What Does Realism Mean Anyway?

Article excerpt


LARRY PRATT AND LEON CRAIG, TO THEIR credit, concede that the Ba'ath government of Iraq represented no undeterrable threat to the United States and that the United States cannot, and will not, bring democracy to Iraq (something they don't regard as desirable in any event). Unfortunately, that leaves them with little to justify the war.

Two thirds of the way through their article, alter much discussion of Thucydides, the illusory nature of law without force and other generalities, Pratt and Craig finally provide three reasons which, they say, were individually sufficient and collectively overwhelming justifications for war: regime change, the allegedly increased authority of the United States as a result of the war and the importance of control of Iraq's oil. Each of these justifications is factually and morally flawed.

The first "justification" is just a restatement of the issue. The second reason - increased authority - is based on a mistaken factual premise: the Iraq war did not add to the U.S.'s authority, but has represented an immense expenditure of diplomatic capital. As we write, the U.S. is sinking money and troops into Iraq to the barely concealed schadenfreude of the non-anglophone world. The political authority of Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac, both internationally and domestically, have virtually reversed in position because of their stances on the war.

Even if their factual premise were true, Pratt and Craig do not explain why building authority for a state is a legitimate reason to kill people. Pratt and Craig assume that it is in the interests of the West in general, and the United States in particular, to project an image of power. But the chief threat to western interests in the world, especially in the Middle East, may be an exaggerated belief in American omnipotence. If, as too many believe, the United States is all-powerful, then the inevitable question of theodicy arises: how can it tolerate our suffering unless it is malevolent? The 96 per cent of the world with no emotional investment in American patriotism cannot be expected to come up with a pious answer to this question: the United States must either convince suffering humanity of the limits of its power, or be blamed for everything. The idea - implicit in the doctrine of "shock and awe" - that it is a good idea to convince Muslims and Arabs that they are impotent against the United States ignores the fact that what we have to fear is rage and desperation.

The third reason, oil, raises the suspicion that Pratt and Craig are more interested in provoking conventional leftist opponents of the war than persuading anyone. Again, there are factual problems. Saddam has not really controlled Iraq's oil exports since 1991. As Norman Angell pointed out a century ago, the cheapest way to get resources is to buy them. Militarily occupying countries is a terribly inefficient way to obtain energy. And again, as the protesters point out, it would be morally wrong to trade blood for oil, if that is what Pratt and Craig are proposing. In this respect, the protesters are surely on the safe ground of conventional morality. A war for oil, no matter how scrupulously conducted, would be felony murder in furtherance of armed robbery. We should be prepared to give the Bush and Blair adminstrations the benefit of the doubt when they say they intended no such thing.

Elsewhere in their text is a more likely reason: the prospect of social revolution imposed by U.S.-U.K. military power in Iraq and perhaps throughout the Muslim world. Pratt and Craig propose to "reform the character" of the people of Iraq through a wholesale transformation of their "educational systems and religious institutions." They hypothesize that these "structural changes" will diminish the sources and support for terrorism. They concede this reformation will take "generations" and cannot be accomplished by a government accountable to the "antiliberal" and "irresponsible" demos. …