Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mark Rowlands on Iraq

Mark Rowlands suggests applying some ethical philosophy to the issue of withdrawing from the occupation of Iraq.

There are a number of problems with his analysis.

[There is] every indication that [the situation in Iraq] is going to get even worse if we should leave.
There is every indication that the situation in Iraq is going to get worse whether or not we leave. I don't think anyone can state with very much confidence that things will be substantially worse were we to leave compared to how things would be were we to stay.

Rowlands creates a ludicrous and inapt analogy:
Suppose you suspect – groundlessly as it turns out – that your neighbor is throwing garbage into your yard. So, you do what seems to you to be the best thing: you invade his house and largely destroy it, rendering it uninhabitable. Realizing your mistake, you volunteer to stay on and help him or her rebuild it. But, you soon weary of this for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s hitting you financially because you can’t go to work. So, the best thing to do – you decided – is withdraw. If you decide this, then ‘best’ clearly means ‘best for you’.
There is no evidence that the Bush administration suspected Iraq of hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction. They knew there were no such weapons; the justification was not mistaken, it was a lie.

There is little evidence that — lip service aside — there is any serious intention to actually help to rebuild Iraq, at least any intention not conditioned on demanding a disproportionate share of our their oil in return. And the "rebuilding" seems to consist mostly of Halliburton putting up a few hovels and charging the taxpayers for a score of mansions.

And the notion — even by analogy — of George W. Bush realizing his mistake is completely insane.

The analogy fails even as a pure analogy. If someone invaded my house and burnt it down — for any reason, not just for the sake of an obvious lie — I would not want him to stick around and help rebuild it. I most definitely wouldn't want him in charge of the process, especially if he spent a considerable amount of his time killing the surviving inhabitants who were justifiably pissed off that he burnt down the house in the first place and wanted him to get the fuck out.

Here’s one way to think morally, a way that has a lineage that runs from John Rawls, through Immanuel Kant, to, dare I say it, a certain Nazarene carpenter. Imagine you don’t know who you are. You don’t know whether you are American, or an Iraqi Sunni, an Iraqi Shia, or an Iraqi Kurd. Then ask yourself: what would I like to happen? I don’t know what answer you would come up with.
Why is this a good way to think about the occupation? Just because a bunch of then out-of-touch and now-dead white European intellectuals liked to think that way? It doesn't lead to any determinable answer, or at least an answer Rowlands himself thinks he can predict. Yes, let's encourage people to come up with a lot of different answers, that'll do the trick. </snark>

But of course Rowland's analysis does lead to an obvious answer (just not the one he likes): The Iraqi people mostly want us to get the hell out of Iraq and let them solve their own problems. It's a subtle and controversial evaluation, but I suspect that's why they keep shooting at us.

The people of Iraq apparently want to solve their problems with a civil war. It's important to note that our occupation of Iraq is not preventing civil war, it's making us a participant in civil war. (Little known fact: The United States itself fought a civil war, quite a bloody one, for reasons we thought were necessary and sufficient. We ourselves would have rejected any interference in our sovereign affairs, for probably justifiable reasons: sovereign means sovereign.)

Yes, we have ethical obligations to Iraq, ethical obligations that will survive the end of the occupation. We broke it, we bought it, and at the end of the day we're going to have to cough up a great deal of money, on top of what we've already spent. And we're going to have to give it away, and let other people, the Iraqis themselves, determine how it is spent.


  1. Just in case you were wondering how Iraq could possibly get worse, the US-backed Maliki government just picked a big-ass fight with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. Wonder if the Sunnis will stay quiet while the Shiites are busy fucking each other up?

    I really hope Taylor's not deployed in Basra or Baghdad. Shit.

  2. Some other problems with Rowlands' bit on its face:

    "[There is] every indication that [the situation in Iraq] is going to get even worse if we should leave."

    Problem is, a lot of those things that were predicted to occur "if we leave" happened anyways.

    "If you decide this, then ‘best’ clearly means ‘best for you’."

    So what? Rowlands is claiming this is self-evidently bad. He has to explicitly make that case.

  3. Good post.

    Of course, the War is a necessary part of The Plan so there's no point in talking about what makes sense -- it's irrelevant.

  4. Some odd opinions on this one, it must be an american thing :)


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