Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, October 30, 2006


Hmm. I wish this hostile commenter on my last post would name himself; I'd be interested in finding out who "Anonymous" is.

The Professor has been in denial for several years on Iraq, a denial
which origin is in his assumption
a priori of American goodness.Arrogance unnoticed by the
arrogant is egregious. Ash is so much his superior it ain't funny.

No, I have no a priori assumption of American goodness. America can do bad things to: like support Saddam in his war against Iran, and then leave him in power for thirty years, and then, near the end, exacerbate the plight of the Iraqi people through cruel sanctions. I'm not a professor, by the way.

Let's instruct as to why: the 450.000-650,000 innocents killed far outweigh, per time occupied,Saddam's killing of Iraqis when extrapolated in proportion to Saddam's rule. The US becomes even more culpable when its complicity in Saddam's attack on Iran is figured in.

Even Ash makes it clear he doesn't believe the figures that Anonymous confidently quotes. Oh yes, and Anonymous assumes that the Iraqis killed were all "innocents." Really? No insurgents or terrorists killed at all, eh? Since the killing has probably been done more by insurgents and terrorists and ethnic gangs, there is some complexity in distributing the blame. Perhaps America had some responsibility to stop it (though even this can be disputed I think) and certainly our actions created the conditions in which the killing could occur, but the primary blame must go to those who actually commit murder, not to those who fail to stop it.

What does seem to be the case is that the claim that the Iraq War saved net human lives is much more tenuous than it was two years ago. It is likely that the war has killed Iraqis at a faster rate than Saddam's regime and the sanctions combined. If the war culminates in a more humane regime, future lives saved (relative to the Saddamist alternative) may make up for lives lost; also, it may be that the Baathist regime had to end sometime, and its end would have resulted in ethnic breakdown and civil war in any case. But this is speculation. It seems that a price has been paid in Iraqi lives (and the lives of American soldiers, though far fewer of those) for... well, for increased freedom in the short run, in the long run for we don't know what.

Is it worth it? There are, of course, other things in the world that are valuable besides life. Something must be conceded to "Give me liberty or give me death." There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would prefer to live, or die, in today's Iraq than the Iraq of four years ago. Were I living under the rule of Saddam (or Stalin, or Hitler) and I was offered a choice-- we can turn your country into a free country where you can speak your mind, but you'll have a 3% chance of dying in the process-- I would agree. I would agree if there were a 70% chance of my own death. This might sound quixotic to Americans, but not to Iraqis, who value freedom more because they lacked it for so long.

Further all polls taken of Iraqis reveal, since 2004, consistently,
dominant majority approval (now 64%) of attacks on US troops. The
professors claims of "democracy" turn in on themselves, as, democratically the majority of Iraqis want US troops dead.

It's true that the latest poll shows the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on US forces, which is a bit odd in view of their other opinions. As the poll report observes:

Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like U.S.-led forces withdrawn 'within six months,' while another 34 percent opt for “gradually withdraw[ing] U.S.-led forces according to a one-year timeline.” Twenty percent favor a two-year timeline and just 9 percent favor 'only reduc[ing] U.S.-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.'... Support for attacks against U.S.-led forces has increased sharply to 61 percent (27% strongly, 34% somewhat). This represents a 14-point increase from January 2006, when only 47 percent of Iraqis supported attacks... Naturally the question arises: If only one in three Iraqis favors a U.S. withdrawal in the shortest possible time frame of six months, why then is support for attacks on U.S.-led forces as high as 61 percent?

Iraqis seem to take a somewhat cynical and Machiavellian view on this, understandably perhaps in view of their dark history: they think the US wants to stay and establish permanent bases, which they oppose, but they don't want an immediate withdrawal. They believe, quite wrongly, that the US would not withdraw if a democratic Iraqi government asked it to. Attacks on US forces make them more likely to leave eventually. (Of course, some Iraqis may approve of attacks on US forces simply because insurgents who are attacking US forces aren't attacking Iraqis, and are more likely to get killed.)

That's why I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether they want us to stay. If these polls are any indication, they'll vote for us to leave, and would be impressed and surprised when we actually did so, perhaps looking on us more favorably as a result. They might also change their mind when faced with a real rather than an abstract choice.

Anyway, Anonymous's claim that "democratically Iraqis want US troops dead" is certainly a misreading of this poll result. And the claim that "all polls since 2004" show this is as false as false can be, as another poll result underlines:

Majorities still approve of U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces and help with community development, though most feel the United States is doing a poor job.

Not the same as wanting US forces dead.

Similarly, majority of polls of Iraqis, even those grateful the US removed Saddam, say in so many words, sometimes exactly, (agreeing with Saddam supporters of course) "but you really had no right to do it, thank you and get out."

Anonymous offers no evidence for this. I think I've seen the polls which made him think this but this is not what they say. We already know Anonymous is not a reliable poll-reader... I don't think it's worth the effort to investigate myself whether there's any truth to this statement, we know well that there isn't.

