Mogadishu and Fallujah
My Cliopatria colleague Jonathan Dresner recently emailed me this article and asked me a really smart question that, embarrassingly, I had not really considered: In light of recent events in Fallujah, are we entering into"mission creep" again, as some believe we did in Mogadishu? another article in the Times makes this comparison more explicitly, as does this Fred Kaplan piece from Slate and this from a hardline pro-Israel site, DEBKAfile.
My simple answer is,"I do not know." I am wary of historical analogies, but then the comparisons here seem more than apt on the surface: Dead bodies of American troops dragged down hostile streets to cheers and celebrations as some Americans are left wondering why we are where we are, and if the mission's main purpose has not been lost amidst"mission creep." (Let me add here that my jingoism, or whatever it is, heats up more than a little bit when I see celebrations of the deaths of our troops and this sort of treatment of their corpses. I know the purpose of these demonstrations is to rally"the street" and not some liberal in Virginia, but here's a hint: when you outrage guys like me, you certainly are going to draw the ire of folks with much less in the way of qualms about overwhelming use of force. And I am going to get into trouble, but I am going to say it -- for those who say we are no better than our enemy, when is the last time you saw American troops and masses behaving in this way?)
A more complex answer might be that"mission creep" is one of those accusations levied by one side against the other to try to condemn an action that those levying the accusation probably never supported in the first place. The lines between what is and is not part of a mission such as ours in Iraq are, to say the least, fungible.
Yet a third answer goes to the heart of some of my concerns about what happens next: What right do we have, what role should we play, in keeping certain parties or individuals from out of the process? What if, in free and fair elections, the Iraqi people choose a tyrant, or someone not friendly to US interests, or a radical Islamist? Here is where things get sticky. Do we believe in the true flowering of democracy, which might allow the Iraqis to choose leaders who will circumvent the freedoms we think are necessary for a rehabilitation of that society? Or do we establish a constitutional system whereby certain elements are forbidden to participate? And if so, how do we justify such actions, feeling as we do about our Bill of Rights that at least in its ideal manifestation would not allow for the exclusion of any groups or individuals, no matter how loathsome the majority may find them?
These are not easy questions, which is why I am increasingly wary of the administration's insistence on June 30 as a workable deadline for Iraq to be on its merry way. Plus, the cynic (and Democrat) inside me cannot help but wonder if the administration is not more interested in declaring victory and the implementation of what it can proclaim to be constitutional democracy before our own elections than it is in doing the nation building that it so dismissed in the 2000 campaign.
CORRECTION: The four who were dragged down the street, their bodies eventually hanged, were not troops but rather civilian contractors. Suffice to say, this difference strengthens my anumius towards the perpetrators and hopefully does not diminish my argument. Mae Culpa.
Richard Henry Morgan - 4/7/2004
I would wager that there are uninvited Syrians and Iranians and whatnot there too (and paid), but to simply shoot one, even for an Iraqi policeman or Iraqi civilian to simply shoot one for simply carrying a weapon, would be murder. Perhaps you agree, perhaps not. Do you honestly believe that those who did the killing in this case (from the same group of people who target aid workers) are motivated by a lack of invitation, rather than a desire to return to heavy-handed Sunni rule where they will continue to oppress the majority?
I'm reminded of Richard Falk during the Vietnam War who excused Viet Cong terorists because, well, if they fought by the Law of Land Warfare, they would lose. Professor Falk, let me introduce you to Timothy McVeigh. But wait, I guess you've already met.
Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004
Let's see, Richard. The last time I heard tell, we didn't have an invitation to come over there and we haven't found any evidence for why we said we were going over there and these mercenaries are there only because our military command invaded the place and they followed in its wake. These are not pansie two-shoes you're talking about. They are highly paid mercenaries -- we paid for their training and now we're paying them very high wages to do what they do. They got killed doing it. I regret that. I wish it hadn't happened. They wouldn't have been killed if we weren't paying them very high wages to do what they do.
