Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Narrative II

Clam's narrative in italics
Let us begin with the way the world was twenty-five years ago. It was in the last years of a titanic struggle between two great powers, and every single event that happened anywhere in the world was seen, and had to be seen, firstly and most importantly in relation to that titanic struggle. What opportunities did it afford for the advantage of our side? What opportunities for the other side? Who benefited in the long term, in the short term? It was an age of game theory in international relations, of conspiracy theories that were credible and even true, of brinksmanship and mind-numbing terror. Perhaps you do not remember it like that. This is my narrative, and I am saying how I remember things.

In that titanic struggle our side, the West, supported many unworthy allies; in a calculated fashion, because those allies were important in in the existential struggle. Hence Suharto, the Shah, Pinochet, at certain times a certain Iraqi strongman.

In the milieu in which I lived, I breathed in a certain cynicism about this titanic stuggle. Sure, our side was ours, but we were not enthusiastic partisans. Our side had high ideals, and failed to live up to them; the other side, too, professed high ideals, and likewise failed to live up to them. They were two great grey colossi locked in an interminable struggle. We were weary unto death of their fighting and wanted something, anything, to make it end.

One day it ended. We had won.

Over the next few years- the next several years- it gradually dawned on me that my cynicism had been misplaced. The other side had been, in its essence, wrong and evil, and our side was, in its essence, right and good. The crimes that had been committed by our side had been committed, rightly or wrongly, as calculated moves in a struggle against a far greater evil. The crimes of the other side had been committed as calculated moves to still all voices of opposition and dehumanise mankind.

I realise this must sound breathtakingly naïve to many people. But I think there is no other plausible reading of the historical evidence. I am prepared to justify it at appalling length in subsequent posts.

Almost the last, but far from the least evil to spring from this titanic struggle happened in the first half of 1991. A tyrant who had made unprovoked war on most of his neighbours, who had caused the deaths of upward of a million people, who was a bad egg overall, had been brought to bay by a vast alliance of many nations. He could have been cast down, as all tyrants should be cast down, with relative ease. And yet he was not. President George Bush called upon the oppressed people of Iraq to rebel against their ruler, and did not aid them as they fought and died. The vast armies were dispersed and sent back to their homes. The tyrant remained in power. Why was this allowed to happen?


This was clear to me then as it is now. This was a judgement call. It was plausible then as now that things could have gone really badly even if he was thrown out. For the purposes of the narrative I will accept as an axiom that it was a mistake to leave him in power, and the interpretation of the Cold War as outlined above.

I remember the removal of Saddam from power being a bipartisan policy throughout the 1990s, once the habits of thought of the Cold War began to recede. I was angry about sanctions. I was angry about the bombings of 1998. I was angry then because these things because they impacted disproportionately on innocent civilians, and they had no hope of achieving what is most precious to God, in the words of Baha’ullah, which is justice. The invasion of Iraq was carried out to make amends for the shame of 1991 and bring this long overdue justice. It was obvious that it should be done, long before 2001.

The New World Order TM as I saw it had developed to the extent that a large chunk of the society deemed that the UN was, for good or ill, the only arbiter of such interventions. This worked acceptably in the break-up of ex-Yugoslavia. Iraq was different in as much as Saddam had a grudge against the US in particular. For the US, Iraq was unfinished business. Saddam took delight in defiance, in particular, defiance the US. In short, it was personal. There was umpteen other tyrants that did equally bad things over the 25 years. I could argue that many of these were equivalently evil and ripe for intervention. I would personally argue that it is a greater shame that Mugabe has avoided being toppled, for instance.

* It seemed quite clear from the pronouncements of George Bush et al that the goal of the invasion was what I have said above, to crush a wicked despot like a weevil.

The goals were more multi-faceted than that. I have argued that leaving armies go completely idle means that when they are needed, they will be almost useless (as most of those in Europe are). As I said, with Iraq, it was a little more personal. Saddam was so cocky he thought he could keep Kuwait. Taunting the western world by continuing to preside over a once great country that was becoming a failed state. Essentially again, invading was a judgement call. Crushing Saddam was a primary goal, but to see it as being completely unselfish in terms of what was judged to be good for the US or even for its president's legacy is quite partisan.

