Most of my adult life I've been on what is called, in our degraded political language, "the left." Now, I don't know what I am.
I always thought of myself as liberal, and I still do. But people I know have taken to whispering that I'm a conservative -- or worse. Sometimes I lie awake at night and count it off in my head, just to be sure:I believe in protecting the environment.I believe in an economy that rewards people who work hard and honestly, but with safety nets and protection for those who don't make it. I believe in jail terms for executives who jilt retirees out of their hard-earned savings and foul the waters.I own a home in an urban neighborhood of mixed ethnicity. Every time I see another farm or copse chewed up for a housing development, I grit my teeth.I've spent hours and dollars working to keep religious fundamentalists from taking over local school boards.I've advocated for minorities and sick Vietnam veterans.I believe in a generous foreign policy that shares America's good fortune with the world. In the '60s they told us India and China were going to starve. I'm glad they're doing well, even if it takes some jobs from us in the short-term.I believe in Enlightenment virtues and freedoms in opposition to fundamentalist strictures and darkness.I think police should be held to a high standard in exchange for the power we grant them.I reject the notion of school prayer as a panacaea for society's ills. I think abortion is tragic, but a necessary evil. I applaud the idea of gay marriage, and would gladly leave it to the states to decide whether it should be so. I also think states should decide whether marijuana should be leagal to buy, sell, own, and smoke. I think the government has no business censoring what we see on TV or do in our bedrooms. A liberal believes change can be good, especially when guided by a spirit of free inquiry and a firm sense of what is right and when it aims to increase human freedom and let people run their own lives. A liberal believes people are basically good, and they can, and want to, make their lives better. It's a faith enshrined in Bobby Kennedy's quote (nicked from G.B. Shaw) about "seeing things that never were" and saying, "why not?"
A liberal believes the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights are true human values, not merely cultural artifacts. The West has no gift from god, and our citizens are not better than those of other lands, but we've set up these principles as our collective guide and have committed ourselves to live by them, when right, and be corrected by them, when wrong.
I grew up thinking that, and I identified myself as a liberal.
What I saw as the opposition was ... well, everything opposite to this. It was many things: Hidebound religious orthodoxy, knee-jerk refusal to think and apply one's mind to political and social problems, insistence that any change only would make things worse. These attitudes often huddled under the label "conservative."
Like a lot of people raised in my generation, I was mistrustful of U.S. military power, and selfish nationalism. Like a lot of people, I recited the litany of "stupid American" stories and jokes. In those days, I regarded America as almost God-like in its invulnerability. Thus I naturally had a root-for-the-underdog identification with any people or group I felt as a victim of U.S. power. Like you'd slap a bad kid for kicking a dog. The slap won't hurt the child, but the kick could kill the dog.
Then I saw the reeking ruins in New York city. 3,000 dead -- people just like me, who probably told the same jokes and held the same views. Why dead? Because they were Americans. The edifice of the country shook, and it made me realize, this place is mortal, like any nation. Like the moment you realize that, someday, your parents are going to die, it changes you.
Killing the Americans didn't start on 9/11. It is at least as old as the Palestinian hijacking of the '80s, when the Americans were routinely singled out on international flights and beaten to death. It's a result of resentment of American power, you say? Very well, the Germans in the 1930s started killing the Jews not because they felt the Jews were weak, but because they were terrified of the supposed power the Jews had in the world.
I'm one of those who believes America is at war, and ought to behave like it, since Sept. 11. And after much studying and soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that the world probably, and Iraqis definitely, would be better off if the U.S. used its military might for once to remove a corrupt fascist who had been occasionally useful to us. He was our mess, largely, so it was our job to clean him out.
Like a typical liberal, I prefer peaceful solutions over violent ones. But when I look at America, for all its flaws, against its enemies, and all their purposes, I know which I prefer, which side I give my whole support. After much studying and soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that the world probably, and Iraqis definitely, would be better off if the U.S. used its military might for once to remove a corrupt fascist who had been occasionally useful to us. He was our mess, largely, so it was our job to clean him out.
It strikes me as a decision a principled man could possibly make. But it doesn't strike my liberal friends that way. I understand their vexation, but it seems they can see only venality or psychopathia in people like me. And having once stood on the other side from them, and seen them in that perspective, I can't imagine going back to their camp (not that they are inviting me back).
I spent much of the '80s and '90s in active, public disputation with "the right." When I thought of "them" I pictured zealous, pious, ignorant, self-assured demagogues of crusading ideologies, inflexible mean men clad in expensive suits and cheap ethics.
Yet, as a small-town newspaper editor, the people I dealt with on the "right," with three or four odious exceptions, were fine and decent. The head of the local anti-abortion group was a soft-spoken young widowed mother of two. A school-prayer advocate was a cheerfully avuncular man who always asked about my son and would as gladly sit in my office and chat about the things we agreed on -- such as the genius of George Washington -- as the ones we didn't. The ex-mayor, a hardcore law-and-order cop, used to regale me with stories of law enforcement in the old days. I welcomed visits and phone calls from them.
On the whole, my old adversaries never forgot that their opponents were human beings. And thus they never stopped being human themselves. I wish I could say the same of the humanists around me today.
Possibly, all this is no deep matter. The evolution of a radical young man to a conservative middle-aged one is among the oldest of stories. Yet I feel neither "conservative" nor evolved. I still believe I'm upholding the values of my liberal youth, albeit in a different form. And like the aftermath of a divorce, I can't help re-examining my history on the left to look for incipient signs of a break-up.
In my youth, during the Cold War, "left" and "right" generally stood for "communist" and "anti-communist." But this was a false dichotomy and I got an early education in that.
Twice, in the late 1970s, when I was a teen-ager, I lived in West Berlin and spent some time across the wall in East Germany. It was the most "conservative" place I have ever been. Nothing changed. Ever. No one experimented. It lacked color, even on a sunny day; no discos, no pool halls. The neon decadence of the Ku-damm in West Berlin might have been on another planet, not just across the wall. In the company of other students, I took a tour of historic sites in the East -- Potsdam, Frederick the Great's palaces. Our tour guide was an employee of the state. No doubt she was chosen particularly to lead this cluster of young Americans. Perhaps the bureaucrats thought they had picked someone to convince us of the virtues of the People's Republic.
A few of us, including our American teacher guide, spent a lot of time up at the front of the bus between stops, chatting with her. She was a matronly woman, to all appearances good-natured and honest. We probed her about life in the DDR. She said she would never want to live anywhere else. It suited her just fine. In upholding the virtues of her system, she said something I'll always remember: "when my children go out of the house, I don't have to worry about where they are."
At one of the palaces on this tour, we happened to pass a line of Hungarian students of about our own age (guided by their own government-supplied minder). They practically broke through the velvet ropes to get to us and pepper us with questions about life in America. They scrawled down addresses and pressed them on us. By the time our respective guides had herded us all on, we on the U.S. side got a clear impression of their restlessness and their hunger for a way of life we took for granted.
This was odd because, back in the U.S., all the anti-com-ya-nists I knew were grumps and blue-hairs who saw the Beatles and blue jeans as evidences of socialist corruption, and all the self-professed communists were layabout bohemians with "Che" buttons on their ratty army surplus jackets. It was easy to see which of them would have found life better in the Worker's Paradise of East Germany.
I didn't see at the time how much of the "liberal" view was simply an anti-American one. Many of the people advocating it didn't really care about Marxism-Leninism, except insofar as the idea of their advocating it pissed off their parents. Many of them also didn't really care about North Vietnamese or South Africans, except insofar as those people were shaking their fists at the company daddy runs.
Communism never attracted me, I'm glad to say. I skipped Marx and read Rousseau, Kropotkin, Godwin, Paine, Gandhi, Paul Goodman, that sort of thing. I decided I was an anarchist, or at least that description came closest to what I felt. I embraced the romanticism and somehow overlooked the silliness of it. You can do that when you're 18 and there's not a shooting war on.
In Europe, I also met Kurds. I met them in taverns and hostels in Nuremburg, because, for some reason, the small town of Fürth, near there, was a center for black market passports. They were refugees who had escaped ahead of Saddam's death squads after the U.S. had pulled its support from them. This was the moment Iraq shifted from Soviet satellite to U.S. client in containing the Ayatollah. These Kurds weren't bitter against Americans. They understood war and politics and betrayal. They wanted to come to the U.S., too, to bide their time and live the life.
When I read about Kurdistan today, I wonder if any of the young men I met in Nuremburg in 1979 survived and are now among the leaders of that reborn land. I was on their side instinctively in 1979; I'm on their side now. An indigenous non-Christian tribal people, victims of decades of official repression, fascist attempts to eradicate their culture and literally wipe them off the face of the earth. Brutally murdered with the complicity -- at least -- of the U.S. government. This ought to be a no-brainer for a true "liberal."
But instead the liberals I know have no interest at all in the Kurds, because the Kurds made the unforgivable mistake of liberating themselves with the help of American military power. That makes them the bad guys, because the only indigenous people a modern liberal approves are those that burn American flags.
Sunday, Christopher Hitchens (in NYT Book Review) pointed out that the true, best heir of the 1960s youth Revolution is Vaclav Havel. Unlike the Western hippies, his revolution -- wrapped in blue jeans and non-violence and rock music -- really did overthrow a repressive, dour authoritarian state. Yet the heirs of the '60s in the West have little use for him. They cling to Castro.
In bidding farewell to the left, I find myself in interesting company. Among them is author and columnist Ron Rosenbaum, who wrote in his farewell letter:
Goodbye to a culture of blindness that tolerates, as part of "peace marches," women wearing suicide-bomber belts as bikinis. (See the accompanying photo of the "peace" march in Madrid. "Peace" somehow doesn’t exclude blowing up Jewish children.)
Goodbye to the brilliant thinkers of the Left who believe it’s the very height of wit to make fun of George W. Bush’s intelligence—thereby establishing, of course, how very, very smart they are. Mr. Bush may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer (I think he’s more ill-informed and lazy than dumb). But they are guilty of a historical stupidity on a far greater scale, in their blind spot about Marxist genocides. It’s a failure of self-knowledge and intellectual responsibility that far outweighs Bush’s, because they’re supposed to be so very smart.
Goodbye to paralysis by moral equivalence: Remind me again, was it John Ashcroft or Fidel Castro who put H.I.V. sufferers in concentration camps?
Goodbye to the deluded and pathetic sophistry of postmodernists of the Left, who believe their unreadable, jargon-clotted theory-sophistry somehow helps liberate the wretched of the earth. If they really believe in serving the cause of liberation, why don’t they quit their evil-capitalist-subsidized jobs and go teach literacy in a Third World starved for the insights of Foucault?
Goodbye to people who have demonstrated that what terror means to them is the terror of ever having to admit they were wrong, the terror of allowing the hideous facts of history to impinge upon their insulated ideology.
Goodbye to all those who have evidently adopted as their own, a version of the simpering motto of the movie Love Story. Remember "Love means never having to say you’re sorry"?
Goodbye to all that.
Civil War: Soldiers
In any war that goes on long enough -- which is probably "three months or more" -- camaraderie in the ranks becomes stronger than political consciousness or whatever else inspires men to go to war in the first place. With every battle and with every camp baseball game, these boys grow a cussed loyalty to the unit, the regiment, the company.
As they grow closer to each other, in the mad world of war, they grow more remote from everything else. The march of Xenophon's 10,000 is the ultimate army story. They stick together. They evolve their own morality, and they hold to it. A few get killed. But they know that if they don't work together they all get killed. It doesn't matter how they got into this war -- it's not their war, anyhow.
No one at home understands what they are going through. Robert Graves, a young Welsh officer shot up in the trenches in World War I and sent home to heal, wrote, "England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war madness that ran about everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language, and it was newspaper language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible." He could have stayed safe at home, but he begged the army to send him back to the front, not so he could kill Germans, but so he could be back with the men he felt needed him.
You could probably get warriors from centuries ago to sign on to the Vietnam soldiers' mantra: "We the unwilling, led by the unknowing; doing the impossible, for the ungrateful."
Walt Whitman, who got to watch the war from close range, was a strong partisan for the North's cause. He as much as any man helped elevate Lincoln to sainthood in the national memory. And, like anyone who stood close enough to the war to really see it, he knew that "The grand soldiers are not comprised in those of one side any more than the other."
"At the War Department a few days ago I witnessed a presentation of captured flags to the Secretary. Among others, a soldier named Gant, of the 104th Ohio Volunteers, presented a Rebel battle flag, which one of the officers stated to me was borne to the mouth of our cannon and planted there by a boy but seventeen years of age, who actually endeavored to stop the muzzle of the gun with fence rails. He was killed in the effort, and the flagstaff was severed by a shot from one of our men ...."
