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Good guys win

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God love Dennis Prager. He’s got basic moral sense, and a good sense for how the very idea of morality works on people’s minds. Take for example, this quote from his current column:

This preoccupation with good and evil is a primary reason America is hated. If people demonstrating against the American-led war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq cared about peace or about good and evil, they would have been rioting against China, against Sudan, against North Korea, against Iran’s mullahs, and against Saddam. But America, precisely because it is good, and precisely because it fights evil, shames all these people. And you never hate anyone as much as he who forces you to stare at evil and at your acceptance of it.

Because America talks about good and evil and does something about it, those nations and individuals, including many Americans, that have other priorities resent this America, and some even wish it “a million Mogadishus.”

Back in Culpepperland, I have become increasing skeptical of “morality” for fear that it is just a tool for political bludgeoning. I don’t have much truck with Bill Bennett or Jesse Jackson either one. People pimping “morality” can do some mighty crazy damage- it gives them cover to do almost anything. The emotional nature of feelings about morality makes it especially vulnerable to being shanghaied by baser instincts.

That morality can be abused by politicians and demagogues does not mean that morality is impossible or unnecessary, however. You need some moral goalposts to know what you are aiming at, and how to judge what to do. You can usually see the difference between great public displays of MORALITY (preacher/politicians are especially good at this) versus quiet and simple explanations and straightforward behavior. You need some moral goalposts to know what you are aiming at, and how to judge what to do.

People are complicated critters, sophistication in understanding others and subtlety are important considerations if you want to get all the disparate people of the world to behave decently and get along.

Yet the fancier understandings must ultimately be grounded in basic truths and simple values. The US is the good guy. Not always 100% perfect in all times ever, but we are certainly the leaders of the free world, coping with the nastiest customers on the globe in order to secure our own safety. Ultimately the rest of the world benefits. The world is a little bit better place without the Iraqi Baath Party.

The allegedly more sophisticated State Department international balancing act that Bush the First pursued resulted in an additional ten years of misery to the world by leaving Hussein in place. Sometimes “That son of a bitch is wicked and evil. He needs whacked” is exactly the right call. It don’t take a genius to know to whack a goddam poisonous snake. In fact, that’s both the moral and smart thing to do.

Now there are some complicated mathematical and logical checks to follow through, but if your compasses are not way out of whack, US = good guys. Hussein = nasty tyrant with nasty weapons who has killed over a million people but will no longer be oppressing his country, nor supporting terrorists abroad. Advantage good guys.

You may have issues with US foreign policy, domestic policy, whatever. You may think George Bush is a dirt bag rich kid. But if you can’t look at the fear lifting from the people of Iraq and concede that good guys are winning on the ground in a critical way, then your political and ethical judgment is seriously out of whack somewhere.

Ya, team! The good guys won, whether anyone likes it or not!

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  • Eric,

    You said:

      This obsession with empire is killing my soul.

    Hey, mine too!


      There are plenty of REAL concerns, do we need to fabricate phantoms?

    We have invaded another country that did not attack us, nor was it planning to attack us. Any responsible citizen, of any country, should at the very least keep a close watch on the invading country to try to determine what its motives are.

    Retaliation and preemption (meaning, preempting a planned attack) are clearly not the motive, and those two motives are really the only two that are widely recognized as legitimate.

    The U.S. is not immune to the kind of intoxication that has led other powerful nations to conquer all “enemies.”

    Let’s say five years from now, Iraq is relatively stable, but the vast majority of its GDP goes to servicing debt and to the profits of multinational corporations that control its natural resources and other assets. In other words, the bulk of Iraq’s wealth is heading out of the country, not enriching the Iraqis themselves. I’m not saying this result is inevitable, but this kind of “globalization” has happened to many other countries.

    Shouldn’t we be looking out for this, among other possible undesirable results? Isn’t it simply responsible to be looking out? Is it responsible to assume that those in control of Iraq have the same altruistic motives that we do? Is it even sensible to make this assumption?

  • san

    Eric: No, I don’t think Iraq is better off than it was a month ago. I’ll grant you that in a month, Iraq will probably be better off than it was a month ago. But right now, the average, decent, peaceful Iraqi is probably quite frightened, has virtually no access to medical care, laments the loss of his country’s heritage, is afraid of being cleaned out by looters, is afraid of being shot by particularly belligerent looters, is afraid of being shot by US Marines because he didn’t understand a direction or is in the wrong place at the wrong time, is afraid to pitch in and help quell disorder, and is afraid not to pitch in and quell the disorder.

    In another month, hopefully, things may settle to the point that the average Iraqi is better off than he was a month ago. But it may be a fleeting prosperity. Six months, a year, down the road, and in my opinion, it’s anybody’s guess.

    For me, this comes down to the inability to delude myself that we know best. (That’s not intended to be offensive, that you are deluding YOURSELF. You may be right, but I believe you are not. Ergo, I would be deluding myself if I thought we were on the right track.) I do not believe the United States, let alone the Bush administration, has all the answers — or even a significant portion thereof — to the world’s problems. In the history of human civilization, our nation is no more abiding than a sneeze. And indeed in the course of two and a quarter centuries, we have been through great changes. We aren’t politically or ethically the nation we were in 1776, in 1865, in 1925 or in 1965. We’re in no position to dictate solutions for the rest of the world. We’ll change our minds a hundred times in the next decade. Perhaps we are a more extreme example of malleable society, but we are far from being the only nation that has undergone and continues to undergo great change. Indeed, I don’t know that any single nation on the planet has the credentials to dicate solutions for the world’s problems. That’s why I believe that contemporary conflicts are best resolved by an international body. Of course, this body will be imperfect in its execution, but in my opinion far less imperfect than a small contigent biased by it’s own cultural philosophy.

    Now that Saddam’s regime in Iraq has been eliminated, we are bound by the ethics that founded this nation to withdraw our military and political interests in the country. No matter how badly we want it, we cannot create a stable government in Iraq. That will be up to the Iraqis. Our guidance is not terribly useful since it is based on our vastly different circumstances, culture and beliefs. The Iraqis must develop a governing body that suits their culture, not ours. The US has a poor track record in guiding and supporting foreign governments in developing or redeveloping nations, chiefly because our concerns are not the concerns of the local culture.

    One of two types of government will work long-term in Iraq: a system developed and implemented by Iraqis that is aligned with their culture, or a military dictatorship. I can guarantee you that a military dictatorship will work pretty well: We just expelled one with almost 30 years tenure. Do we really want to go that route?

  • Jeremiah

    I notice that the rationale for this war keeps shifting. First it was WMDs. Then it was “liberate Iraq”. Now it’s “reconstruction”. Interesting.

    (Counting the days ’til November, 2004…)

  • Eric Olsen

    Yes, we will see occupation until the Iraqis can take over for themselves – this is called reconstruction, see Japan and Germany.

    The only American interests served with the action in Iraq is a safer, more democratic world, which is as much in the interest of the entire world as it is in ours. We already had access to the oil – oil is a non-issue.

    We don’t want an empire – we’ve gone over this. Why would we want an empire? An empire is a burden. If we can establish a philosophical empire, I’m all for it. A physical empire is expensive, a pain is the ass, pointless in a world of relatively free trade and market economies.

    This obsession with empire is killing my soul. There are plenty of REAL concerns, do we need to fabricate phantoms?

  • Eric,

    Congratulations! You’re the first person in history to refer to Al and “middle ground” in the same sentence.

    What is the problem with promoting American interests?

    Whoa! I thought we were the good guys! We’re “liberating,” not “promoting American interests.”

    Is there a country in the history of the world that hasn’t promoted its own interest?

    Yeah, us! We’re the first country in history not to invade the Middle East in the name of empire. Or didn’t you know that?

    Are we seeing the turn I predicted now? That the word “empire” will become acceptable, and long-term occupation of Iraq will as well, and invasion of other countries…

    No, everyone said that was crazy just four weeks ago.


  • Eric Olsen

    San, typically you are more measured: are you saying Iraq isn’t better off than it was a month ago. The looting is already dying down, a combination of allied forces and Iraqis are starting to exert control over the situation.

    This was a pressure cooker situation that could not possibly have been controlled without bloodshed and creating much ill-will. It was a situation that had to be contained very loosely until the worst of the pressure released itself, which it now has. It is disingenuous to continuously claim a situation that isn’t perfect is without merit.

    And hell yes we are going to guide them – isn’t that what reconstruction is all about? What is the problem with promoting American interests? Is there a country in the history of the world that hasn’t promoted its own interest? Similarly, what is wrong with American preeminence? Who should be preeminent? The French?

  • san

    Al: “Of course there is some unrest…”

    Unrest for which the US administration apparently gave little thought ahead of time, although most people could have arrived at that same conclusion pre-war, allowing for an appropriate system of control to roll into place as the occupation began.

    Rumsfeld used the same line, that freedom isn’t tidy, and didn’t we realize there would be some unrest. Of course, I realized it, Don, but what about you? Today, the Bush administration has admitted they didn’t expect civil unrest anywhere near the degree that has occured. That’s been sort of a theme: “stuff happens”, lie about it, then backpedal, finally admitting the US made a mistake.

    “Your spiteful determination to hate Bush, Republicans, and American pre-eminence…”

    I haven’t said two words about the GOP. Bush and American preeminence are things I can do without, however.

    Jemeriah writes “And if the Iraqis accidentally elect the wrong guy, President Bush can just order the CIA to get rid of him…” That is, of course, a loaded statement, but it’s founded in truth. The Bush administration cannot afford to allow a truly democratic election or administration in Iraq. The US is going to “guide” Iraq into selecting a government that is allied with US interests. That’s not democracy. Eventually, Iraqis will probably remember 2003 as the year they learned the meaning of the English expression “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

  • Jeremiah

    And if the Iraqis accidentally elect the wrong guy, President Bush can just order the CIA to get rid of him–like Hugo Chavez.

  • San, San, San. You’re just absolutely determined not to see any good. Of course there is some unrest, some fear. Daddy Bush can’t just 100% wave a magic wand and make everything perfect. But any reasonable standard says that what they have now is already looking better than the wickedness of the Baath party.

    Your spiteful determination to hate Bush, Republicans, and American pre-eminence in the world generally apparently outweighs any concern for our security or the well-being of the Iraqi people. That is just, well, morally bankrupt.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great post Al, saying what needs to be said, finding the middle ground between moralism and abstract relativism

  • san

    “…the fear lifting from the people of Iraq…”

    Yes, we’ve wiped that look of fear right off their faces: