14 February 2006

Raising the Level of Debate

OK, I know it's a bit long, but all of you really must go read this thread on the war in Iraq, over at Emery's. I'd love to be able to contribute to the debate, to comment on it, or to post a response to it. But I really only have one contribution to make: read through the entire thread, and each time you get to a comment from Frances (especially her first comment) imagine outrageously loud applause from me in the background.

Ultimately it's not failed execution, an imperialist grab for oil, or anything else along those lines that truly undermines 'our efforts' in Iraq. It is our unbelievably colonialist approach to the actual people of Iraq, our disdain, our contempt, our disrespect (I know: 3 words that mean the same thing) of the very people we are supposed to be 'liberating', that makes the whole thing so appalling.

11 comments:

tenaciousmcd said...

Sam, thanks for letting me open up a second front!

Here's my question for you: generally speaking, do you prefer to follow the principles of Hobbes or Locke? Personally, I prefer Locke: freedom over authority, yada yada yada. But you and Frances are both, ironically enough, defending a Hobbesian worldview without recognizing it.

Think about Iraq in simple terms. I'll start by pointing out that we all agree that the occupation is a complete mess. That said, were the Iraqis under Saddam engaged in democratic self-determination? Of course not. They were suffering under tyranny. What we did, simplified a bit, is to replace tyranny with anarchy. We threw off Saddam's yoke and restored Iraq to a "state of nature." Classic Locke.

On the other hand, to accept Frances's specific claims, which focus on the Iraqis and their situation rather than ours or the world's, you have to believe that Iraq was BETTER off under seemingly endless tyranny than they are under the present anarchy that grapples for something else. To accept Frances's view, you have to believe that stability is always better than uncertainty and disorder. Now, I don't know how Iraq will end up. But if you follow Locke rather than Hobbes, you have to weight tyranny as the worse evil. That is one reason why, although I opposed this war, I cannot see it in the same black and white, good and evil, colonialist menace vs. benevolent oppressed categories that too many of my fellow Dems would like to impose. Not every third world status quo is worth defending, and not every Bush screw up is the result of evil rather than incompetence and bad judgment.

Sam said...

tmcd: welcome to the lowly secondamericano comments! Things aren't as exciting here as at Emery's, but we try to make folks feel at home.

OK, I think that we (me and Frances, on the one hand, you, on the other) are talking past one another because we are operating on different levels of analysis. Your Hobbes/Locke analogy makes this clear. Let me try to say how.

First though, I want to clarify that I, too, distance myself from a lot of the nonsense on the left that wants to turn the Iraq into some act of pure evil. Also, I understand that the Neocon vision for the middle east has a certain coherence and logic, and that it gave a credible reason to go into Iraq. But I think that logic ultimately fails, utterly, while you seem to suggest at some points that you buy it.

You write: were the Iraqis under Saddam engaged in democratic self-determination? Of course not. They were suffering under tyranny. What we did, simplified a bit, is to replace tyranny with anarchy. We threw off Saddam's yoke and restored Iraq to a "state of nature." Classic Locke

NO, NO, NO. That's not Locke. Locke doesn't say, 'after a "long train of abuses" of a government over its people, a FOREIGN government is justified in overthrowing the first government'. It's POPULAR sovereignty that Locke justifies and argues for. Popular sovereignty legitimates the overthrow of government. But it only gives that right to the people themselves, not to some other nation!

You're comparing Hobbesian order to the Lockeian return to the state of nature, but Americans aren't in a position to make that choice. Only Iraqi's are. The irony is that in giving that right to the US, you are actually underminining Locke's very principle of popular sovereignty. Locke does you no good here. (And I'm a Lockeian too, of course.)

And that's what Frances and I are so upset about: the fact that the US actions in Iraq refuse in every way to restore or respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi people.

And let me add: if our actions in Iraq had looked completely different, if we had gone in with 200,000 troops and immediately upon toppling Saddam we had started working on infrastructure for the Iraqi people, food, water, and ELECTRICITY. If we had immediately put in place a plan to truly hand over power (etc. etc.), then maybe we'd be having a different discussion now.

Frances said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Sam. To follow up on your Lockean point about the necessity of popular self-determination, it's worth observing that there was no organized opposition to Hussein (outside of the largely independent Kurdistan). There was not a popular revolt brewing in Iraq on behalf of which we could intervene. There was not even an underground resistance. Just our out-of-touch exiles who knew nothing of contemporary Iraq. Had there been an indigenous movement against Hussein our efforts might have had at least a shred of legitimacy in Iraq.

I recognize that Hussein's government had stamped out opposition and had cemented control, but tyrannies do not last forever. (Neither do empires.) We didn't go in guns blazing for regime change in the USSR, despite the urgings of today's neocon forbears, but the communist party's totalitarian control came to an end anyway. As did Ceausceau's Romanian regime, Erich Honecker's East German regime, Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti, Suharto in Indonesia. Just as TenaciousMcD implicitly assumes that the anarchy won't be permanent, neither is tyranny. Meanwhile, the US-induced anarchy in Iraq could just as well be replaced by a new tyranny, a very likely long-term scenario.