To the men who fought under it, or against it, the Confederate battle flag wasn't a symbol of some abstract idea -- slavery or racism (a word not even invented in the 19th century) or some fine point of constitutional law. That was not their flag. Their flag was a square of real cotton, stained in real colors, that stood for nothing more than what this group of young men meant to one another. It was a square of cloth perforated by the same bullets that had punched through the bodies of their friends. That's the soldier's flag. It doesn't belong to the senator or the race baiter or the armchair historian or the war profiteer.
I remember reading about a veteran's encounter, long after the war, with an old chap who had once commanded a brigade in the Union's 2nd Corps -- Hancock's Corps. The old general pulled out a red flannel trefoil, the kind the 2nd Corps soldiers had worn on their caps, and said, "When I feel homesick and downhearted, I take this out and look at it, and it cheers me up."
I suspect the Northern soldiers, if any were alive to tell us, would vehemently agree that honor should be shown to the rebel fighting men. And that the flag that the Southern soldiers, living, upheld in battle should not be surrendered to ignorant, hateful, selfish people.
I think Whitman would agree, too:
"I am very warmly disposed toward the South; I must admit that my instinct of friendship towards the South is almost more than I like to confess. I have very dear friends there -- sacred, precious memories; the people there should be considered, even deferred to, instead of browbeaten. I feel sore, I feel some pain, almost indignation, when I think that yesterday keeps the old brutal idea of subjugation on top.
"I would be the last to confuse moral values -- to imagine the South impeccable. I don't condone the South, where it has gone wrong -- its Negro slavery, I don't condone that -- far from it -- I hate it. I have always said so, South and North; but there is another spirit dormant there which it must be the purpose of our civilization to bring forth; it cannot, it must not, be killed."
If that was true back before Reconstruction, when Whitman wrote it, I suspect it is still true.
Civil War: Lonnintro"Desertion During the Civil War" is a short book -- a monograph, almost. Lonn's analysis of the "disease" takes into account both North and South, with side glances at the Napoleonic armies, Wellington's experience in Spain, the U.S. military before 1861, and the Franco-Prussian War.
She takes pains to present the desertion problem as a practical one that plagued both sides in the war. Part of her thesis, now much-shaken by newer information, was that the South had a serious desertion problem for much of the war, and that it spiraled out of control in the last months. She wrote that the North seemed to get its own desertion problem under relative control about the same time -- largely by draconian measures.
In her introduction, Lonn points out something that was clear to her:
"The reader will perforce be impressed with the parallelism which runs through the account of defection from the armies of the antagonists. But as the Confederacy was unable to frame a constitution which was other than a slight adaption of the old framework, so these two nations of one race and one heritage, developed the same problems during the war and evolved similar solutions."
Among the issues she delves into are men who deserted and then returned to duty, either because they were forced back or because whatever business they had had to attend to at home had been taken care of. Her tables in the appendix list 12,071 men as deserters from Virginia's Confederate forces, and list 8,596 from the state as "returned to the armies." William Blair's "Virginia's Private War" [N.Y., Oxford University Press, 1998] concluded that soldiers left the army for all sorts of reasons, particularly during times of idleness, and many of them came back in time for campaigning.
Just as every man who took a draft exemption wasn't voting against the Confederacy, every man marked as a deserter wasn't making a valid political decision about the Confederate cause. Among the Southern deserters, Lonn finds the usual classes who would have deserted from the North, too, had fate cast them on that side, to be dredged up by the nets of conscription or lured in by bounties. There were cowards, scoundrels, and ruffians who had enlisted only to escape some scrape at home. She also mentions foreigners "who knew little and cared less for the burning American question of State rights." Just as in the North, Meade would allude to the "worthless foreigners, who are daily deserting to the enemy."
In Texas, the South tried to enlist Mexican immigrants, without much success. "Starting with no particular affection for American institutions, Northern or Southern, they early passed back over the Rio Grande to take part in the difficulties which soon beset their own land." They, too, turn up among the nameless thousands listed as CSA deserters. The United States had the same problem with its recruits in New Mexico.
Lonn also identifies Northern-born men, who "were in most cases holders of considerable property or large traders for their communities. ... Many had gone into the far South recently, after 1850, so their ties were still mainly with the North and their traditions antislavery." They deserted as well.
Hired "substitutes" for drafted men, as in the North, proved especially liable to desert. "One officer reports that four-fifths of his deserters were substitutes, who deserted within twenty-four hours of being received at his headquarters," Lonn writes. Many a Northern officer would have sympathized.
Her conclusion is [p. 226] that one out of every seven men deserted from the Union Army, and one out of every nine men deserted from the Confederate army. But that, though the Union lost proportionately more to desertion, the South suffered more because of the initial difference in manpower. She feels the Union desertions helped prolong a war that the South was losing, because the news of them gave the South hope and allowed it to cling to a dream of eventual victory long after that was practically out of reach.
In her conclusion, Lonn writes, "Both sides have just cause to be proud of the vast majority of the men engaged in the war between the States. Testimonies of their remarkable daring and coolness under fire, the dependence which could be placed upon them in emergencies, their obedience to orders in an engagement, the stoicism with which they endured the hardships incident to a difficult terrain and climate without murmur are legion and are taken for granted by the writer. Likewise the sustained enthusiasm and dogged determination of the majority of the civilian population to support the war, whether to win independence from an oppressive, centralized government or to sustain the integrity of the Union, need no comment or eulogy."
Throughout Lonn's work, she compares and contrasts the Northern and Southern situations and solutions and finds many similarities and identities. Though she credits desertion as contributing to the South's failure to achieve independence, I see nothing in her work that would warrant a belief that the South's desertion problem was somehow a morally damning thing; that it was somehow of a different nature entirely from the North's (or from Napoleon's, or from that of any other army losing a war, which is a hard thing to do).
Far more than execrating or justifying the Confederate cause, Lonn seems to be writing with an eye on her own time, in the wake of World War I, which brought up a great many of the ugly things in American democracy that we think only emerged during the Cold War. She alludes to it often, and seems intent on pointing out that the horrors of war -- any war -- are more worthy of note than the characters of men who desert from armies.
The key paragraph of her introduction is this one:
"The writer ventures the hope that by turning a search-light on a question which could scarcely have found a tolerant reading a few decades ago, a few persons will, perchance, be led to a more tolerant view in discussing and pondering the problems of our recent World War on which passions are still inflamed. The truth is here, it is hoped, impartially presented. The writer, though by accident born in the North, has not felt the slightest impulse to minimize the desertion in the Union armies nor to exaggerate that in the Confederate forces. Her audience would be the first to condemn a partisan bias. The lovers of history should be the first to apply that tolerance to contemporary history."
Civil War: VirginiaThe secession of 1860-61 and the shooting war that followed were the climax of a long interplay. Like a couple heading into divorce, the regions fought often, in the open and in secret. But they nursed grudges, and what they argued out loud was not always the real issue.
That the North fought the war as a crusade for the rights of black folks, to free the slaves from their chains, is easily exploded and nobody would seriously maintain it nowadays. However, the modern prevailing view is that the Southern Confederacy was a nation based on, and fighting for, slavery. This view allows no other reason for secession, and thus equates Confederate heritage with racism and slavery.
Making out that the Civil War was "about" slavery also has the advantage of being quick, clean, and easy to write. Get a hatful of quotes and you're done. The Confederate leaders and documents supply them in abundance. Taking this position also seems to show an awareness of the slaves' realities, and it adequately reflects the indignation we know we ought to feel at institutionalized human bondage. Economic history, on the other hand, tends to bog down in a turgid tangle of language. And who would want to peel back the easy answers to probe the complexities of the past, when the easy answers feel so good and absolve so much? A small class of bad guys: an aberation in the great American history.
Compare the Southern revolt of 1860 to the colonial uprising of 1776. What moved the colonists to break the ties with the "mother country?" Taxes? Tea? George William Brown, mayor of Baltimore in 1861, was a non-partisan politician and an opponent of secession (Lincoln jailed him anyhow). Yet like many people in his day he understood the move, in the light of the American Revolution, and how small points of disagreement can be the flashpoints of broader conflicts:
"The men of '76 did not fight to get rid of the petty tax of three pence a pound on tea, which was the only tax left to quarrel about. They were determined to pay no taxes, large or small, then or thereafter. Whether the tax was lawful or not was a doubtful question, about which there was a wide difference of opinion, but they did not care for that. Nothing would satisfy them but the relinquishment of any claim of right to tax the colonies, and this they could not obtain. They maintained that their rights were violated. They were, moreover, embittered by a long series of disputes with the mother country, and they wanted to be independent and to have a country of their own. They thought they were strong enough to maintain that position."
No one can deny the importance of slavery to the feud that split the United States, or that the CSA states made protection of slavery one of their central purposes. But the Southern confederacy -- that is, the national government of the CSA -- was no more built on slavery than was the Northern Union. The Confederate Constitution was pretty much a carbon copy of the U.S. Constitution, except that it stipulated that the government could not impose protective tariffs, grant subsidies, or finance internal improvements. (But then, we are constantly told that the South was "all about slavery," so economic points like that don't matter).
On the matter of slavery, it specifically asserted the inviolability of that institution. This was more clear than the U.S. Constitution, but not at odds with it, and Lincoln and many in his camp publicly declared they were willing to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it say the same, if doing so would end the rebellion.
Other than that, you can read the two constitutions side by side for long stretches and not be sure which is which. The CSA Constitution banned slave imports from Africa, proscribed international traffic in slaves, kept the three-fifths clause, and even allowed non-slave states the option of joining the new nation.
Yet the weakness of the "it was all about slavery" argument seems most apparent when you consider that when the shooting began, four future CSA states, with 1.2 million slaves, remained in the Union. The state with the single largest number of slaves of any state, Virginia, was among them. Together, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas represented half the future CSA's population and resources and held key military installations and armories.
If the entire South was going to be a minority force in the government after 1860, consider how much moreso, and how much more vulnerable, the Upper South alone would have been. Yet it was willing to stay, till it saw the course of the Lincoln Administration with regard to force, not to slavery.
The secession of the Upper South, when it came, was hardly a bid to protect slave property. Virginia, Tennessee, even North Carolina, with a hostile anti-slavery United States on their frontier, could never hope to maintain slavery as a viable economic and social institution. Their pre-war complaints about fugitives prove they knew it. The mere presence of "free" states nearby in the 1850s exerted an economic pressure that was rapidly draining slavery out of the Border States.
National union, with slavery intact, was the only guarantee for slavery's continuance in the Upper South. And if you insist that every slave-holder, or slave-holding state, must make choices solely on the basis of interest in slavery, then I will argue that the Border State that remained in the Union did so to protect their slaves. Why else would slaveholders fight for the Union?
As John B. Henderson, the Unionist senator from Missouri, reminded his colleagues, "there are numbers of loyal slaveholders in that state [Missouri], men who have been carrying the flag of their country from the earliest beginning of this rebellion, who have left their homes for the battle-field, leaving their slaves behind them, many of whom are in the service of the country today, and will continue there until the rebellion is over."
I think of Basil L. Gildersleeve, Virginia cavalry veteran and professor (author of a Latin textbook I still use for reference), describing his beloved home state's awkward position in the winter of 1860-61:
Submission is slavery, and the bitterest taunt in the vocabulary of those who advocated secession was “submissionist.” But where does submission begin? Who is to mark the point of encroachment? That is a matter which must be decided by the sovereign; and on the theory that the States are sovereign, each State must be the judge.
The extreme Southern States considered their rights menaced by the issue of the presidential election. Virginia and the Border States were more deliberate; and Virginia’s “pausing” was the theme of much mockery in the State and out of it, from friend and from foe alike. Her love of peace, her love of the Union, were set down now to cowardice, now to cunning. The Mother of States and Queller of Tyrants was caricatured as Mrs. Facing-both-ways; and the great commonwealth ... was charged with trading on her neutrality. Her solemn protest was unheeded. The “serried phalanx of her gallant sons” that should “prevent the passage of the United States forces” was an expression that amused Northern critics of style as a bit of antiquated Southern rodomontade. But the call for troops showed that the rodomontade meant something. Virginia had made her decision; and if the United States forces did not find a serried phalanx barring their way, -— a serried phalanx is somewhat out of date, -— they found something that answered the purpose as well.
What was different about the situation of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, after April 14, 1861? Was slavery any more threatened after Ft. Sumter than before? Nothing in word or deed, with regard to slavery, had changed in the Lincoln Administration between the months of 1861 when Virginia was in the Union and the day she stepped out of it.
