political points if that is the general perception.

If the left can’t work up sense of solidarity out of a sense of sympathy, perhaps it ought to try doing so out of long-term political self-interest.

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Kimmitt 08.09.05 at 12:45 pm

Chris,
You think the old regime was acceptable because it was a bulkwark against religious extremism and internal conflict? Apologies if i’ve misunderstood you, but that seems to be what you’re suggesting.

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Jane Adams 08.09.05 at 12:50 pm

It is quite silly to hypothesize differing future realities especially when we don’t know the outcome of the time line we are on. It could get nasty.

As for the claim that serious mistakes don’t really make a big difference, this shows an equal lack of reality. Any serious analysis (and we made some though the administration didn’t look at them) this was a highly risky business with a very short “honey moon” and lots and lots of tricky issues. Even a shallow reading of history such as I have shows failure after failure (at least when compared with declared goals) in once hopeful situations, the feeing of much of the third world from colonialism is an example.

This was a very very difficult situation.

Hitchen’s is probably correct that we should have committed to a much deeper and broader committment. As soon as problems developed we should have gone back to the plans of Zinni and others, pushed in enough troops to overwhelm the situation. By volunteering or a draft we should have dragged up our very best and put them out with the troops among the people to allocate the *Iraqi* money we gave to big American corporations to rebuild, used french and German parts on existing equipment even if these were naughty countries, started putting in effective systems of measurement, given thelocal councils real money and power and guided them rather than let them die as the Bremer regime decided to do with al of Garner’s rapidly put together, but still superior approaches… we should have been training thousands of translators, fired anyone who thought this was like rebuilding Germany and Japan (this were highly successful industrial countries with a experience modern organization includinf democracy,) yes we should have treated this as war with a full national commitment!

But guess what? We had an administration which fired people for saying it might cost several hundred bilion, who mocked a chairman of the joint chiefs who said we needed more troops and that some costs could be calculated, an administration which said the heroic action after 9/11 was to buy things!

We had “war supporters” who tried to shut up al criticism and questioning, who denied there were problems, who taught us the media doesn’t give the good news, the really important stuff. So now we all know that our forces built 3 thousand schools and 500 clinics, though of course no one knows how many of these are actually operating. Hillary was villified when she called for more troops 2 years ago, there was supposedly no need. Unguarded ammon dumps and borders were fine. Looting which may have destroyed 10 billion in infrastructure and helped develop gangs whic terrorized through kidnapping and later linked with the insurgency was discounted as a “few guys stealng some art from a museum over and over again.”

Significant control of the funding and other administrative features was given over (I don’t make this up) to twenty somethings who sent in their resumes (with experience like “ice cream truck driver” and “tried to start cooking school” to the Heritage fondation.) When experienced peple actually trying to work out among the people tried to get money they usually couldn’t. Contracts (usually filled with Iraqi money) were usually filled in Washington.

It was a game, peple really thought that if you legislated a flat tax and privatization of everything you’d have a capitalist economy. And of course the Bush admiistration where the president made his money because a city condemned land (paying a fraction of the value the courts late ruled) and provided loans for a ballpark, where the VP and SOD got good corporate jobs because they could use government connections to do business could not distinguish crony capitalism from the entrepeneurial kind, indeed they don’t like the later.

People did go to Iraq and try to do business, they went to Iraq and tried to help people start business. But they got little support.

Now to suddenly say the “left” are the ones who were supposed to rally this national involvement, that it’s their fault that we didn’t work at the grassroots level is the kind of insanity we get when a pompous, righteous leftists turns pompous righteous rightist.

In case he doesn’t understand the opportunity to intervene has receded. Civilians are not allowed outside the green zone without an escort. Mafias and corruption have wrapped their tentacles into everything. And now we can save it all with a sister city program where people can’t visit the sister city and the committe they are sending resources to is some sort of scam!?

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abb1 08.09.05 at 1:10 pm

However Iraq turns out, it will be politically very damaging for the left it if ends up being perceived as having been far more interested in failure for Bush and the U.S. than in a decent outcome for the people of Iraq.

I think the perception is that Bush’s failure is the most decent outcome for the people of Iraq, though.

Of course this is in contradiction with your assumption about the ‘quixotic attempt’, not to mention the obvious misconception that it’s mostly Al Queda who’s fighting there and not ordinary citizens.

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soubzriquet 08.09.05 at 1:11 pm

jane adams: A related point. As far as I can tell from my recent travels, there is a fairly widespread and growing sense that there is a large-scale scam being run in Iraq, allowing essentially the pillaging of oil revenues by US corporate interests (and to a lesser degree, certain Iraqis). Regardless of wether this is true, or it is merely an very sloppy approach to contracting and auditing is a different question. However, I think that in the long term, this aspect may do the most damage to US perception elsewhere, and its ability to further push M.E. agenda. A lot of people expect, rightly or wrongly, the US to be a bit of a bully. What many don’t expect is outright thievery, but this perception seems to be growing.

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 1:15 pm

Well this seems to suggest that Hitchens thought Saddam had a future:

‘It was only a matter of time before international support for the sanctions would have crumbled and killed the policy, giving Hussein a free hand to restart his weapons programs….Waiting in the wings were Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, two predators equally involved in supporting their father’s reign of terror, domestically and internationally….’

Or what about here?

‘Instead, all energy had to be spent on convincing people that Iraq should no longer be run by a psychotic crime family – which if the other side had had its way, it still would be. And we could be looking forward to the Uday/Qusay succession! ‘

This implies that if the Americans did not invade then Saddam would not be deposed and that he might (and probably would, presumably) live long enough to pass power on to his sons.

Hitchens has now done a volte face, without advertising the fact, and as I pointed out no wonder. If it is true that the Saddam regime was crumbling then a major plank of the pro-war case for war disintegrates.

The idea that the ‘left’ is rooting for defeat or victory or something is so absurd that I don’t even know where to start. However, here’s point one.

Are you actually and seriously arguing that the US wants what the majority of (at least) Shias in Iraq want, which is a pro-Iranian country where Islam is the main source of law? Because that’s what the majority of Shias want. You might not agree, but you ain’t Iraqi, and here’s a thought: the Iraqis don’t care what the Americans think. Or the British. Or the ‘pro-invasion left’ (in fact, you might want to walk down a Baghdad street, dodging the bullets and bombs, and ask the average Iraqi citizen if he (sic) has ever heard the phrase ‘decent left’ or ‘anti-fascist left’. This will give you a shallow but informative insight into the extent to which the beliefs of Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens will mirror those of the average Iraqi citizen).

It is absolutely true, to reply to your inevitable rejoinder, that the average Sunni and Kurd does not share these views.

That is why these people will shortly not be part of Iraq. The reason they will not be part of Iraq is that Iraq will (in all likelihood) not exist in its present form for much longer.

And then the Shias will then go on to create their Iranian leaning state.

The fact is (and this has always been the case) the Americans do not want ‘democracy’ in Iraq, because to do so will immeasurably strengthen Iran, and the US simply cannot afford to let that happen. If push comes to shove, and it looks like it will happen, the US will invade Iran (and Syria) or, better still, let Israel do it .(Can you IMAGINE what the Democrats would do to the Republicans if, as seems highly likely, the new Iraqi democracy would have a ceremonial burning of the American flag to inaugerate their parliament? Or if they immediately strike a military mutual assistance pact with Iran? Or if they privilege Chinese and Russian oil firms over American ones?)

American foreign policy has been predicated on the idea that ‘they’ like us. But they don’t. The average (non-Kurdish) Iraqi hates our f**king guts, and as soon as we are kicked out, they will go on with creating a State as unlike ours as possible.

