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Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Rethinking the War

1. The justification of the war switched from bad dictators with WMD to 'freeing' the people after said weapons failed to materialize. What's up with that? AND

2. From whence does the US derive its "right" to interfere/intervene in the "sovereign" affairs of other nations given its inability to maintain a straight narrative on its most recent war with Iraq?

These two questions/hypotheses then lead us back to the original starting point of this discussion and the subject of the Slate inquiry: "Knowing what we know now, was intervention then a good thing?"

1. We have to admit that from the other side of the war -- before we invaded-- there was a compelling case to be made that WMD were a threat. In retrospect we can see that both the Blair and Bush administrations may have been led to overstate the immediate danger from these weapons, or may have wanted to overstate their case, but they did so among persuasive evidence that was supported by a long history of exorbitant behavior by the Baathists, and on a long history of culpable under reaction by Washington, London, Paris, and Brussels. Blair and Bush hyped the WMD argument to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity, unethically I might add, and thus tried to sell the Western peoples a war that we had no choice but to fight. Amidst all the pomp and circumstance of the lead-up to the war, Bush declared that we had not sought this war but it was brought to us and as defenders of civilization, we had to fight it. In the words of Picard from First Contact: "The line is drawn HERE. This far and no further."

Now it was the WMD security argument that led me to tepidly denounce the war in the pages of the Free Press. In my mind, either Sadaam had weapons or he didn't. If he did, we risked upsetting the balance of deterrence and may force his hands against us. Put another way, if Sadaam had nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, we didn't want to attack for precisely this reason. I penned these sentences in the Winter 2003:

Although the people of Iraq live in submission to a highly efficient terror machine, the cost of warfare would enact a terrible toll on the population. Either urban warfare will occur and decimate the population centers, or the U.S. forces will have to surround the cities and besiege them by eliminating water and electricity. The urban warfare will, if it occurs, eat our troops alive. There is also the problem that we cannot estimate how supportive the Iraqi citizens and army will be in the face of an American-led attack. Some contend that the U.S. has a duty to protect the international order from powerful aggressive states. In viewing the United States' responsibility to protect international order, I do not see invasion as the logical conclusion. The role of the "great powers" within any given international system is to deter powerful states from aggression; if and only if that fails, do mightier states bear the burden of defeating the aggressor or aggressors. Has deterrence worked in the case of Iraq? Yes. After the Gulf War, Saddam has not attacked any of his neighbors because he could not, conventionally, and would not dare to, unconventionally. He used chemical weapons against Iraqi citizens in the 1980s and against the Kurds in the 1990s. However, he has not attacked either U.S. troops or the state of Israel with chemical weapons because he knows that were he to do so, both regional powers and world powers would wipe him off the map. Applied to Iraq, we see a preponderance of evidence to not attack. First, as mentioned above, the potentially devastating human costs of urban warfare should be enough to preclude the invasion of Baghdad. Second, there is no threat of genocide by leaving Saddam Hussein in power. Third, Iraq poses no serious threat for the U.S., and even Israel's safety seems assured. Fourth, the danger facing the U.S. from proliferation in Iraq is minimal. Fifth, there is no guarantee of stability during the "morning after" a U.S. takeover. On the political side, the case for war is a little stronger, but still unconvincing. Saddam is deterrable even though there is no civilian control of the military. The Middle East, like most clusters of Third World countries, is unstable but not extremely so, given the presence of Turkey, the U.S., and Israel. The only serious danger, therefore, is whether there will be good nuclear hygiene. To attack Iraq at this point would be both morally and politically unfounded.
I added in other places (on this blog for instance) that the threat of provoking Saddam to rage was too much of a risk, especially with Shrub butchering our foreign policy. This just goes to show that yes, the war was very much about weapons of mass destruction from the get go for good reason. This essentially mainstream view, which has been seconded by other hawks, liberals, and veteran inspectors , takes account of: the Iraqi deception and concealment programs, the failure to comply at any point with U.N. resolutions, and the preservation of secret funds, documents, and resources in Baghdad against the day when sanctions might be lifted and another bid for regional hegemony be made. (Note that Saddam's original reason, from the 70s, for wanting nuclear weapons was to avenge the 'Arab people' from the large insult dealt to them by Israel. Even Bill Clinton, in denouncing Blair and Bush, made this case in the Guardian: "[I]f we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam... In the post-cold war world, America and Britain have been in tough positions before: in 1998, when others wanted to lift sanctions on Iraq and we said no; in 1999 when we went into Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing. In each case, there were voices of dissent. But the British-American partnership and the progress of the world were preserved. Now in another difficult spot, Blair will have to do what he believes to be right. I trust him to do that and hope the British people will too." Here's Tony's speech to the parliament where he details the mainstream view.

However, for me, as it was for many IR theorists such as Mearsheimer (see his Foreign Policy article), deterrence was working. Cate provided the most recently reinteration of this on my house list: "There were other ways we could have dealt with the Iraq situation. Saddam was being contained." As I realize now, the chief blemish of that de facto policy, in which every main faction in American politics was already complicit, was that it involved a shame-faced and unstated power-sharing with Saddam Hussein with its regionally autonomous zones and constant aerial bombardment. Containment was really an unethical coexistence that was intolerable for all parties involved, civilians included. In retrospect, I give the president, his war cabinet, the British, and the Polish, a lot of credit for shouldering the responsibility.

