Saturday, November 20, 2004

Iraq and morality

Juan Cole makes some controversial but very valid points.

The Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.

To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then killed her is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing.

Now, I don't like the timing of the Fallujah mission. I don't like all the mistakes made along the way, which produced this operation. I don't like its tactics. I don't like the way it put so many civilians in harm's way. I don't like the violations of international law (targetting the hospital, turning away the Red Crescent, killing wounded and disarmed combatants), etc. I protest the latter. I don't know enough about military affairs to offer an alternative on the former issues, and don't mind admitting my technical ignorance. You can't do everything.

But the basic idea of attacking the guerrillas holding up in that city is not in and of itself criminal or irresponsible. A significant proportion of the absolutely horrible car bombings that have killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis, especially Shiites, were planned and executed from Fallujah. There were serious and heavily armed forces in Fallujah planning out ways of killing hundreds to prevent elections from being held in January. These are mass murderers, serial murderers. If they were fighting only to defend Fallujah, that would be one thing; even the Marines would respect them for that. They aren't, or at least, a significant proportion of them aren't. They are killing civilians elsewhere in order to throw Iraq into chaos and avoid the enfranchisement of the Kurds and Shiites.

Some of my readers still want good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. That's not the way the world is. It is often grey, and very bleak.
Gary Wills reviews Michael Walzer's Arguing About War in the New York Review of Books and gives a thorough discussion of Walzer's views on Iraq, the subject of five essays in the book.
3. Post bellum. "Surely occupying powers are morally bound to think seriously about what they are going to do in someone else's country. That moral test we have obviously failed to meet." "A just occupation costs money; it does not make money." Admittedly, war always has its peripheral scavengers, its opportunistic camp followers.

In the Iraqi case, however, President Bush and his advisers seem committed to profiteering at the center. They claim to be bringing democracy to Iraq, and we all have to hope that they succeed. But with much greater speed and effectiveness, they have brought to Iraq the crony capitalism that now prevails in Washington....

The distribution of contracts to politically connected American companies is a scandal.... An international agency of proven impartiality would be best [in awarding contracts], but even American regulators, under congressional mandate, would be an improvement over no regulators at all.

On the other hand, Walzer says, a conquering nation is responsible for the chaos it has introduced into a conquered nation, and cannot leave when it suits the conqueror's convenience. That would be adding a crowning injustice to all the prior injustices.

Walzer made very good arguments against the justice of the war's commencement, conduct, and conclusion. But he was no more successful in his opposition than was the Vatican. So are his arguments as useless as those of the tradition? I hope not. We are not exempted from pressing moral claims even by defeat, and he supplies us with better moral claims than we have experienced in the past. Besides, his arguments over war go to many other concerns with democracy in the centralized modern state

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