* In a move stupid in retrospect, George Bush et al sought to obtain an imprimatur from the United Nations for the invasion. This brought the Weapons of Mass Destruction issue to the forefront, because the UN resolutions that Iraq had flouted were concernd with these.

Again, one way or another this was a judgement call. Perhaps George wanted to give Saddam the false impression that he may yet avoid invasion. Perhaps he wanted to be sure there *wasn't* any mass destructive weapons before invasion. The New World Order TM works better if there is some sort of UN rubber stamp. In terms of TNWOTM the outcome of the war was that it is completely on hold as far as removing tyrants is concerned, and more to the point, removing tyrants is so burdensome for the US that it will only happen when it gets personal or close to home for the US.

* Because Iraq had not complied with these resolutions, a murderous regime of sanctions was daily punishing the Iraqi people.

Saddam had set it up such that invasion would punish them way more than even sanctions.

* Everyone was agreed that the Despot had Weapons of Mass Destruction: the French, the Russians, Uncle Tom Cobbley, etc. If anyone had good evidence to the contrary, they sat on it.


There was so much bluff and double bluff, exaggeration and downplay over this, that everyone in every party could reasonably be accused of being a liar.

Lying is a great handle for launching partisan attacks, and like children overboard it is milked for all it's worth well after it has been acted on as if true when the lie was being told. Lying should not be considered as part of a narrative, but as a springboard for launching partisan attacks.

So my narrative is that motivation for war (Gulf War I and II) is 90% American values("Blooding" the military, revenge for 9/11 related riks, unfinished business from Gulf War I) and only 10% Aslan values. Despots can do anything they like to people in their own country without risk of invasion(see Darfur, Zimbabwe), but if you make it personal for Americans and their president, you will be taken to task, and *Americans will be happy to risk lives in the struggle and the aftermath*. Serbia may well be a counterpoint to this narrative because it wasn't personal. However, it was personal for NATO as a whole. For the Americans it was rather a cowardly but militarily effective testing ground for new smart weapons. It took all of two *Accidental* helicopter US deaths to put a whole ground offensive to a halt for months. Serbia was just a much easier judgement call than Iraq or say Serbia when Bosnia was being throttled. There was talk even then of the US attacking them, but without the cover of a UN mandate, was geopolitically unwise.

So in conclusion, I want more Aslan values and less American values in nation-building excercises. I will protest the war inasmuch that if they open the door by saying it is about justice, then accept criticism about the way it is delivered. If you open the door by saying it is about WMD, then accept that this action is outside of the bounds of The New World Order TM, and other countries or the UN do not have the responsibility in the aftermath. Above all note that all breaches of Aslan style behaviour in this and any conflict will make it harder to pursue future acts of justice outside of The New World Order TM.

3 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

I could quibble with details, but the essence seems to be that where self-interest and Aslan values coincide, it is not seen as a constructive interference, but a destructive one, and the only pure military interventions can be those where there is no benefit to the intervening nation whatsoever.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

(Who said that? Must google.)

(Actually, I will quibble with your hypothetical narrative-monger on one point. Yes, when you take into account the relative benefit to the neighbouring countries and the international community of removing Mugabe vis a vis Hussein (very much less), it does make more sense from an Aslan values point of view; but it would both appear to be, and actually be, much more of a neocolonialist enterprise and the neighbours-and international public opinion- would see it this way.)

Marco said...

I can probably agree with all of that comment, and note that The New World Order TM tends to favour only military interventions where there is little or no gain for the intervening nation. There does appear to be little or no gain for anyone, as you point out, and very few cases where brute force needs to be made and is.
This is true on a "Macro" level, but it needn't be at the "Micro" level. I would argue that in Afghanistan, rules of engagement for Australians such that they do not engage with the enemy until fired upon is very Aslan-ish, is brave, and pays high dividends in the respect of the locals, and even enemies. What respect you lose in declaring war and bombing targets from a distance, you can regain by rebuilding, and getting a reputation for honourable rules of engagement, and honourable dealing with citizens. The US deserves scorn for such things as Camp X-Ray and Abu Graib, high levels of uncompensated collateral damage and poor and prejudicial mistreatment of citizens.

Dr. Clam said...

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien"

- Voltaire