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Brattleboro War Crimes Vote

02/19/08 7:55AM By Bill Arkin
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Arkin is a Pomfret-based military analyst who's been thinking about the Brattleboro proposal to indict President Bush and Vice President Cheney for war crimes. He thinks the idea misses a critical point.

(ARKIN) Brattleboro's upcoming vote on whether to indict President Bush and Vice President Cheney for war crimes has provoked a torrent of angry responses.

The organizers dismiss the criticism as blind Bush and Iraq war support.  And they argue that regardless of the outcome of the vote, they've achieved their goal in provoking debate.

But I'm afraid that the debate is the wrong one.  

The Brattleboro resolution, as well intentioned as it might be, employs the very same simplistic language and polarizing methods that the organizers so deplore in the Bush administration.

As much as I oppose the Iraq war, support the rights of the organizers, and applaud their motivations, on substance they are just dumbing down the very debate that they say they desire to elevate.

Take the war crimes label.  Do we really want to cheapen Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, or the campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, or what happened in Rwanda or is happening in Darfur by comparing these disasters to anything that Bush and Cheney have done?

Sure the Bush administration exaggerated and manipulated to go to war in Iraq and it has seriously mismanaged the war against terrorism.  But while these may be monumental misjudgments and failures - they are not crimes.  

And do we really think that we will strengthen the rule of law in our society through a self-created court of law in Brattleboro?  This is precisely what the Bush administration does: they unilaterally decide that law - as it exists - has to be circumvented because the threat demands it.

On weapons of mass destruction, on the nature of Iraqi society, on the initial victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have been unable to see our long term interests clearly.  I think the reason is their own exaggerated fears and their distorted belief that only they are right about the terrorist threat and everyone who opposes them is the enemy.

Bush and Cheney - they're not the enemy - they're not evil doers to be vanquished.  To say so, is just to emulate their own rhetoric and fall into the trap of further simplifying the extremely complex problems we face in the world.

Terrorists are acutely dangerous and they have no respect for the law or civil society.  But they have no prayer of destroying us and our way of life unless we let them.  The course that we need to embark on now is one of much more nuance, far less exaggeration, and empathy - even towards our enemies.

Key to understanding the invasion is that they convinced themselves that they were carrying out the only alternative to protect America.  Our military superiority blinded us to the reality that we are not going to win the war against terrorism or weapons of mass destruction through the use of force.  Now that we are embarked on the long process of recovering from these false assumptions, we need a lot less grandstanding and a lot more thoughtfulness.
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