Friday 04 April 2003

Against fundamentalisms

A friend recently emailed me to ask: “Given that you recognize the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, do you really think the coalition forces should withdraw from Iraq now, as many peace activists are suggesting?”

Absolutely not, I replied. I’d assumed this would have been clear from my assertion that:

a coalition defeat—as in a negotiated withdrawal that leaves Saddam or his minions intact—will, as Dave Rogers suggests, “only guarantee far more death and destruction in the years to come.”

Dave Winer put the case for immediate withdrawal:

Then I came up with a new doctrine. It goes like this. If you have a choice, you have no excuse going to war. You can only go to war if you have no choice. I’m sorry Dubya. Let’s just put the tanks in reverse and bring the boys home. Say we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. It’ll be a lot easier than playing it out. This war is just plain wrong

Here’s the deal — we can’t [win] the war in Iraq. Even if by some miracle we should win it militarily, our occupying force is going to be picked off by suicide bombers from all over the Middle East. It’ll be like Woodstock for our enemies. Imagine, hundreds of thousands of US troops a bus ride away, and throw in some CIA and FBI, and civilians from Bechtel and Lockheed-Martin. It’ll make Vietnam look like a pot party. It’s time to stick the tail between the legs and get the fuck out of there folks. This doesn’t smell good.

“Say we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness.”

And the infuriated and humiliated Arab/Muslim world will say what?

“Don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes. No hard feelings. Let’s work together now to build a peaceful world.”

I reluctantly supported a UN-sanctioned invasion of Iraq. When it was clear that the Bush administration was determined to invade no matter what, I expressed the desire that the war be brought to a swift conclusion with the minimum casualties on both sides. (Given the overwhelming superiority of the coalition forces, it was inevitable that the Iraqi army would eventually be defeated.) I have, however, consistently argued against unilateral military action and the pre-emptive strike, the policies which underpin the current war.

My only concern, since I’ve started writing about the war again, has been with how its aftermath is managed. I believe that the call for an immediate cessation of hostilities is naive and unrealistic since it ignores the fact that, once the war started, there was no earthly possibility that it would end without Saddam Hussein’s removal. More importantly, retreating from the battlefield would send exactly the wrong message to the forces of Islamic terrorism.

Burningbird and Doc Searls have both argued against immediate withdrawal (though they may have reached that conclusion for different reasons than mine).

Burningbird wrote:

Once we entered the country, once we dropped the bombs, we started something and to leave now will just result in a stalemate that will result in yet more death in a country that’s seen too much of it. The same type of death that resulted when we encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt 12 years ago, and then didn’t stay around to help them. I bitterly regret that we started this war, but we can’t just leave now.

However, acknowledgement of finishing what we’ve started is not support. I do not support Bush and his administration. I do not support their short-sighted arrogance, or their frightening long term view for the Middle East.

Doc wrote:

Now that we’re in there, I want us to finish with minimal loss of life on all sides. I hope we take out Saddam Hussein’s regime and return the country to its oppressed people. Then I hope we go home.

In that spirit, I suggest that the anti-war/peace movement would do better to direct its energies not to stopping the war but rather to formulating policies for what occurs after the current Iraqi regime has been ousted.

This is how I replied to my email friend’s question…

I believe that this war was never about Islamic terrorism but rather constitutes the first stage of implementing the strategy for US military and political dominance outlined in the first draft of Paul Wolfowitz’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance.

Therefore I see the next essential steps as:

  • “Winning” the war (though I believe that under the current US leadership any “victory” contains the seeds of eventual defeat).
  • Getting rid of Bush & Co.
  • Finding a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian situation that will guarantee the security of Israel and give the Palestinians their own state (replacing both Arafat and Sharon will probably be needed to achieve this).
  • Using a combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions, police investigation, covert counter-terrorist action, and small scale military engagements to combat Islamic terrorism.

In a Salon profile of Salman Rushdie, Michelle Goldberg describes the novelist as:

a defender of an idea even less fashionable, at the moment, than moral relativism — secular humanism. It’s a cause some of our best thinkers, such as Hitchens and Martin Amis, are increasingly taking up. Though hardly politically expedient, the fight against religion’s tyranny makes intellectual and emotional sense right now. It could even replace the struggle against first-world imperialism as the organizing principle of radical thought, encompassing as it does the fight against the lunatics of al-Qaida, the butchers in Gujarat, the hard-line settlers in the West Bank, the rapists in the Catholic Church, the bombers of abortion clinics and, of course, our own attorney general.

One of secular humanism’s greatest qualities is that it confers the same rights and freedoms regardless of whether one is a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic. For me, the real battle is against any fundamentalism which threatens those rights and freedoms.

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An overstrong endorsement of secular humanism reminds me too much of Richard Dawkins, who seems almost deranged by his anti-religious sentiment.

