Friday, May 31, 2002

I was originally going to respond in Ye Olde Blogge's comment section, but have changed my mind and am going to respond here. At least I'm on my own turf.

I'm not overly surprised by the reaction. I was wondering how long it would take before I would be lumped in with Chomsky et al for questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq. It would appear my entry about "litmus tests" was more accurate than I knew- I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm called "loony left" or something of that sort. I wouldn't be overly surprised at being labelled anti-Semitic as well; it seems to be the fate of anybody who seriously breaks the litmus tests nowadays, whether they have any position on Israel or not. (For the record, I support the existence of Israel and the concept of a Jewish homeland in Israel. This is just so I don't get some plump 'n juicy character assassination from David Horowitz if and when I become visible enough for him to try it.)

In any case, I understand the arguments being made by Harris and Braue perfectly well. There is a difference (which is recognized by Japanese culture and sadly ignored by our own) between understanding an argument and agreeing with it. I can understand the argument being made in favour of invading Iraq; I simply don't agree with it. The whole "communication" and "ramen vs. varelse" thing is simply a sideshow; Saddam was never varelse before the Persian Gulf, we talked with him before, he hasn't changed much since the Iran/Iraq war, so why is it different now?

Ok, first point of dispute:

I must admit I don't really understand this perception. I don't know where it comes from, nor do I get the (repeated in the next paragraph) assertion that the American right is "obsessed" with Iraq.

Did you read the National Review prior to 9/11, or several other right-wing mags? Inasmuch as such publications represent the right wing of American punditry, I can assure you that there was continual and loud calls for the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. This has been going on since the Gulf War; have you not read the right-wing critiques of Bush's actions in the Gulf War?

Next point:

In any case, I don't know what evidence my government has linking Iraq to Al Qaeda, or to any of the actual attacks on US citizens. I can well believe that investigators have had trouble finding conclusive evidence that would be sufficient backing for a regime change; our 'intelligence' community doesn't seem to be able to match both halves of their own ass. But it's also easy to suppose that Mr./Ms. D. tosses off the idea of Hussein's involvement much too easily, as if we should say, sure, Hussein's a thug and a dictator, but who are we to tell his people they deserve better?

Ah, and here's the meat of the post. (Aside from the knee-jerk accusation of anti-Americanism that I'll ignore as a courtesy to Ms. Harris). I'll break it down into two concepts (which, yes, I understand). First, the idea that there is evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. There isn't, not really. At best they've been able to find an incredibly weak connection between one Iraqi spy and Al Qaeda that doesn't prove much of anything except the power of coincidence. Investigators haven't been able to find any because no such thing exists, much as the extreme right would really, really, really like to believe there's one. The Bush administration has been desperate to find one in order to provide a legitimate reason to invade Iraq. The fact that they haven't found one that could even conceivably be used to justify the invasion to their own soldiers (let alone the public and let alone the international community) speaks volumes. (Even if the FBI sucks, you know that their allies would love to find one too. Can you honestly claim that, say, Mossad or MI6 wouldn't be able to find such a connection if they were really looking for it and it actually existed?)

The second claim comes back to the question of legitimacy and sovereignty, two points that Cliff brought up in my comments section. The claim argued by both Harris and Cliff is that Saddam is not legitimate because he is a Warrior; he clawed his way to the top and crushed those who opposed him. Since he isn't legitimate, his nation cannot have sovereignty; since his nation cannot have sovereignty, the United States would not be engaging in gunboat diplomacy if it invaded Iraq. The problem with this argument is that such governments are universal, and there has never, ever, EVER been a precedent in international law or even in American law that argues that elected governments is free to crush unelected governments whenever it has a disagreement with them.

Look: the concept of sovereignty and legitimacy have nothing to do with whether or not a government is popularly elected. On the contrary, they rest solely on who controls the state, and therefore the legitimacy that a state has as a matter of course. The idea of state sovereignty predates the United States and representative democracy itself, and there have been several influential writers (Thomas Hobbes chief among them) who have argued that legitimate sovereignty not only has nothing to do with representative democracy but is actually impossible in representative democracies! (I don't support this view, but it does exist). Other political philosophers that have directly influenced the formation of the United States such as Locke and Rousseau would hardly argue that it takes a democracy to bestow legitimacy on a government: Rousseau didn't even think representative government was legitimate because people "were only sovereign when voting!"

