Defenders of the faith

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2006

The great Madeleine Bunting/Enlightenment debate rolls one, with a synoptic response from the columnist herself . I’m not a great fan of Bunting’s brand of handwringing multiculturalism myself, but she doesn’t acquit herself badly despite getting in a bit of a muddle about rationalism and anti-rationalism. (It is instructive to contrast the calm engagement of her latest contribution with the ill-tempered hectoring and puerile name-calling that the self-styled defenders of the Enlightenment are engaging in, a mark of desperation if you ask me.) She also asks a very good question: why are this particular bunch of people wrapping themselves in this particular cloak at this particular time? I guess the answer is that once they have cast themselves in the role of historic defenders of reason and civilization against the barbarians, they can spare themselves the trouble of worrying too hard about the messy details of Guantanamo, torture, “extraordinary rendition”, and thousands upon thousands of dead bodies. They can also deliver stern lectures about “relativism”, “universalism”, “moral clarity” etc whilst applying one set of standards to them (the fanatical headchoppers) , and a different set to us (the shining defenders of civilization) . Steven Poole has written a quite brilliant post on the use of the rhetoric of universalism to justify double standards by one of the foremost peddlers of this tosh, the ever-pompous Oliver Kamm.

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Academia as an Extreme Sport » Morally Superior, Relative, UnSpeak
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1

david 04.10.06 at 7:00 am

Lots of it cast in four-stages speak too — those people haven’t got to where we are, so those people can’t shine in the light yet. Bomb them for a while, and instruct them simultaneously, and maybe they’ll climb up that social evolutionary ladder high enough that they can be stop being bombed and engage in some effeminizing cross border trade. It’s not just that they are barbarians, it’s that they are backwards barbarians, and little stern discipline will give them a boost. Not only can you justify Guantanamo this way — you get credit for it.

2

Matthew 04.10.06 at 7:10 am

I’m afraid that people like “lenin” (the one who blogs) are right and that the blather about enlightenment (applied to the glorious cluster-bombing of Iraq) is just warmed-up rethoric from the colonial era.

3

abb1 04.10.06 at 7:22 am

Reading this wikipedia article I get a clear impression that they were enlightened long before being enlightened became cool, and you can see them gradually becoming un-enlightened as western attempts (similar to the current one) to ‘enlighten’ them gain strength.

4

Doctor Slack 04.10.06 at 7:29 am

The comments thread at Bunting’s blog is something else. Most entertaining so far is the guy who claims that “empiricism is the only measure of truth” but whose approach to researching the history of science in Islamic societies is to quote what “a friend” tells him (which appears to be a slightly warmed-over version of the old “Arabs were mere translators for the Greeks” saw).

Or this one from “afcone”:

I don’t fear the scenario you describe in your straw man argument above, but having seen how quickly the UK press cowered to threats in the Danish cartoons debacle makes me worry of “death by a thousand cuts”, particularly concerning freedom of speech.

He fears the “death of a thousand cuts . . . concerning freedom of speech,” and the Danish cartoons race-baiting fiasco is what gets his attention, not Blair’s attempts to curb civil liberties in the guise of fighting “terrorism.” Right-o.

5

Alex 04.10.06 at 7:44 am

These people don’t want the Enlightenment. In fact, to channel A Few Good Men inappropriately, they can’t handle the Enlightenment!

That would involve critical thinking and the possibility of being wrong. What they’re after is the Dialektik der Aufklärung, which when I read it I took to be a buncha German handwavey relativism of the sort annoying fellow students obsessed over.

Had I read it around two years later, I suspect my views would be significantly different.

6

zdenek 04.10.06 at 7:54 am

So Bunting’s depiction of Enlightenment can be seriously flawed ( shallow and involves sophomoric confusion all over the place latest being her not distinguishing at a key section of her argument between Rationalism and reason ) but thats fine according to Chris because this admitted little sin is outweight by the good/deep ( puhleeeze ) question she asks about the defenders motivation : why now ? Ok fine no problem but this seems to involve putting the cart before the horse .
Ie if there is no case against the Enlightenment defenders ( Bunting has failed in other words ) and they are right by default then surely their motivation is of secondary interest. Why the hypnotic Pavlovian fascination with the hidden agenda ? Zdenek’s hypothesis : because thats all you got ad hominem stuff.

7

eric von bladet 04.10.06 at 8:00 am

I had that Enlightenment in the back of my cab once. Lousy tipper.

But whether “Enlightenment” “values” are a satisfactory mytho-historical basis for one’s contemporary geo-political prejudices or otherwise interests me much less than whether they (for whatever value of “them”) are coherent as a project, outside of the historical contingencies they arose (to the extent that they did) in.

For example, science and the various allegedly associated blends of rationalisme and empiricisme are all very well, but neither establishes political egalitarianisme to my demanding satisfaction. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an argument for political egalitarianisme — even the FDR’s founders were reduced to claiming it was “self-evident”.

8

Pat 04.10.06 at 8:01 am

You know, once you abandon ad hominem arguments, its easy to realize that its entirely possible for 1) the enlightenment defenders who care little about civil liberties to be morons, and 2) the entire muddled multiculturalist position to be bullshit.

9

Marc Mulholland 04.10.06 at 8:33 am

It strikes me (probably erroneously) that the Enlightenment is a somewhat dubious banner for our times because it is so pre-democratic. It seems to lend itself to elitism, given the emphasis laid on leisured ratiocination. Almost by definition, it excludes from the competent political nation those non-enlightened; particularly sociological groups resistant to dissolution (C18 catholics; C19th classes dangereux; C21st Muslims, prole ‘nomenkaltura’ or whatever).

I would have thought that modern democratic sentiment owes a lot more to romanticism, in that it defines the legitimate polity as an organic body that confers inalienable birthrights on its constituents, not a community of letters open only to those who earn authority.

10

Hektor Bim 04.10.06 at 9:10 am

marc,

Unfortunately, romanticism has both a strong anti-scientific and anti-rational streak (understandable as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution), and frequently led its adherents to locate a mystical national character and thus led rather directly to ferocious nationalism.

11

Chris 04.10.06 at 9:12 am

Zdenek: but ad hominem is so much more fun.
As for the “ever-pompous Oliver Kamm” throwaway, I don’t think ‘pot calling kettle’ quite covers it…!

