Creative Destruction

July 15, 2006

Women and Iraq

Filed under: Iraq,War — Robert @ 10:47 pm

Ampersand is convinced that Iraq represents a catastrophic screw-up, and he’s pissed off at pro-war bloggers like myself for not admitting it.

Aside from the discrimination in favor of women’s suffering (“World Ends; Women, Minorities Hardest Hit”) , which can be explained readily by the admirable Burkean parochialism that makes Amp a good guy, I’m a little baffled at Amp’s post. But his candor and anger are real, and so I want to address him honestly.

Amp, on the war: “if it was fought to free Iraqis, then the effort has been a dismal failure…”

This just seems so radically out of touch to me that I don’t know how to address it. Amp presents the (very real) decline in the safety and level of privilege enjoyed by Iraqi women under Saddam as being the entire picture of the “freeing” of the Iraqis. On the question of safety, I think that we must concede the Iraqi security situation is not very good. But it is not the worst place in the world, either, and it has real prospects to improve.

As for the privilege: under Amp’s own expressed view of society, privilege bestowed by unjust social orders is not an entitlement. The Iraqi women who had “freedom” and standing in Hussein’s Iraq were privileged by their relative positions in a fascist hierarchy. It was the wife of the Ba’ath Party district chairman who walked the street in safety; the 17-year old Marsh Arab girl lived a life of terror. It is a damn shame that the wife’s position has fallen. for now, below what it should be under any society – of that let’s have no doubt. But nor can we forget what a brutal and unjust society it is that has been given a thorough shaking out.

Leftists like Amp advocate a radical overhaul of our own society, on the grounds that it too is brutal and unjust. They (generally) want peaceful means – but it’s a radical shaking out that they would have. Yet when a society that was inarguably a lot rougher than ours gets knocked around some, it’s a Huge Moral Outrage. Why such defensiveness of the privilege of the elites, without any articulation of the oppression visited on the underclasses?

I guess that in my view, I put a lot more weight on potential than I do on position. I think it’s better to be a struggling free society – even if you’ve been knocked back to square two on the great game board – than a relatively privileged but stultifyingly authoritarian thugocracy. Going from safe streets under Saddam to mean streets under whoever-the-hell-is-elected seems like a step in the right direction to me. I recognize that I don’t have to bear the risks of that directly, but it’s the choice I would make for my own country if the need arose, for whatever that’s worth.

32 Comments »

  1. I can think of a few reasons why there should be moral outrage. The crime of rape is a particularly brutal, devastating crime. Arab culture apparently has a thing about its rape victims, too, which only adds insult to injury. I’m not sure that it makes any sense to says rape is better or worse than being killed, so I won’t go there.

    The fact that a precipitous rise in incidence of rape has occurred because of the presence of U.S. forces is pure awfulness and doesn’t fit your characterization of “getting knocked around some.” To make matters worse, U.S. service men are participating in the mayhem. They’re war crimes, just like the tortures we already know about (and doubtless those we don’t).

    As to “bringing freedom” to oppressed peoples, we have plenty of experience already how that hasn’t worked in Bosnia, Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, or China. We’ve been tangled up all those countries, though not always with troops deployed. Is there a country in the last fifty years that’s been transformed into a stable, working democracy? Yet we’ve somehow got the magic bullet in our guns?

    Regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan has always been something of a pretense, for what I’ve never been sure. I’ve opposed these wars from the start. As miserable as I feel knowing it’s my country wreaking destruction around the globe, at the least I don’t sit safely at my computer guilelessly approving sacrifices my government has forced on others.

    Comment by Brutus — July 15, 2006 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  2. Bob, excellent post.

    Comment by Asher Abrams — July 16, 2006 @ 12:23 am | Reply

  3. As to “bringing freedom” to oppressed peoples, we have plenty of experience already how that hasn’t worked in Bosnia, Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, or China.

    sneezeSomaliasneezeVietnamsneezeHaitisneeze

    Sorry. I’m allergic to failures.

    Comment by Off Colfax — July 16, 2006 @ 1:13 am | Reply

  4. This just seems so radically out of touch to me that I don’t know how to address it.

    Funny, that’s just what I thought of your post.

    Bob, please present some evidence – from a source that’s not laughably partisan – for your thesis that no woman in Iraq other than a tiny, wealthy minority of close relatives of Ba’ath Party officials has suffered a decline in freedom since we invaded Iraq.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 16, 2006 @ 10:02 am | Reply

  5. That’s not my thesis; that’s my example. The thesis is that the status and privilege accorded to women under Saddam’s Iraq was the product of hierarchical oppression, not rights possessed and recognized in a liberal sense; you’re mourning for a hierarchy of privilege propped up by force.

    If I need to present evidence that the status of people in a fascist society and the status of people in a liberal society are different in kind, then this probably isn’t going to be a productive discussion.

