Sunday, February 26, 2006

Buckley's Dissent

Bill Buckley, a Conservative (and sometimes Republican) has put it on paper:

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “The bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted — to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.


A problem for American policymakers — for President Bush, ultimately — is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed. One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom. The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence. This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure.

It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail — in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take?

It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

Captain's Quarters disagrees.

In the 1500's, the seedbed of international law was developed. At the time, a Catholic missionary priest complained (loud and long) to the Spanish Throne that the natives in the Caribbean were being abused by the Spanish conquistadores. There was little question about the veracity of his complaints.

The defense? That the natives were far more cruel to each other (human sacrifice, bloody and un-ending tribal warfare, etc.) than the Spanish were--and after all, the conquistadores were only trying to "civilize" these folks.

The Spanish Throne consulted with a number of highly-regarded Catholic legal experts and as a result, proclaimed that the activities of the conquistadores were illegal.


Because the conquistadores, while (perhaps) rightly-motivated, were disregarding the established norms and laws of the natives. They did not accord the natives the respect due them as humans. The conquistadores were also ignoring the principles of the Just War theory in many (not all) cases.

International Law was developed from this effort.

The unease with which most Americans view Wilson's "Democracy for All" intervention is echoed by the unease of Conservatives with GWBush's "Democracy for Iraq" proclamations--evidenced by Buckley's column. This goal--'to establish democracy'--is dangerous.

That's why the "cartoon" issue is significant, pace Mr. Esenberg and thousands of others who imagine that 'freedom of expression' should trump human respect for religious sensibilities. The foundation of International Law is respect for the cultural sensibilities, laws, and customs of others.

That does NOT mean that the West should idly observe slaughter (as it seems to be doing in Sudan, for example.) Nor does it mean that the West should sit by if attacked.

But it puts into question the Wilsonian Quest, which was echoed in GWB's remarks about "democracy."

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