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Marc 08.09.05 at 1:19 pm

The level of dishonesty by war supporters in this thread is breathtaking. Sadly, I’ve learned to expect no better. Here is my take:

I believed from the start that the Iraq war was sold on the basis of a pack of lies. Everything that I’ve seen since has convinced me that I was right.

I also believed that the Bush administration was too arrogant, corrupt, and incompetent to properly execute the war. It’s hard to argue otherwise with the benefit of hindsight. There were plenty of us who saw this, crystal clear, before the invasion. Those who executed the war and those who continue to support it bear full moral responsibility for the consequences of their folly. Full Stop.

Now we’re told that if we don’t get on board this sinking ship – we want it to fail. BULLSHIT. There is a difference between knowing that an enterprise is doomed and wishing it to fail. The former is a statement of fact, the latter a desire. I want to support our troops all right – by getting them out of harms way in an unwinnable war that should never have been started. And spare me the crocodile tears about how the left will be “blamed” when – not if – we fail in Iraq. The right hates us more than they hate AQ, and there is no circumstance under which they’d do anything but spit poison and contempt at us. If Iraq succeeds – Bush was right and the left had nothing to do with it, no matter what we do. If Iraq fails it was a “fifth column” at home, not incompetence, corruption, and lies in the invasion itself. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Bring em home. And ditch the bums who got the world into this disaster.

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soru 08.09.05 at 1:30 pm

The idea that the ‘left’ is rooting for defeat or victory or something is so absurd that I don’t even know where to start.

By reading the other comments on this thread?

soru

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Marc 08.09.05 at 1:35 pm

Soru: do you understand the difference between “unwinnable and never should have been started” and “want us to lose”?

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saurabh 08.09.05 at 1:41 pm

Slocum – I liked what you wrote, but a few thoughts:

1) Failure for Bush has implications beyond the people in Iraq. E.g. the people in Iran, who might “be next”.

2) For a long time the Iraqi government WAS essentially a Vichy regime. Even post-Bremer, Allawi was embarassingly stooge-like. This Talabani/Jaafari headed government is obviously less so, and I think criticism of it has been correspondingly muted.

3) Solidarity with the people of Iraq is not identical to solidarity with the government, leaders of political parties, or occupying armies.

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abb1 08.09.05 at 1:48 pm

I think at least some on the left are indeed rooting for Bush’s failure. Here’s John Pilger, for example:

Today, the United States is currently training a Gestapo of 10,000 agents, commanded by the most ruthless, senior elements of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. The aim is to run the new puppet regime behind a pseudo-democratic façade – and to defeat the resistance. That information is vital to us, because the fate of the resistance in Iraq is vital to all our futures. For if the resistance fails, the Bush cabal will almost certainly attack another country – possibly North Korea, which is nuclear armed.

Or this:

Recently, on the ABC’s Lateline program, I suggested that it was important that Bush’s so-called “coalition” in Iraq was driven out. I pointed out they were illegal invaders, who were selling off Iraq to their cronies: in effect, stealing a country.

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abb1 08.09.05 at 1:50 pm

Is there anything wrong with John Pilger’s argument?

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 1:59 pm

Now we’re told that if we don’t get on board this sinking ship – we want it to fail. BULLSHIT. There is a difference between knowing that an enterprise is doomed and wishing it to fail. The former is a statement of fact, the latter a desire.

A better illustration of my point I could not have asked for. You know for a fact the enterprise is doomed (and that best we can do is cut our own losses and leave the Iraqis to fend for themselves)?

How do you ‘know’ this ‘fact’? Let us review. The Sunni terrorist insurgents and their supporters are a minority of a minority comprising, at worst, including foreign fighters, well under 10% of the Iraqi population. The Shia and Kurds together constitute a substantial majority. In addition to this, the majority Iraqi government enjoys the military and financial backing of the U.S. and other coalition members. The insurgents no longer control any territory and cannot contemplate taking and holding any. (Contrast this with Vietnam where the communists controlled half the country, had powerful conventional forces, and enjoyed the backing of a superpower).

Now, if you want to claim that the insurgency in not near being defeated and wiped out, I agree. But if you argue that the insurgency is clearly gaining in strength and bound to prevail, to drive coalition forces out of the country, to take down the Iraqi government, and to end up running the country, well, that prediction seems very poorly supported by actual facts on the ground. Why might you believe such an outcome is so obviously inevitable as to constitute a ‘fact’ anyway?

Those who executed the war and those who continue to support it bear full moral responsibility for the consequences of their folly. Full Stop.

Ah, yes. Full stop indeed. Your desire to see those who executed the war called to account for the ‘consequences of their folly’ is so strong as to make you view those consequences as inevitable. You don’t really want the Iraqi government to fail, no, it’s just that there’s no possible way it won’t fail. You’re not hoping for failure just predicting it. Right. Bullshit.

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Kevin Donoghue 08.09.05 at 2:05 pm

abb1, Pilger is as daft as Hitchens. Bush won’t send US troops into North Korea. He might use the navy or the air force, but not ground troops. Now what happens in Iraq won’t affect his options there to any significant extent. I also think the invasion was illegal. However IANAL and anyway legality would be the least of my concerns; the worst thing about it was that it was a bad idea badly implemented. But the current position is that the Iraqi government, which is as legitimate as can be expected, needs foreign support at this time. So “stealing a country” is just crap.

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 2:13 pm

1) Failure for Bush has implications beyond the people in Iraq. E.g. the people in Iran, who might “be next”.

Indeed it has implications beyond the people in Iraq. What would the Middle East look like if an Al Queda dominated Taliban-like government takes control of Iraq? What would this mean for Syria, for Saudi Arabia, for Jordan, for Egypt?

2) For a long time the Iraqi government WAS essentially a Vichy regime. Even post-Bremer, Allawi was embarassingly stooge-like. This Talabani/Jaafari headed government is obviously less so, and I think criticism of it has been correspondingly muted.

Perhaps so.

3) Solidarity with the people of Iraq is not identical to solidarity with the government, leaders of political parties, or occupying armies.

Identical, no. But it is absurd to claim solidarity with the people of Iraq while rejecting support of the government they themselves elected (and at great personal risk). And as for occupying armies — the democratically elected government (which was clearly NOT the preferred choice of these armies) has not requested that these armies withdraw. And if you say that is because the government depends on them, I would say that is exactly right. Support for the coalition forces in Iraq should derive from the fact that their continued presence is desired by a majority of Iraqis and their elected representatives. Solidarity with the Iraqi people simply cannot consist of support for the minority fascist insurgency that is engaging in a brutal campaign of terrorist bombings against an elected government.

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abb1 08.09.05 at 2:30 pm

Kevin, may be not N.Korea, but is there any doubt that they would’ve attacked Iran or Syria or both if they managed to pacify Iraq quickly enough?

And why do you think ‘stealing’ is crap? I’ve read just today that a hugh portion of the oil revenues, billions of dollars, are being stolen by Bush’s cronies, literally stolen, as I understand, by individuals.

Now, if they announced a timetable for troops withdrawal, down to the last soldier, then, I suppose, you could argue that the government needs help; otherwise I don’t think so; who are you helping to do what?

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 2:40 pm

‘What would the Middle East look like if an Al Queda dominated Taliban-like government takes control of Iraq’.

EXCUSE me????? An Al-Qaeda dominated Taliban like government??????

Where to start.

OK for starters. Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam Osama Bin Laden belongs to? Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam the majority of the Iraqi people are? Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam the Taliban were/are?

