Skip to comments.A Just War (Andrew Sullivan)
Posted on 03/09/2003 12:12:59 PM PST by giotto
The strongest emotional appeal of the movement to stop a war against Saddam Hussein is the notion that peace should always be given the moral benefit of the doubt over war. War is always "failure," as French president Jacques Chirac has put it. Almost every single religious leader - from the Pope on down - has argued that peace is almost always morally preferable to war; and that this war - whatever its strategic or political justification - is simply unjust. Indeed, many of these authorities have gone right up to the edge of saying that peace, under any circumstances, deserves not only a chance, but an almost infinite number of chances before we resort to force of arms.
But this ignores the fact that some wars obviously are moral. The war against Hitler killed millions - but it was also just. And no sane person, after all, is opposed to peace as such. The question is: Peace at what risk? Peace on whose terms? Peace for how long? Looked at this way, war is not only sometimes a moral option - as theologians have long argued. Sometimes, it's the only moral option we have.
That case holds powerfully today. First off, we are not initiating a war. We are not the aggressor. We are still in a long process of defense. It's hard to remember now but this war is not a new one. It's merely the continuation of one begun in 1990 by Saddam whe he invaded Kuwait. Recall that when that war was won twelve years ago, no peace treaty was signed. Instead, a truce was arranged on clear and unequivocal conditions: that Saddam completely disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction. Since no one - including the U.N. inspectors - believes that such disarmament has happened, the truce no longer holds. The issue is therefore not whether to start a war. It is whether to end one by rewarding the aggressor and simply ignoring his infractions of the truce. Such a policy, in as much as it clearly rewards unprovoked aggression, is immoral and imprudent.
Have we exhausted every single alternative to war? Well, we've spent the last twelve years trying to find peaceful ways to get Saddam to live up to his promises. Waves of inspections; countless resolutions; occasional use of targeted force under the Clinton administration; crippling economic sanctions; and finally a last attempt under U.N. Resolution 1441 to give Saddam a last, last chance to disarm. He was told three months ago by unanimous U.N. agreement that he had to disarm immediately and completely. He still hasn't. I can't think of any recent war that tried so hard for so long to give peace a chance. This isn't so much a "rush to war" as some have bizarrely called it. It's been an endless, painstaking, nail-biting crawl.
But can the war be legitimate without the sanction of the U.N.? Of course it can be. Traditional just war theory leaves the responsibility for grave decisions like these to the relevant authorities, i.e. the parties to the dispute and the countries planning on taking action. We do not live under a world government. We live under a system in which nation states wield authority, in cooperation with one another. A coalition of the willing - a majority of the states in Europe, the U.S., Britain and other countries - easily qualifies as a legitimate source of authority for launching war.
Is there a credible alternative? Well, there is one obvious alternative to war: continuation of economic sanctions on Iraq. But these sanctions have long been abused by Saddam to allow him to finance his weapons programs, while leaving thousands of Iraqis, including children, to starve or die for lack of good medical care. Is it moral to allow this intense suffering to continue indefinitely while we congratulate ourselves for giving "peace" a chance? We have long been told that these sanctions have resulted in the deaths of countless thousands of innocents, including children. Is it more moral to maintain that horror rather than to try and win a quick war to depose Saddam, free the Iraqi people from tyranny and end the sanctions?
War is an awful thing. But it isn't the most awful thing. No one disputes the evil of Saddam's brutal police state. No one doubts he would get and use weapons of mass destruction if he could. No one can guarantee he would not help Islamist terrorists get exactly those weapons to use against the West or his own regional enemies. No one disputes that the Iraqi people would be better off under almost any other regime than the current one - or that vast numbers of them, including almost every Iraqi exile, endorses a war to remove the tyrant. If we can do so with a minimun of civilian casualties, if we do all we can to encourage democracy in the aftermath, then this war is not only vital for our national security. It is a moral imperative. And those who oppose it without offering any credible moral alternative are not merely wrong and misguided. They are helping to perpetuate a deep and intolerable injustice.
February 27, 2003, Time.
copyright © 2000, Andrew Sullivan
If we can do so with a minimun of civilian casualties, if we do all we can to encourage democracy in the aftermath, then this war is not only vital for our national security. It is a moral imperative. And those who oppose it without offering any credible moral alternative are not merely wrong and misguided. They are helping to perpetuate a deep and intolerable injustice.
I'm beginning to think that the basis for the Left's pacifism is not concern for humanity, not even hatred of war, but rather a complete lack of a moral compass. Moral relativism has reigned unchallenged in academia and pop culture for so long that they seem to have lost the ability to delineate right from wrong, at least judging from their words and their actions.
They don't want to, either. A fair percentage of them are clintonista types who want to live exactly as they please, doing whatever they want and getting whatever they want, no matter the cost to others. I have noticed, to my great regret, that some of my colleagues at work and some of my relatives, who live much less than moral lives themselves, really HATE President Bush. Such people not only want to do whatever they want, whenever they want, they detest those who live good lives. Good people provide a mirror that the evil don't want to look into.
In other words, Appeasement.
