January 15, 2007

Sullivan's Monstrous and Inhuman Calculus

I freely admit that I find it altogether sickening and appalling that Andrew Sullivan continues to have major media outlets from which to spew his unendingly ignorant, propagandistic and profoundly inhuman recommendations on foreign policy. Of course, the same could be said of many of our leading pundits. Thomas Friedman, as just one example, is a writer who approaches the same subject from a nominally different political orientation, and who is also unusually repellent.

But Sullivan's reality-deprived mewlings stand alone in certain ways. He manages to combine an extreme personal narcissism with the more general Western narcissism that infects most pundits (and most of our governing class), and he overcooks all of it into an exceptionally nauseating stew, the chief ingredient of which is the mangled and bloody bodies of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Yet Sullivan remains blissfully unconcerned with the carnage inflicted on others. Nothing is permitted to challenge his unquestioned belief that the West is entitled to reshape the whole world as it sees fit. The destruction of entire populations does not cause even momentary hesitation in Sullivan's quest to make the world "safe" for our "civilization" -- and safe for Sullivan himself.

Every now and then, I continue to see people remark that Sullivan at least has admitted he was wrong about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But as I have discussed, Sullivan did not acknowledge that he was wrong on even one matter of consequence, and the framework within which he analyzes events continues to be fundamentally false. In that earlier post, I discussed (among his other errors) how Sullivan still has no understanding of the actual role of intelligence gathering in determining foreign policy. Regrettably, this error still affects the majority of those who comment on foreign affairs. And I've seen some bloggers favorably reference my numerous posts on this subject (some of which are listed at the conclusion of this entry) -- and then blithely go on to talk about the importance of getting the intelligence "right" about Iran, as if intelligence were the basis for major foreign policy decisions.

Once more, I emphatically state that intelligence, which a careful reading of history reveals is almost always wrong, is not the basis for decisions of war and peace. Such decisions are ones of policy and judgment, for which no special expertise or "secret information" is required. Well-informed citizens are just as capable of making these decisions as political leaders; moreover, as events of recent years have demonstrated, and hardly for the first time, "ordinary" citizens are often much better qualified to make such judgments. And there is a further point that many people still resist: not only is intelligence not the foundation for decisions of war and peace. Intelligence is the after-the-fact alleged justification for decisions that have already been made, entirely apart from intelligence, whatever it might have indicated.

At the very opening of his latest column, Sullivan demonstrates still one more time that he has yet to grasp any of this:
In war and in politics unexamined axioms are always dangerous. That much we learnt from 2003. The axiom driving policy then was that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. On that unquestioned assumption, all the debate rested. And yet the axiom was false.
Every critical aspect of this paragraph is entirely false. The WMD "assumption" was widely challenged and "questioned," but the warmongering establishment -- led in not insignificant part by Sullivan himself -- brushed all such challenges and questions aside in its drive to war, and smeared all such questioners as being "pro-Saddam" and "anti-American" into the bargain. And many of us who opposed the Iraq war did not rest our part in the debate on this issue. Our analysis and our judgment concluded that the war would be disastrous whether Iraq had WMD or not. I repeat what I said earlier on the question of war with Iraq:
I would argue, and indeed I did argue at the time, that even if everything the Bush administration claimed had been true, the war still was not justified -- and that it was definitely not strategically advisable longer term.

I submit that even if WMD had been found in Iraq, the negative consequences flowing out of the U.S. occupation still argue conclusively against this war. As explained in this post and the Peter Bergen article it excerpts, we vanquished one foe only to breathe life into a worldwide jihadist movement. We traded one enemy for a multitude of enemies. Had Iraq possessed WMD, that is still a remarkably ill-advised exchange. And make no mistake: we would have had a prolonged occupation in any case, and it would have led to the identical, profoundly negative results.
Even an Iraq with WMD did not constitute a serious threat to the United States. Therefore, any invasion and occupation of Iraq would still have represented a war of aggression and an unspeakable war crime. As I explained later in that earlier essay, the same would be true of an Iran with nuclear weapons in five or ten years. And an attack on Iran in the next year or two, whether that attack utilized "tactical" nuclear weapons or not, would constitute an immense evil and would likely be catastrophic in the extreme.

