Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

James Lileks on the Middle East

Here is a typically cogent piece from one of my internet heroes, James Lileks. I particularly like his retort to those who wet the bed about how war with Iraq might create "instability" in the Middle East--as if the status quo were some kind of model of a stable, orderly international regime. As Lileks puts it: "The world would change if we did nothing; now we seek to shape the change. Better this than letting the change shape us."

Check it out. Better yet, spend some time at his site, particularly his hilarious Institute of Official Cheer. That alone is worth the visit.

Discussions - 19 Comments

The core flaw with Mr. Lileks piece is that it’s based on falsehoods. They are

1. Nobody has suggested that the Middle East is "some kind of model of a stable, orderly international regime." It’s this type of thinking that conservatives typically rely on to justify war --- "Liberals think that things are actually STABLE over there --- that’s how crazy they are! Don’t listen to them!"

Incidentally, were the USA interested in establishing stable governments the world over, we’d be at war with 80+% of the world’s countries right now.

2) There is ZERO evidence to suggest that going to war with Iraq will result in any kind of positive change for the Middle East as a whole (or, for that matter, the negative viewpoint that many Middle Easterners have when it comes to the U.S.). In fact, history suggests that things will go the other way around. Perhaps Mr. Lileks forgets a little thing called the Persian Gulf War. Remind me, Mr. Lileks --- did the September 11 Terrorist Attacks (which has been linked to over a half-dozen Middle Eastern Countries) come before or after the Gulf War???

Comedian David Cross has a terrific comedy bit that illustrates perfectly the naivete behind Mr. Lileks claims that raining death and destruction down on the people of the Middle East can somehow result in favorable change.

Posing as a 10 year-old Afghanistan boy (who has been the recipient of pudding cups following the destruction of his village), Cross offers the following:

"For every member of my family who died in the American bombings, I have one pudding cup.

I HAVE SEVEN PUDDING CUPS!!!!!

Thank-you Uncle Sam!!!"

;-)

Ask Kuwait about the Persion Gulf War.

Kuwait isn’t the issue (as it relates to Mr. Lilek’s commentary, anyway).

"Incidentally, were the USA interested in establishing stable governments the world over, we’d be at war with 80+% of the world’s countries right now."

This is absurd and you know it. No one, not even Mr. Moser, suggested that we are going to attack Iraq with the sole intention of establishing a stable government there. That should be a rather pleasant side effect, but the reason we are attacking is to DISARM Saddam. Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. Little.

The notion that US policy should be uniform for every dictatorship in the world is ridiculous on its face. Certainly, as a free country that concerns itself with the welfare of other countries, the US opposes dictatorships as a general rule, but that does not mean that when we see cause to seek regime change in one that we are hypocrites for not seeking change in them all.

"In fact, history suggests that things will go the other way around. Perhaps Mr. Lileks forgets a little thing called the Persian Gulf War. Remind me, Mr. Lileks --- did the September 11 Terrorist Attacks (which has been linked to over a half-dozen Middle Eastern Countries) come before or after the Gulf War???"

Remind me, Mr. Little, did the Iran Hostage Crisis occur before or after the Gulf War? Did the car bomb on the American base in Israel come before or after the Gulf War? Those in the Arab world that possess hate for the US have had it for decades. The Gulf War did little to change that certainly (though I suspect nations like Kuwait and UAE actually are more prone to support us now than if we hadn’t fought Iraq in 1991), but to suggest that al Qaeda attacked WTC as a direct result of the Gulf War is something that even bin Laden has not suggested. Radical Islam will continue to attack and terrorize liberal democracies as long as they believe that they can get away with it because their enemy is our culture, which they consider to be evil. If you wish to believe that leaving them alone and hiding will create peace you are incredibly naive.

Further if you don’t think that the creation of a liberal democracy in the Middle East to replace one of the world’s most brutal tyrannies would qualify as a "positive change" for the region, then I wonder what you would consider to be a positive change....

Yep, that’s right. Now that I’ve returned from visiting a mosque, as Mr. Little suggested, I understand that that 10-year-old boy was a lot better off when the Taliban was running Afghanistan. At least then they were starving, as opposed to being forced to eat the Great Satan’s freakin’ PUDDING CUPS!

Mr. Moser states:

"I understand that that 10-year-old boy was a lot better off when the Taliban was running Afghanistan. At least then they were starving, as opposed to being forced to eat the Great Satan’s freakin’ PUDDING CUPS!

Gee, that’s great. So, according to Mr. Moser’s logic, the reason why we should go to war with Iraq is because it’s citizens won’t be any worse off than they were under the old regime. They won’t be any better off, mind you, but they’ll be suffering in a different kind of way. Nice logic.

Mr. Roark wrote:

Those in the Arab world that possess hate for the US have had it for decades. The Gulf War did little to change that certainly...

