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The war with Iraq: Taking a better grip...

by Greg Swann

I had a good deal of mail about 'Getting a grip on the war with Iraq.' I liked the ideas in the original weblog entry so much that I turned the thing into a stand-alone essay that was published to my mailing list and usenet. It's stored on my website for permanence, but it's not outrageously different from the weblog version; if you've read either version, there is no need to read the other. If you haven't read either, read the essay version; it's more thoroughgoing and has cooler Latin. And a naked monkey.

One note came from Michael--and I should note that, because of the volatility of the subjects we cover here, I protect the anonymity of my correspondents unless I know for sure they want the publicity. Michael is replying to the weblog entry:

I came across your blog and web site after reading a comment you made about one of Arthur Silber's essays. I've only read a bit so far, and was interested to see your remarks about why the United States will shortly be at war. Having dismissed the "reasons" of the con brigade as "rationales" and the reasons of the pro brigade as "equally false", you write that the real reason is "In order to scare the shit out of the world, generally, and Islam in particular". Now for me that is a sufficient reason to go ahead with the war, perfectly moral based on sound Objectivist principles (outlaw state, etc). But that is MY reason; is it the same reason that will animate say, George W. Bush and his advisors when they issues the orders? In other words, is their reason identical to my reason? No, because their ethics are different, radically so. I suspect that, as altruists, they'd be appalled at the idea of war on Iraq being little more than an exercise in exemplary punishment, pour encourager les autres. Or do you mean that, subconsciously, shit-scaring is really their reason, even though they either don't know it or won't admit it?

From my perspective, they'll be doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Alas, I think it's a wrong thing, but I think they're fully conscious of their motives. I differ from all of statism, from all of minarchism and from all of anarchism in that I do not agree that it can ever be just to visit more than like-for-like upon an offender. I understand the utilitarian argument that, since it is impossible to catch 100% of all offenders, to achieve a desired outcome similar to a 100% effective like-for-like policy, one must punish the offender unlucky enough to be caught for more than would be his just, proportionate due. The problem I have is that, whatever is the desired outcome, it is not owed by the offender. He owes the undoing of what he has done, nothing more. I actually have much greater objections to retributive dispute resolution, but I was beating up on the anti-war protesters when I wrote this:
Principled protesters can surely find cause to object to this injustice--provided they are willing to reject the exact same premises as they are applied to domestic criminal prosecution.
Of course those who uphold disproportionate punishment of criminals would also support disproportionate punishment of criminal states. In this, minarchists and Objectivists are not far removed from most conservatives.

Nevertheless, I think the planners of this war are working from a different argument. Rather than seeking the emotional satisfaction of smiting the wicked, or the utilitarian balm of healing all wounds rather than just those for which an offender is captured, I think the planners of this war are coldly pragmatic. They seek to secure the maximum obtainable quantity of safety from terrorism for Americans--and for capitalist-like countries generally as a side benefit--at the absolute minimum cost in military pyrotechnics. I believe this is a studied, strategic calculation, and I believe that is why Iraq is the target--because she is easy pickings compared to the other countries I named--Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and China.

And whoever is right about this, you may be assured of one thing: No one involved will ever tell us the truth!

Another thoughtful note came from someone who prefers to be known only as a Department of Defense Mid-East Analyst. You'll have to judge his pedigree by the quality of his thinking. This is a reply to the essay version, wherein the scatological reference quoted above has gone straight to 'hell':

Definitely an interesting article, and as stated, some brilliant - but definitely debatable - insights. The one I liked best was Mr. Swann's real reason for the impending war with Iraq:
In order to scare the hell out of the world, generally, and Islam in particular.
The Bush Doctrine, which will never be enunciated except by explosion, is this: "We will hurt you a _lot_ worse than you can ever hurt us. We don't need to use _our_ police to catch your terrorists, because you are going to catch them yourselves, to avoid being the sequel to this made-for-TV war."
I must admit this is intriguing, and is a reason I had not considered. I like it alot, and I'd like to see this theory work, but sadly I don't think it will in many locales, for the following reasons:

This theory assumes that Arab/Islamic nations that would harbor, train, or otherwise be sympathetic to fundamentalist terrorists would respond logically to a devastating U.S. attack on Iraq and would expel/arrest/neutralize fundamentalist terrorists in their midst. I disagree. This did not occur in Afghanistan when "W" gave his ultimatum to the Taliban, and it has not really happened in any other Islamic nations that currently support fundamentalist terrorists even after they all saw what befell the Taliban.

