Iraq

Death by Altruism

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While driving home last night, I caught the Jim Bohannon show on the radio. Bohannon's guest for the entire hour was neocon bulwark Frank Gaffney. The warmonger Gaffney unsurprisingly encouraged tougher, more militaristic U.S. positions against Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China, but spent most of the hour talking up the war in Iraq.

I know others have made this point before, but I was struck by the ease with which Gaffney could transition between the incompatible arguments of "we need to stay in Iraq because the Iraqi people need us," and "we're fighting Al-Qaeda over there so we don't have to fight them over here." President Bush also often makes both of these arguments, usually in the same speech.

Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. "America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we're drawing all the world's worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours."

But Gaffney, Bush and other war supporters going on making both arguments, side by side, without much shame or hesitation.

Related: Justin Logan dismantles President Bush's dreadful war booster speech yesterday. The president's historical ignorance on World War II was bad enough, but the Vietnam comparison was really astonishing.

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  1. The worst thing about being a passionate libertarian is having a front-row seat for all the unintentional hell raised by people’s good intentions. I believe that most of the pro-war people, including Bush, can’t accept the fact that their good intentions are hurting people.

    I suspect that the unconscious consolation of the “Bushitler” rhetoric of some anti-war activists is the notion that Bush is a black-hatted scheming villain rather than another horribly misguided idealist. The latter thought is the more dreadful of the two, isn’t it?

  2. LOL Sorry about my unconscious (yes) plagiarism of the word dreadful.

  3. Funny thing is Bush was trying to get a free trade deal with Vietnam last year. So obviously it all turned out horribly there.

    I want to know why crackpots like Gaffney still get so much airtime.

  4. Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. “America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.”

    Yes, Mr. Balko has hit a home run with that one. I think Freud called this “kettle logic”.

  5. This is what’s always been ridiculous about the “flypaper” argument — no one making it ever gave a second thought to the people who happen to live on the flypaper. So if I get into a feud with the Mafia, I can just arrange for our shootouts to be held at, say, the Podhoretz summer home, so my shit doesn’t get fucked up.

  6. So if I get into a feud with the Mafia, I can just arrange for our shootouts to be held at, say, the Podhoretz summer home, so my shit doesn’t get fucked up.

    I remember some government school teachers who seriously messed with my head. I would love to be able to send one of them my all-day-every-day psychotherapeutic marijuana bill. (I wouldn’t let them split the cost. It would dilute the revenge.)

  7. As bad as his explanations and justifications sound, it still sounds better than than the truth. The truth is that the US military is in Iraq so that its companies get first dibs on the oil when it is extracted.

    But Bush can’t really admit that, so he says any old crap.

  8. Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. “America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.”

    Though I’m no supporter of the war, those sentiments are not contradictory. The truth is that, at this point, were we to pull out now, there would be a horrendous bloodbath to follow. Hence, “fighting this war for your freedom and safety”. The other sentiment is one that is meant to drum up support for the war from Americans, not Iraqis.

    Personally, I think the best solution to ending the war would be to hold a vote in Iraq on the single question:
    Do you want the American military out of Iraq ASAP?

    If Yes wins, then we pull out looking like we’ve done our work and let the people decide their destiny from here.

    If No wins, then it gives us legitimacy and all the “We’re killing innocent Iraqis” nuts in the USA can STFU.

  9. That’s a ridiculous straw-man. I bet the average Iraqi understands this better than you do. “We’re fighting for your freedom here because we know if we don’t stop the nut-cases here they’ll turn this place into a hellhole and then move on to us anyways”.

    This is the same logic that justified going to fight in WWII and Vietnam and basically every war since WWI. Either you fight the bad guys early when they’re trying to beat up on the little guys or you appease them until they’re strong enough to come knocking on your door.


  10. This is the same logic that justified going to fight in WWII and Vietnam and basically every war since WWI. Either you fight the bad guys early when they’re trying to beat up on the little guys or you appease them until they’re strong enough to come knocking on your door.

    I sometimes wonder, if Wilson had showed the courage to allow WWI to burn itself out without interference, horrible as that would have been, if he might not have saved us from the insane butchery of WWII. Well, who knows.

    Btw, we lost in Vietnam, which seems to poke quite a hole in your thesis.

    Cheers,

    D.

  11. “Either you fight the bad guys early when they’re trying to beat up on the little guys or you appease them until they’re strong enough to come knocking on your door.”

    Or, you could create a safe haven for the bad guys that you can’t possibly hope to police, then de facto hand it over to the bad guys because an invading power will never have the support of the local populace. You can sell this sure-to-fail scheme by suggesting “bad guys” will soon be “knocking on your door.”

  12. “Hence, ‘fighting this war for your freedom and safety’.” is contradicted by “The other sentiment … meant to drum up support for the war from Americans.”

    Just because the two are meant for different audiences doesn’t make them consistent.

  13. The truth is that, at this point, were we to pull out now, there would be a horrendous bloodbath to follow.

    True, but unfortunately if we stay, we’ll only continue the horrendous bloodbath that’s already happening.

