the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2002 September 9


For translation of an unfamiliar word, place the cursor over the word; or read the English-only version.


A year ago I was, as I am now, finishing up with a taxing summer campaign, looking forward to spending more time on the Stewardship Project and resuming my periodic commentaries, as soon as I had something to say. It did not take long before I was forced to turn my attention to the one story that the whole world was focusing on, and one of the main stories it has focused on since. Naturally I have had much to say about that; but since, no offense, there is not a great deal of influence on world affairs coming from the lot of us, even my undeniable eloquence and good sense have amounted to very little.

I said shortly afterwards, when considering whether we should invade افغانستان ’Afğānistān, that we would be justified in doing so, if we did so to depose the طالبان Tālibān, who were then possibly the most oppressive government on the planet, but that our motives clearly lay elsewhere, and that we were unlikely to succeed, since افغانستان ’Afğānistān is not a country that has tolerated occupation, even by such powers as the Русскиe and the British. I was only partially right, since obviously we did succeed, but only by employing a different strategy. We did what we apparently do best, which is massive bombardment, while leaving the ground fighting and occupation to our new allies, the Northern Alliance, an interesting combination of gallant resistance fighters and serial war criminals.

Let us hope that 2001 will be remembered in افغانستان ’Afğānistān as the beginning of liberal democracy. In retrospect, it is possible to see the September 9 assassination of احمد شاه مسعود ’Ahmad Šāh Mascūd, Northern Alliance war chief and the most formidable opponent of the طالبان Tālibān, as preemptive. Better to get him out of the way before taking on the United States. But it was a miscalculation. The wrath of the United States helped bring down the fundamentalists in افغانستان ’Afğānistān, and the protégés of احمد شاه مسعود ’Ahmad Šāh Mascūd now hold the real power in the new افغانى ’Afğānī government, a government headed by a western-educated opponent of the طالبان Tālibān from the پښتون Paxtūn people that had most supported the طالبان Tālibān. I doubt the طالبان Tālibān appreciate the irony, or any irony. That will be fine, so long as they are left to their earnest application of fundamentalism among themselves alone.

But in the United States the memory of افغانستان ’Afğānistān’s transformation will be peripheral, if it registers at all. Everything will be about the bombing, and the subsequent war on terrorism. And thus far, aside from the fall of the طالبان Tālibān and a greater recognition of danger in the world, nothing good has come of last year’s defining event. The US is more jingoistic, it is less liberal, and, as a natural consequence, less free. It is more taken by fear, more insular and parochial, and less tolerant of divergence. And the opposition that should be standing in the way of all this is every bit as fragmented as it ever was, more divided as to strategy, less principled and more timid. But on top of that, it suffers from a flaw that is by no means a consequence of September 11: bad judgement about what, exactly, to oppose.

It is a lasting, though not particularly savory, irony that the side of the political spectrum generally most supportive of human rights, which is to say supportive at all, is also most responsible for the defense of tyranny. I am speaking of our side, naturally. I have castigated conservatives for taking a soft line against the dictators with whom they wish to do business. Engage, they say, when the leader is 江澤民 Jiāng Zé Mín and the country is 中國 Zhōng Guó, with its market of more than a billion potential consumers. I have expressed disgust at the embrace by conservatives of the dictators whose cooperation they seek in their geopolitical strategies. All praise to پرويز مشرف Perŭejz Mušaraf, so long as he keeps the pressure on القاعدة ’al-Qācidaĥ. And this works for conservatives not only because they are interested in capitalism and the war on terror, but also because they don’t care about human rights. We, I would hope, do; but our actions and, more to the point, the subjects of our empathy belie the fact.

It is de rigueur among self-styled radicals in North America and Western Europe to view all interventions by their governments as first-world imperialism, and view the targets of this intervention as oppressed radicals themselves. So we heard during the bombing of Југославија, and the subsequent trial of fascist tyrant and war criminal Слободан Милошевић. Liberals were applauding his courtroom antics. Were they really unaware of what he had done to find himself in the dock? Беларускі strongman Аляксандар Лукашэнка and Cubano caudillo Fidel Castro, both of whom run oppressive states that do not tolerate dissent and have no intention of submitting to the popular will, are celebrated for their defiance of the West and its “imperialist” ideology, by which I must suppose is meant free speech and free elections. Imperialism indeed. And the plight of the starving babies in العراق ’al-Cirāq, and their noble leader صدام حسين Sad:ām Husajn, is cause célčbre among the same band of radicals who spend so much time wringing their hands about Mumia Abu-Jamal, including, as it happens, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Since we seem about to attack العراق ’al-Cirāq directly, with the intention of “régime change”, as it is being called, and since our side seems likely to oppose this, we should be clear about what we have been opposing so far.

