The March of Tyranny in the Middle East

The invasion of Iraq was cheered by right-wing Christians as a way to bring democracy to a people oppressed by tyranny. And, on paper at least, it achieved that goal. But in reality, Iraq as a nation hardly exists anymore. The anarchy of the invasion unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed, and the fragile stability which the country now possesses survives mainly because the ethnic cleansing is essentially complete – because all the mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhoods have been destroyed, their people fled or murdered, and those who remain live in isolated enclaves kept separate by blast walls and armed militias.

The religious right, of course, neither knows nor cares about any of this, about the suffering and disaster they’ve visited on the people they supposedly wanted to help. But maybe this gloomy story will drive it home for some of them: the invasion now seems almost certain to result in the extermination of the Iraqi Christian community, one of the oldest in the world.

Statistics vary wildly, but according to the US State Department, there are between 550,000 and 800,000 Christians left in Iraq, compared with 1.4 million in 1987 when a census was taken. Those numbers may be an over-estimation, but it is generally agreed that the number has halved since Saddam’s fall as members of the faith flee the pogroms. Iraqi Christians say they are in graver danger now than at any time in their history.

…”To the Christian, we would like to inform you of the decision of the legal court of the Secret Islamic Army to notify you that this is your last and final threat,” the letter read. “If you do not leave your home, your blood will be spilled. You and your family will be killed.” With its chilling echoes of similar missives delivered to Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, it is little wonder that Iraqi Christians fear extermination.

Although Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator, his government actually afforded Christians more protection than they now possess. Last month’s horrific attack on Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church was a tragic illustration of that, and campaigns of terrorism and intimidation by Islamists are ongoing.

In another illustration that democracy alone doesn’t always improve human rights, there’s also this from the allegedly democratic Palestinian Authority:

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time…. He now faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.”

Many in this conservative Muslim town say that isn’t enough, and suggested he should be killed for renouncing Islam. Even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.

It’s still possible that Western governments will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to spare this young man, who stands accused of nothing besides voicing his opinions – an intolerable crime in the world of Islamist thought control, where dogma receives higher protection than human lives. If you live in a Western country, please contact your representatives and ask them to take action!

And finally, just to show that the Middle East isn’t entirely benighted by fundamentalism, I present this lone, pitiful spark of meager progress:

When Saudi King Abdullah appeared in a newspaper photo with 40 veiled women in April, he broke a taboo by mixing with the opposite sex in public.

Since then, the 86-year-old monarch has crimped the power of conservative Muslim clerics more than any of his five predecessors since the foundation of the kingdom in 1932. He prohibited unauthorized religious edicts, or fatwas, and shut some of the websites where they’re issued. In the past month, he backed supermarkets employing females for the first time.

Granted, women working in supermarkets – or being allowed to mingle with men in public, in full shroud and veil, for one day per year – is hardly an advance worth celebration. But it’s noteworthy that even this tiny step toward female equality is being ferociously opposed by the mad, wretched Wahhabist clerics of that country. It says something unfortunate that this improvement, pitiful as it was, had to come from the monarchical tyranny that is Saudi Arabia rather than one of the nominal democracies that exist throughout the Middle East. As long as these countries are populated by those whose minds are poisoned by religion, it’s unlikely that significant moral progress will ever occur there.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I see a faint spark of hope in stories like this-http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/saudi_woman_beats_up_morality_cop

    My feeling is the same as the writer’s-”. . . even if I don’t condone violence, in a country as repressive toward women as Saudi Arabia, it’s hard not to appreciate a woman completely breaking free from the role prescribed for her. A woman beating up a morality cop is certainly looks like a signal that Saudi women aren’t going to take it anymore — after all, what could be more opposed to the traditional demure position forced on women? So I don’t condone the tactic, and I hope further resistance comes in a non-violent form. But I do hope that there is further serious resistance.”

    I think the younger generations are starting to get fed up.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    The Iraq war has also displaced one of the oldest non-Christian Gnostic sects: the Mandaeans. They are the remnants of the followers of John the Baptist.

  • lpetrich

    I’m sure that Syria’s leaders and Syrian Xians are all thanking their favorite deities that Iraq has been too much for the previous Administration to handle, because Syria could have been next. Syria’s government, while not very democratic and at loggerheads with Israel, has been friendly to its local Xians. Something like what Saddam had been.

  • staceyjw

    I thought Islam was the religion of peace? HA
    Islamists are a serious threat to not only minority religions in their own countries, but all of humankind. If you are a woman, you should be terrified of politically charged Islam, as they are out to oppress women everywhere they go. Religion IS the problem here, and its made worse by weak and corrupt local politicians.
    Ugh. awful.
    And I don’t want to hear how “not all Muslims are terrorists or believe these things”. Even though that IS true, their religious books DO promote murder of all unbelievers and people who leave the faith. just because a few don’t take it literally does not mean it’s not there in the religion. Where are the moderates condeming islamically based violence?????

  • Monty

    @staceyjw: to be fair, the Bible is just as bad. Fortunately, fewer Christians take it literally (at least, that literally).

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    The FACTS ARE MOST Moslems are just as peaceful as are MOST Christians. MOST Moslems are not terrorists and want nothing to do with Terrorists.

    As far as Christians, Go google “Christian Hate Group” and “Christian Terrorists”

    Read what these “loving” Christian leaders say:

    http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/mine/quotes.htm

    As far as Iraq, not only did Saddam torture Hundreds of Thousands of his own citizens, (including children as young as 2 years old) And EVERY year, he also murdered an average of 30,000 a year, EVERY year he was in power.

    Of course, he also trained some 8,000 terrorists from all around the world, he funded terrorists / terrorist groups and Saddam had his own IIS (Iraqi Intelligence Services) conduct terrorist acts.

    FYI, according a 2002 article in his OWN newspaper, one of his ministers was named as being his DIRECT liaison with Bin Laden. And a July 2002 BBC article reported both Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were fighting FOR Saddam in a north eastern area of Iraq referred to by locals as “Iraqi’s Tora Bora”

    As ODUMA and other anti-war loons, say they were not there, it would sure be a big surprise our Special Forces, Kurdish allies and Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne who where fighting them there right after the Iraq War started.

    As reported by former Iraqi officials, the UN, Israelis and Russians WMD’s were moved to known locations in Syria. (FYI Russian Special Forces helped the Iraqi’s move the WMD to the 3 known locations in Syria.)

    NO WMD IN IRAQ?

    How about the 500 gals. of poison Gas, as well as other poison gas supplies was also found in Iraq? And there were the facilities & trained people who were all ready to start Saddam’s WMD’s programs up again as soon as the sanctions were lifted.

    (The only reason Saddam did not already have atomic weapons in 1981 was due to the Israeli bombing attack in that year.)

    Shortly after the Iraq war started, the single most important and hardest to get item needed to make Atomic Bombs “Yellow Cake” uranium WAS FOUND in Iraq as well.

    Yep, FIVE HUNDRED & FIFTY Metric TONS of it WERE found IN Iraq. (One pound of it can make more than a few Atom bombs.)

    Intelligent, rational & knowledgeable people know that while things in Iraq are far from perfect, they sure as hell are a LOT better now than when the Butcher Of Baghdad and his sick sons were running things.

  • TEP

    And I don’t want to hear how “not all Muslims are terrorists or believe these things”. Even though that IS true, their religious books DO promote murder of all unbelievers and people who leave the faith. just because a few don’t take it literally does not mean it’s not there in the religion.

    Yes, that argument is very disingenous. It basically amounts to “We know that Islamic doctrine is okay and doesn’t promote violence, because the Muslims who ignore large portions of Islamic doctrine aren’t violent.” By the same standard we could justify any bigoted and violent ideology we want, by pointing to those adherents who ignored the nasty bits.

  • Demonhype

    @Monty and TEP: Yes, and it’s also kind of hard to condemn people in such countries for not speaking out readily when speaking out could get you sentenced to life imprisonment or death. That’s a lot like people who ask, “Well, where were all the atheists in Christian-controlled Europe? We don’t hear from them, therefore they didn’t exist!” while ignoring the fact that religious authorities exerted huge pressure and violence upon anyone who broke the mold even slightly. Now, sure, Protestants broke the mold but they had the benefit of knowing there were others making a similar stand, whereas both Catholic and Protestant and nearly every other faith could easily stop the faith-warring long enough to applaud the char-broiling of an atheist. According to Doubt by Jennifer Hecht, there is plenty of evidence in Church records that people were executed for atheism, as they dutifully and proudly detailed their persecutions for future generations to admire.

