Sunday, September 23, 2007

Si me quedo es doble...

The folks at National Review have done me the kind favor of concentrating all the right wing arguments for continuing the occupation of Iraq in one short five-page editorial. I must thank them for providing me with the opportunity to read the essentials of the conservative case without all the ridiculous fluff about freedom and democracy that usually accompanies it Unfortunately, they have declined to post their article online, so I'm forced to give a short summary of their argument.

Their argument can be reduced to three basic points, which supposedly form the nucleus around which a solid case for imperialism can be built. These are 1.) The conflict between al-Qaeda and Sunni tribes in Anbar means that the surge is a military success 2.) We need to stay in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda and 3.) Leaving would precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe. I'll take them in that order.

Given the snorts and grunts of self-satisfaction emanating from Washington over the last few weeks, one would think that in Anbar since the surge they have found both the WMDs and the candy and flowers with which the invaders were supposed to be greeted. As the NR folks say:

Today, al-Qaeda has nearly been routed from Anbar. Its campaign of intimidation, forced marriages, and repressive Islamism backfired...In his surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq, President Bush chose an airfield outside Ramadi for a meeting of his war leaders and the Iraqi government—something inconceivable six months ago.
So apparently the Sunni tribes have agreed to work with the Americans and kick the "terrorists" out of their province and accept the light of democracy from the freedom loving troops, right? Wrong. The residents of Anbar province thoroughly despise the American presence. Since the surge began, the percentage of Iraqis in Anbar who thought the US should leave immediately jumped from forty-nine percent to seventy-six percent. In the same poll, every single respondent from Anbar said that attacks on US troops were perfectly acceptable.

So what has actually happened in Anbar? As the NR boyz note, "The surge slated three additional battalions for Anbar" in early 2007. With an increased US troop presence, local tribal leaders decided it was a better tactic at this point to concentrate on kicking out the takfiris who are attacking their people than to try and attack the just-reinforced US presence. In the process of doing so, the Shaikhs have been more than happy to accept US guns. But this doesn't decrease the hatred Iraqis, and the folks in Anbar in particular, feel for the occupation. In addition, ordinary Anbaris are skeptical of their leaders' collaboration with the Americans, giving them only a 23% confidence rating. In short, none of this conforms whatsoever to the racist right wing myth of the Natives selling out their homeland for whatever trinkets of technology the occupiers can produce.

The second argument for staying, that it is crucial to defeating al-Qaeda is perhaps the most perfidious of the three. The "War on Terror" has never been primarily about terrorism, and the US gov't is not concerned at all about preventing terrorist attacks on the US citizenry. If they were, the first thing they would do is stop invading other peoples' countries and murdering them. Indeed, the 9/11 attacks were an enormous opportunity for the US ruling class to extend its control over oil supplies in the Middle East. I'm not advancing a conspiracy theory here, merely stressing something that is obvious to anyone who's glanced at this country's history: that its rulers don't give a damn for its people. All this to say that they don't really care about fighting al-Qaeda. They care primarily about their defeat insofar as it pertains to the US gaining effective control over Iraq.

That said, it must be further pointed out that the US has been all too willing to encourage al-Qaeda type ideologies in its battle for regional hegemony with Iran. As Patrick Cockburn explained last spring:

The line Bush is taking is actually rather similar to what the people who support al-Qaeda say, which is to blame whatever happens on the Shia side on Iran--to say the Shia are pawns of the Iranians, if not actual Iranians. It’s almost something that could appear on the al-Qaeda Web site, because that’s their argument.

It’s one of the most poisonous conceptions in the Middle East--one which says the Shia in Lebanon and Iraq are just Iranian pawns. It’s going to increase sectarianism in the region, and the smaller Shia minorities are going to be further repressed and victims of terrorist attacks, as they already have been in Pakistan and other places.

