Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Is There a Principle Here, or Do We Just Invade When Bush Says So?

This column actually ran on Dec. 21, but that afternoon I left on a family vacation, so it's only getting posted today. My next column has already run but I'll post it tomorrow.

Have you signed up to give blood yet? The blood donation pitch made it into the blog-and-email version of my column, because I control that, but not the paper, so I repeated it at the end of this column. I learned it got cut for space limitations, not because of some libertarian belief that giving blood interferes with the free market in corpuscles or something.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 21, 2003

Exactly when did Republicans decide that America needed a more militaristic and expensive version of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy’s focus on human rights?

With no WMD found in Iraq despite the Administration’s pre-war claims -- remember the 25,000 liters of anthrax? The 500 tons of nerve gas? The 38,000 liters of botulism toxin? -- the administration now justifies sending essentially all our combat-ready forces to Iraq on humanitarian grounds.

In 2000, George W. Bush said we shouldn’t use our military for nation building. Now it’s a wonderful thing for our collective national character to “slog” through building a nation for the Iraqis.

I’m all for freedom and a better life for people worldwide, or for hard work building character. But why did those who objected so vehemently to U.S. involvement in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo suddenly become humanitarian interventionists for Iraq?

The civil wars in Sudan and Sierra Leone, the genocide in Rwanda, and AIDS all killed more innocents than Saddam Hussein. People suffer the world over, and everything inflicted on the Iraqi people happened elsewhere, without denting our consciousness.

Aren’t North Korea or Burma also despotic and inhumane? Maybe they’re too remote, and what happens in the Middle East matters much more. But Bush isn’t pushing Saudi Arabia or Kuwait toward democracy -- and is telling Taiwan not to expand voting rights.

It’s laudable we’re asking other countries to reduce Iraq’s foreign debt so the new government can devote its resources to improving the country. But hundreds of millions of people live in dozens of developing countries whose governments must spend more on debt service than social services. Don’t they also deserve debt relief?

I await the 2004 presidential debates, where President Bush will ask voters whether the Iraqi people are better off today than they were four years ago.

It is, of course, wonderful that we’ve liberated Iraq, and will be even more wonderful if we can create a country -- or a civil society -- essentially from scratch. But that’s not why we were told we had to go to war with Iraq, without delay, and whether or not we got any real help from any other countries.

Bush justified this war as preemption, necessary to protect America. That just wasn’t true; we’ve found neither WMD nor operational links to Al Queda. So we now get the humanitarian justification, which Bush isn’t applying anywhere else -- except for token efforts when he can’t avoid it entirely, like Liberia.

Is the Iraq war and reconstruction the foreign policy version of the Bush v. Gore decision -- good for this day and train only? Conquering Afghanistan made sense; the Taliban were giving Al Queda a base of operations, and today our allies have more troops there than we do. But what principles justify our selective, optional, go-it-alone humanitarianism in Iraq?

Or does George W. Bush get to choose a war, whatever the justification, and all the Republicans just fall into line?

* * *

While pondering America’s role in doing good for one (and only one) foreign country, you need to do something good here in Arizona. You may have noticed that my Dec. 7 column asked you to perform five good deeds before the year-end, but space limitations eliminated my fifth request: Give blood.

As reported by The Tribune’s Joe Kullman, local blood supplies are at their lowest levels in decades. It’s always tight during the holidays, but flu season (and the mistaken belief that a flu shot keeps you from donating, which it doesn’t) have made the shortage critical. Call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500 to schedule an appointment, or use their website, www.bloodhero.com. Do it now. Please.

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