I can tell you now, the chances of an Al-Qaeda based ‘taliban like’ government taking power in Iraq are precisely zero. (Incidentally of the powers you listed, Saudi would probably be pretty happy with that set up. But it ain’t going to happen).

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nic 08.09.05 at 2:45 pm

Slocum;

…it is absurd to claim solidarity with the people of Iraq while rejecting support of the government they themselves elected…

I’m not so sure. The current rulers of Iraq aren’t people that I agree with. There are some pretty terrible things happening in parts of Iraq, and much of the country is much of the way towards becoming an Islamic state – just look at Basra. And if you didn’t need 2/3rds of the parliament to form a government, the situation would be even worse.

Given that the majority of people in Western countries certainly don’t agree with the sort of things the Iraqi government is up to, I have some serious reservations about why we should prop them up and allow them to do it.

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Nicholas Mycroft 08.09.05 at 2:46 pm

“But if you argue that the insurgency is clearly gaining in strength and bound to prevail, to drive coalition forces out of the country, to take down the Iraqi government, and to end up running the country, well, that prediction seems very poorly supported by actual facts on the ground.”

Y’all just don’t get it. This isn’t a football game, where one side “prevails.” Rather difficult to define what a side is in this war, or who is on whose side. It is a hell of a mess over there, and as long as U.S. troops are present whatever Iraqi government emerges is unlikely to extend its control over much more of the country than it does now. Whatever Iraqi government emerges is also unlikely to extend its control over much more of the country if the U.S. pulls out, whether gradually or abruptly–and, just incidentally, is also unlikely to become a beacon of hope towards which democratic aspirants in the Middle East will turn.

I don’t know who is “winning” this war, although I’d be inclined to pick the jihadists (not the insurgents, the jihadists), since their morale, military capabilities and recruiting tools have all improved since the U.S. invaded Iraq.

I also don’t know who is “losing” this war, but I am quite sure of what the U.S. has -lost-:

credibility

good-will

$250 billion (and counting)

many lives
some unknowable amount of potential happiness among all those touched by this war.

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saurabh 08.09.05 at 2:46 pm

If you think an “al-Queda dominated Taliban-like government” could take power in Iraq, you know very little about either al-Queda, the Taliban or Iraq. The circumstances that led to the situation in Afghanistan were heavily dependent on the proximity and support of the Pakistani government, which funded and trained the movement which birthed the Taliban. Those students came out of Pakistani seminaries. Without that critical support, they would never have come to power.

How can you simultaneously argue that “a minority of a minority” is fighting, and then suggest that an al-Qaeda dominated Taliban-like government could take power? A more likely failure scenario is fracture and a Shi’i-Sunni conflict fed heavily by Iran.

However, our ability to paint horrific scenarios doesn’t justify our continued occupation of Iraq at all.

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saurabh 08.09.05 at 2:48 pm

Also, given the way the election was conducted, the idea that the government represents a popular mandate is fairly far-fetched. I stand by my “solidarity with the people, not the government” claim.

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 2:49 pm

OK for starters. Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam Osama Bin Laden belongs to? Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam the majority of the Iraqi people are? Are you aware of what religious denomination of Islam the Taliban were/are?

Sigh. Are you aware that a Sunni dominated dictatorship ruled Iraq for decades despite the ethnic ratios? There is no doubt that the ex-Baathists have made common cause with Al Queda. There is also no doubt that the Baathists are practical experts in the field of maintaining control via the use of state terror. Now, can you say with confidence what sort of government would result from the victory of the Baathist/Al Queda alliance? Here’s one way to get an idea–ask yourself how Falluja was governed during the period of insurgency control?

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saurabh 08.09.05 at 2:50 pm

Also, given the manner in which the election was conducted (anonymous candidates, low voter turnout, tremendous intimidation), the idea that the current government has a popular mandate is far-fetched. I stand by my “solidarity with the people, not the government” claim.

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 2:53 pm

How can you simultaneously argue that “a minority of a minority” is fighting, and then suggest that an al-Qaeda dominated Taliban-like government could take power? A more likely failure scenario is fracture and a Shi’i-Sunni conflict fed heavily by Iran.

Well obviously I argue that because a minority Sunni government ruled Iraq for decades. So clearly it is possible though I don’t consider it a likely outcome.

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Kevin Donoghue 08.09.05 at 2:54 pm

abb1: Yes, they might have gone for Iran (probably leaving Israel to deal with Syria since it has nothing of interest to the US). Some crazy ideas were in the air after the statue-toppling and the “end of major combat operations”. But that’s history. Some adults got into the room I think and produced a map of Iran: big country, populous, lots of mountains. That dream is dead.

I said “stealing a country” is crap. Some sort of (technically legal) transfer of revenues is highly plausible; these guys have form. But current oil revenues are way below potential so I doubt that the pickings are all that rich. Yes, maybe billions, but stealing a few billion is not stealing a country.

As to withdrawal, when the Shiites say go, they will have to go. Realistically, US troops can’t fight a Sistani fatwa. I think the time is coming when they will be mighty pleased to get the word. The timing is a matter for the Iraqis.

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Slocum 08.09.05 at 2:57 pm

Also, given the way the election was conducted, the idea that the government represents a popular mandate is fairly far-fetched.

Far-fetched? So you think if the voting had been fair that politicians other than Talibani and Jafari would have been elected? Who would those politicans be who were robbed of their rightful leadership position? Do tell. Your claim is the one that seems far-fetched to me.

I stand by my “solidarity with the people, not the government” claim.

I’m not surprised.

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abb1 08.09.05 at 3:15 pm

As far as adults in the room, every time I thought ‘no, they wouldn’t do that, that’s too much’, every time they would just go ahead and do it. If they start bombing Iran tomorrow, it won’t shock me.

I’ve never believed in Sistani’s superhuman powers, which is what your argument is basically hanging on. Even if he ineed is so magically powerful, Sistani is just an old guy living in a known place; anything can happen at any time.

So, it’s still the same that it was – a country occupied by 160,000 foreign troops, and the much admired government is not even technically a government but a constitutional assembly and quite dysfunctional and powerless at that. What gives?

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 3:25 pm

Slocum

I will personally give you a billion dollars, I promise, if an Al-Qaeda/Baathist alliance seizes and holds power (for longer than, say, a week) in Iraq. Actually, on second thoughts thats unfair. Make it a trillion dollars.

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alkali 08.09.05 at 3:30 pm

I wrote:

You are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions regardless of whether your intentions are good.

(Clarification: I am using the term “responsible” here to mean something like “this is something that may fairly be taken into account when evaluating your choice of conduct.” I do not mean “should be held accountable at law.”)

nat whilk writes:

[1] So those who voted for Nader in 2000 are responsible for the foreseeable actions of GWB? [2] And opponents of the invasion of Iraq, had they prevailed, would have been responsible for all subsequent murders by Saddam Hussein? [3] And if my daughter is kidnapped and I don’t pay the ransom, I am responsible for her death?

[1] Yes, of course. A moral case for voting for Nader might have been as follows: (i) there was a chance Nader would win, which would be good, and (ii) a substantial vote for Nader, even if Nader lost, would bring about long-term changes in American politics which would outweigh whatever short-term damage Bush might do. I didn’t buy either prong of that argument, but it is a more coherent argument than “well, I can vote however I want, and I’m not responsible for what Bush might do if he wins.”

[2] Yes. It is obviously a fair argument in favor of invading Iraq — and against “not-invading” — that the Hussein regime was brutal toward many segments of the Iraqi population. The standard counterargument was that invasion would have even worse effects on American interests or the Iraqi people.

