A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, March 22, 2003
GOOD COP, BAD COP: How much better would I, and, I think, much of the world feel about this invasion if we could be assured that Bush shared in his heart something like Tony Blair's justification for it? If only Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, and the gang would accede to the following Third Way internationalist propositions:
[W]hat happens after any conflict in Iraq is of such critical significance.

Here again there is a chance to unify around the UN. Let me make it clear. There should be a new UN resolution following any conflict providing not just for humanitarian help but also for the administration and governance of Iraq. That must now be done under proper UN authorisation.

It should protect totally the territorial integrity of Iraq. And let the oil revenues - which people falsely claim we want to seize - be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN.
Alas, I'm rather worried that even if one assumes Blair is mostly sincere about this, he and the rest of the world will be to a great extent shoved aside by Bush and his neoconservatives, who almost certainly see their marriage with Blair's New Labour as one of convenience.

To see this, we can compare and contrast Blair's reconstructive vision with the sentiments expressed in Defence Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle's triumphalist essay a few days later in The Guardian, the same paper that had just published Blair's speech:
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.
Few informed people, nevermind Blair, should find these sentiments at all surprising, since most of us know that Bush and his neocon hardliners had to be dragged bodily into the UN process last fall and never took it terribly seriously when they were there.

But the Prime Minister must be touched that his pardner's buddies have decided to reveal his foreign policy orientation as "intellectual wreckage" before his core constituency during what is, no doubt, a stress-free moment in British politics.

After all, that's what friends are for.
Friday, March 21, 2003
BUSH DOCTRINE, THE FRENCH P.O.V.: In case you were wondering what the (more informed) French intelligensia think about the U.S. motivations for invading Iraq without UN approval, you can get a pretty indication from this solid Le Monde analysis article, titled "George W. Bush's Real Reasons."

And, if my rudimentary powers of translation are at all accurate (this caveat applies to the rest of this post), no, the article doesn't claim it's about oil.

Following the pretty much standard moderate-leftish consensus that exists just about everywhere outside of the U.S. (and to a decent extent inside the States as well), the author traces a break between the elder Bush's more restrained coterie of realists and internationalists and the younger Bush's neoconservative advisors.

Drawing from the National Security Strategy document released last September, the author distills the two main strategic principles behind not only this invasion, but future American foreign policy (i.e. what we would call the Bush doctrine):

1) Because America has responsibilities that others don't, the use of American power is above international law. Thus, it need not get approval from the UN to act when it feels threatened; such a perception of threat allows the U.S. to "exempt itself from the rules of multilateralism and the agreement of its allies, whether they be NATO or the EU." Quoting Martin Wolf of The Financial Times (London), this principle means that "the supreme law is the security of the [American] Republic," and this pursuit of absolute security for America means that "others must live in a state of absolute insecurity."

2) American power, because it is fundamentally benevolent, should be used to prevent the emergence of any comparable military power. "It must remain the planet's dominant military power."

So, no, it's not about oil. It's about the United States deciding that threats to its own security can trump the security concerns of all other nations, and maintaining a military dominance that will allow it to back up this decision.

Can everyone see why a lot of decent people both within and without the U.S. might have good reasons to be opposed to such a posture? And why it might be dangerous and awfully unfriendly to continue pursuing it?
THE NEW HONOUR: Just wondering if any of those Orwell fans supporting the war aren't even a little bit irritated at the Bush admin's assertion that Iraqi soldiers could "act with honour" by surrendering and allowing the Anglo-American forces unopposed passage through Iraq.

To wit, this Rumsfeld quote made me want to retch:
"Military units that want to live and act with honour should listen to coalition radio broadcasts to receive instructions as to how you may demonstrate that you do not intend to fight," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "You will have a place in a free Iraq if you do the right thing. But if you follow Saddam Hussein's orders, you will share his fate."
Can we get something straight about the use of the word honour, people?

For an Iraqi soldier, awaiting Anglo-American orders for unnegotiated surrender at this point may be, in the overall analysis, the right thing to do, the best thing to do, or the wisest thing to do.

But I don't think that there is any definition of the word "honour," at least as it is used by military men and women, that would allow anyone to call this "acting with honour."