Most of Sullivan's latest column is devoted to his questioning of "[t]he axiom ... that leaving Iraq would be a disaster for the security of the West." Sullivan details the likely calamitous results of a complete U.S. withdrawal, but he argues that "a massive blood-letting in Iraq" might be a good thing -- for the West. Note carefully his reasoning:
But if America withdrew from Iraq and a Sunni-Shi'ite war took off, the narrative of the long war would inevitably change. It would go from Islam versus the West to Islam versus itself. Escalating conflict in the Arab Muslim world would only be fully explicable in terms of the Sunni-Shi'ite split.

Instantly, Sunni Al-Qaeda would have a serious enemy close at hand: Shi'ite Iran. Think of this not as a "divide and conquer" strategy so much as a "divide and get out of the way" strategy. And with deft handling it could conceivably reap dividends in the long run.


Similarly, redefining the war on terror as essentially the product of ancient feuds within Islam immediately shifts the argument onto terrain favourable to the West. For the first time in five years, it takes the narrative out of Bin Laden's hands.

It also has the added benefit of being true. Al-Qaeda's primary foes have always been Arab regimes not in accordance with extreme fundamentalist Wahhabist theology. But that theology is also full of contempt for those regarded by Al-Qaeda and most Sunnis as heretics: the Shi'ites of Iran.

We are learning in Iraq not to underestimate the power of this mutual hatred. The loathing of Muslims for other Muslims in the Middle East today is as deep as the loathing of Christians for other Christians once was in Europe. For Sunni versus Shi'ite, think Protestant versus Catholic. For 2007, think 1557.


Al-Qaeda hates the West but its main beef is with fellow Muslims who are heretics and traitors. The fanatics have certainly killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims over the years.

So why not let them hang themselves by this rope? By leaving Iraq, America could create a dangerous civil war that nonetheless has huge propaganda potential for changing the entire game of this larger war. It takes the West much further out of the picture and focuses the mind where it truly belongs: on current Muslim pathologies, paranoia and self-hatred. We can still prove our pro-reform bona fides by concentrating on Afghanistan, where we still have a chance to turn things around. And we also give Iran a big headache in grappling with the chaos on its border.
There is so much wrong with this that I can only briefly cover the major errors.

From the lofty perch of Western egocentrism which regards the world as its plaything, Sullivan casually omits the critical preliminary fact: that all this "blood-letting" at this moment in history would follow from the United States' unjustified, criminal and murderous invasion and destruction of Iraq. Even if it were true that a civil war at this time would represent "the product of ancient feuds within Islam," it would have been unleashed by our actions. Sullivan might prevent this fundamental truth from entering his consciousness, and he obviously is capable of deluding himself as to the "narrative" he prefers -- but it should be prohibitively stupid to think that millions of Arabs and Muslims will be persuaded to ignore what we have done, or to forget history altogether.

Yet this is the manner in which the West has proceeded for thousands of years, and without interruption since the end of the First World War. We have rearranged the Middle East for our own benefit, we have redrawn maps to suit our particular interests in defiance of culture and of the peoples who actually live there, we have ceaselessly made war and interfered in that region (often with outright war, and even more often through unacknowledged, covert operations) -- but now we will stand back and maintain that any problems they have are all their own doing. This is Irving Kristol's approach to foreign policy carried to its zenith: we interfere around the world and make war without end, and yet nothing is ever our fault. It all "just happened." Responsibility may never be attached to our actions, even when we murder hundreds of thousands of innocent victims, or even millions.

