The Proud Duck
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
OK, so posting every two months probably isn't the best way to cultivate a devoted Net following. Must improve.
I find myself these days having imaginary arguments with the Liberal Partner in my former firm, who I once told that our political differences were accounted for by his growing up among Utah redneck Republicans (and I hasten here to point out that since he grew up in Ogden, the rest of Utah won't take offense or exception to the "redneck" designation), while I grew up within range of the mighty wind that rushes from Costa Mesa north to the great vacuums of Hollywood liberals' minds.
I tend to win the imaginary arguments -- but then I thought I tended to win the real ones. (Have since learned that political arguments with one's boss may not be all that great a method of cultivating job security. Note that I did say "former law firm.") The Liberal Partner's backstop argument, as far as I could tell, was the phrase, "Listen to yourself!", preferably delivered at higher-than-average pitch and volume. I think the expanded translation of that phrase works out to "Every respectable person knows the argument you're making isn't ... well, respectable."
Anyway, the argument I was having (and winning, of course) with the Liberal Partner today was a rematch of one of our real arguments, in which he was trying to argue that bombing Serbia and the odd embassy into rubble over the civil war in Kosovo was a good thing, and using force against Iraq wasn't.
Instead of addressing the merits of the particular question, I examined our argument in terms of someone's definition of a liberal as a man who's incapable of taking his own side in an argument.
Now, the Liberal Partner wasn't the kind of liberal that holds that the United States can't do anything right. (See Chomsky, Clark (the loopy former attorney general, not the mildly loopy candidate), et al.) That kind did, of course, protest bombing Slobodan Milosovic, even if not as loudly as it later protested bombing Saddam and his merry men.
Anyway, my thinking was this: Men are fallible; institutions and nations are human institutions; therefore, no nation will always be right in its foreign policy. The converse is also true; no nation will always be wrong, if only because fallible men must fail to perfect even depravity. Presumably even the Khmer Rouge managed to install a stop sign or two correctly. So the "my country is always right" and the "my country is always wrong" crews are both foolish.
Is it likely that those occasions on which one's country happens to be wrong will always occur within the periods in which the opposing political faction is in control? One party may be more objectively right than the other, but neither party, being a fallible human institution, will always get it right. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that there will be occasions where a thoughtful person will conclude his country is in the wrong of an international quarrel.
That's why I thought the Liberal Partner's fairly enthusiastic support of the Kosovo war, and his absolutely enraged opposition to the Iraq war, was not reasonable. Both wars were, I think, close cases (in a way that the war in Afghanistan was not): Neither had the approval of the United Nations; both were opposed by significant allies and several other nations; both were "optional," in the sense that the world wouldn't necessarily end if they hadn't happened, and there was some ambiguity to the justifications for both conflicts (i.e. in Kosovo, there was "ethnic cleansing," but it was happening on both sides -- and still is being done now, but exclusively by the side we backed, to the rate of about a thousand murdered Serbs a year -- while in Iraq, while the regime murdered hundreds of thousands of people, most of the victims were already safely dead in the regime's crushing of the rebellions of the early '90s; by 2003, the Saddam regime's evil had, as far as I could tell, settled down to "only" an occasional murder of a dissident or a dozen.)
I ultimately came to the conclusion, if a little tentatively, that the Kosovo war was the right thing to do. As for Iraq, the facts seemed pretty simple to me: Evil dictator has been stupid enough to break a cease-fire and give the world legal grounds to get rid of him; we shouldn't let that slide. Now, there was a difference in the intensity of my support for the Democrat-ordered Kosovo war and the Republican-ordered Iraq one, which can probably at least in part be attributed to my political alignment (although 9/11 may have also lowered my willingness to let things slide generally). But it's interesting that this difference is so much less than the difference between the Liberal Partner's "Kosovo is a great humanitarian duty" and "Iraq is an evil, conquering resource grab to be compared to Hitler's aggressions."