It is, in any event, such realities--the brutalizing and murder by the Baathist regime of tens upon tens of thousands of its own nationals--that the recent war has brought to an end. It should have been supported for this reason, irrespective of the reasons (concerning weapons of mass destruction) that George Bush and Tony Blair put up front themselves; though it is disingenuous of the war's critics to speak now as if the humanitarian case for war formed no part of the public rationale of the Coalition, since it was clearly articulated by both the president and the prime minister more than once.Read the whole thing. It's very well done.
Here is one approximate measure of the barbarities of the Baathist regime I have just referred to. It comes not from the Pentagon, or anyone in the Bush administration, or from Tony Blair or those around him. It comes from Human Rights Watch. According to Human Rights Watch, during 23 years of Saddam's rule some 290,000 Iraqis disappeared into the regime's deadly maw, the majority of these reckoned to be now dead. Rounding this number down by as much as 60,000 to compensate for the "reckoned to be," that is 230,000. It is 10,000 a year. It is 200 people every week. And I'll refrain from embellishing with details, which you should all know, as to exactly how a lot of these people died.
Had the opposition to the war succeeded, this is what it would have postponed--and postponed indefinitely--bringing to an end. This is how almost the whole international left expressed its moral solidarity with the Iraqi people. Worse still, some sections of the left seemed none too bothered about making common cause with, marching alongside, fundamentalist religious bigots and known racists; and there were also those who dismissed Iraqi voices in support of the war as coming from American stooges--a disgraceful lie.
Let's now model this abstractly. You have a course of action with mixed consequences, both good consequences and bad consequences. To decide sensibly you obviously have to weigh the good against the bad. Imagine someone advising, with respect to some decision you have to make, "Let's only think about the good consequences," or, "Let's merely concentrate on the bad consequences." What?! It's a no-brainer, as the expression now is. But from beginning to end something pretty much like this has been the approach of the war's opponents. I offer a few examples.
The crassest are the statements by supposedly mature people--one of these Clare Short, Britain's former international development secretary, another the novelist Julian Barnes--that this war was not worth the loss of a single life. Not one? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders, for the children tortured and murdered in front of their parents, and for those parents. So much for those Human Rights Watch estimates and for the future flow of the regime's victims had it been left in place.
More generally, since the fall of Baghdad critics of the war have been pointing (many of them with relish) at everything that has gone, or remains, wrong in Iraq: the looting, the lack of civil order, the continuing violence and shootings, the patchy electricity supply, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Is this fair enough? Yes and no. Yes, because it has to be part of any balanced assessment. But also no if it isn't set against the fact, the massive fact, of the end of a regime of torture, oppression and murder, of everything that has stopped happening since the regime fell. And typically it isn't set against this massive fact. This fact is passed over or tucked away, because to acknowledge it fully and make a balanced assessment won't come out right for the war's critics. It just won't stack up--this, this and, yes, also this, but against the end of all that--in the way they'd like it to.
Or else your antiwar interlocutor will freely concede that of course we all agree it is a good that that monster and his henchmen no longer govern Iraq; but it is too stupid a point to dwell upon, for it doesn't touch on the issue dividing us, support or not for the war (on grounds of weapons of mass destruction, international law, U.S. foreign policy, the kitchen sink). Er, yes it does. No one is entitled simply to help himself to the "of course, we all agree" neutralization of what was and remains an absolutely crucial consideration in favor of the war. One has properly to integrate it into an overall, and conscientiously weighted, balance sheet of both good and bad consequences.
Monday, August 04, 2003
Norman Geras has an absolutely wonderful essay in WSJ online about the leftists who opposed the war.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 1:55 PM