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The (Im)moral Case Against the War

The Nation used to be one of my favorite magazines before I started having the same problem with it that I used to have (and sometimes still have) with conservatives. What I can’t stand most of all, even more than its paranoia and conspiracy-mongering, is the way most of its writers (with a few noble exceptions) look at the horrible conditions of the wretched of the earth and simply shrug.

Paul Savoy decided to dress up his shrugging in moral and ethical drag. His new piece The Moral Case Against the War is anything but.

There is only one truly serious question about the morality of the war, and that is the question posed more than fifty years ago by French Nobel laureate Albert Camus, looking back on two world wars that had slaughtered more than 70 million people: When do we have the right to kill our fellow human beings or let them be killed? What is needed is a national debate in the presidential election campaign that addresses the most important moral issue of our time.

I can agree with him about that. But that’s about it. I certainly don’t come down on the same side of the question as he does.

[E]ven if as many as 5,000 civilians have been killed by US forces, isn’t freedom for 25 million people in Iraq worth the cost of 5,000 lives? Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, argued this cost-benefit analysis in making the moral case for war in the New York Times Magazine before the invasion: “The choice [was] one between two evils, between containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the targeted use of force, which will kill people but free a nation from the tyrant’s grip.” Ignatieff concluded that killing people was the better choice if the United States was willing “to build freedom, not just for the Iraqis but also for the Palestinians, along with a greater sense of security for Israel.”

He does an okay job framing the question. This does get to the heart of it. Then he runs right off the rails.

Viewed in the light of our own moral ideals, as embodied in our constitutional tradition, the right to life is so fundamental that killing the innocent to advance the cause of freedom of electoral choice or any other purpose, however worthy, must be regarded as wrong.

In other words, freedom is not worth fighting for. Our constitutional tradition does not “embody” that notion at all.

You can’t have a war without killing the innocent. It just isn’t possible. We can do our very best to minimize that damage, but still it can never be zero. That, in fact, is Mr. Savoy’s unstated point. Since innocents always die in war, he explicitly states freedom is not worth fighting for under any circumstances because the death of some innocents is morally worse than slavery for everybody.

This is dubious enough in and of itself. The United States would not exist as a country if Mr. Savoy’s “morality” were the prevailing view at the time of the American Revolution. Nor would the slaves have been freed from the shackles of the Confederacy.

He fails, at this point in the piece anyway, to take into account that Saddam Hussein killed more Iraqis by orders of magnitude than the U.S. has or ever will. I know he knows this. He comes right out and acknowledges as much later on in the same article. He apparently thinks – he must think on some level – that it’s morally better if a lot of people die by someone else’s hand than if a few die by ours. This is nothing if not an abrogation of responsibility and a total lack of regard for the well-being of the people in question. The same rationale would tell us to let Slobodan Milosovic put the Muslim population of Europe to the sword. The same rationale excuses our (and everyone else’s) refusal to stop the past genocide in Rwanda and the current one in Sudan. It’s a great and terrible shrug. The post-Holocaust notion of “Never Again” doesn’t even enter in the equation. Did anyone who said “never again” mean a tyrant has to be exactly as bad as Hitler to be worth stopping? No. Even if that’s what was meant, Mr. Savoy still never takes that into account. In his view, genocide can only be resisted by the victims. Never by a well-armed third party.

It’s true that many people are dead in Iraq because of what we did. It’s equally true that a larger number are alive because of what we did. The well-being of Iraqis isn’t even remotely what’s at issue to Mr. Savoy. He only cares that we are morally pure. Tyranny, barbarism, and genocide are fine with him in a lesser-evil sort of way as long as we can sit safe and sound on our side of the ocean and not have to dirty ourselves by messing with it.

Not only is this morally reprehensible, it isn’t even logical. We do not sit safe and sound on this side of the ocean as the terrorism on September 11, preceded by Al Qaeda’s genocidal death warrant, has already shown. The political culture of the Middle East absolutely is our business. Middle Eastern political science topples buildings and kills thousands in our own cities.

Paul Savoy is a September 10th person. He doesn’t understand that we’re war whether we’re happy about it or not.

One of the problems with the September 10th mentality is known to some as the Genovese Syndrome, named after Kitty Genovese who was very slowly knifed to death in full view of her neighbors in New York City. Not one of her neighbors, witnesses all, lifted a finger to stop it or even to call the police. Better not to get involved, or so they thought before their morally repugnant passivism (or should I say pacifism?) shocked and appalled the rest of the country.

