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Friday, April 04, 2003
Realism and (Human) Rights

My question remains unanswered on charges that it lacks subtlety (an egregious charge, to be sure). How would you rephrase it then, without deflecting attention from its essential concern? In the meantime, I'll just have to answer Tim's question as best I can. He asks why we don't invade China, Tibet, Zimbabwe, and other nasty regimes around the world whose human rights violations "can be much worse than what is currently going on in Iraq." I don't know about this last point: the Chinese people don't live in fear on a day to day basis, that's for sure. But let's take those countries one by one:

- China: sure, let's invade China and trigger World War III. They've only got one billion people, a huge standing army, a vast amount of territory, and nuclear weapons.

- Tibet: any attempt to act aggressively with regards to Tibet will lead to a conflict with China.

- North Korea: only has nuclear weapons.

- Iran: unlike in Iraq, there is a growing democratic movement in Iran that might very well succeed without the need for military intervention. In fact, as Amir Taheri notes, the current operation, if successful, might go a long way towards triggering a counter-Revolution in the country. There is no democratic movement in Iraq whatsoever.

- Saudi Arabia: the US (unfortunately) has a huge economic stake in the world's largest oil-producing (and terrorist-producing) nation. Unless you want the global economy to collapse, invasion would simply not be possible unless a massive divestment from Saudi oil took place first. That would mean, in part, finding alternative sources of oil somewhere else...wait...

- Zimbabwe, Syria, Congo, etc: see below.

So as you can see, although I support human rights, I'm fairly realistic when it comes to foreign policy. I make the case for invading (and democratizing) Iraq for several reasons: humanitarian, geopolitical, and economic. Of course there are complications and potential problems, and the reasonable opposition to the war has done an excellent job in pointing them out. And Iraq can't and won't be the end of America's post-9/11 involvement with undemocratic countries. But as I see it, all factors weighed and considered, Iraq is simply the best place (out of the worst countries in this world) to start making the Middle East - maybe even the world - a better place. There is no guarantee that the democratization of Iraq will lead to democratic revolutions elsewhere in the region. But if you believe, as I do, that democracy is worth fighting for, then something has to be done.

And I realize that the fate of sub-Saharan Africa and thugs like Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il remains at large. Maybe North Korea will go the way of East Germany. Perhaps when Bush steps down in 2008 (I have a feeling he will win next year), a capable Democrat will take over the reins of power and begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding Africa. Perhaps a new, genuinely-benevolent imperialism is in order. Hopefully, a reformed United Nations will be able to do something substantive. We shall see - and hope.

A lot of our concerns will be either confirmed or repudiated within the coming weeks, months, and years. At present, we can but speculate. Yet I don't share the pessimism of those who distrust the administration's desire to rebuild Iraq into a thriving, functional democracy. I actually believe Bush and Blair on this point. But again, we shall see - and hope.