I doubt in the strongest terms that this effort could have succeeded, even with better planning and execution, given the U.S.'s total lack of legitimacy both internationally and within Iraq itself. Every mishap at a checkpoint creates outrage at our arrogance of power. Not to mention Abu Ghraib, the bombed wedding parties, the mass detentions.

But chin up everyone, at least our postinvasion construction efforts have been successful in one respect. See http://tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=59774 for an excellent article about the little islands of America in Iraq. The American can-do spirit can always succeed in whatever we really want to achieve. (Hint: it's not humanitarianism.)

tenaciousmcd said...

I'm glad to see that you guys have now recognized the essential correctness of my position, even if you haven't yet had the courage to admit this to yourselves.

The major objections to this invasion are the PRACTICAL ones that Frances lists below--those involving prudent judgments about how political change best occurs, about what our national interests are in a globalizing world, and about the specific means we were using to achieve our ends--and NOT the simplistic moralisms about how this is by definition an "illegal war" or how all non-defensive wars should be banned by UN fiat. (I would also refer you to my most recent comments to Emery on Freedom From Blog about what this debate has really been about.)

Sam, a point on Locke. Don't forget that Locke was the great ideological defender of the Glorious Revolution, the event that flowed from/with the Two Treatises. That triumph against absolutism occurred only when English exiles in Holland, like Locke and the Earl of Shaftesbury, were able to get William and Mary to invade England and set up a constitutional monarchy, this despite the fact that W & M didn't speak the language or know the culture. Locke never makes popular sovereignty and external intervention mutually exclusive. In fact, his practical experience suggested that it may take foreign powers to empower the people. It is plausible to argue that something very similar is happening in Iraq. After all, we certainly don't like the PM in waiting, Jafari, but he seems a good representation of what the majority Shi'a want. Now, we may, as Frances points out, be creating "little Americas" there, but we certainly haven't been able to exercise much control of the political situation, have we? Really, when you think about it, one of the dangers we failed to anticipate in Iraq is exactly the kind of popular sovereignty that we have, at least temporarily, enabled.

Your turn.

Frances said...

The "little Americas" I referenced are the grandiose military bases we're building in Iraq. These bases are miniature cities, with air conditioning, mini-golf, fast food, etc. They're just not for Iraqis. And they clearly indicate that we fully intend to stay a while . . . even though we haven't negotiated any kind of status of forces agreement with the so-called "sovereign" Iraqi government. This has been our only successful large-scale construction project in Iraq. Somehow I think this says a lot about US priorities.

tenaciousmcd said...

Frances, how can you defend the "sovereignty" of Saddam's despotic Iraq, yet simultaneously deny the sovereign power of the democratic US over its own decisions of war and peace? You can't have it both ways. Either you get a world state anchored in Paris or Brussels (ack!!), in which case all such sovereignty is meaningless, or you want nation states to address a messy world with the tools they've got. I prefer the latter. Nation state sovereignty is not an absolute, but the sovereignty of DEMOCRATIC nation states is worthy of an extraordinary degree of deference. That's why I can consistently celebrate American sovereignty against the UN's meddling and also deny Saddam the right to hide behind the child abuser's "stay of my property" feint, which is what your defense of his sovereignty amounts to.

Frances said...

I'm not sure I understand your point, TMcD. I didn't think I was questioning the U.S.'s sovereignty. I'm completely comfortable using a Weberian definition: having a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within its territorial boundaries. The US is unarguably sovereign in this sense.

Contemporary China is sovereign, too, and so was Hussein's Iraq prior to the imposition of the no-fly zone. The current Iraq is not sovereign, however, with all the US soldiers present and not under Iraqi control/command. There's not even an agreement defining the relationship between the Iraqi government and the US forces.

I don't know what sovereignty has to do with democratic processes, unless by "sovereign" you mean "popular sovereignty."

The US can make decisions to invade other countries without UN mandate, without the cover of international law, without any reason that has standing in just war theory. It just did. The war was pretty popular at the time it was launched, and the man responsible was reelected. So popular soveignty prevailed, also.

I just don't think it was moral or lawful for the US to have done so, no matter what kind of humanitarian justifications the US can invent in its defense. And I'm not inclined to alter my view of just war or the lawful behavior of nation states in light of what sovereign countries do -- not even those with popular sovereignty.

Sam said...

TMcD: On Locke...that's an old reading of Locke that has been fairly thoroughly demolished by Laslett and Dunn. The Two Treatises were published in 1689 (1690 publication date), sure, and yes, they were taken as an ideological justification of the Glorious Revolution. But Locke actually wrote both of them between 1679 and 1682, and the texts were targeted directly at Filmer, not at political events that were to come a decade later.