    Where are the Muslims fighting back or speaking out? We’re beginning to see some of it now and will hopefully see more coming. But it’s also disingenuous to use such an argument against people who stand a good chance of getting their tongue cut out if they use it for anything other than praising Allah and the edicts of his earthly thugs.

    Now American moderate and liberal Christians have infinitely less to suffer for speaking out against their loud and hateful fundie brethren, but you rarely see that. That is mostly because of a certain kind of blindness, I think, but we’ve been seeing that blindness fade recently as the occasional moderate or liberal will argue back or even defend an atheist or gay against outright hatred–here’s hoping that will also continue and grow. But if you can’t expect a Christian in a far less repressive society with a majority Christian population to speak out against their fundies, it’s hard to admonish a moderate Muslim–or anyone, for that matter–for declining to speak on the demonstrable grounds that s/he will suffer incredible violence and/or death.

    BTW, wasn’t Saudi King Abdullah also the guy who, as recently as 2008 or so, called upon the Christian and Jewish communities, including the Vatican, to band together in force against the threat of secularism and atheism, suppress it and drive it out of existence? Or something along those lines?

  • Yahzi

    The invasion of Iraq was cheered by right-wing Christians as a way to bring democracy to a people oppressed by tyranny.

    Are you asserting that liberals and moderates did not cheer the idea of bringing democracy to an oppressed people? Some of us did; those of us who still recognize what the word responsibility means.

    I often ask Doves what they think we should have done.

    “Sanctions,” they sometimes say, but the grim statistics (100,000 dead infants) and common sense (how do you starve a tyranny into submission without first starving its oppressed poor into extermination?) usually resolve that in a few minutes. Indeed the sanctions had a wonderful effect: because Saddam had to sell oil on the black market, the price was depressed to very profitable levels. But Doves are rarely willing to admit the sole goal of their foreign policy is cheap oil.

    Usually they then say, “Nothing.” At which point I ask them for the keys to their SUV. Having reaped the benefit of cheap oil for half a century, it seems inconstant to not pay the price.

    Not yet have I had a Dove say, “What we should do is hire a brutal thug to murder, rape, and torture the populace into submission while we pump out the oil as cheaply as possible. Then, once it’s all gone, we’ll abandon the people to the thugs we trained and armed.” Because even Doves have enough brain-power left to recognize that as a deeply cynical, conservative policy.

    Of course, this was our exact policy for the last sixty years; only now, under a conservative administration, have we decided to put our blood and treasure on the line for actual ideology. Progressive ideology, no less: women as people, democracy as government, secularism, etc. We invested in Iraqi freedom using the only method that has ever led to success: by putting our own lives on the line. It worked in WWII; conversely, the record of all the banana republics we propped up with money and training (while draining them of natural resources) is a uniform failure to generate democracy.

    So the Right says “We have to fight for the right of people to be free;” meanwhile, the Left says “You can’t teach a sand-nigger how to live like a human being, so why even try?”

    Irony abounds.

    Although Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator…

    No argument that begins with an apologia for tyranny can ever end well; I will do you the favor of not even finishing that paragraph, to save you the inevitable embarrassment.

    Granted, women working in supermarkets – or being allowed to mingle with men in public, in full shroud and veil, for one day per year – is hardly an advance worth celebration.

    For you, perhaps. For those who have nothing, even small things are worthy of celebration.

    In another illustration that democracy alone

    Yet missing from that argument is any illustration that the absence of democracy ever prevents such tragedies.

    You have come perilously close to admitting your real desire is the totalitarian dictatorship of brown people, for which I congratulate you. Few Doves are that honest.

    However, you might consider this: Iraq is now free to pursue its own chosen destiny. if they choose sectarian slaughter, at least that is their choice; unlike the dictatorship we imposed on them through Saddam. You would think that cultural relativists would rejoice in such an outcome; but of course, they love their SUVs too much.

    It is interesting to note that the people of the Arab world would have been better served if we had simply stolen the oil without paying them a single dime for any it. If we felt some residual tinge of guilt, we could have built them schools and roads and hospitals, instead of doling out gold coins to whatever thug could keep the rest in line. But of course that level of involvement offends both the Left’s cultural relativism (what right do we have to tell other people how to live?) and the Right’s pragmatism (that would have cost way more!).

    So instead, we armed and abetted a tyrant, looked the other way while he raped and killed, and only invaded once it was clear his own people would not tolerate him very much longer. Then, when we tried to reverse 50 years of cynical, exploitative policy; when we offered the sacrifice of our own blood to match the sacrifices we had demanded from the Iraqis; we were treated to the spectacle of Liberals whining.

    In case the above was tl;dr, I offer this shorter version: if you own an SUV, shut the fuck up.

  • Yahzi

    Lest it not be perfectly clear: I am aware that fundamentalism is a major problem. I am also aware of the high cost of repealing fundamentalism (note the Hundred Years War and other effects of the Protestant Reformation).

    What is in dispute here is simply this: do we have an obligation to help people pay that cost? Even if they are foreign, or alien, or not white?

    I say simply, yes. Hence our current predicament. But if you have a better way to discharge our obligation to our fellow man, I’m all ears.

    Frankly, shooting every Imam and bombing every mosque would probably work – after all, it worked for the Protestants in England. Failing that, nation-building might be considered an acceptable option. Paying thugs to commit genocide… probably not so much.

  • Tom

    Yahzi, it’s almost as if you sincerely believe liberating the Iraqi people was the Right’s sole, noble reason for invading. There’s just one problem:

    They never said that before the invasion. The only reason for invading that anyone talked about prior to actually doing it was WMDs. They only started seriously talking about things like liberation and democracy after it became obvious that their bullshit about WMDs threatening the world was no longer tenable.

    You can’t invade an entire country based on one specific pretext (admit it, if there had been no WMD argument, the invasion simply wouldn’t have happened; all the other reasons given both were and continue to be insufficient to persuade Americans to support the invasion of anywhere else), then when that turns out to be utterly wrong pretend one of your previously rarely-mentioned, extremely secondary reasons was actually the overridingly important one that you meant to do all along.

    It’s simply insane how you accuse the Left of being desperate and willing to do anything for cheap oil, including appeasing tyrants, and cast the Right as nobly fighting against that. Funny, then, how despite the countless other tyrannical states around the world that you turn a blind eye to, you invaded, under the Right’s provocation, one with a shitload of oil. The rest of your post is so patently disingenuous, essentially projecting all wrongs onto the Left even when you admit yourself they’re Rightist ideas and then seem to argue that this is proof the Right is the way to go, that I can’t muster the effort to refute it, but I’m sure there are others here who will.

    The one other thing I will point out is that your post smacks of an all-too common intellectual fallacy; that of being unable to recognise an insoluble problem. You blustered this off by a blanket denunciation of any argument that begins with recognition of the less than perfect status quo prior to any suggestion that doesn’t suggest completely changing it (by default an imperfect solution, I freely admit), I assume, because you are utterly convinced there is some correct action that can be taken that will fix everything; an incredibly naive, childish and, above all, dangerous assumption, and amply proven so by the current death toll in Iraq. You seem to assume that because non-interference has an imperfect outcome, there must be some other, preferable action with a perfect one.

    You seem to think that the current situation actually is the perfectly desirable one, because the Iraqi people are “free” and democratic now, and face sectarian violence only because they apparently “want” it, as if America’s actions had no causative effect whatsoever and the Iraqis take full responsibility for themselves; a curious attitude when your argument for invading was your responsibility to fix things for them because they couldn’t fix it themselves. Apparently, if one Iraqi thug gains power and terrorises the population, other nations have a moral responsibility to save them, but if several groups of Iraqi thugs gain power and fight each other whilst terrorising the population, that’s their own affair. If you pull out and one such group subsequently, either by crushing all others or by fair democratic procedure, takes power and becomes dictatorial, will you invade all over again, even though the people “chose” that this should happen?