Thank you. You’ve proven my point.

With regard to the rest of your post, I think it would be beneficial for you to go back and re-read Lilek’s commentary (specifically, the excerpt posted by Mr. Moser), as well as my response. A more careful reading on your part may yield a better understanding of the issue.

Finally, it strikes me as being particularly ironic that you tell me to keep my eye on the ball, when it’s the pro-war crowd that seems to have so much trouble deciding WHY we should go to war. One week, it’s because we need to disarm Saddam. The next, it’s so that we can instill peace in the Middle East. Most recently, it’s so that we can force the departure of Saddam. The moment that it looks like Iraq might even think about complying with the USA’s wishes, you change your reasons. C’mon guys --- pick an argument and stick with it.

"So, according to Mr. Moser’s logic, the reason why we should go to war with Iraq is because it’s citizens won’t be any worse off than they were under the old regime. They won’t be any better off, mind you, but they’ll be suffering in a different kind of way. Nice logic."

Mr. Little’s tactic now is to completely mirepresent my position. I think most reasonable people would agree that Afghanis are "better off" now than they were under the Taliban, but that is not my reason for having supported the war in Afghanistan. The reason to go to war against Iraq is not primarily because Saddam Hussein mistreats his own population, just as the primary reason for war in Afghanistan wasn’t that the Taliban was a horrid, oppressive dictatorship. In each case it is America’s national security that is paramount--Afghanistan refused to expel Osama bin Laden and the rest of Al-Qaeda; Saddam Hussein is illegally in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

But let’s turn Mr. Little’s argument around. What he’s really claiming is that the fact that a population will suffer from an American attack is sufficient to say that the attack is unjust. By this reasoning no war can ever be just. The world would’ve been better off if Hitler had remained in power in Germany, since German civilians suffered from Allied attacks (and, I would point out, in much, much larger numbers than the Afghanis did). The world would also be better off today if Lincoln had not opted for war in 1861, since southerners suffered at the hands of Union forces.

If you’re a pacifist, Mr. Little, come out and say it; I might then have a bit of respect for you for holding a consistent position. But right now you’re only coming off as a partisan wiseguy.

And, for the record, I am only vaguely aware of who Bill O’Reilly is. I’ve asked around a bit, however, and have come to the conclusion that I should take Mr. Little’s comparison of me to him as a compliment.

How amusing. Mr. Moser spent the last four days attempting to misrepresent the position of those opposed to racing into a war with Iraq (all while ducking away from every legitimate question that has been asked of you), and now he accuses me of the same thing? Shame on you, Mr. Moser.

We can argue all day long as to whether or not things are better in Afghanistan. I can throw a hundred different articles, surveys and studies at you to suggest that things aren’t better, and I have no doubt that you can dig up just as many sources that suggest otherwise. At the core of this discussion (which MR. MOSER initiated by posting the Lileks excerpt) is the idea of whether or not war with Iraq will have positive or negative short and long-term consquences with regard to political and social stability within the Middle East. He cannot offer anything to defend his position, so instead he resorts to calling me a "partisan wiseguy."

For the record, I am not a pacifist, nor have I deviated from my position at any point. I am very much in favor of war, when it is a just war. To fight a war at this time, under these circumstances, and for the reasons that the Bush Administration has cited (this week, anyway) would be unjustified, not to mention unnecessary.

Mr. Moser writes:

But let’s turn Mr. Little’s argument around. What he’s really claiming is that the fact that a population will suffer from an American attack is sufficient to say that the attack is unjust. By this reasoning no war can ever be just.

Mr. Moser, I’m quite familiar with just war theory (as I know Mr. Moser is, given his writings on the topic and his participation in last year’s debate on Iraq on the AU campus). But once again, when he CLAIMS to know what I’m really saying, he again misrepresents what I have said. As a result, he has done nothing more than waste his time and mine.

I have not claimed that war with Iraq is unjust for the reasons Mr. Moser cites. One of the most oft-cited conditions of just war theory is that the "end good" must outweigh the casualties/suffering that may occur as a result of war.

What Mr. Moser tries to accomplish in bringing up this aspect of just war theory is to cite the one condition under which a war is just, while ignoring many of the others.

In his analysis, Mr. Moser conveniently omits the fact that a just war may be fought only as a LAST RESORT. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified. To date, that has not occurred. Mr. Moser will claim that Iraq’s compliance comes only at the threat of war, but in doing so, he glosses over the fact that peaceful alternatives (containment, control, etc...) continue to exist.

Additionally, Mr. Moser leaves out the fact that a just war must be fought only as a measure of self-defense or the defense of somebody else. Again, this is not the case (though right-wingers like Mr. Moser would love for us to believe that the unsubstantiated links between Iraq and some members of Al Quaeda represent an "indirect attack" against the U.S. - a weak argument at best). A war is not just if you fight it because you THINK that MAYBE Iraq might do something we don’t like within the next few years.

