Friday, April 18, 2003

Ok; off to fair New Haven; no more blogging today.

As more and more details emerge about the looting of Iraq's National Museum, this sad and appalling disaster appears more and more complicated; and it seems to be both less sad, and more appalling, than we first thought.
Thus, it turns out some of the Museum's most valuable treasures had been secretly removed to greater safety before the war, and so survived (though the WSJ article doesn't mention what happened to the tablets containing the Code of Hammurabi. That's kind of an important symbol to those of us who set a certain amount of store by the rule of law, as well as being of obviously great historical importance). It also emerges, from the same WSJ article, that, at least according to the US military commander responsible, the US troops were taking gunfire from the museum, and didn't want to return it - or risk their lives to intervene. Well, I can understand that. And, while rumours such as that reported by Kanan Makiya that the looting was actually carried out by Baathists seem at this point impossible to prove, or even support with solid evidence, some experts are now saying that the looters must've had keys to the place.
One can only hope that much of what was stolen will be recovered -- the proposal to offer immunity and compensation to looters who will return what they've stolen, while ignoble, seems to me entirely the right idea, and it's important that we do all we can to help the Iraqis assess their loss, and start trying to track down where their treasures went.
At least it seems likely that much of the Museum's holdings still survive, somewhere; one can't say the same about the manuscripts in the National Library. Sigh.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

More on existentialism and the war: When Carlin Romano suggested that the war on Iraq was 'existentialist,' I was a bit bemused, and a bit dubious, as I've explained before. Turns out I'm not the only one. George Cotkin, the author of the book Romano was reviewing, has written a short essay suggesting that, if there's one thing that a turn to existentialism would mean, it's a greater awareness of the tragedy and unpredictability of life, and therefore a greater sense of humility and self-doubt (he's also very kindly dropped me an e-mail emphasizing this point, and noting that it doesn't seem to jive with Bush's approach to war). Now, Bush and company may be good at making 'leaps of faith', and they may be good at affirmation in the face of death and absurdity (maybe a litte too good at affirmation, actually); but self-questioning, cosmic pessimism, a sense of tragic limitation, humility, the avoidance of hubris and complacency -- as Cotkin suggests, these aren't exactly the qualities we associate with this administration (Tony Blair's response to his critics -- that he might be wrong about his belief that war with Iraq was necessary and just, but that he felt he had to take action anyway -- gets a bit closer to an existentialist position than anyone in the Bush administration has, to my knowledge, managed, though I think that Blair's determined optimism may be a bit more than a thorough-going existentialist, at least in Cotkin's account, could quite stomach).
Now, those who supported war while acknowledging their own capacity for error, and accepting the possibility that the war could result in tragedy, and therefore also accepted a portion of the responsibility for such tragedy, might lay claim to having taken an existentialist stance towards the war. But this attitude -- which I think honourable (no doubt because I partially bought into it myself) -- was hardly characteristic, from what I could see, of most of those within the US government who embraced war.
Incidentally, there's another review of Cotkin's book in The Weekly Standard, by Werner Dannhauser. For those of you In The Know (i.e., for whom phrases like 'The Committee' and 'Ancients and Moderns' and 'Athens and Jerusalem' resound with meaning), I need say no more. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, though, let me explain: Dannhauser is a Straussian. Not that that's a bad thing. It does mean, though, that he has his own very strong ideas about how one should approach the history of ideas -- by delving into the subtlties and profundities of great texts by great minds. Now, not that there's anything wrong with that -- but that's not what Cotkin set out to do. Cotkin set out to write an intellectual and cultural history of existentialism in America. Dannhauser finds this a 'lame excuse' for Cotkin's not grappling with certain European thinkers in any depth, for adopting a vague definition of existentialism, and for failing to come to grips with existentialism's full implications or dubious influence, or engage critically with the validity of its claims.
I haven't read Cotkin's book, so I can't say whether Dannhauser is right in his claim that Cotkin "has no feel for the complexity of great thinkers and their thought." If this is true, it's certainly damning; since such a feel for the complexity of thought is necessary to all intellectual history. However, not all intellectual history need follow the model set by Leo Strauss and his students. Straussians such as Dannhauser, and intellectual historians such as Cotkin, are both capable of making valuable contributions to our understanding of ideas, their origins, and their impact; both sorts of scholar have much to learn from, as well as to teach, the other. A certain amount of mutual criticism is a necessary part of this process; what is not only unnecessary, but damaging, is for either side not merely to criticize, but to dismiss the worth or validity of, the other side's basic approach and interests; and Dannhauser seems to me to come close to doing so. [He also manifests some of the less attractive characteristics of at least some Straussians -- the penchant for assertions of judgment unbacked by argument, especially when it comes to thinkers they don't like -- note the slighting way of refering to Hannah Arendt in the opening paragraph of the review.]

