A Left-wing European human-rights activist's take on Iraq.
October 7, 2002 3:37 PM   Subscribe

A Left-wing European human-rights activist's take on Iraq. No, not what you'd come to expect by now. Far from the pro-forma accepted perspective of the Left, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a German human rights activist makes a case for the war in Iraq in this insightful interview. He mentions plenty of things I haven't read about before in regards to Kurds and has quite a few strong words to say about Germany and the recent fashions of the European Left.
posted by bokononito (24 comments total)
Great link
But couldn't this FPP be a simple comment -- with link -- in the previous Iraq thread?
posted by matteo at 3:51 PM on October 7, 2002

Nah, I would rather have that last FPP be a comment with link to this one.
posted by turbodog at 4:16 PM on October 7, 2002

Agreed, interesting post, and not one that should have been subordinated to the other Iraq post, which was far less original in content. Many people (me, for instance) are going to skip right over what looks like yet another update on the US government's position on Iraq, whereas this provided an angle I hadn't seen before.
posted by blissbat at 4:24 PM on October 7, 2002

I second matteo. Please, surely one per day is sufficient (and I'm a news junkie).

I have read all the MeTa threads: I know the issues. I would have thought that the phrases/words in common here [Europe/an, Iraq, war, Kurds, left] would ordinarily make this a d*uble p*st.

It's a new angle. Not a new subject.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:27 PM on October 7, 2002

The link is interesting, regardless of wherever it could have been made. From the text:

These people are also, dialectically, the products of the Western, capitalistic world. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden grew out of the bad politics of the U.S. and Europe in the Middle East. They didn't fall from the moon.

"But at the moment, I think one has to support the West, which means in this case America, Britain and Israel, in its battle against its own creations."

And which future war are we creating today?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2002

....a new angle that might've been overlooked in a longer thread and does add value to the discussion. It sometimes needs pointing out that everyone on the left doesn't always boo and everyone on the right doesn't always scream for blood. And shouldn't all these comments on whether the post should've been a seperate FPP or not have been on MetaTalk? ;oP Ho hum..
posted by boneybaloney at 4:45 PM on October 7, 2002

And which future war are we creating today?

we could also consider the whole Cold War as the result of post-WWII blowback -- the US helped old Uncle Joe out, right?
but sometimes you need allies. and often you cannot choose them -- or control them forever
history can't be that simple foldy
posted by matteo at 4:53 PM on October 7, 2002

His strongest points are on the absolute disgusting nature of Saddam Hussein's rule, and the fact that many seek to ignore this fact. However overall he presents a fairly confusing and contradictory argument that doesn't seem as well-thought-out as his insights into Iraq itself. There might be something lost in the translation (a Hebrew article with a German translated into English?) but overall his argument lost its strength as he delved into his analysis of motivations of various nations.
posted by cell divide at 5:02 PM on October 7, 2002

Fascinating, challenging link, thanks. The details about Hussein's atrocities - killing hundreds of prisoners each week because the prisons are overcrowded, e.g. - are truly horrifying. I also agree with f_&_m that the bit where Osten-Sacken fits Saddam and bin Laden into the "socialist v. capitalist" struggle is interesting:

Rosa Luxemburg once said that the question is socialism or barbarism, and that question is still valid. But at the moment, I think the fight is to defend the Western world against those who would like to be its successors.

By invading? By spending the USA into even *more* massive deficits? By remaking the USA into an even *more* militaristic society? Is there not another way? Can we not be just slightly more creative?
posted by mediareport at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2002

This is new ground for me -- talking with a peacemaker/activist who isn't just armchair or academic, but who's actually on the ground doing work and had a direct viewpoint.

Up until today, I've been pretty anti-war. Largely because the pax americana doctrine seems to contain a huge dose of hubris, and the "Saddam is a bad, bad man" rhetoric seems puerile. This article seems to come from someone who knows directly whereof they speak and isn't casual about violence or human life. It throws the evil dictator card into a very real relief that I haven't seen before. If Bush had made the case in the same terms that Thomas von der Osten-Sacken (vdOS), I would have been reluctantly behind him from the get go.