How slavery got to be the only acceptable explanation for everything done in the South in the Civil War is a matter of modern historical scholarship going overboard in a horrified attempt to right its old wrongs. I'm convinced future generations will read the tunnel-vision and decide we're all batty.
Gildersleeve, in his essay, describes some of his memories of the war. What he writes is typical; only his expression is more elevated than a hundred other testimonies.
As he's writing, he has before him "The University Memorial, which records the names and lives of the alumni of the University of Virginia who fell in the Confederate war," some 200 of them.
“[A]nd some of the noblest men who figure in its pages were Union men; and the Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute tells the same story with the same eloquence. The State was imperiled, and parties disappeared; and of the combatants in the field, some of the bravest and the most conspicuous belonged to those whose love of the old Union was warm and strong, to whom the severance of the tie that bound the States together was a personal grief. But even those who prophesied the worst, who predicted a long and bloody struggle and a doubtful result, had no question about the duty of the citizen. ... The most intimate friend I ever had, who fell after heroic services, was known by all our circle to be utterly at variance with the prevalent Southern view of the quarrel, and died upholding a right which was not a right to him except so far as the mandate of his State made it a right; and while he would have preferred to see “the old flag” floating over a united people, he restored the new banner to its place time after time when it had been cut down by shot and shell."
"Scant allusion has been made in this paper to the subject of slavery, which bulks so large in almost every study of the war. A similar scantiness of allusion to slavery is noticeable in the Memorial volume, to which I have already referred; a volume which was prepared, not to produce an impression on the Northern mind, but to indulge a natural desire to honor the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy; a book written by friends for friends.
"The rights of the State and the defense of the country are mentioned at every turn; 'the peculiar institution' is merely touched on here and there, except in one passage in which a Virginian speaker maintains that as a matter of dollars and cents it would be better for Virginia to give up her slaves than to set up a separate government, with all the cost of a standing army which the conservation of slavery would make necessary.
"This silence, which might be misunderstood, is plain enough to a Southern man. Slavery was simply a test case .... Except as a test case it is impossible to speak of the Southern view of the institution, for we were not all of the same mind."
The Republicans in the 36th Congress made it clear where the interest lay. Their private correspondence shows them interested in only the appearance of being open to compromise and discussion with the South, for the sake of public opinion. Crittenden's proposal was postponed again and again while the Republicans rushed off to take up the revived Morrill Tariff that had been the promise in exchange for Pennsylvania's votes in 1860, and which was brought up on the second day of the session, despite the secession crisis. The higher duties affected iron, cotton bagging, gunny cloth -- the kind of things that would dip directly into the pockets of Southern planters, big and small. The border state and upper South Congressmen who were risking their careers to keep their states in the union would get no help from that quarter.
"Our national property, our citizens, public officers, and rights must be protected in all the States, and our men-of-war must be stationed off the southern ports to collect the revenue." Bingham of Ohio introduced a bill to authorize collection of U.S. customs from the decks of warships. To the Senate naval appropriations bill, introduced Feb. 11, the Republicans added money for seven new steam warships, light, fast, and heavily armed. Everyone knew what that was about. "It must not be forgotten," the New York Times wrote, "that the 'coercion' by which the Federal Government will seek to preserve the integrity of the Union and the supremacy of the Constitution, must be coercion by sea. It must be mainly a matter of blockades." [Feb. 8, 1861]. After much contention, the amendment passed, 27-17.
At the same time they were striving to enforce the onerous laws on the South, they were cutting off the beneficial services; the same Congress that was insisting the tariff continue to be paid was voting to authorize the U.S. postmaster general to cut off mail service in the South.
We live in a time when the gap between what people think has happened and what has happened is enormous. The Iraqi antiquities museums and ancient archaeological sites were carefully preserved for decades, then damaged by the wanton American attack on Saddam in 2003 and viciously looted of everything after the invasion because the U.S. did not protect them. Except they weren't, apparently. But it will take a generation at least for reality to catch up to a politically convenient topos.
We’re far enough removed from 2003 that journalism is becoming history; the rough draft is becoming a first edition. So it’s natural that the old wars flare again, as people position themselves on the high ground of morality or prescience. The war supporters tend to want to back away from their predictions about WMD, and the war opponents try to say they knew all along that all the bad things that have happened were going to turn out exactly as they have.
And each side will be watching for "history creep," for the tendency to sidle away from its real pre-war position to one that fits the narrative better and reflects more credit.
I never believed there was solid evidence Saddam had nukes. But I didn't want to trust the 5 or 10 percent chance that he did, or would soon get them, after having stood at the barricades on Greenwich Street at Rector and stared at the latticework shell of one of the demolished twin towers.
The case for Iraqi nuclear WMD always was the most deadly possibility, and it always was the most dubious. But I have yet to meet an anti-war person who said positively, before the invasion, "Saddam has no nukes" — after all, only a prophet or a lunatic could have said that before we overthrew him and found out for sure.
It’s important to know what people thought when they made a decision. I find it interesting that some people who fully believed there was a good chance Saddam had chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons, still chose to oppose his ouster. That’s like letting a live rattlesnake nest under your bed because it hasn't bitten anyone yet. I am sure they have reasons to explain that, but I’d rather have the real reasons in the record than the false claims that war opponents all knew there would be no WMD.
We all weighed the same risks in March 2003. Risks in action, risks in inaction. We all saw the same potentials. Potentials for good or bad results. We all had the same crappy choices. Do we trust Colin Powell or Hans Blix when it comes to deciding how safe we are from nuclear incineration or an anthrax attack? Do we risk killing innocent Iraqis in the process of trying to liberate them, or do we choose to do nothing, in the certainty that Saddam WILL continue killing innocent Iraqis by the thousands each year.
None of us knew at the time what weaponry Saddam had up his sleeve. Probably not even Saddam knew. We all chose — overthrow him or leave him alone — based not on our wisdom or our ignorance but on the gap between them, the fog of uncertainty.
Just so, when we each made the ethical choice to support the war or oppose the war or take some third position on it, none of us had a clue what was going to happen once it began.
In the political center, the war’s supporters (talking about the pre-war choices; many have modified their answers since) were essentially more liberal than the war’s opponent’s. It seems to me it’s possible to break down the topics regarding the decision to go to war into three large subsets:The Humanitarian JustificationBroad Strategy in the War on TerrorismSaddam as a Direct Threat to the U.S.There’s two aspects to each of the three big questions: How important is it to you, individually, in deciding whether to support the war, and how likely is the war to make that situation better or worse?
Of the three, it seems to me the first was the strongest case — that is, the one most likely to be improved by the overthrow of Saddam. And for me, personally, it happened to be the most important consideration. My decision to support was as much ethical as geo-political.
And, as an aside, it still holds up, even amid the chaos. Bad things are happening at Abu Ghraib? Yes, and much worse things happened there under the previous ownership and still would be happening if we had done nothing but no-fly zones and sanctions. To respond “but at least it wasn’t us doing them” is to raise an important point, but it doesn’t really fit into the "humanitarian justification" category. It suggests you care who gets tortured less than you care that your hands are clean.
The third category, however, the “direct threat,” was where the administration in the White House chose to pitch its case loudest and longest. They had their reason, I’m sure. The U.N. resolutions, the perception of popular opinion in America. And that was where the case always was weakest, and has grown weaker since the revelation of the true state of Iraq in March 2003.
But the second category is an interesting one. It’s often overlooked, by people who focus on the military aspect, and dismissed as a canard by the anti-war people. But I think it was sincere, and I hope future historians won’t ignore it.
After all, it was the enlightened world opinion that told America, after 9/11, to not just go out and kill terrorists, but to “address the root causes of Muslim rage,” and to “pay attention to the legitimate grievances brought up by Osama.”
And that is what Iraq was supposed to do, in part, and has done, in part. The fact that it’s George W. Bush, written off as a strutting, smirking, cowboy-chimp moron, who is actually doing this makes it difficult for people to see. But Osama listed U.S. troop bases in Saudi Arabia and the sanctions in Iraq as major grievances. Well, the U.S. troop bases are out of Saudi Arabia, and the Iraqi sanctions are gone.
No longer can the Arab street say America only supports convenient dictators in the Middle East and never gives the people a chance to govern.
And at least one country has had the chance, and maybe still has it, to rise up and give its people good cause to live and strive and work for something and enjoy the fruits of labor. Something to aspire to besides plowing an airliner into a skyscraper and collecting the virgins.
So let me ask:WHO HERE KNEW THERE WERE NO WMDS? AND CAN YOU PROVE IT FROM THE RECORD?
I went looking once upon a time. Here’s what I found on prominent blogs of anti-war voices. Emphasis, throughout, is added by me.
Josh Marshall on March 18, 2003, described the looming war in these terms:
At this point, obviously I hope this goes quickly and as cleanly as possible. Getting rid of Saddam will be a very good thing
as will getting rid of his WMD and ambitions to get more. I was long for something like this. I changed my position because in the course of moving in this direction we incurred an even greater risk to our security than Saddam himself was.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war,
Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border.
For the record,
I’ve never doubted that Saddam probably has some sort of chemical weapons.
How does the US know that Iraq has biological weapons?
Easy. Because we sent them the equipment and anthrax spores to build them. [Sept. 26, 2002]
by shelling them with chemical weapons
On Feb. 12, 2003, Markos, who is a military man, laid out his own set of possible Iraq war scenarios. WMD figured in them: “And if Saddam is going to use chemical weapons, this would be a good time — with US troop concentrations exposed in the open desert. … There’s no doubt that Kuwait is sufficient for staging purposes, but having a single supply line is problematic. Not only is it exposed to dehabilitating [sic] guerilla attacks, but Saddam could hamper the entire resupply operation by either detonating a nuke (if he has one) or contaminating wide swaths of the logistical lines with chemical and/or biological weapons.”
Here’s Daily Kos from September 2002:
Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? Join the line. About a dozen nations have such weapons these days. Only the US has deigned to use them, and that was when it was the sole nuclear power. The threat of annihilation through retaliation has checked any subsequent use of such weapons.
The failure of the British or US troops to turn up any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons is striking. Perhaps it is the case that they are well hidden or that they are hidden in Baghdad or to the north.
It is dangerous to get out on a limb here and say they just don't exist. But the possibility that they just don't exist now has to be taken increasingly seriously.
Here's another form of the error that keeps coming up in discussions around me. Many of my peers in journalism take it as self-evident that certain Democratic politicians who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning did so because they were "right" about the reality of Iraq and the consequences of an invasion, and they were "not fooled" by the Bush Administration sales pitch for regime change then and there.
It looks like this, from a "progressive" blog:
In the end, 156 members of Congress from 36 states had enough information and personal insight and wisdom to make the correct decision for our national and the world community.
These discerning, courageous leaders are exactly what our country needs to lead us out of the present abyss in Iraq under the Bush Administration. We can trust their judgment!
The resolution passed the Senate Oct. 11, 2002, by a vote of 77-23. The 23 who voted against it -- and who now have taken on an aura of "discerning" "courageous" "rightness" to my anti-war friends -- were:
Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
Mark Dayton (D-MN)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Bob Graham (D-FL)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Paul Wellstone (D-MN)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
Jim Jeffords (I-VT)
American leaders who were not fooled by Shrubbie McChimplerburton's propaganda on Saddam's non-existent WMD
Here's what I can find on the Senate's anti-war immortals and their opinion on Saddam and WMD as of October 2002. Most are from floor speeches or debates during the discussion of the resolution. In all cases, emphasis is added by me:
Akaka: "Saddam Hussein is not the only dictator who oppresses his people, attacks his neighbors, and
is developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."
Now, you can parse that and reply, "he does not say Saddam HAS the weapons; only that he is developing them." (Even that turns out to have been an exaggeration of Saddam's capabilities in 2002.) But I submit that is not a legalistic cleverness on Mr. Akaka's part, simply a casualness of rhetoric. As you will see, his fellow die-hard opponents of the 2002 Iraq measure had no qualms about making positive assertions at this point about Saddam's WMD. And Akaka continued to vote alongside them for resolutions that made positive assertions about them.
And if Senator Akaka or any of them had had an inkling that no WMD at all would be found, rather than hinting at it in Akaka's soft phrase they would have brayed it from the rafters, since they had already emptied every possible point of argument in the bin, including but not limited to Bob Byrd's Loeb Classics library, Herman Goering, and the D.C. Beltway sniper.
Later (Oct. 10), Akaka said:
Congressional testimony, reports by the intelligence community and outside analysts, state that Iraq’s WMD capability is much less now than it was before the Gulf War. A recent CIA public report states that Iraq’s chemical weapons capability "is probably more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf war ..." Although it is probable that Iraq’s biological weapons program is more advanced than it was before the war, its delivery capability, according to the respected Londonbased International Institute for Strategic Studies, "appears limited."
