Justice and Empire
(the real and the observable)
by "Time and Circumstance"
Without a doubt, the US aggression against Iraq is a major concern of mine - as it is the World over - for I too once believed in Fairy Tales of the limitless grace of my Country of birth towards its less enlightened neighbors. Neighbors which just happened to consist of every other Nation on this - God’s most favored planet - Earth.
Yes, indeed it is a heady feeling to be so fortunate as to be a winner in the genetic lottery which finds one a natural-born citizen of the greatest Nation upon the face of the Earth at this time - or, for that matter, any other time. Blessed are we to be so fortunate as to be, daily, inundated with the fact of our land’s peerless beneficence toward the rest of an ignorant and jealous World. Alas, even in paradise there are challenges to be met and conquered, and a consequence of Great Nation Status in a World of mediocre Nation-States is a redoubled commitment to justice and democracy. Additionally, a benefit of this Country's commitment to those noble ideals is a citizenry which enjoys the fruits of that striving. O!, doubly-blessed are we that the World - in its lack - drives us to greater heights of perfection.
But, reluctantly, we must return to the real and the observable - that “test of contact and being” - which defines the World that we assume we share.
The Real: this Nation - self-described arbiter of democracy and justice - has waged a pre-emptive war upon another sovereign Nation outside the aegis of International Law. In essence, and in an attempt to avoid the jargon that conceals as much as reveals, International Law is no more than an agreement by those individual nation-states so inclined to abide by a set of procedures to facilitate understanding in their myriad dealings with one another, to establish a course of action to resolve conflicts in those times and concerning those circumstances when they find themselves at odds and an overarching set of rules that will serve to safeguard the minimum notions of justice in those dealings. (not a perfect system by any means, but certainly a laudable step in establishing a true “community of man”.)
The Observable: our credibility is being questioned regarding our justifications for this war: the uses - and possible abuses - of our own and other Intelligence sources to create a reasonably plausible - to some - excuse to invade. A more Democratic and Justified response would consist of using all available resources including, but by no means limited to, our and other Nations Intelligence Resources and a World Body - the U.N. - whose very reason for being ensures a more evenhanded application of finding cause and acting proportionally upon those particular circumstances which are discovered. As it now stands, this Nation has reached a conclusion unilaterally and only then began to formulate the reasons to justify that conclusion. Such an occurrence omits any real possibility for justice; for how can one Nation name itself judge, jury and executioner?
In addition, this Nation found itself advocating a position that runs counter to everything that we claim this Country was founded upon when those who supported "regime change" - such an innocuous little phrase for such a monumental matter - argued that Saddam was guilty of hiding weapons because he refused to show us the weapons that he claimed that he did not have. What form of convoluted madness is this? Guilty until proven innocent? What a strange position to advocate coming from a Nation that sees itself as "a shining beacon of Democracy for all the World to see" - or words to that effect. That particular specious argument resonated strongly among a host of ever shifting rationales both before and, especially, after the invasion; as though Saddam would be forgiven by us if he would only be so kind as to prove himself guilty of the very crimes that we wished to destroy him for.
A moment’s indulgence, then, to linger over the graves of those we came to liberate and to make note of the suffocating jingoism which somehow attaches a premium upon the lives of our invading troops but finds itself unable to shed a tear for the continuing tragedy that is the life of the average, innocent, everyday citizen of Iraq. Though, sadly, thousands of innocent Iraqis are denied even that - a life, without hope - but are consigned to the historical trash bin as “collateral damage”. As before, an innocuous little phrase for such a monumental matter. I begin to wonder if this present administration has a Department of Innocuous Phrases...
...but I digress.
The real question becomes “liberate from what?” - And the answer - if it is forthcoming - is less than satisfying. If their liberation - be it of the living or de la morte - is from the evil that is/was/could be Saddam, then the issue becomes: are they better off? Without a doubt, for most of those who still draw air into their lungs, they are potentially better off. There are few who would argue that the potential for a democratic society or, at the very least, the right to self-determination for the people of this land which has suffered so much as a consequence of both internal and external factors is surely better than the autocratic rule of Saddam and the Baathist minority power structure. So, in the larger sense - although there exists, individually, thousands of examples of those who are losers in the new dynamic - the question “are they better off” must be answered in the affirmative. Having established that their lives are potentially improved by our implementation of "regime change", although, attendant to that action, there did occur a significant amount of "collateral damage"; we have thus justified the ends. Let us now examine the means:
Of course there will always be those proponents of "the ends justify the means", and for those my words will not reach. But there are others which I would hope comprise the majority of America's citizens who would endeavor to better understand such a complex set of circumstances and are not averse to exposing themselves to different viewpoints. To them, perhaps, the justification of a war demands a war that was just.