What bestows legitimacy on a government is the willingness of the people to obey it. Why they are willing is unimportant; if they obey in order to avoid being shot, then that is as legitimate as any belief that their leaders are wise and/or representative. If they are willing to be subject to its rule, then it is legitimate. If they are not, then they set themselves in opposition to it and either destroy it or are destroyed by it. This is what rebellion or revolution is; it is the rejection of the legitimacy of the state and an attempt to form a new state. Whether or not that government is democratic, whether or not it is oppressive (and how many libertarians have argued that the American government itself is oppressive, despite the representative assemblies), whether or not they shoot every tenth citizen because they're sick, twisted, insane bastards; they're legitimate until the people decide otherwise. From that flows sovereignty; whomever has the legitimate use of force (or ability to decide who gets to use force) is sovereign. In modern times, that's the state. In Iraq, that's Saddam Hussein, whether the United States likes him or not.

This is why the United States used the tactics it did in Afghanistan, by the way, and why it's been trying to build up a native Iraqi resistance for a decade now. It wants the Iraqis to rise up and say "you are no longer legitimate" to Saddam and his government and throw them down. They haven't, and likely won't. In Afghanistan it was different; there were competing factions, and the United States simply made sure that one faction beat another. The Taliban wasn't really a legitimate government and the United States was attacked by an organization it was connected to and therefore could aid: the Northern Alliance. The U.S. was also retaliating against aggression; there is plenty of precedent for that. The same is not true of Iraq; it is not connected to Al-Qaeda (as I mentioned earlier), and therefore cannot be attacked on those grounds.

Iraq's government is legitimate in Iraq. The United States is not legitimate in Iraq. The international system that has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia has emphasized that the affairs of a legitimate state (such as Iraq's) remain their own affairs unless and until they harm another state. These concepts are at the foundation of the United Nations, and the United States has always been extremely quick to defend these ideas when it comes to their own sovereignty. The United States rejected the International Criminal Court for this very reason; because they didn't want to give up their sovereign control over their own citizens to another body. To take this position with your own country and not with another is not only hypocritical but dangerous, because the entire reason this sort of system works is simply because states trust each other to play by the rules. If the United States invades Iraq, it shows to the rest of the world that it cannot be trusted, and that it doesn't truly care about national sovereignty unless it suits the U.S.'s own interests. (Note that this isn't limited to the United States: any nation doing this would be censored by the United Nations and the international community. If Iraq hadn't broken this basic rule, the Gulf War would have never happened. The United States is simply the only nation in the world which could pull it off right now, although China invading Taiwan would be equally egregious, as would be, say, an Indian invasion of Pakistan or vice-versa.)

Would this have reprecussions? Yes it would. The ICC would have proof that the United States' claims to sovereignty are invalid, and therefore could feel free to try any U.S. citizens it feels necessary, with the U.S' protestations of national sovereignty falling on deaf ears. The rest of the world would view the United States much differently in a strategic sense; although the United States could still be worked with, it would never be trusted. It would likely have economic repercussions; since the United States cannot be trusted to respect the strategic sovereignty of other nations, why would it be trusted to respect the economic sovereignty of other nations? What's to stop the United States from leaning on, say, Singapore until they agree to enact intellectual property laws that suit American interests? Singapore's government isn't popularly elected either, and yet I bet Harris has things in her home that were made there. Sure, the "money is flowing", but there's an awful lot of money out there that ain't U.S. dollars and investments that aren't in the United States; if you can't trust a country, why trade with it more than is absolutely necessary? (That's already starting to happen with the steel issue; other steel-importing countries are licking their lips over all the cheap steel imports they'll be able to get from outside the United States. The new intellectual property and copyright laws will only make this worse.)

Yes, Andrea Harris, I fully understand your point. yes, John Braue, I fully understand your point. And yes, Virginia, Saddam is unfortunately legitimate. Whether we like that or not is unimportant. Whether we think it's fair or not is unimportant. Whether we think that he might be a threat to us in at some point in the future is unimportant (and it's not a simple question: Saddam is not mad, and doesn't want to die, which he most certainly would if Baghdad was nuked to glass). The only real question from an international relations standpoint is whether the United States will invade anyway, and what repercussions that will have. I'm not sure about the answer to the first question, but am pretty sure of the answer to the second.

(Slight Edit: fixed a few spelling mistakes and increased the clarity a little.)

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