    Anyone could have predicted the current mess in Iraq with moderate certainty; some did. It’s happened before when authoritarian regimes were toppled; just look at the partition of India, for one example. You’ll no doubt argue that the people of India chose the current situation freely, and thus it is not the fault of those who caused the exit of British rule that there are now two belligerent countries with nukes pointed at each other where previously there was only one country, but things are not so simple. People are never perfectly free in their actions; their environments, perceptions and surroundings influence them. Put a person in specific circumstances, and it’s not always perfectly impossible to guess what he’ll do; probably less so when it’s a large group of people. Sociology and anthropology couldn’t exist otherwise. And if you could have predicted with any finite degree of certainty at all what a lot of cooped up people of different faiths under a dictatorial boot would do to each other after you removed said boot, you have a corresponding finite degree of responsibility. You can’t, then, simply “free” them and assert that it’s none of your affair and you’ve done no wrong if they subsequently end up slaughtering each other.

    Oh, and before you ask, I don’t own or operate an SUV or any similar grossly inefficient machinery.

  • Tom

    Looks like I made a huge mistake on using India as an example. Evidently I badly misremembered or conflated history. I apologise sincerely.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Although Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator, his government actually afforded Christians more protection than they now possess

    What’s really messed up is that so many right wing Christians here in the United States are constantly claiming that they are “under assault”. Hey Bible Belt thumper, take a look at what is happening to the Christians of Iraq. That is what Christianity under assault really looks like. What does it look like here? Wishing them Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

    But Doves are rarely willing to admit the sole goal of their foreign policy is cheap oil.

    What? Doves like Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, who claimed that the Iraq War would give us oil at $20 a barrel?

    They never said that before the invasion. The only reason for invading that anyone talked about prior to actually doing it was WMDs. They only started seriously talking about things like liberation and democracy after it became obvious that their bullshit about WMDs threatening the world was no longer tenable.

    Tom, to be fair, some of the neocons did talk about liberation and democracy in the run up to the invasion. Oddly, one of their talking points was that Iraq was largely secular, and that it could serve as a secular democracy in the Middle East. They were apparently oblivious to the undercurrents in Iraqi society.

    Personally, I opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq. It’s not that I was opposed to the idea of removing Saddam Hussein from power. It’s the way the administration and its boosters sold the idea to the American public. They dishonestly played down the costs and oversold its benefits. They told us that the war would cost us at most $200 billion (and IIRC, the administration official who spouted that figure was castigated by supporters of the invasion as giving way too high a figure), they told us that the cost of Iraq’s reconstruction would be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. They painted a rosy picture of Iraqi people greeting us as liberators followed by the installation of a pro-American government. Then, when the insurgency broke out, they told us that at first it was just a few dead-enders. I could go on and on, but I think I got my point across.

    What was also troublesome to me was that set against the hyperbolic rhetoric coming from administration officials and right-wing pundits about the threat posed to us by Saddam Hussein was the nearly total lack of material support provided by our supposed allies in the region. Turkey, a NATO member, refused to allow us to use their country as a staging point for invading Iraq from the north. There were no contingents of Saudi, Egyptian or Jordanian troops to assist in policing occupied portions of Iraq so that the occupation could have an Arab, Muslim face. Constrast that with the first Iraq War when George H W Bush assembled a coalition that included military contingents from many of these countries, even if many of them were token. In other words, if Saddam Hussein really represented such a dire threat to the region in 2003, these countries certainly didn’t act as if he were.

    What this whole escapade showed was that the United States is powerful enough to invade your country, but it could not provide (or at least enable) an environment where the people are secure and have access to electricity, clean water and basic social services. The Coalition Provisional Authority’s acronym CPA was derisively referred to as Can’t Produce Anything. It didn’t help that it was staffed by people not even remotely qualified for the jobs they were given, which included interns from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

    The invasion and occupation of Iraq seriously damaged us, as well as Iraq. Our military was strained to the breaking point and resources were diverted from Afghanistan for which we are still paying the price today. Between the forces we still have in Iraq today (some 50,000) plus the increased number we have in Afghanistan since Obama escalated there, the United States is no position for the foreseeable future to commit sizeable numbers of troops to another war if one became necessary. Bush shot our wad in Afghanistan and Iraq while concomitantly cutting taxes which forces us to borrow to pay for it all, so we cannot afford another military commitment from a financial perspective either. And the whole world knows this too.

  • Jim Baerg

    Neil #6: “the single most important and hardest to get item needed to make Atomic Bombs “Yellow Cake” uranium WAS FOUND in Iraq as well.”

    Actually Yellowcake is not particularly hard to get and there are several steps between getting Yellowcake & making a nuclear bomb, the most difficult one being separating the U235 from the U238 (Enrichment) or going the alternate route of producing weapons grade plutonium from U238. See this for the difficulties in the 2nd route to a nuclear bomb.

    Saddam wanted a nuclear bomb for a long time, whether he was anywhere close to getting one is another matter.

  • kennypo65

    It’s been said before but until reading the comments on this thread I didn’t believe it was true. Atheists agree on nothing but the non-existence of god.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Neil, the WMD threat that the Bush administration hyped to sell the war to Congress and the American public did not materialize. Otherwise, why did Bush make that truly tasteless “Where are those weapons of mass destruction?” video?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    It’s been said before but until reading the comments on this thread I didn’t believe it was true. Atheists agree on nothing but the non-existence of god.

    Well said, kennypo. I’m not going to address Neil’s, frankly, delusional assertions about imaginary Iraqi WMDs, which remind me of nothing so much as religious apologists perpetually moving the goalposts when their claims are falsified. I do want to address some comments by Yahzi:

    Are you asserting that liberals and moderates did not cheer the idea of bringing democracy to an oppressed people?

    I’m not against that idea in principle, if it’s well-planned in advance and if there’s a reasonable expectation of success. Neither of those things were the case with the Iraqi invasion, for which the Bush administration’s sum total of planning consisted of making wildly optimistic assumptions about how the Iraqis would greet us as liberators and carpet our path with flower petals. They also didn’t bother to look into the fact that Iraq is largely made up of several different ethnic and religious groups that despise each other, all penned in together by artificial political boundaries.

    There’s also the little problem that our military strategy didn’t suggest we were concerned first and foremost with the well-being of the oppressed Iraqis. You may recall something called “shock and awe”, which is a nice little buzzword for dropping enormous amounts of explosives on heavily populated areas to shatter the infrastructure and terrify the population into submission.

    I often ask Doves what they think we should have done.

    Nothing. It’s not the United States’ obligation to end all tyranny in the world, nor do we have the money or the resources to do that even if we wanted to. The UN weapons inspections and Kurdish no-fly zone, by all reasonable measures, were achieving their intended purpose.

    “Sanctions,” they sometimes say, but the grim statistics (100,000 dead infants) and common sense (how do you starve a tyranny into submission without first starving its oppressed poor into extermination?) usually resolve that in a few minutes.

    Whereas the “grim statistics” of over a million Iraqis killed directly or indirectly because of our invasion, plus the millions more who’ve permanently fled the country or are now internally displaced refugees, suggest to you that this was a superior solution?

    But Doves are rarely willing to admit the sole goal of their foreign policy is cheap oil.

    I think you have us “doves” confused with right-wing Republicans funded by oil companies. Common mistake there. Speaking on behalf of liberals, I think we’d much rather see America switch to alternative energy and weaned off foreign oil altogether. It’s the chest-beating conservatives who advocate dropping bombs on brown people as a way to preserve access to a rapidly-diminishing supply of cheap petroleum.

    Of course, this was our exact policy for the last sixty years; only now, under a conservative administration, have we decided to put our blood and treasure on the line for actual ideology. Progressive ideology, no less: women as people, democracy as government, secularism, etc.

    Secularism? I don’t know what Iraqi constitution you’re reading, but the one they actually ratified contains the provision that Islam is the official religion of the state and that no law which contradicts the provisions of Islam may be passed.

    No argument that begins with an apologia for tyranny can ever end well; I will do you the favor of not even finishing that paragraph, to save you the inevitable embarrassment.