Military honour, as fighting men and women have understood it for thousands of years, involves devotion to an unwritten code of fair and earnest combat above one's own life.

It does not involve leaping at the first chance one gets to surrender to the enemy.

But, you might respond, Saddam is an evil and incompetent leader! Surely, it wouldn't be honourable to die for him? Again, let me be clear that we are talking about honour here, and not justice or goodness (apologies to Plato).

What you would be missing is that military honour is terrible in its majesty. As with many of the other virtues of the battlefield, military honour is a virtue that is orthogonal to notions of good and evil.

It seems to me that an Iraqi soldier who was opposed to the awful things Saddam was doing to Iraq, he could have previously acted honourably by refusing to serve in Saddam's army. If he is still in the army at this point, then it seems that the truly honourable thing would be to fight and possibly die with the army to which he is committed.

Yes, both of these options would doubtlessly involve a grave risk to the soldier's own life, but whatever the concept of military honour involves, it surely does not involve doing whatever it takes to save your own ass.

One might also point out that both of these options involve the Iraqi soldier risking his life without a realistic chance of achieving much. To those who do, see the "terrible in its majesty" part above. Let me be clear that I'm not saying that military honour is always or even usually a beneficial influence. Indeed, military honour is easily abused and frequently moves people to do things that are on balance ridiculously wasteful or awful. In this case, I very much hope that the Iraqi troops don't think too much about acting honourably and just do the smart thing and surrender or go home.

But we should not allow ourselves to lose sight of exactly what the honour really means, and why it has such power over fighting men and women because we've let people like Bush and Rumsfeld propagandize it into a pile of crud, as they've done with almost every other concept of value in their dishonest promotion of this war.
DOES BEING IN THE AMERICAN MILITARY MEAN NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY? The military hearing on last spring's friendly fire incident in Afghanistan has recommended against a court martial, apparently accepting the accused pilots' defense that "in the fog of war," they legitimately thought that they were being ambushed.

Because, clearly, small arms fire is a big threat to fighter aircraft cruising at 15,000 feet.
WHY THE HARD RIGHT HAS ZERO CHANCE OF WINNING OTTAWA: Object lesson--this pathetic but completely representative John Ibbitson column excoriating Liberal MPs and Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal as "stupid" for accusing "the U.S. government of reckless and even criminal irresponsibility."

Here is the core of Ibbitson's argument:
Ottawa politicians (the NDP and the Bloc Québécois are at it, too) believe that Canadians need not fear the consequences of declaring neutrality during the second Persian Gulf war, or even of insulting the U.S. government. The two economies are so intertwined, goes the argument, that the Americans would never dare to throw up obstacles to cross-border trade and traffic.

This is garbage reasoning.
First, let’s establish that the "stupid" things that Mr. Dhaliwal and the backbench MPs said are, in the minds of a majority of Canadians and the world, true--or at least not ridiculous, unlike Carolyn Parrish's truly stupid "Americans, I hate those bastards" comment. Or so say these international law scholars in another article in Mr. Ibbitson's own paper, at least regarding the "criminal" part of the accusation. I think that you can all find your own sources for the "reckless" part.

Now, attacking your politicians for not being willing to sacrifice their country's moral principles and sovereign right to express its opinions of an ally's conduct out of fear of offending an economically dominant power may be a lot of things, but one thing it is not is conservative, at least in any principled sense. And, as Stephen Harper's gratingly similar comments demonstrate, Ibbitson's thinking is representative of much of Canada’s "conservative" elite: because these conservatives so admire how the United States has realized a market system that is much closer to their laissez faire ideal, they find themselves chronically unable to avoid asserting that Canadians must recognize their extreme dependence on and inferiority to their southern neighbours.

It shouldn’t take Karl Rove to tell you that this is and always will be a losing proposition in Canadian politics. A lot of us may feel that, yes, there may be many reasons for us to envy the Americans, but we sure as hell don’t want to hear this from our politicians.

And this is even truer for conservatives. American conservatives may suck at a lot of things, but one thing that they know well is the value of patriotism. Appeals to hearth, home, and national pride are part of the lifeblood of any conservative movement--in my understanding, these invocations of the connecting tissue of the community's shared traditions, values, and culture are what lends conservatism much of its appeal. To a lesser extent, no mainstream political movement from of any ideology can afford to entirely neglect these sentiments either.

