Yeah, we did the wrong thing - Part II

All right, I promise not to make Cetis have to say "dammit" again - well, we'll see...

In another thread that got way off topic, this statement was made:

Ockham wrote:

If we want to take the analogy to absurd extremes, didn't we help throw the little girl in the river in the first place?

The little girl in the scenario is the Iraqi people, and we were discussing hypotheticals around whether our liberation of the Iraqis (the metaphoric jumping in to save the little girl who is drowning) was justified.

Ockham raises a point that I have heard many times before, and I would like to hear people's take on it. While the metaphor is imperfect (we didn't throw the girls in the river, but we helped pay for the boat), he is correct on a basic level - the US has supported some pretty bad people in the past, including Saddam and Osama once upon a time.

Usually this is raised as some sort of "ah-ha!", not unlike what you see above. One person talks about how good it is that we liberated Iraq, and another instantly reminds us that we once supported the guy who kept the Iraqis oppressed. Now, while this may seem a great rhetorical punchline, it actually makes for a horrible opening to an actual discussion. My follow up to this "ah-ha" is "so what?"

Is the implication here that because we contributed to a people's suffering, we shouldn't try to remedy it later? Because I would think that the opposite is true: if American policies diminished the freedom of the Iraqis, then we have a direct responsibility to help those people now.

Is this instead an "I told you so"? If so, it's a strange one. Most of the people who make this connection aren't old enough to have actually had an opinion when we were supporting Saddam or Osama, so "they" at least, didn't tell anyone. And there's no "I told you so" to be had in the name of the Democratic party (the party that tends to use this "ah-ha"), as it was a Democrat-controlled Congress which funded support for both Saddam and Osama in the 80's - and it was Jimmy Carter who started the policy of sending aid to the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

"I told you so" also doesn't seem fitting, because Democrats (again, only bringing them up because they seem to be the one's who like to make this point in arguments) in general have no moral authority when it comes to supporting dictators - they just prefer left-wing dictatorships (a trend which continues today - just look at the swooning by the left for Castro).

So where does this "ah-ha" argument come from? It isn't a dig at Republicans, unless it's one made in ignorance of our history of supporting dictators - which I guess doesn't discount that being the source. But it seem that there is more going on here. The most obvious effect of continually bringing up past US support for bad people, is to try and lay the blame for their actions at America's feet. Is that what is going on here?

If so, it is misguided, and runs counter to reality. We didn't provide the Mujahadeen training in car bombs, box cutters, or weapons of mass destruction, which are the current and desired weapons of Al Qaeda. And our support to Saddam was limited to selling him some helicopters, providing military planning assistance against Iran, and buying his oil. Contrary to what is in people's heads, we didn't provide Saddam with converntional weapons or with chemical, biological or nuclear agents.

Also, our enablement of both of these enitities 15-20 years ago is unrelated to our conflicts with them today. Osama hates us for the same reason he hated the Soviets - "our" boots are on "his" sand. And Saddam didn't invade Kuwait because we were "friendly" during his war with Iran - his conflicts with Kuwait are even older than the ones with Iran.

But let's set aside reality for a second, and return to the hypothetical. How does our past support for someone who is now our enemy invalidate what we have to do to deal with them today? Or is this sentiment merely a way to complain and bash America?

It''s not the ""if"", it is the ""how"". Of course it is our responsibility to deal with him (I say we, because Germany supported him as well with weapons).
But for me that is not the most important question. I think we should rather look forward now and think about how we can

a) deal with the other regimes we built up. I see this as a rather long term plan, since the forces are quite busy in Afghanistan and Iraq already.

b) prevent a similar situation again. Can we stop building up tyrannies as our allies for a short gain, which will turn against us later on anyways. In Afghanistan we accepted the help of the warlords in our strike against the Taleban. Now they are turning against us, because they want us out of the country. Should we try to avoid this in the future and stick to ourselves when we strike during the war on terror? Is this even a viable option?

a) deal with the other regimes we built up. I see this as a rather long term plan, since the forces are quite busy in Afghanistan and Iraq already.

b) prevent a similar situation again. Can we stop building up tyrannies as our allies for a short gain, which will turn against us later on anyways. In Afghanistan we accepted the help of the warlords in our strike against the Taleban. Now they are turning against us, because they want us out of the country. Should we try to avoid this in the future and stick to ourselves when we strike during the war on terror? Is this even a viable option?

These are good points, and are the reason behind why I personally bring up our own roles in the development of these bad situations.

What''s the point of history? Part of it is to learn where we''ve been so we can try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It''s the same learning process a child follows: eat too much candy and get sick, you won''t do it again. (Unless you''re odd)

So rather than shoving our trash under our beds in hopes that no one else notices it, we should acknowledge it and move past it. Throw it away, and don''t generate that clutter again.

