Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Year On...

Reasons and Opinions was born this time last year. Those of us who founded it thought long and hard about a name (at one point we considered bloggy-woggy-- no joke!). Originally intended as a group blog among some friends, it gradually evolved (not by my choice!) into a solo adventure. But now, a year later, and after more than 300 posts, the time has come to shift directions a little. I have become a contributor on an excellent Catholic group blog, Vox Nova, and most of my blogging energy is now spent over there. Frankly, I have no time left to do any original blogging here any more, and most of my recent posts have simply been cross postings from Vox Nova.

With that in mind, I'm going to put Reasons and Opinions on hiatus for a while. I'm still blogging-- just over at Vox Nova. Frankly, I just don't see the point in continuing to cut and paste every post over here. I won't say this is the end, as I may well come back here at some stage in the future. For now though: it's been a fun ride, I've learned a lot, and I'm grateful to all of you who bother to waste your time reading my random scribbles. Actually, I have no real idea who reads this! So, if you would like to provide any general feedback, positive or negative-- now is the time to do it! And if you don't want to comment here, just send me an e-mail. Most importantly: bookmark Vox Nova. Do it now!

All the best,

Morning's Minion.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iraq War: the Disproportionate Evils That Just Keep Coming

As is now evident to almost everyone, the Iraq war failed to meet the strict just war criteria. At the outset, as was made plain by the Vatican, the war did not garner the approval of the proper authority in this particular case, the United Nations. For what right does one country have to unilaterally invade and occupy another country, half way around the world? None. But let's set this aside for a minute, and go through the just war conditions, one by one.

Was the damage inflicted by Saddam Hussein's Iraq "lasting, grave, and certain". Well, we were peddled a story about Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction-- nuclear, chemical, and biological-- that could threaten the US and the world at short notice. Sounds pretty "lasting, grave and certain". Except it was not so. There were no such weapons. An honest mistake? Hardly. The Bush administration (shepherded by Dick Cheney) deliberately put forward dubious evidence that over the qualms of the intelligence community and other experts. In short, they lied, obfuscated, cheated. And since Satan is the father of all lies, is it any surprise that events rapidly descended into chaos? It is also pertinent that this war was conceived in the shadow of the fallen towers, by a confused and angry nation desperate to lash out at the most obvious enemy. Saddam Hussein, with his demonic visage and even worse history, was well suited to such a role. We know that vengeance, absent justice, is seriously sinful. But it gets worse. We were also told that Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama Bin Laden and had a hand in the attacks. Take some lies, add some vengeance, stir in all up in a cauldron of fear, and what do you get? That answer is now far too obvious.

Let's move on. Was it truly the case that "all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective". Not in the slightest. The administration short-circuited a UN process. This war was a war of first resort.

Were there "serious prospects of success"? That depends on perspective. Nobody doubted that the might of the US military would overpower the troops of a tinpot Arab dictator. But it was always quite evident from the beginning that the war could also unleash the kind of chaos that was next to impossible to defeat. Which brings me to the next point...

... the oft-neglected "disproportionate evils" critique, or, to state it properly: "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition." War proponents in the US often get this backwards. They see the awesome power and precision of modern weaponry and delude themselves into thinking that civilian are somehow safer than in times past. This is a generation numbed to the glorification of violence in popular culture, where war is just another video game writ on a large scale: lots of high-tech wizardry and "cool" explosions, and no human suffering in sight. As the old Peter Gabriel song so aptly says: games without frontiers, war without tears. Except war does bring tears. War brings about great human suffering, death, carnage, and destruction-- whether we choose to see it or not.

The Iraq war has caused untoward carnage. At this stage, nobody really knows the death count. At the low end, Iraq's health minister estimated 100,000-150,000 civilian deaths, extrapolating from 2006 statistics from morgues and hospitals. Using survey evidence, the reputable British medical journal, the Lancet, claims an unfathomable 655,000 deaths. This report has faced severe criticism, but they stand by their statistical methodology, which they claim mirrors the approach taken in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan. But the point is not to quibble about statistics (even if behind every statistic is a human being made in the image and likeness of God). Whatever position you take, the extent of human suffering (that could have easily been avoided) is evident.

But while the disproportionate evils condition encompasses civilian deaths, it goes far beyond it. And this is where many of the pro-war brigade simply put on their blinkers and see no evil. The disproportionate evils stirred up by the Iraq war include the complete destabilization of the country, the knock-on effects in the region, and the massive increase in worldwide terrorism that has germinated in the ensuing chaos and lawlessness.

The war draws angry militants from all over the world, allows them unimpeded training in terrorism, and at the same time inspires a whole new hate-inspired generation. These trained militants, experts claim, are using their training in other parts of the world. As pointed out recently, the recent evil attacks in London can be traced clearly to the Iraq war. As Josh Marshall puts it, we are seeing the first wave of graduates from the Iraq School of Terrorism. The Iraq war is the one of the greatest gifts Osama Bin Laden ever received (second only to his escape from Afghanistan, arising again from Bush administration incompetence). Ominously, experts are seeing a huge influx of funds and resources, out of Iraq to Al Qaeda headquarters in the tribal regions of Pakistan. In an almost demonic irony, the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda is now more obvious than ever. And the world is paying the price.

