Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Road to Hell

Let’s begin with a parable; the parable of ‘the boy, the bird and the stone’.

A small child throws a stone and kills a songbird. The child might not have intended to kill the bird; perhaps he meant only to chase it away or practice his throwing arm. Whatever the intent, whatever the boy’s motive, the bird remains dead. The Audubon Society would care nothing about the child’s motives. And neither would the bird.

The Brookings institution is a well-known Washington think-tank upon which many administrations of the US government have depended for non-partisan research for almost a century. Kenneth M. Pollack is the Director of Research at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He is an expert on national security, military affairs and the Persian Gulf, was Director for Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council and spent seven years in the CIA as a Persian Gulf military analyst.

In an article posted on the Brookings website on March 16, 2008, Mr Pollack had this to say:
“If we leave behind a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms, then no one will care how well-intentioned our motives.”

How well-intentioned our motives? Motives?

Mr Pollack, with all due respect, please re-read your statement. Note the words “…a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein…” and the part where you say “and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms…”.

If that is a proper assessment of the situation in Iraq – and I think that it is, with little room for disagreement – what does it matter what our motives were?

A recent World Health Organisation report estimated that 151,000 civilian Iraqi men, women and children were killed between March 20, 2003 and June 2006. The estimated number of civilian Iraqis killed by violence in 2007 is in the neighborhood of 22,000 to 24,000 according to Iraq Body Count, a British firm dedicated to making this grim tally. Do you expect the surviving family members of the 175,000 Iraqis killed as a result of American foreign policy to care a whit about the motives of the US?

Neither the Brookings Institution, the Pentagon nor even the Red Cross/Red Crescent, to my knowledge, have offered an estimate of the number of Iraqi men, women and children wounded since the onset of the invasion. (Here’s quite the party killing parlor game: Pick a number. Twice those killed? Three times the number killed? Four times? A factor of 10?) What do the wounded and suffering care if our intentions were well-meant?

The ICRC states “five years after the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world. Because of the conflict, millions of Iraqis have insufficient access to clean water, sanitation and health care. The current crisis is exacerbated by the lasting effects of previous armed conflicts and years of economic sanctions.” The once developing nation of Iraq has been reduced to the dire, retched state of one of the poorest third world countries. Will the children dying of thirst and dysentery in the shell of a bombed out neighborhood clinic pause to weigh the pros and cons of our intentions?

Please, Mr Pollack, tell me what had the Bush administration intended when they rail-roaded the US Congress and the American people into this illegal war? The term ‘well-intentioned motive’ does not spring to my mind. ‘War profiteering’ does and that’s a matter that should be discussed along with war crimes and war reparations, but let’s leave that for another time.

To his credit, Mr Pollack has belatedly seen the light. Or at least, he’s caught a glimpse, for he goes on with this carefully worded under-statement, “…what I most wish I had understood before the invasion was the reckless arrogance of the Bush administration.” He then calls the Bush administration’s handling of the war “clumsy, careless and rash”. Clearly, Mr Pollack now thinks, like the majority of Americans, that waging war in Iraq was a blunder.

Better late than never?

Now, presumably, he and his fellow Saban Center intellectuals will spend months or years ciphering the tactics, strategies and operations to deduce where the fatal errors lay that lead to yet another less-than-successful, though valiant American crusade to bring the gift of freedom and democracy to an oppressed people.

Better luck next time?

The greater issue Mr Pollack and most of his profession seem blissfully oblivious to, however, is precisely the one which should be triggering red flag alerts and setting off klaxons and sirens of warning. Most of the rest of the world is aware of it. Much of the world resents it. Some of the world hates us for it. Some hate it enough to fly planes into buildings and blow themselves up in crowded markets to express their resentment and hatred for it. The issue referred to is not ‘our love of freedom’. It is not ‘our noble vision of a democratic world’. It is not our magnanimity, our wealth, our life-style, our sports heroes, our films or our music. The issue that gets under the skin of the rest of the world is the self-deluded, self-righteous, self-serving credo that the government of the US, while capable of the most egregious acts, is nevertheless motivated by only the most high-minded of intentions and ipso facto should be excused for its various transgressions.

(‘Transagressions’ is the euphemism that would be preferred in polite company. To come closer to the truth as understood by much of the rest of the world, transgressions should be read as ‘crimes against humanity’. Anyone with a shred of moral integrity need only recall Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti and Panama for past examples of such ‘transgressions’. )

It is said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That might be, but the larger paving stones on the road to hell are undoubtedly greed, murder, torture, corruption and hubris.

http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/0316_iraq_pollack.aspx

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22537.pdf

http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/iraq-report-170308

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