January 10, 2007

Dominion Over the World (I): Iraq Is the Democrats' War, Too

I regret that I have been absent from this space for so long. The past few months have been exceptionally difficult for many reasons, and my overall situation is not much improved at the moment. As I mentioned at the conclusion of one of my posts in December, two good friends have been suffering with gravely serious illnesses. After weeks of excruciating agony, one of those friends died early in the morning of January 2. T. and I had many differences and points of antagonism over the last several years, but I deeply wish she were still here, alternately to delight and infuriate me. She suffered terribly during the last weeks of her life, and I am profoundly relieved that her agony is over. But she left those of us whose lives she touched far too quickly. Miraculously enough, my other friend (T.'s husband) appears to be improving. We hope he will be well enough to return home from the hospital soon. In the midst of these troubles, I have had other problems, but they fade into comparative insignificance set against the loss of T., and her husband's ongoing illness.

I began several essays over the holiday season, but I was unable to sustain the concentration required to complete them. I will now attempt to make up for lost time, at least to some extent. Among other subjects, I mused about the feelings I experience during the Christmas season. Although the holidays are already quickly fading into memory, I will include some of those thoughts here, since they lead into the subject that now concerns me.

As a lifelong atheist, I have never had any use for the religious aspects of the holiday season. But I have always loved Christmas. I love the smell of the trees, the lights and decorations are a delight, and much of the seasonal music is very beautiful. Two other aspects of Christmas have always brought me immense pleasure. The first is the great goodwill, considerateness and generosity (both spiritual and material) offered by so many people. One might wish, as I certainly do, that these traits were exhibited to the same or to an even greater degree all the year; alas, we have not yet evolved to that stage. Nonetheless, it is a profound delight to see the kindness and compassion of which so many are capable, even if it is only for a brief period of time. The additional aspect of the Christmas season is one that has assumed ever greater meaning for me as I grow older, especially after all the writing I have done in recent years about needless, unjustifiable, immoral war and its resulting slaughter, as well as concerning the immense cruelty of which far too many human beings are capable.

Christmas is the season in which we celebrate peace. Today, as has been true for most of mankind's history and as has been tragically and indisputably true for almost the entire last century, there are almost no significant public voices advocating peace as one of the handful of preeminent values toward which we should strive, if we care to any degree whatsoever about human life and civilization. When public figures offer empty platitudes about their devotion to peace and goodwill, they almost always employ such slogans as justification for the latest carnage. We are always told that this bloodbath will finally be the last one: Wilson told us that when he dragged the United States into World War I. Many leaders told us that about the slaughter of World War II, just as they did on a lesser scale with regard to Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo -- and Afghanistan and Iraq. In some form, Bush will make the same claim tonight, when he tells us about his latest plan for "victory" in the charnel house that is Iraq. If we "win" in Iraq, Bush will say, a future of peace will be that much closer.

It has never been true, and it will never be true. But the propaganda achieves its purpose: a sufficient number of people allow themselves to acquiesce to the new campaign of destruction and death, believing that civilization itself lies in the balance. The pile of corpses grows beyond counting, and people willingly continue to credit the lies that ensure the slaughter will continue without end. We reject history, we refuse to learn even one lesson from all the deaths that have gone before, and we refuse to permit ourselves to recognize the sanctity of the life of one precious, irreplaceable individual. We remain the most primitive of animals, moved almost exclusively by fear, hatred and the desire for revenge.

It is a tragedy beyond measure that just before the onset of Christmas, it became absolutely clear that the slaughter in Iraq will continue unabated for the next two years, and probably considerably longer. The leaders of the new Democratic Congress have already announced that, unless a public outcry compels them to act otherwise, they will not take it upon themselves to halt the ongoing murder and destruction of an entire country and its peoples. As I always point out in discussions of this topic, and the fundamental point that we must never forget, Iraq never attacked us, and Iraq posed no threat to our nation. Moreover, many ordinary citizens knew that in the months preceding our invasion of Iraq -- and our leaders knew it as well. Once again, in the unfortunate event that you still are unable to wrap your mind around this unavoidable fact, I state without qualification that our leaders lied about their actual reasons for invading and occupying Iraq, as Jacob Hornberger details here. This means that our war on Iraq was a naked, criminal act of aggression, and both the initial invasion and the continuing occupation represent a war crime on an immense scale.

This is a fact of the greatest significance -- and it is this precise fact that our governing class and its willing enablers are determined to obliterate. More than that: they are determined to prevent the true nature of what we have done, and what we continue to do, from ever entering the national discussion. We murder hundreds of thousands of innocent people who never threatened us, and we still insist that we "liberated" a nation, that our motives were unquestionably pure, and that our only fault is that we are too "idealistic." This is a pathology suited to a homicidal, psychotic murderer -- and it is the pathology embodied by our foreign policy for the last one hundred years, and longer.