Can't we just fight for those fundamental freedoms first suggested during the English Revolution of the 1640s and then later cemented by the American Revolution and given clear articulation during the Enlightenment:

We hold certain truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator by certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that to secure these rights, government is instituted among people, and we hold that hard experience has taught has that the only permanent security for these rights rests in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and obediant to the rule of law?

Posted by Lawrence Krubner on 4 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"We hold certain truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator..."

Posted by Burningbird on 5 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

It seems the term "secularism" has been hijacked. Secular society society created by laws insuring the above Lawrence. One in which we have freedom of belief or unbelief and there is an unshackeling between church and state. It doesn't prohibit worship in any particular belief and at the same time doesn't enforce it.

Indeed, while the founding fathers of America were largely influenced by Christianity, and many were Christian, there was a concerted effort not enfore it as a faith by law.

Secularlism, the original kind, is the enemy of the terrorists' form of fundamentalism.

Posted by Karl on 5 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Well put, as usual. I agree with this, and add a caveat. I really believe that instead of spending money on a flag for every corner, instead of buying girl scout cookies and toilet paper and shipping them to the troops in the middle of the desert who MIGHT actually get a thin mint, that the troop supporters and Mr. I Need Billions To Win This War Bush put their heads together and put mechanisms in place NOW to be sure that the returning troops have re-entry support AND JOBS, of which there are fewer and fewer here every day. Just ask me.

I'm sure that these returning veterans will be greeted with ticker tape parades, no expense spared. No reason not to--they are offering their lives as part of this effort. But while everyone seems to care about the re-building of Iraq, I don't hear anyone talking about the re-building of tens of thousands of traumatized Americans who are going to wash back up on our shores after this, about what happens to them one, two, five years down the road in an economy that sucks as bad or worse than it ever has?

Maybe they will be the ones re-building Iraq under big-corp leadership from cheney-and-friends, inc. I don't know. But these guys and gals are coming back sooner rather than later I think. And I can see the same people that are driving their SUVs with six flag decals on every window turning their noses up to the GulfWar2 vet who's changing their oil at Juffy Lube. "Well, what's wrong with that guy. We won that war--he should be happy he came home. Some boys didn't."

If even he has a job at Jiffy Lube.

If there even IS a Jiffy Lube.

The crying shame is as much in the future as it is the now.

Posted by jeneane on 6 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathan - I agree with your points regarding going forward but I would like to suggest that there is a more immediate need in post war Iraq. That need would be to have the UN take over Iraq, its governence and its oil reserves, until such time as the Iraqis themselves can handle their country's administration.

No matter how relatively swift and bloodless the war is the arab street will totally rise up against the US governing Iraq. In that respect Dave Winer was correct. This can not be avoided so long as the US is in control and it will be a bloodbath.

My own feeling is that if there is a way to do it the UN should take over once Iraq surrenders. A multilateral UN peacekeeping force should be put in place (a great role for Canada - it's what we have a lot of experience in) and the US and British troops should withdraw. Worldwide open tenders should go out to rebuild the oil infrastructure immediately and the best bidder should win, not Runmmy and George'ss friends unless they are the best bidder. Revenue from the oil should go to feed, clothe, house and treat the medical needs of the iraqi's first then it should go towards rebuilding the infrastructure. The "coalition" partners should be reimbursed the cost of the war minus the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure they destroyed in the invasion out of the remaining oil revenue. Basic principle - you break it you pay for it.

Jeneane - I think if people want to support the troops one thing they can do is find families in their area of those who are serving overseas and ask them if they need help with anything. Helping the families takes a large burden off of those serving.

Posted by The Dynamic Driveler on 6 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Look, I'm a life long athiest, as was my father before me. My mother was my creator. That is what I like about the above language that I used, it is neutral, you can interpret it as you want. The religous can read "creator" as "God" and us atheists can read it as "parent."

Posted by Lawrence Krubner on 7 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

"Secular society society created by laws insuring the above Lawrence. One in which we have freedom of belief or unbelief and there is an unshackeling between church and state. It doesn't prohibit worship in any particular belief and at the same time doesn't enforce it."

Karl, I have the feeling you're reacting to something I never said, nor meant. I can't figure out how your words are a reaction to mine, and yet you use my name in your text.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner on 7 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Now suddenly I'm curious - if Shelley doesn't think our rights are dervived from our "creator", however defined, then where are they dervived from? I do realize that conversations about abstract political theory can be deadly boring, but this seems like a crucial issue - if we have different ideas about where human rights come from, maybe that would explain why we've come to different conclusions about supporting the Iraq war, despite agreeing on so much else (we both hate George W. Bush, for instance).

Posted by Lawrence Krubner on 7 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour