Friday, July 23, 2004

David Aaranovitch on what the Left should be about

"My main reason for supporting te [sic] invasion, however, was about smashing a fascist dictatorship. It was one of the things the left used to believe in."
 
David Aaranovitch in yesterday's Guardian online debate.

6 Comments:

At July 23, 2004 at 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that the left is incapable of seeing America as a left-wing country. It is not a left-wing country necessarily, but it was the idealised left-wing country before the Soviet Union. That feeling is now gone. After the USSR collapsed, the lefties have not reverted back to this feeling. America is the capitalist country. Which makes me think they have not abandoned their anticapitalism in the wake of the fall of the Soviet empire (and other socialist failures).

That's why they aren't anitotalitarian. Because we Americans are involved. That's all I can come up with.

 
At July 24, 2004 at 12:36 AM, Blogger Frederick said...

I think you have a point here. Often enough the involvment of the US in any issue is enough for the conservative far Left to automatically take the other side.

 
At August 2, 2004 at 2:45 PM, Blogger Michael Turner said...

Smashing fascist dictatorships? What moral person could possibly be opposed to that?

If it were that simple, I would have been quite happy about the invasion myself. But it's not that simple.

Here are the questions that introduce the real-world complexities:

- What are the motives of the people doing the smashing?

- How do they prioritize those motives, given that they may not get everything on their wishlist?

- Do they really care so much whether a new fascist dictatorship arises, as long as it works for other items on their agenda?

- With what degree of confidence can that 'smashing' produce a state of affairs that improves upon the existing state?

- With what degree of confidence can it be said that an improved state of affairs wouldn't have arisen on its own?

- With what degree of confidence can the leaders of a democracy hope to prosecute an increasingly unpopular war and occupation, and doesn't this pose a certain moral dilemma that the Powell Doctrine was framed to avoid?

My answers:

- any question whether energy security for America was not part of the mix of motives was laid to rest when Colin Powell, on a radio show, said that America wanted a stable ally among the major oil producing countries. If the U.S. gets nothing else, that's a win. Stability can be had with fascist dictatorships.

- with 'overthrowing fascist dictatorships' as priority number one, there were plenty of other countries to go after, some of them probably a lot easier to occupy and democratize in the long run.

- we haven't improved on the sanctions-period state of affairs for most Iraqis; purified water is in critically short supply in some Iraqi cities this summer, electricity supply is still erratic, and the streets are not safe. Iraqi approval rates for the occupation crashed to single-digit levels toward the end of the CPA's overt reign. And that's across the whole country, including Kurdistan, a de facto independent republic during most of the sanctions period that had no big quarrel with the U.S. and which never saw more than a few hundred U.S. GIs. So you're
talking about an approval rate among truly occupied Iraq of virtually zero.

- The best I can say about the invasion is that simply extending the sanctions period might have led to some sort of implosion of Iraq's government, wreaking chaos on the region. But wouldn't the better course have been an expansion of the renewed WMD inspections, leading to an eventual verdict that there was no serious threat, and a steady easy of the sanctions?

- Americans are leaning toward getting out of Iraq. It may be up to allies to continue the occupation and try to improve matters. However, most of those allies are also democracies, most of those democracies had large majorities opposed to the invasion, and popular will in those countries may rule in the end, leaving Iraq an unstable, dangerous mess for the most part. A full-scale civil war in Iraq could result in more dead Iraqis than anything Saddam ever did.

Smashing fascist dictatorships? Great. Sure. And I'd also gleefully burn down the house of a convicted child molester. But if that act of arson set half the neighborhood on fire, and killed some children in their beds, how have I been loyal to any moral principle whatsoever?

 
At August 3, 2004 at 9:48 PM, Blogger Frederick said...

Smashing a Fascist dictatorship? Eh, yes Michael. It actually is that simple.

Go read something by Omar at his blog Iraq the Model. Here's what he wrote only a few weeks ago:

"You cannot tell a man that saving him and his family from torture, humiliation and death was a mistake and it should’ve not been done because it’s illegal. This is almost an insult to Iraqis to hear someone saying that this war was illegal. It means that our suffering for decades meant nothing and that formalities and the stupid rules of the UN (that rarely function) are more important than the lives of 25 million people."

 
At August 7, 2004 at 10:09 AM, Blogger Michael Turner said...

Gee, not a single response to anything I said. Just Frederick just quoting some Omar saying it was all about saving the lives of 25 million people.

If Saddam was such a risk to 25 million Iraqis, as your Omar puts it, why were there 25 million Iraqis alive on the eve of the invasion that drove Saddam from power? After all, he'd had decades to kill them all, if that was his goal.

Clearly, that wasn't Saddam's goal.

All functioning governments govern with some degree of legitimacy. This legitimacy depends on the vast majority of subjects being allowed to go about their daily lives relatively unmolested by the State most of the time. A government can be almost uniformly disliked, and yet still be considered legitimate by comparison to the next most likely state of affairs. Was Saddam's government hated by the average Iraqi? I don't doubt that. However, under Saddam, even under the sanctions, people had more electricity, more public safety, more clean water and more jobs than they do today in Iraq.

Present-day Iraq appears to be that "next-most-likely state" - one in which a puppet president offers amnesty to the local resistance movements, then is second-guessed by the supposedly-former occupying power (hated and endured as only the lesser of a multitude of evils), and is forced to backpedal. In which a puppet president recently talks a good line about never negotiating with an upstart religious leader - a religious leader who happens to control regions that include 2.5 million people in the country's capital city, AND the holiest sites of the majority religion of the country. Well, it sure sounds like this president is either going to have to negotiate or he's going to have to massacre, torture and - through siege tactics - starve a good many Iraqis. But you know what? At least he'll be OUR son-of-a-bitch if he pursues the latter course. Just as Saddam used to be our son-of-a-bitch.

Meet the new boss. Looking more like the old boss every day.

 
At July 18, 2005 at 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing I don't understand is if it is so important to bring justice and democracy to fascist regimes and the like - why aren't we declaring war on China who execute thousands of people every year and occupy countries like Tibet?

Now the argument may go - just because you can't solve all the problems of the world doesn't mean you should solve those you can do something about - but I'm sure a grand alliance could topple China after a lot of bloodshed - in the end wouldn't it be worth it for all those suffering under the Communist yoke? Just as the current bloodshed is worth it to bring hope to Iraq? We could at least have a trade embargo on China - couldn't we???

Or are we relying on China being the factory of the world? And screw the dissidents, students, members of Falun Gong, Taiwanese etc.

 

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