When confronted with just war theory, most conservatives half-heartedly refer to the idea of anticipatory self-defense. While no one suggests that the U.S. (or its allies) should turn a blind eye to an eminent threat, the idea of a pre-emptive war (as it applies to THIS scenario) is nothing more than to rewrite the rules of just warfare because it suits us.

Well, I must applaud Mr. Little for laying his cards on the table. As for his assertion that I have "ducking away from every legitimate question" that’s been asked of me, we must have a difference of opinion on what constitutes a "legitimate question" as opposed to rhetorical posturing. When I see a "legitimate question" I try to answer it to the extent of my ability.

Moreover, what’s all this stuff about "right-wingers like Mr. Moser"? What does Mr. Little know about me, except for my views on the Middle East? Are these views not shared by the editors of the New Republic, as well as folks like Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Joe Lieberman? Why should fear of an anti-American madman in possession of chemical and biological weapons categorize one as a "right-winger"?

Mr. Little claims that I "conveniently omit" the fact that according to just war theory war can only be fought as a last resort. He goes on to say that "Mr. Moser will claim that Iraq’s compliance comes only at the threat of war, but in doing so, he glosses over the fact that peaceful alternatives (containment, control, etc...) continue to exist."

A few questions on this:

1. What in the heck is "containment" if not the threat of war?

2. What does Mr. Little mean by "control," and can it possibly work without the threat of armed force?3. Would Mr. Little prefer the continuation of economic sanctions, which have probably claimed the lives of more Iraqis in the past twelve years than U.S. bombing will in any war?

4. Suppose that we follow the French course and let the inspections drag on for another six months or so. If Saddam Hussein still fails to disarm, would war against Iraq then be just?

5. If his answers to questions #3 and #4 are "no" (as I would tend to predict), then he should, by all means, tell us what we should do. It seems to me that the anti-war crowd is quick to denounce the administration’s policy, but generally hesitant to offer alternatives.

Mr. Moser and I have communicated with one another privately, and we have agreed that the mutual rhetoric needs to be toned down a bit. That said, this post is an effort to position this dialogue back on a more constructive track. For other readers out there, please be mindful of this when posting comments.

Before I answer Mr. Moser’s questions, let me state that I very much disagree with his assessment that the anti-war crowd’s ability and willingness to suggest alternatives to war. Rather, I feel that the pro-war crowd is many times too quick to denounce these alternatives without giving them due consideration.

With regard to Mr. Moser’s first three questions regarding containment, control and sanctions, let me answer by outlining a basic strategy for peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis.

I don’t like Mr. Moser’s definition of containment as nothing more than “threat of war,” but I’m willing to work with it for the sake of this dialogue. Let’s increase the UN Weapons Inspections ten-fold, and – with the help of our allies – institute a strict “comply or else” policy (the “or else” being the use of internationally sanctioned military force to overthrow Saddam’s regieme). I don’t have any problem whatsoever with using the “threat of war” in this capacity because it shifts the burden of choosing war on to Saddam.

(I think I tackled Mr. Moser’s question about control in the above paragraph. If it requires further explanation, let me know and I will be happy to offer some additional thoughts.)

History shows us that containment and control can work. We’ve seen containment work in Cuba, Libya, the former Soviet Union and Egypt. Today, we use containment in North Korea to a degree of apparent success that we are not rushing into war with that country, in spite of the fact that its leader poses a threat equal to or greater than that posed by Saddam Hussein.

Containment has not been successful in Iraq largely because it has been accompanied by economic sanctions. As Mr. Moser correctly asserts, these sanctions have been responsible for claiming the lives of thousands of Iraqis. I’m in favor of putting an immediate end to sanctions in favor of incentives and dialogue with Iraq and its Middle Eastern neighbors. The current humanitarian efforts in Iraq must not only be continued, but expanded.

Now that I have taken the time to answer Mr. Moser’s questions, I hope that he will do me the courtesy of answering a few of my own:

1) If the U.S. does go to war with Iraq, what kind of blueprint for political, social and economic reconstruction would you outline? How will the region – and the world – be better off?

2) How do you qualify a war with Iraq as “just,” given the fact that it does not meet several of the components of Jus In Bello. Among these:

Self-Defense: Iraq has not attacked the U.S. or its allies.

Non-Violent Alternatives: To date, the US/UN has not explored all non-violent alternatives to war with Iraq.

Moral Authority: The United States (without the support of the UN) lacks the moral authority to wage war on Iraq. If you do identify the United States as having the moral authority to wage war on Iraq, how do you account for the fact that President Bush first took the matter to the UN (and now threatens to act independently when he doesn’t get the results he wanted)?

