The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The War in Iraq: The Imperialism of Fools
Karl Marx, I think, once retorted that anti-semitism was the socialism of fools. Anti-semitism, within the specific political and cultural landscape in Europe, provided an easy outlet and scapegoat to the working classes attempting to cope with their desperate existence. The working classes, however, were not alone in their falling for the malaise of anti-semitism; the political elites also found it increasingly difficult to weather the storms of nationalist consolidations and the perils of predatory international capitalism. Anti-semitism provided a convenient, low-threatening entity around which political discourse and activity coalesce, ultimately obscuring the real dynamics of oppression and distracting movements for much-needed social change and reform.
After September 11 and the overthrow of the Taliban, the debate on the war in Iraq demonstrated that imperialism is the new socialism of fools. Issues of wealth redistribution, a ballooning national deficit, and the increasing absence of a presidential domestic policy (due to the narrow Democrat take-over of the United States Senate after Jim Jeffords (Vt) became an independent) all began became obscured once the war drums for the opening of a second war front began to sound. I opposed this second call for war (having only tepidly supported a war in Afghanistan) and began to break ranks with the conservative movement as a result. Unfortunately, due to the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, I find myself in the thankless position of now supporting a war I argue against earlier.
I. That the Iraq War Was A Bad Idea
Due to an extended blogging holiday, I was not able to comment on John Derbyshire's (much needed) soul searching concerning the war in Iraq. In his introductory comments, the standard-bearer of conservative moral 'clarity', having continually argued straight-facedly against the dignity of gays and lesbians and their claims to equality under the law, retreats into the shadowy postmodern defense of linguistic 'ambiguity':
[My] friends ask me, as they do on average about once a week, whether I feel embarrassed at having supported the Iraq war. “Define ‘war,’” is the thing I want to say. I don’t say it, of course, exactly because it sounds like an irritating 11-year-old, but it’s really the essence of the matter. Did I support the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Yes I did. Do I support the continuing effort to get civil society going in Iraq? No I don’t, and haven’t for over two years. So do I support the war? Well... define “war.”
Derbyshire, for all his hedging, however, asks the one question which everyone is thinking but the administration (while Bush remains in office) and the Democrat party (for fear of looking 'soft' on defense) can never afford to say:
[The United States is] stuck there in that wretched place with no way out that would not involve massive loss of geostrategic face. Getting on for 3,000 of our troops have been killed, and close to 20,000 maimed. We’ve spent untold billions of dollars. For what?
Though soul-searching at the National Review is an uncommon rarity, I am loathe to indulge in their (quiet) admission of defeat. However, any drop of wisdom and perspective Derbyshire might have had in being force to admit error, quickly evaporates in the face of his enduring commitment to imperialism without consequences.
I don’t, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity... I worry a lot that the civilized world, of which this nation is faute de mieux the leader, has sunk into an enervated lassitude, a condition in which it is unwilling to act against threatening, or just annoying, barbarians... Back in mid-2002 I feared that we had no will to attack Iraq, though I said I wanted us to. I really feared that we had no will, no guts, to chastise our enemies the way I wanted them chastised—not with U.N. resolutions, but with bombs, tanks, and artillery shells. When events proved me wrong, I was delighted. (I felt the same delight when Margaret Thatcher, Whom God Preserve, went to war over the Falkland Islands in 1982.) Now we must act, we really must act, against Iran; but we can’t, because of Iraq...The rubble-and-out approach was not one that this administration, or perhaps any administration in the present state of our culture, would be willing to pursue. The universalist dogmas that rule unchallenged in our media and educational institutions have fixed their grip on our foreign policy, too. When the Founders of our nation said “all men” they had in mind Christian Anglo-Saxon men. Our leaders, though, want to bring the whole world under the scope of those grand Lockeian principles.Derbyshire's honesty is exceeded only by his brash, relentless, and inexplicable stupidity. The Iraqis, barbarians in his language, are to be punished because Saddam Hussein (whose government, I might add, was installed by the CIA in the 1950s) was either "threatening, or just annoying"? What kind of justification for war is that? Regardless of whether one gives a "fig leaf" for the Iraqi people and their "mysterious barbaric ways", at what point did "bombs, tanks, and artillery shells" become the tools of statecraft? Problem: Lesser nations run by "thugs" rejecting our 'free trade agreements'; less consider that category 'annoying' and just order an assassination. Saudi prince pointing out Western hypocrisy? Tanks and bombs. Venezuela concerned about protections for American farm subsidies? That's a threat: NUKE! I can't even begin to formulate a coherent response to Derbyshire's endorsement of genocide as statecraft, it's so unfathomably evil. With no overtly racist redistributive, religiously exclusive, or homophobic legislation to support, Derbyshire evinces his aggression against and contempt for cosmopolitan claims of justice in his no-holds barred militaristic foreign policy prescriptions.
The problem, from his point of view, seems that the Administration actually believes that it can spread democracy to a bunch of non-white (Muslim: gasp!) heathens by releasing them into their freedom (in the Rousseauan sense). The problem actually is, in fact, that the Administration believes that political institutions and discourses can be spread by force and in conditions of war. I, however, would be either a fool or a liar to expect that much wisdom and engagement with reality from Derbyshire, who, after all, has his reputation to protect. (Let's put aside the open call to bigotry in his historically accurate, but damnable reading of 'Lockean' principles.) Imperialism is the new socialism of fools, a playground for the pundits of diminished intellect and for scions of lesser houses.
II. Why Opposing the War (in 2002/3) Was the Right Course of Action
Crooked Timber's situating of the pro-war and anti-war arguments in light of present conditions hits the nail on the head. (I do not agree with the last setence of the entry so I have not quoted it.)
In the leadup to the Iraq war, many different arguments were presented for and against going to war, and many different predictions were made about the likely consequences of war. People supported war for a range of reasons, some of which were logically inconsistent, and the same was true of people who opposed war. Many people made many predictions, many of which turned out to be wrong. However, there is a fundamental asymmetry here.
Demosthenes provides the take-home point.
[W]hereas opponents merely needed to show that the war was a bad idea, supporters needed to show not only that the war was a good idea, but that it would be fought in the way--and for the reasons--that they advocated. Of course, they didn't do anything of the sort- they just projected onto Bush and Rumsfeld's little adventure everything they wanted their fantasy war to be.
If you supported the decision to go to war, now is the time to start apologizing. And if you are feeling particularly magnanimous, you could also admit that I was correct all along.