Second Thoughts, First Principles

A couple of tedious paragraphs into her paean to George Bush, scribbler Suzanne Fields divulges triumphantly that she hangs with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. These two Beltway Babes got together last week to dish “over a Danish and a cup of black coffee.” Their tête-à-tête inspired a serenade for the man whose testes, says satirist Jon Stewart, are now so large as to be visible from outer space.

These are heady days for neoconservatives like Fields, their “crusade for democracy” in the Middle East having, apparently, been vindicated. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who never stopped whooping it up for the war, expressed the prevailing wisdom in his best (unconsciously) Orwellian manner: “War leads to peace.”

While the neocons crow, the liberals defect in droves. Comedy Central’s Stewart (a non-defective lefty) said in near despair, “They might have been right.” The usually intelligent Richard Cohen was so stirred, he burst into a ditty for democracy. And the band plays on.

Not that the Second War Between the States is over just yet. Scarborough summed up with the signature simple-mindedness red-staters have sought – and found – in Bush: “The Democratic Party, the Arab Street, the broadcast networks, National Public Radio, an odd assortment of college professors, and a slew of other pseudo-intellectuals join the motley crew of left wing elites who, by ignoring historical trends, became sad parodies of themselves.”

There’s a problem with Scarborough’s taxonomy of losers. He has left out those on the Right – libertarians, paleolibertarians, and Old School conservatives – who opposed the war for principled reasons. But this is the strategy (as popular among liberals as it is among neocons): forget principles, knocking down straw men is just too much fun.

At the coffeehouse, over that Danish, our neocon crumpets concluded that Dubya’s preemptive invasion of Iraq (Rice termed it “the policy”) had lit the fuse of freedom under Middle Eastern hides. However, the certainty of ditzes dissolves when exposed to moral – and careful – considerations.

In Iraq, now a lawless failed state, dames don’t congregate over Danish – they duck and dive to avoid bombs and bandits. (Amnesty International’s report is here.) Neither is it that obvious that Iraq will be freer when the elected majorities – the Shi’ite Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq – come to grips with their democratic empowerment. But when that time arrives, I trust Fields will relocate her edgy reporting from the café to the field … in Iraq. (And don’t forget your abaya, Suzanne. I have a nasty feeling that, like body armor, it’ll be for years to come a de rigueur accouterment of freedom in liberated Iraq.)

Like others of her ilk, Fields has hurrahed recent developments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. But in the Middle East (bar Israel and perhaps Lebanon), The Street is far more radical than the strongmen in power. In her joyous delirium, Fields probably failed to notice that anti-Western militant Islamists walloped pro-Western moderate reformers in the limited municipal elections permitted in Saudi Arabia. As Time reported, the restricted elections in the Kingdom saw Islamic hardliners outpoll nearly 650 other candidates. And the sight of the Shi’ite Hezbollah Party, half a million strong, flexing its political muscle in Beirut earlier this month didn’t warm the cockles of this heart. I guess Condi could always remove Hezbollah from our list of terrorist organizations so the delirium could continue unabated.

Will the neocon sorority applaud when Hosni Mubarak is forced into allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to assume its rightful place in the “nascent” Egyptian democracy? I won’t: the Brotherhood murdered the peacemaker Anwar Sadat, begat Hamas, and has fomented revolution throughout the Islamic crescent – Algeria, Syria, Sudan, you name it.

These fabulous prospects notwithstanding, Geoffrey Wheatcroft of the Guardian thinks that linking the ripples in the Middle East to Bush’s conquest of Iraq is simple post hoc ergo prompter hoc. He asks, “Primitive peoples suffering from drought put a maiden to death and the rains come. Did the human sacrifice change the weather?” Shouldn’t the Bush boosters, then, put the breaks on the bombast? A case-by-case examination of the so-called thaw in the Middle East certainly supports circumspection.

Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution”was ignited by the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The semi-kosher elections in the Palestinian Authority were facilitated by the death of Arafat. Mahmoud Abbas, however, may be hanging on by the hair of his chinny chin chin. Hamas is immensely popular in the PA. Its decision to boycott the elections significantly diminished voter turnout. Abbas’ embrace of democracy is not likely to diminish the standing of these terrorists among Palestinians.

Still, I happen to agree somewhat with the neocons that Bush’s brute force in the Middle East has probably played a part in the brute facts developing on the ground. But the case against the invasion doesn’t rest on denying what can’t be denied: bullying and bludgeoning do have outcomes.

The relevant questions are: What kind of outcomes and at what cost?

In the Middle East, majority rule may well unleash a pack of wolverines, as Radley Balko puts it. Sadly, Americans (and our Fearless Leader) are capable of grasping only a Disneyfied version of majority rule, not the Middle Eastern version. This is why they doggedly conflate democracy with freedom, and “the freedom to vote” with liberty. Here’s a useful tip for Fields: voting is synonymous with freedom only if strict limits are placed on the powers of elected officials and only if individual rights are respected. Forget the Magic Kingdom; these conditions do not obtain in the Saudi Kingdom – to give but one example.

It’s indisputable that Bush, much aided by laptop bombardiers like Fields, has won the war – if “winning” means “spinning.” However, the crucial thing to bear in mind is that, even if the aftershocks of the invasion were irrefutably beneficial – and they are anything but – they wouldn’t expunge the Original Sin. In Bushite theology, any injustice is pardonable so long as, in retrospect, some good can be attached to it.

And make no mistake, the invasion of Iraq was an injustice.

Consequence-based “morality” doesn’t alter the reality that the attack on Iraq flunks every ethical consideration I can imagine. The Just War criterion for preemptive war allows one to attack someone who would otherwise directly attack you. Iraq, a Third World wreck of a place, halfway around the world, posed no such danger to the American superpower or to any American ally. On just cause, Alex Moseley, Ph.D., adds, “Aggressive war is only permissible if its purpose is to retaliate against a wrong already committed (e.g., to pursue and punish an aggressor), or to preempt an anticipated attack.” So Bush had no just cause. The invasion certainly flouted the libertarian (or classical liberal) axiom that prohibits aggression against non-aggressors. And it flouted the Christian duty to do no harm to one’s neighbors.

Nevertheless, Tim Russert, “good” Catholic that he is, has recently absolved himself and his media colleagues for not getting it right on the war. But contrary to Russert’s intellectually dishonest claims, there were plenty of authoritative and able people who could have assisted him and his colleagues, intellectually and morally. There were other ways to deal with whatever problem Iraq presented, and there were other people who knew how.

Back to the crumpets. After having prayed the requisite number of “Hail Caesars,” Fields finally gets a little perspective. She warns that “the spirit of Patrick Henry has not emerged in Lebanon,” and that “Mahmoud Abbas is no Thomas Jefferson.” True, but Genghis Bush is no Thomas Jefferson, either. Bush’s war also flouted what the Founding Fathers established and bequeathed. A limited, constitutional republican government is, by definition, incompatible with the hegemon America has become. And a government is guilty of treason when it conscripts its own people and their property in the service of other nations.

Nothing nullifies the eternal verities that the Founders (of whom Fields is justly proud) spoke. Remember John Quincy Adams?

“She [America] well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. … She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

“Children learn the fundamental principles of natural law at a very early age,” observed another great American, Lysander Spooner. “Thus they very early understand that one child must not, without just cause, strike or otherwise hurt, another; that one child must not assume any arbitrary control or domination over another; that one child must not, either by force, deceit, or stealth, obtain possession of anything that belongs to another. … These are fundamental principles of natural law, which govern the most important transactions of man with man. Yet children learn them earlier than they learn that three and three are six, or five and five ten.”

The Bush administration is less clever than the merest child, for it believes it has discovered “something better than truth, and justice, and universal law.” The deplorable achievement of Fields and her fellow travelers is to have persuaded Americans to adopt the same conceit.