Those who claim that sanctions are responsible for the deaths of innocents in العراق ’al-Cirāq are simply unacquainted with reality. The oil-for-food program provides صدام Sad:ām the ability to sell oil to buy humanitarian goods. He has not taken full advantage of the program because, as a dictator, he doesn’t actually want to feed people; that is not his priority. He is more interested in unfettered use of oil money for his own purposes, deepening his control and pampering himself and his sycophants. He is also more interested in the political issue. By perpetuating the starvation, he is dividing public opinion, particularly in the عربى Carabī world, but also including well-meaning liberals worldwide. He is counting on sympathetic individuals and peoples to bring an end to the sanctions out of guilt for their supposed effect, so that he is once again in a position to do as he will.

And he is running the blockade anyway. Régime expenditures indicate that the resources are there. صدام Sad:ām has spent those resources rebuilding his military, continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction, and, most outrageously, building palaces and other of what the régime calls “symbols of sovereignty”, not even bothering to deny it. If sanctions were to be lifted, and صدام Sad:ām were allowed to sell oil without restriction, he would simply have more money to pursue these military and aggrandizement efforts. He is not suddenly going to decide that he needs to start feeding his subjects, whom he clearly despises.

And I haven’t forgotten that liberal opponents to the first attack on العراق ’al-Cirāq repeatedly stressed that the West should give sanctions a chance to work. If the current liberal argument about sanctions were true, then liberals were opposing the Gulf War by saying, in effect, “Rather than risk the lives of young soldiers, let’s try starving babies first.”. Of course, it is possible that liberal attitudes about sanctions have changed. For myself, I believe the appropriate liberal position is never to do business with tyrants, never to give them the tools and resources they need to oppress their dominions, and thereby hasten the day when that oppression is brought to an end.

One of the few good things to come out of the Gulf War was a set of promises by صدام Sad:ām’s régime to cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and to submit to inspections to verify that. Sanctions were to continue until all such programs were verified to have ceased. But from the beginning, صدام Sad:ām has engaged in the inspections and sanctions process as some tremendous game. He has never fully cooperated, has never kept his commitments, has taken every opportunity to interfere and obfuscate, and has in particular successfully thwarted inspections even with a few timely delays, almost literally keeping the inspectors talking at the front door while hustling documents out the back. Does anyone seriously believe that صدام Sad:ām is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction? Or that, acquiring them, he would not use them? In fact, he has done so repeatedly, against ايران ’Īrān and against the Kurds. He has no scruples on that account, or any other.

I am committed to the idea of intervention, even armed intervention. As I say frequently, if I were to encounter a violent assault on the street, I would think nothing of stepping in to prevent the violence, even were that to involve violence on my part. After the Holocaust, the states of the world committed themselves to intervene to prevent genocide. Not that they ever did, as Rwanda demonstrated; but they certainly would have been more than justified. I consider intervention to be a moral obligation. صدام حسين Sad:ām Husajn oppresses, tortures, gasses, murders, and starves the innocent individuals who live under his control. If I could teleport into his bunker, I would put a bullet through his head myself. If someone else removes him from power, in whatever way, I will applaud. That might, seemingly, put me on the side of the conservatives, who, after nearly a year of saber-rattling, are finally bringing forth a plan for the overthrow of صدام حسين Sad:ām Husajn.

They will have a difficult time convincing anyone that there is something especially urgent about it now, though. Nothing has changed, unless Tony Blair’s mysterious dossier will reveal that صدام Sad:ām is four weeks from the bomb. If so, of course, we wouldn’t even have to ask ישראל Jiśra’el to take out the reactor; they’d have done it already. Perhaps it has taken George Bush this long to get his nerve up. Perhaps the administration was hoping to be drafted into leadership by an enthusiastic world. Perhaps they are just really, really slow at planning. For whatever reason, now is, we are supposed to believe, the opportune time to invade العراق ’al-Cirāq and put down صدام Sad:ām.

