Freedom at swordpoint

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I supported the American invasion of Iraq.

I realize that puts me in a small minority. Most Canadians were staunchly opposed to it. Our government refused to participate. The war’s excesses, failures and lies – and it had all three – made it a punching bag for critics of all political persuasions and nationalities.

My view of the war in retrospect is more nuanced – I’ve had a sea change in my political views around international intervention (more on that later) – but I continue to believe George W, for all his flaws, had predominantly good intentions in waging war on Iraq, and that Iraq may well end up better off (and may already be better off) for his warmongering.

An interesting article on the topic appears in today’s National Post: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/04/wayne-k-spear-the-moral-failure-of-desmond-tutu/

I wouldn’t direct quite the same level of vitriol towards Tutu, but much of the piece is compelling. Saddam Hussein was monstrous to his own people, he could have prevented the war any time by throwing open the gates and allowing transparency, the dictator was known to have stockpiles of WMD in the past and it appeared some of them were unaccounted for, he repeatedly flouted resolutions passed by the international community, he gave money to the families of suicide bombers, and he plotted to kill a former U.S. president.

These are all true, and all could be used to make a pretty compelling case for dethroning the dictator.

Mistakes were made in the war and the peace – no doubt criminal mistakes – and in some cases, bad people did bad things and the U.S. government covered for them. But it is not at all clear that the invasion of Iraq was morally reprehensible…

…maybe. My views have evolved in a direction away from supporting international interventions. My logic is still somewhat muddy on this, I’ll acknowledge. For example, I still think Clinton was wrong for not sending in the Marines in Rwanda. Clearly, I have not arrived at a point where I am absolutely against overseas intervention. But I have retreated drastically from the view I once held that using the might of the government and military to free people from tyranny is often a legitimate function for Western nation states.

It may still be legitimate sometimes, but as a general principle, I don’t think it should be within the government’s mandate to take an active military role beyond our borders. I am less interested in the collective identity of nations or their ambitions than I once was.

Iraq cost American lives – albeit a small number compared to wars in the past – and a lot of treasure. And while the end result may be good – Hussein deposed, Iraq on a rocky road to greater freedom – the idea democracy and liberty can be imposed at gunpoint no longer persuades me (nor am I convinced government should have the right to extract money from citizens to support such endeavours).

There was a time when freedom could be forced. You could roll over Germany, rule that conquered nation with an iron hand, and impose a new order. But that was before the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Now a single casualty makes headlines. An atrocity undoes months of work.

In previous wars – pre Vietnam – hundreds of thousands could be sacrificed in the name of the nation or empire, and public support would barely falter. Dresden could be incinerated, Hiroshima annihilated, and the public cheered.

A cruel but successful way to wage war.

Now armies fight with one-hand tied behind their backs. They must win, but do it without being dirty or losing any soldiers.

I’m not arguing the merits, pro or con, of total war today. But the limits public exposure puts on waging war makes winning an occupation very difficult, if not impossible.

I am not a pacifist. I am a military isolationist and an economic globalist. We should be open to world trade, and seek improvement of distant lands through commerce, while saving our defense dollars for our homeland: protection of Canadian shores and lands, and (with rare exceptions) non-interference overseas.

Yes, I’m playing armchair general. No apologies. It’s fun.

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