This looks like a job for ... liberal nationalism?
Lately, and like a lot of other people, I've been pondering the many problems facing the Iraqi people -- and the US -- in establishing a functioning democracy in Iraq. I've read a lot of suggestions for what might be done, and what should be avoided, and have found many of them sensible and convincing (sometimes the ones I've found sensible and convincing have been in conflict with one another). There's been much discussion of who should form the interim government of Iraq, which will guide Iraq through its transition to democratic self-government; of what the structure of the government of a democratic Iraq should be; and of what we should do first. I don't know enough to pronounce on any of these matters -- I'm not sure if anyone does, really; some seem to me more sagacious than others (I tend to set great store by the wisdom, though not necessarily the potential for success, of Kanan Makiya, whose argument for a federal system of government I find wholly convincing, and to which I'll return). But I certainly don't. So, aside from saying that it seems to me that the first priority should be restoring public order and bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq (duh); that in my opinion the establishment of a just, independent, functioning legal system should come next; and that a federal system of governance seems the best model for Iraq -- I won't comment on that. (Oh, wait. I just did. Well, there's another stirling moment for my intellectual humility ...)
What I do want to focus on in this post, though, being a fledgling political theorist (more on that later, I promise ...), is what sort of political principles or theory or ideology those who are seeking to establish democracy in Iraq would do well to embrace, and seek to cultivate in the Iraqi people, in order to achieve a functioning and just democracy.
The ideas I want to advocate can be summed up in one word, and one phrase -- pluralism, and liberal nationalism (it's really, really sad how consistently obvious Isaiah Berlin's influence on me is ...) By pluralism, I DON'T mean value-pluralism (which is what Berlin talked about). Rather, I mean something similar to what Makiya advocates, in the piece linked to above: a recognition of the rights of different groups, and different individuals -- whether they be distinguished by ethnicity, religious conviction, political beliefs, etc. -- to be respected and protected by the government; and, especially, the protection of such groups and individuals who find themselves in a minority against the will of the majority. Making such pluralism a reality will require a political system (such as federalism, say) and a legal system which will safeguard these rights; but it will also require the adoption of a pluralistic ethos. Makiya gets at this when he writes of "the principle that the rights of the part, or the minority, should never be sacrificed to the will of the majority--be that part defined as a single individual or a whole collectivity of individuals who speak another language and have their own culture."
The essence, and also the necessary precondition, of such pluralism is a redefinition of Iraqi national identity. Again, to quote Makiya:
"Hitherto, Iraq's Arab character has been fundamental, driven by the logic of Iraq being ruled by a party that calls itself the Arab Baath Socialist Party. Can the new federal state of Iraq be an Arab state in the same sense in which Baathist Iraq is thought of as being an Arab state? Is the future federal state of Iraq going to be one in which a Kurd or an Assyrian or a Turkmen or an Armenian is denied access to the highest offices of the land?
If the answer to such questions is no, then that means that even though we Arabs form a majority in the country, and that Arab culture and Muslim history will always be cherished in Iraq by virtue of that majority, the majority status of Arabs should not put them in a position to retain privileges of any sort over any non-Arab Iraqi."

In order to foster the pluralistic ethos necessary to the health of a liberal, democratic society, tribalism and ethnic chauvinism must be overcome. But such psychological forces are hard to fight; and experience suggests that trying to do so by seeking to persuade Iraqis to become good liberal cosmopolitans is unlikely to work.
What's needed, instead -- and what Makiya points to here -- is a redefinition of Iraqi identity, and the embrace of a nationalism based on this identity which will be a compelling rival to tribalistic passions. This identity must be pluralistic and democratic, based on a devotion to the idea of Iraq as a nation made up of, and made great by, a combination of many peoples, many cultures, many faiths and beliefs, and a pride in self-governance and the fostering of rich cultural diversity and individual variety; and it must be nationalistic, in the sense of 19th century liberal nationalism -- aiming at the glory of a united and independent Iraq, but not at either external conquest or internal ethnic or religious purity.
This is of course much easier said than done. Yet there is hope. Rival groups have come together to create a nation inspired by and devoted to such liberal-nationalist ideals before. Such an achievment must come from within: though the US can, and must, do much to help, the creation of such a spirit, and of a political reality based on it, will depend on the Iraqi people, and those who will step forth to lead them. We can't count on the emergence of an Iraqi Cavour or Mazzini; but we'd better hope that such people do emerge -- and if they do, we'd better do all we can to help, rather than hinder, them.

