Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Four Years Ago, Part 2

This post is from April 2003, so it is technically cheating:

I didn't say the Bush administration had advanced the most transparently immoral argument for war since Alaric. I used that characterization for the Canadian business community that says we should have participated so that we don't face protectionist measures from the United States. That argument is transparently immoral since it uses economic interest as a justification for lethal force. The Bush administration (rightly) does not argue that the war against Iraq will bring the United States any economic benefit.

No doubt there will be *some* good consequences of the war. But it seems strange for a libertarian [like my interlocutor] to think that's the end of the analysis. There would be some benefits of a government program giving all high school graduates free sports cars. The question is whether the costs of the war in global instability outweigh the benefits. It seems odd to me that you think governments will necessarily make things worse by regulating pesticides, but establishing democratic self-government in a (at minimum) half hostile country is a doddle.

All occupations, like all taxes, are "temporary." Just as soon as order is restored, democracy established, "terrorists" disarmed and global brotherhood established, the United States and United Kingdom will be on their way, bedecked in garlands by a grateful population.

If the Iraqi population is genuinely supportive of this adventure, then this rosy scenario could materialize. But I don't think it will. We really don't know what the Iraqi population think now. The evidence from exile communities (which would, if anything, be biased in an anti-Hussein direction) suggests that even at the beginning of the occupation, there is a range of opinion from support through indifference to hostility to the Americans among anti-regime Iraqis.

Historical experience suggests that the longer the occupation lasts, the more hostility there will be. In Somalia in 1993 and in Ulster in 1969, the population initially welcomed the occupiers: neither turned out that well. Even if there is material improvement, Iraqis have suffered a national humiliation. Arabs in neighbouring countries are in a cold fury against the United States, and it seems likely that, assuming the country opens up, this message will spread. If anything goes wrong, the occupiers will (rightly) be held responsible. Moreover, American armies are not known for their cultural sensitivity and the Bush regime prefers to smother bad news than learn from it. All in all, a recipe for increasing resentment.

This resentment could lead to an intifada. The undeniably immense technological superiority of the US military will be of little use if this occurs. Instead, the US will have to choose between crushing the rebellion and withdrawing. The obvious leaders of such an intifada are (you guessed it) Islamist fundamentalists.

The more general point is that national sovereignty is a necessary, although obviously not sufficient, condition for democratic self-government.

More broadly, this war sets a bad precedent. If we take seriously the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emption, then any country could justify invading any other. If we, more realistically, accept that the Bush doctrine is only intended for hegemons to invoke, then there is no reason to stop at Baghdad. Damascus and Tehran await. Etcetera. Either America becomes the ruler of the world or it repudiates the Bush doctrine.

But if I am wrong about all of this, I would say the same things about Celluci's intervention, and the craven response to it on the Canadian right. Even if the war and occupation turns out brilliantly, friendly countries, like Canada, are entitled to take a different view without being threatened. Loyal oppositions do not react to threats to their country by chiding the government of the day for upsetting the hegemon. The threats on Canada are what make me angry, but they are not of the greatest world-historic importance. But similar threats have been delivered to Turkey because its government followed the wishes of over 90% of its population. This *is* of world historic importance, since Turkey is a precarious Muslim democracy, with a pro-American military willing to threaten the civil government.

It seems odd to me that you don't recognize the inherently mercantilist logic behind Celluci's statement that the US values security more highly than trade, with its implicit threat that Canada will suffer trade consequences if it does not adopt the Bush administration's view of security. Canada will suffer if the United States goes down the protectionist road, but so will the United States. We will suffer more, but we will suffer proudly if our only alternative is capitulation.

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