Let us be absolutely clear: the foreign policy to which I refer is one embraced and fully supported by both Democrats and Republicans. The catastrophe of Iraq has destroyed that nation and murdered in excess of half a million entirely innocent people, and it has grievously wounded our own country and the world in ways that will be felt for many decades to come. But as terrible as the consequences of our invasion and occupation of Iraq are, there is an equally terrible idea taking hold in our nation discussion. If this idea is left unchallenged and uncorrected, it will make future catastrophes of the same kind inevitable and unavoidable. Those catastrophes may be even worse -- and if one of them involves the unprovoked, aggressive use of nuclear weapons of any kind, it may be the final catastrophe.

This baleful idea is one being enthusiastically propagated by many people, led by the leaders of the new Democratic Congress and its numerous apologists: the idea that, if Democrats had been in charge, the Iraq disaster would not have happened. But as my subtitle states, Iraq is the Democrats' war, too.

I do not mean only that the Democrats enabled the invasion of Iraq, although many of them did. And I do not mean only that the Democrats have repeatedly voted to appropriate untold wealth for a continuing and criminal occupation of that country, although many of them did, and have announced they will continue to do so. Dennis Kucinich, who appears to be the single Democrat committed to actually ending this bloody nightmare, recently wrote:
This chart of key appropriations votes shows the difficulty in changing policies in Iraq. It is obvious that from the very beginning of the war that not only Republicans, but Democrats in Congress have supported a continuation of the war, and therefore have repeatedly rejected attempts to curtail the conduct of the war.

Once troops were in the field, support for the war within Congress, as measured by support for Iraq war appropriations, increased sharply among Democrats in the House, to the point where only a small number of House Democrats consistently opposed continued funding for the war.

Indeed, a little more than one month before the Great Realignment of November 2006, (the most recent vote taken on an Iraq funding bill) on September 30, 2006, only twenty Democrats voted against the conference report which provided another $70 billion for the war. The Senate passed the bill 100 – 0.
It may be true that a Gore Administration would not have chosen to invade Iraq after 9/11, but the Democratic apologists would attach undue greater meaning to this single particular. They would imbue the (possible) avoidance of the Iraq catastrophe with a significance that directly contradicts the historical context in which it has taken place. In effect, Democrats (and many liberal and progressive bloggers) would have you believe that something like the Iraq disaster would never occur if the Democrats were in charge.

This is flatly false. It is a lie offered for the least admirable and most petty of ignoble partisan motives. The Democrats would have you forget Woodrow Wilson and World War I, and the century of conflict to which our entrance into that war led (and the effects of which still play out in the Middle East and beyond today); they would have you forget Vietnam, which parallels the Iraq catastrophe in ways beyond counting -- and they would have you forget the Balkans and Kosovo.

The Democrats' unceasing defense of our interventions in the Balkans and Kosovo is especially revealing. The Democrats refuse to acknowledge the continuity between the policies championed by the Clinton Administration and the Iraq invasion. As I have noted, quoting Brendan O'Neill:
In the 90s, "liberal humanitarians" said international law was an ass and demanded that it be scrapped. They called on western powers to rewrite or simply to ignore the UN charter, in order to facilitate interventions everywhere from Somalia to the Balkans to Kosovo.

It was a formidable consensus of both left and right, comprised of politicians, academics, journalists and NGO activists. And if you argued against this consensus promoting international intervention over sovereign equality, as I and others did, you could expect to be denounced as an appeaser, an apologist or even a fascist, as someone described me when I protested against the (illegal) bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

These "humanitarians" helped to create the lawless world in which Bush and Blair can treat the third world as a private shooting range.


It seems that rules don't matter when you allegedly have right on your side. Funnily enough, this is the exact same argument made by Blair over Iraq today. "I might have broken the rules but, hey, I did the right thing."


The entire "humanitarian era", from the end of the cold war through to today, has been premised on the idea that the old international laws are bad because they act as a barrier to intervening in trouble spots around the globe. In 1993 an adviser to Clinton spelt out the new approach to global affairs: "Nationhood as we know it will be obsolete. All states will recognise a single global authority..."


Such explicit disdain for sovereign statehood, everywhere from newspaper offices to the academy to UN headquarters, represented a significant shift. ...

