June 25, 2006

The Amnesty Question: We Are Not the Good Guys in Iraq

I can hear the howls of outrage even now, and I can see the incoming emails: "Oh, see how much you hate America! You and all the other appeaseniks make me sick. You disgust me." To make the critics' work easier, I will repeat the point, and even put it in big capital letters: WE ARE NOT THE GOOD GUYS.

I phrase it in this manner because it appears that I need to be blunter about several points I've discussed at length recently. There is massive resistance to fully identifying and accepting the nature of the United States' role in Iraq, and the nature of our foreign policy over the last century (and going back to the Spanish-American War, to make that point again as well). It is no surprise to find such resistance on conservative and faux-libertarian blogs, but it can also be seen on many liberal and progressive blogs -- for example, even in this post from the perceptive Digby.

This is why I have emphasized that the overall Western perspective and worldview -- the perspective that views the West, and more particularly America, as the end point of human civilization, which entitles the West to "civilize" the rest of the world, at gunpoint if necessary -- is not confined to any one point in the political spectrum. It is a Western outlook, one that all of us are immersed in and, if we are not on guard against it, one that influences our judgments in countless ways. Political affiliation does not innoculate anyone against its profound dangers.

I need very briefly to provide some background. I've stated on many occasions that, in terms of its basic founding principles, i.e., in its recognition of the supremacy of individual rights and that government's primary function is the protection of those rights, I revere the United States. But those founding principles have been eroded for more than a century. In recent decades, and more particularly under the Bush regime, those principles have been in danger of being jettisoned entirely. Not only is the United States largely unrecognizable today in terms of its basic founding principles: we are well on our way to dictatorship. But the mythical version of America -- the "city on a hill" that represents the last hope for humankind -- still holds sway with most Americans.

This false vision allows people to avoid recognition of the full nature of the immorality we committed in invading and occupying Iraq:
This is the foundational point, one that is almost never acknowledged in our public debates. Iraq constituted no threat to us, and our leaders knew it. Therefore, our invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are naked acts of aggression.
In that entry, I quoted Jacob Hornberger on the same issue:
U.S. military forces have no right, legal or moral, even to be in Iraq killing anyone. Why? Because neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States. The Iraqi people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. Thus, this was an optional war against Iraq, one that President Bush and his military forces did not have to wage.


[A]ll too many Americans have yet to confront the moral implications of invading and occupying Iraq. U.S. officials continue to exhort the American people to judge the war and occupation on whether it proves to be "successful" in establishing "stability." and "democracy" in Iraq. If so, the idea will be that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, including countless Iraqi children, will have been worth it. It would be difficult to find a more morally repugnant position than that.
Let me restate the point: in terms of the moral principles involved, the ultimate outcome in Iraq is completely irrelevant. Even though it is impossible, if by some series of miracles, Iraq became a fully-functioning democratic republic in the next several years, that would not vindicate or justify our actions -- because we had no right whatsoever to be there in the first place. And, although it should not even be required to state this, such a miracle would not restore the dead to life -- nor would it make broken bodies and destroyed lives whole again.

No matter what happens in Iraq, we have committed immoral, unforgivable acts on a vast scale. To sum up: we now occupy Iraq as aggressors. In terms of our military actions in Iraq, we are today's equivalent of the invading hordes of the past, those that we correctly condemn and vilify. We have vastly superior military might -- but our moral authority is non-existent. No moral or legal argument supports our presence in Iraq. None.

I fully recognize how repugnant and troubling a truth this is. Nonetheless, it is the truth, and it is the necessary starting point for all further discussion.

As far back as the fall of 2003, I've explained why there is no good solution to the situation we have created in Iraq. I won't repeat that argument here; see this recent post for details (where I also republish an October 2003 post on the same theme at the end). There is no "good" solution to the overall nightmare we have unleashed -- and there is no "good" solution to any particular aspect of it.

This brings us to the amnesty question. Al-Maliki has included an amnesty proposal in his 28-point peace plan, and the UK Telegraph concisely sums up the specific proposal and its potential pitfalls:
The move, and an amnesty for all guerrilla groups except al-Qaeda extremists, is designed to pacify the rebels and offer them incentives to engage in the political process. Western security sources are anxious that the clause will weaken British and American operations against Zarqawi's successors in al-Qaeda's leadership.
It is possible that the amnesty clause may "weaken British and American operations" -- but again, we have no right to be there in the first place.