In my studies of Arabs/Islamic culture, a few constants always emerge. Arabs are generally extreme denialists, and are almost always unencumbered by the laws of logical thinking. For example, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Arabs held almost all the cards, yet were decisively crushed by a completely surrounded adversary that was far numerically inferior. This war was, by any objective account, one of the most one-sided, thorough ass-whippings ever administered in modern military history. The miracle of this outcome is recognized and celebrated in Israel every year, giving it the reverence it is due. The Arabs simply refer to it as "the setback". Talk about spin control.

Muslims (generally) also believe that their expulsion from Spain by the Catholic forces of Queen Isabella (over 500 years ago now, I believe) is temporary, and that they will one day reconquer the Iberian peninsula. My point is that any theory that relies on logic will likely be useless against most Arab and some Islamic cultures, because they refuse to see the obvious, and cling to hopeless worldviews that dovetail with the Quran and what they want rather than what reflects the actual situation on the ground.

Perhaps Mr. Swann's theory might work in Turkey (not Arab, and largely secular) or Iran (also not Arab, and has a large Western-educated population), or maybe Indonesia, but it's unlikely to work in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, etc., which are home to many rabidly anti-American elements.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who is Arab or Muslim, I am just making an honest assessment of Mr. Swann's work.

Leaving to the side the question of the morality of making war on Iraq to 'teach a lesson' to others, I think this analysis is sound. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the incuriosity of Islamic epistemology leads Muslims to comical errors, such as the belief in the immanent recovery of Andalusia from Spain. It is reasonable to argue that countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen are unlikely to learn the lesson of Iraq, no matter how effectively it is taught. On the other hand, I think it is also reasonable to suppose that the most Wahabi-infested of Islamic states will be 'regime-changed' soon after Iraq. And whatever the new regimes know or do about liberty, they will have caught on to what will happen if they don't catch terrorists.

And the lesson will not be lost on Europe and other capitalist-like countries, America's pretend-equals in world affairs. The United States is going to use Iraq to demonstrate a simple fact that other nations have sought to obscure since the collapse of the Soviet Union: America is not just the pre-eminent world power, we are, for now at least, an invincible world power. Without doubt, President George Bush will continue to 'walk softly' with the United Nations and other multi-national entities. But that's simply because he is carrying a very, very 'big stick.'

Again, one need not endorse this to acknowledge it. We are watching U.S. foreign policy graduate into the reality of a post-Soviet world: We can whip any of 'em, and all of 'em all at once, if necessary. I expect this to be made very plain by the war in Iraq, not just by incredible destruction, but by incredible destruction from hi-tech weapons our enemies and allies have never even seen before. Missile-shield technology won't work? Watch it pop artillery shells mid-air. You might just do us some damage, if you could only manage to hit us. Neither the President nor Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will gloat--out loud. But every television set in the world will be flooded with America's unanswerable martial gloat.

And while I am certain my analyst correspondent is better equipped to judge these matters than I am, there are two thoughts nagging at me that may have bearing on the debate:

First, nukes. And second, China. More than once, the Bush administration has warned that it is willing to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. The ever-pragmatic war planners would require a suitable pretext for nuking Iraq, but the progress of the weapons inspection regimen suggests that they will prove themselves adept at discovering pretexts as needed. And, to be effective, a nuclear detonation in Iraq need not damage anything except the retinas of stunned television viewers; Iraq is a vast country, almost entirely empty. But the message, never enunciated in words, will be unmistakable: "Like hell we won't!"

And the ultimate beneficiary of all this theater will be China. China the nuclear power. China the ICBM power. China the space power. The United States surely hopes to reap war on terrorism benefits from the War on Terror: By putting out Baghdad's lights, literally and figuratively, she will put Islam on notice either to clean up its act or to have it cleaned up. But the one country on earth that still has the means and the will to actually hurt America is Red China, and I think we have to presume that everything the armed forces of the United States do is intended to communicate with the Chinese.

I think the purpose of the forthcoming war with Iraq is to scare the countries sane enough to be scared, to replace the rulers of insane regimes, and--first, last and always--to persuade the Chinese to make money, not missiles.

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