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Orson Scott Card on Iraq

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Someone emailed me the article at this link:


I knew Card was a liberal. I hadn't realized he was an old style liberal who cared about oppressed people who "don't get to vote in the only election that matters to their future, too".

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On November 10th, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC), desireearmfeldt commented:
I find this a very thought-provoking argument. I'm very glad to have read it. But it doesn't address (doesn't help me think about) my major issues with the war:

1) OK, so assuming the theory is right and we really ought to be fighting this war 'cause it's great, that doesn't necessarily mean we're not screwing up the implementation, and I had the impression (e.g. from the army letter saying "down with Rumsfeld") that we may in fact be screwing it up. If that's the case, we end up in a no-win situation, because withdrawing leaves people in the lurch and staying just screws everything up more.

2) Wars kill people. I know, not-wars also kill people. I know, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. But still: we're killing people, and that's not good. And I don't mean American soldiers, either. As one of the characters in 9 Parts Of Desire said: "Why don't we count the Iraquis who have died?"

3) (OK, this one it does address some) "The War on Terror." He's got a good argument why this is a good thing to be calling it. My problem with the name is: a War on Terror can't be won, or ended. There is no defined, specific entity; there is no defined, attainable, identifiable end goal. Surely we're not fighting "until everyone who hates us is dead or in jail." That's not a fight you can ever stop fighting. That's a way to make more enemies, and to make yourself a tyrant. I might be receptive to the argument that we have to stay in Iraq until we've finished nation-building: that's arrogant, but I think Card is mostly right there--if you're going to topple regimes and come in and make a mess, it's better to at leat try to make things better for the future (even if that's "better" according to your own lights). Nation-building at least has some idenitifiable goals that we can say "OK, did that." But Defeat Terrorism? You can check off the enemies you've knocked over...but there's no such thing as the war to end all wars, and there's no such thing as the war to end all terrorism, either.
On November 10th, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC), treptoplax replied:
A minor aside on #1:

Army Times (assuming the editoral there was the 'army letter' you referred to) is a private (trade magazine) paper published by the Gannett Group, the publisher of USA Today, not any kind of official military organ.
On November 10th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC), desireearmfeldt replied:
(All my comments should be prefaced by "I am woefully uninformed but..." )

I had thought (this is from NPR a few days back) that there was a letter being published in newsletters actually put out by one or more of the armed forces. Looking now, the Net seems to be splattered with references and reprints and so on, so I may well have misunderstood the original source.
On November 10th, 2006 05:44 pm (UTC), treptoplax replied:
It's certainly not made very clear by most of the reports: Here's the NPR one.. Wikipedia page for Military Times Publishing Group is here.

Whether the sourcing is material in the first place is, of course, a whole other question.
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On November 10th, 2006 09:32 pm (UTC), psychohist replied:
Yep. I posted the link because it was thought provoking, not because I agreed with it 100%.

I do agree with the basic premise: we have a responsibility to stick around until the job is finished and the Iraqis have a nation rather than just the outlines of one. I think it's our responsibility, not just because it's a good thing to do, but because the Iraqis' problems are largely the result of our war on them in 1991 and the subsequent sanctions.

I don't agree with Card that if we "just continue doing what we've been doing", things will turn out okay. I think that what we were doing worked well through the Iraqi elections and the beginning of this year, when most of the insurgency movements were driven and funded by sources within Iraq; ultimately all Iraqis benefit from having a stable government and have an interest in establishing one. Since then, though, participation by Iran and perhaps Syria has increased to the point where they are the primary drivers of unrest in Iraq. Iran in particular may have a vested interest in continuing chaos in Iraq; since it's easier to cause chaos than to prevent it, we're not going to win by just trying to prevent it. I don't think a blanket embargo on Iran, as Card suggests, will work, for reasons I've previously posted. I do agree with him that cutting and running is moving in the wrong direction.

The present situation in Iraq does kill people. I think the official estimate is that about 1000 Iraqi deaths each month, an order of magnitude more than U.S. deaths there. Most of the Iraqi deaths are from the insurgency rather than from us, but you could argue that we're perpetuating the situation by preventing either the Sunnis or the Shiites from gaining enough of an upper hand to cow the other side into submission.

On the other hand, this may be better for the Iraqis than the situation before the 2003 war, where UNICEF estimated that the sanctions caused 500,000 excess deaths among children under the age of 5 between 1990 and 2000 - around 4000 deaths a month just in that age range. Estimates through all age ranges are around two to three times that much. I'm sure not all of that death rate has gone away - the current situation no longer restricts imports of food and medicine, but it may still be difficult to get those goods in parts of Iraq - but I'd bet the situation now is better than before the 2003 war.

To the extent that we did something wrong, I think it was the 1991 invasion and subsequent sanctions, not the 2003 invasion. We, the U.S., caused tremendous amounts of misery and death to common people in Iraq throughout the 1990s. To me, that's why we ought to feel obligated to help them now.

I agree with you that "War on Terror" is a poor term, for a variety of reasons. It also encompasses efforts in North Korea that are rather different from the situation in Iraq. "Nation Building" is a bit generic, though - which nation? We used the term "Marshall Plan" in Europe after World War II, but Marshall isn't around any more....
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