Sunday, December 18, 2005

Response from Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory

I sincerely appreciate Glenn coming back to answer my reply to his original post at Unclaimed Territory. Britt Hume said something on Fox Sunday this morning that is very true. War brings out passions. Although Glenn and I are about as far apart as possible on this issue, I think we are both on the same side here in wanting our country to be safe from terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties.

Here is Glenn’s reply from the comments section. I have moved it to the main board simply because it deserves to be read:

I intended to answer this post in a post of my own but I blogged today about the NSA eavesdropping controversey and consequently did not have time to do so. But these are the points in reply I wanted to make:

(1) I did not say that pro-war advocates never mention Iraqi dead civilians killed by the U.S. military. I said they rarely mention it, which is undeniably true. And those who do mention it do so in order to dismiss it as a sufficient reason for opposing the war (or, as in your cites, to complain about the coverage it is getting).

It can’t be denied that 30,000 dead Iraqis packs a significant emotional punch. And it’s at least 30,000 dead, since that’s an American estimate. I’m not interested in bickering over the number or the identity of each of them. Other estimates from months ago put the number at 100,000 civilians, and the important point is that no matter what number you want to believe, it’s a huge amount of innocent Iraqi people who were killed by this war. Even pro-war advocates – perhaps especially them, since the war is purportedly being fought to liberate Iraqis – must feel some strong sense of sorrow and remorse over this huge number of deaths.

But the reason pro-war advocates are able to still favor the war despite the existence of huge numbers of dead Iraqi civilians is the same reason that I can oppose the war despite the emergence of democratic elections in Iraq – while it has a strong emotional effect, it does not, in itself, speak to whether the war is, on balance, a war that we ought to have fought or should keep fighting, particularly from the perspective of U.S. interests — which is, for me at least, what determines whether this war is a good idea.

(2) When I said that the existence of elections in Iraq is a neutral event, I did not mean, and did not imply, that the elections would have happened in the absence of our occupation. They clearly would not have. What I said was that they are neutral from the perspective of U.S. interests. Elections by themselves do not advance U.S. interests. Whether U.S. interests are advanced depends on who gains power by virtue of the elections. I have yet to hear anyone explain how U.S. interests will be advanced by these elections if they end up installing in power a Shiite theocracy loyal to Iranian mullahs or worse. Does anyone have an explanation as to how that can be?

(3) If democracy is intrinsically helpful to U.S. security, do you actually favor taking steps to rid countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia of their unquestionably dictatorial but intensely pro-U.S governments and replace them with a democratically elected government which is almost sure to be anti-American if not outright sympathetic to, and cooperative with, Muslim extremists?

This is not the cliched argument that is often advanced to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration’s pro-democracy rhetoric. It is a genuine question about whether we really are willing to commit ourselves to democracy in this region even if it means – as it almost certainly will – that U.S. interests will be harmed in the process.

The 20th Century is full of examples of governments which were initially elected democratically but then become despotic. Adolph Hitler is but one of many such examples. And there are plenty of democratically elected leaders who are anti-American today, with Hugo Chavez being the most prominent, but not only, example around today. The mere existence of a democratically elected government does not even remotely assure us that the government will be pro-U.S., and in the case of Shiite religious dominated Iraq, there is every reason to believe that it will not be.

Of course I disagree with most of what Glenn just said. I will reply to his comments tomorrow. I would also like to say that if you are a conservative who likes to read well said if not well reasoned arguments from the left, I strongly recommend stopping by Unclaimed Territory regularly.


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