3) If you apply the principle of anticipatory self-defense to this situation, how do you reconcile a pre-emptive strike with the fact that the threat posed by Iraq is not imminent? How does a pre-emptive strike against Iraq differ from an act of aggression, such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?

4) Why now? How are circumstances different in Iraq now as opposed to two years ago? How about one year ago? How is the threat posed by Iraq more imminent than the threat posed by North Korea?

I forgot to assign my name and e-mail to that last post.

I thank Mr. Little for his constructive response to my questions. I hope he will forgive me if I imitate his technique of bundling several of his questions into a single larger answer.

At its heart, any attack made on Iraq now would not constitute a separate war from that which occurred twelve years ago. If the 1991 campaign to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait was not just (and I’m not clear if Mr. Little believes this to be the case or not), then this one will be as well.

Why, you may ask? Because the 1991 agreement outlined a number of terms that Saddam Hussein would have to meet as a condition of his being allowed to remain in power. These terms have been embodied and restated in no less than eleven separate UN resolutions, but chief among them is the promise to abandon the development of weapons of mass destruction. As even opponents of war must admit, Saddam has failed to live up to these conditions; hence, by any reasonable interpretation of international law, the United States has a right to resume the war. It is not the launching of a new war, simply the expiration--long overdue, I might add--of the 1991 cease-fire.

A few more specific points:

--I take issue with several of Mr. Little’s examples of what he refers to as successful containment. With the exceptions of the former Soviet Union (where the only other option was World War III) and North Korea (where surely it is too early to tell what the policy will be) the United States did not allow any of the regimes he mentioned to possess weapons of mass destruction. The Kennedy administration brought the country to the brink of nuclear war to prevent Russian missiles from being stationed on Cuban soil. Libya and Egypt, as far as we know, never developed such weapons.

--Mr. Little writes that "[c]ontainment has not been successful in Iraq largely because it has been accompanied by economic sanctions." It is not clear to me why the sanctions should have made containment less effective; if anything, containment would have been even less effective without them. Remember, Saddam Hussein could have had the sanctions lifted at any time, simply by adhering to the 1991 agreement.

--As for a "blueprint for political, social and economic reconstruction" of Iraq, I admit that I do not have one. But then, I see it as of secondary importance. As long as Iraq does not possess WMDs, the administration will have done its job as far as I am concerned. The ultimate purpose of American foreign policy is to protect Americans, not Iraqis.

--In response to Mr. Little’s point: "The United States (without the support of the UN) lacks the moral authority to wage war on Iraq. If you do identify the United States as having the moral authority to wage war on Iraq, how do you account for the fact that President Bush first took the matter to the UN (and now threatens to act independently when he doesn’t get the results he wanted)?" Just War theory says merely that private individuals cannot go to war; nowhere does it claim that a UN mandate is necessary. As a sovereign state, the United States absolutely has the "moral authority" to go to war with any country it likes, provided it meets the other requirements of a just war. To be honest, it probably would’ve been better had the president not taken the matter to the UN, but I understand his reasons for doing so. Anyway, what tradition of morality says that an act gains "moral authority" once it wins the approval of Angola, Cameroon, and Syria?

--Finally, concerning the question, "Why now?" Who cares? Is there a statute of limitations when it comes to preserving national security that ran out in the past year or two?

I appreciate Mr. Moser’s thoughtful response. For the sake of clarity, I will this time address his questions (italicized) on a point-by-point basis:

At its heart, any attack made on Iraq now would not constitute a separate war from that which occurred twelve years ago. If the 1991 campaign to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait was not just (and I’m not clear if Mr. Little believes this to be the case or not), then this one will be as well.

Why, you may ask? Because the 1991 agreement outlined a number of terms that Saddam Hussein would have to meet as a condition of his being allowed to remain in power. These terms have been embodied and restated in no less than eleven separate UN resolutions, but chief among them is the promise to abandon the development of weapons of mass destruction. As even opponents of war must admit, Saddam has failed to live up to these conditions; hence, by any reasonable interpretation of international law, the United States has a right to resume the war. It is not the launching of a new war, simply the expiration--long overdue, I might add--of the 1991 cease-fire.

If I understand Mr. Moser correctly, we should regard an attack on Iraq as nothing more than an extension of the Persian Gulf War (which, for the record, I do acknowledge as being a just war), with a 12-year reprieve thrown in. With respect to Mr. Moser, I can’t help but feel as though he’s looking for a “loophole” in citing the 1991 conflict. The circumstances are substantially different now than they were in 1991. The driving force in the Gulf War was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. That ceased to be a factor when Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and negotiated the end of the war. A war fought today - albeit with the same combatants - for different reasons must be regarded as an independent conflict and therefore, cannot be considered a just war simply because the preceding war was.