Richard Henry Morgan - 4/7/2004
Ralph, I would wager that 10 times is more than a tad hyperbolic. And they weren't hired, apparently, to attack people, but to protect civilians who were providing aid and who were being attacked as "soft targets". Attacking civilians, even armed civilians, who aren't engaged in combat has a name -- we call it a crime. And when it is done to influence other parties, we call it terrorism.
Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004
"Civilian contractors" is this case is a euphemism for mercenaries. Why would the fact that the men who were killed were being paid about 10 times the amount of money were they under military command and that they were under no military command strengthen your argument? We aren't talking about missionaries, after all.
Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004
Right, but still I'm almost inclined to refer to this as "the perversity of history." Heavy on contingency and the obligating responsibilities of choices we'd rather not have made.
Anne Zook - 4/6/2004
Maybe it's because those of us opposed or with deep doubts about this invasion don't have quite as much of our egos tied up in what's going on there?
That's a nice theory, but some people opposed to the war are now screaming we need to get out, fast, so I doubt it's the right one.
Maybe some of us are just naturally long-sighted, consider consequences, and live up to our obligations?
Ophelia Benson - 4/6/2004
Definitely. I didn't mean to make a case for excluding groups. On the other hand, in the absence of some sort of binding protections (a lot of people in the UK, it's interesting to note, think the UK really ought to have a written consitution, that it's dangerous not to), a radical Islamist group for example would pretty much by definition not be interested in minority rights. Which is simply to say I'm not at all sure what the right thing to do would be, and that I think US faith in democracy can be a little over-optimistic at times.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/6/2004
These are all good points. Of course the tyranny of the majority is something a good constitution would deal with -- indeed one can argue that one of the flaws of ours is that it did not deal with it well enough. But that raises the question of what is the difference between a democratic vote for tyranny, which we might be justified in stopping, and a democratic vote for, say, a regime that staunchly opposes Bush oil policy, or unfettered markets, or what have you? Further, isn't excluding all members of any particular group from the government a bit overboard when it comes to preventing tyranny of tha majority? In other words, aren't we hoping to prevent acts of tyranny, but not keep whole swaths of people from being part of the process just because of who they are? It seems to me that a 3/5ths clause for citizenship has been tried and failed before . . .
Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004
There is something deeply perverse about the fact that those of us opposed or who were most inclined to have had deep doubt about the wisdom of invading Iraq in the first place are now, generally, the ones who seem to recognize the necessity of our a) figuring out an Iraqi authority to whom we can turn power over to; b) extending the presence of American troops in Iraq into the distant future; and c) the further into the distant future we extend their presence the more apparent is an imperial intent.
Ophelia Benson - 4/5/2004
Hmm. Isn't it the case that the Bill of Rights in fact would exclude, if not particular groups, at least certain behavior on the part of such groups? The Let's Kill all the Jews party might be allowed to run, but if it won, it wouldn't be allowed to kill all the Jews. To do that it would have to stage an actual coup and get rid of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court. Isn't that the point of the Bill of Rights? That it's not so much More Democracy as a brake on democracy? Isn't the point of it that it says there are some things you may not do, period, no matter how many of you want to? That it says the majority is not always in all circumstances supreme? And isn't that why it exists in the first place? Because the people who wrote it over the years were well aware that majorities are perfectly capable of violating some people's liberties? That democracy and freedom are in fact not like horse and carriage but often in tension?
So that's how we could justify it, it seems to me, if it occurred to us, or to the people who need to do the justifying. That a Bill of Rights is a hell of a good thing to have along with democracy, and that it's not going back on a promise or being hypocritical to say as much, seeing as how we've got one ourselves. But it might not occur to them, because there does seem to be a kind of myth that democracy and freedom are pretty much just two words for the same thing. There has been some comment about this lately, from Fareed Zakaria for one, but perhaps not enough. I've written a little about it at B&W, and so has our resident philosopher Julian Baggini.
- Five Things You Need to Know to be a Better Digital Preservationist
- Book on Losing British Generals Wins American History Prize
- Stanford scholar explores civil rights revolution's positive impact on the South's economy
- Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Amazon's Tentacular Reach
- Q&A with historian and author Nick Turse