Until spineless "conservatives" like Mr. Ibbitson learn to develop a message that doesn't seem to encourage us to bow and scrape to the United States, they'll have more of a chance of electing themselves to the White House than they have of breaking the Liberals' grip on Ottawa.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
ONE OF THE FEW TANGIBLE BENEFITS OF BLOGGING is that there are a few people writing out there who genuinely bright souls. One of those is Julia over at Sisyphus Shrugged, whom I met for lunch while passing through The City (see, I can say it like a real northeastern 'Merican) on my way back from T.O. on Tuesday; I feel vaguely guilty that I'm only blogging this now, but I figure that it's in character by now.

She's a wonderful lunch companion and I'm very grateful for her introducing me to The Oyster Bar's salmon eggs benedict. Thanks Julia! I pick up the tab next time, though, I promise...
NO CANADIAN IMMUNITY: Glenn Reynolds characteristically engages in some suggestive finger pointing regarding the horrible human rights record of icky Canadian multinational Talisman in the Sudan. Quoting from an article that describe how Talisman's prior collaboration with the genocidal and slaving Sudanese government is liable for prosecution in U.S. courts under the Alian Tort Claims Act, Prof. Reynolds then quips that he "usually only hear[s] American companies accused of this kind of stuff."

I'm a bit surprised that Prof. Reynolds didn't know that Talisman came under scathing and continuous fire from first left wing and human rights groups in both Canada and the U.S. and then big chunks of our mainstream media; the Canadian Broadcasting Company's news magazine program, The National, produced a trenchant documentary of Talisman's activities in Sudan. This was also reported quite extensively in the U.S. press. Go here, for example, for an article from ABC describing the Canadian government's threat of sanctions on Talisman when it finally got around to doing something about it. I remember hearing about this all of the time when I was an undergrad and signing many petitions against Talisman.

And I wonder whether Prof. Reynolds realizes that all of this pressure resulted in a bunch of divestment campaigns, and finally Talisman dumping all of its investments in Sudan? So those genocide charges that Talisman and its owners deserve will be applied to activity conducted in the past.

Did the Canadian government act quickly or decisively enough during the years before Talisman left? No, it didn't. It only started to put pressure on Talisman when a lot of people started making a big racket about it. But this certainly wasn't a result of a lack of effort or recognition on the part of Canadian leftists or (eventually, at least) responsiveness by the Canadian media. If only the abuses of all multinationals were covered by the media in their home countries with such vigour all of the time.

(via Soundbitten)
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
BLAIR SURVIVES: I'm obviously such a wishy-washy liberal in that I still have a lot of respect for the guy, even if I think his partnering up with Bush was a tremendously bad mistake. And that seems to be the mood in Blair's own Labour Party, which supported his motion to join with the invasion, although with significant and widespread dissent.

The tally: 139 MPs (out of 410) Labour MPs voted for a failed amendment asserting that the case for war had not yet been made and 3 ministers (including House Leader Robin Cook) and 5 PPSs resigned. So some solid but not overwhelming internal blows.

Bush is, characteristically, a lucky bastard that a guy with as much charisma, desire to neutralize Saddam, and @$&%#& hardheadedness as Blair has is leading the UK right now.
DEATH AND HORROR, NON-MIDDLE EASTERN CATEGORY: Those of you who like to stay abreast of the Next Big Horrible Disease may be interested in the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (so new and awful and mysterious that the medical powers-that-be have only given it an acronymnal name) that's infected over 200 people in at least 9 countries. It seems to be like pneumonia, except we don't know what causes it or how to treat it and it's much more contagious and, um, severe. Yikes.

The bug originated in Asia but has spread to a number of other countries by jet plane, including Canada, where it's killed 2 people.

Manu, any chance you can give us the inside track on this?

