Re: MD Understanding Quality And Power

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Mon Dec 20 2004 - 10:30:01 GMT

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    Hi Mark,

    > The Norton 8-P has two obvious flaws, neither of which you have
    > directly addressed. The first is that the argument is based on the
    > combined ideas that the Iraqi people were suffering under Hussein,
    > and that International Law was failing to protect them. I believe we
    > had agreed that people suffering under a brutal dictator can't be the
    > motivation for the US-UK invasion, given the evidence of history.

    No, not the evidence of history, the evidence of present activity. That is, for as long as people
    like Mugabe are allowed to continue in power, then 'removing a brutal dictator' is not a sufficient
    argument to explain the invasion of Iraq. And the argument isn't just about the suffering of Iraqi
    population, that's just a point about the sanctions regime, it's the aggregate of the intolerability
    of the sanctions regime continuing (as much from realpolitik concerns as from humanitarian) and the
    intolerability of allowing Hussein to re-establish himself.

    > The second flaw is the killer, and was described in one of my quick
    > posts that didn't make it into your last response. The exact same
    > argument could have been used by Saddam Hussein to justify his
    > invasion of Kuwait. <snip> The only way it can support the US-UK invasion
    > of Iraq is if you claim the USG-UKG are somehow morally superior to
    > other nations. I doubt that you would claim this, given some of our
    > discussion below and elsewhere.

    Well, yes, ultimately I would. Not that they are morally pristine, not that they haven't been the
    source of terrible things, but that, at the end of the day, the West is better than the rest. There
    you go, I've outed myself: I think that the Western system, taken as a whole, is a better system
    than the available alternatives, not least because it contains within itself the capacity to improve
    itself; it has a combination of SQ/DQ which leads, in the long run, to significantly greater human

    Yes, I actually believe that. But I could be wrong.

    > msh says:
    > I agree. My position is that the USG is the primary actor here, due
    > to its incomparable military power and willingness to use it. But I
    > think it is a mistake to see this particular use of violence as
    > something "caused" by George Bush or "supported" by Tony Blair.
    > These guys are just the current figureheads of power. The problem is
    > systemic and goes way, way back in the intertwined histories of both
    > our nations. This idea of unilateral applications of state violence
    > in maintaining and expanding power is what I was hoping to explore in
    > this thread, so I hope we don't get bogged down in this most recent
    > example.

    This is what interests me the most as well. The Iraq debate hinges (for me) on whether there were
    better options available, but as the decision has now been made it is academic (in a good as well as
    a bad sense - establishing the truth is important). But exploring the systematic nature of power and
    the way it shapes decision making I think is important. I've finished chapter one of UP; I'll
    probably finish it in mid-January when I'm on my hols.

    <snip lots of stuff we basically agree on>

    > sam:
    > This is what I'm not convinced by, and is perhaps the key to where
    > you can make me change my mind. If I felt there was a course of
    > action which would have a) eased the overall plight of the Iraqi
    > people AND
    > msh says:
    > This is easy. Lift the sanctions completely. Regardless of what we
    > think of Hussein, it is just a fact that Iraqi suffering increased
    > exponentially with the laying on of sanctions.

    This is too hasty. The whole point in my argument lies in the weight of the AND. Of course a lot of
    the suffering of the Iraqi people (not all) would have been alleviated by the abolition of

    > b) kept Saddam defanged then
    > msh says:
    > This was being accomplished by UN weapons inspections. Read Scott
    > Ritter. Besides, if the USG was really interested in removing Saddam
    > without occupying Iraq, that is, with assisting the Iraqi people in
    > ousting their cruel dictator and allowing them to decide for
    > theselves their own form of government, why would they refuse to
    > work with non-CIA connected Iraqi democrats in and out of exile, and
    > even in the Iraqi military? Why, at the end of the 1991 war, did
    > they refuse to support rebelling Iraqi generals in their attempts to
    > overthrow Hussein? (See UP, page 168, and online notes #95.) More
    > broadly, how does the USG find it possible to assist in the overthrow
    > of elected slightly leftist governments (Chile, Guatemala,
    > Venezuela?) but the overthrow of Hussein just wasn't possible without
    > the invasion and occupation of Iraq? The answer is simple: the
    > invasion and occupation was the GOAL, not the means. The talk of
    > means to an end is just smoke disgusing the end itself.

    Well, if that's true then I'm a complete sucker. Perfectly possible. Something for me to ponder

    > sam:
    > The big difference (and a very revealing difference) between this and
    > the Gandhian point is that there is no way of saying 'let IL take its
    > course, and accept the punishment'.
    > msh says:
    > No honest attempt was made to let IL take its course. Compared to
    > the suffering and ongoing misery caused by the invasion and
    > occupation, what punishment are you talking about?

    If the UN had the means and wherewithal to punish member states, in the way that an individual state
    has the capacity to punish individual people who break the law, then the Gandhian point would have
    been that the US should not resist the due punishment from the UN that would follow from the breach
    of international law (because to do so would have undermined the system of IL as a whole, not a
    flawed element of it). But it's an abstract point, as the UN does not have the means and
    wherewithal, which is why IL is a poor analogue to state law (and why it needs strengthening, over

    > sam:
    > The sanctions regime was evil, corrupt and corrupting and had to be
    > stopped. I think there are only two realistic options in that
    > situation - drop the sanctions and try to reintegrate Iraq into the
    > wider system, or, regime change through military action.
    > But those are not the only options. Try this: Lift the sanctions,
    > get the UNMOVIC back in (which Hussein was willing to allow),

    But he was only willing to allow it for as long as there were US troops on his doorstep. The abiding
    problem was indeed the nature of his regime (even if the nature of the problem was a realpolitik one
    about what he would do if let out of his box, rather than a purely humanitarian one)

    > and in
    > the meantime work with the democratic opposition toward replacing the
    > unwanted leader, as was so expertly accomplished in Chile in 1971,
    > for example, or as was attempted in Venezuela last year.

    This is a line of thought I haven't spent much time on, so I shall remedy that lack. It did boggle
    the mind a bit when the attempted coup against Chavez took place last year. You'd have thought the
    USG would at least have tried to be subtle about it.


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