Sullivan and our warmongering political class may choose to ignore all of this. The peoples of the Middle East, and Muslims around the world, will not be so forgetful or forgiving. Nor should they be.

Sullivan's refusal and inability to acknowledge the consequences of our actions similarly reveals itself here: "For the first time in five years, it takes the narrative out of Bin Laden's hands." Sullivan speaks of Bin Laden and al Qaeda as if we are still in the evening of 9/11, and as if the occupation of Iraq has altered nothing. This is criminally ignorant. Once again, I refer you to this post and the Peter Bergen article excerpted there. Our actions have splintered al Qaeda into a global jihadist movement. Bin Laden has been rendered largely irrelevant. Those who may wish to do us harm have increased in number significantly -- in direct response to what we have done. But Sullivan sees none of this.

One further passage requires comment:
The other likely result of a Sunni-Shi'ite war is serious damage to the world's oil supply. But isn't that just what the West needs? Don't we desperately need to wean ourselves off oil -- and wouldn't $100 a barrel be the best way to accelerate that?
Sullivan's ignorance approaches perfection. He is entirely unaware of the advanced state of corporate statism which consumes the West; more particularly, he appears to know nothing of the close alliances among Western governments, the governing elites, and the major oil companies. If they can possibly avoid the consequences described by Sullivan, they will, as events reveal daily, assuming one pays attention to them. Sullivan may think "$100 a barrel" might be "just what the West needs" -- but the West's governing class has no intention of allowing that to happen if they can possibly avoid it. The events we have unleashed may finally push us out of the Middle East and lessen our perpetual interference in that region, and we may endure the consequences Sullivan foresees with their accompanying economic devastation and dislocation. But none of it will be because that is what the Western powers have chosen. (To avoid any misunderstanding: I have long maintained that the United States must withdraw from Iraq completely, but for reasons entirely different from Sullivan's -- beginning with the fact that we never had any right at all to be there in the first place. See this essay and others referenced there for the fuller explanation.)

Sullivan concludes with his usual self-praise: only he can appreciate the great "propaganda" value in immeasurable future "blood-letting," because only he is capable of appreciating "flexibility," "paradox" and "nuance." In his conclusion, he mentions one other quality that is the ultimate trump card: "ruthless self-interest" is "indispensable." One might wonder where the "self-interest" was in invading and occupying a nation that had not attacked us and which did not threaten us. For what "self-interest" of ours have hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and tens of thousands of Americans died and been maimed? It is only the "self-interest" of Sullivan and the other warmongers: those who believe that the United States has the "right" to dominate the entire world by military force, and to make all others act in accordance with our dictates.

I must mention one final point entirely neglected by Sullivan. It is the point I always feel compelled to include when discussing this subject, because it is finally the most important. That is the irreplaceable, precious and desperately fragile value of a single human life. An overwhelming number of lives have been ended and irreparably damaged because of our unforgivable decision to engage in a purely aggressive war, one that we never had any right to begin at all. We have destroyed an entire country and murdered hundreds of thousands of people, and the nightmare that Sullivan envisions may well come to pass regardless of what we do now. And all of it was entirely avoidable, and none of it had any connection of consequence to the defense of this nation.

The basic requirements of morality and recognition of responsibility for our actions are entirely absent from Sullivan's analysis, and from his worldview. But history will not forget what we have chosen to do, just as it will not forget the deaths and the immense destruction we have already caused, or the future death and destruction that may now be inevitable. We must not forget them either.

[As I must note from time to time, my only income at present is from donations for my writing here and at The Sacred Moment (where you will find my series, On Torture, and the many essays based on the work of Alice Miller; I will soon be moving all the essays at The Sacred Moment here, so that my writing is in one place). I regret that I must make an emergency request for donations right now. I had thought that two potential sources of funds might see me through this period; unfortunately, neither of them has materialized, and it now appears they will not in the foreseeable future. As a result, I am perilously close to being completely broke. I do not exaggerate: I am down to my last few dollars.

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