Back in 2001, shortly after 9/11, I remember seeing rhetoric about how the U.S invasion of Afghanistan was going to liberate Afghanistan’s women. Various “gay conservatives” claimed that a U.S. invasion would be good for Afghanistan’s gays, too. Likewise, various gay neocons thought the U.S. military was going to bring human rights to Iraq as well.
Some have belatedly changed their minds, at least about Iraq.
Lesbian Muslim reformer Irshad Manji writes, in a post titled George W. Bush, icon of the multicultural Left:
On November 23, NBC Nightly News aired a story about women in Iraq becoming the targets of murder by Shiite fanatics. The TV story pointed out that even police are too afraid to investigate these killings.
What a damning indictment of my own belief that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would lead to a better human rights scene in Iraq. I’m embarrassed but honest about how wrong I was.
It’s good to see someone willing to admit she was wrong. Sorry to rub it in, but I do wonder how she managed to make the mistake she describes below:
Here’s one of the reasons I got it so wrong: I assumed the Bush administration would forge ties with Iraq’s most consistent champions of democracy — secularists and feminists. Any serious alliance with them would have ensured that the new Iraqi constitution gives civil law more prominence than religious law. This, in turn, would have put Muslim fanatics on notice that they can’t get away with human rights violations by invoking Islam as cover. But the exact opposite has happened. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have adopted Sharia supremacy clauses in their constitutions, with the blessing of the Bushies.
Well, of course. What I’m wondering here is why on Earth anyone would ever have expected Bush, of all people, to form an alliance with feminists and secularists. Remember, he was elected with the help of the Religious Right Wing. Bush sure isn’t an ally of feminists and secularists here in the United States; so, why should anyone have expected him to be an ally of feminists and secularists anywhere else?
Furthermore, the U.S. government has a long history of aiding Islamist militants, starting with the Soviet-Afghan war, and continuing in various parts of the former Soviet Untion and in the Balkans, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. See the following, on the Cooperative Research site:
- The use of Islamist militants by American and Israeli militarists
- Al-Qaeda in the Balkans
- Saudi Arabia
In fact, aid to Islamist regimes and movements seems to have played a key role in U.S. imperial geostrategy up until 9/11/2001. And, guess what? It seems to have continued even after 9/11. See also Iraq & Iran on Jared Israel’s website “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Let’s now look at the Slate article How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? by Andrew Sullivan, a well-known gay neocon writer. One of his confessed errors is this:
As a child of the Cold War and a proud Reaganite and Thatcherite, I regarded 1989 as almost eternal proof of the notion that the walls of tyranny could fall if we had the will to bring them down and the gumption to use military power when we could. I had also been marinated in neoconservative thought for much of the 1990s and seen the moral power of Western intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo.
I don’t see the Western interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo as having had “moral power.” On the contrary, they were one-sided interventions in a situation where atrocities were being committed on both sides, with one side being demonized in the Western mass media and too few people questioning it. In fact, in all the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. government and NATO sided with Islamist, clerical-fascist, and neo-Nazi-influenced separatist movements against a far less fascistic Serbia.
For more about this matter, see Jared Israel’s writings on Yugoslavia. Note: Jared Israel is far more of a pro-Serbia partisan than I am. For example, I’m not inclined to agree with his denial of the Srebrenica massacre, for which I’m inclined to think there’s enough evidence that it really did happen. But it’s possible that some other alleged Serbian atrocities may have been faked, and it definitely is true that Slobodan Milosevic has been unfairly demonized. (For example, a 1989 speech of his has been described as viciously nationalistic, when in fact it was anything but.) On the other hand, atrocities by the separatist movements against Serbians were under-reported in the Western mass media.
I’ve always regarded the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia as extremely murky in terms of any attempt to figure out who started them or who the worst aggressors really were. To this day, many aspects of these conflicts remain a mystery to me.
But I’ve never trusted the war propaganda in the Western media, especially regarding Bosnia and Kosovo. One thing I did notice, from the very beginning, was that these conflicts were yet another example of the U.S. government’s longstanding and very strange pattern of siding with Islamists.