I agree that we must neutralize Iraq’s WMD threat. The question is how to do that most effectively while minimizing the loss in American lives.
The argument that an inspection system cannot guarantee the elimination of Iraq’s WMD program is certainly true but misses the point. There are few absolutes in this world. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insists that we need American troops on the ground, rummaging through every Iraqi nook and cranny for evidence of WMD. Even with our troops doing so, there would be no guarantee that every item would be uncovered or how long it would take. ....
But what aggressive inspections can do is destabilize the Iraqi WMD program, keep it bottled up, frustrate efforts at gaining new technologies and additional supplies, and force Iraqi technicians to hide and keep moving constantly. It will not be disarmament, but, if implemented effectively, it will be dismemberment of the Iraqi WMD program, splitting it in parts and preventing it from becoming whole.
The argument has its merits. But for my inquiry here, it hardly sounds like the words of someone skeptical over the prevailing intelligence about Saddam's WMDs. Rather than being right about them, Akaka was wrong like everyone else in the Senate and the Administration. Unlike the supporters of the resolution, who embarrassed themselves with absolutist "slam-dunk" rhetoric, his statements were more tempered. But they were aligned to the prevailing wisdom, and thus as wrong as it turned out to be.
Akaka also ponders what sort of Iraqi government might follow Saddam and asks some questions about it, such as: "Can we be assured that the new regime will be committed to getting rid of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, especially as Iraq’s traditional adversary, Iran, has an even more advanced program of weapons of mass destruction?"
The positions of the other nay-saying senators turn out to be essentially the same.
Boxer: said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 3, 2002: "I do not doubt that Iraq is up to no good. I know they are. That is why I voted for the Iraq Liberation Act.
We know that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons and that they used them against Iran and against its own Kurdish minority. We know that following the Persian Gulf war, Iraq promised to abide by the demands of the U.N. but failed to live up to its commitment. They have not allowed unfettered inspections. They have lied about chemical and biological weapons programs. And they continue to seek the capability to produce nuclear weapons."
Byrd: said in a Senate floor speech on Oct. 3, 2002: "The last U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998.
We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons but has not yet achieved nuclear capability."
And also, later in the same speech: "Iraq may be a weaker nation militarily than it was during the Persian Gulf war, but its leader is no less determined and its weapons are no less lethal. During the Persian Gulf war, the United States was able to convince Saddam Hussein that the use of weapons of mass destruction would result in his being toppled from power. This time around, the object of an invasion of Iraq is to topple Saddam Hussein, so he has no reason to exercise restraint."
He seems to have forgotten his own words by the time of this interview:
But shouldn't they have questioned more vigorously the administration's rationale for the war?
Well, I have no reason to doubt that they did question it. In our conferences, I don't remember any senator who did not question to some degree -- but [it was] not enough. As far as I was concerned, I didn't believe it, and said so at the time. But this administration misled senators and House members. I think the stories this administration told -- I remember the vice president, I believe it was on Aug. 26, 2002, when he spoke before the VFW national convention, said something like, "Simply stated there is no doubt that Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." That's the vice president of the United States, and he's saying, "There is no doubt that Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." And Rumsfeld said, "We know where they are. They're outside Baghdad, in the north, in the east, in the west." Now, that's what I'm sure John Kerry and all the other senators who voted that way [based] their decisions on.
And so did the senators who voted against giving the president the authorization to use the U.S. armed forces to deprive Saddam of such weapons. They had their reasons, some of them good, patriotic, Constitutional, American, Christian reasons. But I think they should not pretend a knack for seeing through Bush & Co. lies, or a godly judgment about what is hidden in foreign lands, is among them.]
Conrad: "Saddam Hussein is a menace to the whole region of the Middle East, and a vicious tyrant who harms and oppresses his own people. He has waged war against neighboring nations, and he has attacked the people of his own country.
He has acquired chemical and biological weapons. He is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver those weapons using ballistic missiles."
Again, it is possible to raise the Akaka objection, that he is not saying anything about Saddam in the present tense. But Conrad, too, never even hints toward a positive assertion that Saddam may now have no WMD, and that that assertion was a propaganda fiction published by the White House.
Dayton: Submitted an amendment (SA 4870) to the joint resolution S.J. Res. 45, to authorize the use of force against Iraq, reading in part: "Since Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things,
continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations." The amendment never came up for a vote.
Durbin: "There is no one in this Senate Chamber making apologies for
Saddam Hussein or his weapons of mass destruction."
Feingold: "And with regard to Iraq, I agree that Iraq presents a genuine threat,
especially in the form of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons. I agree that Saddam Hussein is exceptionally dangerous and brutal, if not uniquely so, as the President argues. And I agree, I support the concept of regime change."
Feingold also said, in a floor speech Oct. 9, 2002:
"Before we vote on this resolution, we need a credible plan for securing WMD sites and not allowing materials of concern to slip away during some chaotic course of action. I know that is a tall order, but it is a necessary demand."
An appeal to the danger posed by Saddam's WMD as a reason to proceed cautiously before going to war against him: An argument used almost universally by the opponents of the Bush-approved authorization resolution.
Saddam Hussein’s regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity. But the briefings I have received suggest our efforts, for instance, to block him from obtaining necessary nuclear materials have been largely successful, as evidenced by the recent intercept of centrifuge tubes, and that he is years away from having nuclear capability."
Kennedy: "The question is not whether we will disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction but how. And it is wrong for Congress to declare war against Iraq now before we have exhausted the alternatives."
And in a Senate floor speech on Oct. 4, 2002, he said: "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
Leahy: "The question we face is not whether Saddam Hussein is a menace to his people, to his neighbors and to our national security interests. The Iraqi regime has already invaded Iran and Kuwait, gassed members of its own population, and repeatedly flouted international conventions against armed aggression. It is clear that Iraq has tried to develop a range of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, with which Iraq might threaten the entire Gulf region."
Levin said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 4, 2002: "At the outset, it must be noted that, whatever differences there may be among us, the one thing on which we can all agree upon is that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East. He has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against Iran; he has launched invasions of Iran and Kuwait; and for the last eleven years
he has defied the will of the entire world as expressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions by refusing to destroy his weapons of mass destruction and prohibited ballistic missiles."
Mikulski, in a Senate floor speech Oct. 8, 2002, in support of the Levin amendment, said:
But make no mistake, I firmly believe that Saddam Hussein is duplicitous, deceptive, and dangerous. I despise him. Saddam is a brutal, totalitarian dictator and history shows us how dangerous Iraq is under his rule. He invaded Kuwait and used chemical weapons against his own people.
I do believe he has developed chemical and biological weapons, and I also believe he is pursuing nuclear weapons, defying the will of the international community and also denying the agreement that he made at the end of the gulf war.
In voting against the authorization, she said:
"Iraq has grim and ghoulish weapons to carry out his evil plans. As part of the Gulf War cease-fire agreement, Saddam Hussein committed to destroying its chemical and biological and nuclear weapons programs and longerrange missiles. Instead,
Saddam Hussein is trying to add nuclear weapons to an arsenal that already includes chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles."
Stabenow said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 4, 2002: "The issue before the Senate is not whether the regime of Saddam Hussein is good or evil. We know, in fact, that he is a despicable dictator. He has gassed and poisoned thousands of his own people. He rules not by choice but by decree, backed by brutal force, and he blatantly defies United Nations resolutions by
his continual development of weapons of mass destruction. I strongly oppose his regime. He is a growing threat to the United States and our allies, and his policies have devastated the lives of his own Iraqi people."
And later in her speech she asked: "Given the widely supported belief that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons, how do we assure he will not use them against us when we attack him first?"
Wellstone: "I support ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction through unfettered U.N. inspections, which should begin as soon as possible. Only a broad coalition of nations, united to disarm Saddam, while preserving our war on terror, is likely to succeed. Our primary focus now must be on Iraq's verifiable disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. This will help maintain international support, and could even eventually result in Saddam's loss of power."
Jeffords: "Once again, we need a strong United Nations to step up to Saddam Hussein. The United Nations must take the lead in enforcing
its demands that Iraq give up its biological and chemical weapons stockpiles and production capabilities. The United Nations also demanded that Iraq dismantle its nuclear weapons program."
In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iraq has continued to seek nuclear weapons and develop its arsenal in defiance of the collective will of the international community, as expressed through the United Nations Security Council."
Here's Joe Biden on the WMD question:
For two decades, Saddam Hussein has relentlessly pursued weapons of mass destruction. There is a broad agreement that he retains chemical and biological weapons, the means to manufacture those weapons and modified Scud missiles, and that he is actively seeking a nuclear capability. It remains less clear how effective his delivery vehicles are, whether they be the al-Hussein missiles, with a 650 kilometer range, short-range missiles, or untested and unmanned aerial vehicles for the dispersion of chemical and biological weapons.
Shifting weather conditions, the likely incineration of much of the chemical or biological agent in a warhead explosion, and the potential blowback on Iraqi forces, all complicate the Iraqi use of these weapons. But we are right to be concerned that, given time and a free hand, Saddam would improve this technology.
"This appears to suggest that an attack on Iraq could trigger the very thing that our president has said he is trying to prevent, the use of chemical or biological weapons by Saddam. In view of this report, the policy of a pre-emptive strike is troublesome. Haste in attacking Iraq would place untold numbers of people in harm's way."
Boxer, in her Senate floor speech cited above, included among the reasons to be cautious about authorizing war:
Will Iraq use chemical or biological weapons against our troops?
Will Iraq launch chemical or biological weapons against Israel? How will Israel respond? What impact will that have?
How will we secure Iraqi chemical and biological weapons once the fighting starts? How do we make sure such weapons do not get into the hands of terrorists or terrorist nations? How do we make sure that Iraqi weapons experts, from Iraq, do not migrate to terrorist organizations or terrorist states?
a week later
"Will weapons of mass destruction be launched against our troops? Against Israel? If you read the CIA declassified report—declassified report—they are telling us that the chance that he will use them is greater if he feels his back is up against the wall. Everybody knows the underlying resolution implies regime change. It implies regime change. What I think is important about the Levin resolution is that it goes to the heart, the core of the matter, which is dismantlement of the weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam knows his back is against the wall, he will use these."
Kennedy, too, raised this specter in his floor speech: "Such a war would also pose great risks to our armed forces. Some who advocate military action against Iraq assert that air strikes will do the job quickly and decisively, and that the operation will be complete in 72 hours. But there is no persuasive evidence that air strikes alone over the course of several days will incapacitate Saddam and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Experts have informed us that we do not have sufficient intelligence about military targets in Iraq. Saddam may well hide his most lethal weapons in mosques, schools and hospitals. If our forces attempt to strike such targets, untold number of Iraqi civilians could be killed."
And later: "We cannot go it alone in attacking Iraq and expect Saddam to keep his weapons of mass destruction at bay against us or our ally Israel."
Others among the opponents of the authorization spoke in similar terms:
Wellstone: "Unlike the gulf war, many experts believe Saddam would resort to chemical and biological weapons against our troops in a desperate attempt to save his regime if he believes he and his regime are ultimately threatened."
Durbin: "As we know—it has been declassified this week—our intelligence community tells us the most likely scenario of weapons of mass destruction to be used against Americans is if we launch an invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein knows today if those weapons move or are used in any way against us and our allies, he will pay a terrible price."
Then there is the Levin amendment (SA 4862), a Democratic alternative to the joint resolution authorizing use of military force to disarm Saddam, requiring that first all diplomatic means be exhausted. It would have required President Bush to get approval from the U.N. Security Council or Congress before launching an attack.
Its language on WMD was unequivocal: Congress supports: "the President's call for the United Nations to address the threat to international peace and security posed by Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to meet Iraq's obligations under resolutions of the United Nations Security Council to accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of its weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons-usable material, ballistic missiles with a range in excess of 150 kilometers, and related facilities, and to cease the development, production, or acquisition of such weapons, materials, and missiles;"
The text was “To authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces, pursuant to a new resolution of the United Nations Security Council, to destroy, remove, or render harmless Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons-usable material, long-range ballistic missiles, and related facilities, and for other purposes.”
The language here is blunt:
Iraq continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, in violation of its commitments under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions, and the regime of Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against its own people and other nations.
I have not found significant speeches from Bingaman, Chafee, Corzine, Inouye, Murray, Reed, Sarbanes, or Wyden in the period leading up to the vote. If they thought differently from their peers quoted above, apparently they did not say so in public. They voted for the same measures as the others.
Since the war, these conclusions have emerged:
Iraq had preserved some technological nuclear capability from before the Gulf War, but had taken no significant steps after 1998 toward reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.
