The Use of Force is Not the Best Option to Liberate A PeopleFebruary 27, 2007 at 5:14 pm | Posted in American politics, freedom, Iraq, Military, Peace, Thoughts, War | 109 Comments
I’ve liked Obsidian Wings. The writers there are usually quite clear, articulate, and realistic. Today, I just read Hilzoy’s post entitled “Liberating Iraq.” I find it to be one of the most thoughtful pieces on the use of force vs alternative options. She quotes Peter Beinart who admitted that his original backing of the war in Iraq was wrong. Peter Beinart states the following about why he came to the conclusion Iraq was wrong:
It begins with a painful realization about the United States: We can’t be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That’s why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force–because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own.
But Hilzoy adds that it really isn’t America, as she says:
It’s not just that we aren’t the country Beinart wanted to think we were; it’s that war is not the instrument he thought it was.
She then recounts the following experience she had in 1983:
Back in 1983, I sat in on a conference on women and social change. There were fascinating people from all over the world, women who had been doing extraordinary things in their own countries, and who had gathered together to talk it through; and I got to be a fly on the wall.
During this conference, there was a recurring disagreement about the role of violence in fighting deeply unjust regimes. On one side were the women from India, who argued against the use of violence, generally on Gandhian grounds. On the other were many of the women who lived under deeply unjust regimes; I recall, in particular, the South Africans arguing that however laudable nonviolence might be, their situation was sufficiently desperate that they could not afford the luxury of waiting for nonviolence to work.
It seemed to me that at the heart of this disagreement was this one fact: that the women from India were from a country that had already achieved independence, and were living with the problems that came afterwards, whereas the women from South Africa were trying to achieve that self-government in the first place. The South Africans seemed to think that the women from India had forgotten what it was like to be subjugated. We need to win our freedom as quickly as possible, they seemed to say. We realize that it would be preferable to win that freedom in the best possible way. If we could win it just as quickly through non-violent means, we would surely do so. But you would not ask us to wait if you really understood what it is like to live in slavery.
By contrast, many of the arguments made by the Indians turned on the effects that achieving self-government through violence had on one’s own people. Don’t do this, they seemed to be saying: once you win your freedom, you will find that you and your people have grown accustomed to settling disputes by force and to demonizing your opponents. Think now about how to use the struggle you are waging to teach yourselves how to become citizens and to practice self-government. Do not wait until you win your independence to discover that self-government requires not just political power, but political responsibility.
The Indians had seen for themselves that wars changed who they were. Hilzoy learned that “liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government.” She concludes with the following:
This is why, when I read Beinart’s piece, I thought: the South African he quotes — the one who said that “if the United States were a different country, it would help the African National Congress liberate South Africa by force” — was wrong. Force is not just an alternate way of getting to liberation; it changes everything. And liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive regime; it is a matter of creating a country populated by citizens who are, by and large, willing to set aside the idea of resolving conflicts by force and to respect the laws, even when they are imperfectly applied.
For this reason, the problem with that South African’s vision is not just that “we lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war.” That’s true, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, namely: that preventive war is not a way of remaking the world in the ways the South African and Beinart imagine.
Liberation is a matter of creating a country populated by citizens who are, by and large, willing to set aside the idea of resolving conflicts by force and to respect the laws.
In the case of Iraq, the British had attempted to “liberate” the country earlier, and establish order. Of course that led to the rise of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. Too many Americans still rely on force as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, the ultimate sword of freedom. But the use of force changes everything.