    Perhaps I need to break this idea down into smaller pieces for easy consumption. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a very bad man. No, it doesn’t follow that anything else is necessarily an improvement: especially not internal chaos, ethnic cleansing, a haven for Islamist terrorism, and the collapse of a once-functioning society, all of which have come about as the result of our invasion. That this chaos was purchased at the cost of thousands of American lives and over a trillion dollars only speaks further to the terrible, reckless naivete and incurious, unfounded optimism of invasion supporters.

    However, you might consider this: Iraq is now free to pursue its own chosen destiny. if they choose sectarian slaughter, at least that is their choice; unlike the dictatorship we imposed on them through Saddam.

    I appreciate your saying that, because it really sums up the vicious absurdity at the heart of neoconservative dogma: “Sure, Iraqis are slaughtering each other now even worse than before, but at least they’re doing it freely!” Their intended project of creating a pro-American client state has failed so catastrophically that this is what they’ve been forced to define as success.

  • Alex Weaver

    So the Right says “We have to fight for the right of people to be free;” meanwhile, the Left says “You can’t teach a sand-nigger how to live like a human being, so why even try?”

    Wow, Adam, you seem to have attracted KARL FUCKING ROVE to your blog.

    Seriously, the intellectual dishonesty of this characterization – let alone the rest of the comment for a minute – is absolutely BREATHTAKING.

  • Alex Weaver

    …where’d my edit button go?

    Frankly, shooting every Imam and bombing every mosque would probably work

    Paying thugs to commit genocide… probably not so much.

    Make up your mind.

    More later. This isn’t helping my headache any.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Seriously, the intellectual dishonesty of this characterization – let alone the rest of the comment for a minute – is absolutely BREATHTAKING.

    Yeah. Some claims are just too disgusting to deserve a response, in my opinion.

  • Hume

    “It’s the chest-beating conservatives who advocate dropping bombs on brown people as a way to preserve access to a rapidly-diminishing supply of cheap petroleum.”

    With all due respect, and though I generally agree with your post, this is a dishonest strawman and poisioning the wall. I can’t recall ever hearing a single Republican calling for bombs on people because they’re brown. Perhaps you can fill in the gap?

    “Nothing. It’s not the United States’ obligation to end all tyranny in the world, nor do we have the money or the resources to do that even if we wanted to.”

    Your viewpoint on this seems to have changed since you wrote your “Politics of Atheism” series. There is nothing weird about one’s opinions changing over time, but perhaps you’d like to explain why you changed on the issue.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HitlerAteSugar

    Hitler ate sugar. Do YOU eat sugar? Then you’re just as bad as Hitler.

    In case “people” didn’t get it, this is in response to Yahzi’s comment. Hitler is allowed to perform good or neutral actions, as is Saddam. One can say good things about particular aspects of them, such as Ebon did with the whole defending the peace thing. Their overall net result is negative, but that does not mean that everything they do must be negative. It is perfectly fine to let your opinions be known with an “although” statement to clear up any possible trolls who conclude that a single aspect of someone defines their entire being.

    I am just so glad we had Cretien in office during the start of that war and stayed out of it. Were our current sociopathic bastard in office we’d be as mired in the problem as the elephant down south.

    (Uranium can be found literally lying on the ground in some areas nearby where I live in Canada. It isn’t hard to come by, I don’t know why people assume it is the hardest ingedient of all. I know people who collect assorted “glowing rocks”.)

    EDIT: And Hume, the “brown people” comment, I’m assuming, is because Canada is the USA’s main source of oil (The MidEast, not really that important compared to Alberta), but it has white folks in it, so the USA doesn’t feel like bombing it. Not that I want to imply all Americans are horribly racist, but, well, they’ve had problems in the past…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Your viewpoint on this seems to have changed since you wrote your “Politics of Atheism” series.

    Nope, it hasn’t. Here’s an excerpt from part III which makes that obvious:

    As I have said, atheists should abhor totalitarianism of every kind, and increasing freedom worldwide is without a doubt a noble goal. On the other hand, as the disastrous Iraq war has shown, invading a country to overthrow tyranny usually ends very badly. It is a contradiction in terms to force democracy on a people from outside. If a democratic revolution has already begun in a country and fighters on the side of freedom ask for help, then the United States and other powerful nations should by all means intervene. Likewise, if human-rights violations are taking place on a massive scale (such as the 1990s’ ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, or the ongoing genocide in Darfur), then the world should intervene on purely humanitarian grounds. But invading a stable state on our own initiative to rebuild it in our own image almost always ends in failure. For this reason, atheists should always oppose preemptive war for the purpose of nation-building.

    This does not, however, mean that we should allow tyranny to flourish unmolested. On the contrary, the international community should exert all possible economic and political pressure to isolate and pacify rogue states (and in this I include both terrorist nations such as North Korea and non-aggressive, but totalitarian, countries such as Turkmenistan and its bizarre national cult of personality). In these cases we should support imposing trade sanctions, banning sales of arms and technology, and in the case of belligerent nations, sending in international monitors supported by the promise of military force to punish noncooperation.

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    YAHZI

    GOOD ON YOU!

    ——————–

    KENNYPO65

    Having been an Agnostic Atheist for some 67 of my 75 years and an Atheist Activist for over 50 years, I have more than a clue of what I speak and you are totally right!

    The ONLY thing all Atheists agree on is the NON-existence of one, or more, of the 25,000 some gods humans have invented, named and worshipped (So far.)

    SADLY, many to most, Atheists are JUST like Christians who refuse to learn and/or DENY any facts if those facts disagree with their beliefs. Only Atheists are even WORSE as at least Christians (and other religious people) have a VALID reason for being idiots and denying facts as THEY WERE, and ARE Programmed to do so.

    Atheists have NO excuse for their being stupid when they refuse to learn, and/or DENY any any facts which prove them wrong!

    (There are some examples of Atheists doing this in this thread.)

    LIKE EBONMUSE!

    HE THINKS BECAUSE HE DOES NOT HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF CERTAIN THINGS (IN THIS CASE SADDAM’S WMD) I AM ‘DELUSIONAL” ABOUT THEM!

    THE TRUTH IS, AS HE CAN NOT DISPROVE ONE THING I HAVE SAID, HE INSULTS ME!

    ——————

    JIM BAERG

    IT is a FACT Saddam would have had
    Atomic weapons in the 80′s had not the Israelis bombed his facilities.

    IT is a FACT that in 2003 Saddam was sitting on enough yellowcake to make more than 100 nuclear weapons.

    IT is a FACT yellowcake IS IMPORTANT to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

    ————————

    TOM

    As I leave mere belief to those who are too lazy to get the facts and/or are not able to comprehend what they mean,) I DO not “sincerely believe” liberating the Iraqi people was the Right’s sole, noble reason for invading, I KNOW IT WAS!

    And YOU ARE WRONG as I KNOW they DID say it BEFORE the invasion as I both heard them say it and I read where they said it.

    (FYI, Because YOU or EBONMUSE or ANY ONE ELSE do not know a fact does NOT negate it.)

    IT is a FACT while Saddam’s WMD was the reason MOST given & the one MOST
    covered by the Media, it was ONLY ONE of MANY reasons.

    To Quote David Horowitz,

    “In fact, the first, and last, rationale presented for the war by the Bush administration in every formal government statement about the war was not the destruction of WMD’s but the removal of Saddam Hussein, or regime change.”

    The Authorization for the Use of Force bill passed by majorities of both parties in both Houses is the legal basis for the president’s war, which Democrats have since betrayed along with the troops they sent to the battlefield. The Authorization bill begins with 23 “whereas”

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    Lordy lordy, I have heard firsthand accounts of Turkmenstan and it is NASTY. Pictures of the President for Life or whatever he calls himself everywhere. But I digress. Ebon has a point here, Hume, and it is simiar to what happened to Communism: sounded wonderful on paper, brought a complete force-11 shitstorm in practice. Some things should work. But, sadly, they just don’t. And more often than not they cost an enourmous amount of money that could be going to, say, energy infrastructure that is LONG overdue. Or antiterrorism(over here). There are simply better ways of doing this, cheaper ways, less costly in lives. Propaganda. The Internet. Cheap stuff that illuminates darkened minds and sows the seed of peaceful revolution. Slap a couple HAA and LEMV zeps up over there to keep a close watch on things. Isolate them. Make them your bitch, so to speak. Meanwhile, you use the money NOT being wasted to give more punch to the embargoes. There really are so many things we could be doing right it’s not even funny, but noooo we have to do it the hard way.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Neither of those things were the case with the Iraqi invasion, for which the Bush administration’s sum total of planning consisted of making wildly optimistic assumptions about how the Iraqis would greet us as liberators and carpet our path with flower petals. They also didn’t bother to look into the fact that Iraq is largely made up of several different ethnic and religious groups that despise each other, all penned in together by artificial political boundaries.

