I liked Marty Peretz' column in The New Republic today - as much as one can like an inchorenet politically charged rant. The column, interestingly, reveals more about Peretz than about John Kerry, the putative subject of the piece.
Now, of course, the WMD rationale for war has dissolved like a mirage in the Mesopotamian desert. For Kerry and for Democrats, this has simply dissolved the case for the war. Finis. Which leaves us with the dilemma of how we deal with regimes that commit genocide. Saddam's genocides seem not to have provoked Kerry at all, nor, for that matter, did the genocide in Rwanda. (When U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright finally tried to focus the Clinton administration on the government-sponsored massacres there, Kerry was not exactly an ally.) It is true that, during the first presidential debate, Kerry limply suggested that perhaps, as a last resort, some American troops should be sent to Darfur, Sudan. But I haven't heard him mention it much since, which says something about his seriousness.Genocide: the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. Peretz, like those who want to apply the term to Israel's dealing with the Palestinians, is willfully ignoring its plain meaning. I assume he is referring to Saddam's murders of roughly 200,000 Kurds and 50,000 Iraqi Shiites in the late 80s and early 90s, respectively. These were reprehensible but they were not genocide because Saddam did not attempt to wipe out either the Kurds of the Shiites.
It may seem like I am splitting hairs here - and if you kill 250,000 people does it matter whether you intended to destroy a race or a culture? The answer is that it does. Collectively, the community of nations - humanity - has come to the conclusion that large numbers of massacres and murders is something we have no choice but to accept - try totalling up the number of people that die in the various wars in Africa every year - but that we won't tolerate efforts to erace races or cultures from the face of the globe. Its important, therefore, not to misuse the word genocide.
Moving on to Peretz' broader point - the humanitarian case for war - I think its difficult to argue the U.S. has accomplished much on that front. A study by researchers at John Hopkins published today puts the total death toll as a result of the war at 100,000. Now this is not a tally of deaths directly attributed to U.S. military action, which stands at ~15,000. Rather, this is a tally of deaths that result from increased mortality rates in Iraq now compared to Saddam's Iraq - that is, one is much more likely to die of violence, lack of adequate health care, and so on in today's Iraq - 1.5 times more likely if you exclude residents of Fallujah from the equation. This 1.5 amounts to roughly 100,000 more deaths.
Given that Saddam, according to the best information available, was killing about 2,000 people a year before America invaded, its difficult to see what the humanitarian case is. Besides the hundred thousand extra deaths in the last 18 months, we have created a violent situation that will result in lots more deaths for years to come.
By the way: conservatives have been linking to this post that supposedly "demolishes" the study mentioned above. The criticism seems to be that its tricky to approximate a non-uniform distribution like violence in Iraq, which is not spread uniformly throughout the country but rather concentrated in a number of pockets. However, given that you have a large number of samples this shouldn't be a problem - the probability that your result is skewed because a disproportionately large number of people you polled lived in violent areas goes to zero. The "demolishing" is therefore reduced to pointing out that the study, believe it or not, has a finite sample size and comes with a margin of error and a confidence interval.