Democrats & Liberals Archives

Standards of Behavior

When the planes hit the towers, My first fear was not the next attack, but ultimately for how we would change as a nation in response to it. History relates over and over the corrosive effects that the panicked policies, abuses and radical agendas justified in such event’s wake can have. 9/11, I felt at the time, would be no different. And to some extent, it hasn’t been. One only has to look at Iraq and Abu Ghraib to see it.

Does Abu Ghraib surprise me? Honestly, it doesn't. This administration, from day one, has said it will be a newer and dirtier war. My assumption would be, at the time, that the administration would show some care and discretion in how it used the more extraordinary of those means. I was wrong. As the war has progressed, it's become apparent that this administration has an "ends justifies the means" mentality, and that it has taken a page from the unsuccessful playbook of the Israelis in how to confront terrorism. They forget that this, like any war, ends when the other side loses their passion for continued fighting. Abu Ghraib is going to inflame and reinforce that Passion, just like the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent lawlessness has.

Ideally, in Iraq, we should have been able to clamp down so hard and so fast on the control structures of the country, that law and order for the average Iraqi would have been largely continuous. We should have also had engineers of some kind rebuilding the infrastructure immediately. Why? For one very good reason: People who feel safe and have what they need to survive are not going to have as strong of feelings towards an occupying force as one that has crippled and loss control of those things.

We were always going to recieve bad publicity in the Arab world for invading Iraq the way we did. But if Iraqis looked as if they were doing well under the new military authority, people would have been less inflamed, less impassioned about the invasion. The key here would have been take the rug out from underneath any stewing resentment besides that of the true believers among the terrorists and former regime officials, to get the Iraqis more invested in having us work things out, than in getting us to leave.

And Abu Ghraib has taken our already badly managed war, and added something else for the occupied country and its neighbors to be passionately, sometimes literally, up in arms about. It has shown our people sexually humiliating Arabs. We may see such things as less severe than actual death and mutilation, but with the highly conservative, highly macho culture they have, it's about the worse thing you could do to a man. What's more it elevates the whole thing to another level, proving our culture to be a perverse and depraved one.

The physical torture doesn't speak well of us, being the foreign, Christian, western crusaders occupying the Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim country. We have walked right into the propaganda trap laid out for us by purveyors of radical political Islam. We have become the enemy we would never cast ourselves as.

As much as Bush is disgusted by all this, he and his staff didn't do much to prevent such abuses in the system, and didn't demand to be kept informed about such issues as they came up. He also made sure that soldiers would be kept in the field long after they were originally supposed to go home, initiated policy that ensured a frustrating lack of manpower in the theatre of battle.

And of course, the whole issue of enemy combatants. The Geneva Convention extends no protection to combatants who wage war out of uniform. Of course it doesn't help that many of the people running the prison were lacking in education about the international law concerning prisoners of war.

Combine all these things, all these frustrations, walls of ignorance and just plain incompetence, and you get things like this. And the thing is, each and every one of these situations could have been resolved long ago, had the administration been smarter about it's policies, and tighter about it's management of the war.

Bush can talk all he wants to about standards of behavior, moral values and the like, but whatever gets done by his government reflects more stongly towards it's morality than any hopes and dreams that Bush can or will express. He may be interested in improving education, but people will judge him on what No Child Left Behind does in real life. (So far, it hasn't been pretty.) He may be interested in raising people out of poverty, but if more people descend into poverty on his watch, his peformance will be judged by that, and not his compassionate conservative beliefs.

He may want to deliver freedom and democracy to everybody, but nobody will find those intentions to be worth much if the results don't reflect the wishes he has. Whatever stirring speeches he has to give, the actions in Iraq and elsewhere will speak louder than his words.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at May 11, 2004 11:04 AM