12

zdenek 04.10.06 at 9:12 am

#7 This is sad. One of the most relevant and topical treatments of equality is that of John Rawls who is a Kantian ( see his TJ ch. 4 sec.40 p251 ). In his later work viz. Law of the People he futher develops Kantian themes on the subject of cosmopolitanism etc. This is essentially why Enlightenment values are relevant today : they continue to provide vital insights into moral and political issues .

13

Louis Proyect 04.10.06 at 9:18 am

Speaking of Kamm, what in the world ever qualified this singularly obnoxious character to speak in the name of the left as if he were some kind of latter-day version of George Orwell who had actually dodged fascist bullets. I get the impression that this oily investment banker might have read Karl Marx 20 years ago when he was an undergraduate but that’s about it, I’d say.

14

mark eli kalderon 04.10.06 at 9:22 am

It is unreasonable to offer debunking explanations of another’s views wothout evidence. That is not a reasoned rejection of their position. It is a categorical refusal to listen. It is all to ironic that you opponents are self conceived defenders of the Enlightenment (whether rightly or wrongly). As such that might expect more from public discourse.

Such intransigence is little more than the expression of disapproval. At first, I recoiled from Marc Mulholland’s suggestion that ‘democratic sentiment owes a lot to romanticism’–surely values of Romanticism are anti-democratic, but then I recognized that there may be a point to this (if not the point that Marc intended). A dominant mode of public political expression is protest. Protest while legally ‘speech’, at least in the US, is not fundamentally discursive but expressive. Democratic sentiment as it actually is might in fact owe a lot to Romanticism, but whether it conforms to the values that ought to govern democratic institutions is another question

15

Marc Mulholland 04.10.06 at 9:34 am

mark eli kalderon & Hektor Bim,

I agree that Romanticism can be seen as a seed-bed of racialist essentialism (though Enlightenment left its own bastard traces in C20th social engineering projects). My point would be that the nation is an imagined and essentially irrational construct, but to date no functional democracy has existed without it.

16

soru 04.10.06 at 10:14 am

Surely “extraordinary rendition” is precisely sending someone from a country with an Enlightened Western etc. legal system to one without such a thing?

From Bunting’s (your?) viewpoint, exactly why is that a bad thing, if any idea that there is, in practise, a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is fit to be mocked in terms of ‘shining defenders of civilisation’ and ‘barbarians’?

A little bit more thought, a little bit less snark, might be welcome.

17

Brendan 04.10.06 at 10:30 am

‘Surely “extraordinary rendition” is precisely sending someone from a country with an Enlightened Western etc. legal system to one without such a thing?’

Well, for a start it’s not just that. As you should know, one of the places that those ‘renditioned’ (or what we in the West used to call ‘kidnapped’) are taken to include (yes!) Afghanistan, which, last time I got my fix of the ‘news the liberals are afraid to print’ at Harry’s Place, was in fact ‘part of’ the ‘West’, given that it has now been ‘liberated’ and given a ‘democracy’ (and a ‘Western legal system’) etc. etc. etc.

Secondly, the reason that some countries have better conditions (in terms of torture) than others, is not due to Voltaire or Diderot but due to the United Nations: specifically, the ‘United Nations Convention Against Torture’. The distinction is not between the ‘West’ and the ‘East’: it is between countries that have signed this convention and countries which have not. I take it you don’t need reminding of what the Bush administration make of the United Nations.

Finally, the REAL distinction to be made here is even more fundamental: it’s between countries that have signed up to convention on torture and which attempt to live up to its strictures and countries (like the US and the UK) which pay lipservice to it and then which try and get round it any way they can. In other words, the US and the UK are against torture in the same way Uzbekistan is a democracy: on paper.

Finally, extraordinary rendition does not exist on its own, but is part of the US/UK onslaught against international law, and their own attempt to justify and legitimise torture when it suits them. Cf Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc. etc. etc.

18

Doctor Slack 04.10.06 at 10:32 am

A little bit more thought, a little bit less snark, might be welcome.

For example, it would be nice if people who were going to claim that Bunting claims there is no difference between Western and non-Western legal systems could back such claims up. It would be nice if these same people could differentiate between criticism of extraordinary rendition and criticism of the use of the Enlightenment as a stalking-horse for cultural parochialism, xenophobia and the functional equivalent of “we can never trust those damned Papists” arguments.

It might also be nice, for that matter, if people who were going to proclaim that “multiculturalism” is “muddled” could offer a definition of “multiculturalism” that actually fits what real-life multiculturalists advocate, and could offer some compelling reason to believe their own anti-multiculturalism is un-muddled and morally “clear.”

A little bit more thought, indeed. I’m not holding my breath.

19

Doctor Slack 04.10.06 at 10:35 am

The distinction is not between the ‘West’ and the ‘East’: it is between countries that have signed this convention and countries which have not.

Good point — and I stand corrected.

20

Seth Edenbaum 04.10.06 at 10:49 am

The rule of science is not synonymous with the rule of law. that’s what the arch defenders of the the enlightenment fail to understand. Adversarial systems are not predicated on rationality but on debate itself. The enlightenment as the father of Modernism bequeathed us the illusion that technical advancement would produce moral advancement merely as result. That argument is silly. The last century gave us many examples of the romance of science as law, and the result was false science and false law.

The rule of law has never been a romantic ideal. The rule of ideas is pure romance

21

Brendan 04.10.06 at 11:04 am

Well Doctor Slack, since we are massaging each other’s egos…..

‘It might also be nice, for that matter, if people who were going to proclaim that “multiculturalism” is “muddled” could offer a definition of “multiculturalism” that actually fits what real-life multiculturalists advocate, and could offer some compelling reason to believe their own anti-multiculturalism is un-muddled and morally “clear.”’

This is another excellent point. There seems to be an assumption amongst the ‘decents’ that multiculturalism is exactly the same as extreme cultural relativism. But I have never, in my life, heard a multi-culturalist argue that ‘Hitler was entitled to do what he did’ (or whatever) which is the sort of thing a real cultural relativist might say. Instead, multi-culturalism exists purely in societies with large scale immigration, and is a practical philosophy that attempts to deal with the consequences of this. It says nothing about cultures outside the national borders.

Incidentally, the opponents of multi-culturalism are ‘melting pot’ theorists, who argue that the original (‘traditional) culture of a country should be adopted as the ‘best’ or at least as the benchmark, and that all new immigrants should adapt themselves to this original culture of the country they are moving to.

