freedom map

Last month I asked the question “Who’s Next After Iraq?” among the 81 countries (shown in purple on the map above) whose people live under undemocratic, mostly oppressive regimes, many with WMD or the potential to produce them, and most with long litanies of human rights abuses. The retort to the “Who’s next?” question is often another question “If war isn’t the answer, what is?” It’s a fair question, even thought it is obviously ironic when it comes from formerly isolationist neocons.

Assuming the objective is to turn the purple in this map to yellow, or at least orange, here are the options, along with my personal assessment of the appropriateness of each:

  1. Military intervention – This is always the last resort, only to be used when there is ‘clear and present danger’. It always leaves a vacuum, always raises the spectre that what replaces it will be worse than what was vanquished, is always the most expensive solution in every sense of the word, and always leaves wounds that invite retaliation and prolonged violence. It also runs the risk of military failure and huge civilian casualties, either of which can escalate violence and destabilize whole regions, or the whole planet.
  2. Military support for internal opposition – Same pros, cons and risks as military intervention, but sometimes more covert and cheaper, and often less effective. When it is effective, it’s more durable than military intervention.
  3. Political assassination – Same pros, cons and risks as military intervention, but much cheaper. Also illegal under international law.
  4. Sanctions and embargoes – These almost never work, since they punish the people not the administration. There is abundant evidence that sanctions aganst Iraq have led to untold suffering by the Iraqi people and the premature death of half a million people, and had no effect whatsoever on the Iraq government.
  5. International political pressure – Always necessary but rarely sufficient, as anyone from Amnesty International can tell you.
  6. International inspections – The ultimate compromise. May not work. Never really given a fair try.
  7. International trials – Time consuming and risky. May not work. Won’t have a chance to work as long as Bush refuses the support, and continues to undermine, the International Court of Justice. A mechanism is needed for in absentia trials and for bringing those convicted and at large to justice.
  8. International policing – Time consuming and risky. The counterpart and companion to international trials, this is more than just ‘peacekeeping’. 
  9. Political support for internal opposition – Can be helpful, but rarely sufficient.
  10. Do nothing

What do I think the answer is? It depends on what country we’re talking about, how much suffering the regime is inflicting, and what could work under the circumstances. In a country with a benevolent dictatorship like Singapore, I’d do nothing. In a country like Rwanda a combination of options 6 and 7, and a massive expansion of the already-in-use options 5 and 8, would probably have been necessary in 1994 to avert the genocide by machete of almost a million people in three days. Instead, we actually reduced the UN police presence in the area, and some feel we were therefore complicit in the massacre.

In Iraq, I believe the neoliberal-supported sanctions, which have caused massive suffering and premature death, have been as destructive as the neocons’ war. A combination of options 5, 6, 7 and 8 could have worked, and would have sent a much more effective and UN-endorsed message to the rest of the world’s despots, and the people suffering under them, than the cynical military adventure of the Bush regime. And this four-option combination might have actually led to freedom, instead of the Bush legacy the Iraq people must now face: anarchy, a crippled economy, military occupation, economic opportunism, deprivation and new tyranny.

Liberals and Democrats must stop condoning what Bush is doing at home and abroad, out of political cowardice, and instead start offering positive solutions and strategies to combat the incessantly negative, fear-mongering agenda of the Bush regime. Failing this, we risk losing our own freedoms.

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  1. Excellent post! I borrowed “your” map, there, and referred people to your article as I think you’ve done a great job of outlining the main options we have in situations like these. Thanks!

  2. NW says:

    This is a great article. I think understanding what options are available in the struggle to alleviate oppression is the only way to make an informed opinion. As a conservative, I appreciate the staement that the sanctions in Iraq have been as destructive as the war itself. In my opinion, they have been more destructive and that is why I supported action. We had tried a combination of options 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9 for over a decade and something else had to be done. War is a nasty business, but I think our government handled this particular situation superbly. That said, I do not think the Bush administration should be looking for another fight. While I support this administration I also think it is time to work on Israeli-Palestinian issues, as well as issues here at home. While I really enjoyed this small article, I think the last paragraph sheds some light on the problems with liberals in this country. Most people I have spoken with do not see the Bush regime as a “fear-mongering” “regime”. This type of language is combative and defeats the purpose of the previous statement. If liberals and conservatives truly want to make a difference the personal attacks will not work. I know that I prefer not to compromise with those that insult me, and I assume that most people feel the same way. Offering positive solutions is a wonderful idea, but also offer constructive criticism. Bush-bashing is easier than saying “I like what you’ve done here, but can we try this over here”. The open dialogue and support is the only thing that will work now.You Conservative Friend

  3. Rob Paterson says:

    Thanks I find that you put so much effort and thought into your posts. I have been away for 10 days and have enjoyed catching upRob

  4. Joe Katzman says:

    Neocons, isolationist? Never – they’ve always been in favour of American involvement in the world, militarily if necessary. Pat Buchanan is isolationist, but he’s a very different animal (he remains very isolationist, and these days he’s blaming the Jews for America’s actions abroad).Just as all liberals aren’t communists (and the distinction matters), all conservatives aren’t neocons (and the distinction matters).

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