"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse." --John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Dirty Words

Continuing on the topic of Victor Davis Hanson: In his latest column for National Review Online, he displays his typical insight and ability for clear-eyed analysis. Hanson discusses how "pre-emption" and "unilateralism" have become dirty words, while "multilateralism" has been elevated into a concept that is always and at all times virtuous. Gulf War I, for instance, is seen as a triumph of multilateralism: A unilateral invasion of Kuwait by Iraq was followed by the building of a multilateral coalition to drive Saddam back to Baghdad. It failed, however, in what should have been its most important goal, the toppling of Saddam. And the reason it failed was because of the multilateral nature of the coalition. After all, it was the Saudis and others that convinced George H.W. Bush not to drive to Baghdad.

Which brings up an interesting point. If G.H.W.B. had continued Gulf War I to its logical conclusion, the killing or deposing of Saddam, there would have been few protestations from the Left. After all, we were acting multilaterally, he had just invaded Kuwait, and Iraqi atrocities were fresh in our minds. However, when George W. Bush did what should have been done 12 years previously, the whining from some quarters was deafening. Why? What had changed to make what would have been considered a moral act in 1991 into an immoral one in 2003?

There was the objection that in the recent war, the U.S. was acting unilaterally. But it wasn't. Aside from the physical contributions on the ground provided by many allies--contributions that have been mocked by liberals--there was the philosophical support from many countries, an example of which is the letter signed by leaders of several European nations and published in American newspapers. There was the objection that we did not have the support of the U.N. But we did. The Security Council voted to give Saddam one last chance, or face "serious consequences". There was the objection that we should have given the inspectors more time. But we did. And we know now that they never would have been able to uncover, as post-war inspectors have, the evidence of weapons programs and the flouting of U.N. sanctions. Of course, there is the famous ex post facto objection that there were no WMD, therefore, the invasion was illegitimate, which is just silly.

If one is troubled by the U.S.'s action, perhaps it would help to simply think of Gulf War II as a continuation of Gulf War I. If it would have been legitimate then, then it's legitimate now. I mean, a criminal against humanity shouldn't be given a pass just because time has passed--should he?

Anyway, getting back to VDH, he explains that pre-emption "is a concept as old as the Greeks" and that it is not necessarily an immoral thing:
Despite the current vogue of questionable and therapeutic ideas like "zero tolerance" and "moral equivalence" that punish all who use force—whether in kindergarten or in the Middle East—striking first is a morally neutral concept. It takes on its ethical character from the landscape in which it takes place—the Israelis bombing the Iraqi reactor to avoid being blackmailed by a soon-to-be nuclear Saddam Hussein, or the French going into the Ivory Coast last year, despite the fact that that chaotic country posed no immediate danger to Paris.

Imagine: The French as unilateral pre-emptors!

VDH makes a trenchant point by bringing up zero tolerance and moral equivalence. They are part and parcel of the type of worldview that is at war with the War on Terrorism.

Moral equivalence is thought to be more intellectually subtle and nuanced than the crude concepts of "good" and "evil" favored by troglodytes like the president. Moral equivalence is, in fact, intellectually lazy, allowing a person to avoid making distressing value judgments and unfavorable comparisons between cultures, religions, and philosophies.

By the same token, zero tolerance allows folks such as school administrators to avoid having to use any sort of higher reasoning or even common sense. They don't have to make any actual decisions that may be criticized, they just hide behind the "policy". For example: The policy is "no guns in school". An eight-year-old brings a half-inch-long piece of black polystyrene to school, and he is expelled. Why? Because the chunk of plastic is a "gun"--for a G.I. Joe doll.

No thought required!