Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Liberation and the left. Edward Lempinen of Salon has written an impassioned and important essay to his fellow-travelers on the left on why they should support the invasion -- and liberation -- of Iraq. Lempinen makes a number of points that I would have thought were obvious, but I guess that's the difference between being a mainstream liberal (Media Log's political hangout) and a genuine leftist like Lempinen.

Here's one example of that difference. As Lempinen acknowledges, the left opposes this war on so-called principle, spouting -- if perhaps not quite believing -- that George W. Bush is no better than Saddam Hussein, or for that matter Adolf Hitler. Try to wrap your minds around the genuine offensiveness of that point of view.

What Lempinen leaves out is that most liberals who oppose the war -- like me -- do so mainly out of the fear that Bush's unprecedented feat of alienating the vast majority of international opinion will produce myriad nasty and unpredictable consequences down the line, not out of blanket opposition to the use of force. The French probably never could have been brought along, but a few more weeks, some tough benchmarks that Saddam would have had to comply with, and who knows? Maybe we could have done this as world heroes rather than international pariahs. But a leftist would never think that way.

Lempinen's main concern is the ongoing human-rights catastrophe in Iraq. Among leftists, he writes:

Such opposition to war is reflexive, and too often outweighs its outrage on behalf of the oppressed. Its capacity for the kind of muscular empathy that leads to action has atrophied, leaving only the possibility of reaction, of opposition. The antiwar left does not mount massive protests against China, Pakistan or Egypt. Millions do not pour into the streets on behalf of the student-led democracy movement in Iran. And Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are not angrily compared to Hitler -- that treatment is more often reserved for George W. Bush.


The implicit assumption of the post-Vietnam culture is that pacifism always holds the moral high ground. But in the Iraq conundrum, there is no high ground, no moral purity. If you argue for war, on humanitarian grounds, you are saying: We must risk thousands of casualties not only among soldiers, but among children and civilians, so that Saddam's weapons can be destroyed and his murderous system of repression can be dismantled. If you argue that war is to be avoided because of those potential casualties, then you are arguing that Saddam's system of repression -- the political murders, the torture chambers, the slow death of the soul that comes from living under such tyranny -- must be endured.

Not that our thoughts matter any more -- the deadline for Saddam and his sons will come in about 20 minutes -- but Lempinen articulates exactly why any thinking person's position on the war should be agonizing, subject to constant reflection, and open to change.

The only people who think this is an easy call are Bush and the right-wing ideologues egging him on -- and the leftists who'd rather march around with posters depicting Bush as Hitler than confront the terrible reality of Saddam's Iraq.

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