We denounce terrorists because when the freedom of self-determination they seek is weighed in the balance against the right to life of innocent people, it is the right to life that our collective conscience has decided should prevail. [Emphasis added.]

Good God. What “freedom” or “self-determination” are the terrorists supposedly seeking? The freedom to slash the faces of unveiled women? To stone adulterers to death? To throw gay people off buildings? To wipe Jews from the face of the Earth? If this is freedom, I’ll take slavery.

Mr. Savoy has stripped that lovely word of all its meaning, reducing it to just another post-modern relativistic construct. Freedom for me is a tyrant for thee. No wonder he doesn’t think it’s something worth fighting for.

This, apparently, is what happens to people who live a rarefied existence in a spoiled complacent country. Maybe he needs to take a holiday in Sudan (or even Cambodia) to see how the other half lives. You know, walk a mile in another’s shoes, get a little sympathy for the downtrodden. It’s amazing I have to say this to a liberal. It was the liberals, after all, who taught it to me.

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Saud-Free Arabia.

Operation Copper Green

Seymour Hersh dropped another bomb, so to speak, on the Pentagon this weekend in The New Yorker. He has plenty of (unnamed) sources who claim the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq was given before-the-fact authorization by Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers among others.

This sucker was all over the blogosphere even over the weekend. Reactions are predictable. Those on the left want Rumsfeld’s head. Those on the right doubt Hersh’s report is even accurate.

The fact is that none of us know what’s true and what isn’t. Rumsfeld has no shortage of enemies in the military and intelligence services who’ve been embattled against him for years. It’s possible this is a politically-motivated cooked-up smear scandal by disgruntled adversaries of the Defense Secretary. It might be slightly harder to believe that if you actually read the whole piece. I read it. Did you? While I’m aware it could be absolute nonsense, not a single word seems implausible.

The gist is that a black-ops program sometimes known as Operation Copper Green was created where targets on the ground don’t need bureaucratic pre-approval and detainees can be subjected to unconventional methods of interrogation.

The first part makes sense. Mullah Omar was spotted by a predator drone in Afghanistan, but he got away because no one had any authorization to take him out.

We’ve all seen what happened because of the latter part of the program.

Here are some key grafs for those short on time.

Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were “completely read into the program,” the former intelligence official said. The goal was to keep the operation protected. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” he said. “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’”

[...]

In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. “The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone,” he said. “This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program.” When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, “but he’s responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we’ve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.”

[...]

The abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed on January 13th, when Joseph Darby, a young military policeman assigned to Abu Ghraib, reported the wrongdoing to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division. He also turned over a CD full of photographs. Within three days, a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush.

The inquiry presented a dilemma for the Pentagon. The C.I.D. had to be allowed to continue, the former intelligence official said. “You can’t cover it up. You have to prosecute these guys for being off the reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they were covered by the special-access program? So you hope that maybe it’ll go away.”

[...]

The former intelligence official made it clear that he was not alleging that Rumsfeld or General Myers knew that atrocities were committed. But, he said, “it was their permission granted to do the sap, generically, and there was enough ambiguity, which permitted the abuses.”

I’m still on the fence about the calls for Rumsfeld’s head. I really don’t know what he did and didn’t do, what he knew and didn’t know. Neither do most of the rest of us. But if Hersh’s story turns out to be true (and I have little doubt Congress will try to get to the bottom of this) both Rumsfeld and Myers need to be fired.

The Snuff Film Reality Check

Marc Cooper says the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib pales next to the barbarism in the Nick Berg snuff film. No kidding. But he’s mercilessly heckled in the comments by the usual suspects. The only thing a certain kind of leftist seems to enjoy more than declaring and implying ad nauseum that the United States government is as nasty as Al Qaeda and the Baath Party is denouncing liberals, even columnists at The Nation, for not correctly adhering to the Proper Left-Wing Position.

We’ve all seen the gross pictures from Abu Ghraib. Now take a look at the snuff film.

I’d like to know if anyone who has the stomach to watch it still thinks even our worst soldiers are morally equivalent. Have you not yet taken note of the genocidal death warrant issued to every “infidel?”

I did not watch the video. I did see the Daniel Pearl tape and boy was that enough. So in a sense I’ve already “seen” this one. It’s the same atrocity all over again. I did watch the first few seconds of the clip at the link I provided to make sure the link works. It does. At least it did when I checked it.

