[lit-ideas] Giving Reasons [Iraqi] with morality considered

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2006 10:56:23 -0700

I'm going to have some things to say about Walter Okshevsky's concern - sort
of, but I'll be leading up to it slowly:

 

1.  James Bowman* has some rather interesting things to say about the
reasons for our invading Iraq.  Bowman says that Saddam Hussein lied about
having WMDs.  "Simply put, Saddam lied repeatedly because he was part of an
honor culture that demanded he lie."  

 

"Kenneth Pollack, who has written widely about pre-and postwar Iraq, doesn't
quite accept this explanation, but proposes one not unlike it himself,
writing that Saddam 'may have feared that if his internal adversaries
realized that he no longer had the capability to use these weapons they
would try to move against him.  In a similar vein, Saddam's standing among
the Sunni elites who constituted his power base was linked to a great extent
to his having made Iraq a regional power base was linked to a great extent
to his having made Iraq a regional power - which the elites saw as a product
of Iraq's unconventional arsenal.  Thus openly giving up his WMD could also
have jeopardized his position with crucial supporters.'

 

"This is only to say that Saddam's honor - his reputation for being
formidable, warlike and dangerous - was as important to those 'crucial
supporters' within Iraq as it was to other Arab leaders, and indeed to
himself . . .  In the end, writes Mr. Pollack, what all this amounts to is
that Saddam 'chose not to "come clean" and cooperate with the U.N. for fear
that this would make him look weak to both his domestic enemies and his
domestic allies, either of whom might then have moved against him."

 

2.  Also from Bowman: "President Bush's pre-war speech to the American
Enterprise Institute, later reiterated in his second inaugural Address and
elsewhere, that democracy in the Middle East was the best bulwark against
Middle Eastern Terrorists in America, and that the more important purpose of
deposing Saddam was to establish democracy in Iraq as an example to the rest
of the Arab world.  It seems to me that the president rally believed this,
just as he really believed in the reality of the WMDs, but that neither
belief was inconsistent with the idea that both were necessary to fill the
space left by the unmentionability of honor - and the need that it implied
to take a further revenge beyond the overthrow of the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan in order to wipe away the shame, the stain upon American honor,
of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

 

"American leaders, that is, might conceivably be supposed to care as much
about looking strong before the world as Saddam Hussein did - and so,
perhaps, to have come to the conclusion that something more needed to be
done by way of providing a forceful demonstration to our enemies and
potential enemies that America was not to be attacked with impunity.  Of
course there was no possibility of the president's saying this.  You only
have to look at the outcry that greeted such occasional forays into
Texas-style bravado or machismo, so typical of honor cultures but so
disreputable in our own, as his invitation to the jihadist enemy to 'Bring
it on.'"

 

". . . it would have been out of the question to mention anything so
primitive as the retaliatory principle.  Yet that principle - what Francis
Bacon called the 'wild justice' that honors revenge visited upon friends and
relatives even unto the most distant cousins of the perpetrator - could
surely have been invoked against Saddam Hussein, with his history of
hostility to the United States.  Such indiscriminate retaliation simply has
no political resonance in the highly moralized and idealized world of
international relations as it is understood by the average American voter."

 

In regard to (1) if we assume Bowman is correct then Saddam could not give
reasons let alone confess that he had no WMDs.  Was his decision moral?  I
don't know.  I only read the Koran once and don't recall anything that
addressed that specifically.  From our standpoint in the West he would have
prevented a war if he could have brought himself to bow to the UN's demands,
but it would have been dishonorable (in his own eyes and in the eyes of
Arabs generally) for him to have so bowed.  

 

In regard to (2) if we assume Bowman is correct then there was a hidden
reason for going to war with Iraq, the ancient but not utterly irrelevant
Western Honor Code.  It is safe to say there wasn't a single "real" reason
for invading Iraq, but here we encounter a reason that may not have been
conscious in anyone's mind.  It may have been a valid reason for the war,
but it was suppressed either consciously or unconsciously, and it was
officially unacceptable.   As a nation we don't get even.

 

Neither Saddam nor Bush was in a position to produce all his reasons.  We
can assume that at least Bush wasn't cognizant of all his reasons, and
Saddam may not have been either.  The relation of these reasons to moral
codes is in doubt.  Does the Arab honor system correspond to the Koran or is
it something that preceded the Koran and is retained as a custom.  Is
revenge a natural reaction?  Bowman thinks it is.  He sites children playing
in a sandbox.  If one hits another, he (or she) is sure to get hit back.  No
one teaches this behavior.  It is instinctive.  

 

At the national level not hitting back may encourage a bully to keep on
hitting.  We didn't hit back during the Clinton administration and Osama bin
Laden was encouraged to keep on hitting.  He expressed confidence that he
could hit the US out of existence the same way he hit the USSR out of
existence.  

 

To the extent we hit Iraq as a lesson to the others, that lesson seems not
to have made much of an impression on Ahmadinejad.

 

* Bowman, James.  Honor, a History, 2006.  Encounter Books

 

Lawrence

 

 

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