Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, March 31, 2006

RealClearPolitics entitles their link to Jonathan Freedland's latest piece in The Guardian: "Iraqis were better off under Saddam." I was pleased, because I thought a leftie was actually going to make the comparison between the current situation in Iraq and the situation under Saddam and argue that the Iraqis were better off under Saddam. Such an approach could be described as "critical thinking," a mode of discourse that has been monopolized by the right in recent years. In that case, Iraq could be a topic of some real debate.

No such luck. Freedland barely mentions Saddam, and makes no comparisons with his regime. Back to waiting.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH ON BLAIR'S LEGACY

Timothy Garton Ash argues in The Guardian that:

So let's play the guessing game. How will History - that old ventriloquist's dummy - judge Blair's legacy in foreign policy? When he goes, will he and his governments have left Britain with a better name in the world? My preliminary judgment is that he deserves to have and he should have, but I'm not sure that he will have - and this for one reason only: Iraq.


Why would Blair (minus Iraq) deserve this praise?

Take away Iraq, and I submit that the record of the Blair government in foreign policy would be overwhelmingly positive. Take away Iraq, and many of those who are deeply hostile to or cynical about British foreign policy would be more or less favourable to it. This includes many continental Europeans who, until the beginning of the Iraq war, were rather impressed by Blair's Britain...

Iraq overshadows the rest of British foreign policy. From the advocacy of humanitarian intervention to his G8 focus on climate change and Africa, from his support for economic reform in Europe to his broader agenda for responding to the challenge of globalisation, so much of what Blair says and tries to do in foreign policy is right and well said. You may object that, Clinton-style, delivery has limped behind soaring rhetoric, but that is a less fair criticism in foreign than in domestic policy. For to make a major difference abroad you have to move allies and larger international bodies, such as the EU, the G8, the WTO or the UN, and that's slow work.


Without Iraq, what would differentiate Blair from Chirac and Schroeder? Well, a lot, of course. He's more economically liberal. Because he's British. He's more pro-American, but then, pro-American noise is cheap. Without Iraq, his pro-American-ness wouldn't matter a lot.

Or, then again, without Iraq, what would differentiate Blair from Slick Willy? Ash's Clinton reference is revealing: Blair did resemble Clinton, for a while. It was in Iraq that he made his mark as a conviction politician, not just a talented triangulating blatherer. He showed that liberal society wasn't just convenient for him, he believed in it, he would fight to defend it.

Ash writes that Blair lost "hundreds of millions" of fans by going into Iraq. Maybe. But doing the right thing isn't always popular. How will history judge Tony Blair? It depends on whose history, of course. But without Iraq, history would hardly bother to judge Blair at all.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Should Bush pull out of Iraq to restore his popularity? The Wall Street Journal cites some interesting statistics suggesting that Iraq is driving the decline in his popularity:

The survey of 1,005 adults, conducted March 10-13, shows that a congressional candidate favoring withdrawal of all U.S. troops within a year would gain favor by a 50%-35%, while one who advocates staying "as long as necessary" would lose favor by 43%-39%. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

What makes those attitudes especially frustrating for Mr. Bush's party is that the poll shows resilience for the president on issues that Iraq has shoved into the background. Nine in 10 Americans back Mr. Bush's efforts against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, two-thirds approve his stance on the recently passed USA Patriot Act, and majorities express support for his Supreme Court appointments, Medicare prescription drug benefit and warrantless wiretaps by the National Security Agency.

Moreover, Americans have hardly embraced Democrats as an alternative. Eight months before Election Day, the Democratic Party draws positive ratings from just 32% of Americans, while 37% have a negative view of Mr. Bush's political adversaries. That's nearly as weak as the Republican Party's 34% positive rating and 43% negative one. Among political independents, negative views of the Democratic Party outweigh positive views by 38%-22%.


On domestic policy, I think there's an argument-- from the point of view of principle, not just political self-interest-- for following the polls, except when moral side-constraints come into play (for example, political leaders should always defend free speech, or habeas corpus, regardless of public opinion). Bill Clinton was a preference-aggregating president who did what the polls said was popular. It led him reasonably well on domestic policy, because all the interested parties are also voters and/or campaign donors.

On foreign policy, I generally think that politicians should follow their consciences and not the polls. Why? First because the interested parties are mostly foreigners whose voices are not included in polls; second because moral side-constraints come into play more frequently; but third because whereas the public, collectively, has very good information about domestic policy issues, they have poor information about foreign policy-- usually.

