Politics & Policy


The crippling fear of being taken seriously.

There are some professions American colleges simply don’t prepare you for. Consider Aziz Salih Ahmed. He works for the Iraqi government. His technical specialty? He’s a “violator of women’s honor,” according to his Iraqi identity card. In other words, he rapes women. Presumably he likes it. But he does it on the government’s dime so whether he likes brutally raping women or not, he’s probably good at it or at least he’s good enough for government work.

Mr. Ahmed is just one of the examples cited in the British government’s dossier on Iraqi human-rights violations. The report includes evidence of political prisoners slowly dipped into tubs of acid, the use of eye gouging, drilling hands, mock executions, real executions, mass-murder, run-of-the-mill torture, confinement in coffin-like cages, and so on. According to the report, since about two years ago, the official punishment for publicly insulting or criticizing Saddam Hussein or any members of his family was to have your tongue cut out. These punishments were actually broadcast on Iraqi TV. If we had a similar policy in the United States, the editorial board of the New York Times would have to conduct its editorial meetings using hand puppets.

Anti-war types were furious with the “timing” of the report. “This . . . is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists,” declared Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International. Other critics, mostly British, joined in. Tam Dalyell, the longest-serving member of the British parliament, dismissed the report as nothing but “cranking up for war.” Presumably the New York Times agreed, since they haven’t run a single editorial on the British report. (Of course they can be forgiven for not finding the time or space, in light of their never-ending commitment to sing “We Shall Overcome” until a few rich women get to play golf-on-demand with a few rich men in Georgia. For that crime against humanity no forest need be saved from their insatiable hunger for newsprint.)

Now what I find fascinating about all of this is that it mirrors one of the central plot points of the antiwar “movement” today. “Movement” gets quotation marks because these people aren’t really going anywhere. Their white-knuckled grips on their little islands of obstinacy have kept them out of the flow of history for decades now.

Anyway, what fascinates me is the mixture of childishness and self-righteous purity of these people. Correct me if I’m wrong: If a policeman arrests a rapist because he’s bucking for a promotion, the cop still did the right thing, didn’t he? If you build houses for poor people in order to make amends for your failed presidency, it’s still nice that poor folks get a roof over their heads, right? If your boss’s motives for giving you a raise conflict with your own, but he gives you one nonetheless, you’re still going to take it, aren’t you? If my wife makes me lamb chops because she wants to get me to put up the storm windows, it’s still a good thing she made me these nuggets of tasty goodness. If . . . you get the point.

In my current syndicated column, I complain about the tendency among liberals to argue that no liberal end should be pursued if it might also result in achieving a conservative end — or, heaven forbid, require employing conservative means. Conservatives argue that foreign policy should be conducted out of self-interest but throughout the 1990s antiwar liberals could only find enthusiasm for conflicts which were explicitly not in our national interest. Somalia and Haiti were glorious triumphs of American foreign policy. The Gulf War was tainted because it actually aligned with American interests.

I wrote that I couldn’t understand why this was the case, why it is that liberals — once champions of a simultaneously realistic and moral foreign policy — today shudder at the notion of using force if it might actually be in the national interest.

Now that I’ve slept on it, I have answer. I think the Left is addled by a logic-bending obsession with hypocrisy. While certainly not unknown on the right, I think liberals today put an emphasis on purity of motives and consistency of action, particularly in foreign policy, that makes them damn-near blind to reason. (The New Republic is a rare exception, and has been trying, largely in vain, to construct a coherent and serious liberal foreign policy that the Democratic party and the Left generally ignore — at their peril).

This attitude has deep roots in leftist thinking. It was Hannah Arendt who observed that the Left’s great accomplishment in the 1930s was switching disputes over facts into disputes over motive. So the question wasn’t whether or not so-and-so was a Communist but whether the person who exposed him was a good guy or not.

Feminists demanded that “something” be done about the Taliban’s treatment of women for years. Conservatives scoffed. But when the Bush administration saw fit to liberate the women of Afghanistan — for reasons larger than merely their freedom — feminists drew circles in the floor with their open-toed shoes and grumbled about how they didn’t like war. But I guarantee you if Bill Clinton had unleashed the 10th Mountain Division on Kabul to ensure reproductive choice for Afghan women, Gloria Steinem would have done cartwheels.

Amnesty International couldn’t dispute the facts of the British dossier because the British dossier was, in fact, largely a reprint of information gathered by Amnesty International. So, it attacked the motives of the British government.

“There’s no question that the regime has an appalling human rights record,” Kamal Samari, a spokesman for Amnesty International, told the Washington Post. He admitted, for example, that the group had collected the names of as many as 170,000 Iraqis who had “disappeared.” “But what we don’t want to see for Iraq or any other country is that the human rights record is used selectively in order to achieve political goals.”

What? . . . What!?

I could have sworn the whole reason Amnesty International existed was to make fixing human-rights problems a “political goal.” When Amnesty talks of using the record “selectively,” it means that the U.S. and its allies are being hypocritical by not taking a uniform line around the world on human rights. Ms. Khan complains, “Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to reports of widespread violations in Iraq before the Gulf War.”

This is so childish. So stunningly, jaw-droppingly immature it staggers the imagination. A reasonable and mature human-rights advocate would shout “Finally! You people are going to do something about Iraq! I hope you don’t stop there!” She would say, “At long last, you are going to fix the problem you helped create!” She would ask, “What can we do to help?” Instead, Amnesty has its dress over its head because America isn’t doing the right thing for the right reasons. This reminds me of an annoying former girlfriend who wanted me to go to some Meryl Streep movie because I wanted to, not because she was making me. That’s fine for youthful boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, but grown-ups interested in stopping mass murder and systematic torture are supposed to get beyond such silliness. Serious people take their victories where they can.

Academics squabble constantly about whether Lincoln was interested in freeing the slaves or simply preserving the Union. It’s a good argument, but if you think freeing the slaves was a good thing the answer shouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not you think the Civil War should have been fought. Am I crazy for thinking that if Cuba or France or perhaps the women’s studies faculty at Brown University were leading the effort to topple the Iraqi regime, the anti-war people would have far fewer problems with the idea?

Working to make the world better is commendable. Preferring to keep things bad because you don’t think people should act on different motives than your own is the stuff of narcissists, children, and fools.


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