OK so who cares about my world view. Well I do and this is my Blog. I admit this post isn’t about Iraq. It’s about me. If you aren’t interested in me, skip it.
Today is April 17 2003.
My world view was shaken, in particular, last Thursday 9 April 2003 when Ba’ath power in Baghdad collapsed and the coalition armed forces entered Baghdad. Of course the symbolic moment was the tearing down of the statue of Saddam Hussein in the plaza near the Palestine hotel (where many foreign journalists are checked in). Many people compared that moment to the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989. To me it was strikingly different. 9 April in Baghdad was, in some ways, like the moment of crisis of a revolution say 14 July in Paris. As far as I can tell, mainly from websites, there was the explosion of joy, sense of liberation and sense of limitless possibilities. The 9th of April was not a revolution. It was a victory achieved by foreign invaders. To me this makes it very different. Those who love revolution and oppose all invasions on principal have a problem with an invasion which looks so much like a revolution. I think that 9th of April should shake their world view.
I am not a great enthusiast for revolutions and I am not a pacifist. I do not believe that undemocratic governments have any legitimate authority so I feel that Saddam Hussein, in effect, invaded and conquered his native Iraq. I don’t think that national boundaries are sacred. So my world view was not near the epicentre of the earthquake. Nonetheless it was shaken at least enough to make it’s windows rattle (right now I’m checking for structural damage).
I was not surprised to see video of Iraqi’s dancing in the street (see my the posting of (date)). You will notice that I said I would not be surprised to see Iraqis dancing in the streets of Basra but didn’t even make a non prediction about Baghdad. The people of Basra and southern Iraq generally made their desperate hatred of Saddam Hussein clear in 1991 and I didn’t think the ruthless repression of their uprising could have reconciled them and him. The Kurds of northern Iraq have been fighting the Ba’athists for decades. It was not clear to me what exactly Sunnis in central Iraq thought. I note that coalition generals very explicitly considered the contingency that their troops would not be welcome so I was not the only one. In any case, even though I didn’t say I wouldn’t be surprised if the people of Baghdad showered US troops with flowers, I wasn’t surprised.
Still I was disturbed to recall that I opposed the invasion of Iraq. Clearly the body which has authority to decide if Iraq should be invaded is the majority of the Iraqi people (well maybe a super majority of say three quarters should be required to authorise an invasion by referendum). Obviously, they could not express their will. I think their approval would make the invasion still ilegitimate according to existing international law but legitimate according to the moral law. I felt ashamed that, if it had been up to me, they would not have been celebrating. There is no doubt about that, by the way. I can almost imagine that I am president of the USA prime minister of England and Australia and the unanimous security council. Hey if I can imagine being president I can imagine being 17 other people too at the same time. I certainly would not have authorised and ordered the invasion. I just don’t have the guts to make such a decision no doubts about it.
If the Bush administration had presented its case better, I might have been convinced to agree that Iraq should be invaded, but passive acceptance of a decision is very different from making the decision. However I did not accept the proposed invasion and demonstrated against it.
For a while, I wondered if the ideological extremism, stubbornness and arrogance of the Bush administration was useful resoluteness. I even almost admired Wolfowitz (not Rumsfield, Cheney or Bush who are clearly cynical). I was suddenly attracted to the idea of abandoning all existing international law. I thought it might be a good idea to ignore the parts of the the UN charter (which I haven’t read) which recognise or establishes the sovereign authority of governments including unelected governments and declares that international boundaries must not be crossed in arms except in self defence or by invitation. I thought it might be a good idea to finally abandon the idea of a world order based on the balance of power. bury Metternich (who is so important that Word recognises his name as correctly spelled). Indeed I thought it might be good to tear up the treaty of Westphalia – no more eus reggio eus religio. War is never good, but with smart bombs we don’t have to accept the authority of princes to decide what is to be considered true in their realms. We now can spread the One True Faith of democracy in a new crusade a new Jihad.
That is, why doesn’t the USA declare that it will base its foreign policy on the view that governments derive their just powers from the suffrage of the governed, that the USA will no longer take into consideration the absurd claims of sovereign authority of unelected individuals or groups. That all countries must hold elections (counting dangling but not pregnant chads). That if any group with de facto power in a country (calling themselves a government or state or the finger of god or whatever) blocks such elections the US armed forces might be sent to impose and supervise the electoral process. That, in the unfortunate event that some undemocratic pseudo rulers resist the new democratic order, the president of the USA will pick the name of their country out of a hat and order the US armed forces to invade that country. That this is it, the game is over. No one is going to get away with pretending that they have sovereign authority without being elected.
I thought that maybe the 9th of April 2003 could be the turning point of history. The day when the USA, the first functioning democracy larger than a canton or city state, would decide to use it’s hyper power and amazing technology to abolish the pretence of non democratic government and sovereignty.
