Monday, September 19, 2005

what we do vs. what we stand for

The debate has collapsed into a familiar, simplistic dualism: The Islamists hate us for what we do in the Middle East (usually an 'anti-war' stance), versus The Islamists hate us for what we stand for -democracy, religious pluralism- (usually a 'pro-war' stance).

Perhaps the Islamists rationalisations for their actions are not absolutely identical to the causes of their actions. It is
plausible that the things that motivate us are not always what we think they are. Religious fundamentalism and hatred for what is seen as crusading, Christian, US Imperialism form a vicious circle, with each action confirming and enforcing both convictions.

The same could be said of those who chose to go to war. Bush may honestly believe he is fighting to liberate
people from tyrants, but he is influenced by the people around his head, like Rumsfeld and Cheney, whose
integrity is highly suspect. Bush is largely a fool, but I think he often believes what he says. As for Blair...

Bush and Blair gave us more than one reason for invading Iraq. Bertrand Russell taught us to be suspicious of a
man who offers more than one argument for the same position. If a position is truly robust then a single defense will be compelling. The multiple defence suggests a lack of conviction. Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Nick Cohen, to their credit, argue for the war in Iraq one the sole basis of liberation. But as gifted polemicists they typically offer hard-edged, ideological answers. Their take on it has a refreshing directness and simplicity, but we should be wary of simple answers to complex questions.

Robin Cook's reasons for opposing the war were not ideological. He believed that acting without a UN mandate
would cause international friction that would in the long run outweigh the humanitarian benefits of regime change in Iraq. Much of the Muslim world would view it as a war on Islam, which it isn't. But people's views matter, whether or not they are mistaken. Cook's reasons were pragmatic. We should have more time for pragmatism. This cuts both ways. It means that now we are in Iraq, whether it was a mistake or not, we have to do our best to help the country achieve stability. The immediate withdrawal demanded by many on the Left would not achieve this.

Boris Johnson supported the invasion on the very grounds on which Cook opposed it. Johnson believed that it
would in the end cause more good than harm. But as Dr. Manhattan pointed out to Adrian Veidt at the end of Alan Moore's Watchmen, there is no 'end'. Consequences never end, and unlike Dr. Manhattan we don't have the superhuman ability to see how things might have turned out if we had done otherwise. There is no way of knowing whether Cooke was right or Johnson was right. So we have to make the best of it.

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