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Monday, November 18, 2002
Might Makes Right
The British group Medact caused a stir last week when it released a report, “Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq,” that detailed what war by the United States and its allies against Iraq had done to that country since 1990 and what could happen if the U.S. escalates that war in the near future. The group looks at the deaths caused not only by actual combat but also from the health and economic problems that war might bring.
Much of the attention comes from the report saying that up to 500,000 Iraqis could die if the war is escalated. While the report does say that, it should be pointed out that this is the high end of what the group predicts. The report goes through numerous scenarios and looks at past actions and causalities totals to come up with various estimates on how many people would die in a conventional war, a conventional war followed by a conventional civil or regional war and a nuclear war. The numbers aren’t pretty as Medact says between 375,000 and 3,900,000 could die if nuclear weapons are used and a civil war breaks out.
Any estimates of this kind are bound to be rough and end up as less than perfectly accurate. And Medact is a group that is open about being generally anti-war, although they make it clear they do not believe Iraq has the right to make weapons of mass destruction. Still this study is important, well researched and should be read by those interested in this topic. (And if you live in the U.S., you should be interested in it.)
Howard Fienberg of Tech Central Station has written a response to the study that is interesting only in what it reveals about many hawks. Fienberg doesn’t dispute any of the study’s finding other than to say they are wrong for unstated reasons and instead argues that Saddam Hussein deserves all of the blame for what has happened and will happen:
...If Iraqis' ill health, poverty and environment are merely the results of "war" and "sanctions," then it becomes the United States' fault, since they imposed these twin boogeymen on Iraq. But what if the boogeymen were just resulting from the actions of one person (whose last name does not end in Bush). Well, that would be too simple, wouldn't it?First of all, none of the things Fienberg says Saddam did to deserve what has happened and what will happen is qualitatively different from the U.S. and its allies current and past have done at some point or another. The U.S. hasn’t attacked most of its allies who commit similar actions and no country has ever treated the U.S. like the U.S. treats Iraq. Unless Fienberg believes the U.S. deserved to have its economy shattered for taking over Puerto Rico and building weapons of mass destruction, he is being hypocritical.
More importantly, the basic message of this argument is that Saddam did some bad things so the U.S. is justified in doing whatever it has done, is doing and will do against Iraq. This is the same type of mindset that says the U.S. has a right to start overthrowing any government that could plausibly at some point in the future if not the present pose a threat to the U.S. because a few thousand Americans died in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Yeah it’s the same mindset that President George W. Bush is using to justify the building of a new empire.
This outlook doesn’t make any sense at all. There is nothing unique about U.S. suffering. Haiti has suffered greatly at the hands of U.S. and French military actions at various points in the last hundred or so years. (Haiti is hardly unique in being on receiving end of the U.S. military.) It would be ridiculous if Haiti started attacking Canada because they feared Canada could attack Haiti. Iraq might be a slightly larger threat to the U.S. than Canada is to Haiti but that is only because the U.S. has spent over 12 years making enemies by bombing and sanctioning Iraq. The U.S. is allowed to do this while Haiti isn’t because the U.S. is a much greater military power.
There is a phrase for this – might makes right.