Now, does Locke's argument justify external intervention to throw off tyranny? I don't think so. You do. But in any event, we'd need to go back to the text to have the argument; William and Mary won't prove the case for you. In my reading of the text, the case for popular sovereignty would be hard to square with a call for external intervention.

tenaciousmcd said...

A couple of responses:

Sam, your reading of Locke is, frankly, bizarre. First, nowhere does my argument presume, nor do I even claim, that Locke wrote the Two Treatises after the Glorious Rev, as was once thought. (I've published on Locke, do you think I haven't read Laslett?) But it doesn't matter either way. Locke may have originally written the TT as a response to Filmer's Patriarchus in the early 1680s, but he also wanted to provide an ideological justification for the Whig opposition during the exclusionary crisis, the situation that eventually culminated a few years later in the Glorious Rev (1688).

Importantly, Locke only PUBLISHED the TT in 1689, and he did so in order to provide a justification for the GR, which is how it was read at the time and for many years after, hence creating the confusion about when he had actually written it. Either way, Locke was an English exile in Holland, openly championing the foreign invasion of England by Dutch royals to restore the popular sovereignty that had been usurped by an absolutist monarchy. Hell, the man returned from exile in the same boat carrying Mary, the queen-to-be. Simply put, he was NOT opposed to foreign intervention as a tool of pop sov. For your argument to work, Locke would have had to be yelling, "Go home, you damned dirty Dutchies!," which, it turns out, is the very opposite of what he was doing.

I would also refer you to the chapter in the Second Treatise, "Of Conquest," in which he makes it very clear that pop sov and foreign conquest are compatible where you have a "conqueror in a lawful war" who works to restore the conquered people's liberties. Now we can argue about whether a particular war of conquest is "lawful," but Locke distinctly recognizes the possibility that it can be. As Locke sees it, conquest is not itself a grant of right, but "it often makes way for a new frame of government," one that will hopefully rest on popular consent. Whatever you think about Iraq, you cannot argue that we went there to rule it in perpetuity as a subject nation. Whether or not the occupation is succeeding (and I doubt that it is), we are, at least, taking steps to set up a popular Iraqi government. There's a strong case here that Locke's basic requirements have been met.

Frances: much of our dispute seems to rest on the question of the meaning of "lawful," by which I mean a law passed and enforced by a body with legitimate jurisdiction. I think you mean something else that does not suggest either clear enforcement power or jurisdiction. In other words, you think the UN is somehow empowered to declare whether any given war is "illegal," and hence to stop it if it can, whereas I do not recognize their authority in that realm. Your argument suggests that we can't lawfullly wage a war unless we get a "permission slip" from the UN. But this cannnot be the case. Did Clinton get permission from the UN before intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo. No. He worked with NATO allies, but ignored the UN because Russia and China would have vetoed any authorization of force. But that didn't make our war there "illegal" or "immoral." Those judgments have to be made on grounds independent of whether the UN signs off. Incidentally, no American leader in their right mind would embrace your position. I thought it was demagoguery when Bush accused Kerry and the Dems of advocating that view, and I'm surprised and a bit embarassed to find that you guys actually do embrace this idea. This doesn't mean we should simply ignore the UN. Their widespread skepticism about our invasion of Iraq should have given us pause. But their role is at most advisory, not supervisory or punitory.

Finally, you keep claiming that I've thrown out the entire tradition of "just war" theory, which is just wrong. You and I may disagree about what constitutes a "just war," and whether any given war counts. So do many of the scholars within the tradition. But my disagreement with you about how to classify a war against a foreign "tyrant" does not place me outside that tradition as a rejectionist. Like you, I agree that certain moral conditions must be met, but we draw the essential lines differently, just as we differ over how and why the Iraq War crosses that line.

Sam said...

TMcD: I wasn't accusing you of not having read Laslett, just of not having taken him seriously enough. Laslett actually goes so far as to say that we cannot read the Second Treatise as the justification of a revolution that just occurred, and I see you reading Locke in just that way. So I don't really think my reading is bizarre; I don't even know if it's 'my reading'. It's Laslett's.

As for the 'On Conquest' chapter. Well, that's a much stronger argument, I think. I'll have a look.

tenaciousmcd said...

Sam, I think you're looking at Laslett to adress the wrong question. The issue is not whether or not the Glorious Revolution was the original inspiration for the writing of the 2Ts (which, I believe is the question Laslett addresses). The issue here is whether Locke SUPPORTED the GR and used the 2Ts as part of his advocacy. Your reading of Locke on the conflict of foreign intervention and pop sov implies that he would have had to actively oppose the GR. If Laslett argues this, I would be interested to hear why. To make your case, you need to show that Locke thought the two ideas necessarily opposed, a view I believed contradicted BOTH by Locke's text and by his subsequent actions.