A fter 9 months of TV-free studies at college, I spent a solid week of vacation in front of the set and its only source of “intellect”: cable news.
Boy, was I spoiled! My only exposure to world news in those 9 months came from Antiwar.com, Google News, NPR and my local newspaper in Wisconsin. From this, I suspect I gathered more information than anyone who spent twenty-four hours glued to any cable news network. My mind was a tabula rasa, so to speak, in preparation for the onslaught on cable commentary.The shows include Hardball, Scarborough County, The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes. Enticing titles, eh? Each show had its own flavor, but one common theme arose from the discussions with the “antiwar” guests. It involved a simple question posed by the commentators, usually prefaced by, “Ok, answer me this”:
Isn’t the world better off with Saddam out of power?
Well DUH! At this point, the commentator has the look of a prosecuting attorney throwing the unanswerable at a defendant:
“Were you not at the beachhouse at 1am (throws down picture of defendant at said beach house)?”
The “antiwar” pundits were just as shocked as this fictional defendant. However, I gather this was not due to the intellectual depth of the question, rather its panoply of presuppositions. However, I am not going to go there today, for many have already addressed these questions. See Harry Browne, John B. Judis, Jacob Hornberger, Bart Frazier or Justin Raimondo.
I am going to address the empirical claims that supposedly back up this rhetorical question. It is reasonable to look at Iraq, the world and America ex post, and surmise if they are truly “better off” (I admit, an impossible calculation, but I am lowering to their level for the moment). Below I will divide the question into three spheres: ‘are the Iraqis better off?’, ‘is the world better off?’ and ‘are Americans better off?’.
Iraq after Saddam seems a wonderful place: a tyrant is gone and his ruthless political party is in shambles. Realistically though, starvation, violence, disorder, looting and occupation still hamper Iraqi society. But hey, they should suck it up, because now they are free…
- Saddam Backers Regain Role in Government
- In Reversal, Plan for Iraq Self-Rule Has Been Put Off
- US Military Tells Iraqis to Turn in All Guns or Face Arrest
- Remains of Toxic Bullets Litter Iraq
- Fear of Baghdad Unrest Prompts a Halt in Sending Troops Home
- In Baghdad, a Surge in Homicides
- Iraq Body Count Continues to Rise
- Looting ‘Hampers Medical Aid’
- Disorder Deepens in Liberated Baghdad
- Cholera Threat in Basra
- U.S. Under Fire for Use of Cluster Bombs in Iraq
- UN: Iraq in Danger of Starvation
- US Defends Plan to ‘Occupy’ Iraq
- Fury Rises in Baghdad as Drugs Return to the Alleys
Despite this growing list, one may retort: “You are just focusing on the bad. What about the good? Perhaps it outweighs these problems.” Well, I found one: Bush Proposes Mideast Free-Trade Zone.(1)
Each one of these stories taken from one week of news can be traced to the war on Iraq. Bush and the supporters of the war must weigh these costs in the same manner as they demand antiwar advocates weigh the costs of leaving things be.
Recall that Bush and Co. claimed the world would be a safer with Saddam and his WMD gone. A brief look at the listing below demonstrates that the world may have more nuclear threats, more terrorism and less political harmony after the war:
- Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq
- Morocco Hit by Multiple Car Bombs, 40 Killed
- 7 Iraq Nuclear Sites Looted
- US Says al-Qaida Still Poses Threat
- Rumsfeld: No Idea Where Bin Laden Is
- Al Qaeda May Be Back, and Stronger
- A Nuclear Road of No Return
- Door Opened for New Era of Nukes
- War in Iraq Has Affected US Alliances
- Kurdish Ferment in Liberated Iraq Has Turks Concerned
The administration spent months insisting that the threat from Saddam was imminent. Also, it claimed that with Saddam out of power the risk of terrorism would necessarily be lower and finally, weapons of mass destruction would be destroyed. Ironically, it is now the administration that is planning to reinstate a nuclear program after finding none in Iraq:
- Western Compounds in Saudi Attacked, Many Casualties
- The American Taxpayer Is Paying Dearly to Be Attacked by Terrorists
- Chronic Budget Deficits Forecast
- US Warns of New Terrorist Onslaught
- Rumsfeld: ‘Impossible’ to Know How Long US Will Stay in Iraq
- Officials Warn Americans of More Attacks
- Iraq Disorder Worries Senators; Rumsfeld Acknowledges Problems
- American Empire: Not ‘If’ But ‘What Kind’
Now, I can hear a counter to my argument: “It has only been a little more than a month since the war ended have patience!” Well, the war in Afghanistan ended, what, a year ago? Let’s see how things are over there…
- No Light in the Afghan Tunnel
- Afghanistan Seen Far from Stability Under Karzai
- U.S. Troops Still Active in Afghanistan
- A Job Half-Done in Afghanistan
- Afghan Factional Fighting Leaves 38 Civilians Dead
- Fighting Not Over in Afghanistan
This is but a sampling of the constant news coming under the radar concerning the chaos in Afghanistan (check out “Eye on Afghanistan” for more). It seems that American “liberation and stabilization” brings in its wake a different form of chaos and death. Clearly, the task at hand in Iraq is many times more complicated and immense than that in Afghanistan. As Chris Sciabarra explains:
Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and others.
Now, we may return to the question initially posed: “Isn’t the world better off because of the ‘victory’ in Iraq and Saddam Hussein out of power?” The above small sample of news demonstrates things are not so crystal clear. I am far from arguing that we should put Saddam back in power. Instead, why don’t the war’s supporters justify it on principle or morality, rather than shaky and sometimes dubious empirical claims? Indeed, only then will their arguments for war reach some level of respectable rhetoric.
My challenge to those who pen my hate mail is this: make a comparable list of pre-Iraq war news that is now nonexistent because of the war on Iraq. I imagine this is an insurmountable task. If you send me “Saddam is a tyrant no more” stories, you better send me ALL the other tyrant stories in the world, and start screaming for perpetual war.
Finally, some will contend that these costs of war as I have delineated are “expected” and “reasonable.” This sounds quite similar to Madeline Albright’s frightening claim that the death of Iraqi children due to sanctions was “worth it.” *shiver* The American government currently in the business of “liberating” the oppressed now decides when we are all “better off.”
Instead, let’s allow Iraqis and Americans decide themselves what costs they are willing to bear for freedom or liberation, rather than Bush and his neocon cabal.