The Editorials of E. Desiderius

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Monday, April 24, 2006

What Lawrence Kaplan Doesn’t Get

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Today’s daily New Republic webzine contained a curious article by Senior Editor Lawrence Kaplan, a hawkish neoconservative who strongly supported the invasion of Iraq, and now strongly opposes withdrawal. In his New Republic piece, entitled “If Iraq Was Wrong, Is Darfur Right?” he seeks to examine the double bind that progressives and liberals in America certainly feel, as they argue for withdrawal from one international expedition (Iraq) and call for intervention in a second (the Darfur region of Sudan) [1]. This is a “bind of their own devising.” Kaplan sneers, “Even as they demand intervention in Sudan, they excoriate Washington for employing U.S. military power without due respect to the opinion of the international community and against nations that pose no imminent threat to our own – which is to say, precisely the terms under which U.S. power would have to be employed in the same of saving Darfur.”

In his haste to defend his hawkish pro-war views against frankly, reality, he largely misses the point. The truth of the matter is that the American left does not object to humanitarian missions, and no significant anti-war movement forms in the face of “just-wars.” Liberal opposition to Iraq was rooted in an entirely different set of causes.

Whenever President Clinton committed troops during the 1990s, there was no anti-war sentiment. Objections to his policies were actually raised by Republicans in Congress, arguing that such nation building missions did not serve US interests. This is essentially the argument that Kaplan attributes to present day anti-war liberals. Clinton committed troops to Somalia to reinforce a UN humanitarian mission, and then to the Balkans, notably Kosovo and Yugoslavia, with NATO support. In fact, Clinton was later derided for not committing American forces to Rwanda, to prevent the Interahmwe and Impuzamugambi’s slaughter of the Tutsis.

These 1990s military excursions did not stir up any sort of anti-war sentiment, except for the mostly conservative charge that nation-building was a waste of resources and time, and the separate charge that Clinton was wagging the dog to distract from his pending impeachment. All of these missions were seen as legitimate because they were embarked on for “proper” reasons: there was international, or quasi-international support, there was a genuine desire to protect innocent lives, the mission did not require extensive military commitment nor extensive loss of American life, and there was some sort of exit strategy and measure for success.

The Iraq war was exactly the opposite. There was no broad anti-war movement during the strikes against Afghanistan, which was largely seen as a so-called just war. It wasn’t until months later, when the saber rattling on Iraq began, that the American left could not sit by idly, as the Bush administration began to equate Iraq with the terrorist threat, despite flimsy and now discredited evidence. The contempt for the international process, the contempt shown Allied nations, the outright deceptions and fear-mongering of the Administration and the broad global opposition to the planned operation re-affirmed the Progressive belief that the war was profoundly wrong. Progressives felt that their country was embarking on what was going to be a massive military undertaking, unlike Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Somalia or even the Gulf War. There was no clear exit strategy, and the only truly humanitarian abuses happening in Iraq (rape rooms, and gassing the Kurds aside (which the US was partially complicit in anyway)) in the country were the disastrous sanctions slapped on Iraq, which reduced a country that once boasted a generally high standard of living into squalor and poverty.

It is a real shame that Kaplan cannot grasp that liberals and progressives will accept humanitarian intervention for the sake of stopping genuine human rights abuses, if it militarily feasible. What liberals and progressives will not accept is a massive, unlimited commitment of American troops, based on a shameful case built on deception and lies, which undermined America’s true war effort against Islamist terrorism, and helped poison the image of America in the hearts and minds of a generation of Iraqis. If America, NATO and the UN helped bolster the pathetic African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, it would incur the thanks of a million non-Arab Sudanese whose lives have been savagely and brutally disrupted by a genocidal conflict. But in Iraq, we have incurred the wrath of two of the three major ethnic blocks, and we are a few bombings away from having helped push the country into civil war. We have picked the wrong battle to fight.

-E. Desiderius

[1] The New Republic – If Iraq Was Wrong, is Darfur Right?

Posted by George Gordon | Monday, April 24, 2006 | E-mail this post

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