However, there was a less emphasized, but equally apparent humanitarian argument made on behalf of the war. Many writers made the case that the humanitarian crisis under Saddam's regime prompted action on behalf of the Iraqi people. In my article against the war I asserted that if you cared about human rights you had to support invasion and now after the war, you really have to be happy that it happened. (This is not to say that you have to stand part and parcel next to the Administration.) As one theorist on Slate said:

On Sept. 10, 2001, liberal-minded people in those two countries had no reason to think that life would ever be better. Today the liberal-minded Afghanis and Iraqis have been given a somewhat shaky boost, but a boost, nonetheless, which can only encourage their fellow-thinkers in other parts of the Muslim world. Strategic goals? These are the strategic goals. Why don't people understand these goals and accomplishments? (And, therefore, why don't they lend their support, which is desperately needed, if only to undo the American blunders that Fred correctly identifies?) The blame, a lot of it, does fall on Bush, who, in addition to his other errors, has given a very muddy picture of the reasons for war and its goals, sometimes making one argument, sometimes a contradictory argument. Really, the man has a lot to answer for... But some of the blame falls as well on the anti-Bush naifs who pretend not to hear when anyone speaks about the larger reasons and goals--the people who pretend that WMD and non-existent conspiracies were the only reasons for war and pretend that the only serious goals were the arrests of a couple of men, or the achieving of a magical utopia tomorrow, and pretend that if war has still not ended, we have gotten nowhere at all. It's all too true that better leaders could have made better plans, and the French and the Germans and the United Nations could help even now, if only they would. But it ought not to be so hard to see that, even so, the prospects of the totalitarian movement are looking a lot less healthy today than they did on Sept. 10, 2001 and the prospects of Muslim liberalism are looking up, somewhat.
2. The answer to this question I put more succinctly. If you believe in human rights (thanks to Professor Means and CW for getting me to see the light on this one), there is a compelling case to be made that the enforcement of international law, especially in humanitarian crises, is necessary. Relying on markets and international private law, the law that governs commerce, travel, etc, will not work. Habermas make's a compelling case in "Philosophy in a Time of Terror" and his thoughts on Kantian Perpetual Peace that using the destructive force of capitalism to "force open" societies and democratize them is as spineless and it is heartless. Marketization often destroys the social institutions of a state without replacing them with anything, creating the fundamentalist response. If relying on international private law won't work, then a reliance on international public law would necessitate a coercive authority to impose the law on criminals. As Dante offered in his treatise on World Government, the World Government is the corrective against regimes that don't respect human rights. Obviously we don't have a world government or an international sovereign; we do, however, have an unipolar hegemon capable of enforcing the little international public law surrounding human rights, that we do have. The US has an obligation to enforce international public law. In fact, I believe in this so strongly that I have begun to agitate for the US to intervene in Darfur where senseless slaughter is occurring.

This war put the final nail in the coffins of libertarian approaches to foreign policy for me. While I am not a raving fan of interventionist foreign policy, I believe that internationalism is necessary for a great power with occasional boughts of interventionism for egregious cases of human rights violations. The difference between the interventionism and internationalism is: interventionism looks like Bush I on Haiti and Clinton on Kosovo, Bosnia and Palestine; internationalism means being a better friend to every country than any other country possibly could. The US-Russian relationship is more beneficial than to Russia than a Russian-Chinese relationship against the US. Israel and Egypt wish for the presence of the US more than they do for each other. It's the Kissingerian strategy of detente but on a global scale. The libertarian rejoinder is that if we minded our own business and only cared about our vital interests things like September 11th would not have happened. First of al, what are 'vital interests' when you are a global power? Let's say that we focused only on Central Asia and the Middle East. Troops in Europe are necessary for swift deployment to E. Europe some of the Central Asian republics. Our navy is important to movement of troops and power projection so we keep all our based in S. E. Asia and Japan. Well, now we have to be concerned about India-Pakistan to prevent them from blowing up that region of the world. If you are in the Middle East, we are talking about a region from Morocco to Iran. That means allies over there and whoops we are talking about Israel and Turkey again. Secondly, what would happen if we 'pulled out?' Is it worth the risk to play the isolationist?

It is tempting to say that this doctrine of internationalism leaves room for more, not less, war. This is why we have the just war doctrine to guide us. Peace all cost, though seemingly in harmony with the just in 'just war', is a violation of the principle of the idea. What just war suggests is that war is an evil from which we cannot escape before the Second Advent. Since warfare and war craft aren't going anywhere in the 'City of Man', we need standards by which war would be justified, not a theoretical doctrine that completely robs nations of war making legitimacy. What academicians need to develop, and what I wish to contribute to the field if I can get my PhD in International Relations, is a just peace theory as a corollary to just war. We must be mindful of the inherent tensions between peace and justice; we must also try not to privilege pacificism over non-aggressive approaches. The gavel does not fall often; when it does it should not fall lightly.

Knowing this should we have intervened? Of course. Was it done as well as it could have? No. Is the good going to outweigh the bad? Most likely.