"Systematic violence" the arrogant Finn asserts "picks off the bravest and the best." Well, apart from the majority of professional Iraqi women claiming they had MORE rights under Saddam than at present or in the new governments proposed governance...

We know Anonymous's quasi-poll reporting is not reliable, but anyway, what kind of rights are we talking about? Not freedom of conscience certainly. Which rights are most important?

1.the reality is, the "bravest" might have been in some instances Baathists;

I'm not going to try to understand the kind of mind that would call that courage. Too morbid an exercise. It's funny how the Iraq crisis has brought open sympathy with totalitarianism out of the woodwork.

government opposition (if you stayed out of anti-government activity, Saddam left you alone)

False. Wow, did this guy work for Saddam's propaganda ministry or what?

does not necessarily equate with either "bravest" (among them members of the Baathist Republican Guard)


or "best" (very subjective.)

There is no right or wrong. The John Kerry creed.

And "random violence", in anarchy especially, also distorts and corrupts behavior arguably more than systematic violence, Finn hopes you don't notice.

Too bad Anonymous doesn't explain this point further, because it's an interesting one. The reason I think that systematic violence on behalf of an unjust cause or regime is more poisonous than random violence is that it gives its wielder leverage. The Spanish Inquisition was, in a way, impressively moderate: in several centuries of operation it probably only killed a few thousand people. But since it systematically punished thought-crime against the Catholic Church, its thought- and conscience-destroying power, its deadening effect on Spanish intellectual and moral life, was far greater than if the violence had taken place in a single massacre, for example.

Quotes from the MSM shows the native Iraqi nostalgic for some ORDER, naturally, even Saddams former opponents, but Finn prefers anarchy-and Iraq is rated unstable in 16 of 18 provinces.

I "prefer"? Prefer to what? To Saddam's gulag-state, yes. And that's what the alternative would be.

As for Iran getting nukes,he assumes its wrong, but doesn't express belief it is wrong for Israel to possess nukes or suggest disarming Israel in this respect.

I don't exactly assume it's wrong for Iran to get nukes. It's wrong for the Iranian regime to oppress its people. On the nuclear issue, I think the nuclear oligopoly lacks a basis in justice and can't last. Americans assume that stopping nuclear proliferation benefits the whole world, and they're right, yet at the same time, why should these five powers have nuclear privileges (and Security Council vetoes) and no one else? The Iranian public opposes the Iranian regime, but they wouldn't mind having nuclear weapons; this is actually one way for the Iranian regime to get the public on its side and divide the Iranian public from the Americans whom they otherwise support. This is another reason that spreading democracy is desirable: if the world consisted entirely of democracies, we wouldn't have to worry much about nuclear proliferation, since democracies don't make war on each other. Of course it doesn't follow that spreading democracy is actually achievable (though it would probably be much easier in non-Arab regions; the Arab world has a unique democratic deficit).

Finally world terrorist ranks increase due to the Iraq war but Finny finds it "quite likely" that another "cause celebre" would have caused equal growth.

Sorry, Finn, it is quite UNLIKELY anything less than an invasion of an unthreatening Arab country on the part of Israeli-dominated America (see Mearsheimer and Walt)would have led to such an increase with ominous implications for the future.

The growth in the terrorist movement was already underway long before the Iraq War. It was fuelled by an impression of American weakness after a Hezbollah terrorist attack in 1983 triggered the US withdrawal from Lebanon. I actually think that the Iraq War was a brilliant counter-move to 9/11 precisely because it redressed two of Osama's three main grievances-- it allowed us to pull troops out of Saudi Arabia and end the sanctions on Iraq (the third, Israel's occupation of Palestine, is not under our control)-- yet at the same time it did not seem like a concession and did not cause moderate Muslims (who share Osama's grievances but don't embrace his methods) to say, "Wow, 9/11 achieved something after all!" At the same time, it injected an ideological rival to Islamism into the heart of the Middle East, and even if Islamists have nearly succeeded in strangling it in its cradle, they have done so only at the cost of murdering many thousands of their fellow Muslims, and thus ruining their reputation. (For those who don't know the name of Mearsheimer, he's the soulless dean of the "realist" school of foreign policy, which assumes that powers are-- or should be, it's not clear-- amoral vehicles of their own "self-interest," defined as probability of survival.)

One has already been hinted at by Richard Haas,who says the US has lost much of its influence in the Middle East as a result and is likely to lose MOST of it. And he, rather than the starry-eyed Finn, is in the corner of REALITY.

And what do we want influence for if we're not allowed to overturn the world's most bloodthirsty regimes? Anyway, with respect to influence in the Middle East I think the rise of Iran actually helps us. The "Arab street" has regarded us as their enemy for generations because they want to ethnically cleanse the Israelis from the Middle East, and we oppose that. But Arabs don't want to be dominated by Iran, and the rise of Iranian power will make some of them look for alignment with the US and the West.