A win for Wolfowitz and Co? In an article (Rutgers Focus, April 14 2003, p. 6; sorry, no permalink) on the lessons to be learnt from the war against Saddam Hussein, Eric Davis, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers, makes an interesting suggestion: that the recent release of democratic activist Sa'd al-Din Ibrahim by the Egyptian authorities who had unjustly convicted and imprisoned him was 'most likely a response to the imminent fall of Saddam and the Baath'.
Well, I'm somewhat skeptical about this statement. But not only is Davis a distinguished scholar of Middle Eastern studies (after all, if one accepted everything Middle Eastern Studies people said ... well, nevermind); he's one who seems unlikely to act as a flack for the Bush administration (his proposals for what the US can do to promote democracy and human rights include joining the ICC, and joining Britain, the EU, and the UN in pushing through a timetable for a Palestinian state). So when he makes this claim -- and in an article that (aside from my own reservations about the ICC) strikes me as generally sensible, well-intentioned AND well-argued, I'm not inclined to dismiss it quickly.
Who knows. Maybe there's something to this notion of spreading democracy in the Middle East after all. Let's hope there is. And let's get to work on figuring out what to do next.

The shame of the UN: Anne Applebaum has a terrific -- by which of course I mean angering and depressing -- column in the WashPost about the shameful and damaging farce of the UN Human Rights Commission (and Dave has a good commentary on it over at OxBlog).
Not much to add. I've said it before, I'll no doubt have occasion to say it again: the UN is a cartel of usually self-interested and often corrupt or venal or malevolent states, which has, throughout its history, seldom done an effective job of upholding those human rights that it was created in large part to establish and protect. As such, it isn't a wholly bad thing -- it does serve a useful purpose, or at least did for a time, of helping to keep international order, and provide a forum for debate and negotiation which helped to diffuse some of the tensions of world politics throughout the Cold War . But, if it has done something for international stability -- and that's an important achievment -- it has done so while (and, to some extent, by) consistently placing state sovereignty before human rights -- which is only natural and predictable, since, I repeat, it's a cartel of states (ok, so I really like using that phrase about the UN.)
Ok, so, that much is obvious, and I think we can all agree that the UN should try to do a better job -- and that our own countries (in my case, the US), should do what we can within the UN to push it in a better, more responsible, more honest direction. What I don't understand is why so many people, whose reasoning I otherwise generally find pretty sensible and indeed wise, place so much importance on what the UN says. After Bosnia, after Rwanda, after the countless condemnations of Israel and excuses for the worst regimes around the world, how can anyone genuinely committed to liberal democracy and human rights regard the UN as it actually functions -- as opposed to the ideals and avowed aims of the UN -- as having any moral authority or legitimacy?
The time has come, to paraphrase Hubert Humphrey's great speech at the 1948 Democratic Convention, to leave behind the dark night of States rights (or sovereignty) (within limits -- I'm not suggesting we embrace world government) and walk into the bright sunlight of Human Rights (ah, no-one could turn a corny metaphor like old HHH.) But don't expect the UN to take that step, or make that journey, anytime soon.

Ah, happy day. I've discovered the existence of another, uh, 'Lionel Trilling nostalgia monkey' out there, and he (and his family) have a blog, which is quite hilarious. Check it out.

Ah, so that's why we went to war! I always thought that the war was being fought (appropriately or not) in the name of international security, or democracy, or the freedom of the Iraqi people (hence 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'). But, apparently I was wrong -- it apparently was being fought in the name of Josh Chafetz. Who knew.
Ok, ok, I kid. But, seriously, Josh buddy, I understand the rhetorical counter-strike at the 'not-in-my-name- crowd; but I think the article does wind up going just a teency bit overboard with the self-congratulation. And the conclusion may leave some people with the wrong impression.This war was, at least on the most charitable construction of it, indeed fought in the name of democracy and freedom for the people of Iraq; and this is something that transcends partisanship. Some people, of course, didn't particularly care about these things (and still don't). Others were skeptical about the genuineness of the US's commitment to these goals, or ability to achieve them, and opposed the war as such. This does not mean that they care any less for these values than those who supported the war for humanitarian reasons, or have any less claim to speak in the name of those values, or any less cause to rejoice in the liberation of Iraq.
To the extent that Josh is seeking to claim a monopoly on the mantle of liberation -- and I doubt that this was his intent, and rather hope it wasn't -- I think that he's overstepped the bounds of well-earned self-congratulation; and, to the extent that he identifies joy at the recent liberation, and commitment to the possibility of democratization, of Iraq with partisanship -- and again, perhaps this wasn't his intention -- he does his opponents an injustice, and his own side a disservice.
Update: Josh has a handsome, mature, and compelling reply to criticisms such as mine up on OxBlog. I agree with the basic argument he makes; but it doesn't entirely address the main problem I had with the tone of his piece -- which wasn't that he was calling the anti-war people on their (thus far) disproven predictions, and saying 'I told you so' (well, he did, so why shouldn't he point it out?), but rather that the tone he adopted seemed to me to (I quote myself) 'claim a monopoly on the mantle of liberation', giving an impression of self-righteousness that was more off-putting than compelling to anyone who didn't already agree with him. But, that's just me; and Josh's style is different from mine, and seems to serve him pretty well.
(I wonder ... if Josh's tone was influenced by the portion of the seder dealing with how to respond to the 'wicked child' ('We say to him, it is because what the Lord God did for US in taking the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; if you had been there, God would not have redeemed you.' I've always found that bit of the seder problematic, but, again, that's just me.)?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Ok, that's it for blogging today -- I'm off to prepare for, and have a family seder; and, in honour of Passover, here's a poem I like by Primo Levi:


Tell me: how is this night different
From all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover
Different from all other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide
So the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew;
Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us;
Let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction,
The Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences
In which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed,
Evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange the questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame,
next year in virtue and in justice.