The Fallujah II plant, which intelligence officers believed was Iraq's principal site for making chemical weapons, turned out to be abandoned, under 10 years of dust.
Iraq tried hard to keep some capabilities for biological warfare. It maintained an undeclared network of laboratories and other facilities within the apparatus of its security services.
Saddam since 2000 had been trying to build proscribed ballistic missiles. Iraq negotiated with North Korea to buy technology for No Dong missiles, which have a range of 800 miles.
Iraq did retain prohibited WMD programs, but those programs were not the threat the Administration said they were. The nuclear threat, always the most chilling, was the furthest from reality. No doubt Saddam still cherished his dream of being a nuclear menace. But his program was a shambles.
Here are some other points to bear in mind:The war was one of the great liberation acts of the last half-century. It brought the long-overdue demise of a murderous fascist regime. Average Iraqis are less concerned than anyone else in the world about Iraqi WMD. They're simply glad to be rid of that bastard.
The U.S. belief that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear program and was aggressively pursuing other types of WMD dates from the Clinton years. Intelligence services in other nations -- Israel, Russia, Britain, Germany, China and even France -- held similar views.
The evidence now indicates that the solidarity of international containment in the mid-1990s was what finally convinced Saddam to give up trying to hold on to a WMD program. Yet the performance of the United Nations Security Council, especially France and Germany, in 2002-2003 proved that that containment had broken down; Saddam eventually would have got his WMD.
Saddam's nuclear program, unlike what we feared and he led us to believe, was deader than a doornail. Not that he wasn't looking every day for ways to revive it. But the combination of inspections and the sanctions were keeping that out of his reach. The sanctions also were killing innocent Iraqis in batches, but that's another story. And Saddam was rapidly undermining them by exploiting the greed of French and Russian leaders, but that's another story, too.
And while nukes weren't the only WMD Bush and Blair talked about, and WMD wasn't the only topic in their brief in favor of overthrowing Saddam, it was the nukes that disturbed people most and produced money lines about "mushroom clouds" and "14-minute warning."
So people who are obsessed with what Bush said will be fixated on the fact that the administration oversold its case for Iraqi nukes. Never mind that it was never a terribly convincing case, once the administration's claims were held up to examination, which usually occurred within days of their being made.
I'm not obsessed with what Bush said, or what Ted Kennedy said. That's a domestic political fixation. I'm very interested, however, in what Saddam did. And I'm glad we don't have to be worrying about it any more except in an abstract past tense.
If you can’t show me where you said that, at least show me where someone you admire said it. It can’t be that hard to find if it’s true. If it's not, you're just rewriting history.Duncan Black (Atrios), on March 27, 2003, quoted this Josh Marshall passage from Washington Monthly predicting the situation six months after the war:Later (April 4, 2003) Atrios went on the record about Saddam’s weaponry: Same thing at Daily Kos. Skeptical of specific administration claims and evidences, but not of the existence of Iraqi WMD. And willing to invoke them, if they could be used to make the White House look bad. On Jan. 17, 2003, he quotes approvingly a “Christian Science Monitor” piece that claims “Iraqi forces defending the cities could try to halt invading troops ,” and predicts, “Americans will die — lots of them.”The "where are the WMD?" posters at anti-war rallies began to turn up after the invasion, not before. Here's Juan Cole on April 1, 2003:And so on and so on. I'm not blaming these people; I held about the same estimation of the likelihood that Saddam had WMD of some sort. So Juan Cole was as surprised as the rest of us by the lack of any sort of WMD stockpile? So was every intelligence agency in Europe.Most often, in 2008, this has been brought up to scold Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, which opened the door for the overthrow of Saddam.So I went looking to see if they truly were among that perhaps mythical sect of . Of course anyone can claim that -- now. The trick is to prove you really knew it back then. With senators, their stated opinions are on the record.They voted "no" in spite of believing that. In fact, their language regarding Saddam's WMD is not all that different from that used by Democrats who voted for the authorization. Hillary Clinton's vote on that measure haunted her through the campaign of 2008. But was not much different than those who were held up as wiser heads on the issue:Or, for that matter, the position taken (and later repudiated) by : "Saddam Hussein’s regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.In fact, the belief in Saddam's WMD was a key part of the argument for voting against the war: Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., "a leader of the effort to defeat the war resolution."And : All of which were good, legitimate questions at that time.The co-sponsors were: Reed, Bingaman, Boxer, Mikulski, Stabenow, Akaka, Jeffords, and Corzine. The amendment was postponed indefinitely, but voting "yea" on it were the sponsors, as well as the rest of the 23 naysayers to the authorization (along with Feinstein, Harkin, Kohl, and Rockefeller). In the wake of this war, some new form of international order must be built. And a Western alliance must be reborn. As a first-step in that re-building, the U.S. government should admit to the world that it probably was wrong about Iraq's WMD. It should change internal policies that led to the errors. When the next world crisis arises, the United States will have to confront, in addition, the doubts about its truthfulness which now are firmly set in foreign lands -- and among many in America -- both in the circles of power and on the street. One way to start to regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways. Just as we did last year when we removed our former client from his throne in Baghdad.
Civil War: CornerstoneIt is a common assertion nowadays that the Confederacy had no purpose or justification but perpetuating racist slavery.
That argument can be made intelligently, and has been made, but the lazy debater wants to treat it as a settled proposition above discussion. Any objection to it, or any suggestion of Southern legitimacy, is automatically dismissable because it amounts to a defense of the Confederacy, and even if someone who is not an outright racist or slavery-apologist would defend the Confederacy, the debater on the other side has the option to not be bothered with that distinction. Far easier to dismiss the opposition as crypto-racist.
It's the old fallacy of arguing in a circle. Yet people choose this tactic, perhaps in part because they find it frustratingly difficult to pin down American history or any part of it to such a simplistic idea as "it was all about slavery."
Naturally, some people do want to regard all this as settled before they plow into their opponents. The easy expedient is to go in search of one zinger of a quote that will seem to prove the case. In Internet debates, those willing to be convinced will look no further, and those who disagree will be required to build up the cathedral of context, a tedious process. By the time they finish, the audience will have wandered off with the zinger lodged in their heads.
So they pick through the sources. Any quote will do, by anyone remotely prominent in the Confederacy, saying, more or less, "it was all about slavery." Jeff. Davis's inaugural speech? No, it makes nary a mention of slaves or slavery. Robert Toombs' report to the Georgia legislature in 1860? No, that outlines how anti-slavery agitation in the North was exploited by political powers there to disguise economic motives.
The "Cornerstone Speech" by Alexander Stephens is the usual bludgeon of choice. Stephens, a Georgian who had served in Congress, was the new vice president of the CSA in the spring of 1861, and in this speech he explained the new Confederate constitution and the prospects of the new nation, as he saw them, to an audience in Savannah. Here is how one commentator cherry-picks the usual cherries from it:
Stephens said that the American Revolution had been based on a premise that was “fundamentally wrong.” That premise was, as Stephens defined it, “the assumption of equality of the races.” Stephens insisted that, instead, “our new [Confederate] government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. Slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great and moral truth.”
Stephens's post-war writings downplayed the importance of slavery in the sectional conflict, and they formed much of the foundation of the first generation of defense of the Southern nation -- the so-called "Lost Cause" view of the war. That reasonably can be dismissed as a convenient revisionism.
The Savannah speech exists in transcripts. There is no original version of Stephens's speech, because he spoke extemporaneously. His words were jotted down and printed in the Savannah newspapers. Stephens sometimes complained of the inaccuracy of such reporting, and singled out Savannah reporters in at least one instance, "who very often make me say things which I never did" [speech to the Georgia Legislature, Nov. 14, 1860]. But I have not found that he said at any time after the Cornerstone Speech that they got any part of it fundamentally wrong.
Stephens was educating the people of his state and preparing them for a fight he had tried to keep them out of. In the state legislature in July 1860, he fought hard against Georgia's call for a secession convention, then at that convention Stephens spoke out against secession so vehemently that the North circulated copies of his speech as propaganda during the Civil War.
The "Cornerstone Speech," in its praise of slavery, is a personal justification of Stephens's career. His post-bellum history book that downplays slavery's role ("Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States") is another. They both are public, political rhetoric. Yet commentators tend to treat the one as an utter lie and the other as absolute truth. To see the offhand paragraph in the speech as some defining Genesis moment of the Confederacy, out of the mouth of the eternal spirit of the nation instead of one political man, is a gross exaggeration.
Civil War: History
"The historian's one task is to tell the thing as it happened. This he cannot do, if he is Artaxerxes's physician, trembling before him, or hoping to get a purple cloak, a golden chain, a horse of the Nisaean breed, in payment for his laudations. A fair historian, a Xenophon, a Thucydides, will not accept that position. He may nurse some private dislikes, but he will attach far more importance to the public good, and set the truth high above his hate; he may have his favorites, but he will not spare their errors. For history, I say again, has this and only this for its own; if a man will start upon it, he must sacrifice to no God but Truth; he must neglect all else; his sole rule and unerring guide is this -- to think not of those who are listening to him now, but of the yet unborn who shall seek his converse." [Lucian (c.120-190 C.E.),
"The Way to Write History"]
History is not written in a vacuum. Historians are embedded in their surrounding culture, even though they are capable of questioning and even upending that culture's assumptions about itself.
Which is why history misleads when it calls itself a "social science." It may use scientific methods. But it is not, overall, a science. The British physicist Derek Jackson once said that if you read a French history, it's sympathetic to France; if you read a British history, it's sympathetic to Britain; but no one ever wrote a chemistry book that favors zinc over copper.
Jackson's quip was more true of 19th century historians than modern ones. Modern historians also have agendas, but they tend not to be nationalistic ones. Instead, they write with an eye on contemporary social causes, which they either support or oppose, or they write with an eye on the beliefs of the past generation, almost always with an intention to throw down false idols. These two motives, of course, need not exclude one another, and they often merge.
Most U.S. historians are patriotic; that is, in common with most other people, they are personally committed to the places where they were born and raised. They want to see these places shed their problems and fulfill their potentials. Like Americans in general, though, they can differ wildly over what aspect of America fall into the categories of "problem" and "potential."
In their student years, historians learn how to research. But they also read and parse the works of the then-dominant generation of historians. There are few deliberate ideologues among the chief historians in any era, but even those without such a motive sometimes feel an obligation to question the cultural assumptions that have nourished their trade.
This is especially true of topics that are heavy with social and political importance, yet are capable of a broad range of interpretations. Bray Hammond, in the 1950s, researching what would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of banking in America, kept encountering even in contemporary writing the echoed political prejudices of an earlier generation. Many turn-of-the-century U.S. historians, as men, had had a powerful reaction against the Populist politics of William Jennings Bryan. As a result, Frederick Jackson Turner and other American historians after c.1894 had written of the destructive "craze" for cheap paper money that, they claimed, infected the American in colonial times, agitated by radical agrarians and poor debtors.
The myth rides right over what Hammond knew, which is that many colonial paper money issues were successful and prudent, that they were an excellent solution to the colonies' chronic lack of hard cash, and that the agitation for them came from businessmen and merchants, not farmers. But the historians, eyesight blurred by contemporary realities, had projected the present onto the past. Hammond wrote:
"This effort made a half century ago to save the country from Mr. Bryan and his Populists is one with which I have a congenial sympathy and in which I had an infant but enthusiastic part. For my liveliest political recollections are of the exciting presidential campaign of 1896 -- there has been none like it since -- when I was nine years old and my breast was covered with badges attesting allegiance to the gold standard. My father, a country banker in Iowa, on occasion wore a waistcoat of golden yellow to the same purpose; he was a young man of great ardency, and as a member of the McKinley and Hobart glee club he sang derisive songs about greenbacks and the free and unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to 1. I understand the anxious bias which omitted to say any good of paper money and which saw in history more warnings against contemporaneous agrarian monetary projects than were really there. But it is time that the 18th century be freed from the 19th century's polemics, which like the golden yellow waistcoat are now
That is why historical geniuses of one generation can hold views that historical geniuses of the next reject. The discipline of history is not a mosaic to which each publication adds a chip, a shade. It is a conversation carried on over generations. It is a place where whole paradigms of the past are thrown off and replaced by new ones, woven from the same data but with a different design.
The image of "shifting paradigms," of course, is from Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Because even the pure sciences, whether Jackson knew it or not, are infected by this quality. Stephen Jay Gould and his heirs among modern biologists fight so hard against anything that suggests genetic influence over social behavior because they remember, with shame, the nightmare of earlier scientists' seduction by social Darwinism.