Well, I did say it was taking it to an absurd extreme didn''t I?

However, to speculate on your question in general. Maybe some people like to point that out because too many people like to act like the US as a country never makes mistakes and can do no wrong.

As you said, if we did make a mistake then that makes it even more our responsibility to help fix it. But in the specific case of Iraq I don''t think I ever heard anyone in the Administration argue for the war on those grounds. Conversely, I''d say they did their best not to talk about our dealings with Saddam.

Or perhaps maybe it just has to do with how much someone identifies and internalizes their personal ethics with the actions of their country. I think everyone does this to some degree or other. After all if the country does a good thing, we all feel good about it even if we didn''t directly participate right?

So return to the river metaphor for a second, and I''m using the general ''you'' here , if you saved a girl from drowning you''d feel good about it, apart from any accolades or rewards you might later receive. However if you played some part in getting her into the river in the first place, intentionally or not, how would you feel? You''d probably still feel good that she didn''t drown, but you also probably wouldn''t run around telling everyone how you''re a hero.

But admittedly some have a lot easier time taking the moral high road than others.

So rather than shoving our trash under our beds in hopes that no one else notices it, we should acknowledge it and move past it.

No argument. But if that is the goal, there is no point throwing the past out as an accusation every time we talk about the current situation.

Maybe some people like to point that out because too many people like to act like the US as a country never makes mistakes and can do no wrong.

So your goal is to tear those people down? How is that the moral high road?

Plus, when you say ""our dealings with Saddam"", who are you talking about? Ronald Reagan? The Democrats controlling Congress in the 80''s? The Europeans and the Soviets? Donald Rumsfeld met Saddam once, at a time when Rumsfeld wasn''t in charge of policy - is he somehow to blame? And even if you could place the blame for any of Saddam''s actions at some prior US government, how is that a rebuttal to the the current administration or its defenders?

Plus, the idea that we are partially to blame, implies that Saddam wouldn''t have done the things he did has we not sold him helicopters or bought his oil - a little far-fetched, to say the least. And on a more philosophical level, ultimately the only person responsible for Saddam is Saddam himself. The US certainly didn''t force him to gas the Kurds or invade Kuwait - those were his own decisions, and he bears the moral responsibility for them.

But I think you have answered my question. The point of bringing up this ""ah-ha"" is to bring down people who you feel are smug, not to add to the debate.

But I think you have answered my question. The point of bringing up this ""ah-ha"" is to bring down people who you feel are smug, not to add to the debate.

I did answer your question, with some speculation. If you take that to mean that''s why I said it, fine, but I never said it was. Go right ahead and assume all you want.

When I said our dealings with Saddam I just meant as a country. I don''t claim to be expert on our history with regard to Iraq and I''m not real interested in fighting with you about it. I think it''s generally understood that our country has had positive relations with Saddam in the past.

I would remind you though that you can''t rule out the possibility that we might have had a closer relationship than is publically known, some of it could still easily be classified. So claiming that we definitely had nothing to do with Saddam being able to stay alive and keep power all these years is dubious. But I agree with you that in the end his actions were ultimately his, and his responsibility.

Let me just ask you a general question though. It mirrors the previous metaphor but please consider it as a stand alone question apart from your feelings about Iraq. If you saw someone push a girl in the river, maybe they were just running by and unintentionally knocked her in, maybe not, then they jump in and save her. After that they come running up to you saying ''Look at me I''m a Hero! Don''t you want to shake my hand?''. What would you think of that person or how would you respond to him? I''m genuinely curious.

So claiming that we definitely had nothing to do with Saddam being able to stay alive and keep power all these years is dubious.

This is part of my problem. Who is claiming this? Not me, any other poster here, or anyone in the media or the government that I have seen. It''s a bit like the assertion that ""too many people like to act like the US as a country never makes mistakes"". Again, who are you talking about? I don''t know of anyone, defender of the US or not, who couldn''t list mistakes the US has made. Isn''t what you really mean is that too many people don''t agree withyouwhen deciding what actions should be considered mistakes?

If you saw someone push a girl in the river, maybe they were just running by and unintentionally knocked her in, maybe not, then they jump in and save her. After that they come running up to you saying ''Look at me I''m a Hero! Don''t you want to shake my hand?''. What would you think of that person or how would you respond to him?

Separating out the metaphor from Iraq, I would think the person must be crazy. But the metaphorisaimed at Iraq. Are you implying we ""pushed the girl in""? How so?

I may have overgeneralized a little, but wasn''t your whole point of these two threads that we did the Right Thing despite any misgivings some might feel about how we got into the war? Asserting that comes with the implicit assumption that nothing could change the fact that it was right to do it, that the end justified the means.

