Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

It is right to stop genocidal dictators

Jerry Stratton, August 29, 2007

A little over two years ago, I asked, “When is it right to stop mass murder? When is it right to invade another country when that country’s leaders are committing genocide?” I didn’t specifically say what I believed about our toppling Saddam Hussein, however. Several weeks ago I saw Eva Olsson at the University of San Diego’s Institute for Peace and Justice. She didn’t speak about Iraq, she spoke about education and her experiences in Auschwitz, and about stopping future genocide at the individual level; but listening to her talk about living through genocide inspired me to stop standing on the sidelines about Iraq.

It was right to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Regardless of how well or badly the war went from there and goes from here, it is very important that we not forget that it was right to try to overthrow the genocidal government of Iraq. As our president said,

We rise or fall as freedom is maintained here and on the farthest island… The people of the United States have a very clear choice to make, and that is whether in their judgment the leadership of this country, its vigor and vitality, in the great problems that face us, will maintain that freedom, whether here or in the Middle East… I come to an America that must maintain its strength, not only because it must defend the welfare of its people, but also because it must defend freedom. This is no time for the United States to misjudge the course of events.

I cut out “I come tonight as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party” just to add a little cognitive dissonance. With the exception of talking about the Far East rather than the Middle East, that was John F. Kennedy on October 9, 1960.

“No one is free when others are oppressed.” This is not a political issue. It is an issue of right and wrong. This is our fight, because it is everyone’s fight. We don’t always have the opportunity to do the right thing; this time, in Iraq, we did. We made the right choice when we took that opportunity.

I just finished reading The Screwtape Letters, and found this devilish passage right on the mark:

[God] wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: Is it right? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now, if we can keep men asking: “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.

“Is this war liberal or conservative?” does not tell us if the war is right or wrong. Nor does “was it supported by George or Bill?” The political issue is merely how expedient it is to do the right thing. But we cannot forget that what we did was right. Natan Sharansky, a graduate of the Soviet gulags, reminds us about Saddam Hussein’s government:

Let us be under no illusion of what life under Hussein was like. He was a mass murderer who tortured children in front of their parents, gassed Kurds, slaughtered Shiites, started two wars with his neighbors and launched Scud missiles into downtown Riyadh and Tel Aviv. The price for the stability that Hussein supposedly brought to the region was mass graves, hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq, and terrorism and war outside it. Difficult as the challenges are today—with Iran and Syria trying to stymie democracy in Iraq, with al-Qaeda turning Iraq into the central battleground in its holy war of terrorism against the free world, and with sectarian militias bent on murder and mayhem—there is still hope that tomorrow may be better.

No one can know for sure whether President Bush’s “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq will succeed. But those who believe that human rights should play a central role in international affairs should be doing everything in their power to maximize the chances that it will.

For decades, the United States has pushed American interests and stability abroad by supporting dictatorships. I hope that our fight in Iraq will show that ending dictatorships can better promote stability and freedom abroad. If our current choices are failing we should make new choices, but every new choice we make should be a choice for good; every step we take should lead us away from genocide, not towards it.

“Our peril is from people who tell us what pleases us, rather than what causes our peril.”—John F. Kennedy

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