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2005-02-25

Wrong reason (updated) 

Norman Geras of normblog presents a short excerpt from a longer post by Julian Ku at Opinio Juris on the question: how important is the debate about the legality of the Iraq war? I repeat the excerpt here for convenience:
I can't help thinking that the only reason Kosovo is uncontroversial and the Iraq War remains controversial (among international lawyers) is that most international lawyers supported Kosovo but opposed Iraq on policy grounds.
Now while I agree with an earlier post at normblog that the legality issue should not be decisive, the quote gives the wrong reason for why Iraq and Kosovo are seen as different by many. It is not an issue of 'policy' or 'policy grounds'. Rather, the basic moral scenario faced in the two situations was different.

In Kosovo, a totalitarian government used support from one part of the population to exert massive violence, including a rapidly worsening policy of torture and killings as well as a shut-down of all education and health services, on another part of its population that openly challenged the government. The international coalition sided with the victims to protect them from the government. It launched a campaign of air bombardments that was ostensibly designed to minimise the number of casualties. Nevertheless, the campaign killed 500 Serb civilians as well as maybe around 2000 other victims.

In Iraq, an extremely totalitarian government had been suppressing its population for decades. Opposition had been cruelly persecuted in the past, but was barely noticeable in the current period. There was no conspicuous ongoing attempt on the part of the population to get rid of its dictator. The international coalition decided to champion a revolutionary cause that was not actively pursued by the oppressed population. It invaded at a cost of, until today, c. 16000 confirmed civilian deaths and tens of thousands of other victims, many of them in poorly equipped military divisions that were subjected to relentless air and artillery bombardments.

In both cases, the order of magnitude of the number of casualties was broadly in line with expectations before military activity commenced. The moral case for taking military means was stronger in Kosovo, and expected and actual victims were an order of magnitude less there than in Iraq.

I would argue it is possible to believe that both the Kosovo and Iraq wars were ultimately illegal, further that the Kosovo war was nevertheless morally legitimate, and that the Iraq war was not.

UPDATE: This post has been criticised for alluding that cruel persecution of the opposition in Iraq had ebbed at the time immediately preceding the invasion. I did not want to claim such a thing, I agree that the cruelty of the regime was unchanged in principle. I only wanted to highlight that there was relatively little opposition activity in Iraq itself at the time of the invasion. If a people (I'm aware that the notion is problematic here) decides in a certain period that the personal sacrifice required for an attempt to overthrow a powerful, violent dictator is not worth it, how can a foreign power have the moral right to force this sacrifice (in terms of numerous casualties) on that people through an invasion?

2005-02-24

Plan of Attack 

So what does this politically correct weblog do to celebrate the physical presence of the Friend of Liberty in these Central European backwaters? Well almost presence, my distance today, at 60km, was slightly larger than Petr Bokuvka's of the Daily Czech, who came to within 15m (but the batteries of his camera were empty). Well, I'm trying to better understand His ways, by ploughing my way through Bob Woodward's inside story of the run-up to the Iraq war, "Plan of Attack". I'm still stuck in early 2002, but it is rather interesting reading.

One of my pet beliefs used to be that the US could have tried harder to assassinate Saddam instead of killing tens of thousands of his foot-soldiers in an invasion, not to speak of civilian costs. However according to Woodward, the CIA told the president that it did not believe the US could succeed in removing Saddam without a military invasion. Due to its extremely bad historical record in supporting the Iraqi resistance, by the end of 2001 the CIA managed hardly any significant presence inside Iraq and it believed that Saddam could not be bombed out either due to his 'unsurmountable' wall of security and bunkers. Woodward does not provide many specifics as to what led the CIA to these conclusions, but he presents them as the genuine conviction of the responsible person at the agency, codenamed 'Saul'.

Also, to caricature the portrayals in the first hundred pages, Rumsfeld and his neocons wanted to attack Iraq even before 9/11, whereas Bush after 9/11 just was easily convinced of everything that would demonstrate his presidential resolve in dealing with terrorism. Powell had some contempt for the hawks in the administration whom he saw as war-crazy desktop soldiers. I'll have to keep reading in the hope to find anything about when and whether Bush and the neocons considered the likely human costs of this war.

2005-02-22

Some political geography 

Austrian weekly Profil has a chilling report [DE] about how bad things are in Moldova: 'In the black hole of Europe' is the speculative title. As an old Albania-watcher, I remember this kind of titles being reserved for sensationalist stories about that country, but now we read, at the end of paragraph one: "At an average monthly income of 60 dollars, Moldova is today the poorest country in Europe, even behind Albania." Coincidentally, Herbert Lackner's opinion-piece [DE] in the same issue about provincial political corruption in FPÖ-dominated Carinthia appears under the stupid heading 'Moldova in Central Europe'.

Central Europe, that's where this weblog is published, as I have tried to tell the kind linkers at Fistful of Euros. They had me under Western Europe initially, but an appeal on my part managed to convince them to reclassify this blog according to my geographical desires. Only, it didn't stick. Yesterday I noticed that Ostracised from Österreich is back in Western Europe, and Central Europe is again restricted to the Czech Republic and two blogs from the Baltics. Ta.

Meanwhile, the ideal economic system for Volker Plass, the pragmatic top candidate of the Green fraction competing for the elections to the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber [Wirtschaftskammer], a kind of institutionalised lobby for all Austrian businesses, is "Austria as a green Finland" [DE], by which he means "an economy that mainly relies on research and innovation, that has an efficient and very effective social net, and that has the best education system in the world." These are goals I and most people will agree with. The hair in the soup for me is that Austria is, well, not Finland. Therefore I think that a vision for this economy should also respond to its location at the wealth barrier between the former West and East, and the excellent links into the latter. This means that neighbourhood and increasing integration of high-wage and medium-wage (on a global scale) economies will remain a local fact for several decades. I don't believe the best strategy for Austria is to stake everything exclusively on high-value-added high-tech (and tourism). There are structural deficits, mainly the lack of large Austrian-owned industrial companies, that pose obstacles to such an approach. I believe there is more to be done to benefit from lower cost-bases in the close vicinity, for example by developing a smarter approach to labor migration. This should be a natural political topic for Green (and other) entrepreneurs anyway.

