Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Moral Equivalency Exam

Andrew Sullivan has essayed some moral equivalency testing between Russian conduct in Georgia and the U.S.'s in Iraq and in the "War on Terror." For myself, reading in the Times this evening that "Russian authorities make no secret of their desire to see Mr. Saakashvili tried for war crimes in The Hague," I thought not of current Russian actions but of Chechnya, and how the Russians simply flattened the place, and how easy it was years ago to condemn that indiscriminate violence. Yes, Putin & Co.'s hypocrisy is rife, but now there's that beam in the U.S.'s eye too.

The U.S. in Iraq did not fight like the Russians in Chechnya; the country prided itself on smart bombs and pinpoint strikes and minimized collateral damage. But having gone in on false pretences and unleashed a civil war that killed probably hundreds of thousands, while meanwhile instituting a reign of torture against suspected enemies worldwide, how does the death and suffering and damage to international norms and standards we caused stack up against that of other malefactors?

These equivalences are impossible to score and ultimately false. In fact the U.S. may have still done the Iraqis a service. Saddam had to go sometime, and we'll never know what would have followed his death or deposing (as we don't know, by way of loose analogy, what will follow the collapse of the regime in North Korea). And U.S. forces have done heroic work trying to help put Iraq back together. But in Colin Powell's well-worn formula, we broke it, and we own the damage done -- to our own civil liberties and rule of law as well as to the lives and property of the Iraqis.

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