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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Dove vs Hawk

Steven pointed out some flaws in my argument, and also distilled of our points of disagreement in quite an apt fashion. This is great because it's really what I'm after here, the hard points to debate. I'm not naive enough to think I'd actually change his mind or anything. We basically have three things we disagree on. The first two are somewhat peripherial, and the third is the real meat of the situation.

1 - The Semantics of Imperialism

Not to get into a "he said she said" but this was in our email correspondence on October 7th:

joshk: My fundamental belief is that a Pax Americana is not a Good Thing for the world. Yours is that it's what the world needs.

sdenbes1: Not at all. My belief is that we (America) can't be safe without it.

So when he writes, "I didn't say that," I must respond, "yes you did."

But your point is that we use the same few words, "imperialism" and "Pax Americana" to describe very different complex courses of action. Ok, granted. But still...

I'm with Eric Raymond when he says "There's a word for the process of conquering a third-world pesthole and imposing your culture on it. It's called imperialism." I don't follow the rest of Eric's argument, which is pro-imperialism and concludes with the usual 9-11 fearmongering as a final rationale, but I agree with that much.

Honestly though, for Steven to put forth the plan he does and then back off when I cry "imperialism" is kind of fatuous. This is a good tactic when debating a pro-war person, by the way. Make them be clear and stay on topic. Let them keep talking and pretty soon it will be clear that their argument is either illogical or based on blind idealistic optomism. Just to be clear, I understand Steven's plan as essentially the following:

  1. War/Occupation of Iraq
  2. "Crush their spirit and make them accept Arab failure"
  3. Send in Barbie & McDonalds
  4. Cultural/Economic Union

That's something of an over-simplification, but you'll have to forgive me if I try and draw a paralell between his argument and Rudyard Kipling's White Man's Burden. As an advocate for war, he has a vested interest in making his point of view sound sensable and sane. As an advocate for peace I have a vested interest in making his point of view sound untenable.

However, I was somewhat incorrect before when I implied that Steven was an advocate for long-term imperial/colonial occumpation. He honestly believes that we can do in Iraq what we did in Japan and Germany after WWII. I'm very skeptical; that kind of thinking presupposes quite a lot. Japan didn't become a long-term US colony because (unlike the Philippines) it didn't have lots of raw materials we wanted to extract. It was also clearly the agressor in that war, and the international community was firmly and completely behind us. Same goes for Germany. This is clearly not the case in Iraq, and when it comes down to it, I just don't trust the people who are in charge to handle this thing very well.

2 - Armchair Psychology/Semantics Redux

Steven took offense at my insinuation that he has a romantic notion of war. It boils down to this sentence: "I've spent much of my adult life studying war because I hate it." My armchair psychoanalysis is as amateur as the next guy's, but that just seems to be a pretty classic conflation of love/obsession and hate. He claims to spend four hours writing a post detailing his understanding of the horrors of war just to disabuse people of the notion that he might (egad!) like it on some level. Add that to his "one year away from Nam" circumstance, spending many a night getting wasted and hearing war stories... I mean come on, grad students have written papers on this sort of thing.

Anyway, It's not my place to tell him about himself; that's pretty presumptuous. I'm just trying to suggest that the myth of war -- the awful, violent, horrid myth -- is seductive. It's very hard to even talk about War without bringing up superlative language or mythic analogies. I just think there's a lot of this kind of romantic war idealism going on, and that people need to check themselves on it.

3 - Points of Disagreement

Steven writes "To Josh, all wars are huge and the deathtoll is always unconscionably high."

This is incorrect. There are little wars, though depending on what you think of as "unconscionable" I might buy the second part of that sentence. There are such things as tiny contained conflicts, but I don't believe this war will be one of them. This will be bigger than desert storm. This will involve urban warfare and a populace that will not welcome the occupying force. I sense quagmire.

Why do I think this? Partly because that's what most reports from the front (people visiting Iraq) suggest. Part of this is because of Saddam himself. He's got awful weapons and if we come after him, what's to stop him from using them?