I have one final criticism of Timothy Garton Ash. Ash is human, humane, and humanitarian. He values freedom, he opposes tyranny and genocide with all his heart, he never slides into visceral anti-Americanism however wayward he believes America is at any given time. He is reasonable, and he is committed to (in Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel's phrase) "living in truth." Two thing that sets Ash apart from much of the anti-war crowd: (1) he mentions how bad the Saddam regime was (which most anti-war-niks want you to forget) and (2) he admits that Iraqis greeted the fall of the Saddam regime with "initial rejoicing." The latter is an especially precious concession. That Iraqis basically "welcomed the US as liberators" is part of the historical record, shown on millions of TV screens. One of the most amazing and sinister aspects of the Iraq War since then is that journalists and pundits have perpetrated a weird conspiracy to suppress this. One often hears Rumsfeld and Cheney ridiculed for having supposedly predicted that Iraqis would "welcome our troops with open arms" or something like that. And we all know that that's exactly what Iraqis did; we were all glued to our televisions at that time. But journalists trust that we'll have forgotten, that we'll dismiss it, that we won't believe the evidence of our own eyes/memories against the constant drumbeat of grim criticism and sarcasm and contempt... and they've turned out to be mostly right! This has been one of the most frightening aspects of the post-war period, the most reminiscent of the most chilling truth-distortions of the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states.

Ash will have none of it: even in the midst of a damning critique of the war he insists on setting the record straight on that point.

Yet Ash fails to call out and repudiate the almost open pro-totalitarian voices like Anonymous which have become more respectable since the Iraq War. It is like criticizing the British Empire when Hitler and Stalin were on the rise. In the long run, the non-human, -humane, -humanitarian voices who have managed to render themselves respectable under the anti-war banner are a far greater danger to our future than is the feeble, fading, quixotic figure of George W. Bush.


  • That the killings by criminals, insurgents and terrorists were our responsibility to stop is, I think, fairly unassailable. It's more distributed now that Iraqis are theoretically more in charge, but if they are undertrained, understaffed and underequipped, well, then it traces right back to us again. Say what you will about murderous authoritarian dictators, but if they're any good at their job, they're inter alia going to exterminate any competitors in homicide.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:43 PM  

  • You say we injected this ideological rival into the heart of the Mideast, but if the patient dies, might not observers there reasonably conclude it to be poison?

    One thing that one learns in the more esoteric form of military intelligence in which I engaged when I was in Iraq is that if your methods are unfamiliar, your first several operations had best be successful. Otherwise, you discredit your methods and may never get a chance to employ them again.

    After Iraq, when will we next be in a position to bring democracy to anyone? Who in their right mind would trust us to do a good job?

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:57 PM  

  • Your second point is excellent, Nato. That is the real shame of our failure in Iraq, that nobody will attempt another regime change for quite some time because of it. (Of course, Bush will probably prove me wrong by invading Iran; I wouldn't put it past him.)

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 6:03 AM  

  • Checking in again,the casualty figures have been vouchsafed by the best in the field,among them a noted Tufts University expert. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, an occupying nation is responsible for restoring order and safety promptly, hence the culpability of the US.

    Finn then reverts to Natan Scharansky type (but hypocritical
    on NS's part) belief in uniform
    worldwide "freedom-lusting", and wants us to believe he would ,as an Iraqi,
    wish "freedom" even at great risk.
    In reality Finn hasn't the slightest idea what he would desire were he born an Iraqi.

    Bush himself claimed NS influenced his Mideast vision, ironically, as
    Scharansky has gone on to exclude
    a hypothetical Palestinian democratic vote on how Palestine/Israel should be governed!

    Contrary to Finn's poll reading, early Pew and MSNBC polls showed
    a pronounced majority of non-Kurdish Iraqis wanted us out immediately as early as 2004.
    As conditioned worsened this has vacillated somewhat, but the US
    is responsible for the worsening conditions.

    Finn falls for the staged demonstration of comparatively few Iraqis where Saddam's statue fell
    as proof of our "welcome."

    Finn ,in denying the bravery of Republican Guard members also probably denies the bravery of, for example German soldiers and
    Luftwaffe in World War Two,admitted by all sides. It's a toss-up whether this is more myopic on his part or dishonorable.

    Sorry Finny, you don't have to be a liberal Wilsonian world-improver to be brave.

    Lastly, the Saudi ambassador visiting America a few days ago warned, for the umpthhundredth time, America must force Israel off the West Bank and Samaria as UN resolutions demand, if it is to restore its influence in the Middle East. Finn's belief the US has no ability to do this is naeive in the extreme.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 AM  

  • One other comment. "Islamism," already had an opponent in the region, Finnie, although you suggest badly needed & brilliant US realpolitick in so "offering" itself as such by the invasion.

    The opponent was Hussein's Baathism,which held Islamism in check for many years. The US unleashed it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:59 AM  

  • I don't really understand why Anonymous is so determined to be abrasive. I sometimes have a difficult time understanding how Finn believes some of the things he does, but that doesn't mean I have to be a dick about it all the time.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:38 PM  

  • Seriously, Anonymous, if you're going to be an ass, at least have the decency to post with your real name. Flaming anonymously is just plain cowardly.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 3:44 AM  

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