Sunday, November 28, 2004

Oh No.... We Must Save The Children


Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof brought us a peculiar editorial in which he argued:
Iraqis are paying a horrendous price for the good intentions of well-meaning conservatives who wanted to liberate them. And now some fuzzy little kittens, who want nothing more from life than lapping milk and having their ears scratched, are seeking a troop withdrawal that would make matters even worse.
Well, not quite. He actually said that it was "some well-meaning liberals", not fuzzy little kittens. But the logic is about the same - some undefined group with no discernible power base is alleged to want something that is not going to happen. And this is a problem because... what? Kristof needed a hook for his columns, and bashing "well-meaning liberals" is easy? (And what would he say of those conservatives who are arguing that we should cut our losses and get out? Well-meaning, or no?)

But the weakness of his analysis doesn't end there. He claims an enormous loss of life among Iraqi civilians as a result of the invasion, arguing,
That's apparently because of insecurity. A doctor in Basra told me last year how physicians and patients alike had had to run for cover when bandits attacked the infectious diseases unit, firing machine guns and throwing hand grenades, so they could steal the air-conditioners. Given those conditions, women are now more likely to give birth at home, so babies and mothers are both more likely to die of "natural" causes.
I haven't read the Lancet article, but let's take Kristof's spin that the deaths are effectively all the result of a security void, and not a direct consequence of warfare. Kristof suggests to us that the solution for a security void is to "stay the course" and... well, at a minimum keep the country from falling apart. Beyond that, Kristof has no apparent notion of what "staying the course" means - he simply predicts a humanitarian disaster with even greater loss of civilian life if we don't stay the proverbial course.

Perhaps Kristof needs to take a harder look at Islamic countries and their internal security situation. There is no question but that prior to the invastion Afghanistan was a failed state, for example, but the Taliban kept order in the streets. (Disagree with its techniques, certainly, but there was order.) That is to say, it is possible that a fragmented Iraq which falls into the hands of various factions of Islamic extremists would be far more secure for the people than the situation we have presently provided. That security would of course come at an enormous price in personal freedom, but if the goal is security police states and totalitarian governments usually have an edge over democracies.

Kristof understandably doesn't want that outcome, but instead of addressing it he pretends it does not exist. I guess, though, that it's easier to present false dichotomies, and criticize an undefined faction of "well-meaning liberals".

3 comments:

  1. “That is to say, it is possible that a fragmented Iraq which falls into the hands of various factions of Islamic extremists would be far more secure for the people than the situation we have presently provided. That security would of course come at an enormous price in personal freedom, but if the goal is security police states and totalitarian governments usually have an edge over democracies.”

    Alright, let’s address that point . . .

    Although I will freely concede that it is “possible’ that there would be more security in a fragmented and theocratic Iraq, it does not appear to be “probable.”

    The underlying assumption appears to be that the Islamic extremists would succeed in creating a unified and secure “police state”. Given that, as noted above, the extremists in question appear to belong to “various factions”, and not one unified (albeit theocratic) source of power (as in Iran and pre-invasion Afghanistan) I’m not sure that they would be able to provide security. There appears to be enough “mixing” of ethnic and religious groups that there would be continuing conflict even after the “Islamic extremists” succeeded in driving the Great Satan out of Iraq. If various factions are still fighting each other after the Great Satan leaves, I’m not sure that the result could be described as achieving the goal of security.

    Iran had the advantage that there was one charismatic leader to rally the revolutionaries around. Afghanistan has the advantage that the Taliban was funded and equipped by a neighboring state (with little meddling by other neighbors), and after it had succeeded in driving its rivals into the hills, it was able to set up a fairly stable state. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Iraq. If Iran tries to back its “proxies” the Turks and Syrians (at least) will get involved to take care of their interests.

    The United States pulling out will definitely lead to short term chaos, and I’m not at all convinced the conflict will “settle” down and lead to a “stable” police state. I think that is more likely we would see a “Balkans” type scenario where the fighting ebbs and wanes but doesn’t go away.

    Now the more interesting issue may well be if that is a result that should bother us more than the cost of staying in and “saving them from themselves . . . “

    CWD

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  2. At the same time, we may wish to recall that Iraq had a stable (albeit brutal and totalitarian) regime prior to invasion, and that Bush the Elder made a conscious choice to leave him in power at the end of Gulf War I so as to ensure that Iraq would continue as a cohesive nation with a centralized government. The same ethnic conflicts existed then as do now - perhaps even at a higher level, post Gulf War I, when (depending upon the account you read) Bush the Elder either allowed or was duped into letting Hussein brutally crush a Shiite revolt.

    Now granted, without a military, Iraq lacks much of the necessary apparatus to be an "effective police state". But it would be easy enough, if we so chose, to provide a major Shiite leader with enough arms and enough support to maintain the necessary control, while turning a blind eye to the tactics necessary to squelch what is now a largely Sunni uprising. (Admittedly, "short-term chaos" is perhaps an apt descriptor for either the historical or the hypothetical situation.)

    Also, as was demonstrated after the Oslo accords, you don't need to heavily arm a new regime to enable it to suppress its armed counterpart - from an internal security standpoint, the Palestinian Authority was able to keep Hamas under control by controlling a significant police corps, to all appearances largely untrained and armed only with rifles and pistols.

    If we promise to bomb the daylights out of any significant external threat, and allow such a force to "secure" Iraq internally, we may well establish a successor police state which (although likely at least as brutal as the former) can probably maintain order in the streets. And we can continue to "draw a line in the sand" at the southern edge of de facto Kurdistan, such that neither the Kurds nor the Turks will much care what happens "down south."

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