In a recent speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., billionaire entrepreneur George Soros attempted to explain why is he donating tens of millions of dollars to elect John Kerry and defeat George Bush. In this article I reproduce and analyze the main themes of Soros’s speech.
”I have been demonized by the Bush campaign.” Soros begins with a plea for personal sympathy. Such pleas are always dubious when they come from billionaires who are trying to pass themselves off as victims. But as the man who is the leading contributor to groups like moveon.org, groups that have launched some of the most vicious attacks against President Bush, shouldn’t Soros expect to be “demonized” in return?
“If we reelect him now, we endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action.” But as John Kerry affirmed during the first debate, the doctrine of preemptive action has never been renounced by an American president. Nor would Kerry, if elected, renounce it. Arguably the United States took preemptive action in World War II when American forces attacked Germany. Hitler had condemned, but not attacked, the United States. Only Japan attacked the United States. So America’s assault on Germany, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, would seem to be a case of legitimate preemptive action. Incidentally preemptive action would have worked even better had Allied Forces attacked Hitler before he became so strong, before he invaded Poland and France.
“President Bush silenced all criticism by calling it unpatriotic. When he said either you are with us or with the terrorists, I heard alarm bells ringing.” This is both false and a non sequitur. It is false because President Bush has never called all criticism of his policies unpatriotic. He has never questioned the legitimacy of internal domestic dissent. His message that “either you are with us or with the terrorists” was directed at other countries. Its premise was that in a global conflict inevitably everyone must take sides, just as in World War II one might say, “Either you are for Hitler or against him.” Now Soros might dispute Bush’s argument. He might disagree that the war against terrorism–or more accurately the war against radical Islam–is a conflict of this nature, a conflict that prohibits the luxury of neutrality. But this is not the claim that Soros makes. Instead he offers Bush’s insistence that world leaders take sides to prove that Bush is seeking to “suppress all dissent.”
“War and occupation create innocent victims.” Finally Soros makes a truthful statement. Soros goes on to point out that some 1,000 Americans and 20,000 Iraqis have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion. There is some dispute over the number of Iraqi casualties, but even granting Soros his arithmetic, what he fails to take into account is the number of Iraqis that were being killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime. The death toll from the mass graves alone exceeded 300,000. In other words, Iraqis were dying in much greater numbers under Hussein. Moreover, no army in history has done more than the Americans to minimize the number of civilian casualties and innocent victims. Iraqis are immeasurably safer from arbitrary death under American control than under Hussein’s control.
“There are many more people willing to risk their lives to kill Americans than there were on September 11.” The implication of this argument is that America has become less safe as a result of the invasion and liberation of Iraq. But is this really true? What is the evidence for it? Certainly there hasn’t been an attack on American soil since September 11. It seems hard to deny that most Americans would rather have the bad guys fighting our soldiers over there than have them blow up our buildings and our people over here. But even in the Middle East, how do we know that the terrorist threat is greater? Soros seems to base his opinions on snapshots from the evening news!
“We have entered a vicious circle of escalating violence… It is not a process that is likely to end anytime soon.” Probably Soros means to say “vicious cycle,” but since he is a Hungarian by birth, we should forgive him his verbal lapses. The problem is with his reasoning. How does he know that the escalating violence represents a strengthening of terrorist power (which is what the terrorists would certainly like us to believe) and not the frustrated lashing-out of forces that are losing the battle on the ground as well as the battle for legitimacy? In reality Soros does not know either way. In reality there is only one way to know what Iraqis really think, and that is to have free elections, which are scheduled for January. Moreover, history shows that democracy enhances political stability and social peace. Even a short-term increase in violence may be a small price to pay for the long-term gain of a democratic Iraq. Ultimately the problem of terrorism arises out of the dysfunctional nature of the regimes that sustain it, and only by changing those regimes can a new culture of peace, prosperity, and toleration emerge.
“President Bush…claims that the torture scenes at Abu Graib prison were the work of a few bad apples. They were part of a system of dealing with detainees put in place by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.” Let’s examine the plausibility of this accusation. If the Abu Ghraib conduct was typical, if indeed it was the product of policy, then it would have occurred on a much wider scale. By contrast, extensive investigations have shown that the abuse of prisoners was aberrant. Those responsible are being prosecuted and face severe penalties. That the abuse occurred at all is regrettable and contemptible. It has reinforced Arab fears of American sexual decadence, and the abuse of power. “It is wonderful to have a giant’s strength,” Shakespeare writes in Measure for Measure, “but tyrannous to use it like a giant.” This is wise counsel, but in general the American government has heeded it. Soros’s contention seems to be part of a reflexive tendency to magnify America’s sins, while overlooking if not justifying the greater sins of America’s enemies.
