Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Senator's Plan

In a speech today before the Johns' Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, Senator Edward M. Kennedy laid out what unsurprisingly calls a realistic and responsible course for America's future in Iraq. The plan consists of five points:

First, the Iraqis need to disengage from the United States politically, and we from them. The Bush Administration can't continue to pull the strings in Iraq. We need to let them make their own decisions, reach their own consensus, and govern their own country. The first point in a new plan would be for the United Nations, not the United States, to provide assistance and advice on establishing a system of government and drafting a Constitution. An international meeting, led by the United Nations and the new Iraqi Government, should be convened immediately in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East to begin that process.

Of course disengagement is exactly what is occurring in Iraq as we have transitioned from a military government to a civilian interim government to a freely elected Iraqi government to be chosen this weekend. Senator Kennedy is simply saying that we should do what we are doing.

His insistence that the United Nations should take over, however, is a prescription for disaster. The U.N. has never successfully brokered or protected a peace unless it was backed by American arms. The U.N. is deeply mistrusted by those Iraqis who saw their oil wealth diverted into the pockets of it's officials and who remember how the U.N. pulled up stakes and ran when their headquarters were bombed in 2003. If the U.N. had its way Saddam would still be in power. It's not likely that the blue helmets would have the resolve to stand up to Zarqawi and his thugs for very long.

Second, for democracy to take root, the Iraqis need a clear signal that America has a clear exit strategy. The President should say immediately that America intends no long-term presence.

This is so vague as to be meaningless. What does the Senator mean by "long-term presence"? Five years? Fifty years? Does leaving Iraq preclude maintaining military bases or depots there? What if the new Iraqi government wants such bases? We are still in Europe and South Korea fifty years after the wars that brought us there. Our presence around the globe has kept the peace where war would have otherwise been likely. Why should we pull our military completely out of Iraq if our presence there can prevent civil conflict or foreign invasion. Why not let the Iraqis decide what our long term relationship will be?

Third, once the elections are behind us, we need to disengage [our] military, and negotiate a withdrawal. At least 12,000 American troops and probably more should leave immediately to send a signal about our intention. America's goal should be to complete the drawdown as early as possible in 2006.

This is another foolish proposal. We should not leave Iraq until Iraqis can provide for their own security. To do otherwise would be to condemn the Iraqi people to the vengeance of the Islamist terrorists and the avarice of its neighbors. It would betray Iraq and utterly destroy respect for America around the world.

Fourth, we need to conduct serious regional diplomacy with the Arab League and Iraq's neighbors to head off external intervention in Iraq or the large-scale revenge killing of any group.

This is not only foolish, it is a fantasy. Does Senator Kennedy really believe that the Arab League would lift a finger to stop Iran, Syria, or Turkey from invading Iraq? Where was the Arab League when Iraq invaded Kuwait? What forces can the Arab League deliver to Iraq should any of its neighbors choose to invade? How will the Arab League prevent al Qaida or Zarqawi from carrying out large scale revenge killings? Was anyone laughing when the Senator delivered this line in his speech?

Fifth, we need to train and equip an effective security force. The way to strengthen their allegiance is to give them a worthy cause to defend - a truly free, independent, and sovereign Iraq.

Again, the Senator is simply saying that we need to do what the Bush administration is already doing and trying to make it sound as if he's proposing something novel.

Through this plan, a democratic and stable Iraq will emerge.

Actually, the Senator's plan, if acted upon by the U.S. would result in nothing but chaos and war. It would be an unmitigated calamity for the U.S. and the world. Kennedy's plan, to the extent that it does not simply restate Bush policy, consists of rhetorical bubbles, pretty to look at, perhaps, but fragile, insubstantial and doomed to burst. They are ungrounded in the realities of the Iraqi situation. Perhaps the Senator should stick to strategizing about how to take best advantage of the many fine restaurants and watering holes in Georgetown and leave international affairs to more qualified and thoughtful people.