Well as you can see not only did I lose my grasp on my world view, I came close to losing my sanity.
For those who find the above paragraphs perhaps a bit frightening I would like to stress that I am letting my imagination run wild in a mix of memory and fantasy. My period as a neo-neo-conservative idealistic super hawk lasted only for seconds. I will never be in a position of power. If I were, I wouldn’t have the guts to start a war. Still it was a disturbing experience for me personally and this is my Blog.
Frankly keeping the focus on me, I attempt to name my feelings. I personally felt paradigm shift.
I also felt horror at the suffering caused by the war (for me symbolised by the case of Ali the 12 year old who lost both parents and both arms) and horror at the description of the regimes torture chambers. I felt guilt because I opposed the invasion and guilt because some of my fellow Americans made an (amazingly small) number of mistakes with powerful bombs and caused suffering which is immense except by the horrible standards of war (I hope no one finds out if the mistakes were made by pilots or by the workers who miss-assembled smart bombs). But I also felt the Euphoria sudden liberation. It is I think a symptom of revolution (a syndrome which is highly infectious)
As, I think, has been the case in all revolutions so far, the euphoria didn’t last. In the case of Iraq, the hangover arrived in no more than two days. Now I knew that many Iraqis expected looting in the period of power vacuum. I expected that there would be looting. I didn’t imagine that people would smash statues which had survived 5,000 years or that people would loot hospitals overwhelmed by people injured in the war and working without running water.
By now I am about back to where I was before the war. Again I think that people dancing in the street at the fall of a dictator is a sign of danger ahead. Like countries in the middle of a revolution Iraq is dancing on the edge of a cliff in a time of great promise and danger. Does my flinching at the danger of a revolution make me a conservative or even a reactionary ?
The point of the above paragraph (assuming it has one) is that I can argue that the last month in Iraq might lead to a disaster for Iraq. That the outcome might be even worse than Saddam Hussein’s repression I can argue that the invasion might be the road to hell paved with (in part) good intentions (maybe one cobble stone for every 10 of power lust and political calculation which is a better than average proportion for political decisions). I won’t bother, because everyone recognises the dangers facing Iraq, and especially because might is a mighty word, that is, it is always very easy to argue that something *might* happen so why bother.
The interesting point is that I could make exactly the same argument about an Iraqi revolution. That is, Iraq would face the same dangers if the ba’ath party had been overthrown by a spontaneous popular uprising. Deaths in such an uprising could easily be many more than those in the war. I certainly would not oppose such an uprising.
Going back to fantasy, imagine that the vast majority of Iraqis who hated the ba’ath regime simultaneously asked me, so Robert should we rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein tomorrow ? This fantasy assumes that the key coordination problem that they all have to do it at once is solved. Would I, could I answer no ? I can think of an argument. I can think of the argument that a revolution would be bad, because although Saddam Hussein is evil, a revolution could easily lead to civil war which is much worse. I can’t imagine believing in it. Still, just such an argument had a major role in convincing me to oppose the invasion.
So why do I feel so differently about invasions welcomed by the vast majority of the people and uprisings accomplished by some of the people and welcomed by the vast majority ? It is not because I believe in undemocratic nation states. That is, I think it is often useful to pretend that they have legitimate authority but they sure don’t have it. The moral law is complicated, but I feel sure that it doesn’t have an appendix on political geography.
Why ? Well I don’t know and nobody cares.
Anyway the honeymoon is over. For me the earthquake is past. Writing this I realize that my world view has not experienced structural damage. I am still opposed to wars of aggression against undemocratic states. I have never for an instant taken seriously the Bush administrations presentation of their policy as pre-emptive attacks for self defence from a possible hypothetical conceivable future attack. For a few seconds, I thought that wars of aggression against dictatorship might be good.
The Bush administration certainly seems to have done what they could to help me disagree with them. It requires a kind of genius in reverse to accuse Syria of making chemical weapons while failing to find the tons of chemical and biological weapons that they claimed to know were in Iraq.
Many Iraqis have shown a very poor aptitude for constructive revolution.
I can even come up with a story for why a country might need a revolution not an invasion. I can argue that in a revolution, no matter how sudden, an indigenous leadership arises. Some people acquires charismatic authority. If, by some strange freak of chance, these people are reasonable, the revolution can end well. This does not happen if the old regime is overthrown by foreigners. Now I don’t really believe this argument, but at least I can convince myself that my world view might be coherent (might is a mighty word).
But what if the next president to use US power against a dictator is not like Bush, is more honest or a more skilful liar. What if, say, John Kennedy returned to lead the Jihad with the sword in one hand and the bill of rights in the other determined to impose the one true faith of liberal democracy on this fallen world. Would I sing again the ode to the west wind, cringing at the horrors of war, but sure that if winter comes spring can't be far behind ?