April 3, 2006


In the same year that I took that class on genocide - the same year in which the US went to war in Iraq - two eminent persons came to Swarthmore to argue publicly about whether we should support that war. They were Mark Danner, arguing against war, and Leon Wieseltier, arguing for it, and what I remember is being in the big main-stage hall, listening to them. Mark Danner is only about 6 years younger than Leon Wieseltier, and they are both younger than both of my parents, but somehow the impression I have in my head is of a grand old man arguing with a younger, well-spoken but less impressive Mark Danner. It's partly because Leon Wieseltier has this wild head of white hair, and partly because Mark Danner looks young and is short. Wieseltier is also one of the most articulate people I've ever heard - he's The New Republic's literary editor - and the combination of that and the general impression meant that even though I agreed with what Danner was saying, Wieseltier seemed far more persuasive that evening.

But he was wrong. He and Danner are both good people, people of conscience, people who, like me, wanted to see Saddam Hussein out of power but weren't sure they trusted Bush to do it. The difference was that Wieseltier looked at that problem and decided that, regardless of the means, regardless of the instrument, Saddam Hussein was a genocidal tyrant and removing him was the right thing to do; he argued that we were all bound to support the goal of getting rid of him, despite our fears about what would come after. Danner, like me, thought that war itself and what would come after might be so devastatingly bad for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world that we could not in conscience support Bush in going to war, not when we knew that his intentions and plans were so different from what would actually need to happen to create a tolerable postwar situation in Iraq.

If you ever wanted proof that intentions matter, this is it. What's happening in Iraq right now is a disaster, and it's because the people running this war had the wrong intentions. Their intentions shaped how they went about this war, and because of those intentions as much as anything - because of the way the war as been waged - Iraq is a chaotic, terrifying disaster, the US has negative international credibility, the US military is engaging in torture, and both the Middle East and the world as a whole are less stable.

1 comment:

the fire boss said...

I heard a senior editor at TNR speak recently, and he said there's been a lot of hand-wringing over the magazine's having supported the war. They also endorsed Lieberman in the primary. They have been making bad decisions recently.