    Comment by Robert — July 16, 2006 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  6. […] First let me just come out and say that I understand Ampersand’s response to Bob’s recent post. Bob voiced his opinion, but obviously didn’t provide a lot of information beyond what it was that he believed. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » Judging Iraq — July 16, 2006 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  7. You made some good points Robert but here is my problem with the Iraq war: I don’t think it is the responsibility of the US to go around the world liberating people and bringing them democracy. Some people don’t want to be liberated. Some people don’t want democracy. And some people don’t want democracy or liberation. I think that we ( meaning Americans and our government) should do all that we can to support other nations and oppressed ( by our standards of oppresion) peoples to create the kind of country that they want to live in.

    I just don’t believe that the US needs to invade every country and that is oppressing their people. Sometimes it’s best for us to just sit back and say that if it ain’t broke it is not our place to fix or it, or to stick our noses into the business of people that are trying to fix it.

    Will Iraq be better off in the long run that it was under Saddam? Of course…….eventually. But things may very well get a heck of a whole lot worse (i.e civil war) before they get a whole lot better.

    Comment by SBW — July 17, 2006 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  8. I don’t think it’s our responsibility, either.

    But I do think that there are places and times where it serves our interests to do so, and that Iraq was such a place.

    Comment by Robert — July 17, 2006 @ 6:01 pm | Reply

  9. Robert,
    Well, I don’t know exactly who Riverbend is, socially speaking: she certainly wasn’t the wife or daughter of a Baathist strongman. And she has complained several times about the significant curtailing of her basic freedoms in post-Hussein Iraq.
    http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/

    Comment by AlieraKieron — July 18, 2006 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  10. Aliera, I am sure there are lots and lots of people you can find who have lost privilege. I am not talking about the kind of privilege possessed by only a handful of individuals; I’m talking about group social privilege.

    Comment by bobhayes — July 19, 2006 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  11. Right, and I’m arguing that the social privelege lost is by all Iraqi women. And you CAN NOT claim that the Iraqi people are more free now when 54% of the population has lost significant rights.

    Comment by AlieraKieron — July 19, 2006 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

  12. Aliera, do you really want to make the argument that Kurdish women and Marsh Arab women and other religious and social minority women were privileged in Hussein’s Iraq?

    Comment by bobhayes — July 19, 2006 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  13. That’s not my thesis; that’s my example.

    Okay, provide some reasonable evidence that your example is true.

    The thesis is that the status and privilege accorded to women under Saddam’s Iraq was the product of hierarchical oppression, not rights possessed and recognized in a liberal sense; you’re mourning for a hierarchy of privilege propped up by force.

    No, I’m mourning because eight-year-old Iraqi girls are getting kidnapped and raped, and it’s happening more often now than it used to. (I’m not saying that’s the only thing that is making me angry; but it is a reasonably representative example of what’s making me angry).

    Both Iraq pre-invasion and Iraq post-invasion are sick societies in which huge portions of the population have their substantive freedoms curtailed. However, there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded – which is an incredible achievement, considering how horrible things were pre-invasion.

    Measuring improvement or decline in terms of empty, abstract theories that excuse away thousands of rapes, murders, mutilations, and virtual house imprisonments is, in effect, a way for advocates of war to avoid owning up to the incredible damage you’ve advocated for. If it was your own face with acid splashed in it, I doubt you’d say that what matters is that it happened to you in a liberal democracy.

    Political freedom – the freedom to vote, which Iraqis allegedly have (never mind the ways in which the elections were less than ideally democratic) – is not the only freedom in the world, nor the only one that matters. If I am free to vote but not to walk the streets, I am not substantively free. If I am free to vote but the political system lacks the will to protect me from being kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery, I am not substantively free. If my odds of being violently killed are high enough so I live in perpetual fear, I am not free.

    Of course, in any system, some people are tragically kidnapped, and some people will be trapped in their houses, and some people will be violently killed. But the proportion of people who lack substantive freedom matters, and how severe the loss in freedom is matters. By both measures, it appears that Saddam’s regime wasn’t as awful as the post-invasion regime.

    Let’s return to your post…

    On the question of safety, I think that we must concede the Iraqi security situation is not very good.

    “Is not very good,” in this context, is a phrase that stands with Clinton’s “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” in that it technically states the truth while being the opposite of forthright.

    But it is not the worst place in the world, either, and it has real prospects to improve.

    Wow! Talk about damning with faint praise: “it is not the worst place in the world.” Well, Robert, that’s true. When you were advocating for this war, did you ever say “if over three years post-invasion, Iraq is not the worst place in the world, then the invasion was justified”? Did any prominent war hawk say such a thing?

    As for “real prospects to improve,” again you show your utter refusal to hold your policy up to any standards at all. Anything short of Heaven could be said to have “prospects to improve”; in fact, the more horrible a situation is, the more evident are the prospects of eventual improvement. But there are also strong prospects for getting worse; for a continued escalation of civil war, for an even greater decline in civil authority, for Turkey to invade, etc., etc..

    The question is, given the truly astonishing record of incompetence and stupidity your leaders have displayed in Iraq so far, why on Earth should I take your empty belief that improvement is just around the corner seriously? In case you haven’t noticed, your party leaders thought we’d be greeted with cheers and flowers. Your leaders are the people who have said “improvement is just around the corner” over and over for three solid years now; when Saddam’s sons were killed, when Saddam was captured, when elections were held, over and over.

    You’ve heard of the boy who cried wolf? Your leaders are the boy who cried “improvement!” The war hawks have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they can no more successfully judge what’s around the corner in Iraq than they can flap their arms and fly around the moon. A Iraq war hawk is like a baseball player who has struck out 20 times in a row claiming that if he gets just one more chance, he’ll hit a home run. And when he strikes out for the 21st time, he won’t learn a thing; he’ll just move on to claiming that he’ll surely hit a home run the 22nd time, the 23rd, the 24th, etc etc..

    How many pathetic failures, leading to the violent deaths, rapes and maimings of thousands of Iraqis, do you think Bush’s Iraq policy should be allowed before the Bush Iraqi advocacy ceases to have credibility?

    As for the privilege: under Amp’s own expressed view of society, privilege bestowed by unjust social orders is not an entitlement.

    Nonsense and garbage. I’ve never argued that it would be a good idea to solve the problem of women getting raped by arranging for men to get raped more often; I’ve never argued that the solution to the medical care crisis is to take medical care away from the wealthy so we can all be equally without care; I’ve never argued that the solution to marriage inequality is to take marriage rights away from heterosexuals; etc, etc, etc.. Your summary of my views is flat-out wrong.

    It was unjust in Saddam’s Iraq that some women were subjected to the rape rooms, and that some women feared leaving their houses, and that some women felt forced to wear burkas against their wills. It is even more unjust now that even more women fear being kidnapped and raped, fear leaving their houses, feel forced to wear burkas. Anyone who thinks otherwise is morally incomprehensible.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  14. Amp, just out of curiosity, why on Earth do you think I would respond to an attack like this?

    I understand, or at least I think I understand, your anger and frustration at this situation, so I’m not mad at you. If you want to discuss the situation and make your points civilly, I’ll be glad to.

    But if I want to be called a liar and an idiot, I’ll go over to Pandagon.

    Comment by bobhayes — July 19, 2006 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  15. Ampersand:

    However, there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded

    Please support the italised part of that statement. (I don’t doubt that things have gotten much worse for women as well.) Specifically, please provide some evidence that it’s not overwhelmingly men in particular who are being targetted for violence?

    Comment by Daran — July 19, 2006 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  16. Fair enough, Bob. I apologize for my insults. I’ve edited to make the comment as non-personal and non-insulting as I could, although I think my “anger and frustration” remains apparent.

    I realize this may seem unfair – that I’m removing the evidence of my crime, in a way. For that reason, I’ve saved my original comment, without editing it at all. Bob, if you want, let me know and I’ll post a link to the unedited comment, so that all interested folks can read it.

    However, it is my hope that by editing the comment, I will make a substantive discussion of issues more likely than it would otherwise have been. And again, I apologize for being insulting before.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  17. Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women. Provide me with an example of an important Iraqi political/religious leaders saying that if Iraqi men are under virtual house arrest, that’s a good thing. Provide me with evidence that Iraqi men are being raped or sold into sexual slavery at anywhere near the rate that Iraqi women are.

    There are particular ways in which women are singled out for violence. And in terms of the loss of such basic civil liberties as being able to walk the street, it’s clear to anyone but a men’s rights activist that women have, indeed, been targeted by religious fundamentalists in Iraq for a particular loss of civil rights.

    In any case, I don’t doubt for a second that men’s lives in most of Iraq have been made much worse by the US invasion, and that there is an endless supply of violence – perhaps even a majority of violence, by some measures – directed at men, especially if one doesn’t see any moral distinction between shooting an armed combatant to death and shooting an unarmed civilian to death.

    In any case, it wouldn’t alter my basic opinion at all. Even if men were the majority of victims in Iraq, I’d still think that there are clearly some forms of violence, abuse and loss of liberty that have been directed more at women then at men, and I’d still be writing about those problems.

    However, what I wouldn’t do is go around to people posting about the deaths of men in Iraq and say “what about the women?” It’s not a zero-sum game.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  18. Well, Bob, I’ve read through Amp’s post a couple of times, and I can’t see a personal attack there. It’s a devastating critique of your stated position, and one which I entirely agree with (aside from the point I make above).

    He did not called you a liar. He’s asked you to support your position with evidence. That’s well within the rules of civil discourse. Nor did he call you stupid. He called your leaders stupid. That too is fair comment given their abyssmal and sadly predictable record of failure.

    Comment by Daran — July 19, 2006 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

  19. He did not called you a liar.

    Or maybe he did, before he edited his post. Whatever. I think his substantive points are cogent.

    Comment by Daran — July 19, 2006 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

  20. Sigh…

    Let me beat other people to it, by pointing out that this statement, from my comment #7:

    it’s clear to anyone but a men’s rights activist

    Was unfair and probably an ad hom.

    And this statement:

    However, what I wouldn’t do is go around to people posting about the deaths of men in Iraq and say “what about the women?” It’s not a zero-sum game.

    Was unfair as well, since Daran was asking a particular question about a particular claim I made.

    My apologies to Daran in both cases. I stand by the rest of my post, however.

    It seems to be a day for me eating my words…

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  21. Amp, it’s no fun arguing with someone who always takes the correct position. Share, will ya? 🙂

    Respectfully, Amp, I sense that you’re frustrated with the situation. We all are. But I humbly suggest that your remarks express frustration, not analysis.

    What role do we expect a leader to play under the current circumstances? When you’re in the locker room at halftime and things don’t look good on the field, do you really expect the coach to say, “Well, it’s halftime and things don’t look good on the field; good luck”?

    No matter how accurate your characterizations of the Administration may be, in all candor it is unfair to expect them to act in all candor. They have a war to sell, and they are selling it to the best of their ability. That is precisely what I expect an administration to do. The fact that they refuse to demonstrate a sense of introspection and self-doubt does not mean that they lack introspection and self-doubt. It does not mean that they don’t realize the problems. Maybe it means that they see little benefit in making a display of their introspection and self-doubt. And I can’t say that they’re wrong.

    Some day our troops will come home, and there will be time enough for Administration officials to display introspection and self-doubt then. In the meantime, I fully expect them to trumpet every remotely positive development as an “improvement,” and I see nothing wrong with that.

    Let’s not be distracted. The war is the screw-up. You and I and the rest of the world will continue to feel frustrated about that, no matter what the Administration has to say.

    Comment by nobody.really — July 20, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  22. Amp – thanks for the edit. FYI, I am in the middle of debugging something horrible over at BNN and don’t have the hour to focus on writing a good response to you – but I will when I can.

    Comment by Robert — July 20, 2006 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  23. Excuse me, I spoke unclearly before. What I meant is that *all* Iraqi women have lost significant freedoms, thus we cannot say that Iraq is more free than it was. Moreover, your argument seems to imply that since *all* women now live under the same fear that non-priveleged women lived in before, it’s not a problem.

    Comment by AlieraKieron — July 20, 2006 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  24. Ampersand:

    Let me beat other people to it, by pointing out that this statement, from my comment #7:

    it’s clear to anyone but a men’s rights activist

    Was unfair and probably an ad hom.

    It was also a strawman, since I have never suggested in this thread or anywhere else that women in Iraq were not subject to selective violence and opression. In fact, subsequent to your post, I’ve broadly agreed with many of your arguments in this thread, and argued elsewhere that we should give more credence to merely anecdotal evidence of the plight of Iraqi women than we might about those capable of compiling better evidence because they are better resourced, better supported, and living in a stable society.

    In short, I basically agree with you on the substance of your arguments here. It’s true that I hadn’t articulated these views at the time you posted, but you had no basis for assuming that my views were opposed.

    And this statement:

    However, what I wouldn’t do is go around to people posting about the deaths of men in Iraq and say “what about the women?” It’s not a zero-sum game.

    Was unfair as well, since Daran was asking a particular question about a particular claim I made.

    Um, I think it a near certainty that someone would say “what about the women” if I were to talk about men as if they were the only people in Iraq being subject to gender-selective victimisation.

    The two specific claims you made to which I object are:

    It’s becoming clear that, for that majority (and for many of the male minority, as well) bad as life under Saddam was, life under the American occupation is much worse.

    and

    However, there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded

    My bold.

    These two statements do not merely talk about the plight of women. They’re comments on the situation for men. The implication of the first is that for some men in Iraq things haven’t gotten worse. The implication of the second is that the degree of worsening is less for men than it has been for women. While ostensibly acknowledging that men suffer too both comments in fact minimise that suffering. And both were made without any analyse of the plight of men, which is surely a prerequisite for making such a comparison.

    My apologies to Daran in both cases. I stand by the rest of my post, however.

    And I’ll reply to it. Thanks for giving me a reason to split what would otherwise have been a very long response.

    It seems to be a day for me eating my words…

    Better to pick up the spoon yourself, than have them fed to you.

    Comment by Daran — July 21, 2006 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  25. Okay, provide some reasonable evidence that your example is true.

    Some evidence that there were classes of women who were oppressed under the Hussein regime? Evidence that politically privileged women had rights not extended to everyone? Not sure what you want evidence of.

    Measuring improvement or decline in terms of empty, abstract theories that excuse away thousands of rapes, murders, mutilations, and virtual house imprisonments is, in effect, a way for advocates of war to avoid owning up to the incredible damage you’ve advocated for.

    Well, first off, we didn’t advocate for incredible damage. We
    advocated for the invasion and toppling of the Hussein regime; we recognized that there would be a lot of damage, because that’s what happens in these situations. Liberals pushed for extensive social welfare programs in the sure knowledge that those programs’ side effects would include the expansion of a dependent class – is it a fair framing to say that liberals “advocated for the destruction of peoples’ independence”? Or is it that there was a recognized good (decreased poverty), and a recognized cost (dependence), and it was felt that the former was worth the latter?

    Secondly, “empty, abstract theories”? Which theories are those? The ones that say democratic governance is better than fascism? That political and economic rights are the preconditions for long-term improvements in a society’s conditions? Those theories may be empty to you, but if so, it’s because you’ve had that governance and those
    rights so long that they seem like air and water – natural
    entitlements that are part of the universe, not something precious, painfully scraped out of nothing by the blood and sacrifice of past generations.

    If it was your own face with acid splashed in it, I doubt you’d say that what matters is that it happened to you in a liberal democracy.

    Is there a point to this, other than trying to make me look like a cold and calculating bastard? That’s not a hard bar to clear. I am cold and calculating.

    As I said – explicitly – I acknowledge that I’m not the one running the risks of a difficult social transition. But if I was, I believe I would have the same opinion. I would rather live in a dangerous and unpredictable state with a chance to achieve freedom, than live in security in a state where that can never happen.

    Political freedom – the freedom to vote, which Iraqis allegedly have (never mind the ways in which the elections were less than ideally democratic) – is not the only freedom in the world, nor the only one that matters.

    That’s true. But political and economic freedoms are the bedrock on which liberal social institutions can be built.

    By both measures, it appears that Saddam’s regime wasn’t as awful as the post-invasion regime.

    Yes. Nobody disputes that. It was safer to live in Saddam’s Iraq than it is to live in modern Iraq.

    It was also safer to live in apartheid South Africa than it is to live in modern South Africa. Does that make the transition away from apartheid not worth doing?

    Fundamental social transitions – from racial supremacism to multiculturalism, from fascism to democracy – are EXPENSIVE. They are expensive in money, but far more importantly, they are expensive in disruption and danger to the humans undergoing them.

    Wow! Talk about damning with faint praise: “it is not the worst place in the world.” Well, Robert, that’s true. When you were advocating for this war, did you ever say “if over three years post-invasion, Iraq is not the worst place in the world, then the invasion was justified”? Did any prominent war hawk say such a thing?

    No, we didn’t. Instead we said that it was intolerable to have a fascist regime in this region with WMD programs and a history of supporting terrorism.

    The point of my comment was to put a brake on your rhetoric concerning the uninhabitable hellzone that you perceive Iraq to be. There are worse places in the world. Things have gotten worse in Iraq, in many ways, and I recognize that.

    The question is, given the truly astonishing record of incompetence and stupidity your leaders have displayed in Iraq so far, why on Earth should I take your empty belief that improvement is just around the corner seriously?

    Sigh.

    Look, not even the Bush White House is out there making the case that we have the greatest and most brilliant leadership the universe has ever seen, OK? But if you genuinely think that this war has been handled incompetently, then you are making a statement about your own abysmal historical ignorance, not a statement about what other people have done. We lost more soldiers on the FIRST DAY of the European invasion than we have lost in Iraq in three-plus years of fighting. Figures for civilian casualties, Iraqi military casualties, property destruction – all of these are dramatically improved from past wars. ANY civilian casualties are to be mourned as the tragedies that they are, but this “the war was done incompetently!” meme your lot is trying to spin is a joke to anybody who has ever cracked a history book. Have we made mistakes? God, yes. But you can pull out a copy of the history of WWII and open any chapter you want, and I can find blunders that make the mistakes made in Iraq look like a bad choice of air freshener- mistakes that killed hundreds or thousands of people. And the mistakes happened over and over and over again. Because of the surly incompetence of the jackal-like Roosevelt administration, blundering its way through an unjust war? No. Because war is hard. Occupation is hard. Changing societies is hard.

    You and yours don’t have the stomach to see it done; noted, and not a big surprise.

    I’ve never argued that it would be a good idea
    to solve the problem of women getting raped by arranging for men to get raped more often…[etc.]

    And nobody has said that you have.

    Instead, I argued that you have presented a worldview that says that privilege bestowed by unjust social orders is not an entitlement.

    Is that not true?

    It was unjust in Saddam’s Iraq that some women were subjected to the rape rooms, and that some women feared leaving their houses, and that some women felt forced to wear burkas against their wills. It is even more unjust now that even more women fear being kidnapped and raped, fear leaving their houses, feel forced to wear burkas. Anyone who thinks otherwise is morally incomprehensible.

    It was unjust in Saddam’s Iraq, and it’s unjust now. Injustice is always unjust; on this there is near-universal agreement. What does that have to do with the price of baklava in Basra?

    The question is this: under Saddam’s Iraq, was there any prospect for an IMPROVEMENT in the condition of women (or men, or pretty much anyone other than the inner circle)? Was the society liberalizing? Or was it getting worse? You yourself have noted that under Saddam, women’s rights were declining, not improving. Do you think his sons, who had an absolute lock on taking power, would have been an improvement? They were what, 30 years old? So we could reasonably look forward to 40 more years of the Hussein family’s charming oversight.

    Versus, is there a prospect for improvement now? Yeah, we warhawks have sometimes been too optimistic about immediate changes. In large part, that’s because in the propaganda war, bad conditions on the ground create fodder for the insurgency. We’d really like that to change, and so of course we are very keen to see things that point in that direction. But societies don’t change in two weeks or two years. It’s slow; it’s hard work. But given the situation on the ground right now, can you honestly say that there’s no chance for improvement? Can you honestly say that the odds for things getting better are worse now than they were the day before the invasion?

    Left to itself, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now would have been, at best, the same – and more likely considerably worse. With Hussein knocked off and the US committed to seeing a halfway acceptable state in place, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now is likely to be a lot better. Guaranteed? No. There are no guarantees.

    That is worth it. It is worth accepting worse conditions now for a real chance at permanent improvement later. That’s why people go hungry for four years to get through school; it’s why people go through months of marital conflict to build a lifelong relationship. Sacrifices now improve the prospects of good outcomes later. Yeah, it’s easy for me to say that – I don’t have to walk the streets in the Green Zone. But I KNOW for a fact that I would take this tradeoff in my own country, if the need to do so weren’t obviated by the fact that people in generations past already did it for me.

    I don’t think it morally incomprehensible to not believe that, but I do think it short-sighted and, historically, not a winning strategy. And at the moment, we’re in a global conflict that makes the cost of having a losing strategy – which is the only thing your side of the political divide has got on the table – far too high.

    Comment by Robert — July 21, 2006 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  26. You’ve afforded yourself a pretty sizeable soapbox, Bob. Clearly, you choose what to respond to and what to bypass (my comments above, for instance). Let me ask you about this statement of yours:

    Left to itself, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now would have been, at best, the same – and more likely considerably worse. With Hussein knocked off and the US committed to seeing a halfway acceptable state in place, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now is likely to be a lot better. Guaranteed? No. There are no guarantees.

    I think it’s fair to say the U.S. didn’t go into Iraq to liberate its women but that a salutary collateral effect may be achieved. I’m not a statist, per se, but I’m still curious why you believe Western democratic freedoms are something the U.S. can foster abroad through regime change, if indeed that’s what you believe. I don’t believe there’s a good track record on which to base such a supposition.

    Comment by Brutus — July 22, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Reply

  27. I’m still curious why you believe Western democratic freedoms are something the U.S. can foster abroad through regime change

    I don’t think the chances are great, but they’re larger than zero.

    And the alternative is so bad that we have no option but to try.

    Comment by Robert — July 22, 2006 @ 12:55 pm | Reply

  28. Robert:

    Some evidence that there were classes of women who were oppressed under the Hussein regime? Evidence that politically privileged women had rights not extended to everyone? Not sure what you want evidence of.

    As I understood it, he was asking for evidence that things had not deteriorated markedly for women since the invasion.

    Or is it that there was a recognized good (decreased poverty), and a recognized cost (dependence), and it was felt that the former was worth the latter?

    Well, the recognised harm in the invasions was the inevitability of thousands or tens of thousands of civilian deaths, even more soldiers, and many times the number of both injured, and all the chaos and social upheaval that comes with a war.

    How much good do we need to realise in order to justify that? I guess we each have our own answer to that. Mine is that it should bring in, if not exactly the millenium, then something pretty damn close.

    But it hasn’t been close. It’s not even close to being close. In fact, we’re sitting here debating whether or not it’s made things worse.

    Secondly, “empty, abstract theories”? Which theories are those? The ones that say democratic governance is better than fascism? That political and economic rights are the preconditions for long-term improvements in a society’s conditions? Those theories may be empty to you, but if so, it’s because you’ve had that governance and those rights so long that they seem like air and water – natural entitlements that are part of the universe, not something precious, painfully scraped out of nothing by the blood and sacrifice of past generations.

    Howabout the empty abstract theories that you can just walk in with a gun, privatise everything at a stroke, and the market will make everything better.

    Free markets and democracy are necessary prerequisites for long-term prosperity, but they’re not sufficient. Another necessary condition is not having the nation’s wealth being looted by another country.

    As I said – explicitly – I acknowledge that I’m not the one running the risks of a difficult social transition. But if I was, I believe I would have the same opinion. I would rather live in a dangerous and unpredictable state with a chance to achieve freedom, than live in security in a state where that can never happen.

    That’s ‘never’ in the sense that communist eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were never able to change.

    It was also safer to live in apartheid South Africa than it is to live in modern South Africa.

    Another sterling example of how change can never happen except at the point of an American gun.

    Does that make the transition away from apartheid not worth doing?

    I think that was for the South Africans to decide, not George Bush.

    Fundamental social transitions – from racial supremacism to multiculturalism, from fascism to democracy – are EXPENSIVE. They are expensive in money, but far more importantly, they are expensive in disruption and danger to the humans undergoing them.

    Some of the revolutions in the former communist block have been violent and bloody, that’s true. But quite a few have been relatively painless, and some completely bloodless. If I were an inhabitant of such a country, I’d prefer it to be my own people deciding how and when it happens, thank you very much.

    Instead we said that it was intolerable to have a fascist regime in this region with WMD programs and a history of supporting terrorism.

    Well you tolerated it for long enough, didn’t you, for as long as he was attacking countries you didn’t like, such as Iran.

    That’s a collective ‘you’, by the way. You chose to use a plural pronoun.

    But if you genuinely think that this war has been handled incompetently, then you are making a statement about your own abysmal historical ignorance, not a statement about what other people have done. We lost more soldiers on the FIRST DAY of the European invasion than we have lost in Iraq in three-plus years of fighting. Figures for civilian casualties, Iraqi military casualties, property destruction – all of these are dramatically improved from past wars. ANY civilian casualties are to be mourned as the tragedies that they are, but this “the war was done incompetently!” meme your lot is trying to spin is a joke to anybody who has ever cracked a history book. Have we made mistakes? God, yes. But you can pull out a copy of the history of WWII and open any chapter you want, and I can find blunders that make the mistakes made in Iraq look like a bad choice of air freshener- mistakes that killed hundreds or thousands of people. And the mistakes happened over and over and over again. Because of the surly incompetence of the jackal-like Roosevelt administration, blundering its way through an unjust war? No. Because war is hard. Occupation is hard. Changing societies is hard.

    I don’t think fighting two of the greatest military powers in history simultaneously can be fairly compared with invading a country with an economy the size of Belgium.

    Come to think of it, the Nazis did invade a country the size of Belgium, and they managed not to fuck it up, despite also fighting on multiple fronts.

    Yes, war is hard. Containment is much easier, and it works. Husein may have had a WMD program, but he didn’t have any WMD, did he?

    You and yours don’t have the stomach to see it done; noted, and not a big surprise.

    This from the person who was complaining about ad homs from Ampersand?

    The question is this: under Saddam’s Iraq, was there any prospect for an IMPROVEMENT in the condition of women (or men, or pretty much anyone other than the inner circle)? Was the society liberalizing? Or was it getting worse? You yourself have noted that under Saddam, women’s rights were declining, not improving. Do you think his sons, who had an absolute lock on taking power, would have been an improvement? They were what, 30 years old? So we could reasonably look forward to 40 more years of the Hussein family’s charming oversight.

    Who know what we could have looked forward to? In 1989, The mighty Soviet empire looked as if it would last for ever. Three years later, it was gone.

    That’s another point to ‘containment’ by the way.

    Versus, is there a prospect for improvement now? Yeah, we warhawks have sometimes been too optimistic about immediate changes. In large part, that’s because in the propaganda war, bad conditions on the ground create fodder for the insurgency. We’d really like that to change, and so of course we are very keen to see things that point in that direction. But societies don’t change in two weeks or two years. It’s slow; it’s hard work. But given the situation on the ground right now, can you honestly say that there’s no chance for improvement?

    Sure, there’s a chance for improvement. There’s a chance it will deteriorate too.

    Can you honestly say that the odds for things getting better are worse now than they were the day before the invasion?

    I would say so, yes.

    Left to itself, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now would have been, at best, the same – and more likely considerably worse.

    I don’t agree. The only thing that is certain is that Sadam wouldn’t be running the country. It’s not a certainy that either of his sons would have taken over, or that they would have been able to retain power. Nor is it certain now that someone just as bad won’t be in power by then.

    I don’t think it morally incomprehensible to not believe that, but I do think it short-sighted and, historically, not a winning strategy. And at the moment, we’re in a global conflict that makes the cost of having a losing strategy – which is the only thing your side of the political divide has got on the table – far too high.