[3] This is a bit of a trick. The reason people do not pay ransoms is because they expect payment of the ransom will not work and may even lead to the death of the hostage. However, if you were confident that payment of the ransom would indeed lead to your daughter’s release but chose for some reason not to pay it, and she thereafter died at her kidnappers’ hands, I doubt you would ever sleep well again.

Other people have posted similar hypotheticals but I think the answers above address them. If not, please point it out and I will try to answer it.

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Kevin Donoghue 08.09.05 at 3:32 pm

If they start bombing Iran tomorrow, it won’t shock me.

Well, I think there would have to be a bit of foreplay – meetings of the UNSC and some sort of Congressional approval. Anyway, which is easier: to bomb Iran while there are US troops in Iraq or after the troops have withdrawn? The latter, surely; so no matter how you modify Pilger’s idea it’s still tripe. I’m not saying he is sillier than Hitchens but he’s in the same league.

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saurabh 08.09.05 at 3:34 pm

Talabani and Jaafari are at the head of two major power blocs. They would have been there regardless; this does not mean that the distribution of seats is representative or that people had much idea what they were voting for beyond “bunch of Shi’a” and “bunch of Kurds”. Notably absent, “bunch of Sunni”. Anywho… not a major point, since as I said I wouldn’t call this a quisling government.

You say: “there is no doubt that the ex-Baathists have made common cause with Al Queda.” Well, I think there’s at least SOME doubt, and I’d like to point out that alliances of convenience very rarely form the basis for stable relationships afterwards. History is littered with examples; take your pick. If you mean that all the ex-Baathists have now become feverish jihadis, I must say you’re even more pessimistic than me. But that’s ALREADY a failure scenario. If you believe that tens of thousands of military-trained, well-armed individuals have signed on to militant Islamism, what positive outcome could result? I don’t believe you’re myopic enough to imagine we will “prevail” and “crush the terrorist insurgency”.

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John Quiggin 08.09.05 at 3:53 pm

For the curious history of the Werewolves meme, read here.

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Hektor Bim 08.09.05 at 4:01 pm

The Sunni Arab insurgency cannot win, because the Kurds and Shiites will not allow it, and because with the demise of the Iraqi army, the insurgency no longer possesses the heavy weapons required to defeat the other armed forces in the country. If anything, the peshmerga are the dominant military force in the country, with lots of heavy weapons, a high level of training, and 60-100,000 people under arms.

What the Sunni Arab insurgency can do is conduct a guerilla war in certain parts of the country (central, western, and near-northern) that covers something like 30% of the population.

Assuming the insurgency is made up of Sunnis unhappy about their loss of status to Shiite/Kurdish dominace, Baathists, and some small number of foreign jihadis, with a smattering of those who resent foreign occupation forces in the country, I see no reason to support them.

All that they are doing is delaying the formation of a post-Saddam order and killing to grab as much of the pie for themselves as they can. The provisional government has way more support on a more broadly-based level and more international and internal legitimacy than they do. The provisional government also does not appear to have a deliberate policy of igniting sectarian strife and blowing up civilians, though that may change.

So what group does one support in Iraq if one does not support the provisional government? The insurgency seems to be made up of anti-Shiite bigots, Baathist functionaries who want to reimpose dictatorial rule, foreign jihadis who think blowing up Shiite funerals will take them to heaven, and misguided nationalists who act as if they believe the propaganda that Sunni Arabs make up 65% of the population. None of these people seem worthy of support.

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Nat Whilk 08.09.05 at 4:08 pm

John Quiggin wrote:

“For the curious history of the Werewolves meme, read here.”

For a scholarly history of the Werwolves, see instead Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946 published by University of Toronto Press. On the page after the account of the Lindau assassination I mentioned earlier, we read how the French dealt with such “insurgents”:

“At a number of spots where there were shooting affrays, such as Markdorf and Reutlingen, the French seized and killed hostages. At Lichtenthal, where the French encountered hard resistance from the Volkssturm, they sacked the town and pillaged or raped the population. At Busingen, a small enclave near Schaffhausen, entirely surrounded by Swiss territory, shots fired at French officers on the night of 16 June 1945 were answered by the imposition of a severe curfew and a warning that, if the incident was repeated, ten hostages would be executed and the community would be cleared. . . .”

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soru 08.09.05 at 4:16 pm

Soru: do you understand the difference between “unwinnable and never should have been started” and “want us to lose”?,

Yes. Do you understand that if you actually read this thread, you will find examples of both?

At least those who say they want the ‘resistance’ to win are honest. Noone here can possibly know if the war is unwinnable or not. The insurgency could collapse tomorrow, next year, or never, so anyone who thinks they know that is lying to themselves.

soru

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Nat_Whilk 08.09.05 at 4:25 pm

Alkali wrote:

“if you were confident that payment of the ransom would indeed lead to your daughter’s release but chose for some reason not to pay it, and she thereafter died at her kidnappers’ hands, I doubt you would ever sleep well again”

Your doubt seems to be predicated on the principle that the only moral way to deal with truth-telling kidnappers is to give in to their demands. I don’t think that principle has anything approaching universal acceptance among thoughtful people.

Other people have posted similar hypotheticals but I think the answers above address them. If not, please point it out and I will try to answer it.

The (non-)hypothetical of the abortion doc being responsible for his own murder?

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 4:32 pm

I might point out before for the second time that when the US invaded, they seem to have genuinely believed they could manipulate things such they could deny the obvious: that to talk about Iraq democracy is necessarily to talk about pro-Iranian Iraqi democracy. The idea that the United States actually wanted this is too fantastic for words (Iran undoubtedly did. I am going to avoid the (horribly plausible) conspiracy theory that this whole invasion was a put up job by Iranian intelligence in league with Chalabi and their stupider than stupid dupes in the West like Wolfowitz and Hitchens, although nothing would surprise me less than that this turns out to be the case).

To talk about the Americans winning is therefore to omit a key point: that in a very important sense they have already lost. Their boy Allawi lost, and therefore their hopes of directly controlling Iraq. They are now at the mercy of ‘events, dear boy, events’.

However, it may well be true that eventually a pro-Iranian Iraq is born. But it is equally clear that the US are going to use their proxies the Kurds in a desperate attempt to stop this happening and it is equally clear that this option will blow up in everybody’s faces.

To describe this as a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ situation is to imply that there are two more or less distinct groupings fighting a conventional war with each other. But this is a fantasy. Instead we have the Kurds, the Turks, the Iranians, the Syrians, Al-Qaeda, the Ba’athists, the US and the Shias, most with proxies or allies (al-qaeda and the Baathists, but also Saudi with both, Turkey and the Turkmen, the Israelis and the US and the Kurds, Iran and the Shias, the Syrians and the Shias and so on). And they are all doing what states/groups do: grapple for power and influence. This fight will almost certainly result in the end of Iraq, but in any case: a secular democratic, unified Iraq is not on the cards. And it never was.

The American goal was an American leaning, anti-Iranian Iraq. But that was a fantasy, like the rest of the American goals, like their idea of Iraq, like the whole war. Now people are dying for these rich men’s dreams, and many more will continue to die as the Americans try and twist unyielding reality to match their delusions.

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Marc 08.09.05 at 4:37 pm

We’re clearly having a non-conversation here.
I’m living in the world where the US is occupying a foreign country and has made blunder after blunder in doing so. Apparently, the only proper course of action as far as the right is concerned is more of the same. What precisely is being debated? Other than “support Bush”, precisely what are leftists being asked to do? I do hope that Iraq recovers, but my job one is for the US to get out, and work to get international cover while the Iraqis reassemble their country.