Great! Since we all know who the original inhabitants of the US and Australia are, I look forward to new immigrants to the US being forced to learn Anishinaabemowin and having to perform the ‘sun dance’ to demonstrate their commitment to their new country, and immigrants to Australia being forced to learn Mbariman-Gudhinma and being tested on their skills on the didgeridoo.

22

soru 04.10.06 at 11:22 am

the ‘news the liberals are afraid to print’ at Harry’s Place, was in fact ‘part of’ the ‘West’, given that it has now been ‘liberated’ and given a ‘democracy’ (and a ‘Western legal system’) etc. etc. etc.

6 scare quotes in one sentence is really quite a lot. Would it be possible to ask you to consider making your argument on your own terms, with less sneering?

One starting point would be to find someone specifically saying something you disagree with, and explaining why you think it is wrong. Ideally, this person should actually exist, making up someone saying the equivalent of ‘we torture in the name of Voltaire!’ really doesn’t count.

Also, try to limit the size of any chains of attribution by association. For example: the UN produced a convention on torture, some members of the Bush administration don’t like the UN, the Blair administration allied with Bush in the invasion of Iraq, and some UK website broadly supported Blair’s decision. That is a rather long chain of association: if you want to make any statements about the opinions and thoughts of readers of the site, there are simpler and more persuasive ways.

23

Pat 04.10.06 at 11:36 am

Re: #21: “Incidentally, the opponents of multi-culturalism are ‘melting pot’ theorists, who argue that the original (‘traditional) culture of a country should be adopted as the ‘best’ or at least as the benchmark, and that all new immigrants should adapt themselves to this original culture of the country they are moving to.”

Actually, they also include people who think that individual rights are more important than any sort of group right, or more strongly, that group rights are somewhat incoherant.

24

constablesavage 04.10.06 at 12:08 pm

I started reading Poole thinking that he was attacking a straw man; surely Kamm could not be arguing anything as simplistic as “Democratic bullets good, dictatorial bullets bad”. Sadly it seems he is. It makes little difference to those on the receiving end.

But although I am on Poole’s side in this I think it is arguably sensible to define terrorism as something done by groups and not States. For example we do tend to use the word “terrorist” to describe those who don’t in fact hold territory, but States do.

This is not “moral clarity” but verbal clarity: it’s a choice as to how we define terms. And one reason for doing so, contra Kamm, is surely that bad as terrorists are, they have never and probably will never begin to approach the blodthirstiness of state-directed atrocities when a State goes really bad (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc).

25

Jaybird 04.10.06 at 1:08 pm

How can a group have rights that are not held by any one of the individuals within the group?

That asked, I would like to get one of those submissive chicks from one of those backwards countries next time around. My current model is too uppity. The people who imposed feminism on my society totally screwed everything up.

26

Robert 04.10.06 at 1:10 pm

Kamm’s response to this:

http://www.dreamscape.com/rvien/Fumbles/CanAssure.html

was not to admit his error, but to continue it. I have had other discussions with him equally amusing.

27

zdenek 04.10.06 at 1:41 pm

#25 — from the fact that two actions have same consequences it does not follow that the actions have same moral standing . This shoud be obvious . Take self defence that results in death of an intruder and murder that has the same consequence : as you say the end result is the same however and obviously it is patently obvious that there are circumstances where we cannot say that the two actions are morally on all fours ( many examples available ). That is self defence is morally ok but murder is not.
Kamm is obviously making just such a point . actions taken by Democracies will be in accordance with just war doctrine and hence morally there is difference and the fact that the consequences are same as the action of an Outlaw state is ( from that point of view ) irrelevant. If you want to dissagree with Kamm at least be charitable with his position , no ?

28

Chris Bertram 04.10.06 at 1:47 pm

actions taken by Democracies will be in accordance with just war doctrine

Huh?

Is that supposed to be true by definition?

Or is it a factual claim that democracies never act contrary to just war doctrine?

29

abb1 04.10.06 at 1:56 pm

The ‘democratic violence is good’ argument is, of course, completely illogical.

To make this argument half-way presentable one could modify it like this: violence perpetrated by a democratic government against individuals who voted for this government is justifiable, as these individuals have no one to blame but themselves. IOW: don’t be an idiot, don’t elect assholes.

People who didn’t vote for this government and especially those who live in far-away countries have no reason to feel any admiration towards this government’s characteristic of being democratically elected. At least if they aren’t fools.

Now, if one were to accept this slightly modified proposition, then one could expand the argument by saying that the people who voted for this particular government should accept consequences of their government’s actions (such as the London bombings, for example) without complaining, while those who voted against it have a perfect reason to bitch and moan.

30

Doctor Slack 04.10.06 at 2:05 pm

Zdenek: Nor does it follow that two actions with the same consequences can be easily differentiated in moral standing. This should be obvious. Take “conventional” war that results in the death of an Iraqi civilian and non-state terrorism that results in the death of an American or British civilian — an example, you know, actually relevant to the point constablesavage was making.

Now sprinkle on top some ad hoc justifications for each action that proclaim self-defense or the inherent righteousness of the political / religious / economic system carrying them out — the latter being what Kamm is doing, since no-one who has studied the actual history of warfare conducted by Democracies should be naive enough to conclude a priori that such wars will inherently be “in accordance with just war doctrine.” (Recall your own experience the last time you tried to defend the Iraq War on Kantian “just war” grounds, for instance.) Are the resultant acts easily distinguishable from each other, aside from the variants in high-flown rhetoric advanced to excuse each?

If you’re going to agree with Kamm at least be realistic about what he’s arguing, yes?

31

Martin James 04.10.06 at 2:08 pm

Isn’t enlightenment just being used as a shorthand for whatever started to change in the 1750-1850 range that led to the economic differences that characterize the Western vs. Non-western stereotypes.

If one replaces enlightenment with “G7-ness” don’t the arguments work out about the same.

Then the issue is whether there is anything that characterizes “G7-ness” that one can make an invidious distinctions about or whether it is just the luck of who got where first.

I’d say its about 50-50, with half of the cultural difference being the luck of history and half being cultural components that are causally related to the economic and power differences.

Yes, the enlightenmentistas have it hisorically wrong, but the anti-enlightenmentistas won’t put a name on what it is about the Other countries that makes them so Other.

Would they not still be Other were they not so Other named?

Like the Montague’s and the Capulet’s its only after the tragedy that we can see the commonality.