“There was no connection” between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. This common criticism, which Soros repeats, ignores the fact that after 9/11 and even today America faces two terrorist threats. The first is of the al Qaeda variety, but this is not the most serious threat. The reason is that people who fly planes into buildings can kill 500 or 1,000 or 3,000 people. But they cannot kill 100,000 people, or 500,000, or a million. The greatest terrorist threat is a nuclear-tipped terrorism, or biologically tipped terrorism, or chemical weapons used on a mass scale. Soros’s erroneous assumption is that there is only one terrorist group to worry about–the folks who did 9/11–and only one type of terrorism that we need to counter.
“In Iraq…the arms inspections and sanctions were working. We could have declared victory but President Bush insisted on going to war.” Working? There was virtually unanimous agreement that the arms inspections and sanctions were a failure. Saddam Hussein would expel the inspectors on a whim. He could restrict where they could look and for what. The inspectors themselves repeatedly confessed frustration. Sanctions had no effect on the regime: the only people who were harmed were ordinary Iraqis. In an attempt to harm Hussein the U.N. sanctions were in fact hurting the Iraqi people. By what bizarre logic could America “declare victory”? By Soros’s definition of victory America would never have intervened in Iraq and Saddam Hussein would still be in power. Some “victory.”
“We went to war on false pretenses.” This is the pundit who has the benefit of hindsight criticizing the statesman who doesn’t. To those who say to President Bush, “Knowing what we do now, why did you do what you did?” President Bush’s obvious answer is, “Because I didn’t know then what we know now.” The statesman is in the moving current of events. He must use the information available at the time to make the best decision. It is irresponsible bordering on the absurd to hold statesmen accountable for not knowing things that there is no possible way they could have known in advance.
Maybe in retrospect the invasion was a mistake, or done at the wrong time, or done in the wrong way, but this does not mean it was initiated on “false pretenses.”
“All my experience…has taught me that democracy cannot be imposed by military means. And Iraq would be the last place I would choose for an experiment in introducing democracy.” This claim shows how limited Soros’s experience has been. After World War II the United States imposed democracy by military means on Germany and Japan, and the results have been excellent. And ponder Soros’s bizarre contention that even if democracy can be established, he wouldn’t choose Iraq to do it. Leave aside the arrogance of assuming that people around the world should wait for democracy until George Soros considers them eligible. Iraq is in fact one of the best candidates for democracy in the Middle East. It has an ancient civilization, a sophisticated culture, an educated population, a substantial middle class. The pre-requisites for democracy are much more present in Iraq than they were in Japan or in India or in any number of countries that are now functioning democracies.
“By invading Iraq…we violated international law.” Here Soros echoes the widely held view (also entertained by John Kerry) that even if it’s good to have democracy in Iraq, let someone else do it. Let the international community do it, or the United Nations. The foolishness of this is evidence when we consider the fact that out of some 200 countries in the United Nations, less than 50 are democracies. The U.N. is largely made up of tyrants and despots. How can we trust the U.N. to impose democracy in Iraq when it can’t impose democracy in the U.N.? Moreover the principles of international law–the central one of which is “sovereignty”–are friendlier to despotism than democracy. “Sovereignty” means that the borders of a nation are presumptively inviolable. Now consider a despot like Saddam Hussein. He came to power by force, and he stayed in power by force. By what moral right did he rule Iraq? None. So what moral objection is there to another party crossing the border and pushing him out? None. Yet the nostrums of “international law” allow an illegitimate dictator like Hussein to say, “I enjoy the right to sovereignty. No one has the right to cross the borders into Iraq and threaten my dictatorship.” And how sad it is for the people who live under despots that international law around the world upholds the right of these thugs to rule! If liberating Iraq means violating international law, then violating international law is the noble and just thing to do.
Finally Soros is done. “There is a lot more to be said on the subject and I have said it in my book The Bubble of American Supremacy, now available in paperback. I hope you will read it.” This comic denouement is reminiscent of the self-serving politician who utters a speech full of banality and falsehood and then says, “And you can find out more by calling my toll free number.” What can one expect from Soros’s book other than more banality and half-truths? Megalomaniacs are not rare in politics, but even by the political standard Soros is in a category by himself. Fortunately those who think about what he says are in no danger of being duped by this man who has a lot of money but very little political sense.