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November 30, 2003 - Why We Fight

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The Moral Case for War, the Revised Manifest Destiny Argument, and the Neo-Crusades
General Barry R. McCaffrey, is a professor of international security studies at West Point and led the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division in the 1991 Gulf War.  In the November 30th Wall Street Journal he had a bit to say about the current situation in Iraq.  I quote him to set the scene here.
See Rumsfeld in Denial
We won't win in Iraq unless we face reality.
Barry R. McCaffrey. The Wall Street Journal, Sunday, November 30, 2003
Iraq is a military and political mess, and it's not getting better. The insurgency by Sunni Baathist cadres backed up by a presence of foreign terrorists is going to grow more violent. Our casualties will continue to increase. Baghdad and other cities are wracked by small arms and remote bomb ambushes and by mortar and rocket attacks, and are closed to commercial air traffic. The mayhem has driven much of the international aid and political community out of the contested zones. Assassins stalk the emerging Iraqi leadership to separate collaborators from the Coalition. Saddam Hussein remains a fugitive and therefore a terror in the minds of all Iraqis, and our allies shrink back from supporting us with serious levels of resources or troops.
Our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality. He publicly states the situation on the ground in Iraq is being distorted by the media and characterizes the violence as comparable to Washington, D.C., crime levels. He has denied there is a "guerrilla war" and insisted that the only opposition is a handful of "dead enders." He points with increasing defensiveness to the small number of coalition forces (besides the courageous Brits) and the increasing hours of electricity per day as evidence that his policies are working.
Some argue that Mr. Rumsfeld has ill served the president. We claimed victory in the initial war intervention. Our adversaries, however, haven't seen themselves as defeated. Mr. Rumsfeld's critics feel that he dug in his heels and inadequately resourced the campaign's opening phase. In my judgment, the manner in which we intervened, and ended the regime, has been a major source of our subsequent problems. It's not enough to achieve victory--which we did; you've got to achieve a situation in which your adversary recognizes that he's been defeated, and that violent resistance is futile--which we didn't. We went in with a small force that, while unstoppable militarily, was incapable of the sort of "takedown" of an entrenched opposition that our troops now face. We should have front-loaded our military power and withdrawn forces as things got better; instead, we went in light, and augmented power after the regime's fall.
McCaffrey after this introduction lays out arguments for changes in troop strength, in specific deployments and in strategy, but others have questioned underlying assumptions of the war.
The Moral Case for the War: It Was a Moral Imperative

"A superpower has moral imperatives? Really?"
Okay, Scottish Nationalist MP Pete Wishart in the weekly open session in the House of Commons - where the Prime Minister has to answer questions posed by the opposition - was pestering Tony Blair about where these damned weapons of mass destruction might be - these weapons of mass destruction that had to be eliminated, thus justifying the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and justifying installing our idea of what we think the Iraqi folks should have as a government and what its policies should be.
Blairs response?  Change the subject.  "What everyone should realise is that if people like the honourable gentleman had had their way, Saddam Hussein, his sons and his henchmen would still be terrorising people in Iraq.  I find it quite extraordinary that he thinks that that would be a preferable state of affairs."
There's a lot of that going around - that "change the subject" business.  Blair hears the question and implicitly dismisses it as really the wrong question, because even if he said something many months about what you're asking, you have it all wrong because what he said many months ago is kind of old news - not worth talking about.  So he answers a question you didn't ask because, well, you asked a foolish question, you twit!
George Bush, by the way, cancelled his address to the House of Commons last week, as these guy do get a bit unruly what with impertinent questions and jeering and all that.  Bush's advisors did the right thing in canceling the talk. I t would not have been pretty at all.
But as for what are the real questions folks should be asking, and leaders gladly answering - because all this is easy to explain and quite defensible - well, herein lies the problem: no one is asking good questions, much less giving good answers.
... in debating the war, those of us who opposed it find ourselves drawn into this fairytale.  We are obliged to argue about the relative moral merits of leaving Saddam in place or deposing him, while we know, though we are seldom brave enough to say it, that the moral issue is a distraction.  The genius of the hawks has been to oblige us to accept a fiction as the reference point for debate.
George Monbiot had a column in the Guardian (UK) in which he said things that have occurred to us all, but does so in that dry British fashion - terse, to the point and in well-formed, elegant sentences, in logical progression.  He is no Ann Coulter.
You will find it here:
The moral myth
George Monbiot, Tuesday November 25, 2003, The Guardian (UK)
I particularly like his opening:
It is no use telling the hawks that bombing a country in which al-Qaida was not operating was unlikely to rid the world of al-Qaida.  It is no use arguing that had the billions spent on the war with Iraq been used instead for intelligence and security, atrocities such as last week's attacks in Istanbul may have been prevented.  As soon as one argument for the invasion and occupation of Iraq collapses, they switch to another.  Over the past month, almost all the warriors - Bush, Blair and the belligerents in both the conservative and the liberal press - have fallen back on the last line of defence, the argument we know as the moral case for war.