Tortured Emoting

Jonathan Schell over at The Nation vents his moral outrage at the application of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's disgusted by the purely pragmatic objections to torture voiced by some senators at the confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzalez and strives for moral clarity on the issue:

More striking were the arguments against torture by those skeptical of the nomination. Two dominated. One was that torture hurts the image of the United States in the world. In the words of Senator Lindsey Graham, "I can tell you that it is a club that our enemies use, and we need to take that club out of their hand." Or in the words of Senator Herb Kohl, "winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world is vital to our success in the war on terror," and "Photographs that have come out of Abu Ghraib have undoubtedly hurt those efforts." The second argument was that enemy forces would torture US forces in retaliation. In Biden's words, "This is about the safety and security of American forces." Even Gonzales, who declined at every opportunity to repudiate the policies that had led to the torture, was ready to agree that Abu Ghraib had harmed the image of the United States.

But are these the fundamental reasons that torture is unacceptable? Can this nation now understand pain only if it is experienced by Americans or, through some chain of consequences, it rebounds upon the United States? Have all the people in the world but Americans become invisible to Americans? Torture is not wrong because someone else thinks it is wrong or because others, in retaliation for torture by Americans, may torture Americans. It is the torture that is wrong. Torture is wrong because it inflicts unspeakable pain upon the body of a fellow human being who is entirely at our mercy. The tortured person is bound and helpless. The torturer stands over him with his instruments. There is no question of "unilateral disarmament," because the victim bears no arms, lacking even the use of the two arms he was born with. The inequality is total. To abuse or kill a person in such a circumstance is as radical a denial of common humanity as is possible.

It is repugnant to learn that one's country's military forces are engaging in torture. It is worse to learn that the torture is widespread. It is worse still to learn that the torture was rationalized and sanctioned in long memorandums written by people at the highest level of the government. But worst of all would be ratification of this record by a vote to confirm one of its chief authors to the highest legal office in the executive branch of the government.

Let's set aside the question of whether the allegations of torture are true, or whether torture is ever justified, and under what circumstances, and focus on Schell's indignation.

The pragmatic approach to ethical considerations that he here deplores is largely a consequence of Left-wing assaults on the notion of objective truth abetted over the years in no small part by his own magazine. The Left has assiduously gnawed away at the concept of moral absolutes for decades now, placing in its stead a relativism that ultimately means that each state has the right to decide what is right or wrong for itself. Mr. Schell is evidently unhappy with the decision that he sees the United States as having made, but as a man of the Left he can hardly make claims like "torture is wrong" because it abuses someone who is in a position of inequality and is therefore a "radical denial of common humanity." Why, after all, is denying someone's "common humanity" wrong?

One is compelled to ask of Mr. Schell exactly what he bases his moral outrage upon. Is he just informing us in vivid prose that he happens to find torture personally distasteful? Is he simply emoting? If so why does he bother? Would he take up his pen to complain that some people enjoy eating dog food, or paint their house black and pink? How are moral judgments any different than judgments about other matters of taste?

Perhaps he does indeed believe, if only subliminally, that torture violates some objective moral standard to which we should all be subject, but if so, what is that standard? Where does it come from? Does Mr. Schell believe in a Divine moral law? Perhaps, although it's not likely given that he's a writer for The Nation. But if he holds no such belief then all his ranting against the use of torture is just so much juvenile foot-stamping. He has no grounds whatsoever for his complaint beyond the fact that his sensibilities are offended by seeing one man inflict pain upon another.

Mr. Schell assumes we have a moral obligation (to whom?) to treat others with dignity. Very well, but where does the obligation reside? Where does it come from? What is it based upon? What precisely is the reason why one who has power over another should not cause pain and suffering to the other? What does it mean to say that such behavior is "wrong"? What reason does Mr. Schell give us for why the United States should not adopt a "might makes right" ethic? He can't say that torture is wrong, whatever that means, because it doesn't work or that it might be used against us, etc, because that would imply that if it did work or won't be used against us it would be morally acceptable, and he's already argued that pragmatic justifications for torture are inadequate.

In other words, unless Mr. Schell embraces the Divine moral law, he has no grounds for his tantrum other than the fact that, like a child being forced to eat food he doesn't care for, Mr. Schell is being forced to witness behavior he doesn't find palatable. But if that's all that's going on here why should anyone pay any attention?