The Bush administration has bungled the entire job in Iraq, and it is delusional to think that they will somehow magically start doing things right.
The Iraqis may be able to sort things out once we leave, but as long as the US is there we are stuck with ham-handed military execution and a deep hatred of the US by enough people to keep a nasty insurgency going. I don’t doubt that Iraq can eventually come to some kind of order once the US leaves. I do firmly doubt that the insurgency will stop as long as there are US soldiers in Iraq. It is in this sense that the war is unwinnable: as long as they can cast it as a battle against foreign occupiers they can retain enough support for their bloody killings.

Your deliberate misrepresentation of my words, slocum, is noted. But it is just that. I’m reacting to claims that folks like me, who opposed this from the beginning, are somehow responsible if it fails. Sorry, chap: it’s folks like you, who apparently supported it from the start and continue to do so, that have that particular cross to bear. What you seem to have trouble grasping is that your loss is not my gain. We all lose if Iraq gets even worse. I fully expect the right wing to do exactly what people in this thread are doing. Blame Cassandra.

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Kevin Donoghue 08.09.05 at 4:55 pm

The author of the book Nat Whilk cites, Perry Biddiscombe, is one of the historians who discredited Condi Rice’s version of 1945 Germany:

But according to Perry Biddiscombe, a historian of postwar Germany who wrote a 1998 book on the Werewolves, the force was designed only to assist the German army in winning the war. It was not created to be an underground movement after a German defeat.

As a result, Biddiscombe said, Rice is correct that the Werewolves attacked U.S. troops — but the only documented assaults took place before the Nazis capitulated on May 7, 1945.

“After the end of the war there’s a lot more ambiguity,” said Biddiscombe, who teaches European history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

That’s pretty much in line with the Slate account.

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Hektor Bim 08.09.05 at 4:58 pm

Brendan,

I think you are mistaken if you think the Kurds are the proxies of the Americans or the Israelis. It’s much more likely that the Kurdish political leadership is using the Americans as useful idiots. After all, so far they have everything they wanted except outright independence.

I don’t think the Kurdish political leadership trusts the US to take care of them, and thus it won’t do their bidding. They already have good contacts with the Iranians, for example. The result of the first Gulf War is still fresh in their minds.

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Jane Adams 08.09.05 at 5:03 pm

soubzriquet:

I think it is fairly obvious that the degree of corruptin is horrible. Key items have been cut out of food rations and there are rumors that iron fillings are added for weight. Many soldiers are unpaid. It was recently fiund that 300 million spent on military supplies went for junk…

Though I have been wrong in previous posts about how much US money has been spent of that allocated, it is some billions, the bulk of money spent was Iraqi. And huge sums went to US corporations and there are indeed investigations showing dishonesty.

I can not believe that this was part of a plan. It was simply indifference on the part of the administration to the weaknesses of crony capitalism along with no sense that it was wrong. There was no urgency in rebuilding, it see,ed nice that Cheney’s old company could make money, privatization of everything especially oil was politically correct…

Of course in a conspiracy addicted place like the middle east this casualness showed an utter cluelessness. We are already seeing a government showing increasing independance of us with growing ties to Iran and if we start to get inconvenient or they just decide to have some fun then we can expect international investigations and something like the “food for oil scandal.” It will be interesting to see how many of those who were outraged by that will find excuses for this.

The events as they are developing leave me “flumingled,” whatever this word might mean. For a criminal conspiracy I expect a certain degree of sophistication, but this seems almost like 7 year old kids who literally can’t see there is anything wrong with taking the money they raised for charoty because it was for a good cause or something equally clueless.

And I wish we could somehow shift the debate about over who supported the war and who didn’t to practicalities. I believe this guy supported the war:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/08/AR2005080801147.html

A lot of it is about how 30% of a lot of aid projects is going to support 30,000 or so mercenaries (see we don’t need “troops” we’ll just use private enterprise!) who create a lot of anger and disruption.

Over all the situation baffles me, how could we be so incompetent? And committing the sin of bringing up the V word, even there we were not so cut off from the people and one of the biggest mistakes we made there was that we were to cut off from the people, one problem being short times in country and in Iraq we went from at least a year and typically several for diplomatic sorts to 6 months or less.

It may be getting better. But there was such slackness in the Bremer period, the most crucial period.

Sadly I fear the conspiracy that will take hold is that we did all we could to create a civil wart that would inflame the middle east. And related theories such as paranoid Sunni believing we are uniting with the Shiites to destroy them.

It seems to me that the radical Jihadists are doing all they can to start such a civil war, that Shiite responses are increasing and unless the rest of the “insurgency” does something to rein the real crazies in that there will be more bunches of kids blown up and Shiite mosques until finally…

Allawi claimed that civil war has already started.

And the damn thing is that Hitchen’s shows he’s a hypocrite who belies his opening line about caring for the Iraqi people because even with this spectra he just smugly says it would be worse if we did nothing. No agony.

And then this:

“Unless someone gives me a persuasive reason to think otherwise, my provisional conclusion is that the human rights and charitable “communities” have taken a pass on Iraq for political reasons that are not very creditable. And so we watch with detached curiosity, from dry land, to see whether the Iraqis will sink or swim. For shame.”

OK, first of all lots and lots of NGOs who have been driven out of Iraq. And from what I’ve read it is human rights watch which was crucial in building the formal case against Saddam, no one else bothered to gather evidence, so already there seems a bit of lying here, but suppose there is some truth to it?

I am willing to agree that many of leftish inclinations have attitudes that bother me.

But if the issue is to rally help for the Iraqis and not merely engage in domestic political games then why isn’t he lambasting all the rightists and conservative charity groups. They do indeed out number the left and one of the strengths of the right is that conservative religious people tend to put around 3% of their income in donations while secular leftists tend for a half % which is a big reason why the right is building the more effective institutions, they believe in community activism.

So why is Hitchen’s lambasting *only* the traditional enemy of the right?

Because quite frankly he doesn’t give a damn about the Iraqi people. It is a game, he is winning brownie points on hitting the left with charges designed to hurt, they don’t care about people. It is another clever ploy and he wil realize his dreams and true ambitions if he can get it taken up by Lush Limpbowel.

And in this kind of hypocritical nagging he is also helping( as the right has continually done) failure , he is seeking to alienate people, to drive them into partisan positions, to turn discussion from an anguished nation and what we can do to mutual recriminations.

You know I am one in the muddled middle, I hope there is some possibility of success, I want to see something like a free, prosperous country, I accept the afact that it’s interests may not be ours, if the odds are good I accept the need for sacrifice and I do so with anguish because I will only pay with dollars, but it will be troops and the thousands of best and brightist that we grab one way or another and throw into dangerous neigghborhjoods and villages after admitting serious mistakes and apologizing…

In other words, yeah I still have hope. But it’s pretty weak.

And I do get mad at a lot of “leftists” and their attitudes, but I also know that they don’t fit in one slot.

And I also *KNOW* yes KNOW that if these thing fails the primary responsibility will not be Jane Fondas and defeatists MSM, it will be rightists who continually shouted “we don;t hear te good news” who said all was going well, who cliched opposition even though it included people like Scharzkopf and equated any concern about flaws in poloicy and attemts to reform things with leftist treason.

Yes they managed to shape the national debate, to reduce so much perception to their partisan templates, they are good at that; they regard it as a great victory; because these damn scum like Hitchens did not realize there were real people over there, that we needed to struggle to do it right.

And when these generals and others come out of the military and start to speak, these are going to be the people blamed for “losing the war.” People like Hitchens.