This is good:
I do believe that there was a moral case for deposing Saddam - who was one of the world's most revolting tyrants - by violent means.  I also believe that there was a moral case for not doing so, and that this case was the stronger.  That Saddam is no longer president of Iraq is, without question, a good thing.  But against this we must weigh the killing or mutilation of thousands of people; the possibility of civil war in Iraq; the anger and resentment the invasion has generated throughout the Muslim world and the creation, as a result, of a more hospitable environment in which terrorists can operate; the reassertion of imperial power; and the vitiation of international law.  It seems to me that these costs outweigh the undoubted benefit.
But the key point, overlooked by all those who have made the moral case for war, is this: that a moral case is not the same as a moral reason.  Whatever the argument for toppling Saddam on humanitarian grounds may have been, this is not why Bush and Blair went to war.
A superpower does not have moral imperatives.  It has strategic imperatives.  Its purpose is not to sustain the lives of other people, but to sustain itself.  Concern for the rights and feelings of others is an impediment to the pursuit of its objectives.  It can make the moral case, but that doesn't mean that it is motivated by the moral case.
As for the current White House and its war policies:
When it suits its purposes to append a moral justification to its actions, it will do so.  When it is better served by supporting dictatorships like Uzbekistan's, expansionist governments like Ariel Sharon's and organisations which torture and mutilate and murder, like the Colombian army and (through it) the paramilitary AUC, it will do so.
It armed and funded Saddam when it needed to; it knocked him down when it needed to.  In neither case did it act because it cared about the people of his country.  It acted because it cared about its own interests. T he US, like all superpowers, does have a consistent approach to international affairs.  But it is not morally consistent; it is strategically consistent.
You might want to read the whole thing.  I agree with Monbiot.  The Moral Case for War is not as strong as one might think.  It's not a chimera, but not the real answer either.
The Revised Manifest Destiny Argument
Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News and directs its editorial content - its "slant" so to speak.  But Fox News is a crude tool.   Murdoch also publishes The Weekly Standard, sometimes called "the bible of the neoconservative movement."  The Weekly Standard is more measured and philosophical, or theoretical, or something.  It's "serious."
In The Weekly Standard you will find the two core theoreticians of the neoconservative "change the world" movement, Robert Kagan and William Kristol.  These are the guys who explain what Wolfowitz, Perle and Cheney are really trying to have America do in the world.  You might call them apologists.   Or "explainers."
Want to know what America is really trying to do in the world?  Read this.  It is about our new manifest destiny.  To remake the world into a community of nations each of which is a secular democracy, with a deregulated totally privatized capitalist economy, few if any social programs (to require real personal responsibility), friendly to multi-national corporations like Wal-Mart, Starbucks and KFC (and Exxon-Mobil and Arco and the rest), and so on.
Back in the nineteenth century we claimed it was our "manifest destiny" to increase the acreage of the nation to make it stretch from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.  And damn, that would have been easier if guys like Custer had battlefield tactical low-yield nuclear weapons, or at least cluster-bombs and Blackhawks.  But no matter.  We did it.
Now we have something else to spread.  And spread it we must.  It is our "manifest destiny" to bring Happy Meals and deregulated discount-priced sneakers to the whole world.  It is.  Really.
Click the link and youll get the idea.
An Administration of One
From the December 1, 2003 issue of The Weekly Standard
Bush has made it clear that the only exit strategy from Iraq is a victory strategy, with victory defined as "democracy."
by Robert Kagan and William Kristol
12/01/2003, Volume 009, Issue 12
The opening is key:
When George W. Bush first entered the White House, the conventional wisdom was that his inexperience and lack of vision in foreign policy would be compensated for by his wise and experienced cabinet. This may or may not have been a reasonable view at the time. Right now, however, it is clear that the most visionary and, yes, the wisest and most capable foreign policy-maker in the Bush administration is the president himself. Let's hope the team around him proves willing and capable of fulfilling his clear and historic grand strategy.
Okay.  This starts out defensive, then gets downright odd.  Wise?  Some dispute there, of course.  Visionary?  The son of the guy who "had a problem with the vision thing" way back when?  Historic and grand are nice words too.  What we are doing is, I agree, historic.  Grand?  Hardly.
There can no longer be any doubt that whatever Republican 'realist' inclinations the president may have inherited from his father and his father's advisers when he took office, he has now abandoned that failed and narrow view and raised the torch previously held high by Ronald Reagan - and before that by John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman.
Well, maybe.  Truman with Korea seemed to want to "contain" threats to our nation, to keep us safe.  Kennedy seemed to reluctantly "confront" threats, as with Cuba and the damned missiles.  Neither acted to overtly change other governments and change their economies and philosophies.  That was all covert back then - behind the scenes.  Bush just goes out and invades.  He's not subtle.
Bush has broken from the mainstream of his party and become a neoconservative in the true meaning of the term.  For if there is a single principle that today divides neoconservatism from traditional American conservatism, it is the conviction that the promotion of liberal democracy abroad is both a moral imperative and a profound national interest.