If we were to apply this logic to history, we could look back through warfare as though it were a demented game of "six degrees of separation" and justify every war fought solely on the basis of a link to a previous war. That is to say, World War II was a "just war" because it came about, in part, as a result of the events of World War I, the Korean War was just because it came about as a result of WW2, and so on... (Please note that this is not to say that World War I et al were not just wars - they were justified wars, but for reasons other than their association with one another).

I take issue with several of Mr. Little’s examples of what he refers to as successful containment. With the exceptions of the former Soviet Union (where the only other option was World War III) and North Korea (where surely it is too early to tell what the policy will be) the United States did not allow any of the regimes he mentioned to possess weapons of mass destruction. The Kennedy administration brought the country to the brink of nuclear war to prevent Russian missiles from being stationed on Cuban soil. Libya and Egypt, as far as we know, never developed such weapons.

I do not understand the correlation that Mr. Moser draws between the concept of containment and WMD. Is he saying that containment cannot work where WMD are involved? Surely, this cannot be the case, since - as Mr. Moser notes - the USSR did have WMD in its possession.

Mr. Little writes that "[c]ontainment has not been successful in Iraq largely because it has been accompanied by economic sanctions." It is not clear to me why the sanctions should have made containment less effective; if anything, containment would have been even less effective without them. Remember, Saddam Hussein could have had the sanctions lifted at any time, simply by adhering to the 1991 agreement.

Sanctions have failed because - in a nutshell - Saddam has found a way to work around them in recent years. The idea behind sanctions was that they would prevent Saddam from spending Iraq’s money on WMD. What the US and its allies should have realized was that a man who won’t hesitate to torture his countrymen won’t hesitate to smuggle oil out of his country. By all accounts, Saddam has exported billions of dollars worth of oil out of the country and there’s little doubt that a good portion of that money has gone towards replenishing his military and WMD programs. All the while, his countrymen have suffered horribly as a result of the sanctions.

As for a "blueprint for political, social and economic reconstruction" of Iraq, I admit that I do not have one. But then, I see it as of secondary importance. As long as Iraq does not possess WMDs, the administration will have done its job as far as I am concerned. The ultimate purpose of American foreign policy is to protect Americans, not Iraqis.

I think that any time we (or any country) are prepared to go to war with another nation, we need to be prepared with a post-war strategy (not to mention an exit plan), for economic, social and political reconstruction. Mr. Moser’s concern for his fellow Americans is noted, but let’s not forget - the problem is Saddam, not the people of Iraq.

Mr. Moser cites "national security" throughout his arguments. Yet, I do not think that he can deny that it would be a mistake to attack Iraq and not play some role in reconstruction efforts. Not only would such an action breed more hatred for Americans in the Middle East, but it could have disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq. Former National Security Council Member Kenneth Pollack sums up the possibilities: "One of the things I worry about is that we will handle Iraq as we have handled Afghanistan where I do not believe we have made a sufficient commitment to building a stable new polity. That could be tragic in Afghanistan, but disastrous in Iraq."

In response to Mr. Little’s point: "The United States (without the support of the UN) lacks the moral authority to wage war on Iraq. If you do identify the United States as having the moral authority to wage war on Iraq, how do you account for the fact that President Bush first took the matter to the UN (and now threatens to act independently when he doesn’t get the results he wanted)?" Just War theory says merely that private individuals cannot go to war; nowhere does it claim that a UN mandate is necessary. As a sovereign state, the United States absolutely has the "moral authority" to go to war with any country it likes, provided it meets the other requirements of a just war. To be honest, it probably would’ve been better had the president not taken the matter to the UN, but I understand his reasons for doing so. Anyway, what tradition of morality says that an act gains "moral authority" once it wins the approval of Angola, Cameroon, and Syria?

I see a couple of problems with this analysis. First and foremost is the fact that we’ve not met the other requirements of a just war (I wrote about that in detail in my last post). But let’s put that aside for a moment and look at another angle. By taking the matter to the UN, the US has implied that the UN has the moral authority to justify a war. Only now that the US did not get the results that it sought do we deny the UN’s moral authority. I refer back to my previous analogy of a child who changes the rules of a game so that he will benefit from them.

Also, one thing we must not forget is that just war theory was first developed hundreds of years ago when wars were fought on a much different scale. In today’s age, wars may involve dozens of countries (the Gulf War involved no fewer than 26 countries). It’s rarely an issue of Nation A vs. Nation B. When a war takes place on a global scale, moral authority can come only from a global authority --- in this case, the United Nations. Even if this war were to be a case of only the US vs. Iraq, I would still suggest that only the UN has the moral authority to justify such a war. Why? The United States has the luxury of fighting long-distance wars. Most Americans will be little affected by what occurs in a war against Iraq. Meanwhile, there may be dozens of nations that - due to their proximity to Iraq - may have to deal with short and long-term consequences of the actions of the U.S.

