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Monday, March 14, 2005
These are remarkable times, Montag Dialogue #2
I got a bit caught up in the Ward Churchill issue, but now that that has died down a bit, let's turn back to other issues. In particular, I'd like to share an email exchange I had with Jack back a few weeks ago. It covers the war on terror, and what I see as a depressing tendency of those on the left to refuse to admit that anything George Bush does can be credited. The first email, from me to Jack, was sent on February 28:
I know you are not a fan of Bush's, and I agree with some of your critiques-- but doesn't he deserve some credit for what's happening in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine? Truly this has been an amazing turn of events. Egypt to hold free and secret elections. Lebanon's people and government revolting against their Syrian "handlers." The Middle East really does seem to be embracing a bid for freedom. Is there any serious argument to be made that any of this would have occured if we had not ousted Saddam? I don't think so.
It could all still fall apart, but then again-- once the dominoes start to tip, it's awfully hard to stop the cascade. Time will tell, but I know I never expected THIS kind of response from the Arab Street. Wasn't Iraq supposed to be recruiting new terrorists? Instead, it seems to be recruiting a whole new set of individual libertarians. Fascinating and encouraging. Hoozah!
To which he replied later that day:
So, the ends justifies the means? Basis ethical, philosophical argument, here, so I'll be very curious with your response.
And when I did not respond right away, due to other obligations, he followed up with a bit more analysis the next day:
Perhaps my first reply to this was too needlessly challenging? I'll take another stab at it. Does the Arab street understand how thinly stretched our military is? I question that because I think I read in your letter below that you feel that the threat of US intervention, coupled with our unswerving support of those who wish to be democratic, is a root cause of the various changes you list below. By any analysis that I've heard, the US is in no position to do anything in Iran, Syria, or any other damn place at the moment. $7 billion a MONTH going to Iran and Afghanistan, and no end in sight to any of that. Are we engaged in one of history's greatest bluffs, and it's actually working? Or did our actions in Iraq simply serve to open the flood gates on long simmering hatred and resentment, which is now perking up in ways that we didn't anticipate?
The next day, Wednesday, March 2, I had the time to put together my reply:
Not too challenging, no. It just rather put all the heavy lifting responsibilities on me, and I had not yet had a chance to compose my reply. The means vs. the ends question also rather avoided my question, which was "If Bush is going to take all the flak for the negative outcomes of the War in Iraq, does he not also deserve credit for all of the positive outcomes?" I think if you are going to lambast Bush for the costs of the war (both monetary and in lost lives) you have to give him credit for the positives that emerge from the war. That's a simple equation. We can argue whether the negatives outweigh the positives (which I do below, not to fear), but if he's taking the heat for the crap, he by rights gets to take a few kudos for the good stuff.
Okay, your question on whether the ends justify the means, which in this case correlates to should we have gone to Iraq. That is ALWAYS the question. Unless we wish to rely on a sort of Quakerish hope for the goodwill of others and always turn the other cheek, when is it justified for the US (or any other country) to use force to obtain their objectives, and which and how much force is acceptable?
I don't mean to be flip, but that's the essence of the question. Where do you draw the line in the sand? It is nice to ask the ends justifying the means question with the implicit taking of the moral high ground, but it begs the response, 'Well, do they?' Was Truman justified in dropping the A-bomb on Japan-- not once, but twice-- killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, but saving hundreds of thousands of soldiers and other civilians, on both sides, and ending the war months earlier than would otherwise have been possible? Was Kennedy justified in blockading Cuba knowing that if our bluff was called, literally millions, possibly even everybody, would die? His end-- keeping the US out of the reach of short range nukes. Was that worth the risk of the means he used? You have asked the age old question-- but the response can not always be 'No, not ever.' The response is determined by both the means, the ends, and the perspectives of those weighing the two against each other.
Where do you draw that line in the sand?
As to Iraq. The answer to the ends justifying the means question, in my opinion, is a nearly unqualified yes. No, we did not find WMDs, and the lack of accountability for that by Bush was reprehensible and perposterous. But at the time of the invasion nearly EVERYONE thought Saddam had, or would have soon, chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons. Which side would you rather err on-- the side of assuming a country has WMDs and acting in view of strong intelligence supporting that conclusion, or the side of assuming a country does not have WMDs unless you have absolutely faultless intelligence to the contrary? In the Iraq scenario, you almost have to err on the side of giving them too much credit rather than not enough. To err the other way is to invite catastrophic results. And the means used were appropriate in my opinion-- we d/n use anything other than conventional weapons and manpower. We minimized the damage and death for the civilian population at a level undreamed of in past wars. If anything, we used insufficient force-- there weren't enough boots on the ground for some of the post-invasion requirements. You can make a strong argument that the post-invasion planning as a whole was a farce-- but that's a separate issue.
What else has come out of Iraq? Free elections, strongly supported by the people. An increase in commerce and intellectualism that was completely impossible under Saddam. The various factions in Iraq (Shiite, Kurd, Turk and even Sunni) talking to each other about how to make a republic work. Afghanistan has a future for the first time in literally decades. Libya voluntarily gives up on its nuclear program. Iran has free and open republics on two fronts and is facing increasing pressures for reform from within. Lebanese are agitating for Syrian withdrawal from their country-- and Syria is complying! Egypt will hold elections. Do I attribute this to what happened in Iraq? Absolutely. For all of the death and destruction that has occurred in Iraq, the people of that country dancing around with their purple fingers was the spark that was needed to light some revolutionary bonfires.