(9 April 1982)

(AND: a great working of Iraq's recent liberation from bondage into the seder, from Winds of Change)

A sad, sad day for American culture (or what's left of it): Partisan Review, one of the great cultural and political magazines of the 20th century, has ceased publication. RIP.

It doesn't take all that much skill to Fisk Robert Fisk; but Jeremy Reff (aka Dar Kommissar) does it so well.

I've been meaning to write a post on Paul Berman's fascinating-sounding new book, Terror and Liberalism -- but I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, and have been too distracted to even set down my impressions and reactions based on the reviews and interviews I have read. So, for the time being, I'll just note a couple of useful links: this, to a review of Berman's book in the Washington Post, and this, to an essay by Berman in TAP summarizing his argument. More on this (probably) later.

The blogosphere has been witnessing an epidemic of discussions of the nature of political philosophy vs. political theory (I no longer remember how we got to this point, but I think it started with Jacob Levy's report on Andy Sabl's critique of Jerry Cohen's book as summarized on Micah Schwartzman's blog, and then Matt Yglesias responded, and now Jacob Levy has written an enormous post which then quickly disappeared but has been seen by Josh Chafetz and Matt, and ... gahhhh!).
All of this has been very interesting, and I of course have a couple of cents (or a tuppence) to add; but I'll wait 'til I've read blogosphere political theory-guru Jacob Levy's fabled post before I put my own thoughts down on -- well, not paper, but whatever this medium is. In the meantime, for a very different definition of the meaning of political philosophy than that which has figured in the blogosphere discussion so far, by a very different sort of political philosopher from those who have featured in the discussion so far, here are some by turns pedantic and lovely, and typically profound (or are they just gnomic, and as a result seem profound? Oh, I don't know anymore -- and I never did ...) words from Leo Strauss's historic essay, 'What is Political Philosophy?'
'In the expression "political philosophy," "philosophy" indicates the manner of treatment: a treatment which both goes to the roots and is comprehensive; "political" indicates both the subject matter and the function:political philosophy deals with political matters in a manner that is meant to be relevant for political life; therefore its subject must be identical with the goal, the ultimate goal of political action. The theme of political philosophy is mankind's great objectives, freedom and government or empire -- objectives which are capable of lifting men beyond their poor selves. Political philosophy is that branch of philosophy which is closest to political life, to nonphilosophic life, to human life. Only in his Politics does Aristotle make use of oaths -- the almost inevitable accomapniment of passionate speech.'
Strauss goes on to specify that political philosophy, as a branch of philosophy, is concerned with discovering the nature of the whole -- the nature of the totality of politics, or the totality of which politics is a central part. As philosophy, it seeks to replace opinion about the nature of the whole -- that is, what people commonly or conveniently think -- with knowledge of the nature of the whole -- that is, it seeks to go beyond assumptions to discover the truth. Political thought which is indifferent to this distinction between opinion and knowledge, and which is unconcerned with understanding politics as part of 'the whole,' is not political philosophy. (If this sounds intriguing, go read Strauss's essay -- included in his An Introduction to Political Philosophy, ed. Hilail Gildin -- and may the lord have mercy on your soul.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Brett Marston has a set of constitutional law haikus up on his blog.
Reading these reminded me of my own haiku-ing days, back when I was a freshman at Yale, enrolled in the prestigious (or so the information Yale sent us said) Directed Studies Program, and feverishly reviewing for the final exams with my 150-or-so fellow DSers. To help us all recollect the philosophy we had (in theory) learnt over the past term, and to buoy our spirits, I wrote a bunch of philosophy haikus, allegedly summarizing each of the texts we had read. Some of the haikus aimed at actually summarizing basic philosophical arguments in such a way as could be comprehended, and perhaps even processed and memorized, by the caffeine-hopped-up brain of a callow freshman Yalie sitting in a weenie bin at 2 AM the night before the exam; others were written, under similar circumstances to the one just described, for personal and communal amusement. Here they are:


We can't find what we
don't know. Only recollect.
Virtue is(n't) knowledge

Virtue is what counts.
Never do harm; keep promises
always obey law

Soul is immortal
Truth is immutable. Forms
seen through equal sticks.

