15 November 2007

A Moral Case for War?

I've meant to write this post for the past week, but I've been extremely busy with a project, and was unable to spare any time - beyond the few seconds needed for "I'm tired and exhausted" status update on Facebook.

A frequent visitor to this blog, who identifies as a liberal Republican, recently left a comment, saying that while he also desires peace, the conduct of certain dictators - such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - toward their people cannot be forgiven, and a war is needed to liberate their subjects. I promised a reply in the form of a post (as opposed to another comment), and here it is.

Very few people doubt the pain and suffering caused by Saddam and Ahmadinejad. But first, it bears remembering that Saddam once was a key US ally in the region, keeping the Iranians in check (after Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew a pro-US regime in 1979). Saddam got a lot of help from the US during his war against Iran, and bought lots of American weaponry - the very weaponry that was turned against American troops during the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam's hideous conduct was well-known to the US government well beforehand, and the US should have never helped him in the first place. The same holds for Iran - blatant intervention in the Iranian internal politics by the US in 1953 planted the seeds of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Even Afghanistan isn't much different - the Taliban were US-backed resistance fighters against the Soviet occupation.

In fact, the US has not only failed to act against some of the most hideous dictators around the world, it's actually helped many of them for strategic reasons. The House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, notorious for its primitive moral laws and human rights violations (not to mention breeding terrorists), is a valuable US ally. Outside the Middle East, Latin America has seen dictators such as Chile's Pinochet, whose disastrous privatization of government pension plans now is a template for the US neocons' own plans to privatize Social Security (not to mention the disappearance of many political dissidents). In Asia, there were South Korea, the Philippines, and South Vietnam (and arguably the Chinese Nationalist government in Taiwan); South Korea's Park is now the US template for the Unitary Executive Theory. While the Cold War standoff with the USSR made many of these alliances a necessity, many of these US allies were as horrible in their human rights records as the Soviet Bloc nations.

Even outside the US sphere of influence, human rights violations continue to happen, notably in Darfur, Sudan and northern Nigeria.

If the US is to play the moral enforcer, not only does it need to have invaded ALL of these nations, but its human rights record needs to be exemplary, which is simply not the case. Racial injustices were fact of life just half a century ago (even as many of these foreign interventions were happening), and even today, American women and LGBTs enjoy far fewer rights than their European and Canadian counterparts. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and the resulting deplorable living standards for many Americans, also take away from American moral authority. And more importantly, the US simply doesn't have the resources to invade all these nations - and these resources are better used fixing the problems at home, like an improved healthcare system.

The only thing that makes Iraq and Iran higher-priority targets for war is... PETROLEUM. The oil companies have been the biggest beneficiaries of the war, thanks to ever-rising oil prices and the bigger profits. Meanwhile, someone else is getting rich as well, as the Iraqi oil revenues are disappearing into the hands of shady contractors. Defense contractors, and mercenary firms such as Blackwater, are making a killing, even as American troops, many of whom had signed up for scholarships and other perks, find themselves either traumatized or dead (or at least demoralized). These wars are not being fought for national security, they are being fought to make money at the expense of lives. And American policies in Iraq, such as Blackwater getting away with killing Iraqi civilians at will, serve not to make the region safer, but create more enemies of the US and make the job harder for the troops.

Yes, dictators need to be overthrown. But it bears remembering that war is costly, both in human and economic terms. The best war victories are won without ever firing a shot. Diplomacy and a sound foreign policy do much better in terms of making America - and the world - safer and more democratic.

As for Republicans being more inclined than Democrats to start a war to liberate someone or protect freedoms: don't count on it. Contrary to what you may hear in Koreatown and Little Saigon, American military involvement to protect South Korea and South Vietnam were launched by Democratic administrations. Even as recently as the Clinton era, American peacekeepers were being deployed to Somalia and Kosovo, the latter in consultation with UN, NATO, and other international framework.

This pretty much is my rebuttal to that thought provoking comment.