Last night I participated in a great debate on Afghanistan sponsored by the Donald and Paula Smith Family Foundation in New York City. There were about 150-200 people in the auditorium. I assume that the video of the debate will be posted soon on the Internet and when it is, I’ll let you know. At the post-debate dinner, one of the attendees said of all the debates she had seen at the Smith Family Foundation, this was the best one.
The debate began mildly enough, picked up steam, and then ended up with the gloves being taken off. The debaters were: Larry Woodson (U.S. Army War College), Max Boot (Council on Foreign Relations), Chris Preble (Cato Institute), and Jacob Hornberger (Future of Freedom Foundation).
Since the debate will be posted online, I won’t go into the details of how things transpired. For me, one of the most fascinating parts of the debate occurred near the end. Throughout the debate Boot had chided me for describing the U.S. government’s foreign policy of empire and interventionism as “morally degenerate,” a term that he continued to mock.
As the debate was drawing to an end, I pointed out that one of the reasons that Boot and other pro-war supporters felt the Iraq occupation has been a success is been the fact that “only” a few thousands American soldiers have been killed. If, say, 200,000 American soldiers had been killed, they would likely be singing a different tune.
Not so with respect to the Iraqi people, however. Any number of Iraqis, no matter how high, could be sacrificed to achieve “success.” The percentage of dead could be 20, 30, or even 80 percent of the populace. It just didn’t matter. It would all be considered worth it.
I then turned to Boot and said, “That’s what I call moral degeneracy.”
Well, that caused Boot to angrily interrupt me and exclaim that I wasn’t the only one who cared about Iraqis, and he made the argument common among neocons that Saddam Hussein would have killed many more Iraqis than the U.S. government has.
I have always found that a fascinating rationale for the U.S. killing of the Iraqi people.
For one, no one can know with any degree of certainty how many Iraqis would have been killed by Saddam. What we do know is that he was killing people who were trying to violently overthrow his government. Yet, that’s precisely what U.S. officials are doing — killing people who are violently opposing the U.S. occupation and the regime its invasion installed into power. Both Saddam and U.S. officials have relied on the same argument — if people will just stop resisting their respective regimes, they’ll stop killing them.
Second, where is the morality in killing one group of people in order to save another possible group of people, especially when the U.S. doesn’t care how many people it is killing? Does God actually permit a person to kill Innocent Person A in order to oust a dictator who might kill Innocent Person B at some point in the future?
Moreover, keep in mind that the official U.S. policy was: Don’t keep track of the number of Iraqi deaths. It didn’t matter. No price was too high to pay for Saddam’s ouster in terms of Iraqi deaths. Thus, if say Saddam would have killed 10,000 Iraqis, 200,000 Iraqi deaths at the hands of U.S. officials would still be considered worth it. We know this has to be true because, again, the official policy was not to keep track of how many Iraqis were being killed. Again, it didn’t matter.
Also, keep in mind that even if Saddam would have been killing Iraqis, he would have been the killer. For the past six years or so, it has been the U.S. government that has been the killer. From a moral standpoint, is that a good position to be in?
Third, any supposed concern for Iraqis is belied by the fact that the U.S. government has refused to permit them from immigrating to the United States. Apparently, the idea is: we love you enough to come and bomb you and bring you “democracy,” even if it means killing few hundred thousand of you, but don’t even think of coming here to the United States to live among us.
Fourth, while pro-war supporters try to justify the Iraqi deaths by singing the virtues of democracy, in their hearts they know that democracy has nothing to do with it. After all, let’s not forget that while they were killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, they were simultaneously supporting a cruel and brutal dictator in Pakistan, an army general who had taken power in a coup, who refused to permit elections, and who fired independent Supreme Court justices, actions that have played a major role into throwing that nation into chaos. Also, let’s not forget the U.S. support of such dictators as Saddam Hussein himself and the Shah of Iran, who the U.S. installed into power after ousting the democratically elected prime minister of the country.
Finally, during the period of the brutal sanctions against Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright openly declared that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it.” By “it” she was referring to the attempt to oust Saddam from power and replace him with a U.S.-approved regime, one that would be a loyal and faithful member of the U.S. Empire. If only modern-day neo-cons would be that honest.