What Gould writes about science (in his introduction to "The Mismeasure of Man") can be as well said of history:
"... I believe that science must be understood as a social phenomenon, a gutsy, human enterprise, not the work of robots programmed to collect pure information. ... Science, since people must do it, is a socially embedded activity. It progresses by hunch, vision, and intuition. Much of its change through time does not record a closer approach to absolute truth, but the alteration of cultural contexts that influence it so strongly. Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not inexorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural."
What is true of biology is true the more so of history. In history, even the most strictly scientific work gets embroiled in social agendas. Ella Lonn and Albert Burton Moore in analyzing statistics of the American Civil War were influenced by the social upheavals of World War I. A modern straightforward statistical analysis of the lives of slaves, Fogel and Engerman's "Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery"  evoked a firestorm of criticism. Nobody overturned their numbers or their methodology. But they were accused of being insufficiently sympathetic to slavery's evil, by daring to print statistics that strongly suggested Southern plantation slaves in 1850 were healthier than free blacks in New York City at the same time. As though these two fine historians were somehow trying to make the case that slavery was good.
And when the historical writing is not primarily statistical, but deals with motives, causes and effects, it is the more subjective. The dean of American Civil War historians, Prof. James McPherson, eschews objective reality altogether, in an interview, and says that the process of "doing history," not the truth, is the goal:
"I think it's probably true that in a literal sense it's impossible to establish objective, historical truth. My feeling about this is let a thousand flowers bloom' -- is that the Chinese saying? That's the nature of the writing of history, that it's constantly in flux and in contestation. That's what makes it interesting. The ideal of an objective truth about history is a will of the wisp, I don't think there is any such thing. History is basically what we think about what happened in the past, what we think it means. And everybody is going to have a somewhat different perspective on that, or different schools of interpretation are going to have different perspectives on that."
The scholarly views on the causes of the American Civil War, along with the dynamic of Southern class and race relations before and after the war, are a mirror of social movements. In the first half of the 20th century, historians tended to view slavery as a minor factor in the daily life of the average pre-war Southerner. As a moral/political issue, they tended to view it as mainly a soapbox for agitators. The "Progressive" school (Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles A. Beard, etc.) was focused elsewhere, and the subsequent "consensus" historians who dominated the 1950s and '60s focused on the shared American experience and on what was similar in the lives of yeoman farmers, be they in Georgia or Vermont. W.E.B. DuBois was almost alone in the 1930s in having anything positive to say about Reconstruction.
This view grew, in part, from the culture they had been raised in. The Civil War was a more serious split than we realize, and we fail to realize that in part because it was smoothed over so well after 1865. In part, the "Lost Cause" ideology of the late 19th century was the sweetener for the bitter pill of reconciliation for the South. It enabled Southerners to distance themselves from the issues of the war without repudiating the veterans, even as they surrendered regional aspirations and accepted a role as the sharecropper colony of the rest of America.
The "Lost Cause" did what the Confederacy did not have time to accomplish: forging a common identity and heritage over the vast, diverse southern tier of America, with its disparate class, ethnic and economic traditions. But it went even wider than that. A consensus history of the Civil War and Reconstruction knit the different regions of America together with a far tighter grip than either the North or the South managed internally during the Civil War. It allowed the entire country to redefine racial and regional relations in the post-slavery, post-Civil War era.
For the "Lost Cause" was a national creation, and it served a national purpose. In shaping the national (white) consensus on the Civil War, it emphasized American military skill, honor, and virtues. It presented the secession movement as rooted in the Constitution, thus strengthening all America's connection to its essential document. It helped smooth the path for a nation recently at war with itself to achieve, in a few remarkable decades, an integrated national economy at home and an empire abroad. The truly remarkable event of the Spanish-American War is lost on us today: white Southerners fighting under the American flag.
But America paid a high price for this re-integration. It created a definition of a collective "whiteness" as the crucial American identity. It strengthened segregation everywhere -- against blacks nationwide, against Asians and Indians in the West.
Many interests fed into it: former Confederates, a white working class in the north struggling for labor goals, midwestern farmers dodging bankruptcy, scientists caught up in racist theories, New England elites on the defensive as cities filled up with dark-skinned southern European immigrants, even suffragettes.
A significant minority of contemporary historians still work in the "consensus" mode. Other mavericks reject both views for a variety of alternatives. But since the 1970s, the highlight for most scholars of American history has been conflict -- of class, race, ideology -- rather than continuity. They have emphasized slavery's centrality in the Confederacy.
The difference between "then" and "now" is a generation of historians raised in the presence of, or the wake of, the Civil Rights movement. They bring to their discipline a perspective of an America suddenly alert and awake to past injustices, and to the subtle ways those injustices persisted. One advocate of the new school explains it this way: "For years, historians treated slaves primarily as objects of white action rather than as subjects in their own right, and largely ignored the behavior and beliefs of the slaves themselves. Reacting against this emphasis, many scholars have more recently focused on the slaves as actors, stressing the world they made for themselves rather than the constraints imposed by their owners."
Treating slavery as not a central or important point in American Civil War-era history may or may not have been valid, but it overlooked the fact that, for the slaves, slavery was the central and important fact of existence. When the current generation of historians realized their discipline had done this, and able historians had built what was now seen as an unconscious racism into their version of American history, that edifice was torn down and rebuilt, with slavery in a new focus.
It also became the focus of the Civil War. The modern historian quoted above, very much in sympathy with the prevailing view, writes, "The racism that suffused American scholarship during the first half of the twentieth century made it easy for historians to dismiss slavery as a significant issue and to argue that Northerners and Southerners, Americans all, 'should' have been able to settle their minor differences amicably, without resort to arms."
The prevailing paradigm of American history in this generation rejects that view, and replaces it with its own. Leon Litwack (who wrote an excellent history of antebellum Northern racism) said in his presidential address to the Organization of American Historians in 1987 that historians till then had underestimated "the depth, the persistence, the pervasiveness, the centrality of race in American society," and in doing so they had "perpetuated and reinforced an array of racial stereotypes and myths and easily justified the need to repress and quarantine black people."
We're now at a point where a historian (Bernard Bailyn) who uses the word "fanaticism" to refer to abolitionist beliefs is attacked for using "the vocabulary of proslavery apologists." Or where Gordon Wood is said to "defend slavery" [by Garry Wills, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2003] simply because he points out that women and children, in addition to slaves, contributed to a state's representation in Congress without having the right to vote. It's hard for me not to see an element of overkill in this reaction. Whether the modern slavery-centered view will in turn be overthrown, or whether it will be integrated into a synthesis with previous and later versions, is for the next generation to decide.
Civil War: Biblio
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[In many of these essays, the date matters. Probably in none more than in this series. These were written in the winter of 2002-03. I had been instinctively opposed to an invasion of Iraq until then, going so far as to sign a petition to that effect and writing several columns critical of the rhetoric and logic of politicians urging war. But I began to be persuaded by the "humanitarian justification" and, to a lesser extent, the "drain the swamp" idea, and, least but not negligible, the "how much risk is too much" argument. This series of columns is a picture of that turning point. None of them is what I thought before, nor fully what I came to think soon afterward, about the whole Iraq adventure. I publish them as an archival record of a mind being changed.]
The FIRST CASUALTY
Tom Daschle, the U.S. Senate's top Democrat, probably cooks a perfect soft-boiled egg. He knows just how high to turn up the heat, and just when to cut it.
For a month, Daschle made formal objections to President Bush's drive to start a war with Iraq. Then, when it came to a vote, he dropped them, like a Good American, and gift-wrapped the President's bipartisan support.
If the invasion goes well, Daschle can say he rallied 'round the flag. If it goes poorly, he can say, we warned you. It's the kind of democracy you can expect from statesmen who look no higher than the next election. And Daschle's sound-byte, when -- surprise, surprise -- he decided to back the President, was the basis for the afternoon paper's banner headline in my town. "Because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment -- I will vote to give the president the authority he needs," Daschle said.
"One voice." The mainstream media stories I read and saw were all about closing the ranks, getting on America's team. It was a textbook lesson in Chomsky's "manufactured consent."
Yet the news reporting was sandwiched around quotes, excerpts from speeches on the floor of Congress, that seemed at times to be the words of madmen.
There was Sen. John McCain, saying Saddam Hussein is a "threat to every nation that claims membership in the civilized world by virtue of its respect for law and fundamental human values."
OK, so Saddam's a bastard (albeit, until not too long ago, our bastard). So, America should prove its membership in the club of "law and fundamental human values" by starting a war with another nation, snubbing international legal organizations, and bombing the slaves of Iraq because we don't like their master.
There was GOP whip Rep. Tom De Lay, digging right into the rhetoric of Dec. 8, 1941: "The question we face today is not whether to go to war, for war was thrust upon us. Our only choice is between victory or defeat."
Yes, with Iraqi paratroopers dropping over Dallas, war has truly been thrust upon us. Nobody, in any of the "one voice" articles I read that quoted De Lay, pointed out that Iraq has not attacked America, has not declared war on America, has not even asked the international community to clear the path for it to rain bombs down on America.
America speaks with one voice? If this is the voice, it's not a very observant one.
Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt, the minority leader, invoked Sept. 11. "If you're worried about terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction or their components from countries, the first candidate you worry about is Iraq."
No it isn't. Start with Pakistan, or some of the former Soviet republics. As a Missourian, Gephardt does a piss-poor job of showing me. He makes no attempt to genuinely connect Iraq and al-Qaida.
Republicans, of course, are even more emphatic than Gephardt in asserting a connection, and even less interested in proving it. Dick Armey, majority leader in the House, plowed on about Saddam's "ongoing working relationship with a myriad of evil terrorist organization."
De Lay called Saddam "the world's leading purveyor and practitioner of terror." By the time De Lay finished, he'd left not an inch of space between Saddam and the Sept. 11 killers. "We'll defend our country by defeating terrorists wherever they may flee around the world," he shouted over the rattle of his sabre.
And, in what he evidently thought was a ringing conclusion, De Lay urged his fellow legislators to "put faith in freedom and raise your voices and send this message to the world: The forces of freedom are on the march, and terrorists will find no safe harbor in this world."
According to those who have followed the situation, Bin Laden and Saddam don't break bread on any level, which is logical because Osama seeks a return to a medieval Islamic community of the faithful, and Iraq is a modern strong-arm secular state that ruthlessly represses every Islamist or fundamentalist movement that crops up in its borders, as it would any group that could threaten Saddam's monopoly on power.
Yet U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, endlessly hint at a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. What's frightening is to think that they may be diverting resources of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, in a bid to prove what isn't true, for a political purpose. The certainty that, somehow, Saddam must have been behind Sept. 11 is the domestic equivalent of the insane belief in many Muslim lands that, somehow, it was all the work of the Jews.
Who knew that Saddam was such a bad guy? Not Dick Gephardt. "In 1991," he said, "no one knew the extent to which Saddam Hussein would sacrifice the needs of his people in order to sustain his hold on power." But Baghdad's 1988 genocide of its own ethnic Kurdish population was no secret. Saddam's troops had orders to kill every adult Kurdish male in northern Iraq, and they may have succeeded to the tune of more than 100,000. Some 60 villages were attacked with chemical weapons, in incidents well documented by international human rights and physicians' groups.
So far from being concerned, in those days, about Iraq's chemical arsenal, the Reagan administration secretly supplied Iraqi generals with bomb-damage assessments and information on Iranian troop deployments. Soon after the Kurdish attack, Washington signed off on the export to Iraq of virus cultures and a $1 billion contract to design and build a petrochemical plant that would make mustard gas.
Gephardt's feigned surprise is almost as transparent as Armey's sudden pathos for the poor suffering Iraqis: "The atrocities are beyond belief, beyond tolerance. And those poor people in Iraq live with each day, afraid to leave their home, afraid to speak at their own dinner table, frightened for their children that might be tortured in order to punish the parent's careless moment." For a guy who's been in Congress since well before the Kurdish atrocities, Armey, too, seems to be a bit slow to get in touch with his anger.
Armey said he "struggled" with the "hurdle" of whether a pre-emptive strike would be "compliant with the character of our great nation." But evidently it was a hurdle he was determined to get over. And when he couldn't, he decided it didn't exist. "It all gets involved with this question of pre-emptive strike," he said. "First of all, it is not a pre-emptive strike." Because, like De Lay said, we're already at war!
Saddam, Armey explained, "has consistently been in violation of his own commitments to the world for 11 years." That means he's declared war, see. I just hope nobody's keeping track of America's "commitments to the world."
As for working within the United Nations and the wisdom of building multinational coalitions, that's just so much sissy talk, as far as Sen. Phil Gramm is concerned: "I reject that. And I reject it because when we're talking about American lives, when we're talking about the security of our nation and the lives of our people, I am not willing to delegate the responsibility of protecting them to the U.N."