And then, in the same email, I make some direct responses to the issues he had raised in him email of the day before:
Does the Arab street understand how thinly stretched our military is?
Does it matter? The beauty of what's happening is that the people are the ones agitating for changes in Lebanon and Egypt and the Ukraine. In large measure, the Arab Street is what is driving the push for reformation.
I question that because I think I read in your letter below that you feel that the threat of US intervention, coupled with our unswerving support of those who wish to be democratic, is a root cause of the various changes you list below.
Yes, I absolutely believe that. I am hard pressed to think what else would have caused any or all of them. Nothing significant had changed in the Middle East until an arab country actually went out and had an election KNOWING that the US was not going to cut and run and abandon them to the thugs and overlords that had persecuted them previously. Does this engender undying love of American in all Iraqis? Of course not. Many of them still hate us, if for no other reason than we continue to support Israel, but I'm willing to bet that even most of those that hate us were pleased to have some self-determination. The only group that probably isn't pleased are the Ba'athists, who are the main source of continued insurgency. I don't have too much sympathy for them.
By any analysis that I've heard, the US is in no position to do anything in Iran, Syria, or any other damn place at the moment. $7 billion a MONTH going to Iran and Afghanistan, and no end in sight to any of that. Are we engaged in one of history's greatest bluffs, and it's actually working? Or did our actions in Iraq simply serve to open the flood gates on long simmering hatred and resentment, which is now perking up in ways that we didn't anticipate?
To which I can only reply:
Sigh. This is a rather depressing way to look at things. And one not really reflected by the current circumstances, from my perspective. Why must it be one of these two choices? It seems far more likely that Tony Blair is right-- the desire to live free and unrepressed is not a Western value, but rather a human value. Many, many people living in oppressive dictatorships are seeing first hand that there are alternatives-- and they are acting on them. They are acting because this sort of thing is contagious. They are acting because they have just seen that it can work. They are acting because we have given them hope. Tyranny rots from the inside and when it falls, it usually falls fast and hard.
Good Lord man-- Afghanistan and Iraq had free elections! Let me say that again. Afghanistan and Iraq had free elections! Two of the most notoriously dangerous and recalcitrant regimes of the last part of the 20th century. The Syrian backed government in Lebanon has collapsed because of peaceful protests in the streets that Syrian troops were able to do nothing about. Mubarak has conceded free and open elections in Egypt. The Ukraine has elected a non-Russian choice for President, and they did it peacefully in the finest tradition of the people expressing their displeasure with their government.
How can you be depressed by this? Because it happened under Bush's watch? Because we went to war to accomplish it and roughly 1500 noble young men and women sacrificed their lives so that people they don't even know, some of whom probably hated them, could live out of the shadow of a brutal dictator and freely express their sentiments and yearnings? Was the fall of the Berlin wall a bad thing because it came at the expense of our military build up and our long-term "occupation" of Germany and other parts of Europe?
Honestly, what is your objection to what has happened? Because I really can't think of a good one. And the only bad one I can think of is that it reflects well on the President. You want to lambast the President? Do it over Abu Ghraib or his increase in big government. Do it over his support for writing discrimination into the Constitution. Do it for many, many things, but not for what's happening in Lebanon and Egypt and Ukraine and, hopefully, other places. These are remarkable times. Truly. We should be savoring this and praying that the momentum increases and doesn't flame out.
And that's been it so far. Now, I don't mean to gloat, and it is far too early to do that, but I really do have trouble understanding how you can be anything but happy for the progress that's been made. The second round of elections is coming in Afghanistan, a new wave of protests has broken out in Lebanon, and there continues to be movement in Egypt.
These are remarkable times.
Bravo, Nick. Excellent point. Really, anyone who wants to lay claim making a logical, well-considered argument should be able to argue all points of the central issue. And if the only thing they have to offer is Bush-bashing, then chances are they can’t argue all sides of the issue.
“Okay, your question on whether the ends justify the means, which in this case correlates to should we have gone to Iraq. That is ALWAYS the question. Unless we wish to rely on a sort of Quakerish hope for the goodwill of others and always turn the other cheek, when is it justified for the US (or any other country) to use force to obtain their objectives, and which and how much force is acceptable? “
Another great point. If force is acceptable, ever, then the question becomes how much force; thus switching away from absolutes and now considering degrees. When it comes to protecting the lives and property of Americans, then a great deal of force is appropriate.
“But at the time of the invasion nearly EVERYONE thought Saddam had, or would have soon, chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons. “
Saddam had used WMD on Kurds and others inside of Iraq. President Clinton, Madeline Albright, John Kerry, and other democrats are on record in the 1990’s stating their concerns for Saddam’s WMD and his ambitions. Funny how the democrats (and the press) forgot all about those quotes.
“Does the Arab street understand how thinly stretched our military is?”
Does your pal read Best of the Web Today? James Taranto has published dozens of quotes from the “Arab street” in support of Bush, or asking for Bush’s help.
“... Does this engender undying love of American in all Iraqis? Of course not. Many of them still hate us, if for no other reason than we continue to support Israel…”
They also hate us because we are secular, because we don’t follow Islam, because we allow homosexuals and women and Jews to move openly among our society, and because we are rich and indulgent.
If the Islamists ever take over the west (they’re fifty years away from owning Europe through birth rate) the first people to lose their heads will be the homosexuals, the Jews, the whores (ie, Brittany Speares and her lot), and the intellectuals.
Hey, ya’ll will be crying for military intervention then.
“These are remarkable times. “
You said it.