Thursday, October 14, 2004

Debate on the War in Iraq (vs. Secret Agent Man)

I have tremendous respect for my (Catholic) friend "SAM"'s thinking and writing skills. That's why I am highly interested in this discussion. I will respond to comments he made in the "St. Blog's Parish Hall" Main Forum. I don't claim to know all the ins and outs of just war theory and various legal-ethical criteria for when war is justified, but I do have some general thoughts on the matter which I would like to try to convey (and see if they can stand up to scrutiny). SAM's words will be in blue:

[comments made on 11 September]

How do you "stop" someone from doing what you suspect that he might do in the future?

By disabling his capability to do what can be reasonably surmised that he will do, given the chance. If you catch a dirty old man with thousands of pictures of nude boys and a list of phone numbers of young boys (and he has a record of past molestation), you stop him from acting further and doing what anyone can see that he will likely do (after all, they nail men who are going to meet some young girl, by police officers pretending to be young girls on the Internet; that's preventive; a "preemptive strike").

If you catch a drug dealer with $10,000,000 of cocaine or some other drug, you confiscate the drugs. They weren't going to be used to create a fake white sand beach.

Likewise, if you have sufficient reason to believe that Saddam Hussein has nuclear capabilities, and the will to use such horrible weapons, and great hostility towards the US (and many of his own people), and connections to terrorists, you take action before something terrible happens.

As you indicate, the menace must be sufficiently immediate so as to justify dispensing with nice concerns about misinterpretations, future changes of heart, unanticipated events which may remove the threat altogether, etc.

I don't see how it has to be "immediate" so much as reasonably certain given present capabilities and will.

. . . did Iraq present that degree of immediate menace to the United States on March 19, 2003. I don't think it did.

Tyrants getting hold of nuclear weapons have been a legitimate concern for almost 60 years now. Again, "immediacy" is less ethically important and relevant than deleterious longterm consequences and likelihoods.

I think Iraq was a legitimate subject of great anxiety, but great anxiety about being burglarized isn't the same thing as waking up to find a stranger in your bedroom at 3:00 o'clock in the morning.

Obviously, we had an idea who might "burglarize" us or cause a possible proliferation of WMD to terrorists. It isn't like we are in our "bed" fantasizing about a completely fictional, paranoid "attack" that never comes. No; the proper analogy is to find a burglar out on the lawn (or even on the other side of the state) with plans to invade your house (or other houses with people you know and care about), and connections to other bad guys, and lots of weapons, and a criminal record (etc.). The anxiety thus becomes grounded in highly rational, deductive reality and straightforward prediction (in other words, compelling circumstantial evidence).

If I may be permitted to use Aristotle's distinction, that a "tyrannical" regime is one run for the personal benefit of the ruler to the exclusion of the common good, I think it's arguable that no regime is ever entirely "tyrannical."

I see, so then we are never (or only very rarely) justified in overthrowing tyrants and dictatorships because they don't exist by definition? This is an odd way to define away problems and to justify inaction. I know that is not your intent, but the result comes out practically the same, far as I can tell.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a/k/a Planned Parenthood), Saddam Hussein's abortion laws were far more restrictive than our own.

So were Adolf Hitler's . . .

Of course Saddam Hussein had no regard for the dignity of womanhood, mothering, or children. The man was, as Christopher Hitchens says, the head of a sociopathic crime family. But is it possible to portray Iraq under his rule as a society where the common good did not, in any respect, exist? I don't think so, . . .

I don't see that these fine-tuned distinctions are all that relevant, given all that we do know about Saddam . . . Again, one could say that about Hitler: all the good stuff he did for Germany and the German people.

So, what do we mean when we talk of "tyrannical regimes" which may be legitimately abolished by the unilateral decision of a foreign power?

It was not unilateral; it was sanctioned by the UN, and some 30 other countries have participated with us. But we mean regimes which are notoriously in violation of human rights, which are led by malevolent rulers, who have the will and capability of developing and using WMD, and who have known links to terrorists.

I would hope that the first thing we mean is that we're willing to discuss a level of criminality, evil, and abusiveness that we're willing to stomach before we decide to destroy another state.

Saddam's regime had that in great abundance. But note that taking down a tyranny is not the same as "destroying a state." Did we "destroy" Germany in WWII?

If any evil justified such a war, we should have to invade Sweden because of this. [he linked to a Christianity Today article]

This is curious reasoning. You think we could justifiably attack Sweden because one man was jailed for a month for supposed "hate speech" against homosexuals and suppression of freedom of religion and speech, yet mass murder of one's own people and designs to develop WMD and connections to worldwide terrorist networks are not sufficient? Wow . . .