  14. Though I’m no supporter of the war, those sentiments are not contradictory. The truth is that, at this point, were we to pull out now, there would be a horrendous bloodbath to follow. Hence, “fighting this war for your freedom and safety”. The other sentiment is one that is meant to drum up support for the war from Americans, not Iraqis.

    No, they’re still contradictory. The first statement indicates that we’re trying to win – to give Iraqis freedom and safety we’d have to defeat the bad guys. In the second statement, we’re not trying to win – we’re actually inviting more bad guys to come to Iraq so we can fight them. It’s as if we invaded their nation strictly to turn it into a battlefield.

  15. Here is the contradiction, precisely:

    The “protect Iraqis” argument assumes that the people we are fighting would tyrannize the Iraqi people if we were to leave.

    The “flypaper”argument assumes that the people we are fighting would begin (or go back to) terrorizing the West if we were to leave.

    The merits of either argument aside, the two are not compatible.


  16. Imagine how this sounds to the average Iraqi. “America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.”

    I suspect the average Iraqi doesn’t believe either statement, nor do I. Oil and geopolitics are the start and finish of this dreary war.

  17. I would just like to point out that Bush’s argument about the consequences of leaving Iraq compared to the consequences of leaving Vietnam was no more persuasive when it came from Michael Moynihan.

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/121502.html

  18. The comments about Vietnam are more revealing than anything. It shows that the neocons really believe superior military force can achieve anything if only people would suck it up and let it work. Which is, of course, ridiculous since America has so much more to lose than any 3rd world country we invade. Hell, even Cheney would do a pretty quick 180 if his riches and safety were on the line.

    As for the flypaper argument, I don’t really care if it’s contradictory since it’s ridiculous. If a terrorist has the means to come to America, why the hell is he going to go sacrifice himself in Iraq to maybe injure a few American troops or kill one if he’s lucky? It’s not a zero-sum game here either… is anyone doing any research on whether the Iraq war is benefitting terrorist recruiting? This kind of question is of the utmost importance, and we need the top experts and historians bringing their wisdom to bear. I bet you no one in the administration even asked that question for one second. They’ve got a tight band of neocon cronies running everything, so all the important questions are skipped over as they jump ahead to the all-important question of how to spin their ill-advised agenda to the public. The answer of course is stand up Bush in front of a podium looking sincerely pained at the untrusting nature of reporters. How can you not trust someone so lovably inept? I tell you Bush is a gift from god to those guys, not one of whom can stand up and look the least bit innocent.

  19. “America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.”

    It’s ironic, but not a contradiction: one is the direct, inevitable result of the other. Iraqi freedom and safety is something AQ opposes, thus their postwar killing spree.

    Why do you think AQ never bothered Saddam much? They were not that different: both Sunni supremacists, both terribly repressive. They had their differences, but could live with each other. Freedom and democracy, not so much.

  20. “If a terrorist has the means to come to America, why the hell is he going to go sacrifice himself in Iraq to maybe injure a few American troops or kill one if he’s lucky?”

    Priorities. It’s not just America they oppose. A relatively free and democratic nation (esp. a Shia-dominated) in the heart of the old caliphate is a much bigger thorn in their side.

  21. The “protect Iraqis” argument assumes that the people we are fighting would tyrannize the Iraqi people if we were to leave.

    The “flypaper”argument assumes that the people we are fighting would begin (or go back to) terrorizing the West if we were to leave.

    The merits of either argument aside, the two are not compatible.

    Of course they are. There’s no reason they can’t both tyrannize Iraqis AND export terror. That’s actually by far the most likely outcome, based on their behavior.

  22. Hi Radley,

    America is fighting this war for your freedom and safety. Also, we’re drawing all the world’s worst terrorists into your backyard so they blow up your markets and police stations, and steer clear of ours.

    Isn’t that exactly what the U.S. government has done/is doing in Afghanistan?

    1) Do you not agree that a majority of people in Afghanistan are significantly more free than they were under the Taliban?

    2) Do you not agree that the Taliban was completely tolerant of the world’s worst terrorists, allowing them completely unrestricted operation within Afghanistan?

    3) Do you not agree that the world’s worst terrorists are still coming into Afghanistan to try to retake the country?

    As TallDave points out, why is it not possible that the world’s worst terrorists would take over Iraq (or large parts of it) and both enslave Iraqis AND export terror?

    Do you think the Belgians (for example) thought ill of the Allies because, while we were liberating their country, thousands of Nazi troops were pouring in to try to stop us?

    How are Islamists any different from Nazis (i.e., totalitarian thugs) without a country to control?

    P.S. All these questions should not be taken as implying that the U.S. has not made absolutely monumental mistakes in Iraq. (Starting with the fact that we should have insisted that the Iraqi constitution distribute all oil revenues beyond the cost of extraction equally to all Iraqis. Also, we should have insisted that the Iraqi constitution have a method–a decade or two in the future–for areas of the country, such as Kurdistan, to peacefully and democratically secede.)

    These questions should only be taken as implying that the terrorists who are pouring into Iraq–and who were ALREADY THERE–are without question the “bad guys.”

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