Now, the Pax Americana doctrine still seems audacious and full of hubris. I'd be reassured if I heard the current administration admitting things like, as vdOS said, "American policy in Iraq is a series of huge mistakes" and making promises that there will never again be situation like the United Fruit Company incited coup in Guatemala, or a situation where they'll stop short of deposing a dictator to keep a balance of power (I guess we should have let the Nazis and Communists go at it, right?). Tell me that the government will value principle even slightly more than strategy, and will work to get rid of all our "strongmen" and I'd still get behind Bush.

He can't say it that way, of course. Not "presidential" and "patriotic". But some sort of sign would be good enough.
posted by namespan at 5:13 PM on October 7, 2002

overall his argument lost its strength as he delved into his analysis of motivations of various nations.

I agree. The accusation that German business links to Iraq are driving much of the anti-war sentiment makes no sense to me when I look at who's protesting. His take on the anti-secret-globalization crowd seems muddled, to say the least. And the idea that Germany now stands with the Saddam Husseins of the world against the West strikes me as, well, borderline loony. Worth considering, and worth keeping the warning in mind, but also so simplistic it comes close to being racist:

In extremis, you have a constellation that reminds one of the '30s. On the one hand, you have Britain, the U.S. and Israel - the Jews are always in the metaphysical center of these conflicts. This side is fighting for a capitalistic Western ideology. Then you have these National Socialist, self-determination ideas, which are always led by the Germans.

posted by mediareport at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2002

He actually doesn't make the case for war, at least not outright - his answers as to whether he's for war are ambiguous, with lots of "mights" and other qualifications (such as whether the U.S. will be firmly committed to democracy, etc.).
posted by raysmj at 5:25 PM on October 7, 2002

i would support namespan's thoughts on this. and for myself, setting aside for a moment any debates about actually going to war, the most difficult aspect about all the war talk has simply been the administration's embarrassing ineptness at (1) originally making the strong case for dealing w/iraq now (however it was to be done), (2) explaining any long term plans for the country and people (especially in terms of health, food and governing aid), (3) admitting the usa's historical culpability in hussein's amassing of weaponry (and therefore the country's inherent responsibilty), and finally, (4) dealing openly w/the issues of oil and the need for stability in the middle east. these aren't horrible things. most people can process it. and no matter what one thinks of the bush cabinet politically (let's just forget bush for a second), they are all remarkably intelligent people. but the way they have presented this entire episode to the public has been horribly condescending. bush's speech at the un was much more clear (and, strangely, unlike any speech he has given before or since), and look at the effect it had. but since then . . .

. . . to be clear, i'm quite anti-war. but i respect honest debate. and in this time and place, the case could probably have been made easily that rendering iraq harmless (through many avenues, and only w/the threat of military occupation) was necessary. but someone just had to say the 'w' word, and away we went . . .
posted by buffalo at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2002

we could also consider the whole Cold War as the result of post-WWII blowback -- the US helped old Uncle Joe out, right?

Cha-ching! Give that man a ceeeeegar!

history can't be that simple foldy

The history of the region is not simple, nor is it the issue. The two-faced actions of the United States and others in the Middle East are well known (although some would like to ignore or hide our own guilt in what has happened in Iraq).

What is in fact simple is the simpleminded viewpoint that the whole world is just some glorified Risk gameboard. We make allies...we cast them aside, based upon our interests of the moment. Issues of right and wrong and justice and fairness and the suffering our unmindful actions cause are all relative to the magic of our own interests.

