Tuesday, May 08, 2007

At What Cost "Victory"?

Andrew Sullivan, conservative Catholic blogger and initially a vociferous war supporter, has in the last year or two come to realize what a costly mistake Iraq has been for the United States. His column today is, in my opinion, a must-read, as he finally comes to consider what the cost to America has been at home. I'll post a lengthy except after the jump:

At home, the public has come to accept torture as a legitimate instrument of government, something that the Founding Fathers would have been aghast at. We have come to accept that the president is not bound by habeas corpus, if he decides he isn't. He can sign laws and say they don't apply to him. We know that an American citizen can be detained for years without charges and tortured and abused - and then critical evidence of his torture will be "lost". We have come to accept our phones being tapped without a warrant and without our even knowing about it. These huge surrenders of liberty have occurred without much public outcry. When the next major terrorist attack comes, the question will simply be how much liberty Americans have left. That is a victory al Qaeda could not have achieved by force of arms. It is something they have achieved with our witting and conscious help.

In reassessing the war, in other words, the moral cost to America must come into the equation. The Iraq war has removed for a generation the concept of the U.S. military being an unimpeachable source of national honor. It has infringed civil liberties. It has legalized and institutionalized torture as a government tool - and helped abuse and brutality metastasize throughout the field of conflict. To be sure, abuse of captives always happens in wartime. What's different now is that the commander-in-chief has authorized and legitimized it, and so the contagion has spread like wildfire. The tragedy is that none of this will help us actually win this war. By alienating so many Iraqis, the occupation has badly damaged American soft-power in the world. It has alienated many allies. It has exhausted the military itself. It has failed to quell an insurgency. History also teaches us that success against such an insurgency in such a country would require over a decade of a brutal war of attrition.

The question we have to ask is: if this is the way we achieve victory, what kind of country would America be at the end of it? To paraphrase Robert Bolt, it profit a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose his soul. But for Iraq?

It's selfish, but to me this has been the saddest chapter in the Iraq War saga, that we as a nation have taken such large and drastic steps along the road to becoming that which we long considered evil. When I was growing up, the Soviet Union was the Bad Guy, building walls between nations, crushing native opposition beneath the treads of their tanks, torturing captured enemies in secret gulags far from the rule of law.

Now, we are the ones doing those very same things. And very few Americans seem to care. Are we that afraid of terrorists? Are we that gutless and weak, that we are willing to throw away the very freedoms we're supposedly fighting to protect? What has happened to our sense of moral outrage that such deep and fundamental changes pass without comment?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The two greatest (or at least the most common) motivators of human behavior are fear and greed. This is a case of fear. In the face of fear, security becomes an over-riding concern, and freedom and the responsibilities it requires, are set aside. Actually I am feeling much more hopeful that the eyes of the nation are opening and we are realizing how absurd the current administrations views are. Even a stupid show like Boston Legal is able to point out the irony of our policies.
Jeff, let me throw you a bit of a curve. As an American, can you see the reason why the Iraq people, who must re-live Sept. 11th EVERY DAY:
1.Were willing to live with Sadaam, and
2. May now wish for ANY solution, even another totalitarian government, this timeled by a religious leader, no matter what the cost?
3. Will we see more and more nations embracing “stronger”, i.e., more militant, leaders in the hope of a more secure homeland?
However, the big question remains, and must be answered, what do we do about the real bad guys, the ones who spend every day devising ways to destroy either the USA, or all democracies, or Israel and any of its allies, or, the worst ones, anyone who is not a Muslim? We cannot forget that the threat is real. Most knew 5 years ago that the threat was not in Iraq, it was an ideology.