Towards A Good Samaritan World

Sunday, May 15, 2005


The end of World War II has put the spotlight on Stalin and the Soviet Union, and with it it raises the question of how the world would be different today if the war of intervention against the Bolshevik Revolution had succeeded. The Bolsheviks anticipated all the worst aspects of the Nazi regime-- concentration camps, purges, terror, scapegoating a class of "enemies," the cult of the leader, using a party machine as an apparatus of oppression, economic isolation, even invading Poland, though unlike the Nazis, they failed in this last endeavor. The Nazis both emulated the Communists and used the Communist threat as leverage to make Germany's conservative establishment entrust power to them. Mussolini emulated Lenin and was a model for Hitler in turn. Indeed, even the slogans of Hitler and Stalin-- "national socialism" and "communism in one country"-- evidence the parallel. The Bolsheviks created the moral climate in which Nazism could emerge, but the Nazis did not surpass them in criminality: the Soviet regime slaughtered 25 to 30 million people.

I bring this up because the sheer nihilism of the Iraqi insurgency suggests to me a comparison with the Bolshevik Revolution. James Bennett writes of "the mystery of the Iraqi insurgency":

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government.

After the success of the elections, after the formation of a government, after the smashing of the insurgency, the violence in Iraq is accelerating again. A sort of hybrid regime has developed there, liberal democratization alloyed with military colonialism, but it doesn't have a police apparatus or depth of legitimacy adequate to deter mindless violence.

I supported the war in Iraq because I believed that the sanctions made us morally responsible for the deaths of too many Iraqis; that we had to choose either war and regime change or else lifting the sanctions; and that while Saddam wasn't much of a threat as it was, he would quickly become one if the sanctions were loosened. Regime change was the only way to uphold our national security without continuing to resort to unconscionable means. I also thought, actually, that the prospects for democracy in Iraq were good, but this was based on a sort of abstract reasoning and "lessons from history" in which I was loath to place much confidence.

The situation has changed, and the moral justification for staying in Iraq has changed with it. I don't think we're responsible for bringing peace and security to Iraq, just because we overthrew the regime. That smashing an insurgency as bloodthirsty and nihilistic as that in Iraq is a just cause, beyond all question, but it's not really our cause. The question should be: Given our (increasingly) scarce military resources, is this the best place to serve the welfare of mankind? Or should we be in Darfur instead, trying to bring an end to genocide there? Should we bring the boys home, let the military lick its wounds, and in so doing, create a credible threat that can be applied elsewhere.

I don't think we should stay in Iraq just to prove that America always wins. The trouble is that we've let our rhetoric raise the stakes of victory indefinitely. We already won the war. We wanted to remove Saddam; Saddam's gone. We wanted to transfer sovereignty; sovereignty has been transferred. We wanted to hold elections; elections have taken place. If establishing complete civil peace is one of the criteria of victory, then any maniac with a bomb can "defeat" the world's superpower at will.

But when you look at the sheer evil that the insurgents so unmistakably embody, the lack even of any noble purpose for which they wreak so much destruction other than (for a few of them) the utopian dream of a restored caliphate, we may be facing a new gang of Bolsheviks. And that brings us back to the question: would it have been better if the intervention against the Bolshevik revolution had succeeded? Did the western powers make a mistake by not intervening against the Bolsheviks more vigorously and effectively, and really defeating them? The answer to that question, I just don't know.


  • I supported the war in Iraq because I believed that the sanctions made us morally responsible for the deaths of too many Iraqis

    Wow, a creditable, but seldom used, justification for the war.

    You know, you'd get a lot more comments if you'd actually say something a lot less well thought out. As it is, it's rather difficult to find anything worthwhile to add...

    By Anonymous Tom West, at 8:53 PM  

  • Did the western powers make a mistake by not intervening against the Bolsheviks more vigorously and effectively, and really defeating them? The answer to that question, I just don't know.

    That one will be debated for centuries. Because Roosevelt was old and ailing, Stalin got by with a lot more than he might have otherwise. Bush, OTOH, is young and robust...these accidents of fate and character do make a crucial difference.

    The Soviets and the Islamic terrorists both believe(d)in a Utopia, something that Christianity has flirted with and rejected, as has Judaism. Socialism is essentially utopian. And thus essentially wrong because unattainable.

    It would be a mistake to pull out of Iraq right now. The Grand Mufti is telling the Saudis to stay home and let the Iraqis finish the fight. The Iraqi Sunnis are coming on board. More and more of the country is becoming stabilized.

    The various uproars in other parts of the Middle East will sort themselves out but our presence is crucial to that process. The Lebanese were sure we'd let them down as we had previously but we didn't.

    Two things we must do: stay the course and refuse to appease.

    By Blogger Dymphna, at 4:37 PM  

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