A reader forwarded me an email who received it from a friend in response to my earlier post about the claims that the US created Saddam.
What I see…is a typical political trick (perfected by the right wing but used equally by the left) that’s made debate on a national level so godawful these days. Latch on to one statement by a political opponent, in this case “The U.S. provided some weaponry to Saddam and was complacent as he used chemical weapons on others in the past, so we must bear some responsibility for the situation there now”. Polarize that phrase by removing key words like ‘some’ – “The U.S. provided weaponry and bears responsibility for the situation there”. Provide facts to prove the polarized phrase wrong. “Russia and France and Germany did it too, and did it more”. Add all those facts up and balance them against the polarized phrase. You have now made your opponent look stupid and wrong.
I agree with this in principle, but the statements are rarely in the “The U.S. provided some weaponry to Saddam and was complacent as he used chemical weapons on others in the past, so we must bear some responsibility for the situation there now” vein. The pundits, candidates for office, and journalists have usually already removed the key words like ‘some.’ So often the debate has already been cast as two mutually exclusive sides, with little or no common ground, before the discussion even begins.
I think that it is perfectly valid to juxtapose what was said and done then [in the 1980s] against what has been said and done in the past year. Now, I don’t actually think that you’re necessarily comparing apples to apples in that case, but that doesn’t mean it’s a ridiculous thing to examine. When Donald Rumsfeld is on TV telling today me that Saddam is an imminent threat to U.S. safety, and we haven’t found naught but some diagrams, aluminum and empty missle shells, I think it’s reasonable to ask the man why Saddam wasn’t a threat to the world back in the 80’s when he was dropping mustard gas on the Iranians. The answer might be “9/11 changed what an imminent threat looks like” or the “lesser of two evils” argument (which is frankly a good one) but there should be an answer. Maybe the answer is just that world politics and diplomacy is an ugly business, and it’s not black and white.
I wish that we got more stuff like this from both sides. This is an open look at the situation that tries to lay the issue out on the table, acknowledges some of the opposition’s positions, and is ready to discuss things. I don’t agree with everything he says, and it seems clear that he doesn’t agree with everything that I’m saying. That’s not a problem. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
The politicians are going to spin and spin and spin. They will spin even when solid facts spelled out clearly will serve their purposes just as well. I don’t think that they feel comfortable giving direct answers to questions. I’m generalizing, of course, but I don’t think I’m too far off base.
I’ve written before that I wish our leaders were more up front about what we’re doing. I don’t see how our cause would be hurt if we publicly owned up to our past policies and explain why we’ve changed our stance. I believe that we had good (though not perfect) reasons for what we did then and I believe that we have good (though not perfect) reasons for what we’re doing now.
Many are fond of pointing out that Afghan terrorists have access to Stinger anti-aircraft missiles supplied during the 1980s to combat the Soviets. Now, those same missiles may threaten our aircraft and pilots. Does that mean Reagan was wrong for supporting the anti-Soviet fighters back then? No. At the same time, though, why not own up to what we’ve done?
In the 1980s, Iraq and the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan were both fighting enemies of the United States. We supplied both of them with limited amounts of weaponry and intelligence that assisted them in their fight, and by extension, furthered the interests of the US. Both of those forces were eventually victorious, in part due to the aid we provided. In part because of their victories, the world situation changed. Our alliances of convenience have dissolved since our interests are no longer aligned. As the new century dawns, we find ourselves faced with fighting former allies. Our reasons for friendship in the 1980s were pretty solid, and our reasons for enmity in the 2000s are also pretty solid.
Why can’t one of our leaders just stand up and say those things? Why can’t the critics of our leaders acknowledge those things?
And remember: Ten years from now our policies in the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s are all going to look at least partially misguided when measured against the world situations and priorities at that time.