April 04, 2003

Nat Hentoff has lost it. That is, he has selectively lost the ability to understand accounts of political situations that are more complex than slogans.

He makes two points and a conclusion: 1) Saddam Hussein has done gruesome, horrible things to Iraqis. He cites Amnesty International reports. 2) The (ever vaguely defined) anti-war movement claims to support the Iraqi opposition while opposing the invasion, but their support of the opposition has no actual substance. 3) That's why he isn't part of the anti-war crowd.

He doesn't even bother to claim that the invasion is the only option for getting rid of Hussein, much less one that is morally justifiable given the short term humanitarian catastrophe. Given that people in Basra are drinking from rivers full of sewage, and 600 civilians have already been directly killed by US bombs, one might think that such a claim would not be simply assumed.

But he doesn't just assume this. He completely (and probably consciously) misrepresents the position of people who are anti-war. If we want to talk about the liberation (or just the survival) of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, let's think about the sanctions, just for a minute. It's fairly clear that the sanctions were intended to weaken the people of Iraq and keep Saddam in power, albeit without new weapons. Indeed, the entire Iraqi population became dependent on their terrible, vicious government for food. We gave Saddam total power over his country: people thrived or starved at his command. As Tony Blair perversely noted in a recent press conference, 500,000 Iraqi children died.

But it wasn't the fault of the sanctions that gave Saddam the power to kill and oppress. Nope, it was Saddam's fault, and we're going to pretend there was nothing we could do about it. Just like there was nothing we could do about it when the CIA sponsored coup put his party in power, and when the US sent him arms, chemical weapons and subsidies. Now that we're in this position, as long as we completely ignore our policies up to the very instant of invasion, invasion is justified. Just not for the reasons given. And by the way, we're going to ignore the obvious disaster this is going to be for the world economy, international relations, nuclear disarmament, terrorism, and (now even more justified) anti-american sentiment.

Nope. We're just going to look at the situation right now while leaving out most of the relevant historical context. Except for the little snippets that tell us that Saddam is bad bad bad. But there's no need to ask why Saddam is in power. It's because he's evil. No further explanation needed.

An accurate assessment of whether war, or sanctions, or containment or any other policy is justified can only happen on the basis of an honest account of the actions that led to the current situation. That intelligent liberals like Hentoff cannot grasp this basic, essential fact is truly saddening.

posted by dru in journalism