In this case, the prescribed spectrum of "debate," which has all the
sinister characteristics of the theatrical, manufactured public discourse
that makes up the respectably "democratic" facade of an Orwellian society,
is one that encapsulates the "moral" question of Saddam Hussein
and little else. Thus, when we discuss the question of whether this war
and this occupation, complete with all its implications, is just, we
are made to grapple with the "moral question" of Saddam Hussein's
undeniably brutal, terroristic regime.
This is nothing new, even in very recent times. During the
"outbreak" of the Kosovo situation and the bombing of
Serbia, virtually all American public discussion, in the mainstream
media and otherwise, spun about the singular axis of
whether the U.S. should be so altruistic as to sacrifice its resources
and compromise the lives of its troops just to defend some Albanians
somewhere from getting slaughtered. It was seriously -- if rhetorically --
asked whether it was the U.S.'s job to be "world policeman." And after
intense "soul searching" and "deliberation," the people apparently
heaved a collective
sigh and agreed that yes, if Europe, the UN, etc., can't do the world's
"dirty work" of putting "horrible dictators" like Milosevic out of business,
someone has to do it. Spectacular imagery of Milosevic as Hitler Reincarnate
was conjured to explain why the U.S. had, despite its "reluctance" to
intervene everywhere, just had to do something this time.
Discussion of the larger strategic picture and/or the overall nature of
that conflict did not fall within the prescribed play pen nor within the
general limits of acceptable political culture, and so like
anything else of substance was relegated to the shadowy ranks of
"fringe leftists" and other unpatriotic, America-hating traitors. Of the
"liberals," Democrats, and anti-war protesters, many suggested that
although it was necessary to alter Serbia's conduct and remove Milosevic from
power, it could be done without bombs. In other words, the society as a
whole accepted the basic premise of the official line.
To some extent, this was definitely
true of the Afghanistan war as well, although such moralising played
a more secondary role there, overshadowed by the awesome potency of
the claim that justice was being done for 11 September. Nevertheless,
much propaganda mileage was squeezed from the Taliban's oppression of
women, whose burqas, seemingly out of nowhere, became a cause worth
militarily fighting for in and of itself.
The political climate of this latest conflict was no different.
While focusing mainly on the tenuous Al Qaeda "connection" and the
alleged weapons of mass destruction,
which Iraq's ruling regime supposedly sought in large quantities
in order to threaten world peace and destroy America, there was the
routine punctuation of the "moral imperative" for toppling Hussein.
Conservative commentators fumed at questions about the justification for
this latest military adventure, asserting that the "moral superiority"
of the U.S. and the "new situation" were the justifications,
requiring no further elaboration. To suggest otherwise was not just
unpatriotic and sinful, but somehow inhuman.
It's obvious enough that no rational person, whatever his granular
political sentiments, would uphold Saddam Hussein's murderous regime.
To oppose the launching of this war is not to be "pro-Saddam" or to
whitewash, downplay, or in any way deny the horror that his regime has
brought. But just as with Kosovo, there is a much larger problem
here that goes far beyond the straw men and slanders of reactionaries.
The problem is that the impotent American Left, meaning the usual
menagerie of Democrats and other "liberals," has had the parameters of
discussion dictated to it; it has acquiesced to the circumscription
of "officially sanctioned" discourse.
This has resulted in an inconsistent, castrated opposition that has not pursued
the correct interpretation of the matter, while falling victim to
accusations of jadedness and confusion that are not entirely unfounded.
The mainstream anti-war crowd, by and large, appears to have accepted
that vital tenet of American political psychology that says to treat entirely
amoral political machinations as some kind of moral question. It has
forced the discussion of this war into one single corner: isn't removing
Saddam Hussein a good thing? Or, put another way: Yeah, U.S. empire is
bad, but Saddam is bad too. Many staple opponents of the war are backed
into this corner, compelled to defend alternatives to the military
"liberation" of Iraq. One archetypical example is
Win Without War, an
organisation that internalised the premise that we must "win," that there is
something to "win," but simply
urged not doing so through outright military action. Grappling with this moral perplexity is difficult; after all, what, are you really saying such a horrible man as Saddam
Hussein should be left in power? What does this say about your own
virtue, this crass contempt for the welfare of the Iraqi people? This
has led to frequent defensive assertions like the one made in
[W]as removing Saddam a good thing? Perhaps -- time will tell. Was the war m
orally justified? Even if Iraq becomes a paradise, the
answer is still no.
