2013-09-05

Coming To Terms With Reality

On Tuesday, James Taranto from The Best of the Web Today published a thoughtful article in which he described why he came to believe the Iraq War was a mistake, and why he thinks Syria is similarly foolhardy. The whole article is a worthy read, of course, but there are some excellent standouts that set this article apart from similar articles written by others. As Taranto writes,
This is not going to be one of those columns in which we repudiate wholesale our position back then, as no small number of former Iraq war supporters have done. That posture has always struck us as pusillanimous (abandoning one popular position for another), pointless (for one cannot annul an already-fought war), and intellectually lazy.
He then states that "no philosophical breakthroughs have occurred" to change his mind, but that the Iraq War is simply an empirical failure that leads him to believe that similar enterprises are likewise doomed. I'd like to briefly risk pusillanimity, pointlessness, and intellectual laziness by outlining my own philosophical change of heart regarding the Iraq War.

In 2003, when the US government began to make the case for invading Iraq, I was twenty-two years old and suffered from what I now believe to be a terrible naivete. I believed the reports that Saddam Hussein had previously gased the Kurds (which were true), and I acknowledged the plain fact that Hussein stood in defiance of the relevant UN treaties and was acting as an aggressor toward Israel by providing military supplies to the Palestinian regime and otherwise verbally stoking the embers of that conflict. Based on these facts - not on the prospect of WMD - I reasoned that ousting Hussein was within the legitimate purview of a combined UN force. When the UN declined to do so, I considered this to be the UN's failure to meet its mandate. The resulting invasion by "the coalition of the willing" was a military engagement I viewed to be a tragedy of international resolve, that France and Russia had plunged the rest of the world into an unnecessarily protracted occupation when a swift, limited, and targeted attack on Iraq would have done the job.

While many conservative readers may find this point of view reasonably well-balanced and will fail to see its naivete, the truth is that history has proven this perspective horrendously wrong. Over the last decade, I have come around to the idea that two acts of governmental illegitimacy do not add up to legitimate war. What I mean is that I continue to believe that Hussein's actions were aggressive, tyrannical, and wrong, but that I now believe that any right claimed by the United States or the United Nations to deploy forces to oust such a leader are no less aggressive, tyrannical, and wrong than the actions of Hussein.

The world has begun to look to me a lot like it looks in the history books that describe the years leading up to World War I. Coalitions of Western governments are playing war games, picking and choosing which lesser country's leaders are to be considered "legitimate" and which are not. Those leaders that are not accepted by the international community are not just ostracized or hit with trade sanctions. They are struck down with military force. On a grand scale, this is no different than the growing number of instances in which the police gun down suspects rather than bringing them to trial.

It is the vain presumption of political legitimacy and superiority on the part of the Western governments that worries me. Just as Obama knew what was best for us plebes with respect to his health care endeavor, so he knows what's best for us regarding Syria. Even worse, he seems to also know what's best for the Syrians. For all the horrible reports of violence coming out of Syria, I cannot point to a single report that outlines why the US, specifically, should be involved, or why it is the Obama Administration that is most capable of deciding which side is to be supported and which side to be punished in that civil war.

Nor do I feel comfortable supporting Russia's position as lone dissenter. Putin's record of political legitimacy is of course far worse than Obama's, and some would even put him on par with Assad. I doubt his motives in opposing a US invasion are noble in any way, shape, or form. On a philosophical level, his presumption of legitimacy is no less audacious and preposterous as Obama's.

Recently, The Crimson Reach asked (rhetorically), "Wouldn't it be terrible if Americans could stop America from going to war?" His point is a good one, and its rhetorical implication is one that I find truly haunting: What if it's impossible for the American public to prevent its government from invading a foreign country? We all agree that war on Syria, regardless of how "limited" the Administration would like it to be, is an awful idea, wrong for our country, and probably wrong for the world.

But what if our central government is so powerful that it simply doesn't matter what the people want? What then? What if the people's tenuous grasp on its "democracy" has already slipped, and we're only now discovering the tyranny under which we're all living?