Justice: before we make a determination of its presence or absence in this particular instance, we must first endeavor to define its properties - for one cannot understand if a thing were present without understanding what defines the thing that we seek: Justice is methodical as opposed to intuitive, fact-based as opposed to empathetic, a product of precedence and consistently applied as opposed to capricious and expedient. Does this invasion of Iraq allow those who find themselves liberated, even unto pain of death, to rest easy in the knowledge that however shocking and awe-inspiring the transition, the methods used and their implementation were justified?
Being methodical implies that all other avenues were exhausted before the most extreme measure - war - was put into play. UN Weapons Inspectors were prevented from accomplishing their mandate not at the hand of Saddam Hussein but at the behest of the US whose negotiations and deadlines were nothing more than a ploy that allowed this Administration the time to position our troops and supplies in the region. Therefore, on the subject of methodical implementation, we find ourselves lacking. Were our reasons for rushing to war fact-based then? To put it simply: No. This administration, from the beginning, presented wild accusation as fact - dutifully trumpeted by our media, while later retractions were strangely muted - which was rebuffed at every turn as new details emerged and experts who understood that war should always be the last resort stepped forward to clarify some complex issues and educate the World. At the very least, what we have done by invading Iraq - if we truly believe it to be a noble and selfless act of our benign beneficence (an act, I must remind you, which caused the deaths of thousands of innocents) - is something that we will do for other citizens of repressive regimes. In other words: are our actions consistent? As an example of such a repressive regime that, like Iraq, denies its citizens even a modicum of freedom one need only look to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia: the land where innocent young girls died because - when their school caught fire - they were not allowed to escape the flames because they were not wearing the proper attire. But, no, we cannot invade them at this time because they are our allies; regardless of the fact that the great majority of the September 11 murderers were from that Country and found significant support from powerful members of that Country's elite. Well then, if not that particular repressive regime, which lies within easy reach of our formidable military machine, why not another and in the region too, so that we make it easier on our overburdened coalition forces which somehow cannot find sufficient support from other Nations, whereby they can be relieved of some of their demanding responsibilities. What about…Pakistan; a Nation whose leader came to power through a military coup and holds a tenuous grip on power in a strongly Fundamentalist Country which has the added feature of possessing Nuclear Weapons - oh joy! But, once again, they - for all the repressive tendencies of their government - are an ally, so it would not be expedient to avail their citizenry of the fruits of freedom and self-determination. Apparently then, the families of the dead of Iraq - liberated though they be - can find little solace in our particular brand of “liberation”.
And now back to the World of the living and uninvaded. A land where men who have never experienced the horrors of War can tell a people who have known war relentlessly that they should be joyful in the face of our bombs and grateful for the unexploded ordnance that waits patiently to claim even more of their sons and daughters long after this battle becomes nothing more than the answer to a board game to us. (confession: I have not known war, don’t want to know war and would not wish war on my worst enemy). I have talked to many in this Country who are wed to that timeless philosophy of “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!” Suffice it to say that this anti-war screed will do nothing to move them or awaken the barest spark of empathy in them for the monumental suffering that the people of Iraq have suffered at our hands.
There exists another segment of society which this Country’s President shamelessly appealed to: those who, erroneously, believe that Iraq was involved in the events of September 11, 2001. They are as much victims of ignorance and innuendo - which, in addition to being self-inflicted, was also pushed along by the machinations of this administration and its irresponsible pronouncements to the public and a domestic news media more mindful of the sensational as opposed to the verifiable - as they are enablers of this unjustified war of aggression. These two segments of society can only be considered facilitators of an aggressive foreign policy which features a defiant unilateralism virtually unknown in the history of this Nation.
Within the “Power of Pride” - that omnipresent “rah, rah” patriotism of antenna flags and bumper stickers that state the obvious: “We support our troops” - is to be found the pride of power that throughout history has enabled those Nations that find themselves in a superior position to disregard any appeal to use that power for the betterment of the Community of Man but instead to seek to impose their will and their way upon other, weaker Nations. Imperial Britain, Martial Japan, Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany…the lessons of history are writ clearly for those who will see them…can we as a Nation avoid repeating the mistakes of Empires past, or will that harsh lesson be taught to us as it was so forcefully rendered unto those who came before us: In time all Empires fade to ruin but true Justice persists…