Diotima's ladder
Possess beauty forever
Be pregnant in soul

Four causes explain
why things are as they are; luck
and chance are causes.

Metaphysics I:
A this is not a
such. A this and a such are
a this-such. This sucks.

(Aristotle’s original:
"Rather we may say that no 'this' would ever have been coming to be, if
this had not been so. The 'form' however means the 'such' and not the
'this' - a definite thing; but the artist makes, or the father generates,
a 'such' out of a 'this'; and when it has been generated, it is a 'this

Metaphysics II:
Substance is form, which
is essence, constituent
not predicated.

All things have an end
humans pursue happiness
reason is the best.

All is uncertain
nothing can be proved; one
should suspend judgement.


An Enquiry Conerning Human Understanding
We can't know things through
induction. No predictions
causation assumed.

Treatise On Human Nature
Reason is slave of
the passions, which use reason
to get what they want.

Treatise II
Moral distinctions
derive from a moral sense
which isn't reason.

Hume on Free Will I
Free will means random
actions. Determinism
means motivation.

Hume on Free Will II:
We don't have free will.
Thank god! Now I can know what
I'm going to do.

[I seem not to have done any haikus on the Critique of Pure Reason. I wonder why?]

Groundwork I:
Moral worth means free
will; do right out of duty
goodness isn't fun.

Groundwork II
imperative is based on
reason, provides law.

Groundwork III
C.I. in three forms.
which are too long for Haiku
too tough to explain.


Utilitarianism I:
Happiness of the
greatest number is what counts
in judging action

Utilitarianism II:
Pleasure is the good;
pain bad. Serve humanity
but forget justice.

Nietzsche,The Geneology of Morality:
Masters versus slaves;
Good/bad versus good/evil.
Slaves win. This not good.

The second 'Daily' quote (in the course of a week ...), stolen from Andrew Sullivan:
"Perhaps we cannot make this a world in which children are no longer tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children," - Albert Camus

Monday, April 14, 2003

It's perhaps a bit dated and moot now to argue about the justness and desirability of a war that is now a fait accompli; but it's still worth looking at the editors' forum on the war with Iraq over at Dissent's website, since the war will I'm sure continue to be a matter of controversy -- and the conclusions we come to about what we think of the war will, I think, be a central, defining part of the political consciousness of my generation, just as Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement were for most of our parents.
On the anti-war side, Michael Kazin's piece is the one I find the most convincing, though subsequent events have, thus far, partly belied his pessimism. But his central point -- that US power is not something abstract, but is in the hands of and excercised by particularly individuals, and that those individuals currently in charge do not exactly inspire optimism in the hearts of liberals and social democrats -- and that many of their, and their liberal and Left (reluctant) allies (e.g. Mitchell Cohen, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman)'s hopes are rather Utopian. (A sometime New Leftist like Kazin calling a liberal realist like Ignatieff a Utopian -- how strange the world has become)
The counter-argument to Kazin and other critics of the war is well made by Mitchell Cohen. Cohen's point can be summarzied, basically, as, look, maybe Bush and co. aren't such great people -- but Saddam is much worse. And if we're going to focus on the probably behaviour of individual leaders, one of the first conclusions we should draw is that Saddam was always an untrustworthy, aggressive despot, who could be neither toppled nor brought to obey international law without force.
Somewhere between Cohen and Kazin are Leo Casey, who makes a number of excellent points in a piece which, while consistently sagacious, nevertheless seems a bit meandering to me; and Michael Walzer, who once again shows that he's among the most nuanced, careful, and decent of our public intellectuals/political commentators. The position set out in Walzer's piece (no permalink, it seems -- one has to go to Dissent's webpage, and click on the editor's forum on the war) is an uncomfortable one, posed between being pro- and anti-war; it seems unlikely to have served as an effective platform or program for political action (reminding us that, as wise as Walzer's commentary on politics is, it's also primarilly reactive, and has seldom has issued in practical success). But what he says seems wholly right to me, and expresses the way I've felt and continue to feel about the war more clearly and coherently than I've been able to; to be on the fence with Walzer is, at least, to be in good company.

The NYT op-ed page also has a greatly enjoyable column by the historian John Lukacs, who attacks the 'juvenile' playing-at-soldier antics of recent US presidents (Reagan and George W in particular, though with a nice swipe at Clinton as well). I heartily agree, and am glad that Lukacs has skewered this tendency with his usual biting wit; his criticism is all the more effective, and thus welcome, given his own quite conservative allegiances. When people on the Left attack facile and self-aggrandizing military and corny-patriotic affectations, their criticism tends to ring rather hollow, since one often can't help suspecting that the critics don't really care that much about, or understand, military honour and patriotism to begin with; it's therefore far better, and far more impressive, when the point is made by someone who does have a respect for these things -- and is rightly disgusted at seeing them made use of in tawdry, cheapening ways.