    Not to mention the fact that they completely ignored Iraq’s history of vigorously resisting outside occupation — twice evicting the British in the last century, for instance — setting aside their internecine conflicts in order to do so.

    I am a Desert Storm vet and I marched against this war prior to its being staged; sadly, events have borne out the position that the decision to undertake this war was (second only to the decision to ramp up Vietnam, imo) one of the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in American history. And the full ramifications of this war have yet to be felt.

  • Hume

    Ebonmuse: The following two sentences are somewhat contradictory, at least in the sentiments they exhibit:

    “Nothing. It’s not the United States’ obligation to end all tyranny in the world…”

    “This does not, however, mean that we should allow tyranny to flourish unmolested. On the contrary, the international community should exert all possible economic and political pressure to isolate and pacify rogue states…”

    Now you may counter with that the USA and the “international community” is not the same thing. While this is correct, the fact remains that of the part of “international community” that at least slightly cares about this stuff, the USA is the most populous and economically and militarily most powerful. So whatever the “international community” would do in such affairs, the USA would be a major player.

    So the question is still open: Should the USA be concerned about and opposed to tyranny and dictatorship in the world (this says nothing about the means though) or is it none of its business (a more isolationist approach)?

    Again, the reference to “brown people” is a ridiculous strawmen, and if that’s the best argument even proponents of reason and science can make, then humanity is a sorry lot indeed.

  • Wednesday

    @Hume — I can’t speak for Ebon, but just looking at those two sentences you quote in isolation, I don’t see a contradiction. The international community (including the US) can have a moral obligation to use political and economic pressure to pacify rouge states that does not go so far as requiring the US to _end_ all tyranny in the world. Sometimes political and economic pressures will not be enough to end a particular instance of tyranny, especially if they’re applied too little, too late.

  • Valhar2000

    @Hume: Wednesday has pre-empted me here. The choices available are not limited to “Invade every country and crush all non-democratic regimes” and “do absolutely nothing”. Sometimes it may be feasible for the USA and other countries to join forces and liberate a nation, but other times such a tactic will be doomed to failure, and in that case other less flashy actions may be necessary. There will be less fodder for 80′s style action movies, yes, but fewer people will die for, basically, nothing.

    A good example of this comes from the years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Could the USA, in 1989, have invaded to USSR and forced the institution of democracy in the communist states? No: a military confrontation would have caused nuclear war and the death of millions. Could they force the USSR to let off the pressure they exerted on the Eastern Bloc? As it turns, they could at the time; all the USA had to do was to use its political influence to attach conditions to the loan that the Soviet Union was looking to obtain. The Soviet Union would not have given up Communism in exchange for that money, but they were willing to make lesser concessions.

    In any other case where you find tyranny, you have to study the situation and make similar determinations. Watching a few John Wayne movies and then sending the children of the underprivileged to fight in countries where nobody wants them is little better than policy-making by flipping coins.

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    A MILLION IRAQ DEATHS?

    TALK ABOUT DELUSIONAL!

    IRAQ BODY COUNT SAYS THE DOCUMENTED CIVILIAN DEATHS FROM VIOLENCE IS BETWEEN 98,872 AND 107,932

    When you take in to account, aside from the fact Saddam, each and every year he was in power, TORTURED*** some Hundreds of Thousands, (Including little kids as young as two years old) HE also MURDERED an Average of 30,000 Iraqi’s!

    *** (This is REAL TORTURE and not the “embarrassing” of prisioners, or the “scareing” them with dogs, or even the “water boarding”of them.)

    SO in the seven plus years of the war so far, had SADDASS still been in power, he would have KILLED ANOTHER 210,000 Iraqis.

    Thus, using the Anti-War “Iraqi Body Count” figures, LIBERATING the Iraq people SAVED Iraqi lives.

    —————

    If the Anti-War ding bats REALLY CARED about the many people being killed UN-Necessarily instead of their constantly complaining about, and or demonstrating against, the Iraq War, they would be doing things to STOP the:

    The Hundreds Of Thousands of Deaths caused by SMOKING Every Year!

    The Hundreds Of Thousands of Deaths caused by OVER EATING Every Year!

    The Hundreds Of Thousands of Deaths caused by MEDICAL ERRORS Every Year!

    The Thousands of Deaths caused by SLEEPY DRIVERS Every Year!

    Only NO, it seems they would rather, Over and Over again, Prove their Infinite Ignorance of the MANY Facts which PROVE the Iraq War is NOT only FULLY Justified, it is NECESSARY Part of OUR World Wide War On The Moslem Terrorists Who Have BEEN KILLING our Friends, our Allies and Americans for OVER FORTY YEARS!

    (Anyone who refuses to learn, and/or denies any facts which prove them wrong are being stupid.)

    LISTINGS OF MOSLEM TERRORIST ATTACKS WHICH STARTED LONG BEFORE EITHER IRAQ WAR

    (Unfortunately, this list of Muslim terrorist attacks barely scratches the surface of atrocities committed in the name of Islam occurring world-wide each day …)

    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/TheList.htm

    Chronological List of Islamic Terrorist Attacks, 1968 – 2004

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1993321/posts

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    The following is “Thanks to ‘Em’” in the thread on Creationists.

    “In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds.

    In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. ‘The general idea is it’s absolutely threatening to admit you are wrong.’

  • Yahzi

    Tom said: Yahzi, it’s almost as if you sincerely believe liberating the Iraqi people was the Right’s sole, noble reason for invading.

    Perhaps you could tell me what sentence in my post gave you this idea.

    Until then, I will refrain from reading the rest of your post, as the opening assertion is invalid, unsound, and irrelevant. That is to say, it is not justified by the text, it is not true, and even if it was it does not address the claim that liberating Iraq was a moral imperative.

  • Yahzi

    Ebon said: I’m not against that idea in principle

    But your original post rather gave that idea, when you said: “The invasion of Iraq was cheered by right-wing Christians as a way to bring democracy to a people oppressed by tyranny” which certainly leaves the impression that you did not cheer it as such. Followed by “Although Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator,” which also gives the impression that the principle of fighting for democracy is negotiable; i.e. as long as people are safe and secure, freedom really just isn’t that important. Finally, your choice of the verb “extermination” was a poor one, given that you actually meant relocation. Has it occurred to you that some of those refugees might actually desire not to live in Iraq – an option they could not choose during Saddam’s reign.

    More importantly, you re-affirm that deduction here:

    “Nothing. It’s not the United States’ obligation to end all tyranny in the world.”

    You are wrong, for the simple reason that it is every person’s obligation to end tyranny everywhere. This is called “moral duty,” and our moral duty does not stop at imaginary lines on the ground.

    We have an obligation to every living person. Full stop, end of sentence, end of argument.

    Now, whether we can materially discharge that obligation is a different matter. Whether the Iraq war was a good attempt or even a reasonable attempt is a different matter. I am prepared to concede both the arrogance and the stupidity of that particular action.

    But when you dissolve your moral duty to other human beings simply because of abstract, arbitrary divisions, you are wrong.

    I don’t know what Iraqi constitution you’re reading

    I concede we did not achieve our aims; but my point was that our aims were those very things progressives desire. The war was fought for progressive ideals (whether or not it achieved them).

    Whereas the “grim statistics” of over a million Iraqis killed directly or indirectly because of our invasion, plus the millions more who’ve permanently fled the country or are now internally displaced refugees, suggest to you that this was a superior solution?

    You’ve just argued that starving babies was preferable. Did you mean to argue that?