In seeking to turn Iraqis against Iran, the US has actually helped to legitimize the Salafist arguments that the Shi'a are mere pawns of an infidel nation. So the NR boyz argument that if we leave we will "enhance the terror group's prestige" is really quite disingenuous. If enhancing the prestige of terror groups is what will effectively block Iran from extending its regional control, then the US is more than willing to do it.

The final, "moral" argument (the shortest of the bunch, it is worth noting) is the most disgusting. It's short enough that I will quote it in full:
V. The Moral Case
THE self-interested reasons to win in Iraq are enough to justify sticking with the surge. But there are compelling moral considerations as well. In almost any other circumstance, many on the left would find these reasons sufficient in their own right to continue our intervention. Without us, there would be more suicide bombings against Shiite targets, ripping apart markets, mosques, and children standing in line to get candy. There would be more Shiite deathsquad killings, with innocent Sunnis abducted, tortured, murdered, and dumped on the streets. The ethnic cleansing already underway would accelerate, and the refugee crisis—2 million Iraqis have fled the country, and 2 million more are displaced internally—would worsen. Forthright opponents of the war admit that a humanitarian catastrophe would follow our pullout. The New York Times editorial page recently conceded that American withdrawal might bring “reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.” Instead of summoning a ringing call of “never again,” the Times shrugs all this off as the unfortunate price of withdrawal. Barack Obama has explained that we needn’t worry overmuch about genocide in Iraq since we don’t do much to stop it in Africa. As a moral principle, this is perverse. It doesn’t follow from our inability to stop all genocides that we shouldn’t stop them when and where we can—especially in a case where stopping mass slaughter doesn’t require new intervention, but simply the continuation of what we are already doing. We also have a special obligation to Iraq. Unlike in Somalia or Kosovo, where we intervened on humanitarian grounds, we played a direct causal role in bringing about this maelstrom. Yes, Saddam Hussein did much to ruin Iraq, and the country might have fallen apart someday regardless (upon his death or overthrow, for instance). But America picked the day. The Iraqis have paid an enormous price in their struggle to found a new state—and they have paid it at our instigation. Our national honor is therefore implicated. This consideration alone would not justify the cost in blood and treasure that the war extracts, but it is another weight on the scales in favor of finishing what we started.
Note how the pious entreaties to consider the lives of innocent Shi'as and Sunnis gives way at the end to a statement that our national honor is really what counts here. As Nancy MacLean has shown in her brilliant book, Freedom is Not Enough, National Review's roots are in arguing that the Civil Rights Movement should have been met with harsher repression (apparently terrorist bombings and firehoses weren't brutal enough. These are the same people who say we could have won Vietnam if we just would have "untied the arms" of the military.) so I shouldn't be surprised by their moral degeneracy.

The argument itself is specious in the extreme. Take the refugee crisis, for example. While Iraq today is home to the worst refugee crisis on the planet, the NR boyz decline to mention that since the surge began, the rate of ethnic cleansing has actually increased. The number of internally displaced persons doubled since the surge began. The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes every month has gone from 50,000 to 60,000. The refugee crisis is in short a desperate example of why the US must leave now.

The arguments about ethnic strife are similarly disingenuous. As described above, the US is perfectly happy to inflame ethnic hatred against Shi'as if it means countering Iranian designs. Even more chillingly, through the use of "the Salvador option" the US has created an apparatus of Shi'a death squads. These squads were in essence a terror campaign to destroy the initially Sunni-led insurgency. If innocent Sunnis had to die to demobilize the insurgency, the US attitude was basically one of omelettes and eggs. While the failure of the secular left in Iraq is surely part of the reason sectarian identification remains the predominant articulation of political identity, the bulk of the culpability for the crime must lay on US hands. To bring it back the NR boyz, the single greatest blow against the sectarians would be the removal of their greatest sponsor.

To conclude, I realize that there are harder targets than the intellectual flatulence of National Review. However, it's important for our side to take down the talking points of their side. And I'm an implacable polemicist who can't resist easy targets.