There is an excellent column on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in today's NYT by David Makovsky (though the title is rather unfortunate, since it makes it sound like Makovsky is advocating the armed overthrow of Arafat, when he is in fact not). Markovsky makes the case that, though attention has been focused on Iraq, some progress has recently been made on the Palestinian side -- support for suicide bombing has ebbed, and moderate reformers have risen to positions of prominence in the Palestinian Authority. In short, the conflict has been experiencing a period of 'benign neglect' by the Bush administration, whose policy of refusing to support Arafat.
Another good, if far from new, point the column makes is that a necessary part of a revived, effective peace process must be Isael's withdrawal from illegal settlements in the West Bank, and the halting of the construction of new settlements. I think Makovsky tends to under-emphasize this aspect, which is all-important, and without which further progress is highly unlikely, if not impossible.
The main point Makovsky makes, and probably the most original and fruitful, is the importance of European and Arab involvement in the peace process. European and Arab nations which have lent support to Arafat (and, in the case of some Arab nations, helped to fund terrorist groups) must withdraw that support, and use their influence to help reformers and moderates gain power within the PA and renew engagement with Israel.
So (and here I'm giving my own conclusions based on my reading of Makovsky's argument, rather than a summary of that argument), an effective peace process -- which at this point requires diplomatic intervention from the international community, since the Palestinians and Israelis seem incapable of resolving things on their own -- would have to work something like this: The US must prod Israel, whom we have consistently supported and who are both well-disposed towards, and deeply dependent on, us, to renew negotiations with the Palestinians, and withdraw from illegal settlements in the West Bank (and halt the construction of new settlements). Now, because of our support for Israel, we are less trusted by, and have less influence over, the Palestinians; and to push them too hard is likely to be ineffective, and even counter-productive. As a result, we will need to bring other parties, who are perceived as more sympathetic to the Palestinians, into the peace process. We should also press those Arab nations in the region over which we have some influence to cease supporting both Arafat, and Palestinian terrorism; but, in light of their bad histories with Israel, we shouldn't include them directly in the process unless it becomes necessary. The ideal would be to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down with the US and representatives of the UN, or the EU, or both (of course, given our recent history of relations with the UN and EU, whether we could actually work effectively with them to foster and broker a peace agreement seems doubtful; it'd be easier and possibly more effective if we could bring in a partner which would be more trusted by the Palestinians, without being deeply distrusted by Israel, and by the US government, and which would not itself distrust Israel and the US -- in other words, Brittain.) But, however it is done, a renewed peace process will most likely have to involve (if it is to be effective) a number of international players, and not just the US -- although the impetus for such a process most likely will have to, and I believe should, come from the US.
Of course, the challenge is to find a way of 'prodding' other nations into working towards a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a way that is effective, rather than offensive. Experience suggests that this is not something that the Bush administration is especially skillful at doing.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The Observer asks various distinguished Britons -- or at least a number of Brits whose names are (for the most part) familiar, and who are the sort of people who read the Observer anyway -- if the war was worth it. Not surprisingly, the consensus emerges that, no, it wasn't. Some are guardedly pessimistic: yes, they say, it's good that Saddam's gone, but where are the WMD, and what about the damage done to international order and the US and UK's relations with the rest of the world? And what about the humanitarian crisis (to say nothing about the terrible looting -- perhaps most tragically, that of the National Museum in Baghdad, which was systematically pillaged, stripped of many of the world's great archeoligical and artistic treasures -- an artistic analog to the destruction of the destruction of the ancient library of Alexandria during the Roman conquest of Egypt -- which the pundits quoted don't mention)
Fair points all, and I'd make them myself -- though I'd also spend some more time mentioning, and put more emphasis on, the fall of an atrocious and brutal regime. But, some of those interviewed go beyond judicious pessimism, beyond even a stubborn distrust of the US's motives and probably future actions.
Now, I'm all for pessimism as a useful tonic; but the comments quoted reflect more than pessimism -- they reflect a vision of reality so gloomy and forboding that one wonders if those interviewed are not, in fact, largely clinically depressed. I suspect, though, that this has less to do with physiological or psychological ailments --- or the British weather -- than with a dogmatic refusal to recognize that reality may be anything other than what those quoted are sure it must be, and a certain love of melodramatic posturing and pronouncement -- in short, a mixture of sour-grapes and self-aggrandizement; and a fierce desire to see the pro-war party and the US lose and be humiliated.
So much for general impressions. Now, a few particularly notable comments:
"An awful regime could be replaced by one not so overtly cruel but which is repressive in a more subtle way." -- Rev WENDY SAUNDERS
Well, possibly. Still, it is difficult to imagine a new regime coming to power that would be as repressive as Saddam's. And Rev. Saunders gives no account of how this might happen, or how, exactly, a new regime would be more subtly repressive (personally, I'm all for subtlety if the alternative is being fed to a plastic shredder or having my genetalia zapped with a cattle prod.)
"Wars are never worth it." -- BEN PIMLOTT
Um, it wasn't worth it to topple Hitler and keep him from conquering Europe? This is just silly. Wars may always be tragic and horrible, but they are sometimes worth it; to say otherwise is to forsake politics and reality for fantasy.
"The poor, as always, will find little difference in their lives, except for the peculiar notion that freedom is essential to happiness. You can't be free if you are burnt or have nowhere to live. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. " -- BERYL BAINBRIDGE
Ah, where to begin? First of all, the poor could find quite a bit of difference in their lives if Iraq (as seems likely) is freed of UN sanctions, and flooded (as one hopes it will be) with humanitarian aid. Also, so far as I can tell, the poor were just as subject to Saddam's terrorization as everybody else -- and the removal of that terror will be a big difference. As for freedom being essential to happiness: maybe it is, though it certainly isn't sufficient. What is more peculiar is the notion that Ms. Bainbridge apparently has that terrorization is apparently insignificant, or that one can be happy when one lives in fear (one can of course be happy for periods of time -- just as one can be happy for brief, sun-lit moments in the midst of depression, or while recovering from personal tragedy -- but fear and violence are always lurking there, ready to overtake one and plunge one back into the dark night of terror and agony). What is also peculiar is the notion that one can't be free if one's burnt or has no place to live. Of course one can be: being free is indeed different from being happy, or healthy, or safe, or well-provided for. And freedom may not do one much good if one is maimed and homeless and starving. But this does not make freedom worthless, or mean that a gain in freedom makes no difference. It does mean that, having done something to bring freedom to Iraq, we can and must not leave it there, but work to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people, and ensure their continued freedom.
As for the last line: Ms. Bainbridge should certainly be ashamed of herself, for her lack of concern for freedom and lack of understanding of what slavery and terror are like. Those of us who welcome the liberation of Iraq should be deeply worried about what is happening to and what will become of the Iraqi people, and should recognize the tragic cost of their liberation, the terrible suffering that has preceeded and accompanied it; we should indeed be both ashamed, and angry, when our own government fails to do all it can to avoid or address innocent suffering -- and we should be far more angry at Saddam Hussein and his butcherous minions for all the suffering they have forced on their people.
(In another article, in Thursday's Guardian, to which I can't find a link, Julian Barnes -- while directing some corrosively caustic and very well deserved invective at DOD spokesperson Torie Clark's callous and complacent statement that she wouldn't lose any sleep over whether the US had actually gotten Saddam Hussein (and probably wiped out a restaurant, indeed a block, full of Iraqi civilians in the process.) -- also declares that the war wasn't worth the finger of one Iraqi child. This is just ludicrous. The war may not have been worth all the suffering it ultimately has led to and will lead to; but to put things in such absolutist terms is to flee serious thought for empty rhetoric which is deeply dramatic at the price of being utterly devoid of thought or truth. To say that liberating a whole people from the sort of tortures and ravages that Saddam visited on those under his power is not worth ONE FINGER reminds me of the old example from moral philosophy of the man who would will the destruction of the entire world to relieve the itching of his own finger -- a hypothetical of which the erudite Mr. Barnes is, or at some point was, undoubtedly aware. That example is used to illustrate moral idiocy or lunacy -- a complete lack of moral perspective and understanding. Odd that Mr. Barnes should therefore adopt something so much like it -- with a sickly and sickening veneer of sentimentality (not just a finger, a CHILD's finger -- of course) dabbed on -- as a striking and sterling declaration of righteous moral principle.
One gets the sense that certain segments of the reflexively (as opposed to relfectively) anti-war Left have stopped listening to themselves, or anyone else, think or speak or write some time ago. They are of course not the only ones -- there are plenty equally guilty parties on the other side of the issue -- but that's no reason not to knock them off of their moral high-horses)
Whether the war will prove to have been worth it remains to be seen -- we can't know that now, a few days into liberation, as skirmishing and looting continue; and we won't really be able to say, with any certainty, for some years, perhaps for decades. Better to note the costs and tragedies, the triumphs and victories, the problems confronting us and the challenges ahead -- and to heave a sigh of sorrow for the Iraqi people, and a sigh of relief at their liberation. Better this, than to posture, preen and prophesize, and to wrap ourselves up in a besotted moral self-regard that prohibits self-criticism, and thus precludes learning and excludes wisdom.