Our Secretary of War, Donald Rumsfeld, is eagerly in support. Our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who by contrast has actual combat experience, who is in fact the most celebrated soldier in the country, is not. I do not wish to delegitimize the possibility of military leadership by civilians; indeed, I think that placing officers in charge of military oversight is equivalent to no oversight, such as has led many a state to senseless war. But I do wish to underline the reasons for doubt that Powell is noted for. Civilian politicians, in his view, are too ready to take great risks with lives that are not their own, and then too quick to abandon an objective at the first casualty, lest the constituents withdraw support, even though there can be no war without casualties.

I am as staunch an opponent of the current régime in العراق ’al-Cirāq and the former régime in افغانستان ’Afğānistān as anyone, at least anyone without a direct personal involvement. I am by no means a pacifist. But I opposed the first war against العراق ’al-Cirāq because I didn’t trust us to do it right. I opposed the war against افغانستان ’Afğānistān because I didn’t trust us to do it right. I oppose the impending war against العراق ’al-Cirāq because I don’t trust us to do it right. There is a discernible pattern here. I don’t trust our government to behave justly. Or, more specifically, I don’t trust governments run by conservatives like the Georges Bush to behave justly. And that is reasonable, considering what they and their conservative predecessors have done. In the case of the first war against العراق ’al-Cirāq, we attacked and invaded solely for the purpose of “liberating” الكويت ’al-Kūajt from صدام Sad:ām. We proceeded, then, to hand الكويت ’al-Kūajt back to its former oil theocrats, and any vague promises of very limited democratization have gone unfulfilled. We allowed صدام Sad:ām to remain in power in العراق ’al-Cirāq because we preferred the atrocious autocrat that he was and is to the three states that would have emerged in his absence. So we missed our opportunity to establish three stable democracies, and instead have صدام Sad:ām and two insurrectionist states; and it is صدام Sad:ām’s government that has the legitimacy of international recognition. Huh?

افغانستان ’Afğānistān has turned out better; better, even, than we might have realistically hoped. The طالبان Tālibān is out of power. In its place is a fairly-liberal administration headed by حامد کرزی Hāmid Karzaī. کرزی Karzaī I am at least preliminarily inclined to like. He is not a chauvinist for his پښتون Paxtūn nation. He has taken great steps to advance the cause of women in particular and to reverse the oppressions of fundamentalism. And he has not only allowed but encouraged public criticism of himself and his government, a true hallmark of liberalism. But though I am pleased with the results, I remain displeased with the motives. We didn’t depose the طالبان Tālibān because they were oppressive; we deposed the طالبان Tālibān because we needed a cathartic war against someone and we couldn’t fight a conventional war against القاعدة ’al-Qācidaĥ. And we didn’t intend to install a liberal government, only one more favorable to our goals; the لويى جرګى Loŭjaj Ĝirgaj process we endorsed to select the government was not democratic.

And so I am in general favor of overthrowing صدام حسين Sad:ām Husajn, but not in favor of George Bush doing it. Before I can support something as grave as a war, I want to know that it will be worth the blood. I want to see a plan in place for a lengthy occupation. I want the money appropriated upfront. I want an entire country prepared to see deaths on the battlefield, from both sides. I want a tribunal established to try any captured members of the régime, including صدام Sad:ām himself, and anyone who commits war crimes during the conflict. I want to see an opposition leader of the stature of حامد کرزی Hāmid Karzaī or احمد شاه مسعود ’Ahmad Šāh Mascūd waiting in the wings, one who is committed to liberal democracy. I want a schedule for elections, including referenda in Kurdistan and southern العراق ’al-Cirāq for independence from بغداد Bağdād. I want a constitution that will protect civil liberties and minority rights.

Do we have that? Of course not. I conclude that we are not serious, then, that George Bush and his band of drumbeaters are engaged in nothing more noble than adventurism. This project seems no better thought out than the rest of their agenda, foreign or domestic, and no better justified. But we are talking about an enterprise led by George W. Bush, who is no rhetorician and certainly no strategist, so go figure.



Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford