Thursday, August 16, 2007

We Can't Turn Them Away

Last week, Neil Clark wrote an extraordinary piece on Comment is Free opposing the campaign to pressure the government into giving political asylum to Iraqi employees of the British. Unsurprisingly to most, but shockingly for Nick Cohen, an overwhelming number of comments condemned Neil's position. CiF had to shut down the thread after only three hours.

The central thesis of Cohen's book is that liberal people have turned their backs on the victims of totalitarian movements. How then does he explain the enormous response to Clark's article? It's clear that "liberals" lined up in droves to argue that our government should protect these Iraqis who are at particular risk from death squads. Is this not exactly the sort of thing which Cohen maintains no longer happens? It seems pretty clear that in the real world, Clark's view is very much a minority one.

In any event, Clark's article didn't make sense to me so I decided to see if I could narrow down the reason why he arrived at the conclusion he did. On his website, he has now written a number of posts attempting to defend his stance. After reading them, I did try to engage with Neil in the comments to the last of those posts and he did offer one reply. My next question, however, has not seen the other side of the moderation queue. My guess is that the Blogger gremlins ate it; this seems to happen surprisingly often when you ask awkward questions of certain bloggers.

There's lot's of stuff there but ultimately, it all boils down to this from the original article:
If more Iraqis had followed the example of the interpreters and collaborated with British and American forces, it is likely that the cities of Iran and Syria would now be lying in rubble.
The argument is that if Iraq had stabilised as the Bush administration thought it would, they'd have then moved on to invade other countries in the Middle East. In effect, by working with the occupying forces, the "quislings" were aiding and abetting the neo-con project.

It is certainly true that the Bush administration did want to use military force to reshape the entire Middle East. The "axis of evil" rhetoric was not just rhetoric. General Wes Clark recalled asking another general at the Pentagon whether the administration was still set on invading Iraq back in late 2001. The answer:
“Oh, it’s worse than that... I just got this down from upstairs” -- meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office -- "...This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran."
Given the scale of their ignorance as to what would happen when they invaded Iraq, however, this plan was never realistic. The neo-con project, as was, was defeated the day Bush ordered the invasion. It is important to keep attacking the simplistic notions of the neo-con "Bombing for Freedom" brigade and yes, many neo-cons still want to take military action against Iran but they have been hugely weakened both politically and militarily. The sweeping land invasions they'd dreamt of are still alive only in the heads of the most deluded armchair generals.

With that in mind, in the anarchy of post-Saddam Iraq, attempts to limit human suffering should be given top priority. Iraqis have already suffered far more than pampered Westerners like ourselves can ever understand.

Furthermore, despite the many failings of this catastrophic war, Iraqis should not be punished for attempting to help turn their country into a stable, peaceful, tolerant democracy. You could argue that some were naive for believing that the coalition could deliver what it promised but that goal itself does have value. Who could possibly blame Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam from attempting to help build a better country by working with the coalition? Understandably, they just did what they believed was best for themselves, their families and their country. After failing to deliver on its promises, the government of this county owes a specific duty of care to these people.

It has been argued that the government owes a duty of care to all Iraqis whose lives are in danger because of the invasion. I agree in principle but it simply, tragically, isn't realistic to suggest that the government would offer asylum to the approximately 4 million people who've been displaced by the violence in Iraq.

The We Can't Turn They Away campaign is a practical effort to achieve what is hoped to be a realistic goal. It's about saving the lives of as many people as possible in the aftermath of this most bloody of interventions. Please do consider writing to your MP before it's too late.

1 comment:

sam_m said...

" It's about saving the lives of as many people as possible in the aftermath of this most bloody of interventions. "
As Yogi Berra might've said....It's 1991 all over again.