Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Four Years Ago

There appears to be a vogue for bloggers re-publishing what they said about Iraq in March 2003. "Pithlord" didn't exist back then, but my alter ego did participate in a Canadian current affairs Listserv. I've done a light edit of my posts to preserve pseudonymity (and remove embarrassing typos), although it wouldn't work against someone really motivated. I will write something about what I got right and wrong later, but I thought I'd let commenters have a go first, if they are so inclined.

February 20, 2003:

Iraq represents no plausible udeterrable danger to the United States or the world, and certainly not one proportional to the risks and immorality of starting a war. I agree with *** that the only plausible argument in favour of war is the removal of the gruesome Ba'athist dictatorship. It is hard to know whether the Iraqi people would really regard this as a liberation (many peoples in the past have fought hard to protect domestic tyrants against foreign "liberators"; on the other hand, the one thing we know about Iraqi public opinion is that there is no reliable way of knowing what it is).

Unlike some people on this list (the "Westphalians"), I am not in principle against the use of military force to overthrow tyrannies. It seems axiomatic to me that sovereignty, as a principle, should be for the security and self-determination of the people, rather than an excuse for inaction when the state is massacring civil society. If this is contrary to the UN Charter and Lloyd Axworthy's worldview, so much the worse for them.

However, members of the Iraqi opposition in exile are raising the alarm that US foreign policymakers plan a military government, with domestic quislings acceptable to the Gulf oil monarchies. Defectors from the Saddam regime, all of them butchers in their own right, are promised positions of influence in the new order. The promise of a secular democratic federal Iraq seems likely to be betrayed. The Left is assisting in this process, by repeating the old racist, colonialist line that Arabs are not ready for democracy (ignoring the role of the West in keeping them from having an opportunity to demonstrate otherwise). The pro-war Right seems incapable of anything other than uncritical adulation of Bush and equating skepticism about Ariel Sharon's desire for peace with anti-Semitism. But as proponents of this war, they should be the first to raise the issue of what kind of Iraq is contemplated after it is over.

March 19, 2003:

The truly outrageous aspect of the Bush administration's claim that UN Resolution 1441 authorizes its actions is that, at the time, it obtained that Resolution precisely on a promise that it would not execute the "serious consequences" without a second resolution.

Josh Marshall has the money quote from Ambassador Negreponte. This is what he said, on behalf of the US, when the Security Council approved 1441:

"There's no 'automaticity' and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution. Whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with in the council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken."

By betraying that promise, the Bush administration has made it clear that it means what it said in the National Security Strategy, paraphrased by Gore as the recognition of no limits on the US's right to employ military force other than the discretion of the American President.

Is it hard for Americans and their cheerleaders on the right in other English speaking countries to understand that most of the world (rightly or wrongly) considers that proposition much scarier than a few canisters of nerve gas in a basement in a Baghdad suburb? A narcissist is congenitally incapable of seeing him- or herself as others do. Only a narcissist would be surprised to find that the US's actions -- clumsy lies to the Security Council, shifting rationales for a war that has clearly become an end in itself -- would unite world opinion behind anyone, including a corrupt Gaullist, willing to stand up to it.

On the one hand, I hope that the war is swift, that the criminal military trial balloon about "shock and awe" is not followed through on, and that Iraq establishes a federal democracy in the aftermath. But if this rosy scenario does occur, will it not embolden the Bush administration to new and even more dangerous adventures?

Also on March 19, 2003:

I don't believe France said it would veto any resolution that involved the use of force, but that it would veto any resolution that *automatically* authorized force if Iraq did not comply. This is a reasonable position, if you don't trust the US to fairly determine compliance. France's position in March was consistent with the position it took last Fall. The US solemnly stated that there was no "automaticity" in 1441.

What Canada, and others, proposed was a second resolution with a deadline, after which there would be "automaticity". France's opposition was reasonable, because the Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that they will read anything, short of regime change, as non-compliance.

March 20, 2003:

Is "imperialism" a fair word to describe the Bush doctrine, or recent US policy more broadly? I agree with *** that the leftist theory of imperialism, which essentially equates it with capital investment in other countries, is economically illiterate. There is also nothing inherently imperialist about being more powerful than anyone else, or leading an ideological struggle against Leninism, or providing support to ideological allies throughout the world.

