Thursday, June 30, 2005

At Least We're Not as Bad as <insert name of evil dictator>

There's been a lot of talk about America's treatment of prisoners lately. Amnesty International compares our prisons to gulags, Senator Durbin says if we didn't know they were American jails, we'd think we were looking at pictures of Nazi camps, and specific allegations of prisoner mistreatment at Guantanomo Bay have been released. Then Republicans shoot back and say Amnesty International is unimportant and thus not worth commenting on; Sen. Durbin should be ashamed of comparing U.S. soldiers to Nazis; and in an "amusing because it's so ridiculous" moment, Republicans try to show how well prisoners at Guantanomo Bay are treated by not only listing sample menus but also by showing us fully cooked meals representative of what the prisoners receive!

Where to start... Okay, first of all, let's look at the Republican's responses. Insulting Amnesty International and saying they weren't credible is interesting. Interesting because Amnesty International estimates on human rights abuses were used by the same administration a few years ago as justification for the war. Want some more hypocricy? Sen. Santorum criticized Sen. Durbin for his Nazi comments, apparently forgetting that he compared the Democratic Party to Hitler not too long ago himself (and never bothered to apologize). And come on, people. Do you really think how well you feed your prisoners gives us any indication of how well you treat them? Sure if we were totally mean we could give them maggot-infested bread and dirty water. But we do seem to feed them well. I'm sure they appreciate that when they are forced to urinate on themselves and stay in painful positions for hours at a time and are refused medical treatment after being beaten. And let's not forget that the allegations of Koran abuse turned out to be true in a few cases (that we know of).

It should bother us all that FBI reports show that very little actionable and useful intelligence has been gathered from Guantanomo Bay or any of the other prison camps we're operating now, despite the questionable interrogation techniques used on the prisoners. That tells me that the techniques aren't working to save American lives by providing information, but they very likely may be endangering American lives by enraging more and more Muslims around the world as these stories of mistreatment get out. Right now militant Muslims are a minority (albeit a vocal and visible one) within that faith, but if we continue disrespecting their religion and mistreating Muslim prisoners, the moderates may soon come to hate us as well. Then we'll all be in a lot of trouble.

And let me set one thing straight, lest I be accused of excusing the Nazi remarks by Durbin. Comparing the actions of our soldiers (or political parties...) to Hitler, Stalin, et al, is grossly unfair. In fact, it lessens the effect of the atrocities committed by those maniacs. If we are to teach people that the Holocaust was truly horrific, we can't compare the torture, cruel treatment, and deaths of several dozen (or who knows -- maybe hundreds) of prisoners to
millions of deaths in WWII concentration camps. As bad as we're treating people, it's not as bad as Hitler treated people.

However, can we live in a world where the best we can say is "at least we're not as bad as Hitler?" That sets the bar pretty low in my book.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

So What is it? WMDs? Terroism? Or Just Incompetence?

Since we first sent our soldiers to Iraq a little more than two years ago, the American public has been subject to several explanations for the war. First, of course, it was Saddam's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He had chemical and nerve agents capable of being deployed within 45 minutes, and he was close to getting the Bomb. We had to act to protect ourselves! We were in imminent danger!

What's that? No WMDs? His weapons program was in shambles? Neglected since the first Gulf War? Oh, well... Ummm... I know: Saddam WANTED to continue his weapons program, and he would have done it if it weren't for us.

Not buying that? Well, Saddam was an evil dictator who murdered thousands of his own people and terrorized his neighbors. We were knights in shining armor riding in on our white horses to protect innocent Iraqis and save the world. Iraq, and the world, are better off without him.

The thing is, while I don't disagree with that last part, if that's why we went in there, why didn't we go into Rwanda and stop the Genocide there? Or what about Sudan? If we're going to be the world's police department, why not go to places where more people are in immediate danger without our help? And let's not forget Cuba. Castro's been on our naughty list for over forty years, and if we were truly interested in ridding the world of dictators, we could wipe out his government in a weekend and even schedule a Miami Sound Machine concert for downtown Havana on Monday.

Okay, so say we're not police per se, but we are spreaders of freedom and democracy. Well, as far as the Middle East is concerned, Iraqis had more personal freedom than many other countries. Granted, they still had the dictator thing going against them, but their society was open and women were generally afforded most rights given to men. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, UAE, Yemen and Qatar, to name but a few, all have worse records on allowing personal freedoms, and several of those countries also have serious human rights issues. Don't misinterpret me and think I believed the status quo in Iraq was fine, but did we need to go to war to change it?

Moving on to the next rationale, wouldn't a democratically elected government in the Middle East be a shining example for it's neighbors? It would promote stability in the region that would spread to other countries with oppressed citizens. But as dramatic and brave as the January elections in Iraq were, the insurgents don't consider the current Iraqi legitimate. They believe they are all American stooges, corrupted by our power and influence. While it seemed clear the CPA under Paul Bremer tried to call the shots in favor of Americans and American businesses, the currently elected government is arguably acting independently. However, they won't be seen as such while we're still over there pointing guns at everyone.

The real problem is that starting a democracy is hard work, and most people care more about personal safety and their own economic well-being than having direct representation in parliament. Since the insurgency is wrecking any sense of security for many Iraqis and keeping their economy in the dumps, they are having a tougher time living now than before the war. Last I heard, electricity levels were still only marginally better than they were right after the war, and many people (especially in areas of Baghdad and Fallujah) don't even have running water. If things stay bad, they'll listen to anyone who can stand up and tell them he can keep them safe and give them a job -- people are willing to give up all sorts of personal freedoms simply to feel safer (see: The Patriot Act).

And will having a democracy in the Middle East really cause freedom to spread to neighboring countries? Well, Iran just elected a religious hard-liner, despite many statements assuring us the general population was pro-West and pro-reform. Turns out they'd rather have jobs and regular meals than anything else for the time being. Lebanon is on the right track, but having just re-elected a pro-Syrian speaker for their parliament, it doesn't look like they're quite ready to get out from under Syria's thumb anytime soon. (Fingers crossed, though.)

I guess President Bush saw that the American people weren't buying his latest rationale for the war, however, so now he says we're in Iraq because it's the front line against terrorism. That's funny. There were very few links between Saddam's regime and global terrorism (certainly no operational links between Iraq and Al Qaeda) -- until we got there. Two years ago the front line against terrorism was in Afghanistan in the fight against the remaining Taliban and the search for Bin Laden. Now we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq instead of in the U.S., eh? Don't ya think we'd be fighting them more effectively in Afghanistan if you hadn't lured them into Iraq? (And why haven't we heard much about the hunt for Bin Laden lately? Porter Goss seems to have a pretty good idea where he's hiding, but I guess he's more interested in answering Time magazine's questions about organic gardening than actually catching Osama. But I digress...)

According to a recent CIA report, terrorists are getting hands-on training in planning car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and urban warfare in Iraq. Granted the suicide bombers aren't much of a threat after they've blown themselves up, but the people who are planning the attacks are learning -- learning far more effectively than they would be training against dummies in the hills of Afghanistan. We are killing and capturing some of them, for sure, but the ones who get away have a level of on-the-job training in terrorism they wouldn't have been able to achieve two years ago. And who would you rather have trying to sneak into our country: a terrorist cell trained in theoretical missions trying to implement a plan that looks good on paper, or a group of battle-hardened veterans executing a plan they developed and perfected in Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul, and Fallujah?

So let's recap our reasons for going to war:
  1. WMDs
  2. Save Iraqis from an evil dictator
  3. Spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East
  4. Fighting global terrorism
Those are compelling reasons when considered together. As I've tried to explain in this blog, though, 1 and 4 are just plain wrong, and 2 and 3 are at best iffy. But what really ticks me off is that these all weren't presented to us at the beginning. We started with one reason, then when that wasn't good enough anymore we moved to another. Kind of like a kid caught in a lie trying to think up an excuse that might get him out of trouble, our government just keeps adding to the list of reasons excuses we're over there.

More than being upset because of the lying and poor planning, though, I think we should all be worried that this administration will become frustrated when victory continues to alludes them. The last thing we need is for them to lose focus in Iraq like they did with Bin Laden.