David Aaronovitch has another sharp (if perhaps a little overly-joky in tone) comment-piece on reconstruction in Iraq. One of his main, and best, points: it's all very well to quibble over who does what in post-Saddam Iraq -- and that will have to be figured out, and figuring out how to do things and divide-up responsibility and power will be quite a challenge, which must be met -- but right now, we need to turn the bulk of our attention to restoring order in Iraq. Since coalition forces are there, and are the only ones capable (we hope) of doing so, it has to be their job for now; perhaps an international police force, and at some point a proper Iraqi government, can take over when they're ready to -- but for the moment it's the Americans' and Brits' job, because the Americans and Brits are there.
Aaronovitch's advocacy of a 'pluralistic' approach to reconstruction -- aside from the leadership and upper-echelons of the Ba'ath party, everyone who can help out should be allowed to -- is I think essentially sensible (but then I've always been a sucker for things labeled 'pluralist ...'); still, we will need to go beyond a simple commitment to the principle that '[t]hose who have a contribution to make should be encouraged to make it'. While it would be foolish to exclude anyone who was able to help with effectively rebuilding Iraq, it would be disastrous to allow things to degenerate into a vast muddle, in which waring national, regional, ideological, religious, and bureaucratic factions all squabble over policy and jocky for power.
Still, Aaronivitch's portrayal of the task ahead seems to me a fair and wise one, and his pluralistic stance, while not sufficient, is necessary to adopt if we're to have a shot at creating a functioning democracy in Iraq.
(Aaronovitch also mentions a new book -- Empire Lite -- by Michael Ignatieff, examining and drawing conclusions about democracy-building from recent experience; it sounds to be very interesting, very judicious, and very valuable. [And of course the fact that Ignatieff is Isaiah Berlin's biographer and disciple has nothing to do with my opinions on the matter])