Evil intentions still sometimes lead to good results. That does not excuse
the evil intentions, or justify the acts. The (unintended) end result
cannot justify the evil means used to achieve them.
The war in Iraq is not a war for the liberation of the Iraqi people.
To be sure, the goal was the overthrow of the Ba'ath regime, but not for
the purpose of liberating the Iraqi people from it.
One need not dig far into the United States' illustrious history of
military interventions and coups throughout the last century to understand
that if it would have been more suitable to its aims to replace Saddam
Hussein with an even worse dictator, it would have done exactly that.
The last sentence of the quoted text alludes to this somewhat:
"The (unintended) end result cannot justify the evil
means used to achieve them." The effect of the regime change on the
Iraqi people, positive or negative, is a red herring -- it is irrelevant
here, because the welfare of the Iraqi people was not a consideration in
initiating this war beyond (a) its propaganda value and (b) the
extent to which its improvement is conducive to American strategic
objectives. There is no altruism here, no self-sacrifice, no
generosity on the part of the American state. We cannot simply accept
the premises that are given to us, for this is a rejection of critical
thought. We should not be forced to define our anti-war stance in pro-war
terms, for that is allowing the enemy to define the language in which
we will speak.
Apart from doing the bidding of the ruling class by harping on a red
herring, there is a larger metaphysical
error here, and one that seems to be a fixture of American political
culture as shaped from above. It is the tendency to view the
machinations of politics as moral questions, when it is convenient
to do so, of course. As indicated, the substitution of a different
regime for that of Saddam Hussein is not a "moral" or "immoral" act
in and of itself; it is a function of politics -- of the secular
politics of imperialism. There seems to be a compulsion among many
mainstream left-liberals (as well as conservatives, certainly) to
literally try to quantify the benefits of regime change in Iraq, to
express not intervening as some kind of "opportunity cost"
to the Iraqi people, perhaps expressed in terms of "additional deaths,"
as though this were an economic transaction.
One reader of my home town newspaper, apparently "morally outraged" by
an editorial that pointed out the Turkish government's atrocities against
its Kurdish population, gave a figure for the number of Iraqi Kurds
that Saddam Hussein's regime has killed and asked whether the
author really thought that Turkey's government could have killed more.
This urge to quantify is misplaced, and confounds the trivial with the
significant. The actions of imperialist states are not defined by
numbers or by a related all-around morality. Perhaps American
"liberals" can be fooled into believing that there is a moral
calculus of some kind involved, but to the politically conscious people
of the world it is abundantly clear that "military humanitarianism"
is nothing more than a cynical lie.
A related fallacy lies in the separation of this war from the
world-historic conjuncture of which it is part. This is not an isolated
event, nor some kind of exception to a rule or departure from the norm.
Military aggression is endemic to the imperialist system,
and acts in spasms according to its imperatives. In other words, it is
endemic. It is disheartening that the anti-war movement is accepting,
by and large, the notion that this war is "over." None of this is over.
And while the ruling class may be handing down this absurd lexicon of
moral imperatives, liberation, freedom, and democracy, this is not the
language they speak inside their own circles. This war is intended
to facilitate the restructuring of power relations in the Middle East
and the extension of American geostrategic influence into unprecedented
spheres. This may seem outlandish to worldly "liberals," but it is a
dead-serious proposition within the halls of power. The language of
lesser-known documents like the
National Security Strategy
illustrates this quite well, as does a paragraph from the Pentagon's
famed Defense Planning Guidelines for the Fiscal Years 1994-1999:
Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival,
either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses
a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. ...
we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial
nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or
seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. ...
we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors
from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.
The same document, which also made clear in no uncertain terms that
it is imperative that the U.S. "remain the
predominant outside power in the region and [to] preserve the U.S. and
Western access to the region's oil," speaks in a language more reflective
of the authentic basis of American foreign policy. Perhaps the American
Left should study it, instead of stubbornly clinging to its conciliatory,
 Such neutral language serves to give us the impression that
the American leadership was "confronted" with the "Kosovo crisis" rather
than chose to create it. This fits well into the mythos of the
"reluctant empire," the American "benevolent hegemon" that "reluctantly"
accepts the "burden" of empire.
 e.g. The post-September 11th new strategic climate/new security
situation that called for living in an "entirely different world" from
 I'm sorry alleria. I am not picking on you; your
comment was just suitable for my example. It could well have been