normblog: Sad picture
Norm Geras is clearly a well-meaning guy. But I'm getting a bit tired of his incessant self-congratulation and cheap shots. I'll try to keep this a short post. Just let me make a few points:
* Before you go congratulating yourself for going into a country and shooting up the bad guys, you need have thought a bit about your end game. Part of being morally serious is thinking about the likely consequences of a course of action. It wasn't wrong to oppose the war if you opposed it because you thought that Bush and co. lacked the wisdom, the discipline, the savvy, the international support, and the political capital to pull it off. If you know the first thing about Iraq, you know that conditions for a serious civil war in the next few years are very, very real. If you know the first thing about the Bush administration, you know that it will have extraordinary difficulty managing this challenge. Before we can have a sensible discussion about whether the ends justified the means, we need to have a good reason to think that those
means furthered those
I'm tired of people like Geras impugning my integrity because I was unwilling to play such crappy odds. And no, this doesn't have anything
to do with condescending attitudes to Arabs about democracy, blah, blah, blah. Iraq is a badly brutalized and fractured country. This is a difficult and complicated matter about which it is quite reasonable to be pessimistic. And - yes - if there is a civil war, then things will
be worse than they were under Saddam. (To be fair, it might be appropriate to say that there has been a (mostly) slow-burning civil war in Iraq since the Gulf War, particularly in the South. But I'm talking about a white hot civil war.)
I can understand the very strong pull of the desire to topple Hussein, to punish him, to free the people of Iraq. It was the main thing that made me think long and hard before casting my lot in with the anti-war crowd. But I could never figure out - and no one in the thousands and thousands of pages I read on the subject ever bothered to explain - how exactly the U.S. was going to bring democracy to Iraq when it had been unable to bring it to Egypt, despite many billions of dollars of aid over the span of a generation.
* I'm tired of people uncritically throwing their support behind the Bush administration because it's supposedly keen on promoting democracy. What's frustrating about Bush's foreign policy is that it's actually quite timid when democratic push comes to shove. There are a great many constructive measures the Bush admin could have and should have taken to actually promote democracy and civil society in the Middle East and elsewhere, especially since Sept. 11th. Why not make military aid to Egypt or Uzbekistan conditional on substantial improvements in human rights protections? Why support the coup attempt in Venuezala? Why turn a blind eye to Russian savagery in Chechnya? (Because doing any of these things would be risky? Oh, don't you dare lecture me on costs and benefits, buster.) The Bush admin's record on actual democracy promotion has its moments: I understand that the State Dept. sometimes applies real pressure in these countries to achieve decent ends. But overall the effort is peripheral to the main priorities of the administration, unsystematic, undisciplined and inconsistent. What's wrong with insisting that if the U.S. really wants to promote democracy that it first exhaust the substantial peaceful means at its disposal?
* Geras consistently compares two outcomes: The actual outcome in Iraq vs. the outcome in which the U.S. did nothing. I think that this is wrongheaded, but I've already argued that here
* It's not crazy to lament the collapse of U.S. credibility on the international stage. That's a very dangerous development. It'll be quite a while before a U.S. president dares to send his Secretary of State to the U.N. to make a high profile presentation based on U.S. intelligence. Or at least, it'll be quite a while before anyone would be willing to take that seriously again.
* I'm sick and tired of people bashing the anti-war left for caring more about U.S. misdeeds than anyone else's. As I try to explain here
, whether it's right or wrong, it's not a crazy view.