Wednesday, March 19, 2003

For anyone not completely sick of hearing about Iraq, there is in Salon today an article that I find very honest and compelling. The author employs one of the two pro-war arguments I find persuasive: that of idealism. (The other, for me, is Friedman's pipe dream of a democratic Iraq galvanizing the region. Maybe unlikely, but so attractive.) He writes about leftist ideals, and the time of the Spanish civil war when leftists in droves took arms to fight a fascist Franco. There was a time, he writes, when the left was willing to die for the freedoms of the repressed. This was a left with teeth, one that was willing to engage in revolutionary and violent action, calculating that the balance towards democracy and human rights would end up in its favor. Vietnam, of course, was the crucial shift when anti-war sentiment fused with popular culture and became era-defining and hip. Young radicals today don't think of fighting Franco's fascists when they think of revolutionary action, they think of the flower children. The anti-war activists were dead right in the 60s, and the anti-Franco pro-war radicals were right in the 30s. It is the conflicts that were different, and he seems to imply that the left has largely lost its ability to differentiate between the war worth fighting and the one not to fight. He acknowledges that there are strong, well-reasoned arguments against war, but I think he has a strong point when he says:

"In most every argument against the war, whether it is posed between friends over drinks or by the presence of 100,000 people at a wintry demonstration, there comes a crucial moment: "I'm not defending Saddam," the argument goes. "I know Saddam is a ruthless tyrant. I know he has committed terrible human rights abuses. But ..." What follows "but" is often a withering critique of Bush or the United States, Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar, or Silvio Berlusconi. Hidden in this argument is a curious dynamic: The words "ruthless dictator" and "human rights abuses" have been uttered so many times that they are like a dead key on a piano. They have lost their emotion and their power to convey anything close to the reality of ruthless dictatorship and human rights abuses.
What are we doing to make sure that not another woman is raped or beheaded as a form of political terror? What are we doing to make sure that not another man is humiliated and rendered mute and powerless as the ex-general was? What are we doing to shut down the headquarters of General Intelligence? In the community of human rights monitors, work toward these goals is heroic and often dangerous. These would seem also to be urgent goals for all who consider themselves progressive. But for the most part, in all the angry debate over the war, the left rarely discusses these issues. We acknowledge Saddam as a ruthless dictator and lament his human rights abuses, but we focus our rage on Bush.

...when leftists drift from their most essential values -- to stand for the liberation of repressed people, and to oppose those who repress them -- their righteous passion only partly offsets the strains in their reasoning."

That's a powerful condemnation, and one that hits close to home for me. I think it's an internal conflict a lot of people who consider themselves progressives have been going through. This bumbling war on one hand, and wholesale betrayal of a tortured people on the other. Thankfully though, since the war is now a certainty, Lempinen doesn't content himself with lecturing; he offers a call to action for all leftists:

"For those leftists who have supported the war, and for those who have loudly opposed it, now is the time for a shift in strategy. Bush and his inner circle have repeatedly gone on the record describing the war on Iraq as a war on liberation. Even if we do not believe them, we must work relentlessly to hold them accountable. We must insist that the U.S. and its allies implement, as quickly as possible, a constructive post-war plan. They must protect the Kurds from Saddam and from Turkey. Aided by the U.N., they must provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, no matter the cost. If they truly want to detoxify the Middle East, Bush and his inner circle must commit to seeking a practical solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. They must be reminded constantly, and forcefully, that it is urgent to repair trust, and to stop the corrosion that comes with chronic hypocrisy. By insisting on these values, by returning to the street in a tide of millions, the left might hijack the meaning of this tragedy and salvage from it something constructive."

There's a fight I think we can all enlist in.


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