I really don’t recommend you watch it. The only reason I’m even linking to it at all is because I think a certain kind of person, a certain kind of moral equivocator, is obligated to watch it to make sure they really mean what they say. It’s so easy to mouth off if you haven’t actually seen. As for the rest of you, watch at your own risk. It can seriously mess you up. This is not at all like the prison photos.

Seriously Misplaced Outrage

I still haven’t found anyone who explicitly supports the torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison. But some people do like to push it.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, for instance. This guy isn’t exactly the conscience of America.

“I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment,” Sen. James Inhofe said during a hearing on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

It takes a special kind of person, really it does, to think anger at torture is worse than torture.

“I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.”

Apparently it hasn’t occurred to some people (and I’m not just talking about loony right-wing senators) that it’s possible to support our soldiers and humanitarian “do-gooders” at the same time. To me it’s perfectly consistent and perfectly normal. Last time I checked “humanitarian” wasn’t a dirty word, but human rights violations were anti-American.

(Hat tip: Grant McEntire via email.)

Taking a Flying Fuck

Matthew Yglesias says I’m getting ready to become an ex-ex-liberal.

I don’t know about that. Just because my vote is up for grabs at this moment doesn’t mean I’ve undergone a personality change. It’s not like I was pro-torture a month ago. (And it’s not like I was a pacifist two years ago, for that matter.)

More interesting are some of the comments, like this one from the anonymous BP:

As far as I am personally concerned, any pouting ex-hawk who feels entitled to a warm, bygones-be-bygones welcome back into the “fold” can go take a flying fuck.

I know it’s silly to make a big deal out of a dumb thing someone said somewhere on the Internet. But this attitude is so depressingly common. If you’re on the left and don’t believe me, try dissenting from the Official Left-Wing Position in public and watch what happens to you.

First of all, I’m no ex-hawk. Just because some American soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners doesn’t mean I wish Abu Ghraib prison was back in Saddam’s hands instead. Let me know when we start dumping hundreds of thousands of innocents into mass graves and I’ll revise my opinion.

Second, I’m not asking anybody for permission to return to the left-wing “fold.”

Dictionary.com has plenty of definitions for the word “fold,” and these two stand out in particular.

A flock of sheep

and

A religious congregation

I am neither religious nor a herd animal.

People like BP have no desire to actually be successful in politics. No politician would ever act that way. You don’t win elections by pushing potential supporters away. It’s just plain suicidal. This is the behavior of people who approach politics the way a fundamentalist takes his religion. Heretics must be punished. Stubborn heretics must be banished. The more compassionate inquisitors may (if they feel like it) allow the wayward children to return if they prostrate themselves before the tribunal and beg for forgiveness.

I’ll beg for no one’s forgiveness because I think independently. I’d rather take the flying fuck.

(As a side note, in case you don’t already know, Matthew Yglesias is a reasonable person who does not engage in this type of behavior. It’s not his fault he has jerks in his comments.)

Holding Out for a Tie

President Bush is having trouble with his base, at least the intellectual part of the base.

After three years of sweeping actions in both foreign and domestic affairs, the Bush administration is facing complaints from the conservative intelligentsia that it has lost its ability to produce fresh policies.

Conservatives have become unusually restive. Last Tuesday, columnist George F. Will sharply criticized the administration’s Iraq policy, writing: “This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.” Two days earlier, Robert Kagan, a neoconservative supporter of the Iraq war, wrote: “All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now.”

The complaints about Bush’s Iraq policy are relatively new, but they are in some ways similar to long-standing criticism about Bush’s domestic policies. In a book released earlier this year, former Bush Treasury secretary Paul H. O’Neill described Bush as “a blind man in a room full of deaf people” and said policymakers put politics before sound policy judgments.

It looks like some conservatives can grok the way some liberals feel about Kerry.

“John Kerry Must Go.”

That Village Voice headline may be a tad dramatic, but stories about disaffected Democrats are spreading like wildfire through the media forest.

Never mind that the Massachusetts senator is just about even with an incumbent president six months before the election. The naysayers are seizing the spotlight.

“There’s definitely a Beltway maelstrom,” says Democratic strategist Jenny Backus. “There are a whole bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks who live in Washington and feed a lot of these reporters. People use the press as a giant instant-message board.”

No wonder Slate blogger Mickey Kaus has started a “Dem Panic Watch.” Consider:

“Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme, Democrats Fear,” says the New York Times.

“It’s six months until the election, and Democrats are already having buyer’s remorse,” says John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.

“Democratic leaders fear he’s getting ‘Gored,’ ” says the Associated Press.