32

zdenek 04.10.06 at 3:09 pm

Re Kamm- anyone can refute a weak caricature and that is what is being done with Kamms view about the difference ( moral difference ) between action taken by Liberal Democracy and an Outlaw state. Most plausible interpretation of what he is saying is that liberal people are likely to obey by the 8 principles Rawls spells out in “The Law of the People “p37. because this is the political outlook of foreighn policy of liberal people which is essentially reasonable as opposed to being mearly rational ( reasonablenes includes reciprocity ). The idea is that adherance to these principles is justification conferring ( moral justification ). This idea is not contraversial : I may be justified in my belief that Iran has nuclear weapons even if it is false that they have such weapons what is important is that I acted responsibly towards the best evidence available to me.
In other words liberal people to the extent that they act responsibly in accordance with the reasonable principles that reasonable people would agree to ( some sort of veil of ignorance involved ) would have moral warant for military action that they take . And outlaw states’ actions would not have this Warrant. This is a gloss on what Kamm is saying.

33

abb1 04.10.06 at 3:21 pm

I kinda agree with this “Liberal States” vs. “Outlaw States” thing.

It’s sad, though that the US and UK happen to be two Outlaw States; perhaps some day they will join the community of more enlightened Liberal States, such as Canada, Scandinavian states, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, etc. Yes, some day…

34

Chris Bertram 04.10.06 at 3:34 pm

Yes Zdenek, and, as it happens my ideally rational alter ego would behave better than I do. But I’m not sure my lawyer would mention that fact in my defence if I were caught with my fingers in the till.

35

Jaybird 04.10.06 at 4:03 pm

What does “outlaw” mean if the US and GB are outlaw?

Not quite up to the standard provided by the majority of the countries in the UN?

Not quite as enlightened as countries with lily white populations, strict immigration controls, and a strange tendency to have a very short “1932-1945” chapter in their high school history books?

36

greensmile 04.10.06 at 5:47 pm

Poole puts quite a sharp point on the matter when writes “..They will need to respond to the idea that to deliberately commit an act with foreseeable consequences is to intend those very consequences, among any others that might also be under consideration.”
The question implied is absolutely damning for the Bush war plan. I can only think of one alternative answer: bush and company literally could not forsee all the futile mayhem that has fallowed the tanks and bombers after the mission was “accomplished”.
But if they are that stupid, by what right to they hold office or plan anything more dangerous than a church Sunday social?

37

Barry 04.10.06 at 5:57 pm

“Not quite as enlightened as countries with lily white populations, strict immigration controls, and a strange tendency to have a very short “1932-1945” chapter in their high school history books?”

Posted by Jaybird ·

Meaning Germany? Perhaps their section is a bit longer than in your country, and certainly my section in the USA was longer than in your country; we covered that whole ‘regime change’ thing.

38

Paul 04.10.06 at 7:26 pm

I don’t think Poole deals at all well with Kamm’s “democracies are different” argument. Invoking uncounted votes in Florida as some kind of general refutation of democratic difference sheds a great deal more heat than light.

I think abb1’s treatment at #30 is a lot more effective, but I’d add that all citizens of a (relatively) democratic nation can be seen as having consented (or impliedly consented, or having a moral obligation to consent) to the outcomes produced by that democratic system operating correctly. Individuals who didn’t vote for the government have every right to bitch about its decisions, but governmental use of force (violence?) against people who happened to vote against it still carries some additional legitimacy on the basis of its democratic pedigree.
I agree though that it’s extremely difficult to extend that democratic justification to violence against those outside the franchise, particularly the citizens of other nations.

39

LogicGuru 04.10.06 at 7:34 pm

I’m all for the Enlightenment–and the melting pot, and individual rights. But last time I looked invading and bombing in the interests of spreading “democracy” doesn’t get people to adopt Enlightenment values.

It’s also hard to understand the current administration as an agent of the Enlightenment since, at least domestically, they’re promoting religious obscurantism and socially conservative policies that are inimical to what I understand the Enlightenment was all about.

Is there some double standard I don’t know about? Secular democracy in Iraq but theocracy in the US? Feminism for Afghanistan but family values for the US?

40

roger 04.10.06 at 9:10 pm

Actually, the argument Kamm makes works both ways — an action having a beneficial result doesn’t imply that the actor is himself morally praiseworthy. If a Ba’athist general had murdered Saddam Hussein, or if — to spread this to non-human organisms – he’d died of bubonic plague, neither the General nor the plague should be venerated for what was accomplished. Since the West propped Saddam up at the height of his murderous spree, from 1980-1989, in fact, the Coalition looks more like mafia associates getting rid of a dangerous number. When Frank ”The German” Schweihs whacked Tony the Ant Spilotro, he wasn’t being an anti-crime fighter — it was just business.


But to return to the more interesting topic of the Enlightenment, it surprises me that Bunting hasn’t written about the surprisingly well run Capital of the Ottoman empire back in the 18th century. Unlike Paris, with its periodic, hunger induced riots, Istanbul had a pretty good system of distributing basic foodstuffs to the needy. Plus a property law system that allowed women to inherit property on terms not equalled in English law until around 1880. It is all very well to discuss Kant, but how about throwing in Mary Wortley Montague, who actually went to the Middle East as wife of the ambassador to the Porte and brought back a Turkish invention called — inoculation? Instead of knocking the whole of the enlightenment or romanticism, the complexity of it and the cosmpolitanism of it are much more interesting topics. Montague’s letters show a court society not too removed from French court society.

41

neil 04.10.06 at 9:45 pm

I’m left wondering how all this snarkiness about “reason and civilization against the barbarians” could possibly lead to a cogent analysis of, for example, action against Melosevic or the Taliban. It seems to me to lead to incation.

42

Jaybird 04.10.06 at 10:48 pm

Neil, it’s supposed to.

We’re supposed to deplore such things as Catholics complaining about The Last Temptation of Christ and point out how their criticism of art amounts to a request for censorship… but when the Taliban starts shelling millennia-old statues of the Buddha, well, you have to understand that a real Buddhist would have seen the statues as nothing more than rocks.