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Brendan 08.09.05 at 5:32 pm

Hektor

I completely agree with you, but even in a post that size I had to simplify. I was also ignoring the internecine Kurdish struggle (the KDP and the PUK), and the various factions of Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. You’re absolutely right about the links between (some) Kurds and Iran as well. However, it seems relatively clear that, when the Kurds have ethnically cleansed the Turkmen from Kirkuk they will declare themselves independent. I suspect the US will have to go along with that: every other side in the whole bloody mess absolutely despises the US and the Kurds are the only ones who are prepared to give them the time of day (as you hinted, I suspect the Kurds also hate the Americans (with good reason, given their history) but they find them useful idiots in their plans for statehood).

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alkali 08.09.05 at 5:56 pm

nat whilk writes:

Your doubt seems to be predicated on the principle that the only moral way to deal with truth-telling kidnappers is to give in to their demands. I don’t think that principle has anything approaching universal acceptance among thoughtful people.

One could very reasonably argue that you should refuse to comply with a ransom demand even from a truth-telling kidnapper because the likely death of your daughter is less important than discouraging the practice of kidnapping for ransom. That is an argument for heroism, perhaps. But pretending that you needn’t consider the likely consequence of your actions at all would be monstrous.

(Suppose, for instance, you could be morally certain that the kidnapper would never tell a soul about the event and would immediately retire from the practice of kidnapping regardless of your choice. Refusing to pay the ransom just so you could register your disapproval of the kidnapper’s conduct seems bizarre to me. If you disagree, consider the question from the point of view of the hostage.)

The (non-)hypothetical of the abortion doc being responsible for his own murder?

Not really a workable question. Slepian was entitled to take any kind of risks he wanted. However, if he had entirely disregarded the possibility that he might be assaulted or killed by anti-abortion fanatics on the ground that that wasn’t his problem (and I’m sure he did not) then he would have been a very foolish person.

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Peter 08.09.05 at 6:25 pm

I don’t think the Turks and Iranians (and to a slightly smaller extent the Armenians and Azerbaijani) would sit still for a Kurdistan. The Turks have flat out stated that they would immediately invade the place back when the US was floating the idea of breaking Iraq up into ethnic enclaves. It would only be a race to see which country invaded first to prevent secession of their own Kurds. And will probably be the first time that NATO allies went to war against each other. Because of US posturing against Iran, they would probably sit back, wring their wrists and say “oh woe, we can’t stop these Armenians/Azerbaijani invading across our borders.” If the US was serious about democracy and freedom in the middle east, we would have invaded the 4 countries mentioned above as well as Iraq to set those Kurds free of, well, free of something. We are careful to ignore the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in the past. Because those are our genocidal bastards.

The insanity and stubbornness of bushco and the bushistas have made the political situation here in the US rather intractable. Their cronies are busy looting what they can get away with, in the hopes that they will all be raptured away before the butcher bill comes due.

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Jane Adams 08.09.05 at 6:29 pm

In regards to a Talibab like government, we have it, or I should say them. In most places it’s Shia but in some Sunni neighborhoods unvelied women have acid thrown on them and barbers who give western haircuts are killed.

In the peaceful south many cities are a theocracy. Conservative journalist steve Vincent was most likely just murdered because he wrote an article on Basra in which among other things he claimed hundreds of murders a month by these thugs, many of the murders being Sunni. Here is his blog:

http://spencepublishing.typepad.com/in_the_red_zone/

Note that Basra is not the only southern city unde such control.

It seems to me quite unreasonable to expect elections or any other peaceful method to dislodge such groups. They have the guns and power, they don’t need majority votes, though the votes last spring helped them consolidate power.

We are pretty much trapped, to some extent these are our allies against the heavily Suni insurgency, even where they are not they sit militarily on key lines and their inactivity makes it possible for us to plan withdrawals, tey could make things hellish which is one reason why we may not attack Iran, because Iranian agents are all over the place in the south. There is coming into being a defacto alliance as the events a few weeks showed. Not only the Shiite radicals but the new government itself are involved, pipelines into Iran, Iranian wrefinming of Iraqi oil, Iranian electricity to help meet the crisis, promises that Iraq will never be used as a base to attack Iran (I’m sure we loved that!) foreign aid and a plan for military cooperation that we may or may not have squshed, but which I suspect went underground.

If civil war occurs and intensifies we may have a mirror image of such theocracies at the other end of the country. Foreign jihadists and funds will flow in as much of the Sunni world rallies to protect their brethen. Indeed we had such tendencies in Fallaja, so I think it very wrong to write off Islamic theocracies. Possibly they are the future.

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John Quiggin 08.09.05 at 7:09 pm

One point that shouldn’t be forgotten in relation to the vilest movement on the face of the planet is that Bush had the chance to capture or kill Zarqawi in the leadup to the war and passed on it, apparently because this would weaken or complicate the case for war against Saddam.

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rd 08.09.05 at 8:01 pm

We had a chance to lob a few missiles at Zarqawi like we tried against Bin Laden in 1998, but the idea that we had a real chance of capturing him seems wrong. The Kurds wouldn’t commit to large scale operations until we had our own troops on the
ground.

In general, as was mentioned earlier, most of the comments in this thread demonstrate Hitchens’ point pretty conclusively. The idea that it would be possible both to condemn Bush’s actions *and* to recognize the viciousness of the insurgency and
the genuine democratic progress being made seems impossible for all too many.

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jet 08.09.05 at 8:53 pm

Peter,
You have to be kidding about the US ignoring the Turkish Armenian genocide? That was like 100 years ago when Turkey had a different government. You might even have heard of it as the Ottoman Empire? You know, that empire that got its roots started during the Crusader period by conquering Asia minor and parts of the Balkans, enslaving all the Christians there and stealing their children to be raised as orphans in elite military schools (the Jannisaries) to be used to conquer yet more of Europe. The empire that disolved in 1918 after picking the wrong side in WWI? You are saying that THAT empire is “our genocidal bastards”?

John Quiggin,
There was never any chance to get Zarqawi in Northern Iraq. If you are talking about the Al Qaeda fortress in Ansar pre-invasion, you’ve got to be kidding. Most believe that Zarqawi wasn’t even in that fortress and that he sent instructions from Baghdad (along with all those military convoys of supplies), where Saddam was letting him recover in a hospital (from his wounds in Afghanistan (if only the US went back to the 7.62 round the bastard would be dead)). Then there is the whole “the Kurds were scared shitless” to attack a medieval fortress built into rock walls with a narrow assed road that spiraled up to the top. Even if US bombers had rained hell on it, the Kurds never would have been able to take the place and would have been slaughtered if the US could have tricked them into attempting it. You might as well blame Bush for not killing/capturing Osama in 1998.

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Jim Harrison 08.09.05 at 11:03 pm

107 responses. Hitch may not be a worthwhile analyst anymore, but he’s a heck of a troll.

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Ben P 08.10.05 at 12:44 am

First off, apparently the guy the Hitchens has been talking about – ie the mayor of Baghdad – was removed from office by a municipal coup on Monday by a Shi’ite militia.

Secondly, this British pro-war left strikes me as not understanding the nature of international relations, the nature of US strategic thinking, the nature of the internal Islamic world or its recent history.

The very fact that slocum could be talking about an AQ take-over as an accurate account of the current dynamics suggests he probably isn’t worth talking to.

Ben P

109

Ben P 08.10.05 at 12:52 am

BTW, I suggest some folks check out Larry Diamond’s comments over at TPM Cafe.