So I was just pointing out that we don''t necessarily know the entire history of events. It is not impossible that some new information may appear and change our understanding and how we feel about it.

That actually ties into your other question. I posed the hypothetical as a philosophical litmus test, nothing more. I was curious whether you believed the ends always justify the means or if that was just the impression I was getting.

So let me pose a follow-up question. Will you always feel that removing Saddam was a good thing? Is there anything that could come to light that would affect how you felt about it? I''m not looking for scenarios or specific examples, just wondering if anything could change your mind about it.

EDIT: Oh and about the whole ''too many people think America never makes mistakes'' things. My defense is, I live in the South. I don''t know if you do or have, but if so, then you''ll forgive me for making a generalization that applies all to well around here.

wasn''t your whole point of these two threads that we did the Right Thing despite any misgivings some might feel about how we got into the war?

Actually, no. Contrary to Elysium''s broad brush (not to say I never use one), it does matter to supporters of the war whether we were misled or lied to. If we were truly lied to, and the administration really didn''t believe that Saddam was a threat now or in the future, then the war was the wrong thing to do.

The idea that ""we got into the war for the wrong reasons"" has one of two meanings:

1) the administration believed Saddam had WMD''s and supported terrorists, and took us to war to deal with this threat - but these reasons are not good enough to start a war. This is a legitimate disagreement, in my opinion.

2) the administration didn''t believe Saddam was a threat and took us to war for some other reason. The statement that we were ""lied to"" or ""misled"" requires this to be true, and I don''t give credence to this idea.

Here''s why: if the administration didn''t believe Saddam was hiding WMD''s and supporting terrorists, they were alone in thinking so. Virtually all of the people who now claim the president misled the world - Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominees, the countries of France, Germany and Russia - saw Saddam as a terrorist supporter with an insatiable desire for WMD''s. I consider this inconsistency incredibly disingenuous.

Also, I hear a lot of people suggest that the administration lied, but they scuttle away when asked to explain the ""real"" reasons for the war, as whatever conjecture they offer never holds up to even the slightest scrutiny.

But let''s set that aside for now. If you truly do not believe that Saddam was harboring terrorists or ambitions for WMDs, then you should be screaming about how the UN was wrong to keep sanctions on, and how Bill Clinton was wrong to maintain the no-fly zone and order air strikes in 1998. But the ""Saddam wasn''t a threat and we knew it"" crowd is strangely silent on those matters.

That tells me that their motivations are purely based on trying to discredit and bring down George Bush, which is particularly despicable in people claiming the ends don''t justify the means.

ps - absolutely none of this is a reference to you, Ockham. You may hold these views, or not - I honestly don''t know. I certainly don''t think Elysium is insincere about his desire for the truth in this matter. To paraphrase you, I just think a lot of people haven''t considered the full ramifications of what they charge by saying ""we were misled"".

I''m probably opening myself up with this but what the hell.

My personal take on the war is more in line with your first point. I don''t believe the case had really been made as to why it suddenly became so urgent to topple Saddam that we couldn''t wait anymore. I had more faith that the sanctions, bombings, inspectors, etc. were working, and that we would be even more vigilant after 911.

I know some of the UN countries would probably never have approved of the war regardless of evidence. But I think waiting a while would have strengthened our case or at least given us more support. It also would have given us more time to prepare for both the war and the peace, especially now that we have some hindsight on the whole thing.

I''m not sure how great people''s memories are for pre-9/11 but back then, many countries were making alot of noise about lifting sanctions, and about how cruel sanctions were starving Iraqi children (rather than the obvious fact that Saddam was buying more palaces starving them himself). Many of the same countries that wanted the sanctions lifted (and some had started selling stuff to Iraq anyway), were among the loudest as war approaced to say, ""But the sanctions and containment were working.""

Well, I may be all happy about liberal stuff (gay marriage! woohoo!) but the sanctions were not working, and Mr. Hussein was biding his time for the world to get tired of enforcing the sanctions. His plan was working until the U.S. woke up. Although as Ral has pointed out, whoever sits in the Whitehouse, be it Clinton or Bush, given our intel, they wanted to go after Hussein before he became a timebomb that''s not really defuseable (can you say N. Korea has nukes three times fast?)

Ralcydan wrote waaaaay up in the thread:
So rather than shoving our trash under our beds in hopes that no one else notices it, we should acknowledge it and move past it.

No argument. But if that is the goal, there is no point throwing the past out as an accusation every time we talk about the current situation.

I agree wholeheartedly. Just figured I should say so, since I know I''m usually contentious with your viewpoints, Ral.