    I could easily dispute that number, but it’s not necessary. Yes, a million dead Iraqis is preferable. For one thing, there is the actual possibility of change: there is the hope that this will be the last million killed. (Remember that Saddam killed off a million during his war with Iran; we have no idea how many more he killed during his reign.)

    In 1936, would you have agreed that a hundred million dead was worth stopping Hitler? We could have stepped back and let him have Europe and murder the Jews, and only a few tens of millions would have died. Are you arguing that would have been a preferable choice?

    Again – if this action was in vain, then it was a mistake. If it was known to be in vain, then it was a moral crime. Both of these might be true. But the principle that we owe other people moral justice, even when it’s not cheap or convienent for us, still stands. And it is that principle I am arguing for, not any specific military action.

    I think you have us “doves” confused with right-wing Republicans funded by oil companies

    No, I don’t. The net result of both Liberal and Conservative policy was exactly the same: the destruction of the Arab world for cheap oil. Functionally, in this area, they were indistinguishable.

    I appreciate your saying that, because it really sums up the vicious absurdity at the heart of neoconservative dogma: “Sure, Iraqis are slaughtering each other now even worse than before, but at least they’re doing it freely!” Their intended project of creating a pro-American client state has failed so catastrophically that this is what they’ve been forced to define as success.

    Unfortunately I failed to communicate my point. After the rather anti-cultural relativity rant I had just given, I assumed the irony would be obvious; but of course that is always a bad assumption.

    My point was that if you really value cultural relativity; if you really think we have no place in internal affairs of another nation; then you should value genocidal anarchy over tyranny if the Iraqis choose it. This is not an argument for anarchy; it is a reductio ad absurdum against cultural relativism.

    In other words, we were always destined to intervene, one way or another. That genocide has not broken out in full flame is a testament to the success of our actions. (Although it is a different argument, I truly believe that Saddam was losing his grip and the country would have collapsed into anarchy in a few years without our help or presence.) Once we started playing favorites, picking sides, doing business with and selling weapons to Saddam, we were definitely involved. And we started doing that a long time ago.

    So this is my second point: even if you feel that we can ignore some tyrannies, we couldn’t ignore one we helped create.

  • Yahzi

    Alex said: Wow, Adam, you seem to have attracted KARL FUCKING ROVE to your blog.

    Perhaps I didn’t make it clear. I was quoting actual liberals and conservatives; real human beings I spoke to face-to-face.

    I agree that it seems incredible that the two quotes were assigned to such improbable sources; but that was my point. I found it wildly improbable too, and considerably depressing.

  • Yahzi

    Ebon said: On the other hand, as the disastrous Iraq war has shown, invading a country to overthrow tyranny usually ends very badly.

    But this isn’t true. It ended very well in 1945.

    Now I agree that invasion is not a panacea, and that invading people indiscriminately is a very, very bad idea; I even agree that the Iraq war was poorly planned, criminally misconducted, and possibly doomed from the start. I’m not here to argue the Iraq war.

    I am here to argue the principle, and to remind people that invading countries to overthrow tyranny does in fact end very well sometimes.

    I guess I just have a fetish about those things called “facts.”

  • Yahzi

    Valhar said: @Hume: Wednesday has pre-empted me here. The choices available are not limited to “Invade every country and crush all non-democratic regimes” and “do absolutely nothing”.

    In case it is not clear, I totally agree. However, our existing entanglements in Iraq precluded a number of otherwise reasonable options, leaving us with choices between bad and worse.

    (Edit: OK, this post can be seen as argument specifically for the Iraq war. Still, I want to keep my provisional support for the war separate from the principled support for intervention.)

  • Yahzi

    Alex said: This isn’t helping my headache any.

    I was simply pointing out a historical method that actually worked. I took it for granted that no modern person would ever desire to utilize that method, no matter how successful it has been in the past.

  • Quath

    Neil,

    I believe Iraqi Body Count is about certified deaths. So they publish positive counts of deaths and do not count undocumented deaths. I believe the large number of deaths in Iraq comes from people doing a study of the overall population. They account for deaths from poor sanitation, extra crime, lack of electricity or anything else that could cause a death. This has seen a larger death rate than in previous years.

    As for yellowcake, check out the Snopes article on the yellowcake. It was previously known and not usable for making weapons.

    Saddam was a baad man who had bad plans. But he was in check before the war. There was no real reason to invade. Every reason for invasion rang bogus to me. North Korea was a bigger nuclear threat than Iraq. People were dieing in Africa more than in Iraq due to bad dictators. Saddam was cooperating to an extent while still playing political games.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    In other words, we were always destined to intervene, one way or another. That genocide has not broken out in full flame is a testament to the success of our actions. (Although it is a different argument, I truly believe that Saddam was losing his grip and the country would have collapsed into anarchy in a few years without our help or presence.) Once we started playing favorites, picking sides, doing business with and selling weapons to Saddam, we were definitely involved. And we started doing that a long time ago.

    So this is my second point: even if you feel that we can ignore some tyrannies, we couldn’t ignore one we helped create.

    But that’s just it, we weren’t destined to intervene. Saddam’s atrocities were enabled because we did intervene. I was 10 years old when during the Iran hostage crisis and I remember cheering when Iraq invaded Iran. It was a sort of vicarious feeling of revenge for taking our people hostage. Our government provided intelligence and support to Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq War.

    Saddam was an awful person, nobody denies that, especially the people in the region. But this is also what else the people of the Islamic world see. The foreign policy of the United States, either through the local rulers it supports, or through direct intervention, can cause as many deaths as it wants, but then the American people act so surprised and appalled when they are the targets of terrorist attacks. “Oh why would those Muslims want to harm poor, innocent me?”

    We have an obligation to every living person. Full stop, end of sentence, end of argument.

    Now, whether we can materially discharge that obligation is a different matter. Whether the Iraq war was a good attempt or even a reasonable attempt is a different matter. I am prepared to concede both the arrogance and the stupidity of that particular action.

    We have an obligation in the abstract to promote the welfare of every living person to be free from oppression, genocide et cetera. But practically speaking, we cannot provide it to the entire world without bleeding ourselves dry in the process. Just as we ideally should give to charitable endeavors, we cannot give every last cent we have.

    Ultimately, the first responsibility of the government of the United States is to the people of the United States. As to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, we have to be selective in when, where and under what circumstances we do so, because we do not have limitless power.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Quite frankly, I reject the notion that I have an obligation to each and every living person. For one thing, there’s plenty of people who’ve treated me like shit who have no call on my good will because they burned the bridge.

    Secondly, those who wish freedom will find it. Those who won’t fight for their own freedom have no right at all to call upon others to sacrfice their own ives in so doing.

    Thirdly, Yahzi, your mention of 1945 is completely irrelevant. The circumstances were so vastly different between the examples of Germany and Japan on the one side, and Iraq on the other, and in so eliding this difference you damage your own credibility. The first two societies enjoyed homogeneity of ethnicity and religion; Iraq had no such inner stability. A simple reading of recent Iraqi history would show a trend towards dissolution — on both ethnic and religious grounds — that could only complicate the mission of an occupying force, especially one which had essentially outlawed the only power capable of reining in such separatist forces.

    Finally, Tommykey’s summation is to the point.

  • Yahzi

    Tommykey said: “But that’s just it, we weren’t destined to intervene. Saddam’s atrocities were enabled because we did intervene.”

    So: we’re allowed to intervene and make it bad, and then simply walk away. Is that what you’re saying? That once we have stirred the pot, we can just decide to walk away?

    I reject this principle in toto.

    We have an obligation in the abstract to promote the welfare of every living person to be free from oppression, genocide et cetera.

    You argument is not with me; it is with Ebon. I agree with you. Ebon is the one who said we do not have an obligation to them.

    Again, I have already agreed with the constraints of reality and limited resources: but it is the principle we are discussing here.

  • Yahzi

    Thumpalumpacus said: Thirdly, Yahzi, your mention of 1945 is completely irrelevant.

    No, it is not irrelevant. Ebon did not say, “Invading countries to install democracy in these circumstances ends badly.” He left out the constraints you took for granted. Ebon’s statement merely asserts that invasion = bad, as if WWII did not happen.