He played a not-insignificant role in the transitional CPA. Apparently, he thinks SCIRI is just biding its time until they try to impose a Islamic revolution on Iraq not dissimilar to Khomeni’s in Iran.

Finally, some one made a comment about all this “reflecting badly on the left.” Folks, I’ve got some news: the “left” as you probably understand is historically dead. I don’t give a fuck whether some kind of “transnational left” maintains what little influence it has or not.

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soru 08.10.05 at 3:17 am

Secondly, this British pro-war left strikes me as not understanding the nature of international relations, the nature of US strategic thinking, the nature of the internal Islamic world or its recent history.

If that’s so, how come things are working out very much as we predicted pre-invasion?

A liberal democracy would be nice, but even Iraq turns into something very like Iran, that’s still a win for the progressive side. Democracy means you get what you vote for.

I suppose if you are trapped in some kind of wish-fulfillment Vietnam flashback, or the Islamophobia bordering on racism of many of the comments here, then you will have a rather different view of things than me, and probably still have when you can sit in a Baghdad coffee shop and read a history of these events.

What you can say now is, that coffee shop is probably not going to be a Starbucks.

soru

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abb1 08.10.05 at 3:25 am

Re: ‘werewolves’. Also this piece.

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abb1 08.10.05 at 4:15 am

A liberal democracy would be nice, but even Iraq turns into something very like Iran, that’s still a win for the progressive side. Democracy means you get what you vote for.

Democracy in the sense of the word you use here (that is ‘a win for the progressive side’) is not what you apparently think it is.

In this sense, ‘democracy’ is presence, ubiquity of certain institutions, mechanisms that guarantee freedom, equality and so on. It takes centuries to develop these institutions.

Equating an election with democracy is ridiculous.

‘Self-determination’ is a better word for what you’re trying to say here, and I agree that it’s a good thing. But the self-determination is impossible under foreign domination, under occupation. Removing foreign domination is a prerequisite for exercising self-determination.

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Ray 08.10.05 at 4:34 am

“how come things are working out very much as we predicted pre-invasion?”

Cites please.
130,000 US troops still in Iraq, hundreds of people dying each month, a constitution that looks likely to enshrine Islam, electricity and oil production still pretty fucked, and all those excess deaths the Lancet found. Who on the pro-invasion side predicted all this?

114

Brendan 08.10.05 at 4:37 am

‘A liberal democracy would be nice, but even Iraq turns into something very like Iran, that’s still a win for the progressive side. ‘

The idea that the US will actually stand by and let Iraq become yet another Shia leaning theocracy is risible. Remember they tried that, by letting Iran become a Shia leaning theocracy. Didn’t work out too well for them, did it? They’re not going to make the same mistake twice.

Of course they may not succeed, and this, I take it, is your argument. Now if Iraq was an ethnically and religiously homogenous state, then you might have a point. But it’s not. The Kurds (and for that matter the Sunnis, if they wanted to play ball) were and are being used as ‘brakes’ on the Shia’s attempts to take over Iraq.

The problem with this however is Shia ‘nationalism’ (if you can call it that) is stirring in Syria, in Iran all over the Middle East. It is increasingly unlikely that the Shias are going to let the Kurds stand in their way.

If this is the case then the Kurds will have no choice but to secede.

As a matter of fact, incidentally, I don’t actually see turning Iraq into a Shia leaning theocracy as a victory for ‘progressive forces’.Was it a victory for progressive forces when it happened in Iran?

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Jane Adams 08.10.05 at 8:57 am

>If that’s so, how come things are working out very >much as we predicted pre-invasion?

???!!$$???

Pre invasion an individual was fired for saying costs would be several hundred billion, we were supposed to begin significant withdrawals by fall.

If someone had said: 2 and 1/2 years from now we’ll be having a dozen or so dead every week, ten times that wounded, by paying a bilion dollars electrical generation capacity will be 10% greater but production less, food rations reduced by corruption, 20% of the doctors terrorized out of practice, teocracies in the south, treaties with Iran…”

that person would have been mocked as a quagmirian.

To so blatantly misrepresent what we hoped for which was presented by the dominant war supporters as near certainty is the kind of activity “Comical Ali” would engage in, so too are much of the other “happy thoughts” statements.

As the fall of Saddam and the collapse of other regimes should show you don’t solve problems by denying them.

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soru 08.10.05 at 11:31 am

Pre invasion an individual was fired for saying costs would be several hundred billion

That might be relevant if Bush was a leftist.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone claiming to have predicted the precise troop numbers, casualty levels, budget or megawattage of electricity available 3 years in advance was a fraud or a fortune teller.

But you didn’t need psychic powers to find out what the vast majority of Iraqis wanted (democracy, but not on US terms), and to work out that with Saddam gone, neither Bush or bin Laden was likely to have a practicable way of stopping them getting what they wanted.

soru

117

Marcus Stanley 08.10.05 at 11:59 am

The right wing, including the inane commenters on this post, care not a bit about what is best for the Iraqi people. Instead they care about the continuation of their beloved war and occupation. The U.S. invasion has so far made the Iraqi people demonstrably worse off than they were during the sanctions regime under Saddam Hussein. This is actually pretty amazing when you think about it — the Iraqis are actually suffering more than they were under a brutal native dictator *plus* U.S. sanctions. Now, after over two years in which we held complete governing power in Iraq, we are being told that more occupation and control by the U.S. military is going to magically improve the condition of the Iraqis. How, exactly? Well, the right won’t tell you because they don’t give a damn. What they care about is keeping the colony. And has been amply proved, and is proved again every time you actually listen to an argument from an invasion supporter, they’ll resort to any sophistry to do that.

If you wanted to have a *serious* debate about how to improve the condition of the Iraqi people, you would have to start with a road map to getting U.S. forces out of the country and restoring full Iraqi sovereignty. Since it seems clear enough that a native government complicit in U.S. violation of Iraqi sovereignty damages its own legitimacy substantially and increases internal violence. That road map might include support for one or the other of the various sides, but that argument has to be made separately. A competent and responsible Iraqi government could emerge from this (not sure how, but it’s possible), but not in an Iraq under U.S. occupation. Since the goal of the right is and always has been occupying and controlling Iraq, it is silly to look to the right for any ideas here or trust them with any decisions.

And make no mistake, the *vast majority* of the non-Kurdish Iraqi people hate us. One has to understand that there are at least two insurgencies. There is the Sunni insurgency, which is making common cause with the Al Qaeda types in directly attacking U.S. troops. And then there is the Shi’ite insurgency, which is effectively taking over key government positions all over the country while tolerating U.S. presence…for now…because it is best to lay low while two of their enemies (the Sunni and the Americans) bleed each other. But it was not so long ago that the Shi’ites were fighting us directly.

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Ray 08.10.05 at 4:03 pm

I see. So, apart from the troops, the massive casualties, the missing WMDs, the still-fucked infrastructure, and the continuing low-level civil war, things are working out pretty much as you predicted when you supported the invasion – ie, here comes the theocracy.

That’s… well, that’s, …um.
Interesting.

119

soru 08.10.05 at 4:43 pm

here comes the theocracy

Can anyone clatify when and why Islamophobia became de rigeur around here?

Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly such a thing as fascism and tyranny with an Islamic flavour. But in those cases, only an Islamophobe would say what counts is the flavour.

For a more informed progressive view, try:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ideas_opinions/story/335862p-286898c.html

soru

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Brendan 08.10.05 at 5:32 pm

The simple fact is that the Americans are uninterested in Iraq’s domestic policy. They uphold the Saudi regime although it is, by any standards, the most anti-semitic, woman hating, anti-gay, ‘Islamo-fascist’ state in the world.