Will the amnesty proposal work to the extent of lessening the violence to a degree that makes political success more likely? It certainly might, although I am far from sure of that. But it's not our call -- because we have no right to be there. If al-Maliki and his advisors think it might help, let them try it out. But Digby is mistaken in saying, for example:
Until American troops are off the ground --- or at least a cease fire is in effect --- amnesty makes little sense. It rewards killings of the past and prevents none in the future. Amnesty is a valuable card you play as part of a comprehensive settlement.
It appears that al-Maliki is attempting "a comprehensive settlement," so perhaps Digby will amend the earlier comments in light of this plan. But that still does not alter the basic point: it's not our call. We shouldn't be there at all. And this also avoids another painfully obvious point: we can get "American troops...off the ground." We can Get Out Now, or within six months at a maximum. The fact that we refuse to, and that the presence of American troops means they are primary targets, is our responsibility and our problem, not al-Maliki's or that of any other Iraqi.

Let me be very, very clear: I understand that no one wants to make the killing or injuring of American troops more likely. I most certainly do not. But this awful, nightmarish problem would never have arisen if we hadn't wrongfully invaded Iraq in the first place -- and it would be ended if we quickly left. But we won't. Once more: that decision, including all its consequences, is our responsibility and no one else's. And one related point: undoubtedly, many individual American soldiers are performing admirably in Iraq, and even helping individual Iraqis in important ways. But particular acts of positive aid, and even acts of great heroism, do not change the fact that we shouldn't be there. So while there may be, and certainly are, individual "good guys," they do not make the United States itself the "good guy."

Consider a part of Jacob Hornberger's column I didn't excerpt before:
Suppose a coalition of Muslim countries successfully invaded the United States to overthrow the Bush regime and that foreign troops were now occupying the country and supervising new elections. Suppose some Americans began violently resisting the occupation and that British citizens came over to help them. While there undoubtedly would be some Americans supporting the foreign occupation of America and cooperating with it, my hunch is that most Americans would support the resistance.
To be sure, many of those killing and injuring American troops are the worst sort of thugs. But is it so impossible for us to understand why many decent, honorable Iraqis may wish us harm, and even why they might wish to kill the Americans in their country? We have no right to be there -- and we have turned their country into a daily, even hourly, nightmare that makes some Iraqis wish for the return of Saddam Hussein.

This past week, Jim Henley offered some very perceptive and accurate comments on the amnesty question, and about the Democrats playing politics with it:
This is the worst sort of irresponsible, jingoistic tripe. It's not as bad as starting a needless war, though plenty of Democratic politicians had a hand in that, but it's a good way to keep one from ending. Some kind of amnesty for native-Iraqi insurgents, including those who have attacked and killed American soldiers, is going to be crucial to any deal that can resolve the current tangle of wars in that country. It's crucial to any deal that could stop the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. It's crucial to any deal that will let the United States wrap up its involvement there. It's cheap grandstanding to pretend otherwise. It's also Imperialist...


And it’s worse than that. By trying to "run to the Republicans’ right" on the amnesty idea the shortsighted Dems feed the very nationalist atavism that, in the long run, redounds to Republican advantage anyway. The national Democratic Party is never going to produce a majority of candidates who can match the Republicans at stroking chauvinism. The smart political play here is to shut the hell up.


If we still had politicians capable of making an argument in this country - actually building a chain of facts and principles to a conclusion - they could turn the amnesty deal into a great supporting paragraph to a thesis statement about the limits of force. All we have, though, are politicians just smart enough to recognize when an opponent has failed to sound stupid in the officially approved way, and hoot like the slow kid observing a pratfall on the playground.

So if you can't make a principled argument "about the limits of force" and about why we should never have invaded Iraq at all, and why we ought to leave within six months at the outside, take a cue from Jim. Moreover, Jim's observation that "the shortsighted Dems feed ...nationalist atavism" comes up in other ways, and has broader applications. I'll get to some of them soon.

The killing and maiming of Americans is a terrible thing. So is the killing and maiming of Iraqis, and of anyone else at all. No reason justified our invasion of Iraq, and no reason justifies our remaining. If more Americans get killed and terribly wounded, it's because our leaders refuse to pull them out. But while we remain there, amnesty may actually lessen American casualties.

In terms of the most crucial principles involved, we are not the good guys in Iraq. We never were, and we never will be.

Get Out Now: Just Do It. That remains the only sane, the only practical and the only moral solution to the nightmare on earth we have unleashed, despite the fact that the majority of our politicians are too cowardly and too ignorant to acknowledge it.

UPDATE: I strongly recommend that you read David Swanson's observations as well. And note his concluding paragraph:
Amnesty for those who fought a foreign occupation should come very naturally to us, especially as we approach the Fourth of July. Somebody should tell the Democrats.
You should, as they say, read the entire entry. (My thanks to Jonathan Schwarz for the tip.)

[An earlier, critically related post is here.]