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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

21 August 2005

Cindy Sheehan's plight

Cindy Sheehan is an angered mother; having lost her son in Iraq, she camped in front of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas and demanded to see him. What is surprising is that the media have accorded her such airtime, and that her protest is having an effect on the public.

This is not meant to suggest that the plight of soldiers and their families is separable from the overarching question of going to war—after all, the human cost of war is one of the prime considerations in deciding whether to go to war. Rather, what this story reminds us is how malleable that public is—and how emotionally strong images can impact the way that people perceive the Iraq war.

Think of Abu Ghraib. Surely, the news that a dozen soldiers amidst a few hundred thousand troops that have passed through Iraq misbehaved is not earth-shaking. Although it is important to investigate how these abuses came about, their existence should not, in itself, change the public’s support for the war.

Now, think of the call for an exit strategy, springing from the fear that American troops might have to stay in Iraq for longer than expected. Surely, this too should hardly make headlines—one needn’t be a theoretician of war to know that stabilizing a country of 20 million, and one that is divided into three factions, is a difficult task—one that might not be realize within a year or two.

And now, here comes Cindy Sheehan. That her son died in Iraq is regrettable, just as any other death in warfare is, Iraqi or otherwise. But to think that her cries could make a big difference is just as regrettable, for it highlights the light manner in which countries often accede to go to war.

What am I saying here? It’s not that systematic abuses by occupying troops should be tolerated; neither that having an exit strategy is counterproductive; nor that the human side of war should be overlooked. Rather, my point is that these turns in the road to victory should not surprise as much. War is nasty and often ruthlessness is necessary for victory; but war is also unpredictable: force has a dynamic effect—it strains people, it exhausts them, it changes them.

This is probably America’s foreign policy dilemma. From history, America has learned that war is integral to international politics, and that dialogue has limits; but America is also a country that has avoided warfare—more so that most other places on the planet; this often makes Americans forgetful of the tragedy of war and unwilling to tolerate its excesses.

It is this story that should be making headlines because it lies at the center of the public debate on the war in Iraq.

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