If we decide not to invade Sweden, we've committed ourselves to accepting the continued existence of a regime that punishes or imprisons Christians for spreading the Gospel.

There are all sorts of sins and evils in the world. I don't see how giving one example of some tyranny in one state automatically means that we shouldn't attack any tyrannous regime. I've never understood this reasoning. One can't do everything. But that doesn't mean that one does nothing. If we couldn't do good acts simply because we are being so-called "hypocritical" by not doing every conceivable analogous good act, then we would do nothing at all, for to do anything would constitute automatic hypocrisy, which is a sin. So it is a vicious circle (and a rationalization for doing nothing, which is a sin of omission). In scale of evil, I see no comparison between Sweden and Iraq. Perhaps this was merely a reductio ad absurdum on your part (I'm not sure), but I don't think it succeeds in that purpose, either, because the comparison is too weak.

After that, it's a question of how much punishment, how frequently, how terrible, etc., a regime has to inflict on Christians before we'll act.

If genocide or other systematic mass murder is involved, I think we should act. We should act, therefore, in the Sudan. As for Iraq, we know Saddam killed his own people by the many thousands, and we had every reason to believe he would do much worse to outward enemies, if he had the power to do so.

Is America's addiction to abortion on demand, a never-ending river of pornography, and an exploitative economic system sufficiently "tyrannical" to qualify as a regime that should be destroyed? More people have died at the hands of American abortionists than Saddam and all his henchmen.

This is why I argued right after 9-11 that America was far past sufficient evil to warrant divine judgment. But you and I had a very spirited dispute about that and even recently you reiterated that you still disagreed with me. So what is it that you don't agree with in that belief of mine? That America should be judged? But you seem to argue that here (or something similar) -- at least by rhetorical analogy -- , so I am confused. I do confess that I would have to think quite a bit about why we shouldn't be destroyed as a regime. For one thing, there are no very large nations that are not themselves committing genocide against the preborn, are there? So who would destroy us? According to biblical history, God can use one wicked nation, however, to judge another. I argued that this may indeed have been what was happening in 9-11, even though it was an unspeakably evil act. But you vigorously disagreed, and still do (somehow). So please enlighten me as to where we agree and disagree here. Yet even if we are a "wicked" nation (and I argued that we are quite arguably the most wicked one, because we have more knowledge of what is right), God could still use us to judge another wicked nation, just as Babylon judged Israel.

[see my paper, The Judgment of Nations: Biblical Passages and Commentary]

The concept of tyrannical regimes that demand obliteration at our hands (or anyone else's) is a very dangerous idea.

That may be, but if we never did that, the world would be far worse than it is now. Were you against the Cold War, too? Were we to simply allow Communism to flourish unchecked because it is "difficult" and "dangerous" to ethically decide when to act to counter such tyranny and despotism? I think your position will ultimately create more problems than you think it solves (just as pacifism does).

It's true that, when we invaded Iraq, Saddam had used nerve gas to kill thousands and thousands of innocent people. But we weren't attacking Iraq to save those people. No use of American military power in 2003 could have saved them. They'd been dead for years before the first M1 rolled into Iraq.

Obviously. But this misses the point, which is precisely that if Saddam had the willingness to do such a thing to his own people, he would certainly do it against us and others (like Israel), especially since we had already defeated him in the Gulf War. So you see relevant facts but you analyze them wrongly. But beyond all that, I do happen to believe that it is a good thing to liberate peoples from tyrants like Saddam and the Taliban. Call that "naive idealism" or whatever you like, but I think it is very much in line with the many biblical injunctions to rescue the oppressed and to save those who are being led to slaughter. We talk about loving everyone in the world abstractly, as Christians, yet so often we'll do nothing to help rescue those being led to slaughter, simply because they are from another country, and due to all the UN- or French-type legal "diplomatic" and Chamberlain-like jargon that prevents much good action.

Should we have used military power at the time? I think, arguably, we (or someone else) should have.