More on the issue of how to treat Ba'athist criminals: The NY Times Week in Review (which has been doing a consistently good job of running interesting, thoughtful analyses of various aspects of the war since it began) has a good piece on the problem of what to do with tyrants once they're deposed (most of the quotes in the article come from none other than Tim Garton Ash).
As I've said before, I think the best way to deal with the Ba'athist infection of Iraq is to try to capture, and try under international law, as many of the regime's leaders, and as many of those who carried out the regime's crimes, as possible. It's also important that something be done to identify, shame, and bar from retaining too much influence those who, while not directly responsible for the regime's crimes -- i.e. were neither among the leadership of the Ba'ath party, nor were actually responsible for physically carrying out the torture and murder of the regime's victims -- nevertheless served the regime loyally, all those functionaries who played a willing part in the machine of state terror and death. At the same time, I think the prosecution of Ba'athist criminals has to stop somewhere, for both practical and principled reasons. On the practical side, it will probably prove simply impossible to prosecute everyone implicated in Saddam and co's crimes; and to ban from public office everyone who was a member of the Ba'ath party or collaborated with the regime could deprive Iraq of the corps of officials necessary to rebuilding the Iraqi state.
Furthermore, one goal of trials and punishment for crimes such as genocide and state terrorism is to undo the toxic effect such crimes, and the apparatus that commits them, has on the legal and moral culture of the country in which they occur. Part of the nature of genocide, and of totalitarian rule, are to seek to creat a new reality, in which notions of morality are transformed. A major part of this moral transformation involves stripping individuals -- both victims and perpertrators -- of their individuality, so that the latter are freed of individual responsibility, and the former's claims to moral respect as human beings are denied.
This is one of the infernal things about regimes such as Saddam's. They create a new moral reality, which is incredibly difficult to undo; and when one seeks to bring the perpetrators of crimes in such regimes to justice, one is faced with a difficult paradox which follows from this perverted moral reality. On the one hand, the new moral order is one in which collective guilt really is a reality: as one historian quoted in the Times article notes, the crimes committed by a state go beyond those that can be ascribed to particular individuals -- the idea of collective guilt describes the reality of such a situation. On the other hand, this idea -- that collectivities, rather than individuals, are responsible -- that individual agency is subordinate to the collective will -- is precisely part of what such regimes try to make people believe. In order to establish a functional liberal democracy, this idea needs to be combatted -- and a legal system, and culture, which respect both individual rights, and individual responsibility, need to be fostered. So, how to recognize the collective nature of the crimes, while punishing the crimes in such a way as to restore the idea of individual responsibility to the justice system of the country in question?
In my view, the only and best way to deal with the individual aspect of criminal responsibility in such cases -- that is, the only and best way to identify and properly punish individuals who have committed or commisioned crimes -- is through a legal system founded on principles of individual responsibility. Individual officials must be tried, convicted, and punished, as appropriate. At the same time, the collective nature of the crimes -- what they did to society as a whole, and how the state and all its agents and supporters are implicated in them -- has to be addressed. But trials, at least under any legal system we would recognize as just, will fail to do this -- which is why the public, collective (and individual) facing up to the past that Garton Ash and others have advocated must also be pursued.
Hopefully, with the help of the US and other members of the international community, the people of Iraq will be able to pursue this latter task. In the meantime, there is a great need to do all we can to capture those criminals who are not yet beyond our reach, and to see that they face justice.

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