The simplicity of the myopic view of "our interests"...our current allies...our current foreign policty... is the simple doctrine of a sociopath.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 7:36 PM on October 7, 2002

He doesn't exactly make a case for war, no, at least not without those significant reservations. Obviously not everyone is ready to trust the US on its promises of democracy, but we need to be careful not to pretend that the status quo is desirable. There are risks with war, yes, but the risks of inaction may be greater. There are really only three options: Move to dislodge Saddam Hussein (with war as a last resort, but with 11 years of stasis, the ladder of escalation is short); maintain sanctions and military containment indefinitely; or walk away. Though critics claim that American "unilateralism" (which to them seems to include pushing the Security Council to accept our position) will break the UN's purpose, nothing could have made it more irrelevant, myopic, and morally obtuse than to maintain a sanctions regime for over a decade against one of the worst regimes on the planet ... and then just give up. The US, however, saw that was a very real danger. In fact, contrary to the standard rhetorical position, US action will shore up UN credibility. The other option, containment, is suddenly looking very good to folks who were opposing it just months ago, but comprises its own moral hazards. Containment is simply easier than other courses, easier to do, easier to justify. But it cannot be considered a solution, and certainly does little for the Iraqi people. So there must be a way forward.

van der Osten-Sacken (I'll go with vdOS too, those kwazy Chermans) sees that the Iraqi people hunger for freedom, and still, after many years of oppression, equalling few regimes (falling behind only a few lights of the 20th century such as Pol Pot), maintain the secular and level-headed character to recover from this aberration. The example of Kurdistan certainly shows that the capability is there, as he notes, even under the weight of double sanctions and no international recognition, conditions that in other parts of the world often seem the breeding ground for warlordism.

His hope that the Kurdish view of Jews will be shared throughout Iraq may be ... overly optimistic. Saddam has long made hay of the standard Protocols-taxonomy anti-Semitism to shore up his popularity. But once upon a time, Baghdad was the center of Arab Jewry, and it almost seems unimaginable that it could be, once again. But the only way to get there, within the living memory of the ethnic cleansing, is to accept that the present conditions are unacceptable, and that a US-led coalition with democracy as at least a nominal end-point may create anew an Iraq that has a moderate polity pursuing economic reconstruction and eschewing fanaticism. Iraq is one of the few nations where those conditions may exist.

By quirks of history, Iran is, as well -- and there are tantalizing hints that we could find a way to rehabilitate that relationship. But paradoxically that's one we are much better off leaving alone.
posted by dhartung at 9:34 PM on October 7, 2002

The other option, containment, is suddenly looking very good to folks who were opposing it just months ago, but comprises its own moral hazards.

To some people, not all of them. To others, the potential costs would seem to outweight the potential benefits of this war, no matter how bad Saddam is - and the costs are one thing Osten-Sacken barely addresses. Containment may not be the the best option, mind you. Of course, I'd argue that a enforced sanctions aren't the same as containment, which was a Cold War-specific theory. Also, plenty of people were arguing before that sanctions had worked to some degree, as with the successes of the no-fly-zone area. Whatever the case, war could very well be disastrous in the short (If Saddam has WMDs, what's to stop him from using them when he has nothing to lose?) and long term, especially a war which the rest of the world might see as illegitimate and unjust. Sheesh, y'know, I read somewhere that a substantial percentage of Kuwaitis thought the U.S. had brought Sept. 11 on itself. (Censored) Kuwaitis! (Oh, just found backing for that, from the National Review.)
posted by raysmj at 10:12 PM on October 7, 2002

How refreshing to finally see some material about what the situation looks like for everyday Iraqis. In the unlikely event anyone finds any more articles about the actual current inhabitants of Iraq, who are treated as a passing afterthought in the great game of geopolitical grandstanding, please post them! A topic well deserving of a thread now and then.
posted by sheauga at 2:32 AM on October 8, 2002

And the idea that Germany now stands with the Saddam Husseins of the world against the West strikes me as, well, borderline loony.

Yes. He started to lose me when he brought up the claims that Hussein supports Al Qaeda and that Bin Laden is following in Sadam's footsteps. Not even the US/UK governments could come up with solid evidence for that one. His description of what the B'arth party stands for is news to me as well. I've never heard it described as such before, especially the religious component. However, this last part about the Germans makes me question everything he's said. There's some undisclosed agenda here I think.
posted by Summer at 4:48 AM on October 8, 2002

I've not had a chance to read all of the article yet but...

There is an assumption that once Saddam is removed from power the people of Iraq will be living in a democratic utopia. This is clearly nonsense. As long as the American government is driving the removal of Saddam they will be sure that whoever takes over will have the best interests of the USA at the foremost of their mind - this will undoubtedly be to the detriment of the people of Iraq. Of course I have no idea if the person/people who take over will be as bad or worse than Saddam, and I'm not going to pretend I do.

Secondly, omelettes are not made without breaking eggs. The British and American military have already been bombing civilians for many years and they will undoubtedly increase this effort during GW2. This war is not a humanitarian effort and it never has been, and I really do wish (like I think many pro-war people wish) they would stop presenting it as such.

Finally, I'd just like to point out that there are more ways of removing Saddam that do not require the intervention of the west, which I think is ultimately poisonous, and that I certainly have not forgotten what Saddam is about. His removal would be a good thing but if it is not done properly, democratically and with the full support of the Iraqi people then the result could be a wrecked country in almost perpetual war.
posted by dodgygeezer at 6:42 AM on October 8, 2002

This war is not a humanitarian effort and it never has been, and I really do wish (like I think many pro-war people wish) they would stop presenting it as such.

There is ample factual information that it is for simple "unpolitical" people living in the area. I can assure you, for instance, that living in Europe during Nazi occupation, US bombing raids above our heads felt like a humanitarian effort. What Sheauga said.
posted by semmi at 8:29 AM on October 8, 2002

Semmi, your comment doesn't work in this context. Like I said, the Americans and British are already bombing the Iraqi people regularly. And they're feeling the brunt of sanctions too.

The notion that suddenly Iraqi's are going to be thankful for longer and more sustained bombing raids by the same pilots who've already killed their friends and family is rather naive.

Of course you've already see the FPP linking to a Guardian article that asks for people to stop comparing GW2 to WW2. Pretty good advice I'd say.
posted by dodgygeezer at 8:56 AM on October 8, 2002

sheauga: Iraq's middle class wiped out, from the BBC last April.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2002

dhartung, as you seem to know these things, which countries voted to sustain sanctions and bombings on iraq. which countries equipment is used? i know that there have been various campaigns to end the sanctions (scroll down) and bombings.
How would you feel after 10 years of sustained violence against your country? Angry, paranoid and ready to lash out? Possibly. Imagine somebody told you that you only had a month before you died. How would you spend your last days? (Obviously, you are supposed to imagine that you are a megalomaniac with sociopathic tendencies as well).
Some opinion rather better informed than mine, and a spooky spot from someone who sounds just like our own F_n_M!?
e.g "Our greed blinds us to the kind of injustices that AWOL (American Way Of Life) inevitably, and necessarily, imposes on the Mother Earth and her inhabitants. It is only a matter of time before it all will catch up with us as well. I hope that we wake up and become willing to endure the painful, but joyous process of liberation to the new man, the new woman, i.e. homo amicus. We need you, now!"
And a self godwin thrown in for good measure.
posted by asok at 5:28 PM on October 8, 2002

Just a few points:

Those who object because the US might put in a government that is better/worse than the existing one: Uh, I think any government that is put in that doesn't kill prisoners because of overcrowding would be a good start. I think putting in a government that isn't bent on killing large portions of it's own peoples is a good start.

Your arguments sounds more anti-American than pro-humanity. You're willing to let people continue to suffer than to afford that the US might be doing the right thing. Sometimes, to remove a cancer, you have to take dire actions (chemotherapy, surgery, etc.).

Your arguments, to me, sound as if you would be in favor of allowing a man to beat his wife and abuse his children in his own home because he has guns inside the house and might shoot back at the police if they attempted to put a stop to his actions. You would be opposed to freeing the children for fear of the life they might end up leading in Child Protective Services or in the foster care system. You would oppose action being taken because the police had recently been involved in a scandal and your theorize that the wife's black eyes could all be one big conspiracy. In short, your arguments seem to indicate a tendency to do nothing rather than risk the alternatives.

For that, I wonder who the real criminals are.
posted by billman at 9:06 AM on October 11, 2002

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