Finally, concerning the question, "Why now?" Who cares? Is there a statute of limitations when it comes to preserving national security that ran out in the past year or two?

There is no statute on preserving national security. That said, a war is not the only way to preserve national security, especially when the target poses no imminent threat. The idea of fighting preventative wars is extremely dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs. The Catholic magazine Catholic Civilisation said it best: “If every country which feels threatened attacks first, there will be war without end on the entire planet.”

In the words of Ms. Spears, "oops, I did it again." Forgot to fill out the name and e-mail fields before posting again. Sorry about that.

I must say, Mr. Little and I are having a far more productive exchange now that we’ve agreed to stop slinging mud at one another. I continue to disagree with his points, but I find each of them worthy of merit and careful consideration.

That said, let us take his points one at a time:

In response to my argument that a war with Iraq now would be merely an extension (and, I would hope, a conclusion) to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Mr. Little writes:

The circumstances are substantially different now than they were in 1991. The driving force in the Gulf War was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. That ceased to be a factor when Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and negotiated the end of the war. A war fought today - albeit with the same combatants - for different reasons must be regarded as an independent conflict and therefore, cannot be considered a just war simply because the preceding war was.

Who recalls what specific incident caused each of the individual conflicts that made up what we generally refer to today as "the Napoleonic Wars"? Yet all of them were fought for the same general reason--to stop Napoleon’s France from dominating Europe. Historians tend today not to consider them as discrete events, but campaigns in a single extended conflict.

I would argue that the case of Iraq is similar; even though the specific cause of the 1991 campaign was Kuwait, and that of 2003 will be WMDs, the two are part of a single principle: bloodthirsty regimes that commit acts of aggression against their neighbors forfeit the right to possess WMDs.

If we were to apply this logic to history, we could look back through warfare as though it were a demented game of "six degrees of separation" and justify every war fought solely on the basis of a link to a previous war. That is to say, World War II was a "just war" because it came about, in part, as a result of the events of World War I, the Korean War was just because it came about as a result of WW2, and so on...

Mr. Little offers one good example, and one bad one. World War II was essentially an extension of World War I--round two, if you will, in a protracted struggle to prevent German domination of Europe. World War II was necessary (and, therefore, just) because World War I didn’t accomplish the original task. Yet how this must lead to the argument that every war is simply an extension of the war before it is absurd. One might argue that the Korean War would never have occurred without World War II (after all, until 1945 Korea was part of the Japanese Empire), but this is a far cry from saying that the two conflicts were fought for the same reasons.

Are there other examples of the sort of linkage I’m talking about? Absolutely. What we refer to today as the Hundred Years’ War and the Thirty Years’ War were actually a whole series of conflicts fought over the same general principles. (By the way, historians have already begun to call World Wars I & II the "second Thirty Years’ War") These may or may not have qualified as "just wars," but my argument holds that if they were just when they started, they were just throughout, as long as the same basic principles were at stake.

I do not understand the correlation that Mr. Moser draws between the concept of containment and WMD. Is he saying that containment cannot work where WMD are involved? Surely, this cannot be the case, since - as Mr. Moser notes - the USSR did have WMD in its possession.

A worthwhile question. My argument is that possession of WMD changes everything. In conventional warfare even a "sneak attack" is likely to cause a fairly small number of casualties. Containment suggests that aggression will consistently met with a violent response. But a country in possession of WMDs can make an initial strike so devastating that conventional containment is not enough. In short, it’s okay to practice containment when the ones who will bear the brunt of the attack will be the front-line troops; it becomes morally insufficient when the victims will be the population of an entire city.

So, why did we not go to war against the Soviet Union when it first developed atomic weapons in 1948? This is where justice must be tempered with prudence. I have no doubt that a war to stop Stalin--a mass-murderer who spoke apocalyptically of a coming final showdown with the West--from developing a nuclear arsenal would have met the requirements of a just war. However, it also would have meant a global war of horrendous cost when the country was still recovering from the last world war. In short, it would’ve been imprudent to go to war with Stalin. Fortunately Stalin died in 1953, and his successors, though certainly unlovely, were simply not in Stalin’s league. They were for the most part elderly bureaucrats concerned mainly with keeping their special privileges and Black Sea dachas.

To conclude this point, nobody is predicting that a world war will come out of the renewal of war with Iraq. Such a war would be neither unjust nor imprudent.

I do not think that he can deny that it would be a mistake to attack Iraq and not play some role in reconstruction efforts. Not only would such an action breed more hatred for Americans in the Middle East, but it could have disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq.

