2006/04/18

Conclusions about the Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto is an attempt to say "We're liberals" while at the same time saying "All hail our Dear Leader GeeDubyaBush, who is honestly and sincerely trying to institute democracy in Iraq!" There are very serious problems with the idea that the US is attempting any such thing. First off, there is very good reason to doubt that democracy was ever the objective of the US invasion of that country. Early in the Bush Administration, Vice President Cheney convened an energy task force which, for some mysterious reason, was examining maps of Iraqi oil fields.
The Bush Administration has never attempted to explain this, in fact Cheney fought to keep the doings of the task force secret.

Current expenditures don't track with the "democratization" notion, either. The US has overseen the loss of some $20 billion from the oil money that rightfully belongs to the people of Iraq, yet it can't seem to afford a few tens of millions to fund democracy programs. Keep in mind, the US was estimated to have spent $700 billion as of August 2005 to keep the Iraq War going.
So, the idea that

We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

is a rather hard to understand. If the Bush Administration is uninterested in building democracy in Iraq, and that appears to be the case, what on Earth are progressives supposed to be doing to get Iraq rebuilt as a democracy? If the obstacles to democratization consisted exclusively of the "gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance", then I would agree, there would be no reason not to support the Iraq War.

As to the notion that

We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently ‘understand’, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.

That's a nice idea in the abstract. Oppose all tyranny? Sure, sign me up! Oppose all oppressive regimes? Why not? Let's go for it!
Problem: Democracy is NOT the automatic default condition of humanity. Simply removing the oppressor does not mean that the formerly oppressed people will automatically burst into song and dance and cheers and begin conducting town hall meetings in the style of New Englanders in the early 1800s.

We are opposed to all forms of terrorism. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime under international law and all recognized codes of warfare, and it cannot be justified by the argument that it is done in a cause that is just.

Again, this is a great idea in the abstract. Hamas and Hezbollah have both committed many acts that have for better or worse, been called terrorism. Yet, there's simply no question that they are the properly-elected representatives of their respective populations. It may be a great idea to unequivocally condemn terrorist acts, but it's hard to say that proper human beings are on one side and all terrorists are on the other.

Many people have called Moqtada al-Sadr a terrorist, but he openly and publicly supports the current properly-elected Prime Minister of Iraq (Who seems to still be unable to form a government.) and al-Jaafari appears to be okay with al-Sadr's support. Concerning the situation in Anbar Province, where the US is trying to get new elections going ASAP:

"If people who feel disenfranchised get to vote, then they're going to work together to make the insurgency unstable," Bishop said.

At least that's the hope. Previous attempts at building a government in Anbar haven't gone according to plan.

As Juan Cole points out "It has never worked before there, so why do they think it will work this time? If 80 percent of the local people are with the guerrilla movement, electoral politics itself inevitably gets distorted."

Am I thereby "observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi ‘insurgency’" ? I guess so, but as the insurgency legitimately represents real and deep opposition to the presence of US troops in Iraq, I find it difficult to spend a lot of time condemning them. I certainly don't consider them heroes or romantic characters, but that doesn't mean I consider their struggle pointlessly evil. Whether we in America consider their struggle to be just another form of terrorism, we all need to recognize that it exists for a reason and that reason must be taken into account when one is trying to reach a settlement.

BTW, the Euston authors expend a great deal of ink condemning "the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking." I quite honestly have no idea who they're talking about. However, this final thought makes the objective of the authors all too clear:

This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so bycertain left and liberal voice.

I don't regard comparisons between "Guantanamo with the Gulag" to be out of place at all. Certainly, the Gulag constructed by the late Soviet Union was a vastly larger affair involving many more people, by several orders of magnitude, but was the Gulag actually worse than Guantanamo? Were the prisoners of one treated with any more respect or dignity than the other? The War on Terror has most certainly seen an enormous degradation in human rights and values. Nothing justifies that.

I simply can't regard the Euston authors as having a serious case to make.


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