The point is not Iraq’s domestic policy. It is its foreign policy. Say Iraq (as seems quite likely) signed a mutual self-defence pact with Iran. This would mean that if and when the Israeli/American attack on Iran starts then the US would have to fight….Iraq! Again!

Or what if Iraq becomes a dictatorship over the years (or a dictatorship to all intents and purposes), then the war really would have been for nothing, Iraq would have all that oil, and who knows? In twenty years maybe that same WMD technology that started this whole disaster.

Even in domestic terms, as with China in the ’50s, the political party that was perceived to have ‘lost’ Iraq to ‘them’ would be committing political suicide. You actually think the Republicans are going to run ads going ‘we liberated Iraq from the Sunnis and handed it to Iran’?

Dream on.

The Americans will rather tear the country apart than watch a nouveau Persian Empire emerge.

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blah 08.10.05 at 10:49 pm

If that’s so, how come things are working out very much as we predicted pre-invasion?

If you supported the invasion believing it would turn out this way, then you are a damned fool.

122

Ray 08.11.05 at 3:31 am

Soru, the issue is not Islamophobia. The issue is that I find it hard to believe that you supported the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it would end up as Iran II, and that the low-level civil war, collapsed infrastructure, tens of thousands of civilian casualties and continuing presence of 130,000 US troops are just some unimportant details.
Seriously, show me those pre-war predictions, or find another leg to pull.

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abb1 08.11.05 at 4:51 am

They supported the invasion believing it would turn Iraq into a peaceful, friendly to the US and Israel liberal democracy. They defeated Genocidal Fascist Dictator™; he’s being now replaced with Fascist Islamist Mullahs™; but if that’s what the people of Iraq want – so be it. This seems to be the logic, that’s what tens of thousands people died and hundreds of billions dollars were spent for.

Fair enough.

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soru 08.11.05 at 7:39 am

I like the word ‘islamofascist’ because it provides a very useful insight into the minds of racialist thinkers.

There are British fascists, American fascists, Russian fascists, Finnish fascist, Japanese fascists, Argentinian fascists, and Belgian fascists (don’t think there are any Canadian fascists, but I could be wrong). A fascist movement is like an airport, something every country that goes through a certain level of development will end up with.

So, common sense would seem to dictate that there be islamic fascists, and if, as well as planning a path of national destiny through conquest, they quote scripture in the way only a few fascist movements from primarily christian countries did, that makes them islamofascists.

But to a racialist, racial and ethnic differences are the most fundamental, if some people of a different ethnic or racial background behave differently from you or I, the differences must be ethnic or racialist, can never be political.

Consequently, they start throwing round the term ‘islamofascist’ for everyone of that racial, ethnic or religious group.

Racism always reveals itself in the language used.

soru

125

Ray 08.11.05 at 8:40 am

Count the number of times ‘islamofascist’ was used on this thread.
Count the number of war supporters who use the term ‘islamofascist’. (I’ll give you Christopher Hitchens to start)

Or, alternatively, just provide some links to the people who called for a war to invade Iraq and turn it into Iran II. Find me some links to people who supported the invasion and predicted anything vaguely resembling the current situation.

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abb1 08.11.05 at 9:48 am

So, common sense would seem to dictate that there be islamic fascists

No, actually, common sense would dictate that there’d be Saudi, Iraqi and Egyptian fascists; that is unless your common sense tells you that ‘fascism’ is a primarily Western phemenon, which would be a quite reasonable common sense presupposition too.

But if you want to use ‘Islamofascism’, than, as the anti-racist warrior, you’d have to have Christianofascism and Judeofascism.

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soru 08.11.05 at 11:43 am

Kahane’s mob seem to count as judeofascists, and the WWII-era League of Archangel Michael were explicitly christian fascists.

As for ‘western phenomenom’ – quite right. Go walk around on the streets of baghdad, and look at what clothes people wear, what cars they drive, the shapes of their buildings, the uniforms the police and army wear, the guns the kidnappers use, and the computer they use to post their ransom demand onto the internet.

Do you think it is possible there is a little bit of western influence on current arab society? Since, say Napoleon invaded egypt?

soru

128

abb1 08.11.05 at 11:59 am

Maybe, I have no idea. Here’s the wikipedia’s piece on fascism. It appears that having an actual state is quite essential to being a fascist.

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soru 08.11.05 at 12:59 pm

wiki actually says,

As a populist social movement prior to gaining government power, fascism displays different characteristics.

Wheras if you were right, it would have to say:
as a fascist must by definition be in control of a state, this is not the place to discuss Hitler’s politics prior to 1933, the Italian theorists of the 1920s, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_fascism

soru

130

abb1 08.11.05 at 1:22 pm

Fair enough. It’s way too vague to be meaningful anyway. They say Roosevelt’s New Deal might be an example of fascism, so, what’s the point?

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soru 08.11.05 at 1:46 pm

what’s the point?

The point is to try and understand what’s dangerous and what’s not.

Someone with a tendency towards arachnophobia (the irrational fear of spiders) might try to overcome that by deliberately seeking out and playing with spiders in order to build up their tolerance.

In itself that’s no bad thing, but it would suck if they got bit by a funnel web as a result.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venomous_funnel-web_tarantula

soru

(someone’s gonna accuse me of saying all muslims are spiders now…)

132

abb1 08.11.05 at 2:08 pm

But I don’t see any indication that fascism is necessarily a dangerous thing for a conformist living under fascist regime, let alone people outside the regime.

The longest one – in Spain – didn’t bother anybody from 1936 to 1975, for 40 years. People weren’t free and socialists were persecuted, some killed, but nothing like tarantula. Then Franco died and they moved on. Just a phase.

If you invaded Spain in 1970 they’d most likely be fighting you, the invador, not Franco.

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soru 08.11.05 at 3:13 pm

That’s the thing – Franco wasn’t a fascist, he was just a plain garden-variety military dictator.

http://countrystudies.us/spain/22.htm

In spite of the regime’s strong degree of control, Franco did not pursue totalitarian domination of all social, cultural, and religious institutions, or of the economy as a whole. The Franco regime also lacked the ideological impetus characteristic of totalitarian governments. Furthermore, for those willing to work within the system, there was a limited form of pluralism. Thus, Franco’s rule has been characterized as authoritarian rather than totalitarian.

soru

134

abb1 08.12.05 at 2:23 am

Yeah, OK, fair enough. That’s just that, though. When people get obsessed with one horrible but vague evil, be it ‘islamofascists’ or ‘commies’ or ‘elders of Sion’, that’s usually not a rational thing.

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soru 08.12.05 at 6:30 am

yes, when people have obbsessive irrational hatreds or fears of various bad things, they will end up making stupid decisions, such as ‘that’s not a snake, so it can’t be poisonous’ or ‘this insecticide will fix our snake problem’.

Islamophobia and governmentphobia are two sides of the same coin.

soru

136

abb1 08.12.05 at 9:03 am

I don’t have any governmentphobia. Government as such is not evil or scary, it’s a mechanism designed to advance interests of its constituency, whatever it is.

All I’m saying is that you can’t expect a national government to take into consideration interests of foreigners. The US government does not represent Iraqis or world Muslims, it represents US population, or rather a segment of the US population.

Inevitably, it acts to advance interests of this segment of the US population and, to a degree, the US population as a whole, but nothing else.

It is possible, of course, that these interests will, from time to time, overlap with interests of the Iraqis or Muslims, but that would be highly unlikely, purely coincidental, and subject to change at any moment.

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