I agree with Mr. Little, but I fear he has misunderstood my point. I said that the fate of Iraq is of "secondary importance," not of no importance whatsoever. Personally I have always been skeptical of claims that western-style democracy can be set up in Iraq. Perhaps the best we can hope for is another dictator who is less brutal and bloodthirsty--and, most importantly, someone who doesn’t loathe the United States and doesn’t have WMDs.

My point, though, is that fortunately I do not need what Mr. Little calls a "blueprint for political, social and economic reconstruction" of Iraq. I am confident that the administration is making such plans, but it’s hardly my responsibility. I no more need a "blueprint" than those who supported American intervention in World War II before Pearl Harbor needed a "blueprint" for the reconstruction of Germany and Japan. These things were developed during the war.

By taking the matter to the UN, the US has implied that the UN has the moral authority to justify a war. Only now that the US did not get the results that it sought do we deny the UN’s moral authority. I refer back to my previous analogy of a child who changes the rules of a game so that he will benefit from them.

Not at all. Remember, the president asked for UN support, not for "moral authority." Bush knew that war against Iraq was just from the beginning; he only reasoned that from the standpoint of prudence it was better to fight with the UN’s support than without it. By Mr. Little’s reasoning, it would have been better had the president not gone to the UN at all. Hmm, come to think about, he might be right about that.

Let me add one more thing in support of my claim that all the president sought from the UN was backing, not "moral authority."

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was seeking to justify the American revolution before the court of world opinion--therefore in the preamble he gives the reason for publishing the document: "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind…."

Does this mean that Jefferson was looking for the world to give the revolution "moral authority"? Not at all--the revolution had already begun, and Jefferson would’ve been the last person to claim that it lacked "moral authority." What he wanted was support--mainly from France. Now, one might argue that if France had remained neutral the British would have won the revolutionary war, but it’s quite another thing to claim that the cause only gained "moral authority" once the French chose to intervene.

I thank Mr. Moser for his prompt – and thoughtful – responses to my comments. With regard to his comments (in italics), I have a few of my own:


Who recalls what specific incident caused each of the individual conflicts that made up what we generally refer to today as "the Napoleonic Wars"? Yet all of them were fought for the same general reason--to stop Napoleon’s France from dominating Europe. Historians tend today not to consider them as discrete events, but campaigns in a single extended conflict.


I would argue that the case of Iraq is similar; even though the specific cause of the 1991 campaign was Kuwait, and that of 2003 will be WMDs, the two are part of a single principle: bloodthirsty regimes that commit acts of aggression against their neighbors forfeit the right to possess WMDs.


I do not dispute the fact that the Napoleonic Wars were fought for the same general reason. Where I will differ from Mr. Moser is the comparison of France in the Napoleonic Wars to modern day Iraq. The critical difference between these two entities is that France – even as late as the climactic Battle of Waterloo – played the role of the “invader” (or, if you prefer, the “aggressor”). Iraq plays no such role. Yes, Saddam is a horrible, ruthless dictator. Yes, he is developing weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Iraq may at some point do something we do not like. But is Iraq invading Kuwait (or any other country) as it did in 1990? The answer is no, and that is why Iraq cannot be compared to France, and this impending conflict cannot be considered simply an extension of the Gulf War. Mr. Moser hits on the point himself in citing what he perceives to be the single principle that unites 1990 and 2003: “bloodthirsty regimes that commit acts of aggression against their neighbors…” What aggression?


Mr. Little offers one good example, and one bad one. World War II was essentially an extension of World War I--round two, if you will, in a protracted struggle to prevent German domination of Europe. World War II was necessary (and, therefore, just) because World War I didn’t accomplish the original task. Yet how this must lead to the argument that every war is simply an extension of the war before it is absurd. One might argue that the Korean War would never have occurred without World War II (after all, until 1945 Korea was part of the Japanese Empire), but this is a far cry from saying that the two conflicts were fought for the same reasons.


Oddly enough, Mr. Moser and I agree on this issue… sort of. My motivation in citing a six degrees of separation-esque history of warfare was to illustrate the danger and absurdity (no disrespect intended) of his justification of the Iraq situation, if followed to its natural conclusion. More than anything else, I was trying to make a point. (Incidentally, while I agree that while both WWI and WW2 were just wars, I disagree with the notion that the “protracted struggle” theory applies here as well. We may want to devote an altogether original blog to that debate, for the sake of staying on topic.)


Are there other examples of the sort of linkage I’m talking about? Absolutely. What we refer to today as the Hundred Years’ War and the Thirty Years’ War were actually a whole series of conflicts fought over the same general principles. (By the way, historians have already begun to call World Wars I & II the "second Thirty Years’ War") These may or may not have qualified as "just wars," but my argument holds that if they were just when they started, they were just throughout, as long as the same basic principles were at stake.


There’s probably not much more that I can say about this at this point. Again, I agree with the idea, but disagree that the “same basic principles” are at stake.


