Satanic mill: Sacrificing others for the liberal conscience

By Matt Won

Full disclosure folks: I was a supporter of the Iraq war in the leadup to the invasion, and have spent the past few years espousing the view that “Well, we screwed up, we probably shouldn’t’ve gone in, but since we’re there, it’s best for all if we stay the course and try to see this through.”I think most Mac students still share that view. The logic is that something good might still come out of Iraq, and we can’t just abandon the fledgling Iraqi government and leave the Iraqi people in the hell that is sure to follow.
We all remember what happened the last time we abandoned the Iraqis.

These are good intentions, but the current debate on Iraq is just the latest offering of the hundreds of millions of lives and trillions of dollars sacrificed for the good intentions of the good people of the West.

It’s important for us noble-minded, socially-conscious people to have good intentions, and to put money behind those intentions, in order to feel good. I’m making no groundbreaking conclusion in saying that these good intentions are penitential. I fear that this drives far too many lives in our Macalester community.

William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden” is an important book. The conscience of the U2/DATA/Macalester bleeding heart liberalism is exposed and excoriated in what is among the most devastating quotation selections I have ever read.

Bob Geldof, Live 8 concert organizer, said that “Something must be done; anything must be done, whether it works or not.” We don’t help people for them, we help them for us.

It is our own personal shame, and our perception of our own past sins, that is dictating the debate on Iraq today. When I supported the war in Iraq, I did so for the following reasons. First, US and international policy on Iraq had hit a wall. 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had been killed by the first decade of economic sanctions on Iraq. The Oil-for-Food program had grown to be the worst debacle and gravest error in the history of modern global governance. American credibility and the integrity of the international order rested on a successful resolution of this dilemma.
I reasoned that an invasion and the regime it would set up were justified, because a new government could not possibly be worse for the Iraqi people than the sanctions were. Also, the leadup to the war and its occupation offered a means for the US to regain control and direction of the international order (a fanciful hope under Bush, but I honestly believe this would have been possible under Clinton).

Second, I believed Saddam did have WMD, and posed a demonstrable threat to American interests and future democracy in the area, and was a justifiable target.
Of course, I was wrong. It now appears that, impossibly, more people are dying now than under sanctions (according to Johns Hopkins). Second, Saddam had no significant WMD, which we should be endlessly thankful for, as the chaos of regime change represented the greatest opportunity for unsavory parties to obtain WMD since the fall of the Soviet Union.

I know I’m not alone in feeling absolutely sick as a liberal having supported the Iraq war (take a look at the votes on the use of force resolution). But this guilt has been translated into poisoned policy and debate.

The Democrats wanted to crucify Lieberman to die for our sins of past support for the war. This was a shameful and foolish move.

This guilt also leads to the following logic, the deadliest argument in American politics today, one that should resound with a chilling familiarity: “We’ve stayed here too long, and given up too much men, women, and money, to get out now and have those sacrifices be in vain.”

One of the first things you learn in applying economics to your life is to disregard sunk costs. Sure, a lot of people have died for Iraq, but there are still lots of good people yet unsacrificed.

The only question is how many divorces and dead daddies are we going to sacrifice on the altar of our good intentions, so that we can say that this war was not waged for nothing?

Admitting defeat is hard, admitting you were wrong is harder, but we must do so.

We need to take a hard look at what good things we can realistically expect from a continued American deployment in Iraq. Go to Vegas and see what odds you can get on there being a healthy democracy in Iraq due to American help in 5 years.

Economically speaking, the marginal benefit vastly outweighs the marginal cost. In fact, we reached the shutdown point there long ago.

We can’t win this war. We can’t win it in the future because we’ve already lost it.

This is Vietnam. It is 1968. The only real question is whether or not we’re going to throw away more lives and money until we get a superficial victory in 1975, or take heed of Indochina’s relevant example and our own general incompetence in nation-building and get out right now.

At Macalester, we’re all about good intentions. As a Christian, I’ve begun to examine these often selfish intentions. These intentions have consequences, and to my mind they are sins.

Jeffrey Sachs has a plan to end poverty by 2025. His Millennium Development Goals are complex, comprehensive, elegant, and impassioned. They are good intentions in their highest finished form, a liberal’s wet dream.

But these wet dreams are pipe dreams, and you’d be a fool to think otherwise. We’re going to misspend untold trillions and twenty years for these goals. Twenty years and trillions of dollars later, when we see that we’ve accomplished far worse than nothing, we’ll pat each other on the back, hug it out, and cry on each other’s shoulders, with reassuring whispers of “We tried, we tried, at least we tried.”

Will Jeffrey Sachs deserve to be hung for this? Maybe, but he shouldn’t be. Because to the extent that he is, he will be crucified only as a desperate last resort, to avert, at any cost, an accounting of ourselves, a hard look at the liberal conscience, at the Macalester Burden.

These monuments to our own magnanimity, this self-righteous moral masturbation, must stop. Because the starving in Soweto, the dead in Darfur, and the pimped in Polynesia find no succor in our whispers. It is only to ourselves that we’ll say in commiseration “We tried, we tried, at least we tried.”