Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In Search of Moral High Ground

So Russia's thumping of Georgia has been brazenly thuggish and starkly illegitimate—even granting that Georgia likely overplayed its own hand by a considerable margin. So what?

Now the United States ponders its options and finds them wanting. It seems the U.S., unable to mount a military, economic, or diplomatic response commensurate with unfolding events, can only resort to warning Russia that we'll be really really upset if it doesn't stop.

Indeed, in all the ways that presently matter (oil and gas resources, leverage with Iran, etc.) we, and the West, need Russia more than Russia needs us. What an interesting reversal of fortunes.

In trying to salvage something useful from this mess, we may as well regard it as what is sometimes called a "teachable moment," and take the opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we now are.

Several years ago writer Ron Suskind famously reported an encounter with a Bush administration official, who dismissively sneered at what he termed the "reality-based community."

Said the official: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

If such neocon hubris feels absurdly arrogant while huddled around the cooling ashes of Bush's short-lived empire, we can only wonder that anybody bought it in the first place. It seems that Russia is now creating some reality of its own, whether we like it or not.

On what basis shall we object to Russian aggression? Dare we protest that Russia has illegally invaded a sovereign state, after having done so ourselves just five years ago? Shall we complain that Russia has fabricated or at least exaggerated the evidence that justifies its action? That a powerful nation bullying a weaker one is unseemly? Having vacated the moral high ground leaves us ill-positioned to say much at all. (Although it's worth mentioning that John McCain in fact had this to say: "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." And that leaves me speechless.)

The lessons seem clear enough. Might doesn't make right. The rule of law applies to everybody or to nobody. Unity in action beats going it alone. Consensus and cooperation are no less necessary for being difficult. What goes around comes around. Moral standing is precious.

Copyright (C) 2008 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


At Wed Aug 13, 10:01:00 PM, Anonymous Terry Brennan said...

Mike, once again you are wrong. There are differences between what the actions of the United States and those of Russia, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out on his show today. Here's what he said.

'Now, ladies and gentlemen, a quick question, "Did the Russians go to the UN Security Council and show where the Georgians had violated 14 resolutions? Did they spend a year-and-a-half jawboning with the French and others to try to get us some assistance so that we could go in and enforce UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein had broken or that the Georgians in this case," no. There is no parallel whatsoever. There's no moral equivalence, but leave it to the blame-America-first left to come up with it.'

At Sat Aug 16, 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Mike Brennan said...

Wrong how? I stated three parallels between the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Russia's invasion of Georgia. Really, must I elaborate?

(1) Illegally invaded a sovereign state - Your claim about U.N. resolutions falls flat from its inconsistency. You implicitly recognize the standing of international law in suggesting that Iraq was legally bound to comply with the Security Council resolutions. Then you conveniently overlook the fact that, under international law, only the Security Council can dictate how, when, and by whom its resolutions are to be enforced. Since the Security Council never authorized the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that invasion was illegal. (The U.S. actually considered requesting a formal authorization of force, but the vote would not have even been close and so the idea was abandoned.)

In any case, it is not even true that Iraq was in non-compliance. The most recent resolution required that Iraq disarm and come clean on its weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqis produced documents stating they no longer had WMD, and once the U.S. took control of Iraq it found that, true enough, there were no WMD. The resolution further required that Iraq allow U.N. inspectors into the country, which it did. Those inspectors indicated before the U.S. invasion that there were no WMD.

The U.S. clearly acted outside the law, and in so doing established adequate precedent for Russia doing likewise.

(2) Fabricated or exaggerated evidence - There was plenty of publicly available pre-invasion evidence that the U.S. case was weak. Over the past half dozen years it has become increasingly clear that the adminstration had to have known that its public claims were simply not supported by the facts. Thus the U.S. assertions about the Iraqi threat seem to have been thin pretext for doing something that it had wanted to do even before 911. Likewise, Russia has employed thin pretext in justifying its own aggression.

(3) Strong nation bullying weak one - No explanation needed.

P.S. You should fight off the urge to let Rush Limbaugh do your thinking for you.

At Sun Aug 17, 02:12:00 PM, Anonymous Terry Brennan said...

Once again, you are sadly mistaken… Let me explain.

(1) Illegally invaded a sovereign sate – First let me remind you that this
hasn’t been proven. There has never been a UN member to bring this issue of the war’s legality before the Security Council. Also, never has a nation-member of the ICC – International Criminal Court expressed the desire to rule on the legality of the war.

Any discussion here is purely argumentive. Most experts disagree as to the legality of the war under international law. You are correct that the UN never authorized the invasion of Iraq. The use of force however is authorized in Chapter VII Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The article provides for preemptive war in self-defense in the absence of Security Council authorization. In this case the argument was made to connect Al Qaeda to Iraq.

A better case can be made that the United States had legal support for its military actions based on UN Security Council Resolution1441 and two previous resolutions 678, and 687. Resolution 678 authorized the UN to take military action in Iraq. It also authorized UN Member States "to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area."

Resolution 687 set the terms for the cease-fire at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Since there was no peace treaty following the cease-fire the Gulf War collation retained the right under international law to resume hostilities if Iraq violated the terms of the cease-fire. Fourteen resolutions and 11 years later the UN adopted Resolution 1441. Suddam Hussein had violated each of the preceding resolutions. UNSCR 1441 found Iraq in material breach of the cease-fire and because they never lived up to its terms the use of force was now valid. 1441 was the final resolution before the war. If as you say, Iraq had produced documents stating that they no longer had WMD and the inspectors had verified this fact there would have been no need for resolution 1441.

Because Iraq never lived up the terms of the cease-fire, the use of force was now valid. This was a legal war.

Fabricated or exaggerated evidence – Let me give you some facts.

A. On Wednesday, December 16, 1998, President, William Jefferson Clinton
gave a speech that made a lot of the same arguments the George Bush was making just 5 years later.
He was concerned about Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its capacity to use them again. He was also concerned about Suddam obstructing the weapons inspectors from doing their jobs. And he gave Suddam “one last chance…to cooperate.

B. On Sunday, January 27, 2008, FBI Special Agent George Piro told his
story to a national TV audience on CBS’s 60 Minutes. It was Piro’s job to interview Saddam. It was his job to find out all he could about Saddam. Here’s an important fact that came out of those interviews with Saddam. Saddam misled the world into believing that he had weapons of mass destruction in the months leading up to the war because he feared another invasion by Iran, but he did fully intend to rebuild his WMD program.

C. Just a month and a half ago it was announced that the United States had
removed 550 metric tons of “yellowcake” from Iraq. Just another case of evidence that you say was fabricated.

(3) Strong nation bullying weak one – Oh, by the way the US did not act alone. It wasn’t just one nation that felt the way we did. In fact, there were 54 countries that joined the “Coalition of the Willing” .

It is amazing how quick you accuse the administration of fabrication the evidence. But I’m not surprised. So did Clinton fabricate the evidence too? Is it possible that the evidence that you have issues with was just bad intelligence? Was his missile attack illegal too? He didn’t have a UN Resoulution! How many last chances were we supposed to give Suddam Hussein? According to the CBS interview with Piro, Suddam wanted us to think that he had WMD is it possible he overestimated our response? There are other theories about the WMD that haven’t been proven. How about the possibility that they were moved to Syria? According to Georges Sada,
the No. 2 official in Saddam’s air force this is what happened to the WMD. And isn’t it ironic that Russia, one of the nations that refused to support us in Iraq is now the one under the gun as being the aggressor?

P.S. I don’t let Rush do my thinking. I can do that on my own once I have all the facts. Maybe you should get off the Kool Aid and pay attention to the facts too.


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