    America funded and armed both Hussein and Bin Laden when their terrorism was being directed at America’s enemies. Now you’re fighting the foe you created, and in the process making more and more and more people hate you.

    When will you come to your senses?

    Edited (28 September) for punctuation and markup borking.

    Comment by Daran — July 22, 2006 @ 8:53 pm | Reply

  29. […] Barry asks for evidence. Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The hidden war on men in Iraq - Part 2. — July 23, 2006 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  30. Ampersand:

    Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women.

    See My latest post on the subject.

    Provide me with an example of an important Iraqi political/religious leaders saying that if Iraqi men are under virtual house arrest, that’s a good thing.

    I’m not sure I understand your point. How does the fact that important Iraqi political/religious leaders have said this about women contradict or undermine my point about men being particularly subject to violence?

    Provide me with evidence that Iraqi men are being raped or sold into sexual slavery at anywhere near the rate that Iraqi women are.

    I have no information at all about the rates of rape for either sex. I expect that a minority of Iraqi rape victims are male, and that they get even less support, consideration and acknowledgement of their plight than male victims do in the West. I would also expect that the rate of male-rape has increased in line with the general increase in lawlessness and societal breakdown. Do you disagree?

    With regard to sex-slave commerse, I found this report which suggests that the estimated 2000 missing women “may be inflated”. Or maybe it’s an underestimate. Maybe you have a different figure. Whatever the true figure is, it’s too high. I’m not aware of any market for male Iraqi sex slaves.

    There are particular ways in which women are singled out for violence. And in terms of the loss of such basic civil liberties as being able to walk the street, it’s clear to anyone but a men’s rights activist that women have, indeed, been targeted by religious fundamentalists in Iraq for a particular loss of civil rights.

    There are particular ways that men are singled out for violence, and in considerably greater numbers than women.

    In any case, I don’t doubt for a second that men’s lives in most of Iraq have been made much worse by the US invasion, and that there is an endless supply of violence – perhaps even a majority of violence, by some measures – directed at men,

    Feel free to suggest a measure by which the overwhelming majority is not directed at men.

    …especially if one doesn’t see any moral distinction between shooting an armed combatant to death and shooting an unarmed civilian to death.

    I think there’s a very clear moral distinction between non-combatants and someone who freely picked up his weapon with the intention of aggressively attacking his neighbour.

    It think the distinction gets a little greyer when the reason they pick up the weapon is because they’re unemployed, and the only people offering to put food on their family’s table are the various militia.

    It becomes invisible to me when they pick it up in self defence, or because they were forced to under threat of torture and mutilation.

    In any case, it wouldn’t alter my basic opinion at all. Even if men were the majority of victims in Iraq, I’d still think that there are clearly some forms of violence, abuse and loss of liberty that have been directed more at women then at men, and I’d still be writing about those problems.

    However, what I wouldn’t do is go around to people posting about the deaths of men in Iraq and say “what about the women?” It’s not a zero-sum game.

    “What about the men” is not a demand to stop talking about women. It’s a response to feminism’s insistance on viewing male victimisation through a trivalising, victim-blaming lens, when it when it doesn’t disregard the subject outright. If “it’s not a zero-sum game”, then what is the objection to talking “about the men” more fairly?

    Comment by Daran — July 23, 2006 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  31. Regarding candor in the face of adversity, I argue:

    What role do we expect a leader to play under the current circumstances? When you’re in the locker room at halftime and things don’t look good on the field, do you really expect the coach to say, “Well, it’s halftime and things don’t look good on the field; good luck”?

    No matter how accurate your characterizations of the Administration may be, in all candor it is unfair to expect them to act in all candor. They have a war to sell, and they are selling it to the best of their ability. That is precisely what I expect an administration to do. The fact that they refuse to demonstrate a sense of introspection and self-doubt does not mean that they lack introspection and self-doubt. It does not mean that they don’t realize the problems. Maybe it means that they see little benefit in making a display of their introspection and self-doubt.

    But apparently there is another point of view, even among war supporters:

    “People want an honest assessment from the administration, and they want to hear the administration admit we thought this, and it didn’t happen that way, and — guess what — it didn’t work, so we’re going to try a Plan B.” He continued: “Let’s call it what it is. We thought this was going to be a different kind of engagement.”

    He seemed less agitated by the policy failure than by Bush’s unwillingness to admit failure. “I don’t know why the people around him don’t see that,” he said. “It is a frustration, to say the least. I think it is a lost opportunity to bring the American people along on a mission that is incredibly important.”

    Comment by nobody.really — July 27, 2006 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  32. […] Here’s an example of a feminist minimising the harm to men: However, there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded [Iraq] […]

    Pingback by Denying, Dismissing, Minimising, and Ignoring the Harm to Men « Creative Destruction — October 14, 2006 @ 2:42 pm | Reply


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