Addressing some valid points

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society
April 8th, 2003 • 5:58 pm

Over the past few months, I have done my best to try and acquire an informed perspective on the (first looming and then very real) war in Iraq by reading articles and essays from a great variety of sources. Invariably, however, the arguments that I have heard from the pro-war camp in the mainstream media and various online outlets (such as the Wall Street Journal or have been, at best, unconvincing and, at worst, downright insulting to my own intelligence and to the vast majority of the world’s population. Most of their arguments are simplistic, caricatural, and morally dubious. This applies to the official statements coming from the US administration itself as well.

On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to discuss many of the issues surrounding the war with friends in private conversations. During those conversations, several seemingly more valid points have been made about the justifications of this war. Here are some of these points. I am not interested in responding to the “You are either with us or against us” type of rhetoric. I am more than willing, however, to try and respond to more valid arguments put forward by people whom I have much more reason to trust and respect than the current US administration and its high-profile media and industry cronies.

1. We should judge the current US administration based on its deeds rather than its rhetoric.

The fundamental problem with this argument is that it assumes that we can afford to wait until the deeds are done and the facts are fully known before judging Bush and his team. But I don’t think we can afford to wait. The history of humanity is littered with examples of poor judgement by various administrations/governments that led to massive humanitarian disasters. Yes, in some cases, the poor judgement led these administrations to refrain from intervening when they should have. (Rwanda comes to mind.) But in many other cases, it is the actions (not inaction) that were so costly, and when the “facts” were finally fully known and grasped, it was too late: many people were already dead, and many more would continue to die.

If we could afford to wait until the facts are known, then I might be willing to give this US administration the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t think we can. There’s a fine line between patience and passivity.

Since I don’t believe we can afford to wait for facts, I have to judge people and things based on less objective things such as their apparent intentions, their statements, their persuasiveness, etc. And by those standards the current US administration is an unmitigated failure.

Of course, I might be proven wrong. If I cannot do anything to change the course of history (and, in all likelihood, I can’t), then I can only hope that my current analysis is wrong. But as a human being and active participant of our society, I can only express myself as an individual who believes that his judgement/opinions can have an impact, however small. That’s what democracy is all about. I can express myself through my voting. I can express myself through public forums and my own blog. And I can express myself in more informal settings such as conversations with friends, etc. This is all part of the democratic process. I am not too optimistic that any of it will ever have any impact on anything, but I’ll keep trying. In that respect, I am irreparably optimistic.

The trouble in the current situation is that many people like myself feel utterly powerless, because a big portion of the “democratic” process is actually inaccessible to us. We cannot vote for or against the current US administration, since we are not American. We cannot express ourselves through the mainstream media, because in many respects it is a self-sufficient system that tolerates very little input from the real world of real people living real lives.

Will this ever change? It doesn’t look like it… On the contrary, even the US society itself seems to be engaging in a process that will gradually deprive more and more of its citizens of certain essential freedoms.

This cannot be ignored. Can we really afford to wait until this happens to our own selves before we respond to it?

2. The Iraqi regime is a dictatorship that abuses its own people and ignores international law. Look how they are resorting to illegal warfare such as suicide bombings and ignoring the Geneva convention.

This of course refers to Donald Rumsfeld’s burst when US PoWs were shown on Iraqi TV. I think Mr. Rumsfeld would have been well advised to shut up and say nothing. You simply cannot have it both ways. You cannot ignore international law when it suits you (Guantanamo, and the current war itself), and then ask your enemies to comply with it. It simply doesn’t make sense, at a very fundamental level.

Am I missing or misinterpreting something here? Are all these reports on what’s going on at Guantanamo all made up? Why should international law apply to the USA’s enemies, and not to the USA itself? Am I really comparing apples and oranges?

Of course, I am not advocating or even hoping that Iraq will abuse US and British PoWs. I am not hoping that Saddam Hussein will defeat the US, or even that he will inflict many casualties before losing. But I simply cannot trust an administration that has so little respect for the international process (however flawed it may be), that is, by so many accounts, so arrogant and ignorant, and so ideologically driven. (And what ideology!)

3. Bush is a pragmatist. He responds to events as they unfold and adjusts his strategy accordingly. He’s trying to do his best responding to extraordinary events (Sept. 11). Would Al Gore have fared any better?

Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but I simply cannot see this. Someone whose entourage has been planning a war on Iraq for the past ten years and is using the current world situation to justify it cannot be described as a pragmatist. An opportunist, yes. A pragmatist, no.

Al Gore might not have been the most exciting presidential hopeful, but at least he didn’t seem to be driven by such an agenda.

