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Michael Moszczynski's Weblog
Bringing the Boys Back Home 27.IV.2007 22:46
Sometimes - a lot of the time, even - I find the anti-war lobby more infuriating than the pro-war lobby, and quotations from the Democratic presidential candidates show exactly why. 'We are one signature away from ending this war,' says Barack Obama, and there are two possible interpretations to such a ludicrous statement. The first, the more charitable, is that he is showing us not so much the audacity of his hope as its folly - he thinks that with the American troops gone, the insurgents will lose the focus of their attacks and Iraq will calm down enough for the government to stabilise it - and while there is an argument to be made that American troops are doing more harm than good, the fact is that the war will rage on irrespective of an American withdrawal. Which leads to the second, and in my opinion correct, interpretation - for a person like Barack Obama, the war is over as soon as American lives stop being lost. The war isn't about ensuring stability for the millions of Iraqis whose lives are embroiled in it - the tragedy for him lies with the coffins draped in the American flag, not the ones buried en masse in Iraqi soil. Morally, this is absolutely abhorrent, but it's the consequence of the 'Support Our Troops' mentality that is shouted so loudly across America, and the 'Protect Our Own' mentality that is a much quieter undercurrent in the remainder of the West.

Each side accuses the other of not supporting the troops, because both have fairly ridiculous notions on what it means. For the pro-war lobby, it means that a man's willing death justifies the thing for which he made the sacrifice - an argument also favoured, no doubt, by the supporters of suicide bombers. If you want to think this is an American phenomenon, it isn't - witness the controversy over the implication by the Canadian War Museum that the firebombing of Dresden which killed tens of thousands of German civilians has an element of moral complexity that warrants a debate. Nothing could be more ridiculous than a blind support of whatever soldiers do - were the young soldiers of the Wehrmacht freezing to death at Stalingrad any less noble in their sacrifice? We can honour the memory of those willing to die for a cause and still pass judgement on the cause itself - or in this case, the way in which it was pursued. It was not the soldiers' to reason why, it was the generals', and the former are in no way diminished by an examination of the methods of the latter.

The anti-war lobby's version, while probably more genuinely supportive of the troops, is even more morally repugnant. When the left supports our troops, they do so in the same way that Belgium did in 1994 when it pulled its forces from Rwanda after the brutal deaths of ten of their peacekeepers. Roméo Dallaire famously wrote that, in Western public opinion, it takes the deaths of 10,000 Africans to counterbalance the death of a single Western soldier, and even the Belgians decided that the deaths of 10 men were far worse than anything that could befall the Rwandans in the aftermath - in short, they supported their troops. This is exactly what Clinton, Obama, Kucinich and the like mean when they say they support the troops - the war is criminal because of the lives of Americans that have been lost in it, and should be ended before any more American mothers have to bury their sons.

In this sense, the Democrats really do have the power to end the war immediately - they cut funding, and the war ends as soon as the last American soldier leaves Iraqi soil. The aftermath will become shrouded in one of those euphemisms we enjoy - 'sectarian strife' in Nigeria, the 'conflict' in Darfur, the 'worsening situation' in Somalia. We don't care nearly as much about those wars, because, on some level, we think that the Savages of the world slaughtering one another is simply the natural order of things, and throwing our civilised men into that pit of viper's is always a mistake. The war ends when we stop caring - when the word stops appearing in 72 point font across the headlines of our newspapers. It ends when it ceases to be 'our responsibility' - although this notion is particularly ludicrous in the case of the Americans in Iraq, as they are responsible for the situation in a very direct way. And it's not just the politicians who behave this way - if it were more efficacious to appeal for the human rights of Iraqis, they'd be doing exactly that, but the fact is that another 60 dead Iraqis makes people think 'oh, how horrible', whereas the plight of Cindy Sheehan genuinely moves them. We are forced to look see her, a weeping mother, but the third world's weeping mothers are out of sight, out of mind.

I'm not here to argue that a withdrawal of American troops is necessarily bad for Iraq - while the civil war won't end soon, there is some evidence that the American presence is exacerbating it, and that a country all of whose citizens feel their homeland is occupied are more likely to tolerate or contribute to the cycle of violence. I don't necessarily believe this is true, but an argument can be made. Nor do I want to argue against Western interventionism - while I always was and continue to be opposed to the Iraq war, I firmly believe that there should be United Nations force with a strong mandate in Darfur right now, with or without the support of the Sudanese government, and it is a sad state of affairs when the most influence in improving the lives of the Darfuris is held by Sinopec. What disgusts me are the terms in which the debate is framed - the appropriate action to take in Iraq right now is the one that does the most to improve the human rights of the people living on the territory of that miserable land. I don't know what that is - it is extraordinarily difficult to choose the least of such terrible evils - but the fact is that those are the people to whom the West has the greatest responsibility - all the people around the world who haven't the means to protect themselves. American opinion has turned against the Iraq war - a majority believe that it was mistake, and I agree. But what changed their minds was not the wretched daily life to which Iraqis are now condemned but the plight of American troops stationed there and the mothers who lost their sons, and I think the relative levels of compassion speak volumes about Western morality; morality of the kind that ignored Rwanda and is ignoring Darfur.
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