The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is it possible to find any objective truth about Iraq?

I find it disturbing that so much is said about our situation in Iraq, using painfully loaded language and hidden assumptions. There seem to be three basic Conservative positions about the war:

1) “Supporting the troops” means supporting the war.
2) “Supporting Iraqis” means supporting the war
3) Supporting the “war on terror” means supporting the war.

I’m not certain it is possible to prove or falsify these positions. I do know that some positions are capable of such clarity, and some are not. And some people are capable of rational thought on political issues, and some are not.

In partial example, take the WMD debate. Prior to the beginning of the war, I did not believe that Saddam had WMDs. However, if they had been discovered in any of the forms discussed prior to the invasion, I would have been inclined to believe that I was wrong, and that the invasion was more justified than I thought. I knew Lefties who had already made up their minds that, if WMDs were found, they would assume that it was a fake, a fraud. In my mind, these folks were succumbing to illogical conspiracy theory.

But after none were found, there were those on the Right, desperate to justify the invasion, who said that degraded nerve gas that the Pentagon did not consider “WMDs” and the White House was forced to admit did not constitute the threat described by pre-war intelligence, were indeed WMDs. In my mind, this was equally illogical. In other words if you hold a belief that cannot be reasonably falsified, it is reasonable to say that your mind is locked primarily into a “faith” or “emotional” pattern, rather than logic.

I would take the position that such people are thinking like children, rather than adults.

Applying that reasoning to each of the three basic tenants, then…

1) “Supporting the troops” means supporting the war.

Really? According to whom? The Left takes the position that bringing them home safely is also supporting them. Has anyone made a confidential survey of American combat troops, asking if they would consider bringing them home to be a betrayal of their actions? Do British troops brought home consider themselves betrayed? I know that soldiers are sworn to do what they must, and wish to support their buddies. But I would think that they are praying that we at home are discussing the situation clearly, looking at both sides, including the possibility of bringing them back. Does anyone have data that the average soldier considers this a lack of support?
And…IF the average soldier does NOT consider bringing them back to be a ‘lack of support’, does that answer the question? If not, doesn’t that mean you’re saying the soldiers don’t know what’s good for them? And if the majority of soldiers say something to the effect of “the only way to support us is to keep us here until the insurgency is crushed” are you willing to believe that that IS the only way to support them?

2) “Supporting Iraqis” means supporting the war.

Really? According to whom? Does the average Iraqi want us there? Is there any substantial group of Iraqis with a majority wishing an American presence? Sunnis? Shiites? Kurds? I literally don’t have this data at my fingertips. If there are none with a majority wanting us to stay, doesn’t that mean that our continued presence there is not “supporting” them, or are we saying that they don’t know what is good for them?

And if there is a substantial group (I say substantial, because you can ALWAYS find some tiny fringe willing to say “yes” to anything) that desires a continued American military presence, can you accept that, in these people’s minds, supporting (this group of) Iraqis means supporting the war? If there is not a relatively easily proven or disproven contention at the core of your argument, is it really logical?

3)Supporting the “war on terror” means supporting the war. Here’s one I’ve never heard in open debate. There are intelligent opinions from our own agencies that our actions in Iraq have increased the danger, increased the number of terrorists and the numbers of those who hate us. There are others who point to the lack of terrorist acts in the U.S. since 9/11 and say this is “proof” Iraq has been effective. I’m not certain this one can be settled with any real clarity, but it would seem that there is room for intelligent disagreement.

Except…I do not believe anyone who says they simultaneously hold both #2 and #3 beliefs, if we re-state #3 as: “we’re fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here.” You cannot convince me that you believe and agree with that, but that we are simultaneously in Iraq to help Iraqis. That one I just cannot buy. I could see someone fighting in Iraq not to fight over here…and to hell with Iraqis, man! Better them than us…

I could see that. I might consider it loathsome, but at least there is a certain logic there. But to believe you’re in Iraq to help Iraqis, while simultaneously triggering a gang war in their front yard so that YOUR grass doesn’t get mussed, strikes me as the kind of self-serving, torturous logic that balances on the thin edge of irrationality, a desperate need to extract something of value out of this horrible situation. As I’ve said before, during Viet Nam, I was darkly amused to see that those who talked about “freedom” for the Vietnamese to justify the war and those who objected to “freedom marches” conducted by American citizens, tended to be the same damned group. I find it impossible to believe that they really cared about freedom for non-whites overseas while denying it for non-white citizens at home. I just don’t believe it. What I DO think was happening was another “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” scenario. But that rough justification doesn’t jibe with “Christian” beliefs, so you have to sugar-coat it with “we’re there to help the Vietnamese.” Oh, I’m quite certain that many, many soldiers felt that way. But again, I find it FASCINATING that so many of those who claimed we were dying and killing for liberty “over there” savagely criticized Martin Luther King and other civil rights workers here at home.

And as I’ve said, the disease of the Left seems to be an excessive egalitarianism and moral relativism that can lead to, oh, say Communism and an “anything goes” mentality. The matching disease of the Right is an excessive hierarchicalism which can manifest in racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes. While I would never say that “the majority of the Right” is racist, I would say that the majority of Racists are on the Right, and that the creation of political “tents” means welcoming in some odd camels indeed. So justification #2, and #3 are held by very very different people. But in order to create a coalition, especially at a time when Bush’s policies and popularity are under savage assault, the Faithful try to bundle #1,#2, and #3 together as if they spring from the same organic root, and I just don’t believe it.

When you hear people talk about “towel heads” and “camel jockeys” and other dehumanizing terms, and “bombing them into the stone age” and “killing their leaders and converting them to Christianity” and so forth, need we wonder whether their politics are to the Right or the Left? And such people might well believe #1 and #3, but it will be a cold day in hell before I believe they really, truly believe #2 no matter how many times they say it.

You can believe #1 and #3. You can believe #1 and #2. But asking me to believe that one person believes all three...I seriously question that person's...let's say clarity, shall we?

Anyway…I’d love to see some answers to the following questions:
1) in #1 and #2, I proposed some relatively simple means of determining if the troops, and Iraqis, would define “support” as it is being defined in political discourse. Are my proposals reasonable? Would you accept the outcomes of such surveys as definitive? If not, why not? Are there other clear standards you could suggest?
2) Does anyone have data in these arenas right now?

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