Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Random fisking

You just knew that leftists everywhere were scratching their heads trying to blame the tsunami on the war in Iraq, somehow, someway. George Monbiot, in the Guardian does his best:

Over the past few months, reviewing the complete lack of public interest in what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the failure, in the west, to mobilise effective protests against the continuing atrocities in Iraq, I had begun to wonder whether we had lost our ability to stand in other people's shoes. I have now stopped wondering. The response to the tsunami shows that, however we might seek to suppress it, we cannot destroy our capacity for empathy.

But one obvious question recurs. Why must the relief of suffering, in this unprecedentedly prosperous world, rely on the whims of citizens and the appeals of pop stars and comedians? Why, when extreme poverty could be made history with a minor redeployment of public finances, must the poor world still wait for homeless people in the rich world to empty their pockets?

Okay, first of all let me say that I’m sympathetic to the complaint about the lack of protests over the atrocities committed in Iraq. The terrorists in Iraq have routinely killed citizens, tried to derail democracy and economic reconstruction, and, if they had their way, would ultimately institute shariah law in Iraq – an all encompassing Islamic law that would lead to widespread and brutal human rights abuses. How many times have peace protestors in Western nations marched against these atrocities, many times worse than those of America? [Um, I don’t think those were the atrocities Monbiot was worrying about –ed. Well duh… I was being ironic; don’t be so obtuse. –Grant. First of all, I don’t entirely know what obtuse means, and second of all, I’m you, so BACK OFF. –ed. Touché – Grant.]

And then we have the “obvious question.” Monbiot uses a peculiar dialect, in which more than faint yearning for totalirianism can be detected. First of all, the “whims of citizens” that Monbiot so derisively refers to is none other than freedom. Yes, Monbiot, if we could just get rid of freedom, that “whim” of the people, then just think of all the good that could be done!

Oh, and “the appeals of pop stars and comedians” that is scornfully referred to? That could also be looked at that as, oh, I don’t know, an act of good will on their part. And, hey, it could be worse. They could be appealing to the state to use its coercive powers to steal from the citizens.*

Second, I would not be so naïve as to think that any amount of donated money alone, much less just “a minor redeployment” would magically make extreme poverty “history.” As Don D’Cruz pointed out in his column “Free trade more precious than foreign aid,” (read the whole thing) money donated is not necessarily a panacea:

For example, according to World Bank figures, despite spending $US100 billion in aid in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 1999, about 17 countries experienced a decline in real per capita gross national product.
Paradoxically, aid can have a negative effect by propping up the failing political structures which are the actual causes of poverty in third world countries. India is an amazing success story of a developing nation escaping from extreme poverty, not because aid was heaped on it, but because, as a former British colony, it benefited from the imposition of a stable, Western governmental structure. And, of course, aid can also be squandered by the very organizations sent to disperse it, such as is happening in Afghanistan through wasteful NGOs, which have been derisively nicknamed the “Toyota Taliban.”

But enough digression. Monbiot answers his “obvious question:”

The obvious answer is that governments have other priorities. And the one that leaps to mind is war. If the money they have promised to the victims of the tsunami still falls far short of the amounts required, it is partly because the contingency fund upon which they draw in times of crisis has been spent on blowing people to bits in Iraq.
Yes, that’s correct, governments do have other priorities. In fact, according to libertarians, the main priority, and one of the few legitimate functions of government, is national defense (which sometimes entails national offense). And should aid even be a priority of government? Follow the magical asterisk to find out*.

Either way, the money has been spent “blowing people to bits,” that violently oppose freedom and democracy in Iraq, but also has been spent reconstructing that nation. Monbiot anticipates this response, and writes:

The figures for war and aid are worth comparing because, when all the other excuses for the invasion of Iraq were stripped away, both governments explained that it was being waged for the good of the Iraqis. Let us, for a moment, take this claim at face value. Let us suppose that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with power, domestic politics or oil, but were, in fact, components of a monumental aid programme. And let us, with reckless generosity, assume that more people in Iraq have gained as a result of this aid programme than lost.

To justify the war, even under these wildly unsafe assumptions, George Bush and Tony Blair would have to show that the money they spent was a cost-efficient means of relieving human suffering. As it was sufficient to have made a measurable improvement in the lives of all the 2.8 billion people living in absolute poverty, and as there are only 25 million people in Iraq, this is simply not possible. Even if you ignore every other issue - such as the trifling matter of mass killing - the opportunity costs of the Iraq war categorise it as a humanitarian disaster. Indeed, such calculations suggest that, on cost grounds alone, a humanitarian war is a contradiction in terms.