There was often a gaping chasm, of course, between the theory and the practice; western powers often overrode states' "sovereign equality". Yet the UN charter sought to instil some order into world affairs in the aftermath of the second world war, by codifying the principle of non-intervention save in extreme circumstances.

The "humanitarians" blew that notion out of the water, making military intervention into the rule of international affairs rather than the exception - and they were cheered all the way by more than a few liberal commentators. The consequences were utterly dire: thousands were killed in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans and Iraq by these "caring" imperialists.

Should we really be surprised, then, when today a US cowboy and his British deputy sheriff launch an invasion of Iraq that doesn't play by the old rules? Ours does indeed look like a lawless world, but some liberals are not in a position to complain about it. They got what they asked for.

Let's not beat around the bush: today's instability is a product of their earlier narcissistic fantasies about being the saviours of mankind in the post-cold war era.
Quoting O'Neill once more, we see that Democrats and their apologists similarly refuse to acknowledge the consequences of the 1990s' interventions that directly affect the world situation today:
In 1993, as documented in David Halberstam's seminal War In a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals, President Clinton gave a 'green light' to the arming of the Bosnian Muslims by Iran and Saudi Arabia, even though this defied a UN embargo against arming any side in the Yugoslav conflict (8). From 1993 to 1996 there was an influx of weapons and military advisers into Bosnia, largely organised by Iranian and Saudi officials. This opened the floodgates to the arrival of Mujihadeen fighters from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere, to fight with the Bosnian Muslims. All of this took place under the watchful eye of a Clintonian policy of 'no instruction' - in short, such movements should not be interfered with and, if possible, should be encouraged by a 'green light' (9).


Since 9/11, the US State Department and European officials have fretted about the consequences of the movement of Mujihadeen forces into Europe. The State Department is concerned that Bosnia-Herzegovina has become a 'staging area and safe haven for terrorists', including 'extremists with ties to bin Laden'. Some may now be looking at Russia after the Beslan school siege and asking what the hell they unleashed; they will no doubt support the Russian government's condemnation of foreign and Arab extremists in Chechnya. Yet targeting individual Arabs and attempting to rein in those forces unleashed in the 1990s will do little to bring peace to these regions. The underlying problem is contemporary Western intervention and its corrosive impact, rather than handfuls of mad Arabs.


The Mujihadeen was created and financed by the right in the 1980s, by the Reagan administration and the Thatcher government, to take on the Soviets in the Afghan war of 1979 to 1992 - that last gasp of the Cold War. In the 1990s, the baton was passed to the left; Mujihadeen forces effectively became the armed wing of Western liberal opinion, moving across borders to fight what politicians and liberal commentators in the West considered to be 'good wars', from Bosnia to Kosovo and also in Chechnya. It was the internationalisation of local conflicts by Western governments that encouraged the internationalisation of the Mujihadeen, transforming what had been a specific Afghan-based phenomenon into an effectively global force.
But the "humanitarian interventionists" avoid all of this -- and in an article condemning the Iraq invasion and occupation, Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias point to the ultimate common ground shared by all interventionists of whatever stripe. Indeed, as they condemn the Iraq intervention, they state very plainly their goal of preserving the prerogatives of interventionism more generally: "If interventionism is to be saved, it must first be saved from the interventionists." That last reference is to the "wrong" interventionists; Rosenfeld, Yglesias and the policies they advocate represent the "right" interventionists.

And, of course, it is the interventions of the 1990s that they particularly admire, and it is an indication of the fundamental problems in this perspective that Rosenfeld and Yglesias cite Max Boot, an extreme advocate of the "blessings" of colonialism and armed conquest, approvingly in this context:
As Max Boot put it in The Weekly Standard’s 10th anniversary issue, "The Bosnia and Kosovo missions … showed how much good ‘humanitarian’ interventions could do, while the slaughter in Rwanda laid bare America’s shame for not intervening." Kosovo, in particular, stood as a deeply flawed but undeniable benchmark -- a war waged centrally on humanitarian grounds, revealing the potential for armed intervention to halt atrocities and for international administrators to maintain a tentative peace through indefinite occupation.
But such "narrower" interventionist aims and policies (including, I emphasize, "indefinite occupation") are not any kind of solution: they are the problem.

The Democrats might have avoided the catastrophe of Iraq -- but they have already brought us a century of catastrophes, and they promise more. As I said above, the underlying beliefs that give rise to and animate this approach are shared by our entire foreign policy elite, just as they are shared by virtually our entire governing class, regardless of party affiliation. Those beliefs are now deeply embedded in our very system of governance. We must therefore look at the roots of those beliefs and how they manifest themselves in more detail. I will turn to that task in the next installment of this series.