Cigars in the Sand

Commentary, Notes and Pictures from my time in Iraq

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Location: Baghdad, Iraq

Farmer by genetics, Lawyer by training, currently "vacationing" in Iraq and advising the Iraqi government on border security issues. Before moving to Baghdad, I served in the White House as Deputy Counsel for the Homeland Security Council. I can be reached at opusxryanathotmaildotcom.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Abu on the Brain

So the New York Times finally gets around to reviewing Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy. It predictably pooh-pooh's most of the author's key ideas as idealistic and unworkable as applied. Of course, I'd argue that this book's greatest contribution is to make the case for a shift in foreign policy worldview, away from the "realist" camp of the State Department towards a more morality-based view.

It also seems some folks can't resist bringing up Abu Ghraib at very turn. [I again note my outrage at what occurred there, and the sincere hope that military commanders never permit conditions to deteriorate to that level again.] These are the final two paragraphs of the review:

"The danger now is that the beauty of his argument may become a form of blindness. He uses America's abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison mainly to laud the response of a free society to such an outrage: investigation, public debate, judgment and punishment.

But Mr. Sharansky might also have taken Abu Ghraib as an illustration of what can happen when a society becomes too certain of its mission, too giddy with its might, too negligent of constitutional safeguards of liberty and too blind to the humanity of people from another culture. Moral clarity in the name of freedom is one thing. But the slogan of freedom masquerading as moral clarity is quite another."

Some folks have Abu Ghraib on the brain. Sharansky's book mentions Abu Ghraib by name precisely once. He does speak to the larger issue of human rights thusly:

"Human rights violations can and do take place in democratic societies. But one of the things that sets democracies apart from fear societies is the way they respond to those violations." p.205

Recall that Abu Ghraib was broken by an internal DoD investigation, not by some other entity. The press only grabbed it much later. But for some people, like the NYT, Abu will always be the story of Iraq. Abu was indeed horrible (and caused tremendous damage to the US Government), but did it really convert our efforts here into "freedom masquerading as moral clarity"? The recent news that UN officials systematically targetted Congolese girls for rape, prostitution and pedophilia rings is a much more horrific story. I don't expect the Times to start using that story as a wedge to argue at every turn that the UN lacks "moral clarity" to take additional actions. [I'll leave aside for now consideration of whether the UN ever possessed moral clarity, I only point out that the mainstream media won't mention the rape and prostitution of young girls in the Congo by UN officials in every subsequent story you'll read about the UN.]