I am trying to look at whatever facts are available. I’m trying to read a vast range of views and opinions and reports, in ORDER to get a better idea of what’s going on. I definitely cannot be accused of judging people too hastily. Maybe on the whole my sources have a “leftist”/”liberal” slant — but I do try to read things written by war proponents, neocons, and what not — whose ignorance and narrowmindedness often scares me. On the other hand, I am reading too many things that make perfect sense by too many people whose opinions I have good reasons to respect — and they are all uniformly negative about this administration and its policies. I suppose it is possible that all these people are wrong. But one must admit that it’s a bit unlikely.

4. Bush has his flaws, but in this case it’s a matter of choosing between the lesser of two evils.

The trouble with this approach is that it assumes that we had to choose. But, once again, we didn’t have to. No one asked Bush to put Iraq back on the list of most pressing issues. Choosing, in that respect, means that we accept that we have to choose. But we don’t (or rather, we didn’t).

Today, of course, this analysis is more valid. We have had to make a choice, and of course I have chosen to be on the side of the lesser evil. As I said, I am not hoping that the US will lose, or even suffer heavy casualties. I hope that they will win, and soon. But I have little reason to let that choice influence my opinion on any other issues, i.e. things that are still up in the air: Iraq reconstruction, Middle East stability/democracy, the future of international law and international institutions, etc. Just because Bush is the lesser evil in this particular war that he chose to engage in, does not make him any “better” for anything else beyond the war itself.

5. Bush’s rhetoric is tailored to a specific audience (the US population). It should not be taken at face value.

As for Bush’s rhetoric being tailored to particular audiences, I would agree to a certain degree. But in this day and age, with worldwide access to many sources of information, including the Web, satellite TV, etc. — a US president (or any president for that matter) has to be more aware of the international repercussions of what he says than Bush seems to be (by a long shot). In addition, when he said things like “You are either with us or against us”, I don’t believe he was talking to a US audience. I don’t mind trying to be culturally sensitive, but it goes both ways. I see little effort on the part of the current US admin to get its message across to its international audience in a way that might persuade anyone.

6. We don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Bush’s beliefs, but at least he’s forthright about stating them, and consistent in acting on them. That’s preferable to most politicians — you never really know where they stand.

There is nothing admirable about being consistent with one’s system of values, if that system of values is fundamentally flawed. After all, Hitler was “consistent” in his systematic elimination of Jews, wasn’t he? Does it make it admirable, by any stretch of the imagination?

7. In effect, you are saying that Mr. Bush is actually worse the Saddam.

Not yet, but I do believe that his actions have the potential to inflict more damage on the whole of humanity than Saddam’s, yes. I am not sure I want to wait and see if it happens or not. Evil is not the exclusive domain of dictators.

The problem is twofold: 1) Yes, I most definitely don’t share the belief system of a pro-life, ultraconservative, protectionist, born-again Christian, and I find it very scary. 2) I only bother to criticize Bush because, like it or not, his policies affect my world as well, especially when he decides to tackle the worldwide problem of terrorism and rogue states all by himself. I don’t hold Saddam Hussein to account, because it would simply be ridiculous to do so. The Iraqi regime is obviously a dictatorship. The US regime is doing things in the name of freedom, democracy, etc. — i.e. values that I am attached to. So I respond to that. Does this make me unfair? I don’t believe so. I am only holding Bush accountable because he’s pretending to speak and act on my behalf. Saddam Hussein is not.

8. It would have been far more efficient and far less politically risky to
simply buy the damn oil from Iraq. Not to mention fewer casualties on all

This amounts to avoiding the issue. Within Bush’s aforementioned moral system, this would have been unacceptable, since eliminating the Iraqi regime was part of the administration’s plan from the get-go. The really scary part of all this is that this policy is a mix of alleged morality and totally immoral capitalism. I honestly don’t know how these guys sleep at night. To me, this mix is positively repulsive.

9. How about the possibility that Mr. Clinton took the easy way out on many of these issues [Kyoto, Iraq, arms treaties, North Korea, etc.], leaving the hard decisions to his successor?

The decisions were hard because of all the factors involved. The fact that Bush made the decisions he made based on his system of values doesn’t mean that he has tackled the real issues and addressed all the factors. It simply means that he has applied his ideology to the problem. You are asking me to choose between inaction and ideologically-driven action, when the ideology is reprehensible. I can only choose inaction. But of course in reality I’d choose action driven by positive, universal values — which neither have offered or offers.

10. Let’s propose a minimum standard for “freedom”: HAVING sufficient food and shelter, and not worrying about the secret police taking you or a family member taking you away.

Based on this standard, I think there are a number of minorities in the States who would argue that the FBI/CIA/whatever is travelling down a dangerous path. There are disturbing, document incidents happening.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.