Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bjørn Stærk on What Went Wrong?

This introspective essay has been getting a lot of attention by thoughtful people, so I decided to link it. Those of us who have been against the war from the beginning have no need to feel smug now that the ugliness and insanity of the enterprise is slowly but surely being revealed. I feel a little sad for sincere supporters who have come late to the realization that they may have been misguided at best, deceived at worst in their belief that not only was war the best remedy for a multitude of challenges, but that it was being waged with the best of intentions under the command of fully-informed leaders with the loftiest of intentions.

The jumping off point, of course, was September 11, 2001. By waving that bloody shirt the president could take his pick of places to start a war, knowing that no patriotic American would dare question his judgement. Indeed, even I, the essential pacifist dedicated to constructive non-violent engagement whenever possible, took satisfaction in learning that the official response was to be in Afghanistan, the reported hiding place of OBL, perpetrator of the crime. Even though the actual players were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, our ally, the poisonous cup from which they had been drinking was not from the leadership of that country. In a short time they, too, would discover systemic problems and address them in their own way. But the Afghanistan move was as good as could be expected.

But moving the next piece on the board to Iraq was another matter. No thinking person who knew anything about the situation could imagine any meaningful connection between that secular, totalitarian state and the religious extremism of the Sunni extremists who crafted an attack on the World Trade Center. But the subtlety of the sales pitch, together with the growing levels of patriotic testosterone in the national circulatory system made it easy to aim the cannons a few degrees over to the side and start taking out some more of what were cleverly lumped together as Islamofascists and very soon insurgents.

There aren't many people left who believe that it was a good idea for the US, Britain and their coalition to invade Iraq in 2003. At least fifty thousand Iraqis dead, (or a hundred, or several hundred), maybe two million refugees, and who knows how many more when the Americans finally give up and leave. Supporters of the war have dropped off one by one, for different reasons. Some neo-conservative intellectuals believe that the plan was good, but that George W. Bush screwed it up. There might be something to this. With smarter people in charge, the odds might have been better. But this assumes that a smarter administration would have embraced their plan to invade Iraq in the first place. I don't think it would, and I think the blame belongs with the thinkers who pushed for war, as much as the officials who carried it out.

I could go on for a long time tracing my own hand-wringing as I watched helplessly the US descent into the Hell of war...the ugliness of torture and the ultimate defense of that savagery by officials in high places, the swelling numbers of civilian casualties carelessly dismissed as collateral damage, despite the fact that every innocent non-combatant killed by the violence left behind a family ripe for recruitment into the ranks of the forces being organized to oppose with growing determination what was fast becoming the occupation, rather than the liberation, of Iraq. Don't let me start...
Read the essay for yourself. Take a deep breath and read the comments. Finally, if stamina hold out, go to the trackbacks and see what others are saying.
I do like what he says here:

Here's why I'm frustrated: I'm not sure where all this went wrong. I can look back at what I believed some five years ago, and what motivated me to hope for exactly the kind of thing we now have - a grassroots reaction to the centre-left multicultural consensus, edging steadily in on the mainstream - and I'm not so sure that I was wrong. This idea that it should be ok to discuss Muslim extremism, and make demands of immigrants, and not meet cruel traditions with a tolerant smile, I certainly still believe that. And this rebellious reaction I had to the media consensus, there was nothing wrong with that. And we really do need to revive some liberal and rational strands of thought that somewhat inaccurately go by the name of enlightenment values.

But there must have been something wrong with that starting point, nevertheless, because why else would so many people who adopted it gradually turn it into something distasteful and frigthening? Or maybe it was like that from the beginning, and it just took me a while to notice. However it was, their lack of doubt bothers me now, their self-righteousness and anger, their clear labelling of people as either corrupt enemies or enlightened friends.

Corrupt enemies or enlightened friends. Indeed so. That is what we call polarization. And that, friends, is where we have gone.

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