Saturday, August 27, 2005

Liberals for Iraq, No. 1: William Shawcross

Indeed those of us who opposed the American war in Indo-China should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath: a form of genocide in Cambodia and horrific tyranny in both Vietnam and Laos. Looking back on my own coverage for the Sunday Times of the South Vietnamese war effort of 1970-75, I think I concentrated too easily on the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese and their American allies, was too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the communists would provide a better future. But after the communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.

WILLIAM SHAWCROSS (London Times, Dec. 16, 1994)

The lives that so many gave to create a new nation are now no more than ashes cast aside.

TRUONG NHU TANG, A Viet Cong Memoir

Pilate took water, and washed his hands before the multitude.


The bogus "lessons" of Vietnam die hard. They were still in full bloom in 1984, when I saw The Killing Fields, a gruesome depiction of one of the 20th century's greatest political massacres (Number 4, to be exact; top honors go to Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, respectively). The film did a good job of showing acres and acres of corpses, but a rotten job of explaining how they got there. It summed it up in one line delivered by Sam Waterston (as Sydney Schanberg) which blamed everything that happened in Cambodia on the "insanity" caused by the US bombing of Vietcong bases. That bit of analysis was borrowed from the book by William Shawcross, Sideshow. Thus did the film makers appease the leftists who were unhappy with a depiction of Communist atrocities. After all, this cheap rationalization is no different from the naked apologism that the likes of Noam Chomsky and John Pilger have been serving up for decades.

Mere liberals were more easily appeased, I suppose, by including John Lennon's goofball-utopian anthem "Imagine" as the film's trailer. Like getting a Hallmark Card after drinking a bucket of blood, one disgusted reviewer wrote. But somebody has got to market the soundtrack, after all.

Something happened to Shawcross over the next ten years, obviously. It couldn't have been the misery of Vietnam and the flood of refugees that hemorrhaged forth from it. That was conspicuous many years before The Killing Fields. Maybe it was a long overdue triumph of conscience over leftist reactionary politics. Shawcross was too smart to believe that the Khmer Rouge leaders learned their murderous ideology from a B-52 bomber, and not from studying Marxism at the Sorbonne. Eventually he was too honest to go on pretending to believe it. And the tragedy of Vietnam, as well, finally became too much to ignore.

It's safe to say that Chomsky and Pilger will never walk this Road to Damascus. Chomsky is too dishonest, and Pilger is just too pig ignorant.

It's too late for Vietnam, shamefully abandoned long ago. Or for Cambodia, which drank the last full measure of progressive wisdom and choked to death. They'll never get the last 30 years back. But it's not too late for Iraq, as Shawcross forthrightly argues in a new article in The American Spectator, Saddam Removal: Why the US had no alternative (excerpted from the new edition of his book Allies).

In this postscript to Allies, Shawcross confronts and stares down three hobgoblins of the Iraq war: 1) Abu Ghraib, 2) the origins of the so-called insurgency, and 3) the missing WMDs. His answers to all three are unflinching. They point to the present and to the future, not to the mangled past of Southeast Asia.

The Abu Ghraib incident - an inexcusable abuse by those who perpetrated it - does not show the depravity of the United States, but the unique democratic example of the United States. Shawcross agrees with Andre Glucksman, who wrote that Abu Ghraib shows the United States to be the world's "most exemplary" democracy. No other nation would have acknowledged and pursued these abuses to the extraordinary extent that we did, beginning with the Army CID, which brought charges against six perpetrators before anyone ever heard of Abu Ghraib. No other nation - certainly not the posturing French, who never indicted a single person for the horrific torture and state terrorism carried out in Algeria.

The selective indignation that followed Abu Ghraib does not excuse Abu Ghraib, but Shawcross points out that it speaks volumes about who Iraq's friends are:
... the new Iraqi minister for Human Rights criticized the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but asked where the Arab protest had been during the long Saddam years when Iraqis were being tortured to death.

The difference was also shown in the response to the abuses. Saddam murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands of people - millions, indeed, over decades with impunity. And with no consequences.
The anti-war position on the horror of Saddam's regime is: Nothing. Nothing but the chirping crickets that were heard when the Republic of Vietnam was thrown to the wolves, when Cambodia suffocated, when Cuba was handed over to a firing squad. The tree won't fall in the forest if you just close your eyes.

Shawcross is equally direct when dealing the sources of Islamic terror. Neither an isolationist US policy nor a Palestinian "solution" will appease the jihadists in the slightest, as their war is existential, not reactionary. For each step back we take, they will take two steps forward:
They live to kill. The most determined live to die. Or, perhaps more often, they brainwash others to do so ... That incitement, reiterated constantly in Arabic press and television, is at the root of such terrorism and to pretend otherwise is a hypocrisy and a delusion.
The anti-war position is the insistence that resisting terrorism breeds more terrorism. The old cynical European view was more honest: Resisting terrorism attracts the terrorist's attention. Leaving terrorism alone makes it more likely that the terrorist will kill someone else. Most likely a Jew or another Arab, but not one of our people.

In dealing with the WMD question, which has so completely deflated Liberalism's opposition to Saddam, Shawcross studies that great Rorschach blot, the Duelfer Report. He sees plain sense instead of endless opportunity for equivocation, however.
The combination of international terror and WMD poses an existential threat to the survival of free societies. We are fighting a third world war. In the case of Iraq, the possibility of a nonconventional attack might by 2003 have been low, but the price to be paid had one occurred would have been enormous.
I would add, we may still pay that price. But one potential vendor of doom is out of business for good.
Despite their critics' assertions, Bush and Blair did not lie when they said they believed that Saddam still had WMD.
On the contrary, it is those who continue to maintain this after the Duelfer Report that are lying. Not only lying about the intentions of Bush and Blair, but lying by maintaining the pretense that Saddam had no intention of developing WMDs. And lying by their appeal to European opinion, which, as Duelfer made clear, was being bought off in the most outrageous fashion by Saddam's plundering of the Oil for Food program.

Though Shawcross doesn't say so, that alone ought to have been causa belli. Threatening civilization is one thing. Buying civilization off like a crooked beat cop is something even worse. Ignoring such corruption is equally corrupt.

Shawcross speaks for a liberalism that hasn't yet sold its soul to cheap politicism. That liberalism is a small patch, but it may grow rather than shrink. It took thirty years to shake off bogus rationalizations about Vietnam, but this time the rotten indifference might not take root so easily. Where has all the Chomskyism gone? Long time passing.