A worthwhile question. My argument is that possession of WMD changes everything. In conventional warfare even a "sneak attack" is likely to cause a fairly small number of casualties. Containment suggests that aggression will consistently met with a violent response. But a country in possession of WMDs can make an initial strike so devastating that conventional containment is not enough. In short, it’s okay to practice containment when the ones who will bear the brunt of the attack will be the front-line troops; it becomes morally insufficient when the victims will be the population of an entire city.


So, why did we not go to war against the Soviet Union when it first developed atomic weapons in 1948? This is where justice must be tempered with prudence. I have no doubt that a war to stop Stalin--a mass-murderer who spoke apocalyptically of a coming final showdown with the West--from developing a nuclear arsenal would have met the requirements of a just war. However, it also would have meant a global war of horrendous cost when the country was still recovering from the last world war. In short, it would’ve been imprudent to go to war with Stalin. Fortunately Stalin died in 1953, and his successors, though certainly unlovely, were simply not in Stalin’s league. They were for the most part elderly bureaucrats concerned mainly with keeping their special privileges and Black Sea dachas.


To conclude this point, nobody is predicting that a world war will come out of the renewal of war with Iraq. Such a war would be neither unjust nor imprudent.


Mr. Moser makes some fine points about the Soviet Union, many of which I’m inclined to agree with, such as the fact that a war in 1948 would have been unwise because of the terrible consequences --- an excellent argument for containment, and proof that it can work under the most volatile of circumstances.


As for the concern about a “sneak attack,” Mr. Moser has pointed out in his earlier statements that this war is about our national security. From that standpoint, we have very little to be concerned about with regard to a “sneak attack” using WMD (airplanes and box-cutters, yes; weapons of mass destruction, no). Iraq’s best missiles are not capable of delivering biological, chemical or nuclear payloads to U.S. soil. While a chemical attack on one of Iraq’s neighbors would be devastating and horrifying, it can not be considered an assault on US national security. If Saddam or his “allies” were to somehow execute an attack on American soil, it would be with the knowledge that he would be quickly obliterated.


I agree with Mr. Little, but I fear he has misunderstood my point. I said that the fate of Iraq is of "secondary importance," not of no importance whatsoever. Personally I have always been skeptical of claims that western-style democracy can be set up in Iraq. Perhaps the best we can hope for is another dictator who is less brutal and bloodthirsty--and, most importantly, someone who doesn’t loathe the United States and doesn’t have WMDs.


It was not my intention to suggest that Mr. Moser lacked compassion for the people of the Middle East. That said, I maintain that an attack on Iraq at this time will do nothing more than increase the loathing and hatred that much of the Middle East has for the United States.


My point, though, is that fortunately I do not need what Mr. Little calls a "blueprint for political, social and economic reconstruction" of Iraq. I am confident that the administration is making such plans, but it’s hardly my responsibility. I no more need a "blueprint" than those who supported American intervention in World War II before Pearl Harbor needed a "blueprint" for the reconstruction of Germany and Japan. These things were developed during the war.


Mr. Moser is correct in that he personally does not need to develop a blueprint for reconstruction of Iraq, no more so than I need to convince the Bush administration that this is an unjust war. My point in bringing it up was that as an advocate of war with Iraq, Mr. Moser should be fully prepared to embrace the consequences of a war with Iraq. This is particularly true now that the Bush administration has begun to cite the desire for a “free Iraq” as part of his motivation more and more in recent speeches. Finally, I’m not so sure that it’s safe to assume that the administration has developed a blueprint for reconstruction. Only time will tell with that one.


Not at all. Remember, the president asked for UN support, not for "moral authority." Bush knew that war against Iraq was just from the beginning; he only reasoned that from the standpoint of prudence it was better to fight with the UN’s support than without it. By Mr. Little’s reasoning, it would have been better had the president not gone to the UN at all. Hmm, come to think about, he might be right about that.


I cannot say whether it would have been “better” if Bush had not gone to the UN, but I can say that I would respect the stance of the Bush administration more if it had not gone to the UN at all, as opposed to taking the issue to the UN and then defying it.


While there is no doubt that the UN could have lent political and financial support to the war efforts, I maintain that – in taking the issue to the UN – there is an implied sense of moral authority in the UN (for the reasons that I cited previously). We live in what has truly become a “global” community, and no single nation possesses the moral authority to lead the rest of the world.


I’m not sure if Mr. Moser feels the same way, but I have noted that – while enjoyable – this dialogue has become longer and longer, not to mention broader and broader in scope. (I have a feeling that we lost most of our readers long ago.) Would it be more effective if we were to select a single aspect of the conversation to discuss (e.g. the idea of moral authority) or should we continue along this current road? Or is it best to lay this blog to rest? I’m open to suggestions.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/1332