|By A.D. Freudenheim||
1 March 2004
Here is a challenge, reader: Imagine that the United States invaded a foreign country in order to overthrow a brutal, homicidal dictator and his evil regime for what might be called humanitarian reasons: to save that nations people from an ongoing campaign of murder, to stop the harassment, or to halt revanchist plans to invade and take over neighboring nations. Would this be a worthwhile or justifiable action? Forget about any direct relevance to the United States as a nation, i.e., our self-interest. Is there such a thing as a military action justifiable for humanitarian reasons? In January, having dinner with friends, the conversation turned to the war and its political aftermath, here and in Iraq. We should be celebrating the liberation of Iraq, I suggested even if we agree that the President's motivations were dishonest, even if he lied to us, and even if there has been bloodshed on both sides. Almost everyone disagreed.
Yet it it is in the shadow of questions such as these that Mr. Bush pursued his war against Saddam Hussein since the strongest argument this administration offered was that Hussein was a danger to us. There are strong historical resonances here. Although Hussein and Baathist-ruled Iraq were not the same as Hitler and Nazi-ruled Germany, it is difficult to be anything but happy with the outcome a brutal, bullying dictator has been overthrown even if the stated motivations for war were not entirely in line with its outcome.
Maybe the question should be: What do we Americans believe in, anyway? The history of the United States is littered with the unfulfilled promises of humanitarian action and of decisions left unmade where copious evidence might have encouraged involvement. Forget history, forget what happened 60+ years ago in world wars that most of us were not around to watch; even more recent history provides few good answers. The war in Vietnam was justified on the basis that totalitarian communism was decidedly evil and repressive, and that its spread needed to be prevented; sadly, in trying to follow through on our desire to save the Vietnamese, we nearly destroyed them.
In Somalia, we were scared off by a bunch of two-bit bullies, and left without being able to do much for the starving and impoverished Somali people. As the genocide in Rwanda happened, we sat by idly. In the former Yugoslavia, we belatedly attempted to broker peace talks, but not only were we late, we sat by as so-called ethnic cleansing took place even up to the last minute before peace, never mind our passivity as an entire city of civilians (Sarajevo) was besieged and strangled. And despite the rhetoric of freedom, we have supported dictators and murderers in our hemisphere from Haiti to Honduras and beyond. The list of opportunities where we might have taken humanitarian action is long.
I despise President Bush and his administration. Mr. Bush's agenda for America represents the worst inclinations of "conservatism" with few of its benefits where is the smaller government he promised, along with the hands-off approach to our rights and liberties? The compassion Mr. Bush pledged to show has also been mostly absent. Nonetheless, it is important to separate out the political intent from its consequences. The malignancy of Mr. Bush's motives towards Iraq may mean he deserves little credit for saving the Iraqis, but I would not wish Hussein back on Iraq simply because I disagree with the American President. Here is a situation where we may have rectified an historical wrong. We supported this dictator, enabled him, encouraged him, tolerated him and have now disabled him. Even if Iraqis live in a chaotic state of political limbo for another eight months, the long-term benefit the opportunity that Husseins removal presents, to Iraqis and to the rest of the world seems beyond question.
So to the people still questioning the war, I say: you are right to question it, and you are right to be concerned with the continuing dangers and dilemmas it presents. But instead of playing pathetic sour grapes politics with the act of war itself, anti-Bushies should dedicate themselves to making the best of Iraq's liberation and to using the lies and misdeeds of the Administration to undermine Mr. Bush's credibility. Almost one year after the war began, Bush opponents should focus on making sure that Americans can maintain the same kind of liberties and rights that Mr. Bush keeps promising to Iraqis. Given all that this administration is doing to undermine the basic rights of the American people, this may prove to be a goal even more challenging and elusive than finding Osama bin Laden.
| For example: Congo; Sudan; Liberia; Sierra Leone; Zimbabwe; Tibet; North Korea; Chile; Argentina; Colombia; and so on.||
Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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