2005-02-17

NYC 

Below you will see pictures two, three, and four in the history of this blog, so stay tuned. Picture two shows the shade of your correspondent being processed on Ellis Island, in front of the Statue of Liberty, which had its unbecoming rightward tilt corrected. Blessings of the digital age. Picture three has some orange. On the upside, the orange cloth is surprisingly strong and structured. On the downside, it really is some kind of festival, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists engaged in a rather pointless kind of mass rally in favour of nothing. It's not just gates, it's crowds streaming under gates. Picture four shows big-and-strikingly-beautiful Cosmopolis (Manhattan-novel of same title by Don DeLillo was read by correspondent on the plane for self-indoctrination). What really kills me are the hundreds of stretch limos. In the book, 28-year old billionaire Eric is driving in one through Manhattan to get a hair-cut. Melman, his chief of finance, joins him in the car, interrupting her running, and remarks:
"All these limos, my god, that you can't tell one from another."
He narrowed his eyes and nodded.
"We could be kids on prom night," she said, "or some dumb wedding wherever. What's the charm of identical?"
He glanced out the window, speaking softly, so cool to the subject that he had to deliver his remark to the steel and glass out there, the indifferent street.
"That I'm a powerful person who chooses not to demarcate his territory with singular driblets of piss is what? Is something I need to apologize for?"
Also plane-read a book by Princeton political scientists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, "Why Deliberative Democracy?"
Most fundamentally, deliberative democracy affirms the need to justify decisions made by citizens and their representatives. Both are expected to justify the laws they would impose on one another. In a democracy, leaders should therefore give reasons for their decisions, and respond to the reasons that citizens give in return. (p.3)
A second characteristic of deliberative democracy is that the reasons given in this process should be accessible to all the citizens to whom they are addressed. To justify imposing their will on you, your fellow citizens must give reasons that are comprehensible to you. If you seek to impose your will on them, you owe them no less.(p.4)
The approach has its roots in Habermas and Rawls, and Gutmann & Thompson's case is a strong one, although it is clear that the rival account 'Aggregative Democracy' is encountered frequently in practice and has its own merits, which are related to the Posner quote I praised in an earlier post.
The deliberative conception, as we have indicated, considers the reasons that citizens and their representatives give for their expressed preferences. It asks for justifications. The aggregative conception, by contrast, takes the preferences as given... It requires no justification for the preferences themselves, but seeks only to combine them in various ways that are efficient and fair. (p.13)
Ok, so here are the pictures:
Liberty

The Gates

Cosmopolis

2005-02-03

Five years of Schwarz-Blau 

The current Austrian government coalition between the conservative ÖVP (party-colour black [schwarz]) and the far-right FPÖ (party-colour blue [blau]) was sworn in five years ago, on 4 February 2000. At the bottom of this post, some links to commentary on the anniversary in the Austrian press.

Many Austrians share my political distance to the government for the fact that it includes the FPÖ. That party, in the way it is since Jörg Haider's rise to the chairmanship in 1986, cannot represent me politically. It gained 27% in 1999, 10% in 2002, and current polls see it at 7%. FPÖ ministers in the government have fared worse than average: the important ministry of transport, infrastructure and technology has witnessed four different FPÖ ministers since 2000, for a reason. The equally important ministry of social affairs, also headed by FPÖ, has suffered from party-political infighting, poor communication, and shaky legislation.

As a right-wing government following on the heels of Austria's longliving post-war 'big' coalition between ÖVP and the socialdemocrat SPÖ, the initial impetus of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition was to shake off some of the consensual paralysis in economic policy. The coalition touted a zero-deficit as a goal for its own sake during its first term in government. Now, in the second term, deficits have returned for the sake of a tax-cut, the big economic topic this time around. I consider both initiatives as basically positive for the sake of economic sustainability. In a way, Austria needed an economically right-wing government in this period (at least one without the SPÖ in its old mindset) to adapt to the economic present. Something similar can be said about the painful but necessary push for pension reform.

Official government policy has been less influenced by the far right than what was feared initially. The big international outcry over the FPÖ's inclusion in the government may be to thank for that.

Nevertheless, the cultural atmosphere of politics in this country has been impregnated with conservative, and sometimes also far-right ideology to its detriment. Beyond crisis management and necessary adaptation to external changes, it is hard to see what vision of change for a better future this government espouses. (It is symptomatic that education and R&D-policy are two of the areas where it has fared worst.) Because of that, I still don't know why I should support this government for reasons other than a fear that the alternatives might be worse. Conservatives seem to believe that this is enough as a motivation for political engagement. In that sense, I'm not one of them.

Die Presse: Fünf Jahre Schwarz-Blau: Das Experiment ist gelungen
Der Falter: Fünf Jahre Schwarz-Blau
Profil: Blues, Schweiß und Tränen
Der Standard: Bürgerliche Umarmung

2005-02-01

Watching the Iraqi election on TV 

A strange feeling, to tune into a live transmission of George Bush's comments on CNN on Sunday and to find nothing wrong with his joy and pride. I still remember the deaths caused by the invasion - my disagreement with the politicians of the coalition over legitimacy will not go away. Yes, but now it's a new day, and, for however briefly, the Iraqi people are in charge.

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