by Scott McConnell
February 26, 2002
Earlier this month, sixty scholars signed a document saying that the war the United States was waging fully satisfied the doctrinal requirements for a Just War. The statement failed to make clear whether this meant war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or included war against the other countries that have appeared on the administration's target list. That list obviously includes Iraq, Iran, and North Korea; Norman Podhoretz, writing in the February Commentary, suggests we may have to smash "willy-nilly" he puts it – five or six or seven Muslim governments, (including Norman's particular bęte noir, the Palestinian Authority) before final victory is achieved. If Just War doctrine can be stretched to accommodate that, it is unlikely ever to return to recognizable shape.
But higher moral guidance to break the fever of self-absorbed hypernationalism is sorely needed. The other day on the way back from lunch I stopped to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, my mealtime reading (The National Interest) in hand. The pharmacist, a competent and engaging man in his thirties, looked at the journal. The headline the "The Future of Iraq" caught his eye. "You know what I think," he said, lowering his voice. "Iraq shouldn't have a future."
I replied as if he meant divide it into ethnic cantons, perhaps impose on it some sort of de-industrialization and pastoralization plan like one of Roosevelt's advisors urged for defeated Nazi Germany. But I think he was hoping for genocide.
This was a man who would jump through hoops to find a way to fill a prescription if an Iraqi mother with a sick child happened into his store. A man who I don't believe has ever been in any way harmed by someone from Iraq. The war fever does strange things to moral sensibility.
And not just to average workaday people. Writing in The Progressive's web site, Matthew Rothschild notes an item buried deep in the Bob Woodward's long Washington Post series on post 9-11 decision making. The Pentagon was preparing a slide show briefing for President Bush on war options, and NSC advisor Condi Rice and her aide Frank Miller came by to screen the material before it was shown. One of the options the Secretary of Defense had prepared for W was "Thinking Outside the Box: Poison the Food Supply." Rice and Miller objected even before the slides were shown to the President a biological attack on food would violate the Geneva Convention and other treaties the US has signed.
When thus challenged, Rumsfeld agreed. "You're right," he said. But Rotchshild has a good point when he notes "Why this wasn't a major story in itself is beyond me: The Secretary of Defense wanted to propose to the President that he poison Afghanistan's food supply."
The only chance the war on terror has of remaining a Just War is if it is focused on the Al Qaeda terrorist networks and isn't transformed into a crusade against the Muslim world. In this case a prudent moral sensibility isn't at cross purposes with victory, but actually is a requirement for it.
when you think through the alternative vision, the expanded war against six
or seven Islamic regimes pushed by Norman Podhoretz and the Wall Street Journal
editorial page, it truly is a war without end with no prospect of success (the
likelihood of success is a key provision of of a war being considered, by Christian
Doctrine, a Just War).
At the root of War Party's misconception is the superficial and ahistorical notion that "bad" Muslim regimes can simply be uprooted – presumably by very precise laser guided bombs and that out of the resulting chaos, pro-Western forces can emerge and transform the countries into pacific democracies. As evidence Podhoretz points to the fact that the US managed in a few short years to transform Nazi Germany and imperial Japan into capitalist democracies, and that even in the "heartland of the evil empire" a similar transformation seems to be happening in Eastern Europe and Russia. He adds that there is ample evidence of yearning, in the Muslim world, to be part of the global marketplace. The flood of interest in Western videos after the Taliban fled Kabul demonstrates this, he writes.
But this is not persuasive. Germany was not a part of fundamentalist Islam, but a nation at the heart of the bourgeois West for many decades before Hitler. What was required after 1945 was de-Nazification (not so difficult since virtually all Nazis were then trying vigorously to separate themselves from whatever they might have believed five years previously). In Japan, the process was more complex, and required a lengthy military occupation on the heels of a horribly destructive war. Russia and Eastern Europe were historically part of Christendom, long before they were "the heartland of the evil empire." When Podhoretz suggests that that radical Islam would be sloughed off in a vanquished Middle East as easily as Marxist-Leninism was sloughed off in post-1989 Poland, he sounds extremely foolish.
What the World War IV advocates have in mind is the use of disaffected local forces to topple the existing Muslim regimes. But as Paul Schroeder has noted (in an extremely lucid essay in the aforementioned National Interest) it is hard to imagine that any Pentagon imposed regime would long be experienced as legitimate in the Middle East. Indeed, such regimes would soon be viewed as little more than puppets of American intervention. The United States would soon face a sea of Arabs as hostile to the New Order as the residents of the Gaza Strip are to Israel's occupation. Anti-American terrorism, until now the work of comparatively isolated fragment of bin Ladenites, would become pandemic.
After all, the root of the hatred felt by many in the Muslim world for America is the fact that we are deeply present in their societies. As Schroeder notes, "No one can suppose that the attack was intended somehow to convert Americans from their way of life to that of Islam. It is because these terrorists and their sympathizers see their way of life being corroded and eaten away by secular Western values and customs that we are under attack." And yet, an expansive victory in the war against terror the toppling of six or seven Muslim governments would only bring the United States into more direct contact with the region, and give America a conqueror's responsibilities there.
We already see the difficulties emerging in Afghanistan, where the US is being drawn into feuds between competing warlords, and has already inadvertently killed dozens of entirely innocent people. The War Party wants to expand this problem to the entire Middle East a counsel of sheer madness.
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