“The Trouble Is, So Far Kerry Stinks on TV,” says the New York Observer.

Some Democrats are “pretty freaked out” by Kerry, says the New York Post. They see “a listless and message-less mishmash,” says Newsweek. The man “has something of a gift for the toxic sound bite,” says Time.

If I didn’t write about politics, if I didn’t have so much pressure to pick one or the other, I would probably vote for myself as a write-in candidate. Bush deserves to be voted out of the White House. The trouble is I have no good reason to put Kerry in.

The best I can say for John Kerry is that he isn’t George Bush. The best I can say for George Bush is that he isn’t John Kerry. May they tie in November and cancel each other out.

What Damage They Have Wrought

My disgust at the soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners seems to be bottomless. Somehow it manages to get deeper every day.

The Terror War has two fronts. One is a war of bullets and bombs. The other is a war of ideas, a war of liberalism (broadly defined) against totalitarianism. Dishonorable people in our own military have done far more damage to the second front than any herd of illiberal anti-American jackasses could ever have hoped to accomplish.

How can I explain all this to my immigrant friend from Syria who loves America but does not trust the government? How can I look him in the eye and tell him our troops were as kind to the Iraqis as I promised him they would be? The answer is that I can’t.

I’m already sick and tired of hearing complaints about the anti-war left on this one. They’re calling for Rumsfeld to go and they hated him from the very beginning. Yeah, and so what? That doesn’t mean he should stay. The Economist thinks he should go. So does Megan McArdle. On even numbered days so do I.

The anti-war left is not even remotely responsible for this mess. The Democratic Party isn’t responsible, either. It’s a legitimate point of debate how much the Bush Administration is responsible, but it simply won’t wash to say they, too, have nothing to do with it.

If President Bush doesn’t get this resolved at least 50 percent to my satisfaction I will vote to kick him out of the White House in November. I will have no other honorable choice. I don’t like John Kerry and I don’t trust him with our foreign policy. But not in my worst estimation of him did I think he would cause as much moral and psychological damage as what some in our own military have done under this commander in chief.

I heard Neil Boortz on the radio this morning complaining about Nancy Pelosi because she wants Rumsfeld’s head. Um, Neil? Nancy Pelosi is right to be pissed. She didn’t get us into this mess, and she can’t get us out of it. Somebody’s head needs to roll, and it isn’t hers. If you don’t think it ought to be Rumsfeld’s, try suggesting another. If Bush doesn’t fire someone, odds are good that he himself will be fired.

UPDATE: Sean LaFreniere, also a hawk, thinks Rumsfeld should resign too.

This is Not Justice

In some states you can go to jail for years if you’re caught selling dope. You can get kicked out of the military if they find out you’re gay.

But it you torture Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison you might only get one year in prison and get to stay in the military.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A 24-year-old U.S. military policeman will be the first soldier to face a court-martial in connection with the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, the military said Sunday.

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits of Hyndman, Pa., a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, will stand trial in Baghdad on May 19, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Sivits has been charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, Kimmitt said.

If convicted of all charges, Sivits could face one year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge, military officials said. Penalties could include only one, all or any combination of those punishments, officials said.

If convicted of all charges he needs to be locked up for years. But first he needs to be dishonorably discharged. He’s a disgrace to our country. Strip that uniform off him.

More from Marc Cooper

Marc Cooper says Michael Moore is the Ann Coulter of the left. One of his commenters wrote: “Your hit count’s going to go through the roof thanks to Drudge.” Another one said “Marc Cooper, and the rest of the Neo-Nazi.. er neocons think they are just swirling the bowl in Iraq.”

Boy does that sound familiar. I’ve read the same bullshit again and again on other blogs and in the comments section on my own site. It’s always one variation or another on the same theme. You’re giving aid and comfort to the Republicans. Yeah, and get stuffed. Marc writes for The Nation. He’s not a Bush shill. And so what if he were? Michael Moore is a left-wing Ann Coulter no matter who says so.

Some people just don’t get it. When liberals criticize the wing-nuts on their own side it doesn’t hurt them. It helps them. Defending liars and conspiracy theorists because they’re on your own “side” makes your side look insane.

Ask yourself…should conservatives run interference for Ann Coulter just because she’s right of center? Or should they tell her to get lost? Ask yourself what would be honorable behavior from the folks on the other side of the aisle. Then follow your own advice. You’ll feel better and help yourself in the bargain.