UPDATE: This report indicates that FrenchHong Kong and German researchers have evidence showing that it's caused by a paramyxovirus, but they aren't yet sure. (Correction note: funny, how repetition can get to you...)
THAT WHOLE LOVE/HATE THING: Something I forgot to add to the post below. Even though Canada is officially opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is not only contributing a significant number of ships and troops to a naval task force guarding the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, but also supplying the commander and flagship of this fleet. This contribution is ostentibly intended only to assist the U.S.' ongoing fight against terrorism, but it effectively guards a flank of the U.S. invasion. This is pretty weird, although possibly entirely in character with the eternal Chrétien desire to have things both ways, as this Globe editorial notes:
It's hard not to conclude...that Canada is a furtive member of the "coalition of the willing." Canadian military resources now near Iraq may be greater than those of many overt U.S. partners, such as Spain.

Remarkable. Some countries provide rhetorical support without tangible help; Canada does the opposite.
Yeah, you're a bunch of bastards and we'd all be happier if you'd just disappear from the face of the Earth, but we might sort of have your back anyway.

So typically Canadian.
NORTHERN MOOD CHECK: Just flew back from Toronto yesterday. If you're wondering how people up there feel about Bush's decision to give up on diplomacy (was he ever really trying in the first place?) and go to war, here's a couple of indications:

-A whole bunch of parliamentarians (including members of 3 of the opposition parties) rose to give Jean Chrétien a standing ovation when he announced that Canada won't be supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

-These Liberal backbench MPs who now feel at ease to engage in an activity regularly enjoyed by the vast majority of the world's free citizens; namely, denouncing Bush as a thug.

-One thing that really struck is that when I went back to Canada last week, my usually far-left self felt almost like a centrist. Many generally conservative Canadians (like my fundy parents) think this war is a lame idea and that it's being conducted by the U.S. out of arrogance or self-interest.
FRIENDS FOREVER: This AP report is a bit of happiness:
Electronic bugging devices have been found in offices used by the French and German delegations in a building where an European Union summit will open on Thursday, EU officials said.

EU spokesman Dominique-George Marro said Wednesday the EU had launched an investigation into the bugs, but had no immediate idea who was behind it.

He said listening devices were also found in offices used by other EU nations, but declined to say which or how many. The offices were in an EU headquarters building.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
THE FALLACIOUS LOGIC OF WAR: After catching Bush's speech last night, even the eternal liberal utopian optimist in me finally has to concede that we are past the point of no return. There will be a huge strike on Iraq in a little less than 30 hours. Providence willing it will go as smoothly and with as little pain as the hawks believe. Someone could have made a lot of money off of me on the even odds bet I offered the other day, but alas, no takers.

The most striking thing about this entire episode is the degree to which it confirms the key fallacy of hawkish arguments: throughout, hardline war proponents, especially American visionaries, incessently invoked the logic of inevitability. They repeat the phrase "We have no other choice" until it becomes axiomatic. But this is almost always a fallacious logic: it relies on the errors of thought that underlie the common fallacies of False Necessity and False Dichotomy.

Although Bush's speechwriters were careful not to employ this bad logic too nakedly, they could not resist avoiding it altogether. First, we hear it when Bush tries to foist the choice of initiating confrontation entirely onto Saddam: "Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war" (note also that the main clause of that sentence is also a flagrant lie). Second, this logic is more strikingly evident in a worrying passage that seems to suggest the justification of the doctrine of pre-emption as necessary in the modern world:
In this century when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth. Terrorists and terrorist states do not reveal these threats with fair notice in formal declarations. And responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.
My point is that one always has a choice. Morality depends on this truth. Even when there is a gun held to your head, you can still make a moral decision to be cut down. And considering the United States' power, we can safely say that no one has recently come close to holding a gun to its head. To say that forgoing pre-emption would be "suicide" is quite frankly a lie.

I don't mean to say that we may never rightfully judge war to be the most just or moral choice. But only scoundrels argue for it by claiming that it is the only choice.

ADDENDUM: Another flagrant lie in that speech that deserves recognition:
The danger is clear. Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kills thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other.

The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat...
Just appalling. As if years of destabilizing the region, selling arms to Iraq, and propping up Saddam as a counterweight against Iran were "nothing." As if downplaying Saddam's use of chemical weapons on the Iranians were "nothing."

The utter inability to take any responsibility for past misdeeds is for me the most contemptable aspect of the neocon vision to employ American power for the world's benefit.