Saturday, November 15, 2003

What's wrong with this war?

One of the things that supporters of the war in Iraq don't seem to realize is that what wrong with war and what's wrong with this war are not the same thing. Because they don't realize this they often make the mistake of assuming that people who oppose this war oppose all war. They then proceed to knock down this straw man by arguing that not fighting a war can result in more suffering than fighting one, often pointing to World War II to bolster their case.

That this is a mistake is easily seen by observing that support for the war in Afghanistan was vastly greater than support for the war in Iraq, so there must be significant numbers of people out there who supported the Afghan war but do not support the Iraq war. I am one such person. I am not so much against war as I am against this war. There are times when it is necessary to go to war. World War II after the German invasion of Poland was one of those times. Afghanistan was not so clear-cut, but I still came down on the side of invading at the time, though I am not in retrospect certain that my position was driven by principle so much as emotion and expediency. I can remember bursting into a spontaneous cheer when George Bush on the evening of September 11, 2001 said, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." I remember being very worried about Afghanistan spinning out of control, and being very impressed when it didn't. If we hadn't gotten distracted in Iraq I might be a George Bush supporter today. But we did, so I'm not.

When it comes to Iraq it's just clear as day that we didn't have any business being there this time. Yes, Saddam was a bad man (probably still is). Yes, that is a significant understatement. No, that does not make it right for us to start a war to get rid of him. If it did, why is there no talk of invading North Korea to depose Kim Jong Il? It can't be because Kim isn't a bad man; we know he is. He's killed more of his own people than Saddam ever did. He is much closer to having nuclear weapons than Saddam ever was. He is much closer to having the means of delivering those weapons to our territory than Saddam could ever hope to be. And he has made overt threats against us. Saddam never did. The idea that we invaded Iraq on principle is untenable in light of our spineless mamby-pambying on Pyongyang. Standing on principle only when it's convenient is not standing on principle, it's demagoguery.

We did not invade Iraq because it was the right thing to do, we invaded Iraq because we could. We invaded it not on principle but on expedience. And now we find what should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all George Bush whose own father prophesied it ten years before, that occupying Iraq isn't very expedient after all.

The Right, of course, is quick to raise the specter of Adolf Hitler. The problem is that they only have this specter to raise because Neville Chamberlain (and Stanley Baldwin before him) gave Hitler the opportunity to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Chamberlain had been wrong. The difference between Iraq and Germany is not the difference between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, it's the difference between 1933 and 1939. Imagine what the world might be like if Stanley Baldwin had launched a successful pre-emptive invasion of Germany in 1933, before there were any death camps, before the ghettos, before the invasion of Poland, before the Anschluss. At best we would not remember Adolf Hitler today not as the very personification of evil, but rather as a democratically elected leader who was deposed by force. At worst we would remember Baldwin as the villain who started World War II for no good reason.

The reason we had moral authority in World War II was precisely because we waited until Hitler demonstrated himself to be an actual threat. That's the reason we had moral authority in the first Gulf War too. We ceded our moral authority the day George Bush the elder failed to support the popular uprising against Saddam that happened in the wake of that war and at his behest. Thousands of Iraqis rose up to fight for their freedom and were left dangling in breeze by an indifferent Bush administration.

Porphyrogenitus, whose blog entry I cited earlier, writes that we have a blood debt to the Iraqis. That is true. But we cannot pay it off by invading and occupying their country, and we certainly can't pay it off by exhibiting contempt for them in the process. If we're serious about paying off this debt, then getting on our hands and knees and begging them to forgive us for betraying them ten years ago would be a good start.

But of course, we won't do that. because this war isn't about principle, and never was.

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