Monday, February 17, 2003

trans-bloggerism, questions 3-5

I'm behind on my answers and it's roundup posting time, so here are some quicker answers to questions 3-5 from the Cross-Blog Debate.

3. American and British military force has allowed Northern Iraq to develop a society which, while imperfect, is clearly a freer and more open society than existed under Saddam Hussein's direct rule. Do you agree that the no-fly zones have been beneficial to Northern Iraq --- and if so, why should this concept not be extended to remove Hussein's regime entirely and spread those freedoms to all Iraqis?

At least one premise of the question is false. The no-fly zones have nothing to do with humanitarian intervention -- their humanitarian benefits have been indifferent at best. Their preservation is very obviously not a goal of the planned invasion -- as even erstwhile flack Kanan Makiya has noticed. The argument that any part of Western policy viz. Iraq is in any way about humanitarianism is, to me, by far the smarmiest and most repulsive of pro-war memes -- but it's constantly pushed by those sectors of the pro-invasion movement who imagine their opponents to be a band of bleeding hearts, or those who have genuinely bought into the notion of themselves as "pro-liberation."

Even if there were anything humanitarian in the contemplated Iraq policy, would I support it? Given that what I'm basically being asked is "do you support the short-term slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in faith that the US government will then 'liberate' the rest," the answer is no. There is no reason to believe at this stage that whatever indifferent "freedoms" happen to be "enjoyed" by Northern Iraq as a side-effect of being a staging ground for a twelve-year bombing campaign will survive the invasion even in that region, let alone being spread to all Iraqis.

4. Do you believe an inspection and sanctions regime is sufficient and capable of keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the Hussein regime ---

The inspections regime in particular has obviously been quite successful, given that proponents of war have been reduced to making their case largely in terms of hypothetical future threats.

and should this be a goal of U.S. policy?

Better question: has this ever been a goal of U.S. policy? Not particularly. Why not?

Well, perhaps we should be asking why the Bush Administration isn't bothered by Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, which is in the hands of a government far more beholden to Muslim extremists and terrorists than Saddam Hussein's. The answer: WMD is already deterrable by conventional means. The scenario of dictators handing off weapons to terrorists has never really answered why those dictators wouldn't keep those weapons for their own protection -- which tends to be their greater concern. (No, "they hate America and they're mad!!!!" isn't an answer to this question.)

That's not to say that willy-nilly proliferation is the way to go. America should certainly take a stand against proliferation -- but anyone who imagines that such a stand can consist merely of invading anyone who has weapons you don't like is living in a fantasy world. If anything, that approach heavily motivates proliferation of WMDs and encourages people to point them at you. A better approach might be to throw some serious weight behind non-proliferation treaties... which the Bush Administration has not done, for reasons that probably relate to their National Missile Defense baby.

In what way is an inspection/containment/sanctions regime preferable to invasion? Civilian casualties? Expense? Geopolitical outcome?

Inspections and containment are preferable because they don't kill people and destabilize regions the way war does. Given that they've proven effective, it makes no sense to abandon them out of sheer impatience. The sanctions regime as it stands is counterproductive sadism fuelled by a number of pernicious myths, and is not necessary to containing Iraq; it has already generated an unacceptable number of civilian casualties. But better-targeted and more effective sanctions are theoretically possible and shouldn't be ruled out.

Geopolitical outcome? Likely a good deal better than alienating most of one's long-term allies and most of the Muslim world with an invasion of at best dubious legal, moral, strategic and military justification. If you're looking for leverage to remake the Middle East -- well, Iran, had a pretty robust reform movement going before the whole "Axis of Evil" thing started...

5. What, in your opinion, is the source of national sovereignty? If you believe it to be the consent of the governed [remainder of question irrelevant]

Consent is the source of justice, not sovereignty. There are good reasons why the West has made a practice of dealing with nations as sovereign whose leaders are not there by consent of the governed. First among them is pragmatism. In terms of advancing either democracy or its own economic and military interests, the West gains little from treating such nations as non-sovereign and has had a poor success rate in enforcing whatever is imagined to be "the consent of the governed" by invading foreign countries.