    I fully agree that circumstances matter. But I also think it is important to not assert general principles that are wrong. Facts matter. At least, they are supposed to matter to skeptics.

    Sometimes you have to kill people. It’s not pretty, or nice, or desirable. It’s not what we want, or to be done lightly, or without fear and doubt. But it is still true.

    It is one of those hard facts we have to acknowledge. Ebon is not unwilling to address hard facts: he wanted to defend Saddam despite his record because of circumstances. The problem is that he allowed himself to state a general principle when all he really meant was a circumstantial judgment; and he probably did this because general principles are easier to argue and create more impact. We all do it; one could argue I did it when I refused to discuss Saddam’s virtues.

    But it’s still wrong.

    (For the record, I agree with you on all those circumstantial differences, and then some.)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    But your original post rather gave that idea, when you said: “The invasion of Iraq was cheered by right-wing Christians as a way to bring democracy to a people oppressed by tyranny” which certainly leaves the impression that you did not cheer it as such.

    No, I didn’t, because I didn’t think that was their true intent whatever they said in public. As Tom (#11) pointed out, the invasion was largely sold to the public on the grounds that we urgently needed to stop Saddam from producing WMDs for the sake of our own security – a claim that was false, and was known to be false at the time the Bush administration made it.

    You are wrong, for the simple reason that it is every person’s obligation to end tyranny everywhere. This is called “moral duty,” and our moral duty does not stop at imaginary lines on the ground.

    I don’t agree with that. I believe that ending tyranny is a moral imperative, yes, in the sense that it’s something we should do whenever we reasonably can. I don’t believe it’s an obligation, in the sense that it’s a duty superseding all others that we’re required to discharge. For one thing, as you yourself agreed, neither the U.S. nor any other nation has the resources to end tyranny everywhere in the world. We don’t have the money, the resources, the tens of millions of soldiers that would be required. And surely it’s nonsensical to say that a person (or a state) has a moral obligation to do something they’re not capable of doing.

    But even if we had unlimited resources, it doesn’t follow that we should swoop in anywhere and any time human rights are being violated. It doesn’t even follow that we should do so in cases where we’re partially to blame for it, as I acknowledge we were in the formation of Saddam’s regime. Bearing in mind a sense of our own fallibility, we also have a moral imperative not to intervene unless we’re sure it’s not going to make things worse – and again, as other commenters have pointed out, the powder keg we were setting a spark to was completely foreseeable. Even George H.W. Bush said so in 1999, after the conclusion of his own war in Iraq, explaining why he didn’t go on to Baghdad after the Iraqis fled from Kuwait:

    To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. It would have taken us way beyond the imprimateur of international law bestowed by the resolutions of the Security Council, assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working so hard to reestablish.

    In the case of World War II, Germany and Japan weren’t just committing brutal human rights violations, they were actively engaged in unchecked military expansion, were invading and decimating their neighbors and were an ongoing threat to the entire world. Saddam posed nowhere near that level of danger, and as brutal as he was, he was effectively contained by the sanctions and inspections. Military invasion is a horrendously blunt instrument, and we should be extremely reluctant to use it unless we’re absolutely sure there’s no alternative. We were nowhere near that point with Iraq.

    You’ve just argued that starving babies was preferable. Did you mean to argue that?

    I’ve never said that I was opposed to humanitarian aid.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    So: we’re allowed to intervene and make it bad, and then simply walk away. Is that what you’re saying? That once we have stirred the pot, we can just decide to walk away?

    You’re trying to put words into my mouth, Yahzi. In case you didn’t notice, in my initial comments, I wrote that I was not opposed to removing Saddam Hussein in principle.

    Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was another chapter in our decades long story of intervention in the Middle East. Given the lives lost, the numbers of people displaced, or left without limbs, it remains to be seen if we have truly made things “better”.

    In other words, in case I did not make myself clear, it is our government’s policy of intervention in the Middle East, either by supporting dictatorships, or through outright military action, that is the problem. It is easy to hold up Saddam Hussein as some boogeyman. It is not so easy to look ourselves collectively in the mirror and pretend not to notice the lives lost or shattered as a result of the actions that our government takes to support what they perceive to be America’s best interests in the region. Ultimately, that is why they hate us.

  • Alex Weaver

    “In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds.

    In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. ‘The general idea is it’s absolutely threatening to admit you are wrong.’

    Comment #31 by: Neil C. Reinhardt

    Ahem…

  • Alex Weaver

    Adam, that fucking five minute timer stops allowing comment-editing several seconds prior to running out. :/

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Statistically, you cannot argue pure headcount as a flaw in either direction, as it goes both for and against either side’s argument.

    Trends, however, THOSE are important. Lay down some trends, people! One rule: Only things that weren’t happening, but now are, or that are now happening, but weren’t before. In year 2000, in Afganistan, a woman could get a medical degree and become a doctor. During the invasion, they can’t. In Iraq, there was overall stability in the economy and there were female doctors. Now there isn’t. The only change in political landscape was the addition of a few tanks blaring “AMERICA!!! FUCK YEAH!!!” in the farmlands of the local civilians who would have otherwise never supported foreigner-killing terrorist factions until their homes were destroyed by, you guessed it, foreigners looking for terrorist factions.

    Machiavelli’s The Prince, it should be required reading for any ruler. A strong and sinister outside force can provide a galvanizing factor that unites the plebs in a way that neither fear nor love can create by the prince alone. And ALWAYS HAVE A SCAPEGOAT: You killed your scapegoat and continued wantonly staying in the occupied area without finding a new one. And of course, you should use troops you yourself find disagreeable, as your opponents will have the same reaction, so Xians should repeal don’t ask don’t tell. Didn’t America learn anything at Evil Overlord School? How did it ever become valedictorian of the class?

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    I note in my prior response I chastized “America” in my final comment. I wish to issue an apology to Canada, Mexico, Venuzeula, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and all the rest of you guys down south that aren’t the United States of America, the place I meant to say.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com/ themann1086

    Refusing to invade and kill Iraqis mean you hate Iraqis! Wait…

  • Yahzi

    Ebon said: No, I didn’t, because I didn’t think that was their true intent whatever they said in public. As Tom (#11) pointed out, the invasion was largely sold to the public on the grounds that we urgently needed to stop Saddam from producing WMDs for the sake of our own security – a claim that was false, and was known to be false at the time the Bush administration made it.

    Now I’m just confused. I no longer understand what you think the Right was cheering and/or believed.

    However, I take this to mean you do think that invading tyrannies to create democracy is a good idea if it looks like it will work. If that is your position, then we are in complete agreement. You might review your previous comments and note how a person could get a different impression, though.

    In the case of World War II,

    None of your comments are relevant. Your original statement was “usually ends very badly. It is a contradiction in terms to force democracy on a people from outside.” I cited WWII as a counter-example to that claim. None of the comments you made in this last post reject WWII as a counter-example to the original claim.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with everything you said in your most recent comment concerning the differences between WWII and Iraq. I even mostly agree with your comments on Iraq. But I also think you are overlooking some other issues: for instance, as I mentioned before, Saddam’s grip was slipping. If we had done nothing and Saddam had lost power, then there would have been a bloodbath which would put the current troubles to shame. Nowhere in any Dove’s analysis do I ever see any recognition of the possible costs of failure to intervene. I am not presenting this point as sufficient to justify invasion, I am just saying it is an aspect that must be considered.

    Instead, far too many Doves fall back on comments about the absolute wrongess of war. This is replacing thinking with platitudes.

    I’ve never said that I was opposed to humanitarian aid.

    That’s even worse. Every ounce of aid you give goes straight into the pockets of the tyrants, enabling their power more. Did you think you could give the money/food directly to the poor? Without the tyrants stealing it? What exactly does tyranny mean if not stealing from the poor?

    This is the central lesson. You cannot deal with a tyranny the way you deal with a democracy. Which leads us to:

    I don’t agree with that. I believe that ending tyranny is a moral imperative, yes, in the sense that it’s something we should do whenever we reasonably can.