Meanwhile, Marc will be reading from his travel/history book about Las Vegas called The Last Honest Place in America at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne in Portland Thursday night at 7:30. (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd ). I’ll be there. If you’re in the neighborhood come on down, say hi, and get a live preview of a great book. (I finished it yesterday.)

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Naming the Enemy.

Rush (Nearly) Defends Torture

In my previous post I asked who defends torture? Well, Rush Limbaugh comes pretty damn close.

You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don’t know if it’s just me but it looks like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it’s just me.

Asshole. How embarrassing is it that Rush Limbaugh is the most popular conservative in the media? If I were a conservative I would have to answer “extremely.”

(Hat tip: Oberon in the comments.)

Who Defends Torture? (Updated)

I occasionally stumble across a remark on blogs or in their comments sections to the effect that Bush, Rumsfeld, etc., are either in favor or torturing Iraqis or at least don’t mind that it happened.

This was posted in my own comments section yesterday:

first ya just have to get Myers and Rumsfeld to bother reading the internal report that Hersh exposed.

oh yeah, they’re gonna be real serious about making sure this little problem gets resolved.

I can’t see why on earth they wouldn’t want this problem resolved, if not for moral reasons than at least because they need good PR.

I’m sure the fact that the Bush Administraion is Republican has something to do with this brand of paranoia. Republicans, after all, are supposed to be evil death beasts. Why would evil death beasts have a problem with torture? Oh, and Bush is a liar. When he says he’s disgusted by torture he’s just joking around and saying bwa-ha-ha off camera.

Let’s also not forget the military has been caricatured as a gang of savage war criminals for decades. Since conservatives love the military they supposedly approve of everything people in the military do, even things that violate the law and the code of military honor.

Here’s what I want to know. Has anyone bothered to make a public statement defending torture in Iraq? If so, I haven’t seen it. The conservatives I pay attention to unanimously condemned it, and I know already that liberals don’t think it’s okay.

Maybe I’ve missed something. I’ve been a bit slow on the news the past week. Perhaps there really is a right-wing pro-torture faction somewhere that I’m not aware of. If so, it’s rather quiet and small.

If conservative opinion is anti-torture, why should Bush, Rumsfeld, and Myers have a different view? Does the fact that they have leadership roles mean their evil is super-sized? I’ll believe that the day I think John Kerry is a Communist.

UPDATE: Grant McEntire in the comments pointed to this poll on CNN asking “Is torture ever justified during interrogation?” It’s an online poll, totally unscientific, but I still find the results creepy. At the time of this posting, 47 percent answered yes.

I wish the poll asked readers if they think this is okay.

This is not okay. This dirty deed wasn’t carried out in an extreme case where a nuke is hidden somewhere in Manhattan and the cops inject a terrorist suspect with sodium pentathol (a so-called “truth serum”), which oddly counts as “torture” in some people’s opinion. This is just sadistic, and thank heaven I haven’t yet seen a single person defend it.

So far everyone who posted in my comments section is opposed to this crap. I figured that would be the case or I would have phrased my original post quite differently. I would like to see a poll about this specific incident. Perhaps people who aren’t writers, intellectuals, or news junkies think it’s okay, but I don’t know. CNN’s poll is useless because the question is too open-ended and allows for extreme hypotheticals.

We Are Winning

If you own Al Qaeda stock, I suggest you sell it.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — International acts of terror in 2003 were the fewest in more than 30 years, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual terrorism report released Thursday.

The Patterns of Global Terrorism report said 190 acts of international terrorism occurred in 2003 — a slight drop from 198 attacks the previous year and the lowest total since 1969.

The figure marked a 45 percent decrease in attacks since 2001, but it did not include most of the attacks in Iraq, because attacks against combatants did not fit the U.S. definition of international terrorism. [Emphasis added.]

I doubt this news will put to bed the idea that fighting terrorism and dictatorships only creates more terrorism. But it should.

(Hat tip: Sean LaFreniere)

Fallujah and the Fog of War

I don’t know what on earth is happening in Fallujah. I get the impression, and so does Andrew Sullivan, that the folks in Washington don’t know what’s happening either. And they know a lot more than I do.

It’s tempting to come up with my own take on it, but at this point I’d be almost certain to get it all wrong.

Tacitus thinks we just lost the war. And Wretchard at the Belmont Club thinks it’s all going swimmingly. Even though they wildly disagree with each other, they’re both worth your time. They can’t both be right and they both could be wrong, but I seriously doubt either of them will be entirely wrong. Read the whole thing at both links.

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