Monbiot reveals a little too much with the musing that “humanitarian war is a contradiction in terms.” This belies the accuracy of Monbiot’s moral calculations, as it would suggest that a war of intervention to stop the Rwandan massacre, the war to stop the spread of Nazism and depose the genocidal Hitler, and the war to end slavery and reunite the USA, would not be considered “humanitarian wars."

The first mistake that Monbiot makes is to equate a dollar spent on aid with a dollar spent on war. These are no more the same than are a dollar spent purchasing a fish for a hungry man and a dollar spent teaching him to fish. They are different things, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in their own way both humanitarian. It just happens that some ways of spending money are more efficacious in the long run on alleviating human suffering than are others.

As I noted earlier, aid money has had a detrimental effect in sub-Saharan Africa. Money spent on wars of liberation, on the other hand, remove the incompetent and corrupt political leaders and systems which lead to problems of human suffering. If money had been spent in a war to depose Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire before he ran the country into the ground, it would have been better than the aid money which actually went to Zaire at the time, and which Mobutu spent as his own personal bank account.

Here, Monbiot would point out that, even if aid money isn’t very efficacious, surely it is better than the exorbitant amount that is being spent to liberate millions in Iraq when nearly three billion suffer from extreme poverty. Of course, Monbiot is assuming that some money needs to be spent in some capacity if these people are to be pulled out of poverty—a premise which I don’t accept (refer back to this column cited above). Also, an infusion of democracy into the Middle East via Iraq is increasing the movement toward democracy in Iran and elsewhere, and will change the political culture of the region for the better, a development of great humanitarian value.

My old philosophy professor tried this same argument on me once: surely way too much money is spent in Iraq that could be spent elsewhere if you are just trying to help the most people out. What Monbiot and my philosophy professor forget, or immediately discard as implausible, is that the stated reason for the war in Iraq is humanitarian.

That is, liberating Iraq is part of our “War on Terror,” which is humanitarian. I have wrote earlier about the connection between totalitarianism and terror, (a link which is backed up by research) and it is apparent, at least to neo-cons, that the dynamics of the Middle East need to be changed if we ever hope to defeat something as vague as “terror.” Liberating Iraq is seen as a way to combat the root causes of terror by spreading freedom throughout the Middle East. And anything that decreases the chance of a terrorist attack in America or elsewhere is a humanitarian success of immense proportions. This is because, as Nelson Ascher put it:
The US can survive a nuke in Manhattan. Brazil can survive a nuke in Sao Paulo. But Brazil cannot survive a nuke in Manhattan. What most of the world’s anti-Americans fail to understand is that whatever harms deeply the US harms us even more. Were Africa to suddenly disappear, it wouldn’t make much of a change in the life of New Yorkers. Were NY to disappear, Africa would go along.
But even when America does take assets away from the combat in Iraq to help in SE Asia, Monbiot is still not pleased:
The US marines who have now been dispatched to Sri Lanka to help the rescue operation were, just a few weeks ago, murdering the civilians (for this, remember, is an illegal war), smashing the homes and evicting the entire population of the Iraqi city of Falluja.
Okay, first of all I fail to see how this is an illegal war. I guess you could use the “because France said so” or whatnot, but I still don’t see how this would make killing the violent anti-democratic elements of the resistance into “murdering the civilians.” If these civilians are attacking other civilians (and they are—the governor of Baghdad was just assassinated, not to mention the countless bombs and videotaped assassinations) then they are terrorists, by definition, end of story. Maybe we should defer to the judgment of the Iraqis here: LGF reports the results of a poll of nearly 5000 Iraqis from Baghdad in which 87.7% of respondents said they supported military action against terrorists.

Finally, Monbiot ends his column:
While they spend the money we gave them to relieve suffering on slaughtering the poor, the world must rely for disaster relief on the homeless man emptying his pockets. If our leaders were as generous in helping people as they are in killing them, no one would ever go hungry.
How does it make a leader more “generous” if he spends more of other people’s money, which was extracted, ultimately, under threat of jail? Would it make the leader of the nation more generous if he emptied the pockets of the homeless man for him and spent that?

Either way, that is the last time I fisk a Monbiot column. I just waded in, and the BS kept getting deeper and deeper. Took me about four and a half hours before I was able to pull myself out at the other end, in desperate need of a scrub-down with some hardy steel wool and hydrochloric acid. Moonbat fece, it sticks to you, like superglue.




*That said, I still support the judicious use of tax dollars in response to the tsunami. First, this is potentially a national security concern, as destabilized states could prove to be breeding grounds for Islamic terror. Radical Islamic elements, especially in Indonesia could offer succor in the form of religion if lack of aid leads to widespread desperation and suffering. Second, as we do live in a society where taxes are collected, I would rather those taxes be guided toward helping out in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in modern history, than go towards some subsidy or trivial expenditure. In fact, if the aid for this disaster could starve the funding for some other government functions then all the better.

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