In the case of Iraq, however, the public has good information about Iraq at least in the sense that they follow the issue closely. Of course, the picture of Iraq portrayed by journalists is heavily slanted towards the negative and is flawed by bias and lack of perspective, but those are weaknesses of all public discourse. Also, America's investment in Iraq is higher and so Americans have a right to a greater say there. So in this case public opinion should have more of a say than in most foreign policy decisions. Americans have a right to say what their tax dollars should be spent on. And while, hierarchically, the US army obeys Bush, morally, it ultimately serves (mostly) the American people (though I think our soldiers, to their credit, also serve many ideals loftier than the mere national interest; but this remains secondary). For Bush to defy the will of the American people for a sustained period of time smacks of usurpation.

When the war began, it was backed by large majorities. Bush thought that overthrowing Saddam was the right thing to do-- I agree-- but also, there was no conflict, then, between his conscience and the duties of his office as a democratic leader. Toppling Saddam was the will of both the Iraqi and the American people. Today, it's still the will of the Iraqi people that the Americans stay, but that's no longer the will of the American people.

Opinions on Iraq may be divided between those which are based on a consideration of the counter-factual-- what Iraq is like now compared to what it would be like if Saddam were still in power-- and those (the vast majority) who don't. The opinions of the latter are junk, with no value whatsoever. Reams and reams of very self-assured editorial space argues, in effect, "The situation in Iraq is BAD!!!!!" as if there were alternative scenarios under which Iraq would be as peaceful and prosperous as Connecticut and it's Bush's fault that it's not. The subtext of this argument is that if we hadn't invaded Iraq, the Iraqi people would still be suffering, but we wouldn't know about it, and so we wouldn't feel sympathy and the resulting sense of responsibility. These people wish they could go on using Saddam's tyranny as a blindfold, protecting them from the uncomfortable knowledge of how many of their fellow men live. One of the most disturbing aspects of the Iraq War is how many pundits turned out to be so uncritical and opportunist as to succumb to this line of reasoning.

Commentators who consider the counter-factual, who compare Iraq to what it was and would have been, generally come from the right and are Iraq War supporters, but while I find the opinion that the Iraqi people would be better off with Saddam in power than they are now hard to defend, those who believe this in good conscience deserve respect.

In any case, the American people have a point. There's only one superpower, and the opportunity cost of devoting so much of the superpower's attention and resources to one medium-sized Middle Eastern country is high. Three years ago, there was only one Iraq: one murderous totalitarian regime that was defying UN resolutions and that could be overthrown with limited loss of life, while advancing the war on terror. Now there are many Iraqs: many countries with weak states and sectarian divisions, under-developed and threatened by terror. Iraq's uniqueness comes from its being a test case for democratic transformation, a symbol: but one must be wary of fighting for symbols.

To stage a withdrawal from Iraq now would require almost as much courage as it took to stage the initial invasion. The consequences of withdrawal for the Iraqi people could be grim, and certainly worse than if we stay, but on net we will be benefactors to Iraq regardless of what happens in the future. And the consequences for the world if the superpower allows itself to be seriously weakened-- if the center ceases to hold-- could be much worse.

That's what my head says. But my heart can't bear to see America turn its back on Iraq the Model and his democracy-loving compatriots. Hmm. I don't know...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

THE LAWS OF GOD VERSUS THE LAWS OF MEN

The latest chapter in a story that goes back to the Book of Daniel:

Near Tucson, Ariz., Maryada Vallet travels the desert in a pickup, stopping to not only feed undocumented border crossers, but to wash their blistered feet. It's a gesture from biblical accounts.

Such volunteer work, warns World Relief staff attorney Amy Bliss, could lead to federal prosecution if the House bill were to become law.

"Anyone who believes" in the biblical story of the gentile who stopped to help a wounded man, Vallet says, "should be outraged that ... the government is making it a crime to be a good Samaritan."

Roman Catholics, too, are concerned about the pending legislation. Some bishops have denounced it.

Earlier this month Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony went even further. At Ash Wednesday services, he called on Roman Catholics to embrace immigrants regardless of legal status.


Christians shouldn't be afraid of jail time for doing what is right; it happened to all the apostles. If the House passes their wicked "law", it shouldn't affect the behavior of Christians towards immigrants.

The stakes are high in the struggle for the right to migrate: America's soul.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fred Barnes is worried about the growing influence of the paleocons because he's afraid that the paleocons will hurt the GOP electorally. I'm worried about paleocon influence because paleocons are bad people who must be opposed. My ideal situation is that Pat Buchanan is more or less formally disavowed by the Republicans. I'd like to see a definitive schism in the Republican party. Paleocons really belong in the Democratic Party; that's the party of reaction and close-mindedness in America.

If the paleocons do increase their influence in the GOP, I'll have to switch sides and support the Democrats. But that would be unfortunate because the Democrats are a pretty sorry lot right now, whereas the Republicans represent a really nice blend of ideas. So I support Fred Barnes here, but for different reasons.

