Friday, April 08, 2005

What War Does

God does not play dice.  But American Presidents do, so long as it is someone's else's lives and money on the line.

WJR Awarded for Excellence*

News/Talk 760 WJR was recently awarded for excellence, receiving several recognitions from the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. In addition, WJR was the ONLY Michigan broadcaster acknowledged in the regional Edward R. Murrow Awards competition.
*Gee, why don't I listen more often???
NPR is doing their fundraising thing this week.  Consequently, I've been listening to AM radio.  On 760 kilohertz -- WJR -- I've had the privilege of hearing Rush Limbaugh again. 

My first experience with Mr. Limbaugh occurred many years ago, late at night.  I had turned on the TV.  There was a talking head going on and on about liberals.  Literally, I though I had tuned in a late night parody, perhaps a rerun from Saturday Night Live.  After several minutes, I realized that, even as a parody, it was not really funny; the guy was just too offensive, even by SNL standards. 

The following day, I looked him up.  Only then did I realize that he's for real. 

Today, I learn that he is as offensive as ever.  One of the advertisements for his many newsletters starts out: "Want to give the left both barrels?  Subscribe to ..."  Apparently, you can get a special price by getting two different versions of his material. 

I guess you can brainwash both hemispheres of your cerebral cortex, for one low price!

"Give the left both barrels"???  That would appear to be a reference to a double-barreled shotgun.  Even if it were a parody, that would not be funny.  He's talking about shooting people because of their political beliefs.  Not funny.  In fact, I find it offensive.

During today's show, he got a call from US Army Captain David Rozelle.  The following is a bit from a prior interview (I can't get the transcript from today's show without paying money):
RUSH: And Brian Kilmeade then said, "What is your feeling about the operation in Iraq?"

ROZELLE: Success. When we had a successful election in Iraq, I felt good about my injury because I had contributed to something great. Those people, when it came out more than the American people came out to vote in a lot of senses, I mean it's great.
Today, it was more of the same.  The point they were trying to make, is that a lot of good things are happening in Iraq.  Mr. Limbaugh accused the Left of wanting things to go badly in Iraq, just to make Mr. Bush look bad. 

I don't know, maybe he's right about that.  The vast left wing conspiracy doesn't include me on the mailing list for their devious memoranda.   (I'm probably on their blacklist; when I was in college, there were liberal people who did not want to be friends with me, because I wasn't liberal enough.)

The point is this: there are many people who sit think the war was and is Iraq was a good idea.  Most American citizens think otherwise. 

The persons who think it was a good idea point to the abundant evidence of benefit: democratic elections, which someday made result in a government that actually works better than the one we destroyed; improving security forces, which someday might make people safer than they were before we invaded their country; the progress with reconstructing all the stuff we blew up, which might end up working better than what was there when the country was crippled by sanctions;  and all the other good stuff. 

The persons who think the war was a bad idea have an equally impressive list.  By one study, by the middle of 2004 there had been one hundred thousand excess civilian deaths since the onset of the war.  The number has been disputed, but I haven't seen anyone dispute the bottom line, which is that the death rate is higher now than it was before the war.  Starvation among children has increased from 4% to 8%.  That too has been disputed.  The UK says that child malnutrition has declined, from 17% to 12%.  Of course, if a country that we control has a 12% of its children malnourished, it is hardly flattering.  The health care system is in worse shape than it was before the war.  Tons of munitions that were not secured are now in the hands of bad people.  Fortunately, our government was mistaken about the existence of chemical and biological weapons, otherwise the country would really be in bad shape. 

If you look as those two lists: the benefits of the war, and the negative consequences, it is not obvious right away that one list outweighs the other.  Is there anything that can be added to either list, to tilt the balance more convincingly?

Sure.  The effects of the war are not limited to Iraq.  The United States of America has changed also.  There has been a redistribution of wealth.  Oil companies and defense contractors are making record profits.  Not content to squeeze money from the poor people of today, they are soaking the poor people of the next few generations, by running up a deficit.  That's a victory of sorts, for those Republicans who actually understand the predictable effects of their own policies.  Put that one in the "benefits" column.

Furthermore, the war has changed the stature of America in the eyes of the world.  Rather than acting as the World's policeman, we now are the World's loose cannon.  Other countries, those than might engage in oppressive practices, now must fear our might.  They cannot act with impunity, knowing that the World's policeman isn't paying attention.  They must fear us.  Unless, of course, they have something of value to trade for our tacit acceptance of their brutality.  Libya, Uzbekistan, and Ivory Coast are in that category.

I know I am wandering off the point, but I was listening to Rush Limbaugh earlier.  Blame him.

Getting back to a logical, orderly line of argument, let's agree that there are good and bad things about the war.  It is hard to look at the lists and see which is greater.  One reason for that is that the potential benefits still are exactly that: potential benefits.  The government is getting organized, but it remains unknown what will come of it.  Reconstruction is progressing, but at the current rate, it will take an awfully long time just to get the infrastructure back to where it was before the war.  The war may have influenced other countries to act in ways we find more acceptable, although that remains to be seen:  Lebanon could return to their former glory, or they could return to their former civil war. 

Furthermore, in a similar vein, the negative consequences of the war may turn out to be temporary.  Someone might get around to feeding all those starving kids.  Someone might rebuild the hospitals.  Someday they might have reliable electricity and potable water.  Someday all those things might result in improved life expectancy, reduced infant mortality, and so forth. 

With all that uncertainty on both sides, how can either side prove its point?  It's simple.  Neither can.  Nobody knows how this whole thing is going to end up, just as nobody knows what would have happened if we hadn't started this war.  In fact, not only do we have this uncertainty now, but the outcome was equally uncertain before the war.  We knew it might turn out well.  We knew it might turn into a big mess.

I guess this leaves us wondering: since you never know how a war will turn out, is there any circumstance that justifies a war?  Even in the best of circumstances, it always is a gamble.  Is there any situation in which it is justifiable to take that gamble?  We did take that gamble, and we still don't know whether it was worth it. 

We may never know.  However, we do know that the individuals who actually rolled the dice are richer now than they were before, and they are not suffering any of the consequences.  That's what war does, in the modern age.

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