    I’m not quibbling over terms. I completely agree with your exposition here: moral duty is (necessarily) limited by ability. This is a consequentialist view of morality, and we both share it. What I am trying to point out is that consequentialism also implies a refutation of the claim “It is a contradiction in terms to force democracy on a people from outside.” It is not a contradiction. It’s just very hard to do.

  • Scotlyn

    @ 29

    The choices available are not limited to “Invade every country and crush all non-democratic regimes” and “do absolutely nothing”.

    There is also the choice that we have sometimes also taken – to assist in the crushing of democratic regimes – two examples I have personal knowledge of – Guatemala 1956 and Chile 1973. There are many others, including Iran in 1956 or 57 I think…

    @ 33

    “Nothing. It’s not the United States’ obligation to end all tyranny in the world.”
    You are wrong, for the simple reason that it is every person’s obligation to end tyranny everywhere. This is called “moral duty,” and our moral duty does not stop at imaginary lines on the ground.

    There is a difference between the citizens of one country expressing solidarity in various ways with the struggles of the citizens of another country against tyranny.

    The US as a nation defined by its military might, and by its worldwide military presence, however, by definition cannot end tyranny in any country by military means. An invasion becomes an occupation, becomes the exercise of control whether overt or covert, which becomes endemic. And by that time a new tyranny, whether that of the occupation itself, or that of the local strongmen best positioned to take advantage of disorder, death, destruction, anarchy and unrest, is well established. Tyranny can only be truly ended by local uprisings and restructurings of power by the people concerned.

    If you feel obliged to oppose tyranny in all its forms, go stand beside the people in their struggle as a witness, send them money and food, pressure corporations to withdraw financial supports for the tyrants, etc. But under no circumstances ask our government to send even one gun, or you will have already defeated your noble purpose.

  • Alex Weaver

    You’re trying to put words into my mouth, Yahzi. In case you didn’t notice, in my initial comments, I wrote that I was not opposed to removing Saddam Hussein in principle.

    So, the invasion was right because you’ve chosen to uncritically and selectively focus on the most noble of the many stated reasons for invading (and to ignore the considerably less noble ones that are more consistent with how the invasion was actually approached), even though the rationally predictable consequences are utterly incompatible with and actually opposed to, the principles we were supposed to be upholding by invading?

    Is that about right?

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Alex, I didn’t say I supported the invasion as it was conducted by the Bush administration. So I really don’t understand what your problem is with me.

  • Hume

    @#29: “@Hume: Wednesday has pre-empted me here. The choices available are not limited to “Invade every country and crush all non-democratic regimes” and “do absolutely nothing”.”

    Fair enough. However, Ebonmuse still seems undecided about whether tyranny in the world should, at some level, concern the US or not. If it should be a concern, then it follows that the US politically may do something about it, whether it be condemnations, sanctions or interventions (it does of course depend on the situation). If tyranny in the world is none of the business of the US, then it follows that the US shouldn’t be concerned about it.

    Let’s take some examples. Should the US (and NATO) have intervened in the Balkans in the 90s to stop the genocides, or was it none of the business of the US? Should the US have condemned the brutal repression of the Iranian protests in the summer of 2009, or was it none of the business of the US? Consider the Burmese junta. The US and other Western countries have probably condemned the junta harsher than Indian and China. Do you think the US should have condemned the junta, or is it ultimately not the business of the US?

    Ebonmuse’s both posts contradict each other on matters such as these.

  • Scotlyn

    I don’t know how Ebon would respond, Hume, but I do not agree with the US acting unilaterally to intervene anywhere. If there is a real argument for intervention in order to protect people from tyranny or from genocide, the place to make this argument is the UN, and the US may act, as a member of the UN, accordingly. The UN did not, as it happens, buy the argument that the invasion of Iraq was justified.

    The US did not have any international law based justification, therefore, for its unilateral action (ok, unilateral with the support of a couple of allies), and its willingness to go ahead in that instance signalled that it had “national interests” of its own that trumped any need the Iraqi people had for regime change.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Hume wrote: Ebonmuse still seems undecided about whether tyranny in the world should, at some level, concern the US or not.

    Well, in his post, Ebon did write this:

    It’s still possible that Western governments will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to spare this young man, who stands accused of nothing besides voicing his opinions – an intolerable crime in the world of Islamist thought control, where dogma receives higher protection than human lives. If you live in a Western country, please contact your representatives and ask them to take action!

    That would appear to put him in the camp of “tyranny should concern the US.”

    And to try and recap what I wrote, because Alex Weaver didn’t seem to get it the first time around, there was a legitimate case for removing Saddam Hussein from power. Besides the atrocities he committed against the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, to name a couple of examples, he had invaded two of his neighbors and during the first Gulf War lobbed Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel. His regime was a destabilizing element in the Middle East. But to agree in part with Yahzi above, another part of the problem was what would happen if Saddam’s regime had collapsed.

    That being the case, to do it properly would have required much larger amounts of troops, including contingents from Turkey and Arab countries in the region, so as to have an occupation force sufficient to provide security for the Iraqi people. This would have made it easier to focus efforts on rebuilding Iraq’s shattered infrastructure so that the people could have reliable sources of clean drinking water, electricity, and basic social services. Once it became clear that the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. military could provide neither of these things, a full-blown insurgency became inevitable.

    The Bush Administration didn’t seem to have put much thought into what would happen after they took Baghdad beyond putting Ahmed Chalabi in power and finding the remaining Baathist regime top-level persons in hiding while being bathed in rose petals from the adoring populace.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex, I didn’t say I supported the invasion as it was conducted by the Bush administration. So I really don’t understand what your problem is with me.

    Me neither. This thread exploded while my back was turned and I’ve slept poorly. I didn’t read closely and thought I was quoting Yahzi when I typed that response. I may have just copied and pasted the wrong thing or failed to put the right thing on the clipboard. O.o

    Sorry.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Now I’m just confused. I no longer understand what you think the Right was cheering and/or believed.

    Much the same as I felt in October and November of 2002, come to think of it.

    None of your comments are relevant. Your original statement was “usually ends very badly. It is a contradiction in terms to force democracy on a people from outside.” I cited WWII as a counter-example to that claim. None of the comments you made in this last post reject WWII as a counter-example to the original claim.

    Given the already-noted problem with the applicability of that historical example to this particular instance, coupled with his use of the qualifier “usually”, this criticism strikes me as not only unnecessary, but distractive.

    But I also think you are overlooking some other issues: for instance, as I mentioned before, Saddam’s grip was slipping. If we had done nothing and Saddam had lost power, then there would have been a bloodbath which would put the current troubles to shame. Nowhere in any Dove’s analysis do I ever see any recognition of the possible costs of failure to intervene. I am not presenting this point as sufficient to justify invasion, I am just saying it is an aspect that must be considered.

    Counter-factual history is rife with problems, not least of which is that we can never know. Additionally, such falls from power are usually, thought admittedly not always, foreshadowed in plenty of time to provide for forces to assist civilian populations if requested. Given that we already had a large ground presence in Kuwait, a large Air Force presence throughout the entire region, and a strong naval presence in the Persian Gulf, I don’t see that we should have anticipated events with a poorly-justified invasion. Indeed, such anticipation has only served to set against us the very people you argue we were trying to help.

    That’s even worse. Every ounce of aid you give goes straight into the pockets of the tyrants, enabling their power more. Did you think you could give the money/food directly to the poor? Without the tyrants stealing it? What exactly does tyranny mean if not stealing from the poor?

    You just finished arguing that Saddam’s hold on power was slipping. Are you now arguing that sanctions weren’t assisting that?

    This is the central lesson. You cannot deal with a tyranny the way you deal with a democracy.

    I would argue that the central lesson is that bullets rarely change minds.

  • Alex Weaver

    None of your comments are relevant. Your original statement was “usually ends very badly. It is a contradiction in terms to force democracy on a people from outside.” I cited WWII as a counter-example to that claim. None of the comments you made in this last post reject WWII as a counter-example to the original claim.

    In World War II a handful of former democracies were conquered either from within or from without by fascists. Compare this to Iraq which has NEVER been a democracy.

  • Jim Baerg

    “I would argue that the central lesson is that bullets rarely change minds.”

    A bullet through a brain changes the mind, but it’s not a change for the better, unless you regard non-existence as an improvement.