Max Sawicky and Kevin Drum are pushing the argument disapprovingly known as the incompetence dodge: that the Iraq war was a failure of execution and integrity by the Bush administration, not necessarily a repudiation of the whole “good war” theory of scientific pre-emption and humanitarian intervention.
That’s deluded and disturbing.
I’m one of those reflexively anti-war types going back to 2002, as documented by my archive.
I’m not a peacenik, because I’m too cynical about human weakness to believe that peace is going to solve the world’s problems.
But I am anti-war.
I’m anti-war, not just because I don’t like to see civilians, babies, and cute puppies in a distant land blown to bits.
It’s because war empowers the worst elements of our society, here at home.
When Bush rolled out his muscular response to 9/11, I thought, Oh my god, the same assholes who ran my high school—the narrow minded jocks and callous cadet frat boys—are now running the world.
When we marched into Afghanistan, ostensibly to claim justice for the victims of 9/11, I thought to myself, Military justice is to justice as military music is to music. Good luck with that.
No question that the post-9/11 war fever enabled the careers of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams, Feith, Cambone, Boykin, Yoo, Gonzalez, Libby, Addington, Hadley, and all the other administration dirtbags by removing the restraints that peace, moderation, and public decency had placed on their grand schemes and vile impulses.
And war fever gave us Iraq, by legitimizing the notion that our American democracy intrinsically possessed the moral stature and wisdom to wage war against a Middle Eastern dictator righteously and justifiably.
Ted Kennedy got it right when he wrote ''War should always be our last resort. Instead, the Bush administration made preventive war an option of first resort."
War is an expensive, destructive, and extremely risky enterprise. Absent an immediate threat, there are always cheaper, simpler, and safer ways to serve America’s interests and get its business done.
When a government pushes a war of choice—willfully prying open Pandora’s Box — as the preferred solution to a problem, there are always ulterior motives and secret agendas involved.
With Iraq, of course, it’s all ulterior motives and secret agendas. There’s no discernible national interest in the whole enterprise.
But the core of my argument is not that war is a risky, uncertain business. That framing ineluctably leads to the “we’ll get it right next time” dodge, because risks can be managed, uncertainty minimized, and the discount value of disaster pushed down until the suckers invest in the new product, just like they taught us in business school.
Wars of choice are profoundly corrupting, because they are dirty wars. Wars that we promise to conduct humanely and with restraint, but which rely on death, intimidation, and the threat of unrestrained violence to protect our soldiers and achieve our objectives.
Wars that have a good chance of slipping from the control of the muscular idealists clacking away at their keyboards and ending up under the control of opportunist creeps who exploit them for political power and profit.
Which brings me to the title of this post: have you got what it takes to torture?
I’m not going to taunt with the Yellow Elephant challenge, would you fight in the wars you profess to support? With the U.S. currently embroiled in a war we on the left abhor, the question is too abstract and too easy to answer in the affirmative.
My question is, would you waterboard for your war of choice? Would you sexually degrade a teenage boy in order to blackmail him and turn him into an intelligence asset? Would you render somebody to Egypt to be broken by the local security forces in order to intimidate a suspicious Islamic charity?
Forget about Jack Bauer at one end of the spectrum and due process at the other end.
You’ll have to mess up some innocent people who just happened to get in the way of what your war is trying to achieve.
When you embark on a war of choice you forfeit the moral high ground and the chance to play the innocent victim; and, with your troops and assets exposed to attack, you lose the luxury of folding your actions in the reassuring cloak of laws, ideals, and good-guy moderation.
Think of the muddle in the middle: trampling on people’s lives, rights, and dignity and compromising your personal honor in order to achieve results that are ambiguous and transitory, all in the service of an incompetent, amoral bureaucracy headed by a cynical and self-serving executive.
In other words, think of it as the worst job you ever had, except that at the end of the day there’s shit and piss on the floor and blood on your hands.
Have you got what it takes to torture?
If you don’t, think of the kind of people who actually have got what it takes.
And realize they are already in the front line of the “War on Terror”, starting with George Bush and going down the whole sorry list.
It’s not necessarily the best people who are itching to start wars, fight them, or profit by them.