Pro-War to Peacenik 

Susan Collins and the precautionary principle

Susan Collins is a Republican U.S. senator who represents the people of Maine. She voted for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2007, four years into the Iraq War, when at least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed and the hunt for Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction had been called off, Collins nonetheless voted to extend the war. In 2008 she voted the same way. More deaths followed.

Late last year, 1 million or 2 million dead civilians later, most U.S. occupation troops finally pulled out of Iraq. Remember the main argument for staying there, that we were fighting "them" over "there" to avoid having to fight them in the streets of American cities? It's only been a few months and anything can happen, but no one--­not even Republicans like Collins--seems worried about hordes of Iraqi jihadis rampaging through Baltimore. Obviously, they were wrong. The danger was false. Thus the war was unjustified.

"Despite the extraordinary heroism of our troops and the brilliance of our military leaders," she wrote in a March 13 letter, "one has to wonder whether the corrupt central government [of Hamid Karzai] and with the history of Afghanistan, whether we can truly achieve the goal of a secure country."

The letter called for a speedier withdrawal than President Barack Obama has announced.

Too bad it comes a decade late for the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Back in 2001, when she cast votes in favor of dropping cluster bombs, full of brightly colored canisters designed to attract and blow up curious Afghan girls and boys by the thousands, Collins had a choice.

She could have listened to the experts. People who had been to Afghanistan. People on the left. After 9/11 the left--which does not include Democrats who were so eager to be seen as "tough" on terrorism that they willingly went along with a war--was against invading Afghanistan.

After the Taliban were driven into the mountains and/or melted into the population, Republicans like Collins thought they'd been vindicated. The Taliban are not really gone, we on the left said. They're just waiting.

Then we installed Hamid Karzai.

Those of us on the left, who had actually been to Afghanistan, warned that Karzai had no political base. That his regime was hopelessly corrupt. That he was putting warlords, who ought to have been in prison for crimes they committed during the civil war, into positions of power and influence. That his government was universally despised. We said that stuff 10 years ago. So it's a little galling to hear warmongers like Collins talk about Karzai's corruption as if she were reporting information that came to light recently.

Collins violated the precautionary principle--a precept enshrined in the law of various countries, including in Europe. A politician who proposes an action that might cause harm is obligated to present concrete evidence that it won't cause harm. If she fails to meet that burden of proof, the proposal is rejected. In the case of Collins and the other Republican and Democratic legislators, all the evidence they needed that the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq would do more harm than good was as close as their computer or nearest bookstore.

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