Apparently you are forgetting that the UN and international mandate that we were operating on then forbade us from getting involved in internal Iraqi affairs. That's what we get when we depend totally on an international mandate: it prevents actions which you yourself think are justifiable. So you can't have it both ways: you can't be opposed to our more (not totally) "unilateral" action, and be in favor of the previous scenario in the Gulf War, which was designed only to get Saddam out of Kuwait (and possibly Saudi Arabia). We played that game then, and that's how it worked (Kerry talks the same game now, yet voted against the Gulf War which had every element he is demanding for the present war). Whatever one thinks of that situation, many thousands of Iraqis died at the hands of Saddam after we left. Thus, it has been argued that the present war is a continuation of the former, which met just war criteria more strictly (and "classically") than the present war.

But we didn't, and we're not entitled to do a selective rewind of history to justify present policy according to situations which have passed into history.

That's beside the point again. Saddam's killing of the Kurds showed what an evil man he is. We don't want such a man and regime getting hold of nuclear and biological weapons, because he would use them, and/or deliver them to terrorists who are even more willing than he is to use them (and to also kill themselves in so doing, if that is what it takes). But if our going there prevented more innocents from being slaughtered, then I say we did the right thing in that regard, too. We're using the military might that we have, not to conquer land, but to liberate people from tyranny and to prevent horrible use of WMD.

Shall we next invade Turkey and give the Armenian genocide as our justification? It's an absurd argument, . . .

Yes it is, but the only problem is that it is not the proper rationale for why we are there. I'm not sure anyone in government has argued in this way (though they may have). The example is used to show that Saddam is evil; it indirectly confirms that he should have been taken out because of his horrendous potential for even greater evil.

and President Bush's use of it does nothing but erode his own moral credibility.

You would have to document exactly what he said. I suspect that if he could clarify, that it would be in the sense I have argued, not in the sense of what you criticize as "absurd." In fact, we already know this, because Bush's rationale was 1) possession of WMD (or plans for same, which we KNOW he had for sure), and 2) probable links to terrorist networks.

On what moral basis would we justify choosing to save the people of Iraq, while leaving the people of Syria and North Korea in the same or similar amount of suffering?

Because 1) one can only do so much at any given time. This is especially true since Bill Clinton had gutted the military by nearly half. 2) Because Saddam had the greater willingness, capability, and means of delivering WMD, and connection to terrorists. 3) It was more related to our national security interests at this time, since there was a proximity to the terrorists and the oil reserves. That's the difference. I would favor taking some serious steps with the other two tyrannies, too. Absolutely. But one thing at a time. Again, because we can't do everything at once doesn't mean we do nothing and let the civilized world go to hell (as it was in grave danger of doing in the 30s and 40s).

I don't really know the answer to all this, except that I think civilization might be better served by a healthy prudence about invading and conquering "morally unacceptable nations."

So you tell me when we should invade? Only when they are bombing cities like London? Even then we had to be an ally with another tyrant who had killed (starved to death) 10 million of his own people (Ukrainians) in the previous decade. One might be able to make an argument that Hitler couldn't have been defeated without Russian help. Welcome to Realpolitik. I don't like it anymore than you do. But the real world involves such crazy scenarios. I'm all for prudence. I think plenty was exercised with regard to Iraq and Saddam. he had the entire 90s to straighten up his act. He did not. We were extremely prudent and patient (if not too much). I don't see how we could have been any more than we were.

Everyone's morally unacceptable, when you get right down to it. And there are higher values which can only be served by restraint and alternative strategies such as internal solutions.

So we just sit on a mountaintop and wish the bad guys away (much like Gandhi wanted to do with Hitler)?

Two wrongs don't make a right. If, having committed one wrong (an unjust attack on Iraq), one finds oneself in a position either to do good (like install a more civilized government) or compound the error (by restoring Iraq to the mercies of a sociopathic crime family), one must do the good.

But that's just it. You admit that installing the decent government is a good thing, yet you fail to see that we had to do what we did in order to accomplish that secondary benevolent goal. You think it was a bad thing to do that which we had to do to get to the good thing. I don't believe it was a "bad thing." I don't believe in "the end justifies the means" anymore than you do. I think it was fully justified by traditional just war theory which is properly developed in light of present nuclear and terrorist capabilities. Many Catholic thinkers have elaborated upon this argument (Weigel, and Novak for two, as I recall).

I believe that SAM has written quite a bit more on this topic, but I can't quickly locate it, and it is 2:40 anyway. So I will stop for now, and reply to other similar arguments as I find them.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Interesting debate. Looking back, how do you feel about your position in this debate? Time has proven that Saddam didn't have Weapons of Mass Destruction and he didn't have ties to Al-Qaeda (In fact he and Bin laden were enemies.) Knowing this, do you still think the war in Iraq was justifiable?