Sunday, May 08, 2005

PUBLIUS OVER AT LEGAL FICTION has a typically thoughtful and well-written post about his (her?) conflicting feelings about supporting democracy promotion in Iraq.

Yes, we did not invade to promote freedom and democracy. But even so, can the war evolve? Can it become about promoting freedom? We’ve got 1600 dead soldiers, and the thought that it was all for nothing is, as Samuel Johnson said of King Lear, “too horrid to be endured.” What I wanted to argue was that the sacrifice has raised the stakes. The sacrifice means that if we’re going to claim that the war is about democracy promotion, we need to mean it. That requires taking torture seriously, increasing foreign aid, taking a hard line on West Bank settlements, and asking for domestic sacrifices to fund the military and their families. Half-assing a war is obscene.

In other words, I wanted say that it’s time to get behind the war and make sure that these dead shall not have died in vain. Even if we never wanted this to happen, we now owe it to them to do the best we can.

Well, I tried to write that post – but something really bothered me about it. I was having trouble believing what I was writing. I mean, I really wanted to get behind the war, but something wouldn’t let me. When I read the post, my words sounded too much like a sappy, insincere Brooks column. I couldn’t figure out why – until I read the recently leaked UK July 2002 memo. And then I understood – I’m still too angry. It has nothing to do with being for or against the troops (which is an absurd dichotomy) – it has to do with the continuing resentment I have for the administration’s conduct in taking us to war.
Clinton would have been impeached for this – and he should have been. If true, these are serious accusations. You don’t lie about sending people to war. You don’t squander post-9/11 national unity to help your party in the midterm elections. It’s the lack of respect for our military that is most appalling. The idea that they cared so little for the sacrifices about to be made that they would twist intelligence, fail to plan for the occupation, and politicize war is thoroughly disgusting.

Anyway, that’s why I was having trouble writing that post. It’s not so much the war itself (people could disagree in good faith on that), it’s the lying, the carelessness, the politicization. It’s the lack of respect for human life. To ask a family to give up their husband or wife or son or daughter for something you know you’re lying about? To fix the intelligence and the facts? To incorporate it into the election cycle? Bush the Elder did the opposite in 1991 – he waited until after the election.
So this is the dilemma. I desperately want to succeed in Iraq. Our soldiers’ sacrifices should not be ignored and they have raised the stakes for all of us to take Iraq more seriously. At the same time, if the memo is true, the administration did a great wrong to all of us and they should bloody well pay for it. This memo (again, if true) is literally one million times more significant than Watergate. The administration should be denounced and punished for it.

Are these desires compatible, or do you have to give up on one of them for the greater good? I don’t know – I really don’t. I’d welcome your comments.
Okay, here are mine, for whatever they're worth. First, I should say that I am opposed to all war. I think that war by definition is destructive, not creative; and that nothing good can come out of war in the long run. The atrocities, the acts of savagery, the staggering and unimaginable grief and loss that we've all heard about since the war in Iraq started are not just "the kind of things that happen in war": they ARE war. That is what war IS. It's never anything different. How can any good come out of that?

My next sentence was going to be: "That said, I do believe it's possible for people of good faith to support a war in progress, even if they didn't want it initially, to try to make something good come out of it." But as I wrote it, I had the same sense Publius had: that I didn't believe what I was writing.

I simply don't believe that it's possible to make the deaths of thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians meaningful by continuing a war that was immoral from the start. And I feel that way even more strongly in the case of a war like this one, in Iraq, which was based on lies -- not misinformation, not half-truths, not misunderstandings, but lies. The reality that the Bush administration did not invade Iraq to promote democracy explains why that administration did not think beyond the toppling of Saddam Hussein. They wanted to get rid of Hussein because they hated him, because he had thumbed his nose at the U.S. for 12 years, because they couldn't control him anymore. His brutality had nothing to do with it.

My point: We cannot now bring democracy to a country whose people we have completely alienated and turned against us, precisely because we did not do the war the way we would have done it if democracy promotion had been our actual goal. The fact is, the choices Bush made about how to go about this invasion and occupation had very specific outcomes. And those outcomes -- like the insurgency, which grew out of control largely because far too few troops were sent; like the occupation, which has continued as long as it has because of the insurgency; like the staggeringly high civilian casualties, which has resulted from the insurgency and the occupation -- have led to resentment and anger and even hatred of Americans and of the U.S. presence that I do not believe can be turned around as long as U.S. troops continue to occupy Iraq.

As Carole King said in a very different context, "It's too late, baby." The only solution now is to get out.

No comments: