Friday, October 11, 2002

OK! I'm playing linker today, to three good pieces by people whose work I consistently admire.

First up is Dwight Meredith's piece on the question of disarmament vs. regime change. Yeah, it's about a week old, but I've been pretty busy lately, so I'll just play catch-up. It's not that Dwight's piece contains new and spectacular analysis or information, but it provides a great summary of the arguments for either. The only thing that I wish he could have added was the problem of invasion and regime change from an international law standpoint; not only is it directly against the U.N. charter, but it sets an example for other, less benign regimes to follow.

(I imagine that the Georgians are probably not big fans of the concept, for example.)

Second and third are a set of pieces by Jeanne D'Arc (here, and here) discussing the question of rebuilding in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. Jeanne brings a personal side to the question of Afghanistan:

The little yellow food packets were a symbol to me -- for a short time at least -- that there was a good chance that Bush understood the enormous human needs in Afghanistan, and recognized that meeting those needs was at least half the war effort. It was a token, of course -- but a good one. I took it as a promise that food, doctors, and medical supplies would be coming as soon as possible. And this time we wouldn't abandon the Afghans, because this time we understood how intimately our interests were mingled with theirs....

The essence of democracy -- whatever most people believe is true. Or all that counts anyway. George Bush obviously understood something about the American psyche that had whizzed right past my Catholic schoolgirl innocence: people in Afghanistan did not matter; what mattered was being able to tell ourselves that we are loved -- even by people we are bombing.

When Doctors Without Borders asked the administration to stop dropping the food because they were putting people's lives at risk, and making humanitarian workers' jobs harder in the long run, Bush didn't respond, and they kept dropping the food. What concerned DWB -- helping suffering people -- was irrelevant, and the issues they raised were not even worth responding to.

And if there was an implied promise to the people of Afghanistan in those packets, it has long since been broken.

The cynicism Bush displayed in manipulating humanitarian concerns (along with a similar cynicism in the exploitation of a genuine concern for women's basic human rights) and the failure to follow through in stabilizing the government of Afghanistan, continued to trouble me as I tried to decide whether or not to support war with Iraq.
That troubled thought is the subject of the latter post, where Jeanne correctly points out that if the U.S. neglects Iraq like it has Afghanistan outside of Kabul, the situation will be horrible and the region will be shattered.

And there are still more dangers. As James Fallows recently discussed in The Atlantic, a post-Saddam Iraq would be so chaotic it would make Afghanistan look easily governable in comparison. The US would have to make Iraq virtually, in Fallows' words, "the fifty-first state." We could not allow Iraq, with its arsenal, to become the kind of failed state that made Afghanistan a home for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But keeping it from doing so would require international support and a commitment to nation-building that dwarfs anything in our history, including the occupation of Japan.

That's a commitment that ought to give us pause and force some serious thinking, no matter who is president. But in Afghanistan, Bush demonstrated that he does not consider the commitment to re-building a part of his war strategy. If Karzai's government fails and Afghanistan falls back into anarchy, we face a threatening situation, but it is nothing compared to the situation we would face if Bush were to abandon Iraq after an invasion the way he has abandoned Afghanistan.
Again, that's the big question, isn't it? Not the invasion, but what happens after. Hopefully, it won't be the process of questing around for a new target. Hopefully, it'll be keeping Iraq from flying apart and rebuilding it properly, with the political and financial support of the United States.

Unfortunately, I'm not feeling particularly hopeful.

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