Could this not have been foreseen? Of course it could have been, and indeed it was, to those who chose to look. Can can anybody even remotely familiar with the complex confessional mechanisms of the long Lebanese civil war feign surprise at the outbreak of civil war between the various groups in Iraq? And given the perceptions of the west (and especially the US) in the Arab world-- a history of post-Ottoman colonialism, the tendency to forcibly remove leaders that did not do the west's bidding, an insatiable thirst for oil, and a callous one-sided tilt in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-- how in the name of God can they claim surprise at not being welcomed with flowers and open arms? The mainstreaming of torture only added (a great deal of) fuel to the fire, but evil has a way of doing that. No, all of this could have been foreseen, should have been foreseen. And the US bears grave responsibility for unleashing such carnage.

Such nuance and complexity was smothered by the utopian dream, the desire to bring "freedom and liberation" to the Iraqi people. Actually, this was a latter-day excuse, after the earlier lies and misinformation were exposed. But the specter of a messianic mission to use attain peace through violence using a secular ideology should have raised alarm bells immediately. As Christians, we know freedom and liberty come only through Christ. There is no other savior. For all messianic dreams and utopian visions in the past, all attempts to re-create our common human destiny along a predetermined path, from the French Revolution to the rise of communism, have ended in horror and bloodshed. We should have known.

When all else is lost, the defenders of the Iraq war resort to what I call the "Saddam Bad-man" theory. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal murderous thug, who engaged in great evil. They will offer huge numbers of civilians killed by Saddam Hussein, all the while disparaging similarly large estimates of violent deaths, post-Saddam. But this is not the point I want to make. Sadly, there are many Saddam Husseins in the world. I look at Kim in North Korea, Mugabe in Zimababwe, the thugs in Sudan and Burma, Karimov in Uzbekistan. The list goes on. Based on the "Saddam Bad-man" theory, should the US not invade these countries too and overthrow their leaders? While was Iraq singled out? I think we can pretty much all agree that the North Korean regime is probably the gravest threat to world peace today. Surely toppling this regime would meet the conditions of a just war? And yet, nobody (outside the American Enterprise Institute, anyway) is seriously considering such a course of action. Why? You guessed it. The potential for massive disproportionate evils.

War may sometimes be the answer, but (in our modern world at least), it is rarely the answer.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sicko is Healthy

There is a lot of knee-jerk reaction against Michael Moore's latest indictment of the US health care system, Sicko. But, overall, the experts pretty much agree that he gets the big picture right. Here's the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, who writes extensively on health care:
"As Sicko rolled, it did little to allay my fears. I spotted plenty of intellectual dishonesties and arguments without context--enough, surely, to keep right-wing truth squads (and some left-wing ones) busy for weeks... Still, by the time the final credits ran, it was hard to get too worked up about all of that. Because, beyond all the grandstanding and political theater, the movie actually made a compelling, argument about what's wrong with U.S. health care and how to fix it. Sicko got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right."

CNN (taking a short break from incessant Paris Hilton coverage, so it seems) also got their fact checkers on the job, no doubt expecting a bonanza of error-laden propaganda. But it was not to be:
"Moore covers a lot of ground. Our team investigated some of the claims put forth in his film. We found that his numbers were mostly right, but his arguments could use a little more context. As we dug deep to uncover the numbers, we found surprisingly few inaccuracies in the film. In fact, most pundits or health-care experts we spoke to spent more time on errors of omission rather than disputing the actual claims in the film"

I've already laid out many of the problems with the US health care system in my argument in favor of a single payer system last week. The analysis backs up what I was saying, including the fact that the US spends far more for health care than the rest of advanced world, and attains far less in return. Perhaps the most pertinent statistic is the one from the World Health Organization, showing that the US is ranked only 37 in the world in terms of health care outcomes (while both France and Canada make the top ten). They also show the relative inefficiency of private insurance: while Medicare eats up about 1 percent on overhead, private insurance companies waste between 10 and 30 percent (as I noted in my post last week, this is because so much effort is put into screening people). In criticizing Moore, Andrew Sullivan puts forward the most bizarre argument I've seen yet: the anti-US health care position ignores the fact that much of it is under the auspices of the government anyway. Since this is the most efficient part, the obvious conclusion from Sullivan's thought process is "Medicare for all"!

Opponents of single payer systems usually retort to two tactics: they play up waiting lists, and they argue by anecdote. And yes, in some universal health care systems, there are waiting lists for non-emergency elective surgery such as hip replacements. But that is not true everywhere. France has no waiting lists, allows free choice of doctors, and offers access to highly advanced medical care to those in need. And, in fact, the absence of waiting lists for elective surgery in the US has a dark side, as it reflects an over-supply of specialists relative to primary care physicians. This is not too surprising, given that specialists earn a whopping 300 percent more that primary care physicians here, as opposed to a norm of 30 percent elsewhere. Clearly, something is amiss.

So bear that in mind next time some smug free-marketer talks about waiting lists for hip replacements in Canada, or how Canadian doctors are trying to enter the American market. And keep some of these figures in mind too:

Health Spending per capita: US-- $4,497; Canada-- $2,483

Healthy life expectancy: US-- 68.1; Canada-- 70.5

Standardized death rate (per 100,000): US-- 670; Canada-- 561

Infant mortality rate (per 1,000): US-- 6.9; Canada-- 5.3

Child mortality rate (per 1,000): US-- 7.6; Canada-- 5.7

Maternal mortality rate (per 100,000): US-- 10.5; Canada-- 5.8

Number of uninsured:US-- 45 million; Canada-- 0

The question is, though, will people be able to see the big picture, and the basic truth in this movie, or will be they blinded by the minor inaccuracies, the stupid visit to Cuba, and the personality of Michael Moore himself?