Sunday, October 15, 2006
Those of use who supported the war should question our decision to do so every day. To support a war whilst remaining ignorant of the direct cost paid by others is an uncomfortable position in which to find oneself, yet until our governments undertake to conduct their own investigation into post-invasion mortality rates in Iraq, this is precisely where we are. An inability to quantify the level of sacrifice made by Iraqis undermines our moral legitimacy as supporters of the war. An unwillingness by the coalition to undertake such an exercise displays a contempt for the dead that shames us all.
They can correct me if I am wrong, but I am fairly certain that this is a rare and belated questioning of the morality of the occupiers. But of course, it is an evasion: we are not unable to "quantify the level of sacrifice made by Iraqis" (and let's please not call it a "sacrifice made by Iraqis" as if they had any choice in the matter, as if this intervention was conducted with their interests in mind and their enthusiastic invitation). We can perfectly well quantify it, since we have been presented with an extensively peer-reviewed epidemiological report conducted according to the best practise in the field, widely praised by those in the know, and which no one has meaningfully laid a glove on yet. The author of the HP Sauce post does try, simply by collating the various comments of someone else at another blog, which I would reluctantly suggest is a new low in didactic hygeine.
No, nothing "shames us all" unless we all were party to it, or vocally supportive of it. And we all weren't.
Norman Geras has revisited his arguments for the war, and says:
[H]ad I been able to foresee, in January and February 2003, that the war would have the results it has actually had in the numbers of Iraqis killed and the numbers now daily dying, with the country (more than three years down the line) on the very threshold of civil war if not already across that threshold, I would not have felt able to support the war and I would not have supported it ... I would have withheld support for the war without giving my voice to the opposition to it.
I have tried to read this as generously as possible, but charity is not my forte. It is a political failure in every sense. Geras is saying that he would not voice opposition to a war that he knew would result in the cataclysm that has now befallen Iraq, that is now demonstrably worse on every index than the tyranny that it dislodged. That is to say, he would have done nothing, raised not a finger or even modulated a breath, to prevent what he could foresee would be a terrifying nightmare. And he is actually rather unhappy about those of us who would, and did.
Geras is evasive, moreover, on the question of the Lancet report. He acknowledges that he refused to say a word about the first report, because 1) "I lack the statistical competence to be able to judge these reports"; 2) "I don't know how - morally, humanly - to deal in calculations that say that n deaths (where n is a very large number) are an acceptable price to pay for some putatively desirable end result"; 3) "I'm put off by expressions of scepticism of a form to suggest that while 600,000?+ deaths is not a credible figure there is some lower, though still very high, figure about which supporters of the war could feel relaxed." Geras did not refuse to comment on the HRW finding that Saddam had killed and 'disappeared' 290,000, even though I am certain that the findings are as far outside of his competence to professionally assess as they are mine. The fact of being statistically incompetent doesn't exempt one from confronting the possibility that the figure is accurate, and from considering what those who are statistically competent have to say on the matter. One is obliged to make distinctions in matters that extend well beyond one's professional expertise every day, and Geras does so. Further, there evidently must be a moral distinction to be had in the number of deaths for Geras - implicitly, this is so, since his phrase is that "too many" have died. Morally, humanly, Geras finds that he cannot make such a distinction, but he already has. The distinction did not arise at 100,000 or thereabouts, we can say, because that did not provoke this bout of despair.
Geras asserts that support for the Iraq war, "as a remedial project, was humanly understandable, even creditable, and in all the circumstances prevailing it wasn't empirically unreasonable either, even if in the end that hope comes to be dashed. Some opponents of the war may want to say here that it was just blindingly obvious, not only that the war was bound not to issue in a viable democracy, never mind a flourishing one, but that it was bound to issue in something much worse than the state and the situation it replaced. I do not believe them. I mean, I don't believe they either had, or could have had, a secure basis for making that judgement. They therefore do not have a basis now for remonstrating - remonstrating in a moral sense - with those of us who backed the liberation of Iraq for the kind of reasons I've outlined."
I will not remonstrate in a moral sense, but not because it is prohibited by Geras's eccentric logic: simply because I don't care. I don't, that is, care for the reduction of politics to morality. However, I will point out the paucity of political analysis here. For whom was the war "a remedial project"? Did those who wage it convincingly demonstrate any special care for the well-being of Iraqis? Does an analysis of the capacities, propensities and intentions of the agents of this "project" enter at no point? A class analysis? Would it not seem fitting to look at what those agents had imposed in Iraq before? In all the prevailing circumstances, how much to date had those agents actually contributed to Iraqi well-being? A daily, excruciating, torturous, deadly barbarism, a democidal regime, a child-killing regime - this was one thing that the purveyors of sanctions had wittingly, knowingly perpetrated on Iraq. There are figures relating to this as well, and declaring oneself incompetent to deal with them still isn't an excuse. On the balance of historical evidence, how remedial has imperialism been? What we do we know, and what can we infer about America's strategy in the world? How does this impact on the prospects of an intervention? What do we know about the nature of modern war-making, and the tendencies that present themselves therein? How about the whole history of Iraq and the contiguous peoples? Does that contains lessons for us? Was there a possibility that an invasion would increase the amount of violence in Iraq? Was it ever possible, given what even Bush knows about people not liking occupations, that people would not assent to the plans the occupiers had for them? To absent oneself from such arguments, while vocally supporting (or even quietly stepping aside from) a war, is to declare oneself politically bankrupt - literally, out of the business of politics.
For Geras, those of us who knew where this was heading have some "explaining" of our own to do. And yet I feel that, in every polemic, article, resolution, statement, speech, debate and tome that we have collectively produced, that is exactly what we have been trying to do. It doesn't, even at this considerable length, seem to have got through.