But it isn't just the usual suspects who are using the i-word.

What is remarkable is that, for the first time since the Teddy Roosevelt administration, figures with influence in American policy are talking about "empire" favourably. Formally, the administration has not gone that far. But its claims, in its most recent National Security Strategy report, are "imperialist" on any reasonable interpretation of that word.

An "imperialist" claims sovereign authority over large swathes of overseas territory. Imperialism is consistent with some limited rights of local self-government, providing that the ultimate authority is with the imperial country. Max Weber defined the state as the monopoly of armed force within a territory. Clearly, another aspect of sovereignty is the right to determine who will exercise the various functions of government.

In the National Security Strategy, Ms. Rice, on behalf of the US government, stated explicitly, that it would act to remove potential threats and unfriendly regimes, on the basis of no other authority than that of the President. In other words, the territory with respect to which the US claims the monopoly of armed force is the Earth (and, for that matter, its orbit).
This doctrine is being tested in Iraq, and the main reason for the resistance of the world is not friendship for the Iraqi regime, but fear of this doctrine.

Against this doctrine, much of the world puts forward the Westphalian understanding that each state is sovereign within its own territory. The corollary of this doctrine is that war can only be justified if a state has actually invaded (or, at minimum, has a present intention to invade, combined with steps towards doing so) your own state or an allied state. The Westphalian doctrine could justify Gulf War I, on the grounds that Kuwait was an allied state to the US and the other participants. It could justify the war in Afghanistan, since there was a clear link between the Taliban regime and the September 11 attack. But it cannot justify Gulf War II (and couldn't justify the 1990s interventions in Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia or Kosovo either).

The Westphalian understanding is the basis of international law, as set out in the UN Charter, and in international custom. The only exception is where the UN Security Council has specifically authorized the use of force. This it declined to do in UN Res. 1441.

Moreover, the Bush administration (unlike Blair's UK) -- while formally asserting that it has authority for this war from the Security Council -- also says it doesn't need it. The real advocates of the war against Iraq are contemptuous of the United Nations and international law more generally.

There are objections to the Westphalian view. The first is a moral one, made most vivid by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: if sovereignty has any moral force, it must be because it preserves the security of individuals, but if it is slaughtering them, how can we morally stand by when we have the power to prevent this, without an over reliance on the act/omission distinction?

This is a question people like *** have to address.

The other is a genuine security issue. The major threat to us in the developed world is not imminent invasion by a major state, but the proliferation of retail nuclear weapons, particularly in the hands of fanatical NGOs, like al Qaeda. Pure sovereignty allows any country to build whatever weapons it wants, as long as it does not violate its treaty commitments. I do not see this working as a system of world order as the technological capacity for mass violence becomes increasingly affordable.

U.S. imperialism may be a solution to these problems. It is difficult to deny that the regimes targeted by the US and its coalitions of the willing are much more heinous than their replacements. (I realize that on the Internet it is possible to deny anything, but I'm trying to establish why *reasonable* people would say the US is being imperialist, and it's a bad

U.S. imperialism, if followed through, could also, in theory, deal with the proliferation problem: by definition, it leaves the U.S. in control of weapons of mass destruction, but, in principle, this is no different than the Hobbesian police department being the only ones with automatic weapons.

If the only choice is between Westphalian anarchy and U.S. imperialism, it is arguable that the latter promotes better the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and/or might be chosen behind the veil of ignorance. The logic is Hobbesian: better one absolute monarch who can establish order and let all the burghers trade peacefully than hundreds of ministates with nuclear weapons. The permutations of conflict rise exponentially.

Still, being honest about the downside is the first rule of policy analysis, and there are some downsides. There's the strange American habit of electing personable governors from the least civilized part of their country to supreme executive office. This is fine when they turn out to be adulterous policy wonks with Oxbridge educations, but can turn sour when they are dim, earnest and parochial jocks, with a moral worldview less complex than that of Dungeons & Dragons. More generally, there are the classic problems of vesting unlimited authority in a single individual not accountable to the vast majority of people over whom authority is exercised.