When someone in the US says that they are opposed to partial-birth abortion, we’re supposed to understand that this is just the nose of the camel and first the Theocons want to limit it to the 8th month, and then they’ll go for the 7th, then the 6th, then the 5th, and eventually they’ll settle for nothing less than making women barefoot and pregnant in an actualization of The Handmaid’s Tale. When the Taliban stones women for showing too much wrist, you have to understand that this is their culture and anyway it’s not like The West didn’t burn “witches” who were merely women who questioned the Patriarchy and no one stepped in back then and forced feminism on us and we found our way to it eventually.

The issue isn’t whether “their culture is bad”. The issue is whether you have the moral standing to say whether “their culture is bad”. The US didn’t outlaw slavery until the 1800’s, you know. Not a lot of moral high ground to be found. We had segregated schools until the 50’s! And don’t get me started with the genocide we committed against the Native Americans! Take the plank out of your eye before you try to help the Middle East with the mote in theirs! Anyway, Israel, which we support, is totally committing apartheid against the Palestinians.

And so on.

43

Doctor Slack 04.11.06 at 12:12 am

Jaybird:

Hey, I’ve heard of a parallel universe that gets no news from South Dakota and where everyone left of Attila the Hun thought the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas was hunky-dorey. It’s called “talk radio.” Maybe you should try one of the classic rock stations instead. Just a thought.

It’s also kind of funny that you imagine “the Left isn’t frothing enough about X” constitutes “cogent analysis” of when to go to war. Not funny “ha-ha,” mind you, but… funnny.

44

lurker 04.11.06 at 2:29 am

Jesus Christ on a titanium pogo stick!

Can’t you folks draw a line? Heavens! Even your great-grandpas drew lines left, right, and centre! Neat straight lines to top it. Euclid would be very proud of his desecendants.

Democracy, Moral Relativism, Englightenment, Blah! Blah! Can’t you keep those great and good stuff to yourselves?

Just get the hell back into your rich and multicultural paradises in the northwest quarter, said part of the world map founded upon intellectual certainities and unassailible political moralities and leave us to indulge in ingestion, digestion, excretion and fornication. We the wreteched don’t deserve you. Thank you, but no thank you.

I am sick and tired of the West raping the Rest. Been going on for centuries and none is the better for it. Screw yourselves. We’ll die or live. None of your bloddy business.

45

Brendan 04.11.06 at 2:41 am

Jaybird

you are mad.

I just thought you ought to know that.

46

abb1 04.11.06 at 4:07 am

…also appears that some people here view the enlightenment as an occasion for merely substituting the “divine rights of kings” concept with that of “divine rights of democracies”. Just can’t function without worshipping something, I guess.

47

Martin James 04.11.06 at 10:20 am

Lurker,

Any particular continent you most want the West to stay out of?

48

lemuel pitkin 04.11.06 at 10:46 am

Jaybird,

Katha Pollit in the Nation wrote repeatedly about teh Taliban’s treatment of Afghani women in the years before September 11. I challenge you to find another major columbist — right, center, or respectable elft — who was half as engaged.

And yet she’s also concerned about the theocons here — go figure!

49

Jaybird 04.11.06 at 11:12 am

Doctor Slack, I’m not saying that the Left isn’t frothing enough about X.

What I am saying is that the frothing of the Left is not intended to result in action being taken.

Lemuel, I am well aware that KP railed against the Taliban’s treatment of women for years before 9/11. I am an ex-subsciber of The Nation. What I find interesting is what The Nation did *AFTER* 9/11 and went into Afghanistan. The attitude was *NOT* “finally! The government is doing something about this issue I’ve been yelling about!” It was, instead, complaints something like “Oh, so *NOW* you’re interested?”

My problem with “the left” is that it seems that their views on rights have “the culture” as where rights are held. You see it in statements like “you shouldn’t force Iraq to be a democracy”. I hold that rights are held by the individual, not by the culture and, as such, my views are that it’s not an issue of forcing Iraq to be a democracy, but forcing the government of Iraq to stop being totalitarian.

On top of that, the view that cultures somehow have rights is never extended to the cultures contained in the US. (Maybe the culture of South Dakota says that abortion is wrong! Should we really be forcing South Dakota to hold our so-called “enlightened” views on women’s reproductive rights?)

Brendan: I am well aware, thanks.

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lemuel pitkin 04.11.06 at 11:26 am

Jaybird,

If Pollit thinks only cultures have rights, why was she talking about the treatment of individual Afghani women? And if Pollit (one of the most widely read writers in the most widely read left magazines) isn’t the left, then who is?

“you shouldn’t force Iraq to be a democracy”: who said this, exactly? I have heard many people say, “you can’t force Iraq to be a democracy,” but that — I hope you’d agree — is a very different claim.

Finally, on Afghanistan: there were many huge protests and rallies against the Iraq war. Against Afghanistan? Hardly at all. So is it maybe possible that we on the left can make some distinctions and are not, after all, just reflexive America-haters?

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Jaybird 04.11.06 at 11:38 am

Lemuel, what was Pollitt’s attitude toward the US getting rid of the Taliban? I’m sure we both devoured the same magazines in the months both preceeding and following 9/11. It was even especially covered in that jaw-dropping column where she explains that “The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war.”

Let’s look at the paragraph:
“Bombing Afghanistan to “fight terrorism” is to punish not the Taliban but the victims of the Taliban, the people we should be supporting. At the same time, war would reinforce the worst elements in our own society–the flag-wavers and bigots and militarists. It’s heartening that there have been peace vigils and rallies in many cities, and antiwar actions are planned in Washington, DC, for September 29-30, but look what even the threat of war has already done to Congress, where only a single representative, Barbara Lee, Democrat from California, voted against giving the President virtual carte blanche.”

I repeat your question to you: “And if Pollit (one of the most widely read writers in the most widely read left magazines) isn’t the left, then who is?”

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lemuel pitkin 04.11.06 at 11:57 am

Huh. You make an interesting point.

Anyway, I was cautiously in favor of the war in Afghanistan, and strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. So there’s a least one of us.

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Jaybird 04.11.06 at 12:27 pm

Dude, I am not trying to say that every member of “the left” is bad. That’s crazy talk.

What I am saying, however, is that I have regularly seen the refusal to give the benefit of the doubt to the US by “the left” when the same benefit of the doubt is given to others.

I’d call it “false consciousness” but, well… that’d be just too cute.

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abb1 04.11.06 at 1:06 pm

There’s nothing to give the benefit of the doubt to – if you’re against the bombings. You can be simultaneously against stoning of women and against bombings, there is no contradiction here.

