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Monday, January 06, 2003

When God wants to punish us, God answers our prayers

I asked for a much more thoughtful and considered argument for war in Iraq, and now I've got it. Michael Ignatieff wrote a detailed and intelligent article in the past weekend's NY Times magazine. I think his conclusions are incorrect, but he's still worth reading and considering. He asks the question, the fundamental question, that needs to be asked:

Whenever it has exerted power overseas, America has never been sure whether it values stability -- which means not only political stability but also the steady, profitable flow of goods and raw materials -- more than it values its own rhetoric about democracy. Where the two values have collided, American power has come down heavily on the side of stability, for example, toppling democratically elected leaders from Mossadegh in Iran to Allende in Chile. Iraq is yet another test of this choice. Next door in Iran, from the 1950's to the 1970's, America backed stability over democracy, propping up the autocratic rule of the shah, only to reap the whirlwind of an Islamic fundamentalist revolution in 1979 that delivered neither stability nor real democracy. Does the same fate await an American operation in Iraq?

Why wouldn't it? I think Ignatieff is arguing that the United States needs to be involved in the world, often militarily, always with the priorities of democracy and liberty in the forefront. Great theory. But the United States often goes to war with the priority of "domestic security", which is defendable until you realize that "domestic security" includes economic security. War for oil.

It comes down to trust. Ignatieff wants me to trust a government that is willing to make the world far more dangerous in defence of its own interest. It refuses to sign on to a world court, it refuses to ratify Kyoto, and it researches and installs a (non-functioning, which seems to defeat the purpose) missile shield in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Ignatieff wants me to trust a government that has already displayed an extremely short attention span. Hey, remember Osama bin Laden? Seems to be still alive... perhaps the US should be tracking him down. Remember Afghanistan? Seems to me the US promised peace and democracy and prosperity and liberation for women, and has all but withdrawn to refocus on Iraq, leaving most of the nation under the control of warlords if not completely in anarchy.

Why is the United States in such a blind panic to invade? It seems to me that there will be war, and it will be here by the end of February (if not well before). Why doesn't the US take some time to do the job right in Afghanistan, first? Why doesn't it prove that it can value democracy over stability? Why doesn't it arrest and charge Henry Kissenger for the death of a democratically elected leader (Allende) instead of offering him lucrative appointments? In other words, why doesn't the United States take steps to prove its trustworthiness, before it starts expecting our trust?

I need to read the article again, and more carefully... Ignatieff's essay warrants that sort of consideration.

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