Sunday, January 08, 2006

Conditions of Victory

Here is why I'll never join the anti-war movement (abbreviated version here). At a forum hosted by Representative Bob Filner (D-CA), "Citizen Smash", AKA the Indepundit, asking the anti-war congressman about victory in Iraq. Specifically, he inquired:
Are you committed to the success of our military in Iraq, or are you resigned to failure?

He proceeded to clarify "success" as "a stable, representative government that is capable of protecting itself against threats, without outside assistance."

Representative Filner didn't buy that definition. He proposed a different metric for success:
...Look, if you define success as "democracy," you know, why -- why would you choose Iraq to go anywhere, anyway? I mean, why are we supporting Saudi Arabia, or whatever? So, success can't be "democracy." Success can't be "lack of autocracy," because we support autocrats other places.

Success, it seems to me for these guys, is control of, not only the -- the strategic positioning, but the oil. So, success for me would say, "we don't need your lousy oil." We could start -- we could put -- we can run this whole country off renewable energy, right this minute.

And, we -- we wouldn't even care what happened in Iraq. Like we don't care what's going on in Africa, and we don't care what's going on in Saudi Arabia, we don't care what's going on in all these other nations... [emphasis added]

That is, to say the least, morally appalling. It defines victory wholly in terms of what benefits us, with not even a nod toward Iraqi lives or their future. And the end result is that "we wouldn't even [have to?] care what happened in Iraq." In other words, the end result is crypto-isolationism, where the status of the rest of the world is immaterial and irrelevant to American interests, where we are wholly independent and removed from the sufferings in the impoverished world.

Some might try to salvage the good Representatives rhetoric by saying that he wants to aggressively promote human rights in all countries, as opposed to singularly focusing on oil-producing nations. That may be, although it is difficult to ascertain this from his website, as it contains no mention of his foreign policy views. The problem is that I have yet to see a concerted and aggressive effort by anti-war congressional Democrats to bring about real human rights change elsewhere in the world. That's not to say that I think Representative Filner and his cohorts doesn't care about Human Rights violations in Iraq or Afghanistan or where-ever, because I'm sure they do. It's that I think the temptation of complacency will become to great--even if they supports strong action in the abstract, I don't think they have the political fortitude to aggressively pursue their enactment as real world policy. Which means that the end result is isolationism--and frankly, I'm not convinced that's a prospect that bothers Filner and his allies too much. Moreover, regardless of whether Filner is willing to invest in alternative methods in the long-term, it still tells us nothing about why he doesn't consider a stable, democratic, and secure Iraq to be a victory in the short-term. There does not seem to be any reason to substitute oil politics for democracy in the present case, even if we may wish to challenge the tactics we used to secure those ends. In other-words, regardless of why we went in, we should go out leaving in our wake freedom and democracy, not Hybrid cars. To make such a selfish standard of victory is a slap in the face to the Iraqi people, and there is no other way to interpret it.

It is unfortunate that much of the commentary is rote-repetitive "Democrats are stupid!" (I of course exempt my Moderate Voice colleague from this attack). It's unfortunate because Citizen Smash himself is a serious blogger who, as far as I can tell, seriously believes in this mission not as a partisan issue but a moral one. The only way we're going to win this war is if we view in that light. Even John Kerry, with his "Pottery Barn" principle, accepted this (at least through the 2004 election campaign): "You break it, you buy it." But as I noted with regards to Bush's latest Iraq speech, the political discourse surrounding Iraq has, on both sides, largely consisted of political extremists seeking to use the events to partisan advantage. The people who are hurt are American soldiers left bereft of competent policy, and Iraqi civilians who have been given no indication that the progressive left cares about their future. This isn't sustainable, and I blame our whole political community for sending them down this road to hell. They deserve better.


Anonymous said...

This holy march to save the Iraqis....

I don't recall anyone asking the Iraqi's living in Iraq if we could invade and use their country "to fight the terrorists so we dont have to fight them over here."

Since when is the administration NOT viewing and selling this war as whats best from our perspective?

Anonymous said...

I think we absolutely have to stay and fix what we broke. Meanwhile we absolutely have to punish, severely, those who took us on this wild goose chase.

I don't understand either side in this black and white debate.

I also don't understand what we're doing over there or who is paying for it.

Anonymous said...


I will disagree with you somewhat here. In general, I prefer a war policy that puts American interests ahead of all other interests. If American interests happen to coincide with bringing freedom or democracy to other nations, that's fine.

The problem with taking an expansive view of the U.S. as a sort of world guarantor of rights is that if we take on that role, we'll always be at war with somebody, and not always in a war that serves the national interest.


caffeinemomma said...

I'd like you to compare the thoughtful opinion of an articulate writer who opposes the war in Iraq to the writings of Citizen Smash. Comparing the words of a none too swift thinking political candidate speaking under pressure to the blogged reaction of a war advocate who has had time to formulate his product and publish it is not an even match. May I recommend that you read this post?
I have no confidence in the argument that success In Iraq will equal safety at home in the US. We will still have to deal with violent facist elements of fundamentalist islam worldwide. These elements will still do their all to attack in the US. Some will succeed.
We can, we have to, try to clean up the mess we have made in Iraq with our misguided and botched liberation. Lord knows we broke it. Let us not delude ourselves that we can install, insert or impose democracy on the people of Iraq. No system of government worthy of the name can be either imposed or installed and it remains to be seen if the only legitimate route to a democracy will be chosen by the elected leaders of the country we now occupy.

Donna Pence said...

And what is it if you go into Pottery Barn and try to fit a vase that is aready broken? Guess you end up with everyone yelling at you for your actions.

David Schraub said...

Semi-response posted. Also, I'm not Justin. I'm David. Nice to meet y'all.

The probligo said...


Far be it for me to say so, but I agree 100%.


A well said and concise summary of "The Ugly American". Never read it? You should. Author Graham Greene.


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