One sure way to end the stonings of women is to wipe out all the humans off this planet. If you don’t like this solution it doesn’t necessarily make you a Taliban-sympatiser.

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Doctor Slack 04.11.06 at 4:38 pm

What I am saying is that the frothing of the Left is not intended to result in action being taken.

I’m sorry, but your tacit assumption that “action = war” does not qualify as cogent analysis. Certain events in recent years should just maybe have clued you into this.

Lemuel, what was Pollitt’s attitude toward the US getting rid of the Taliban?

More importantly, was Pollitt’s attitude self-evidently crazy or hypocritical, at least one and probably both of which you appear to be trying to imply?

In answer to “self-evidently crazy,” I’d say no. On the plus side, Afghanistan hasn’t turned out as terribly as Iraq (though that isn’t saying much). On the other hand, the actual action changed the Taliban-to-non Taliban warlord ratio, upped opium production and stuck the Mayor of Kabul on top like a cherry on a sundae, legitimating the whole process with a couple of cosmetic elections and in the process killing at least as many people as died on 9-11 (that being just from the brief air war). And it proved the opening gambit in an assault on the Middle East and Central Asia that now looks set to extend, with probably catastrophic results, to Iran.

People like Pollitt were in a decided minority of leftists at that time in opposing the Afghanistan venture; with rare exceptions, even those who had misgivings mostly didn’t voice them. And events may yet prove them right and the rest of us “reasonable” folks wrong on the issue, perhaps even as disastrously wrong as the so-called “decents” were about Iraq. (Will that rekindle my desire for a subscription to Adbusters Probably no. But I can’t discount the possibility.)

On the hypocrisy front: is there reason to believe that Pollitt would have cheered on, say, Russia or India if either of the latter had launched a war in response to a terrorist attack? I somehow doubt it. Is there reason to believe, however, that there are leftist groups who would be less hard on non-Western actors than American ones? Sure.

But then, since the numbers of such leftists are relatively minor, it’s hard to see why you would bring them up as a significant factor in cogent analysis. Especially at a time when their influence is negligible compared to the broad swath of “clash of civilizations” junkies who have since made an industry of refusing to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt in circumstances where they’d readily extend it to others.

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Jaybird 04.11.06 at 5:27 pm

Doctor Slack, how do you suggest we take care of Darfur?

Let’s take “killing people” off of the table.

What do you suggest?

(And I was not the one who brought up Pollitt, I merely responded when someone else brought her up. When I think of “The Left”, I’m a lot more likely to think of Kos/Drum/CT than The Nation.)

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soru 04.11.06 at 5:32 pm

Especially at a time when their influence is negligible compared to the broad swath of “clash of civilizations” junkies who have since made an industry of refusing to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt in circumstances where they’d readily extend it to others.

Can I ask what country you are talking about? I’m guessing USA, but as you are using universal unqualified language, and the topic is a UK newspaper article, it’s hard to be sure.

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Jaybird 04.11.06 at 6:14 pm

” On the other hand, the actual action changed the Taliban-to-non Taliban warlord ratio, upped opium production and stuck the Mayor of Kabul on top like a cherry on a sundae, legitimating the whole process with a couple of cosmetic elections and in the process killing at least as many people as died on 9-11 (that being just from the brief air war). And it proved the opening gambit in an assault on the Middle East and Central Asia that now looks set to extend, with probably catastrophic results, to Iran.”

So my followup question to this statement is:

Do you mean to say that we should not have overthrown the Taliban?

If so, what should we have done rather than going to war against the Taliban?

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Doctor Slack 04.11.06 at 6:50 pm

Jaybird: how do you suggest we take care of Darfur? . . . Let’s take “killing people” off of the table.

I couldn’t honestly do so, since I support intervention in Darfur along with broadly supporting the measures that HRW has been recommending for months. (Admittedly how the US fits into this is much more of a question mark for me now than it would have been in the Nineties.)

Opposing militarism does not mean opposing all applications of the military. Do you understand the difference?

Do you mean to say that we should not have overthrown the Taliban?

I’m not nearly on the point of disavowing the mission in Afghanistan, but this is mainly because of the close ties the Taliban regime had with al-Qaeda, not because I see the present state of affairs as all that promising. I’m simply saying that opposing it was not a sign of obvious madness. Should the Afghan mission end in strategic failure — which isn’t impossible — it could prove unfortunately prescient.

When I think of “The Left”, I’m a lot more likely to think of Kos/Drum/CT than The Nation.

Then your remarks are even more disingenuous.

soru: Can I ask what country you are talking about?

No specific country, since “clash of civilizations” enthusiasm crosses national borders, though emphases and specific dynamics vary.

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Jaybird 04.11.06 at 9:03 pm

One of the best ways to measure success in Afghanistan, for me, is the whole refugee situation. Under the Taliban, there was a *HUGE* amount of refugees created. They ran to Iran and Pakistan, mostly.

After we started killing the Taliban in earnest, the refugees started flooding back in to Afghanistan.

They willingly left Afghanistan because they thought that life in a crappy refugee camp would be better than life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Once we got rid of the Taliban, they came flooding back.

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/trade.center/refugee.map.html has one of the maps for this.

Pointing out that getting rid of the Taliban resulted in warlords and opium and other bad things seems to ignore the *HUGE* difference that was made: People ran away for their lives leaving everything behind because of the Taliban and they did so by the millions. The warlords and the opium and the other bad things have not done so.

If our policies result in millions of refugees being created (when, before, there were none), then that will mean something significant with regards to the success/failure of what we are doing.

With regards to Iraq, remember the 400,000 refugees that our war over there was supposed to create in the first few months?

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Doctor Slack 04.11.06 at 9:45 pm

Many of the Afghan refugees returned because Iran and Pakistan seized on the fall of the Taliban as an excuse to forcibly repatriate them (particularly in the case of Iran) and to seal their borders to any further refugees who might be fleeing conflict and instability in Afghanistan. (Both countries had, somewhat understandably, gotten heartily sick of hosting multiple millions of refugees with virtually no support from the international community.) Since the returned refugees have nowhere else to go, despite the fact that many faced serious problems on return (in many cases apparently finding that Kabul was basically the only secure area of the country), obviously the latest conflict there isn’t going to create millions of new refugees (at least not internationally). Using tis as a measure of “success” seems stupid to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t deny that many probably did return, at least in the initial instance, out of genuine optimism. And as pathetic as the Mayor of Kabul’s standing may seem, at least Kabul is a reasonably secure centre in a way that can’t be said of, say, Baghdad. But if I’m not prepared to completely condemn what’s happened in Afghanistan, I’m not waving my pom-poms just yet, either. Sorry.

With regards to Iraq, remember the 400,000 refugees that our war over there was supposed to create in the first few months?

Yeah. I also remember people predicting that the Iraq War would lead to chemical weapons attacks on Israel which would retaliate with nukes etc. Didn’t happen.

Speaking of failed predictions: Remember the WMDs we were supposed to find? The oil revenues that were supposed to pay for rebuilding? The stable pro-Western democracy that was supposed to emerge in “cakewalk”? The civil war that wasn’t supposed to happen, but is?

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Doctor Slack 04.11.06 at 10:09 pm

(Incidentally, some 1.3 million people are estimated to have been internally displaced in Iraq since the beginning of the war.)

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Steven Poole 04.12.06 at 6:56 am

Thanks for the link, guys.
Commenters here may be able, with some inventive effort, to read a charitable gloss into Kamm’s words, but I was responding to what he has actually written.
Best wishes,
SP

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Jaybird 04.12.06 at 10:21 am

Reading that link, it looked like Iran and Pakistan were well into the whole “send them back” thing well before September 11th. The part of the article that says that Iran was asking for either work permits or proof that the people leaving were being persecuted (as if “I walked here from hundreds of miles away” were not proof enough) seems to indicate to me that they were attempting repatriation beforehand.

And the war actually reduced the number of refugees, it didn’t increase it.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=11505&Cr=afghanistan&Cr1=

Indicates that 3 million out of 4.6 million refugees have returned home. That’s 2 out of 3.

http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/2/428EBE73-0D51-4C9C-B0A7-A53236A41A4D.html

says:

“We are still not 100 percent there, but to a large part, Afghanistan is becoming safe enough to return to,” he said. “We have seen last year, again, substantial repatriation. In round [figures], 300,000 to 600,000 from Iran, 300,000 from [Pakistan]. It adds up to three million people [since the fall of the Taliban regime].”

UNHCR figures show a proportional fall in the number of Afghan asylum seekers in the West.

Is the issue really one as simple as “we killed the Taliban but it’s 2003 and the country isn’t stable yet!”? What would you have seen as a reasonable, attainable timetable for making Afghanistan more livable than under the Taliban? A year?

If, before the war, you were told that one of the costs of the war would be a country that the UNHCR wouldn’t find safe enough to return to for 3 1/2 years, would you find that price too high?

It seems to me that it’s taken a little over 4 years to make Afghanistan a country that is tolerable for millions, rather than one that is intolerable for millions.

I ask “what should have been done instead?”

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Doctor Slack 04.12.06 at 11:05 am

Reading that link, it looked like Iran and Pakistan were well into the whole “send them back” thing well before September 11th.

The pressure had been building for some time — Iran, for instance, had suspended government benefits to Afghan refugees in the mid-1990s as part of a general push-back — but the article pertains largely to events following the toppling of the Taliban and the pseudo-“voluntary” repatriation programmes that resulted. (The border closures did precede this by a few months and would probably have happened whether or not the Taliban regime had folded.)

Again, I’m not denying that the UNHCR has done the best it can in the circumstances it has to work with. But that’s a separate question from whether the number of repatriated refugees is a viable measure of success in Afghanistan.

Is the issue really one as simple as “we killed the Taliban but it’s 2003 and the country isn’t stable yet!”

Actually, from what I can glean from the human rights reportage that periodically emerges, it’s 2006 and the country isn’t stable yet. At least if one believes those provincial Afghans who are periodically quoted as saying their lives have not materially improved and they hate the warlords (see numerous examples from a few months ago here for instance). Which one would think is something of a problem, yeah, and perhaps a problem that derives from the decision to empower and legitimize a group of drug-dealing warlords as the de facto government for the bulk of the country.

What were the alternatives to doing so? Well, it might have been nice if that much-ballyhooed Marshall Plan for Afghanistan had actually materialized instead of, say, the Iraq War. Of course, that would have taken serious planning, follow-through and a commitment of both human and material resources — not to mention some of those pansy liberal virtues like learning about and working within Afghan culture — and we know the Bushistas don’t do that sort of thing, so it’s basically moot to bring it up. Given that, the real redeeming feature of the action would be the operational value of its breakup of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The jury remains out on that, since we really don’t know enough about the Global War and Struggle on Terror and Against Violent Extremism (or whatever it’s called these days) to assess how necessary full-scale war really was to such an objective or how significant Bin Laden’s apparent escape really was.

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Doctor Slack 04.12.06 at 11:44 am

Again, I’m not denying that the UNHCR has done the best it can in the circumstances it has to work with.

To be clearer, I find it difficult to assess, with the information I have, the relative weight to place on positive and negative accounts of current conditions in Afghanistan and the degree of accuracy that can be attributed to, say, outgoing High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers’ speeches. Given the push-factors plainly involved from both Pakistan and Iran, however, I’m simply not convinced that raw numbers of repatriations are a useful metric in themselves.

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Jaybird 04.12.06 at 2:20 pm

What useful metrics are there, then?

Saying that The Taliban was bad but the Warlordism is just as bad doesn’t seem to measure anything at all. Pointing out the poppy fields as a sign of decline in Afghanistan doesn’t particularly move me either… at least not in the negative direction. (People are finding work! They’re cultivating a product and selling it! Hurray!)

Can we say that since fewer people are walking miles and miles in crappy shoes to get to crappy camps for an indefinite period of time in order to stay alive that the people in the country think that they’re better off?

If we can’t even say that, then what useful metrics are there?

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Doctor Slack 04.12.06 at 3:09 pm

What useful metrics are there, then?

Actually, that’s a good question. I think the most convincing approach I’ve seen has been this one. (According to CSIS some things have improved since the war, but corruption and impunity by regional officials, rampant criminality, a thinly-stretched infrastructure and a short-term dependence on the unsustainable poppy cash crop remain serious problems.)

People are finding work! They’re cultivating a product and selling it! Hurray!

And you were trying to accuse “the left” of being superficial?

Jesus.

Can we say that since fewer people are walking miles and miles in crappy shoes to get to crappy camps for an indefinite period of time in order to stay alive that the people in the country think that they’re better off?

I don’t see what’s so difficult to grasp about this. If you’re going to use the refugees as a means of talking up how wonderful things are in Afghanistan, you have to be able to speak accurately about why they moved back, and why they stay where they are. If people are merely staying put in Afghanistan because they were forced to leave Pakistan and have the foreknowledge that an attempt to return would be futile, or worse than futile, then what can it possibly mean to call them “better off”? If the “number of refugees” was reduced because Iran and Pakistan seized on the war as an opportunity to repatriate them and to call the repatriation “voluntary,” then what can it possibly mean to call this a metric of “success”?

Similarly, if in one instance we have boilerplate rhetoric from Ruud Lubbers, in another research that indicates a considerable anti-refugee push in the two main countries concerned, and in another reportage from Afghans in the provinces that things really haven’t changed all that much… then we have at least some reason to believe that Lubbers’ fine speeches about the number of people UNHCR has repatriated are papering over some more complicated realities.

I realize this is inconvenient for the cheerleading, which of course is what you’re really looking for and which I suspect is the standard by which you judge whether this or that member of “the Left” is being unfair to America. But not to put too fine a point on it, that’s your problem. My problem is to figure out, from limited means and sources, what exactly is going on in Afghanistan, and that’s not going to happen by using numbers of refugees as some kind of magic rhetorical balm.

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Jaybird 04.12.06 at 5:28 pm

I am not asking for cheerleading.

I am saying that it looks like much of the carping on “The Left” is not helpful.

If they want to say that Afghanistan was not helped by the War (as it seems that you are implying… at least, you’re saying that we don’t have a way to measure whether it’s better), then it’s fair to ask them what we should have done otherwise.

They tend to react to such questions the way war supporters react to questions about why they haven’t enlisted.

As for the refugees, I am not saying that every single person who went back did so voluntarily… but it seems to me that there are much fewer people desperate enough to try to walk to Pakistan on foot the way that there were under the Taliban. Had the Pakistanian/Iranian refugee repatriatization programs been more vigorous than the Taliban’s Refugee Creation program, it would have shown up in Amnesty International or HRW or something. It hasn’t.

This is not “cheerleading” the war in Afghanistan. It’s recognizing the political realities that followed 9/11, looking at the realistic options that were on the table, and being thrilled that we’re actually able to discuss whether Afghanistan is better off, rather than wondering when it will once again be habitable. More than that, the argument that Afghanistan is *MUCH* better off in places and merely “just as bad” in others is a defensible one.

More than that, I think that it’s a lot more likely now that Afghanistan will be in a better place in 10 years than if we had done nothing.

There are still problems… but I have not seen a suggestion that would not have problems after implementation. I don’t see how these problems are worse than the ones left by sanctions, say.

As for measuring what is going on, my problem with your solution is the same as my criticism of failing to give the US the benefit of the doubt. Had we done nothing in Afghanistan, do you think that any of the problems you mentioned (“corruption and impunity by regional officials, rampant criminality, a thinly-stretched infrastructure and a short-term dependence on the unsustainable poppy cash crop”) would be lessened if we left the Taliban in charge? Maybe the poppy “problem” (though I still don’t understand why the poppy “problem” is a problem).

An example from the report:
“Power, roads, water, and dependable communications are inadequate, especially in rural areas in Afghanistan.”

Exactly how is this any different than how the country would look under the Taliban? It seems to me that now that the Taliban is gone, there’s actually a real shot at improving infrastructure where there wasn’t before.

Is pointing that out “cheerleading”?

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Doctor Slack 04.12.06 at 8:03 pm

If they want to say that Afghanistan was not helped by the War . . . then it’s fair to ask them what we should have done otherwise.

You have the problem backwards. If someone wants to claim that Afghanistan was helped by the war, but can’t really demonstrate this, saying “it would have been the same under the Taliban” is irrelevant, and trying to claim that those of “the Left” who opposed it were crazy or morally incoherent for doing so is cmopletely unconvincing. If the best you can manage on that score is “well gosh, it wouldn’t have been any better under the Taliban,” you don’t have much of a case.

Unless and until that changes (and hopefully it does), the only relevant consideration to me — and the reason I’m not yet convinced that those who opposed the action in Afghanistan were right to oppose it — is the operational justification, its efficacy in breaking up and deterring terrorism. On this score I still think it’s possible that those who opposed the Afghan invasion were mistaken. I don’t think they’re crazy or hypocritical, and I don’t think the case is open and shut; I just hope that they’re wrong.

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Jaybird 04.13.06 at 10:26 am

This is one of my main assumptions:

Had we not overthrown the Taliban, life in Afghanistan would be the same in 2006 as it was in 2000.

If you don’t feel that that is a safe assumption, I’d like to know why. It’s the basic assumption I make when I compare Afghanistan now to Afghanistan in our alternate world where we didn’t invade.

It seems to me that the possibilities for Afghanistan are open wide, now. Before, under the Taliban, the possibilities were much more limited.

If you don’t even think that those assumptions are warranted, it’s no wonder we’re talking past each other.

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Doctor Slack 04.13.06 at 10:36 am

Had we not overthrown the Taliban, life in Afghanistan would be the same in 2006 as it was in 2000.

As I’ve already said, if the best thing you can manage to say is “it wouldn’t have been any better under the Taliban,” you’re basically not saying much of anything. Speculation about what the “possibilities” might or might not have been under the Taliban is even more nebulous and less convincing.

Try thinking of it this way. Say someone were to topple George W. Bush’s administration, killing several thousand people in the process, and then proceeds to govern the US more or less as incompetently as Bush. The excuse they offer for their actions is that at least America isn’t worse off and now the “possibilities are wide open.” What do you say to those people? Does their argument impress you?

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Jaybird 04.13.06 at 12:57 pm

One of the major differences I see between Afghanistan and the US is the whole “doing pretty much whatever you want” thing. In the US, I can do pretty much whatever I want. If Dubya was overthrown and replaced with Cheney, my life would be relatively unchanged. I could still go and do pretty much whatever I wanted. The set of things that I could do would remain pretty much unchanged.

In Afghanistan, however, that is not the case. There was a certain set of allowable things. The Taliban has since been overthrown. The set of allowable things is larger than it was under the old government. Women, overall, are better off now. Yes, there are still women in the country just as bad off. There are still men in the country just as bad off. Overall, however, things are better. The set of allowable things is larger than it was.

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