Why has the U.S. government been so fond of Islamists? I’m not sure. Back in the 1980’s, Islamists were used as a weapon against the Soviet Union. I suspect that many folks in the U.S. ruling class, and in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, may still see Islamists as a lesser evil compared to the remaining Communist countries. Why? Perhaps because Islamists, unlike Communists, don’t have a problem with huge disparities in wealth.
Anyhow, if there’s one lesson I think we should all learn from the Iraq war, it’s that we should never trust war propaganda. The U.S. ruling class wages wars for its own self-interested reasons. The stated reasons, as popularized in the mass media, are almost never the same as the real reasons. The stated reasons are always nice and ethical-sounding. The real reasons are amoral.
Andrew Sullivan says, on page 2 of his article:
Yes, the incompetence and arrogance were beyond anything I imagined. …
But my biggest misreading was not about competence. Wars are often marked by incompetence. It was a fatal misjudgment of Bush’s sense of morality. I had no idea he was so complacent—even glib—about the evil that good intentions can enable. I truly did not believe that Bush would use 9/11 to tear up the Geneva Conventions. When I first heard of abuses at Gitmo, I dismissed them as enemy propaganda. I certainly never believed that a conservative would embrace torture as the central thrust of an anti-terror strategy and lie about it, and scapegoat underlings for it, and give us the indelible stain of Bagram and Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib and all the other secret torture and interrogation sites that Bush and Cheney created and oversaw. I certainly never believed that a war I supported for the sake of freedom would actually use as its central weapon the deepest antithesis of freedom—the destruction of human autonomy and dignity and will that is torture. To distort this by shredding the English language, by engaging in newspeak that I had long associated with totalitarian regimes, was a further insult. And for me, it was yet another epiphany about what American conservatism had come to mean.
I know our enemy is much worse. I have never doubted that. I still have no qualms whatever in waging war to defeat it. But I never believed that America would do what America has done. Never. My misjudgment at the deepest moral level of what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were capable of—a misjudgment that violated the moral core of the enterprise—was my worst mistake. What the war has done to what is left of Iraq—the lives lost, the families destroyed, the bodies tortured, the civilization trashed—was bad enough. But what was done to America—and the meaning of America—was unforgivable.
In my view, politicians are almost always amoral and will do what they can get away with. Bush promoted torture because he could get away with it. He got away with it because, as of yet, there is no one able and willing hold him accountable. Because the U.S. is now the world’s only superpower, there is no international body with the power to try Bush for war crimes. On the other hand, within the U.S., the Democrats don’t have a big enough majority in both houses of Congress to remove him from office via impeachment.
In my opinion, we, the American people, must demand that Bush, Cheney, et al be indicted for their crimes. Otherwise, future presidents will only get worse.
To demand this, we will need an organized mass movement. Alas, it will probably be very difficult to build such a mass movement. Most Americans probably don’t care all that terribly much about what is done to foreign accused terrorists. As Martin Niemoller famously said, regarding the Nazis:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Andrew Sullivan says, back on page 1 of his article:
For most of my adult lifetime, I had heard those on the left decry American military power, constantly warn of quagmires, excuse what I regarded as inexcusable tyrannies, and fail to grasp that the nature of certain regimes makes their removal a moral objective.
I wouldn’t say that there is anything abstractly “wrong” with removing a severely oppressive regime. The problem is that doing so by means of war is, in most cases, unlikely to result in much if any improvement, unless we’re willing and able to commit ourselves to a very intensive and expensive postwar occupation. Furthermore, war itself is a horror, not to be engaged in lightly. Worse yet, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, we simply cannot count on our government to fulfill an alleged moral objective, once it goes to war.
If we want to influence the rest of the world toward modern Western secular values, it is far better for us to do so by peaceful means.
Back to Irshad Manji. She then goes on to complain about the U.S. government’s lack of condemnation of a notorious Saudi rape case. Well, the U.S. government has always been exceedingly cozy with the king of Saudi Arabia, despite (or perhaps because of?) that country’s notorious barbarity. What else is new? All the more so is this true of the Bush family, with its history of investment in Saudi Arabia. Oil wealth trumps everything.
Yes, this is horrible. But it’s not even slightly surprising. Why is Irshad Manji surprised?
We cannot and should not count on the U.S. government to enforce modern Western values around the world. If we wish to influence the rest of the world toward modern Western values, we can do so only by building a voluntary mass movement.