Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Sudan and Iraq

Obviously something must be done to stop the atrocities in the Sudan. There is, of course, much niggling over whether these atrocities constitute genocide, but those arguments are, as they say, purely academic. What demands a response is wide-spread atrocities, including mass murder, including genocide. Genocide is a tad worse, morally speaking, than simple mass murder (or mass atrocity), but the difference is slight.

As you may know, I was torn about the invasion of Iraq. I thought and still think that, though the strategic case for invasion was a joke, the moral case for invasion was strong. However, I argued then and still believe that we could have done more good in the world had we taken the resources we expended in Iraq and expended them in Africa. With about 1/100th of the resources we used in Iraq, I'll bet we could halt the current crisis in Sudan, and we could do so with far fewer casualties on both sides.

But there is no way that the administration will commit troops to the Sudan. For one thing, conservatives in general simply don't support expending our blood and treasure to defend human rights. Their use of the human rights case for the invasion of Iraq was cynical and hypocritical, and if you have any doubt about that, just look at comments made by Republican leaders about Clinton's decision to stop the genocide in the former Yugoslavia. For thirty years the cry of conservatives has been "we can't be the world's policeman!" If using the military was not in our narrow national interest, conservatives strongly tended to be against it. (Sadly, many liberals have employed similar criticisms of the current war in Iraq, suggesting that they consider humanitarian concerns insufficient to justify war.)

For another thing, the Iraq war has probably stretched our military too thin for us to do anything in the Sudan. This is convenient for the Bush administration--having pretended that they went into Iraq for moral reasons, they can now suggest that they would go into Sudan if we weren't already engaged in a great moral struggle elsewhere.

And finally, having already attacked Iraq on trumped-up charges, it would be politically costly to send troops against the Arab militias in the Sudan. One cost of the Iraq war, of course, was that it made us look anti-Arab to many in the Middle East, and this cost has, now that the crisis in the Sudan has emerged, turned out to be particularly high.

Bush's newest alleged justification for the war in Iraq is that "it made the world a better place." This is slightly different than a standard moral justification for war, since, according to this criterion, we could invade a country and take its money if enough money was at issue and we used that money in beneficial enough ways. But never mind that. I ultimately did not support the war in Iraq, despite my long-standing belief that Saddam should be removed by force. The reason I didn't support the war was that I did NOT believe that it would make the world a better place. Al Qaeda had then emerged as a serious and credible threat to world security, and we should have gone after them first. Saddam should have been taken out long ago, but he wasn't, and there was no plausible reason for taking him out before eliminating al Qaeda. No worse time for attacking Saddam could possibly have been chosen. The attack on Iraq actually undermined our efforts against al Qaeda by draining our resources, diverting our attention, and galvanizing the Middle East against us. Consequently, even I, a long-time humanitarian hawk and long-time Saddam-hater did not condone an attack on Iraq in 2003.

An intelligent administration that allowed itself to be moved by facts and reasoning would not have attacked Iraq in 2003. Such an administration, concerned to make the United States and the world safer, would have gone after al Qaeda with everything we had, and probably would have wiped them out at Tora Bora. Such an administration, concerned to make the world a better place, would have made relatively small--but high pay-off--military commitments to places like Liberia and the Sudan, and worked to put together an anti-Saddam coalition and an international consensus that the guy had to go.

But by taking on an extremely tough, resource-intensive war, the Bush administration has now made it virtually impossible for us to undertake less resource-intensive military actions with much higher humanitarian payoffs. And we have paid a terrible political price for the Iraq war that we would not have paid if we had undertaken actions in Africa.

If we ever do get around to rebuilding Iraq, I expect that we will make Iraq a better place. Many liberals have, I'm afraid, lost sight of this fact. Even though the decision to attack was a bad one, it was in the ballpark. That is, much good will still come of it. My real objection to the war is that so much more good could have been done had we not attacked when and how we did.


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11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Bill Adams

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, excellent website. A great Iraq resource is Deaths in Iraq. It breaks all of the casualties down by age, race, branch of the military, country, etc.

2:27 PM  

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