I'm not saying we're not the biggest baddest motherfuckers on the block (we are) or that we won't "win" (we most likely will, if we have the nerve to see it through), but it's going to be a mess. Saddam has a core group that's tied to him, that weilds power through him, and those people know they're screwed when he's gone. I predict they will fight hard enough to make taking Bhagdad a very grisly affair for both sides as well as the people who live there.

Worse, Saddam is a dictator and doesn't represent the masses. While that means the people won't miss him when he goes, they also won't feel any responsibility for his actions which brought the awesome and crushing might (watch that romanticism) of the American Military down on their heads. The people will be resentful of us unless we can somehow avoid having them die them in large quantities, a seemingly unlikely possibility given the afforementioned urban warfare and real possibility of chemical/biological weapons coming into play.

This is anoth key departure from the two great occupation success stories, Germany and Japan. In both cases, the leadership their enjoyed overwhelming popular support up to near the end. In Japan the people were ready to fight tooth and nail before the Emperor told them they had surrendered. In Germany there was an immediate and overwhelming sense of national guilt which persists even today. The people were behind their leaders and as a result the nations themselves took responsibility for their actions.

This is not the case in Iraq. Unless we seize total control of the country (quite a task), there's a lot of payback violence that's going to start once Saddam is out, both against us and internally. There's the real possibility of civil war, or at least "ethnic cleansing." Iraq is a lot like the former Yugoslavia, and it will be just as difficult to manage when the lynchpin figurehead (Tito == Saddam) is removed.

Finally, Steven states that weapons inspections didn't work. That's a lie. They did work, and if we hadn't thought it would be a good idea to use the UNSCOM mission to start spying (this really happened; it's why they were kicked out in 1998; the story broke in the Washington Post and NYT), we wouldn't be in this mess. Even with Saddam playing hide and seek, the inspections destroyed over 40,000 munitions, over 2,000 tons of chemical and biological weapons, more than 30 Scud missiles, as well as dismantling missile manufacturing plants.

If we get serious and tough and really go all out with inspections we can remove the threat of a major WMD strike on American soil. Saddam will of course try and outwit the inspectors. That's ok, it will keep him busy. In the mean time, we can work harder on non-military means of toppling his regime: take the food for oil program out of his hands and manage it through the UN, support insurgent groups and beam in Western media. We can solve the Iraq question diplomatically.

The truth is that nothing has changed about Iraq in the past four years. What's changed is us. Right now people are afraid and those in power are using that fear for their own political ends. Iraq didn't have anything to do with 9-11, and Saddam can continue to be contained without killing hundreds of thousands of people. But there's a lot for (some people) to gain by going after him.

The CIA says it all: right now we have no real reason to think that Iraq would give any WMD to a terrorist, or attempt to use them on American soil. In spite of what the president says, these things can be traced. I'm tired of the specter of a mushroom cloud as the smoking gun. Think about it: sustained inspections will make it impossible for Saddam to enrich his own uranium. If he ever finds any, he's going to have to get it from somewhere else, and should he acquire weapons-grade nuclear material he wouldn't get a whole lot. Enough for one or two bombs maybe. Why would Hussein hand over his geopolitical bargaining chip to a terrorist radical with his own agenda not under Saddam's control? He wants it for deterrance against invasion, against "regime change."

If we attack their nation with the stated goal of removing the current regime, all hold are barred, we open the gates of hell. Here's my fear. I live in New York City. If there is war, I see myself as being placed in harm's way for no good reason. I have reasons for not going to war, and I don't see me or my friends and neighbors gaining anything thought this conflict. I see a tinhorn dictator and an oppressed people, and I see viable alternative courses of action.

When it comes down to it, that's our fundamental departure: he sees a viscious pan-Arab anti-American movement hell-bent on killing as many of us as possible, and all-out war as the only means of dealing with the threat. I see a lot of fragmented fringe groups that have gripes against us, and I see peaceful options of adressing the threat they present.

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Trips

Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

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