Well that's the core of the matter, isn't it?  We are fated to make everyone just like us.  It's a moral imperative.  We've got to do what we've got to do.  No choice.
As to those who object?  "...we are not surprised to see traditional Republican conservatives, of whom there is no more esteemed intellectual spokesman than George Will, now denouncing the supposed folly of such ambitious ventures.  Nor are we surprised that in Bush's own cabinet, neither his secretary of state nor his secretary of defense shares the president's commitment to liberal democracy, either in Iraq or in the Middle East more generally. Indeed, the only thing that surprises us, a little, is the failure of American liberals - and European liberals - to embrace a cause that ought to be close to their hearts.
Now wait a second!  It ought to be close to this liberal's heart to impose my views of how life ought to be lived, and thus how governments should work, on everyone, everywhere, anywhere in the world?  I don't think so.
And these two conclude with this.
Bush's great task now will be to explain his strategy to his own cabinet and commanders and insist that they begin implementing it.
Time to join the Rebel Alliance on the planet Tatooine to fight the Empire and that Death Star thingy.  This is madness.

The Neo-Crusades
Okay, choose sides.  Annd Coulter and Ed Gillespie or this fellow in The Nation.
Ann Coulter at Northwestern University.  From a recent lecture on the war and what it's all about:
This is a religious war, not against Islam but for Christianity, for a Christian nation.  When this nation was founded, there was nothing like it.  Our founders said there is a God and we are all equal before God.  The ideal of equality and tolerance is like nothing that has ever existed in the world before.  That, too, is a Christian value.  The concept of equality, especially when it comes to gender equality, was not invented by Gloria Steinem.  It was invented by Jesus Christ.  As long as people look long enough, they will always come to Christianity.
Are equality and tolerance historical Christian values?  (Note she does not bother to use the more PR-friendly and inclusive phrase "Judeo-Christian values.")  Ask the victims of the Inquisition or the Crusades.  America's Christian founders may have preached equality, but they hardly practiced it.  See slavery.  Did the 'ideal of equality and tolerance' only appear with the birth of the United States?  Check out the preceding Age of Enlightenment.  (Locke celebrated a state of nature in which people were happy, tolerant, free and equal.)  And Jesus invented feminism?  Then why did the 'Christian nation' of the United States deny women the right to vote?  Why has the Catholic Church refused to ordain female priests?  Why do certain fundamentalist Christians insist that women submit to their husbands? 
Ah, all these pesky questions!  So some mistakes were made.  Big deal.
And where currently is this tolerance that Coulter speaks of?  Her Christian supremacist comrades - such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell - blast away at Islam and other religions.  General William Boykin, a top Pentagon official, derided Islam while giving talks before evangelical Christians.  And when George W. Bush last week commented that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, fundamentalist Christians howled in protest.  The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a frequent visitor to the White House, said, 'The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite.  The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them.'  How's that for tolerance?
Yeah, well, at least Bush got his theology right.  Not only the same God, but Christians, Jews and Muslims all claim to be descended from Abraham.
Robertson has even accused Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists of representing "the spirit of the Antichrist" and repeatedly called Hinduism "devil worship."  And Coulter showed little tolerance when she wrote of anti-American Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Well, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists might be evil.  One never knows.  I always wondered about Baptists.  But is Hinduism devil worship?  There is no God, per se, in Hinduism, nor is there a devil.  It's more of an ethic, not one Robertson likes very much, I suppose.  And Ann didn't really mean that "kill their leaders" stuff did she?  Well, we are working on Saddam and Osama - working to find and capture them - but all our guys say killing them is just fine.  No one is talking about making them in evangelical Methodists.  Ann can get a bit excited.
As for the Republican Party?
Now, we turn to the GOP.  Rather than theologize the war, the Republican National Party and its chairman Ed Gillespie have politicized it.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism and his actions in Iraq should be electoral issues.  He should run on his record, and there would be nothing unfair about GOPers telling voters to vote Republican if they're satisfied with developments in Iraq and encouraged by Bush's handling of the terrorist threat.  But that's not what the Republicans are doing.  In its latest - and much-noticed - television ad, the Republican Party claims, "Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists.... Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others."
So saying the administration could be wrong about something means I support Saddam and Osama and think nothing should be done?  Hey, we're not attacking the administration for attacking the terrorists.  We're attacking the administration for doing a half-assed job, alienating most everyone but the Brits, and making things a whole lot worse. 
And also for lying a bit.

1.) Moral Case for War is questionable, clouded as it is by so many other issues.
2.) The Revised Manifest Destiny Argument may make some unwarranted assumptions, not about the worth of our values, but about our right to promulgate them everywhere, no matter how people "think" they want to live.
3.) The Neo-Crusades are based on some assumptions - that we all feel the same about our religion. I guess I don't have the zeal for that.
Not that any of this matters...