The hypocrisy and dishonesty of most of the anti-war folks I've listened to, is a humongous blot on their cause.
#1 reason for disarming Iraq, all others flow from this risk to all of us. Sullivan gets it right, this will be just and moral and the proof of that will be when we see the Iraqis vigorously remove those images of this madman from their lives. I really looking forward to that day, it won't be long now!
I agree with this however this is not the motivation of the anti war freaks, the French, Germans and other ilk.....
I supported our intervention in Bosnia. The situation there was so bad, that intervention seemed the only solution. And, however imperfect its been, at least the killing has stopped. We are left with another problem, Clinton invited Iranians into Bosnia, and there is still a potential for Muslim subversion there, but that is a problem to be managed at the source, which is to say, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
As for Kosovo, I was very uncomfortable for two reasons. One, the KLA were well known as Europe's favorite heroin smugglers, and it seemed unlikely such folk could produce the kind of enlightened government we were hoping for. And, secondly, the whole thing was just unbelievably ham-handed, with the crowd in Brussels picking our targets for us, and giving the Serbs our target list at the same time they gave it to us. And, finally, the fact that we left ourselves no means of following up on the ground, had that been necessary.
The outcome in which the few Serbs left are being "cleansed" was also forseeable. It was an ugly situation, and there wasn't going to be a pretty solution in any case. So it wouldn't surprise me to see people coming down on either side of this. It was clear that the EU wasn't going to deal with the problem. It wasn't clear that turning the territory over to the KLA was going to make things better.
The situation in Haiti is different. The Duvaliers needed to go, and they were pushed out. But we intervened to bring in Aristide, who was a psychopath, and a murderer. There was no advantage to the US in returning him to power. So, yes, I opposed this action, which I considered to be immoral. A military government is not automatically worse than a pseudo-democratic government under a leftist murderer.
Clinton's pre-9-11 bombing of Iraq was "just", but after thousands of American civilians were murdered by militant terrorists, thousands of Kurds brutally gassed by Saddam, and with proof of both Saddam's continuing campaign to obtain WMDs and his over 12 years of UN inspection "deception" - Jimmy says there is no just cause today. What's wrong with this picture?
I've made this argument myself, but I'm no longer convinced it's a good one. For one thing, I've never heard a Bush Administration official use it. What's more, it doesn't make for consistent foreign policy: we have not signed a peace treaty with North Korea, only an armistice.
The issue is therefore not whether to start a war. It is whether to end one by rewarding the aggressor and simply ignoring his infractions of the truce. Such a policy, in as much as it clearly rewards unprovoked aggression, is immoral and imprudent.
Not always. We can certainly tolerate an evil, should eradicating it cause a greater evil.
...finally a last attempt under U.N. Resolution 1441 to give Saddam a last, last chance to disarm. He was told three months ago by unanimous U.N. agreement that he had to disarm immediately and completely. He still hasn't.
It's a tad self-serving to argue that Saddam's non-compliance with the UN is somehow a casus belli when you yourself are completely indifferent, if not hostile to the UN. Oh, I know it makes for fine rhetoric to appeal to that superlatively august international body, but it's dishonest rhetoric.
A coalition of the willing - a majority of the states in Europe, the U.S., Britain and other countries - easily qualifies as a legitimate source of authority for launching war.
But, as authority is intimately tied up with its purpose, I must ask: war for what purpose? If we are wearing a certain hawkish hat, that which reads "Liberators of Iraq," we are effectively arrogating to ourselves jurisdiction over Iraq, which properly speaking belongs only to God and the Iraqi people.
Well, there is one obvious alternative to war: continuation of economic sanctions on Iraq. But these sanctions have long been abused by Saddam to allow him to finance his weapons programs, while leaving thousands of Iraqis, including children, to starve or die for lack of good medical care.
Another argument I once thought about using, but I knew I would only use it to score debating points against peaceniks, and not to reach the truth. Frankly, I often doubt the justice of economic sanctions on rogue nations. Such sanctions destroy the livelihood of people who have no say in how their government is run, while only increasing the looting of the tyrants who oppress them. And if sanctions are in themselves immoral, we only have ourselves to blame for imposing them.
No one doubts he would get and use weapons of mass destruction if he could.
I doubt he would use them. I would hope that I'm not nobody.
No one can guarantee he would not help Islamist terrorists get exactly those weapons to use against the West or his own regional enemies.
Well, this assumes Saddam has a death-wish, which "no one can guarantee." Sullivan demands certainty only from his opponents, and not from himself. He cannot guarantee that an occupied Iraq will be a safer Iraq, nor that our threats of invasion will not in fact push Saddam into the hands of terrorists. He can't even guarantee that Saddam is in fact collaborating with terrorists, unless the administration's case has improved since the Powell speech(which was once convincing for me, but has ceased to be so).
Unfortunately, recent US action is taking away all of Saddam's options. We are turning him into a man who has nothing to lose, and driving him to hardline Islamicists to shore up his weakened regime. But I doubt Saddam would have done this on his own; it is the fruit of our folly.
I'm beginning to think that the basis for the Left's pacifism is not concern for humanity, not even hatred of war, but rather a complete lack of a moral compass.
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