A claim by the US to sovereign authority over the entire world will not be readily accepted by the vast majority of people on the planet. That is what the diplomatic and political manoeuvres prior to this war have been about, and not about Iraq itself. The hawks need to address an obvious problem: the government of Chile (for example) fears for its survival if it supports the US in the Security Council, despite all the inducements and threats of the hegemon. Why? Is it because the people of Chile care that much about who will be the dictator of Iraq? No, it is because they don't care about the regime in Iraq, but they do fear the power of the United States. And who can blame them?

The result is that a US imperialist world order, without any structure of international law or supra-national institutions, cannot possibly be a basis for security in this century. On the other hand, no such order can be built without the support of the United States. If we look rationally at the US's legitimate security concerns, which center entirely on proliferation of mass weaponry and terrorism, it appears obvious to me that these concerns can only be met on a multilateral basis, according to which *everyone* trades some sovereignty for the collective good. This goes against neoconservative ideological prejudices (and the interests of Greater Israel fanatics). As a result, it will have to await regime change in Washington.

March 31, 2003:

Now, I'm no supporter of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. But he had a point about one thing. There was, in the 1950s, a significant global communist movement, and it did, as a matter of ideological principle, subordinating the interests of one's own country to those of the Soviet workers state. And, while as a civil libertarian, I support the right of persons with an ideological preference for putting another country's interests first, I don't think such people should be trusted with governmental power.

And I'm no fan of Preston Manning's Reform Party. But they had a point too. There was something a bit anomalous about the Bloc Quebecois being "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" when they were committed to the end of the Canadian constitutional order. I disagreed with them, because the BQ committed itself to working within the structures of Canadian federalism to achieve their goal of dismantling those structures. It was therefore "loyal"
in the sense most important for an opposition party.

However, after its reaction to Celluci's threat against our country, it is now evident that the "Canadian Alliance" is not a loyal opposition. Celluci threatened to put Canadians, including Alliance voters, out of work for following its own sovereign policy with respect to war in Iraq. A loyal opposition, even if it felt that Canada's interests would be best served by participating in Bush's war, would have been the first to say that this was an unacceptable interference in the internal politics of a friendly nation.

That is because a loyal opposition, while not necessarily accepting the wisdom of the policies of the government of the day, accepts that the constitutional structure vests the power to make Canadian foreign policy in the government of Canada.

The distinction is similar to the distinction between those, in the Cold War, who believed it was in Canada's interest to take a more congenial attitude towards Moscow, and those who worked to further Moscow's interests against that of Canadians. A more plainspoken age called it the difference between dissent and treason. Supporting the right of the US government to use economic pressure (presumably in violation of its treaty commitments) against Canadian working people because of the decisions of the Canadian government is on the wrong side of that line. A self-respecting nation (both France and the United States would qualify) would not tolerate a politician or a media chain who took this position.

The Canadian Right is as ideologically invested in the United States as the 1930s Communist Party of Canada was invested in Stalin's Soviet Union. The United States is a more benign society, of course, but its interests, particularly under this administration, are not our interests. The peace movement should petition the speaker to remove the title of leader of Her Majesty's Loyal opposition from Mr. Harper. It should also target those Canadian businesses who have spoken out in favour of Mr. Celluci with its own boycotts. The Canadian Right should clean its own house, and explain where its loyalties lie.

As *** has pointed out, Canada has not been alone in being on the receiving end of official chastisement from Washington for its (well advised, in my view) refusal to endorse Bush's war for regime change. Bush threatened Mexico with a "spontaneous" backlash against Americans of Mexican descent if Mexico refused to vote its way in the Security Council. We should link up with Mexico and Chile, and ask for official confirmation from the United States that it will not seek to punish, economically or in any other way, friendly countries that disagree with it about Iraq. Given that coalition forces are now stalled outside Baghdad, that it is increasingly obvious that Iraqis are not going to view the United States and Britain as "liberators" and there is a real threat of the war escalating to Syria and even Iran, we should also propose a ceasefire, and the return to a disarmament process overseen by the Security Council.

The good news (or at least speculation) is that heads appear to be about to roll in Washington. Rumsfeld and possibly Rice may become the scapegoats for the failure of the rosiest scenario to materialize.

I realize this posting is already long, but I though many might find the following Boston Globe article interesting. It blames Commonwealth rightists, including Canadians Conrad Black, Mark Steyn, Michael Ignatieff, Charles Krauthammer (who I didn't realize was Canadian) and David Frum, for trying to make "imperialism" a positive word in American foreign policy circles.

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