Thursday, April 03, 2003
If 9/11 made just war theory mutable, it became mutable for everyone, not just the US. It is a system that describes ethical behavior among nations. As the world changes and unexpected behavior emerges, the ethics of response will also change. The US has taken the lead on redefining ethics (ill-advisedly, in my judgment) in the new millennium, when aggression is committed not by nations but groups of individuals affiliated by religion or cause.
But the US’s action also unwittingly exposed something else: that we live in an age of enormous imbalance. This imbalance has existed for some years or decades (in Israel, for example), but it’s more obvious now that the cold war has ended. Just as the powerful nations look to confront terrorists or “rogue nations,” so the less powerful nations (and non-national groups) are also considering how to manage their weakness.
One of the conditions for war is the possibility of winning. In the year 2003, the rest of the world has been given a reminder that conventional war is never winnable against the United States. Because of the US’s new doctrine of unilateral pre-emption, other countries must consider that the war might be brought to them, whether they can win or not.
From this kind of imbalance—which is surely an unethical one—the just war theory will have to admit the possibility that something like attacks on civilians is ethical, if certain other conditions are met. When the President announced the policy of pre-emption and reserved for himself the decision of whether and whom to invade, did he consider that other countries would also be able to adjust their behavior in war? If the US, rather than making itself safer, actually created the environment in which terrorism is considered the only—and just—response, would it have invaded?
Things are changing. Much as the US was surprised to see stiff resistance in Iraq, it may well find that theories of war are unpredictable and changing. After this war ends, the US has its work cut out for it: to show the rest of the world that it is accountable, that it does still stand for democracy and liberty, and that it is willing to work in a collective way to defeat terrorism. Otherwise, ironically, it may actually create a world in which terrorism is the only response.
11:07 AM |
This next post was easily my most controversial of the war. The title pretty much telegraphs why.
Friday, April 04, 2003
“Support the troops”—but why?
I’m feeling controversial today. So how about this: why support the troops? Okay, because you don’t want to be beaten to death on a public street. But besides that?
I may or may not speak for a group of people who, like me, regard the military with suspicion. On the one hand, the need for a professional military, particularly when you’re a superpower, is well-established. On the other, there’s a whole group of us who don’t necessarily share the values, politics, or worldview of soldiers. In pubs, for example, we scuttle back to the longhairs rather than tarry at the bar talking to the guy in the crew cut who’s advocating invading France. All right, maybe he’s not a marine, but who can say?
I understand the ambivalence: there are kids in Iraq right now who are scared to death they’re going to die. There are kids who have died and maybe even some who are dying. They’ve got families at home who are worried sick about them. Some of them just joined up to get an education. Others are middle-aged professionals away from their professions and spouses and kids. It’s hard to not feel supportive of people in tough situations like that. We’re human; we’re compassionate.
But let’s look at the other side of the coin. We have a volunteer military, and everyone who joins is clear-eyed about what it means. It means you not only agree that the use of military force is a necessity, but you’re so convinced of it, you’re willing to die for that point. It’s not an accidental position. It’s a martial view of geopolitics. A perfectly legitimate one—the predominant one, in fact—but does mean that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.
But most significantly, to serve in the military means you’re willing to go to war for causes with which you don’t agree. When duty calls, the military is ready. Serving in the military isn’t participation in a consensual process. It couldn’t be, obviously. But again, it’s a choice freely made.
And then at the end of it all, there is yet a final choice: serving in the US military isn’t like serving in the Iraqi military. If you don’t want to fight, you can choose not to. It’s a difficult choice, because it means shame and prison. But you won’t be shot. Many people have made a similar choice, and served their time. If a soldier believed a war was truly unjust, going to prison would be a noble alternative.
The hawks flog the doves with this crap about not supporting the troops. By which they mean to emphasize one's deeply treasonous nature. But it is crap. The hawks flog everyone (including each other) with accusations of disloyalty. For me, the truth is the war is unjust, it may well have enormously negative effects, and has certainly resulted in the lost lives of innocents. And the people who are conducting the war are the troops—citizens who have made any number of active decisions that reflect their conviction that this war is a good thing. Support them? No. They’re wrong. (Which obviously does not mean I wish a single one would die.) We're all citizens, we all make our calls, and we don't always agree.
1:21 PM |
The war "ended" on April 10. This was one of those shadow milestones no one recalls. This is the post from that period.
Friday, April 11, 2003
Well. The war is over, but the spin is just beginning. If the fog of war was dense, then the fog of mop-up (and occupation) is impenetrable. In the fight to write history, we're hearing just about every possible opinion on the war--most of them in perfect, balanced opposition. For example, either: the war was a brilliant success or a catastrophe of poor planning that took 20 days longer than it should have; the Iraqis love Americans and greeted them as liberators or, except for a handful of dissenters who posed for the cameras, Iraqis despise the Americans and oppose the occupation; the war was a surgical example of targeted warfare, or the war was a bloody mess. And so it goes.
The truth? There is no truth, exactly, just spin. We'll never be able to know whether the war could have been a 100-hour job because we can't re-fight it using the Powell Doctrine instead of the Rummy Hypothesis. We'll never know if the Iraqis would have welcomed us as liberators had we not jammed the war down the world's throat. We may never know how many civilians were lost--and certainly won't have accurate numbers about dead soldiers.
The spin is pure politics.
The administration has made a huge gamble. It's betting that the resolution to this war will outweigh all the negatives--the aggressive diplomacy, the lies, and the faulty excuses it offered for invading. It's betting that it can impose democracy on a country divided by violent history, race, and creed. It's betting the war will ultimately lower passions, not raise them, in the region. It's betting other "evil" regimes will fear invasion and stand down. It's betting the American public will have the stomach to spend 20 billion dollars a years to rebuild the country. And it's betting that the rest of the world will look at what happened in Iraq and change their views about American foreign policy.
The spin is all about buying themselves time to see how the gamble turns out. My hope? At this point, now that there are thousands who have paid with their lives for this venture, I desperately hope the administration's right. I would love nothing more than to see the country flourish--after all, it's not the Iraqis who initiated this debacle. Sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reasons. I pray they do here. But I'll tell you, I look at the odds against it, and then I look at the resources of the administration who's attempting to make it happen, and I don't see how it can be done. Enforcing democracy? Enforcing democracy when in the US the administration is systematically trying to dismantle it? Navigating the extremely troubled waters of negotiation and diplomacy between Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias within the country and an angry world outside is difficult in any case, but this administration?
From where I sit, Bush has a better chance of winning the lottery than achieving his objectives in Iraq. No matter how good the spin.
11:21 AM |
There's more, but that's not bad for one month.