Sunday, March 04, 2007

the false road of the righteous champion

I'm sure I've already mentioned that I like to catch up with the Crooked Timber blog on weekends. I found the rocket in flight image in a CT post by Kieran Healey. Yesterday, John Quiggin on CT pointed to a "warblogger" post by a Norwegian named Bjørn Staerk, that's worth reading (What Went Wrong?).

A self-confessed neo-con, he's writing about "Westerners who had their reality bubble pricked by people from an alien culture, and spent the next couple of years stumbling about like idiots, unable to deal rationally with this new reality that had forced itself on them."

Here are some excerpts:
Egging each other on, they predicted, interpreted, and labelled - and legislated and invaded. They saw clearly, through beautiful ideas. And they were wrong. Who were these people? They were us. "Us"? This seemed a lot clearer at the time. Us were the people who acknowledged the threat of Islamist terrorism, who had the common sense to see through the multicultural fog of words, and the moral courage to want to change the world by force. It included politicians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it included the new European right, it included brave and honest pundits, straight-talking intellectuals in the enlightenment tradition.

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.

When a state collapses, there is no upper limit to how badly it can go. Millions of people may die. Fanatics and sadists fight their way to the top, trampling the weak down beneath them. In our vision of a liberated Baghdad, we saw the beginning of a new Eastern Europe. Now, I have nightmares of Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Algeria, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan.

War opponents said a lot of things that were stupid, cynical and deluded. Some war supporters find comfort in this, I don't. The opponents were, on the whole, right. We were wrong, and people in Iraq will pay for this mistake for a long time.

Everyone agreed that terrorism was such a large threat that we had to give the state new powers to fight it. The most extreme examples were the cases of torture by proxy and imprisonment without trial by the US, but all over the West there has been a new wind of authority.

Trading freedom for security [is a mistake]. The security is often illusory, giving us little more than a temporary reduction of anxiety. The anxiety soon returns, and more freedom must be traded away. Just as a war frenzy can spin out of control, so can a panic for law and order in the face of terrorism. Especially so since the alternative is so depressing and counterintuitive. We were wrong about terrorism, we still are, and I suspect we always will be. At best we can hope for long periods of calm where personal freedom is allowed to reassert itself.

The "multicultural" worldview makes sense. We do need to doubt ourselves. We do need to worry at least as much about our own potential for evil as that of the foreigners. We do need to meet other cultures with some humility and respect. We do need to have mixed feelings about our own culture, admiration tempered by wariness, as with a wild animal. We do need to listen to people who believe differently, instead of just lecturing them. Not because there is no right or wrong, true or false, and not because every culture is equal, but because the alternative is so dangerous. The road of the righteous champion of the Army of Light.

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