Rationalizations for War

There would be few people who could claim to hate tyranny as much as I do. But the mark of civilization is that your actions are guided not by even the strongest and most understandable emotions but by sound, principled judgment.

In the case of Saddam Hussein one cannot dispute the validity of hating him – he admired Stalin and seemed to share Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism. He was a mass murderer. Certain actions that would have brought him down, destroyed his rule in Iraq, could even be championed, within limits.

The limits are those contained in the proper role of the military of a free society. The military, which is an arm of the country's legal authority or government, has a specific function to perform, derived from the purpose government is supposed to have. This purpose is to secure the rights of the citizenry, plain and simple. The military is supposed to go into action when these rights are about to be or have actually been violated by foreign armies. Only when the citizenry is being aggressed upon by such armies may military force be deployed.

There are thousands of morally and politically objectionable policies practiced across the globe but these are not what the military of a free country is supposed to attend to. Just as body or security guards are sworn to protect the client for whom they work, and just as they would be derelict in the performance of their duties if they left their post to embark on various operations unrelated to that purpose, so the military of a free society is supposed to take a strictly defensive posture.

Oddly enough, all that talk about weapons of mass destruction gave powerful indication that many officials of the American and British governments had a strong inkling of this defensive military philosophy. For when it can be shown to be true, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the government of a country that has a history of hostility toward one's own is in possession or building weapons of mass destruction, then this may be treated as a threat, just as it would be rational to treat as a threat your mortal enemy's packing of a gun in your vicinity.

The details would be different in each case, of course, but all the talk of weapons of mass destruction intimated that Saddam Hussein was nearly ready to go after the USA. Moreover, there was that UN resolution that suggested, also, that Saddam was a hostile regime, set to embark on aggression (as he did vis-à-vis Kuwait). With all of that the invasion could be made to look plausible.

Without the credibility of WMDs, however, the rationale for the US and British military going after Iraq completely evaporates. Saddam's leading a tyrannical regime will not cut it, however much that would be reason to have some private party, not a member of our military forces, assassinate him.

So, the talk about the WMDs was vital to prop up Bush's and Blair's military stance. Now, as some of us had argued all along, that talk has been officially established to be utterly groundless. More importantly, it was never given sufficient support in the first place.

Blair said the other day that he sticks to his guns about the justice of invading Iraq because no one can deny that it was a good thing to bring down Hussein. As Blair put it, echoing Bush, when he authorized an inquiry into the intelligence snafu that he claims lay at the source of the invasion, "Whatever is discovered as a result of that inquiry, I do not accept that it was wrong to remove Saddam Hussein or the world is not a safer or better place for that."

But this will not wash because from the fact that Hussein's demise is a good thing it doesn't follow at all that US and British military forces were justified in bringing him down. No, it would not have been wrong for some people to remove Saddam Hussein but it was wrong for the US and British military to invade Iraq.

Now that may seem like a trivial technicality to some but, just as in the law, in international affairs such technicalities are anything but trivial. (Nor has it been and does it continue to be such for all the families who lost loved ones in Iraq.) Civilized societies do not make use of what amounts to a defensive military force for the sake of repairing the ills of the world. Not only does it amount to taking the bulk of our defensive forces AWOL but the policy would be utterly fruitless, given all the bad regimes the USA and UK would have to chase down around the globe in this role of "removing" rotten leaders. It is wrong for the military of a free society to strive to become "the 911 of the world" (as one morally obscene bumper sticker tells it of the US Marines).

At this point many will bring up Adolph Hitler, yet that would be misguided. Hitler's ally, Japan, attacked the US and that was an open invitation to go after him – at least if that's how it actually played itself out. If your best friend comes at me, and you urge him on and support him, you become fair game in my attempt to defend myself. Nothing like that happened in the case of Iraq.

February 5, 2004


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