Gephardt waffled that issue, pointing out correctly that, "Completely bypassing the U.N. would set a dangerous precedent that would undoubtedly be used by other countries in the future to our and the world's detriment." Yet he went on to support a resolution that pleads with the President to play by the rules, while giving him permission not to.
Gephardt perhaps summed up his position with unintended irony when he said, "Exhausting all efforts at the U.N. is essential."
Armey's speech also drifted toward the Christian Right's morbid fixation with Israel: "And nations such as Israel, not exclusively Israel but right now, in the world, today, at a level of danger that is unparalleled by any other nation of the world, Israel struggles for its freedom, its safety and its dignity and it is in imminent, immediate danger by a strike from Saddam Hussein. And that represents a responsibility we have not only to what role we have played in the world, not only to our heroes who have acted it out in sacrifice, but to the character of this nation that we cherish and protect."
By the time Armey got this far into the rambling, it wasn't clear whether "this nation that we cherish and protect" meant Israel or America. In fact, he makes no distinction. "I've said as clearly as I can, to me an attack on Israel is an attack on America." It's a scary hint of how often U.S. foreign policy is driven by kooky Christian "End Times" fixations. Conservative American Christians fiercely support Israel, in large part so that all the Jews can go back there and 144,000 of them get converted to Christianity while the rest are slaughtered by the anti-Christ. That will usher in the Second Coming. No wonder, as the AP recently reported, "Many Israelis have mixed feelings about the support of the Evangelicals."
Even the opponents of the resolution often talked like idiots. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, urged a "no" vote because, if we start a war, our soldiers might get hurt (imagine that). And to make matters worse, our pension funds might take a hit. "The markets do not like war," she said. "They do not like the uncertainty of war."
But leave it to my own Rep. Joe Pitts to point out the next target in the war on terror: those '60s peaceniks. He's even got the ghost of John Lennon at his side. "Years ago, when I was a world away fighting to contain the scourge of Communism in Southeast Asia, a movement grew up here at home to protest what we were doing," he said before the vote. "Late in the war, one of the anthems of that movement was a song by John Lennon called 'Give Peace a Chance.' Now, we’re not here to debate the Vietnam War. But we are discussing war and peace. Peace is a precious thing, and we should defend it and even fight for it. And we have given peace a chance, for 11 long years."
He didn't study those '60s anti-war protesters closely enough, I guess. If he had, he would have seen the signs that said, "Fighting for peace is like f---ing for virginity."
So America is ready to rush off, with "one voice," to a new war, when it still has a ton of unfinished business in Afghanistan. A year ago, we were led off to war against Islamist terror groups, and they're still are not beaten -- whether al-Qaida or those who shake hands with them. They're likely behind the revolting carnage in Bali, the bombing of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, the attacks on Christians and Westerners in Pakistan, plots to attack U.S. or British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar, and the elaborate plan to hit western targets throughout Singapore.
The Congressional debate was a sham. The final scene of it was a contest to see who could call Saddam a "terrorist" more times than anyone else, without being able to prove it at all. It was all done with a skillful eye to marketing for the next election and no regard -- Sen. Robert Byrd excepted -- for whether history will regard this as the moment America gave up the pretense of being part of the world, instead of the boss of it.
[October 15, 2002]
WHAT MUST BE DONE
The U.N. likely will pass a new Iraq resolution Friday. Inspectors will pack their bags for Baghdad, and Saddam will waste no time in resuming his "cheat and retreat" game with them -- if he even accepts the resolution at all. Either way, it's a countdown to a showdown and the rest of the world will have to get serious about whether to back the Bad Cop against the Murderous Thug.
There's a lot to dislike about this. The Bush administration's Saddam obsession clearly carries some psychological baggage left over from the last movie. The Saddam-Osama connection is unproven. Control of Israel is a tug-of-war between two ultra-hawks, while Pakistan teeters on the edge of Islamist control, and the head of the American FBI warns of a resurgent al-Qaida. An Iraq attack looks like a sideshow distraction from a War on Terror getting longer and harder by the day.
But what if Bush is right?
What if it's a tragic mistake to let a vicious tyrant in the middle of the Middle East acquire weapons of mass destruction? What if the cost of pulling the world along on another Iraq war is less than the cost of doing nothing?
Even if it's a matter of a few years, not a few months, Iraq is undoubtedly racing to make a nuclear bomb. Well, so what? Other countries who have been America's enemies have held such weapons. But Iraq isn't the old Soviet Union, from whom, even in the depths of the Cold War, the U.S. could count on more or less conservative, self-interested decision-making. Saddam is no Khrushchev. He won't do something that will get himself killed, true, but he'll go as far as he can before he swerves. And that's sure to be farther than anyone else wants to go. According to Khidhir Hamza, one of Iraq's defecting nuclear scientists, soon after invading Kuwait Saddam ordered a crash program to build at least one nuclear weapon to fling at Israel if the coalition attacked him.
And he's not very good at understanding where that point is, when his own survival is at risk. Saddam's cabinet is a pack of sycophants as ignorant as he is about the outside world. As Kenneth Pollack recently noted, “For more than 30 years, Saddam's pattern has been to coldly miscalculate the odds, with disastrous results for Iraq and its neighbours.” Having an A-bomb up his sleeve is not likely to sharpen his gambling skill.
I sort of look at things in a neighborhood context. Maybe you don't like your beat cop. Maybe you even suspect he's on the take. But when a crack dealer moves into the house next door to you and your family, flashing handguns, is your fear of the cop a reason to do nothing? Maybe he's a rich crack dealer and you think the cop will steal his stuff. Is that a reason to do nothing? Maybe you can talk yourself out of it if you say, "Well there's a lot of crack dealers out there, and if I get the authorities to chase this one out, another will just move in and maybe shoot my family."
Many in the Arab world hate Saddam, but they hate America more. Think of the yearning to claim revenge, to deal out punishment, to feel validation. And Saddam personally may be a secularist, despised by Islamic clerics, but he knows how to play to the faithful. When you think of a nuclear-armed Iraq, think of the “Mother of all Battles” mosque, built outside Baghdad to celebrate Saddam's birthday in 2001. Each of the minarets is 43 meters high -- for the 43 days of the 1991 war in Kuwait -- and is designed to represent the Scud missiles fired at Israel. A copy of the Koran displayed inside is said to have been written entirely in Saddam's blood, which he is said to have donated to the tune of 24 liters over three years.
I don't understand the view that the U.S. pressure on Iraq is killing internationalism. The pressure on Iraq is coming via the United Nation. Bush didn't call the U.N. the League of Nations. He dared it to not be the League, by doing something about Iraq. The odd thing is, many of the ideologues who typically line up behind Bush want nothing more than for the U.N. to be an effete, 21st-century League of Nations. If anything, after the past weeks of U.S. negotiations with France, Russia, Syria, and China, the framework of international law is stronger. Tommorow's another day. But pressuring the U.N. to pressure Iraq to disarm seems to me the perfect sort of internationalist involvement that Bush père once stood as the heir to, before Reagan ate his brain.
But the Bush Administration is muddling its message about Iraq. Its aggressive bid to re-write the basic rights of Americans frightens many at home, and its first-strike military policy angers our old allies as well as neutral nations. The Iraq pressure from the White House looks like bullying, and at times it is. It will make us even more of a magnet for attacks than we already are.
America might as well accept that we are the new Rome. Illusions of our essential innocence ought to end. Being the world's sole hyperpower is a job that can be done well, or it can be done poorly. But it's too late to decide not to do it. We can be Republican Rome, with its self-conscious virtues, or imperial Rome. (Hint: which Roman, Cato or Nero, would have driven an SUV and Supersized his meals?)
We should, however, take this job on behalf of civilization and of human rights. And that will take a lot of change. We need to take a closer interest in being part of the world, and to willingly share the wealth we've hoarded. We also need to exercise a muscular commitment to the values we talk about. One small step toward that would be for the administration to admit that American leaders, including some still in power, backed the bad guy in Iraq for too long.
As for the American voices now gathering to protest the coming war, they have choices, too. They can claim a role in the new Rome, if they seek it. The just-ended election dashed their hope of turning aside the attack. But they can still take up the cause of the Iraqi people after it comes. Iraqis are in hell now, and it will only get worse after their government is wrecked again and stray U.S. bombs have found their neighborhoods and markets. Post-war Iraq may offer Americans the chance to prove their oft-boasted munificence, which was lacking in Afghanistan. Where was "Trick-or-Treat for Afghan Kids" this year?
It's not a pretty business, sweeping up after a war. But the world's a better place for every effort of those who do it. The choice is to see the coming conflict as a chance for liberation in Iraq, or to blindly oppose it just because it comes from George W. Bush, which runs the risk of seeming to back Saddam, just as many seemed to prefer the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, until I see more than "no war for oil" on the banners, and war opponents at least make an effort to convince me that Saddam is something we can ignore and it will go away, I'm going to stay clear of the protests.
[November 7, 2002]WITH YOU SO FAR
Every morning I get out of bed (afternoon, actually) and check the news to see if this is my stop. Maybe this is the day I get off the bus. So far it isn't. I'm still riding with the President on the matter of Iraq.
Clearly I've crossed the bar into middle age, because the polls say I'm riding with the majority of Americans, too. We agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to world peace and a plague on his own people. We want him disarmed, and removed from power, and we're willing to see lives lost if that's what it takes to accomplish it -- but only so long as it is done within the context of an international effort, and with the sanction of the United Nations.
We take a lot of crap over this position, but frankly I'm proud of my fellow Americans. This is not a cowboy mentality. I also am pleased with the way the Iraq crisis has been dealt with on the world stage. The United Nations is a restraining force on the administration of the world's superpower-du-jour. Despite the lurid posters of the protesters, diplomacy is still in the driver's seat.
Not only that, but nations such as Spain and Chile and Bulgaria have an important say in a world crisis. People old enough to remember the Cold War will be, I trust, broad-minded enough to applaud that change.
I was one of the generally anti-military Americans who had a change of heart over time after the death of Yugoslavia. I read the news wire day after day as a brutal thug slowly strangled Sarajevo -- the kind of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community we all supposedly aspire to in America. When the U.S. used its military power to stop him, at his next attempt, I applauded that, and I realized that not every extension of American power is a bad thing.
Always innocent lives will be lost, always women and children will suffer most. War is always a tragedy, and that can't be too often remembered, which is why I'm glad the protesters are out there on Penn Square -- though I respect the ones who show up every day and who actually live in the city, among the dark faces, more than the ones who only drive their SUVs downtown for the weekends to chant and shout.
I'm a Republican who voted for Gore in 2000. I'd probably do it again. I don't think Bush is at all stupid, though I think he enjoys being underestimated. I disagree with him on most social and domestic issues, and I'm furious at watching John Ashcroft bitch-slap the Bill of Rights. And I think the U.S. diplomacy during the current crisis has been appalingly amateurish -- by turns high-handed and incompetent -- and the President and his inner circle of stumble-bums are squarely to blame for the mess in the Security Council and the Americans being spat on in cities around the world.
But when the Chomskyites embrace Milosevic as a victim of Yankee imperialism, I realize I'm on the other side. And I haven't seen too many Muslim Kosovars shouting down America as an anti-Islamic evil empire. Have you? Frankly, for as long as I've been paying tax dollars, I've watched them prop up one megalomaniac rapist dictator or another. It'll be nice to see them used to bring one down, for a change. Especially because he's one of our messes.
Yet somehow some folks make a stunning leap into the conclusion that, because I'm not holding up one end of the "no blood for oil" banner, I'm a gung-ho Bushite, slavering for Iraqi blood. What I see when that happens is what a co-worker calls "a bunch of liberal Bob Barrs." They hate Dubya so much, they're reflexively against any idea he has, and never bother to check if this is one of the two times a day when a broken clock is right.
I think Bush is watching those polls. And the people who have been against him all along, just because he's him, have maneuvered themselves out of any influence on his policies. He can't lose them, because he never had them to lose.
Die Bombe fragt im Flug geschwindSinds gute Kind? Sinds boese Kind?
Da rat ich euch sagt Gute KindDie nur für jene Freiheit sind
Die auch die Bombe selbst bejahtDann tut sie keine blutge Tat
Sinds gute Kind fliegt sie zurückUnd wünscht den Kindern nur viel Glück
Sie kriecht ihn den BombenschachtDie Kinder schlafen gut bei Nacht
Doch heisst die Antwort Boese KindDann seht nicht hin dann stellt euch blind
Erich Fried (1921-1988)
(A bad, rough translation by me, with help from Markus, who drew my attention to this poem)
The Children's Bomb
The bomb in flight swiftly asksAre the children good? Are the children bad?
