Monday, November 22, 2010

Why The War In Iraq Was Immoral

A couple of weeks back Bob Dutko spent some time justifying the invasion of Iraq. This was prompted by the publication of Bush's new book. In response I'd like to lay out a basic case for why I think it was wrong, and also respond to Dutko's arguments.

I see two main reasons for why it was wrong. First, it was illegal. Second, it was immoral. I'll justify these claims in turn.

The UN Charter is the supreme law of the land. It was ratified by our government and is therefore binding. People like Dutko don't really like the UN, but I don't know why that matters. Most people agree that following the law is almost always the moral course of action. Sometimes it is right to break the law, but that is a position that carries a strong presumption against it. If you don't like a law the solution is not to just go out and break it. You must persuade your fellow citizens and your government and attempt to change it. If Bush wanted to violate the UN Charter he needed first to pass a Congressional resolution saying we no longer adhere to it. To simply go out and violate the law, and then after the fact just say that you don't like a law so it doesn't matter, is almost always wrong.

The UN Charter provisions for war under 2 conditions: 1-When authorized by the Security Council and 2-In the case when it is necessary to repel an imminent attack (Article 51). Since neither of these conditions obtained, the war was illegal.

The US government attempted to claim that the Security Council did authorize war because Resolution 1441 called on Saddam to disarm or face "serious consequences." The US interpreted "serious consequences" to mean an invasion. France and Russia had made clear that they did not regard this phrase as an authorization for war, and at the time it was adopted this was the same interpretation held by US ambassador John Negroponte. So the US case seems dubious. The solution to figuring out what was intended would have been easy. Put it to a vote at the Security Council. The US knew it didn't have the support, so it didn't allow a vote. To my mind this is just contempt for the rule of law and so the war was illegal.

But this leads to the second argument against the war, which is relevant to the first argument. The war was immoral. Here's why.

A fundamental moral principle, a foundation of every moral theory as far as I know, is the principle of universality. That is, if it's wrong for you to do it then it is wrong for me to do it. This is something that is the key to Jesus' moral philosophy just as it is key to everyone else. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the hypocritical Pharisees. He tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves. Do we want them to treat us poorly and in a way that grants them special privileges? Obviously not. We must treat them in a way that does not grant special privileges to ourselves if we want to follow Jesus' maxim. War supporters like Dutko must reject the principle of universality and the golden rule.

As best as I was able to understand, this was Dutko's argument. In light of 9/11 it was necessary to look at terrorism differently and recognize that the world is very dangerous. This enormous danger had to be neutralized. We believed Saddam was dangerous because all intelligence agencies believed he had a WMD program and WMD's. He'd used them on his own people. Though the inspectors hadn't found anything Saddam wouldn't allow full access. Keep in mind that even the Democrats urged Bush to invade. Clinton himself had ordered military strikes and a resolution to remove Saddam from power.

So the logic is that if you have good reasons to believe a state is dangerous and a threat to you, you are entitled to attack them without UN authorization. So let's apply this reasoning to others. I'll use Cuba as an example.

Cuba is a state that not only has good reason to fear the United States for future attacks. Cuba has in fact been attacked via terrorism for many years, and according to Chomsky is a state that has been subjected to more terrorism than any other. Chomsky has a good article detailing some of these operations here. Consider Operation Mongoose. Consider Orlando Bosch, a man that admits to bombing a Cuban civilian airliner among many other terrorist crimes. He lives comfortably today in Miami where he plots more terrorism and enjoys a gift from President George H. W. Bush - a presidential pardon for his crimes.

Consider The Cuban Five. A group of Cubans infiltrated terrorist groups in Florida and provided the FBI with evidence of their long record of terrorism, including audio tapes of conversations implicating the terrorists. The FBI responded. By arresting the five Cuban's that had successfully infiltrated the terrorist cell. Today they rest in jail. That's absurd enough, but the point is terrorism directed at Cuba based in the United States is ongoing.

Saddam has used WMD on his own people (with US weaponry and support at the time). But the US has the distinction of being the only country to use nuclear weapons on members of a foreign country. The US is the only country to be convicted of state sponsored terrorism at the International Court of Justice due to action in Nicaragua. The United States undoubtedly possesses WMD. And the US imposes a crippling and illegal embargo on Cuba, making it even more susceptible to violence

Cuba can very plausibly argue that the United States is a threat to itself. I don't think there can be any doubt about it. So by that reasoning we must ask Dutko and those that think like him a question. Does Cuba have the moral right to bomb Washington? Forget whether they have the capacity to do it. Obviously they do not. But morally, are they entitled to do it? For Dutko to say that they are not entitled to attack is to reject the principle of universality, which is the foundation of all moral theory.

The conclusion follows in a straightforward manner. Nations do not have the moral right to attack others merely because they believe they are a potential threat. The US should not be attacking Iraq or Cuba simply due to a perceived threat. And Cuba should not be attacking the US due to a perceived threat. Both nations should follow the law. Because if you are going to affirm the principle of universality, which you must in order to have any kind of coherent moral worldview, you cannot allocate to one nation the right to attack others due to a perceived threat without granting all that right. And so the war was immoral.


Darf Ferrara said...

You often claim that the laws are passed by the plutocracy. If that is the case then it can hardly be argued that there is a presumption that the laws are the default moral coarse.

Likewise, you have shown that Bob would be inconsistent if he was to claim that US v. Iraq was moral and Cuba v. US is immoral, you haven't made any positive case that US v. Iraq was not morally justified.

That said, the war was both illegal and immoral.

Jon said...

I guess I didn't state this, but my view is that any use of force must be justified. So the burden of proof is on those that advocate war. As far as I know arguments used to justify the war involve this claim that anticipatory self defense is morally acceptable, but only for the United States. If there are other arguments I'd have to address them case by case.

I think the rule of law is the default position even in dictatorship. So for instance in Saddam's Iraq theft and murder were crimes. It's not perfect, but it's still default.