Monday, March 06, 2006

DEMOCRATS PAY THE PRICE FOR OPPOSING SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM

That's my maverick interpretation of the Democrats' troubles, described here:

At the Capitol in Hartford the other morning, State Senator Christopher Murphy denounced the "disastrous prescription drug benefit bill" embraced by his Republican opponent, Representative Nancy L. Johnson.

Jeff Latas, a Democratic candidate in an Arizona race, is talking about the nation's dangerous reliance on oil imports from the Middle East. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, says he is running against "the arrogance and cronyism" displayed by Washington Republicans.

And in New Mexico, Patricia Madrid, the state attorney general, is urging the United States to set a timetable for quitting Iraq.

"We have a lot to run on," said Ms. Madrid, who is trying to unseat Representative Heather A. Wilson.

These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.

But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.

And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994.

Interviews with Democratic challengers in contested districts suggest that the party is far from settling on an overarching theme that will work as well in central Connecticut as it does in central Colorado.

And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.

"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.

"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."


The Social Security program levies a regressive tax which falls heavily on the working poor, then pays more money out to middle-class and affluent elderly than to the poor. This is unjust and reactionary and any true, principled leftist party would relish the fight against The Lobbyist-- the AARP, Enemy #1 of America's Future-- which is hell-bent on sucking poor people's blood. It's impossible to reconcile the generous principles which the Democrats still feel define their party with the opportunistic and wicked stance they took on Social Security. So they have nothing left to say. It's a sad, sad, sad, sad story, for the Democrats and for America.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Arlen Specter's immigration bill sounds very interesting:

Specter wants to (1) create a temporary guest worker program that would allow hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill jobs in the United States for up to six years; and (2) allow millions of illegal immigrants who are already here to remain indefinitely, provided they register with the Department of Homeland Security, pay back taxes, abide by the law, and remain employed.


Specter's bill might put the squeeze on those illegal immigrants already in the US, as they faced new competition from better-legally-equipped guest-workers. If what we want is for some of the current batch to leave, this is probably the most effective way of doing it. Not that that's what I want, it's just an intriguing suggestion.

My preference is a combination of the Specter bill (a guest-worker program, and letting current illegal immigrants stay) and the McCain/Kennedy bill (letting immigrants pay $2,000 for permanent residence).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Healing Iraq has started blogging again. He's a secular-minded Sunni, a big supporter of the Iraq War and L. Paul Bremer back in 2003, but who has since become a lot less pro-American than Iraq the Model; less ideological, with an eye for detail and a knack for irony. Has produced some of the best writing out of Iraq that I've read. Take a look.

Healing Iraq's Sunni perspective is valuable because you sense the fear of the Shiite radicals... May the hopeful title of his blog, after many disappointments, be vindicated!

NO REGRETS

A grim portrayal of Iraq today at TomPaine.com:

With 1,300 dead Iraqis— and counting — since the bombing of the Golden Dome last week, Iraq remains poised at the precipice of destruction. It's anyone's guess as to whether the crisis will revert to its previous state of mere insurgency and grinding daily violence, or plunge into a multi-sided religious civil war. If the latter, a thousand more dead Iraqis each week — or more— might be a routine occurrence. Either way, however, one thing is clear. Already dead is the Bush administration's hope for a neat drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq as Election 2006 approaches. Voters who go to the polls in the United States in November will be staring directly into the face of the catastrophe of the Bush-Cheney Iraq policy...

It's a Mad Max world. It's rule by mob, by militia, by gangs and warlords and renegade mosque leaders. The Independent , the British daily, says that as many as 1,000 Iraqis are being tortured to death or executed, largely by Shiite militia forces and rogue police, army and Interior Ministry units...


As sad as this is, would you rather live in this Iraq, or under Saddam Hussein's regim. For me, it's a no-brainer: Give me liberty or give me death. A life living a lie, a 1984-like existence where you have to pay homage to a mass murderer and the ruin of your country if you don't want your family to be killed, is not worth living. Saddam killed so many people that I still think the war, on net, has saved human lives. But even if, in the end, it doesn't, to die in an Iraqi civil war is, from my point of view, which I think is shared by many Iraqis, 100 times better than to live under Saddam Hussein.

The independence of British India led to Partition, a grotesque spectacle in which millions of Muslims and Hindus were killed as a formerly integrated British Raj was ripped in two (India and Pakistan). Nonetheless, Indian independence is not generally regarded as a tragic mistake (though Partition really should engender more retrospective sympathy for imperialists like Churchill who wanted to hang on for a while). And the British Raj was very humane compared to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. If bloody partition is Iraq's future, that's still better than a continuation of Saddam Hussein's rule by any rational standard that I can think of off the top of my head.