Then I urge you to say good childrenWho want only the kind of freedom
That affirms the bombs themselvesThen she does no bloody deed
Good children, she just flies backAnd wishes the kids good luck
She crawls back up the bombshaftThe children sleep well through the night
But if the answer is bad childrenthen don't look pretend to be blind.
And, finally, a word on hubris. Too many people here talk and write about the war to come as though it will be a televised football game. "We're gonna kick Iraq's ass!" Makes me think of Bill Murray's pep-rally speech to his hapless fellow recruits in the middle of "Stripes" (right before the place where you can switch off the movie and know you've seen all the good stuff). "We're ten and one!" he proclaims. I wonder if the Brits are right, and my fellow Americans are blind to satire.
Today, I'm looking at wiredesk pictures of smiling U.S. soldiers, in their desert uniforms, boarding the planes that will take them to the Gulf. And I'm thinking of this:
The same winter the Athenians resolved to sail again to Sicily, with a greater armament than that under Laches and Eurymedon, and, if possible, to conquer the island; most of them being ignorant of its size and of the number of its inhabitants .... The Athenians, and such of their allies as happened to be with them, went down to Piraeus upon a day appointed at daybreak, and began to man the ships for putting out to sea. With them also went down the whole population, one may say, of the city, both citizens and foreigners; the inhabitants of the country each escorting those that belonged to them, their friends, their relatives, or their sons, with hope and lamentation upon their way, as they thought of the conquests which they hoped to make, or of the friends whom they might never see again, considering the long voyage which they were going to make from their country.
Indeed, at this moment, when they were now upon the point of parting from one another, the danger came more home to them than when they voted for the expedition; although the strength of the armament, and the profuse provision which they remarked in every department, was a sight that could not but comfort them. As for the foreigners and the rest of the crowd, they simply went to see a sight worth looking at and passing all belief.
... The ships being now manned, and everything put on board with which they meant to sail, the trumpet commanded silence, and the prayers customary before putting out to sea were offered, not in each ship by itself, but by all together to the voice of a herald; and bowls of wine were mixed through all the armament, and libations made by the soldiers and their officers in gold and silver goblets. In their prayers joined also the crowds on shore, the citizens and all others that wished them well. The hymn sung and the libations finished, they put out to sea, and first out in column then raced each other as far as Aegina, and so hastened to reach Corcyra, where the rest of the allied forces were also assembling.
[Thucydides, "The History of the Peloponnesian War," Book VI, 431 B.C.E., translated by Richard Crawley]
[From the leader in today's "Guardian"]:
Mr Blair has invaded Iraq for different reasons from Mr Rumsfeld. In Mr Blair's world, Saddam is a moral outrage, both for the way that he treats his own people and for the threat that he poses to others, especially if he were to use weapons of mass destruction or to put them into the hands of terrorists. Putting Iraq to rights, in Mr Blair's view, should be the whole world's business. The more that all the nations make common cause to do this, the better. The less this happens, the more vital it is to balance any absence of common cause with a series of equitable and humanitarian initiatives - on the Middle East and on reconstruction in particular - which can help to establish what Disraeli, seeking to justify the British invasion of Abyssinia in 1867, called "the purity of our purpose".
[February 25, 2003]SOME WHO GOT IT RIGHT
Yes, it's been a roller-coaster ride, and yes, it's not over yet. As a journalist, I think my fourth estate colleagues are doing overall a heroic job. I've been reading the commentaries, too, and I feel special empathy for those who accepted this war with reluctance, as a last resort, and have been execrated for it by reactionaries who wouldn't lift a gun to fight Hitler if America was his enemy.
The wisdom and justice of this war will be proven by the thirty-year rule. It will take that long to know if the follow-up America puts into its new client is worth the blood spilled. We need to be big enough to know how big we are, and approach the problem with a calm enthusiasm and an open heart.
I'm rooting for the soldiers and the innocent Iraqis, and I'm rooting for these men and women -- colleagues of mine in a way, some of them intellectual, some workaday -- who raised their heads above the anti-war herds in their newsrooms and saw the chance in this moment to shape a real future for the world, by facing painful and ugly choices now. Here are some excerpts from what they've written, along with bits of other pieces that, I think, are making sense in this crazy time:
Who wants to live in a world where there are no stable rules for the use of force by states? Not me. Who wants to live in a world ruled by the military power of the strong? Not me. How will we oblige American military hegemony to pay "decent respect to the opinions of mankind?" I don't know. When the smoke of battle lifts, those who support the war will survey a battle zone that will include the ruins of the multilateral political order created in 1945.
To support the war entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations. To support the war entails other discomforts as well. It means remaining distinct from the company you keep, supporting a swift and decisive victory, while maintaining your distance from the hawks, the triumphalists, the bellowing commentators who mistake machismo for maturity.
...During Vietnam, I marched with people who thought America was the incarnation of imperial wickedness, and I marched against people who thought America was the last best hope of mankind. Both positions seemed hopelessly ideological, and at the same time, narcissistic. The issue was not fundamentally about our souls; it was about what was right for the people of Vietnam. Just as in Vietnam, the debate over Iraq has become a referendum on American power, and what you think about Saddam seems to matter much less than what you think about America.
But the fact is that America is neither the redeemer nation, nor the evil empire. It isn't always right, but it isn't always wrong. Ideology cannot help us here. In the weeks and years ahead, the choices are not about who we are or what company we should keep nor even about what we think America is or should be. They are about what risks are worth running, when our safety depends on the answer, and when the freedom of 25 million people hangs in the balance.
Michael Ignatieff, "The Guardian," March 24
What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is that for Europeans the real clash of civilisations is not between Islam and the West but between what the French call "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism and Eurostatism. I was amused by the sheer snobbery of Martin Amis’s analysis in the Guardian last week: the condescension to Bush’s faith, the parallels between Texas and Saudi Arabia, both mired in a dusty religiosity. America’s religiosity, now unique in the Western world, is at least part of the reason it reproduces at replacement rate, also uniquely in the Western world. Besides, for all Amis’s cracks, Texas doesn’t seem as fundamentalist as the radical secularism of post-Christian Europe. Why would anyone think a disinclination to breed or to defend oneself is the recipe for success?
Mark Steyn, "The Spectator," March 17
Who are the real imperialists here: those who want to carry out the wishes of the Iraqi people, or those who want to ignore them in the name of a non-existent peace? And, yes, it was non-existent. There is no peace if, at any time, people can be captured, tortured, burned or raped. Read the Amnesty reports. This was the everyday reality of Saddam's Iraq. Only the dishonest can say that British and American soldiers are interrupting "peace"; they are interrupting a decades-long war, waged by Saddam against the Iraqi people, to bring it to an end. Do not weep that this happening; be proud.
...It might seem perverse to seek to spread peace at the barrel of a gun; but the peace we enjoy here in Europe exists only because we (along with the Americans) acted with weaponry to banish tyrants. The Iraqi people want and deserve the same. If their wishes -– as reported unambiguously by Kenneth Joseph and many more like him –- are not compatible with international law, then an urgent priority once this war is over must be to reconstruct international law to make it encourage, not hinder, the overthrow of tyranny.
Johann Hari, "The Independent," March 26
Slowly, obscurely, enunciated with difficulty in thick Texan accents, a new doctrine of international order is emerging, of which the imminent war is a crucial outing. It is the doctrine of humanitarian intervention —- or, to give it its proper name, neo-colonialism. This doctrine is driven by the firm belief -— uncluttered by relativist self-loathing —- in the universal principles of liberty and justice. It gives expression to our sense that everyone, not just the West, has a right to live in a decent country — and that the West has a duty to help them do so. In particular, it gives substance to the vacuities of the "ethical foreign policy."
...Let there be no talk of "imposing" "Western" values here. As President Bush says, the values of liberty are universal, not Western. They only seem Western because the West has applied them most successfully, and grown rich on the proceeds. Liberty might just as easily have flourished in the Korean peninsula or at the junction of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Then it would be Koreans and Iraqis, to the dismay of limp do-gooders among them, exporting "Eastern" values to us, the benighted nations of the world.
Daniel Kruger, "The Spectator," March 19
Nobody wants war, me included. The question is, is there something worse than war? I have been answering "yes" for years. One thing that is worse than war is genocide –- that is, the extinction of a whole people. Many people said this before Auschwitz. In Greek tragedy, it is revealed in the destruction of Troy. This is indeed the horizon of western history. That is why I don’t believe that the refusal to take part in a war against Saddam should be seen as an expression of humanism, but of a blindness that exists not only in Europe, but in all civilisations. We all want to live peacefully, oblivious and happy. That wish already existed in ancient Athens, and there is nothing wrong with it as such, except that it is not very realistic.
Interviewer: Do you think France will stick to its opposition against the US?
Longer than in Germany. Here in our country, the rivalry with America is more prominent. But at the moment, the people in the street are only asking themselves, how can we stand up against Bush? Saddam Hussein doesn’t come into the equation, and that is where my whole objection lies. Because the issue here is actually Saddam.
Bush is a challenge for American democracy; Aznar, the challenge for Spanish democracy. Why are there fewer protestors in France than in Spain, England or Italy? Because in Italy they fight Berlusconi, in Britain they fight Blair –- and in France they fight nobody.
But the overriding question remains: what about Saddam Hussein? If I may be a little moralistic here: I could not look at myself in the mirror if Saddam Hussein were still in power because I have been to a demonstration against Bush, and as a result, the people in Iraq had to live in this totalitarian regime for another twenty years.
André Glucksmann, French philosopher, interview on German Web site Info 3, March 31
This war for me has always been a fine judgment call, a choice between deeply shitty alternatives (my big argument with some in the anti-war campaign has been their belief that there are -- or were -- No-Die options in Iraq). Agnostic on the threat of weapons of mass destruction (though believing that Saddam would develop them if permitted to), sceptical on alleged Iraqi links with new Osama bin Laden-type groups, it finally came down to the lesser of these three evils: Saddam unchained; a "contained" Saddam plus sanctions and endless inspections; invasion and no Saddam. In the end, I chose the latter.
Even so, there has always been the possibility of a war that was worse even than another 20 years of Saddam, Uday, Qusay, Chemical Ali and Dr Germ. And there have been moments in the past few days when I have wondered whether we aren't fighting it.
... Kosovo was, most of us agree, "worth it." Worth it even though we hit the train on the bridge at Leskovac, killing 10, and the refugee convoy at Prizren in Kosovo which slaughtered more than 70. "Worth it" to both Robin Cook (then foreign secretary) and me. As was the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 or, in Afghanistan, the infamous missile attack on the gun-toting wedding party.
If this sounds callous, my answer is that we make choices like this all the time. Except no one rushes to the scene of motorway crashes to report on how an ill-timed phone-call, speeding, or pre-drive joint has left body parts scattered along the fast lane of the M6. We know it, but you still couldn't get 500 people to London to call for the end of the motor car. In Kosovo the scenes from the border justified our actions to us at a time when the action seemed most pointless and brutal. Right now, there are no pictures from Baghdad of the summary executions and the beheadings; Rageh Omar has not been taken to see those. Yet. But if we could see inside those buildings and speak to some of the families of victims, the calculation might change.
David Aaronovitch, "The Guardian," April 1
As a way to encourage democratization, an extended American occupation of Iraq would be just policy. Would a long-term occupation also be wise policy? That is the more difficult question. Since democratization will be more lengthy and difficult in Iraq than in postwar Japan, America will have to marshal its will and resources for a stressful and challenging enterprise. If the Iraqi returnees turn out to be poor democratizers, or if America finds it difficult to exercise great and lasting influence without quite seeming to do so, the chances of an Arab nationalist reaction or internal American divisions are high. Certainly, one reasonable response to this scenario is refusal to engage in a long-term occupation at all.
Yet the argument for a venture in democratic imperialism is also strong. In the long term, it may be our best insurance against the deadly and ever-spreading combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Particularly in the early stages, such a venture should concentrate on building up a modernizing and liberal class through education. An end-run around traditional structures will be more successful than direct assault. Someday, however, the time for a limited assault will come. Shifting administrative strategies are a feature of successful democratic imperialism. Only circumstances can dictate the balance between relatively indirect rule and reformist transformation.
Above all, should America undertake an extended occupation of Iraq, the dichotomy between realist caution and reformist liberalism will have to be transcended. Authentic democracy develops slowly. The trick is to encourage electoral experiments on the local level while still keeping hold of national power. Gradualism is not a betrayal of democratic principle. On the contrary, it is an insight bequeathed to us by the founders of liberalism itself.
Stanley Kurtz, "Policy Review," April 6
I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realised. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?
Michael Kelly, "New Republic," Feb. 26 (died April 2003 covering war in Iraq)
[April 7, 2003]