By Marko Marjanović on April 30th, 2014
Normally it is my expectation that anyone who would go out of his way to present himself as a “bleeding heart” would be a considerate, sensitive person who would be inclined to weigh his words and be careful not to give insult or come off as coarse. Imagine my surprise then when examining the “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” blog I had the distinct displeasure of reading the following by one their contributors:
“It is unjust for our government to tax American citizens to try to help people who do not want to be helped and who, even after they have been helped, instead of thanking us for liberating them, they viciously turn against us for domestic political gain or some other spurious motive. Iraq and Afghanistan are cases in point. The U.S. and their allies helped them get rid of their tyrants, only to see the new governments posture about how bad Americans are. When this happens, our response should be simple and direct: we will leave you alone to lead your miserable lives. And if you dare attack us, we will kill you or bring you to justice.”
The author of the passage is one Fernando Teson who is such a “bleeding heart” that he has made it his life’s work to try to sell war to libertarians under the touchy-feely guise of “humanitarian intervention.” He had previously backed the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but is now wiser for the experience and is having second thoughts about supporting the same in Syria. So in Teson’s reflection what was the problem with American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan?
Apparently it is the fact Iraqis and Afghans turned out to be a bunch of ingrates who did not deserve to be liberated in the first place! Such people should rather be left alone to “lead their miserable lives,” but nonetheless threatened not to get any ideas about attacking Americans. Let us just say that “bleeding heart” is not at the top of my list of what I would call the author of such a boorish passage. A different part of the body would come to mind far sooner (it starts with the letter ‘a’).
The actual problem with the American war in Iraq was not that Iraqis were morally deficient and thus incapable of gratitude. The actual problem was that it was an empire-building exercise that ended up killing some 500,000 people (albeit of the ingrate Iraqi kind) and was thus amoral from the start and rotten to the core. It did not help Iraqis at all, but instead tore apart and devastated their already traumatized country. It takes quite the anti-Iraqi jerk not to see this.
The likes of Fernando Teson tried to sell us the Iraq invasion on humanitarian grounds, but one wonders why anyone in 2003 would think Iraqis would have to be subjugated to American rule before they could be helped? Was it not the case that at the time millions of Iraqis would have seen a drastic and immediate difference in the quality of their lives if only the comprehensive UN sanctions against Iraq were repealed? The cause of a great humanitarian crisis in the country could have been eliminated totally without the need for the US armed forces to invade a sovereign country or exercise power over foreigners in their own land.
So much could have been done completely without the need to bolster the Pentagon’s standing and budget, hand over magnificent earning opportunities to Halliburton or spread American influence in the Middle East. Indeed reasons such as these may have been far more important to those who planned and ordered the invasion than any notion of doing a favor to the Iraqis. However, without the Iraq Invasion more than simply an apparent opportunity to further entrench American hegemony would be missed.
The major attraction of humanitarian interventionism is that it offers a glorious opportunity to engage in self-flattery. In 2003 the humanitarian interventionist narrative made Iraqis into pitiful victims of a foreign murderer-dictator and his totalitarian Arab regime. This made the Westerners involved in the invasion into supposed selfless heroes risking their own lives and spending their own means to save Iraqis from their own state. Such self-flattery! In fact the truth was almost the exact opposite.
In the 1991 Gulf War the international coalition assembled by the United States first thoroughly destroyed parts of Iraqi civilian infrastructure in air strikes. After that it pushed through the adoption of the most comprehensive trade sanctions instituted in the 20th century at the UN. With Iraq starved for capital and anyway prohibited from importing much of what it needed, the infrastructure could never be properly repaired and the country was kept in a state of a permanent humanitarian crisis. In the course of the decade the increase in mortality that was caused by the combined effect of the 1991 bombing campaign and the long-lived sanctions regime took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Children were particularly vulnerable. Child mortality doubled from where it had been in 1990 to reach the levels not seen in Iraq since the early 1960s.
By 2002 the United States had already been strangling Iraq for over a decade and had in all likelihood already caused the deaths of more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein had. Now it was amassing its troops in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in order to strike against Iraq and subdue it by military force, ostensibly in part for the good of the Iraqi people who would be freed of tyrannical dictatorship. The ensuing invasion resulted in a war that ultimately killed more than 500,000 of the Iraqi people and forced millions from their homes.
The Iraq Invasion was in fact profoundly anti-humanitarian. It was accompanied by and caused enormous levels of misery, destruction and trauma — as was only to be expected of an invasion conducted by a power that had already demonstrated a shocking level of disregard for Iraqi suffering and death prior to the attack. Iraqis have every reason to dislike the United States which was the major cause of their woes for over two decades. Rather than accept this fact Fernando Teson would like to pretend they are morally inferior ingrates. But how is this possible when Fernando Teson is such a “bleeding heart” that in 2003 he backed the United States to invade Iraq in order to save Iraqis from Saddam Hussein?
A hint may be found in that as stated humanitarian intervention rarely has anything to do with humanitarianism. It is instead capturing the opportunity to engage in self-flattery. Therefore there is no contradiction in the fact someone who thinks so little of Iraqis would have at one time argued for the need to save them from their government. Even jerks like to give themselves a pat on the back sometimes! It also explains why humanitarian interventionists like Teson show so little concern for what their wars actually bring about. Once you are in the business of self-flattery the reality of the situation simply does not matter all that much anymore. Whether you conduct an actually humanitarian military intervention that saves lives, or else one that screws up the country you intervene in does not matter all that much. You can always lie to yourself about what took place and give yourself a pat on the back anyway!
I propose Libertarians should be more sensitive than that. Also, preferably they should not refer to themselves as “bleeding hearts” — such self-flattery! And in Teson’s case — unearned!
1 According to the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study published in the PLOS Medicine journal in 2013. The study concluded there were about 500,000 excess deaths in Iraq 2003-2011 attributable to the war. Of these two thirds (333,000) were violent deaths and one third (167,000) were indirect deaths due to deterioration of living conditions brought about by occupation and war.
Data from one survey method (household reports) of the study suggests at least 35% (117,000) of the violent deaths were inflicted by the US-led coalition forces. Data from the second survey method (sibling reports) suggest US-led coalition forces inflicted at least 27% (90,000) of all the violent deaths. Additionally either at least 1% (3,000) or at least 3% (10,000) were killed by the forces of the new American-backed Iraq government. Either at least 11% (37,000) or at least 8% (27,000) were killed by criminals and criminal gangs unleashed in the chaos and desperation. Either at least 32% (107,000) or at least 44% (147,000) were killed by the various Sunni, Shia and Kurdish militias. According to the responses given in the household reports women accounted for 10.5% (35,000) of the violent deaths and coalition forces were the single biggest cause of violent deaths for women.
[image credits: The Sunday Times]