War crimes

by John Quiggin on August 8, 2004

It’s been argued at length whether the Iraq war as a whole was morally justified. Given that many thousands of people died in the process of removing Saddam’s regime, I don’t think so. On the other hand, if you suppose that Saddam would otherwise have stayed in power for decades, and make some optimistic assumptions about future prospects, it’s possible to come to the opposite conclusion. But what possible moral justification can there be for the two bloody campaigns against Moqtada al-Sadr?

If the figures reported by the US military are true, nearly 2000 of Sadr’s supporters have been killed by US forces (1500 in the first campaign launched by Bremer just before his departure and another 300 in the last couple of days). This is comparable with plausible estimates of the number of people killed by Saddam’s police state annually in its final years.

These people weren’t Al Qaeda or Baathists, they were (apart from the inevitable innocent bystanders) young Iraqi men who objected to foreign occupation. Sadr’s militia is one of a dozen or so similar outfits in Iraq, and there are hundreds more around the world, quite a few of which have received US support despite having a worse record than Sadr’s. Moreover, there was no cause at stake that justified a war – the first started when Bremer shut down Sadr’s newspaper and the Sadrists retaliated by taking control of some police stations and mosques. The current fighting seems to have had even more trivial causes. It’s the willingness of the US government to send in the Marines that’s turned what would normally be noisy disturbances into bloodbaths.

Almost certainly, the current fighting will end in the same sort of messy compromise that prevailed before the first campaign started. Nothing will have been gained by either side. But 2000 or so people will still be dead. Sadr bears his share of the guilt for this crime. The US government is even more guilty.

{ 117 comments }

1

rd 08.08.04 at 7:56 am

“Noisy disturbances”? You make it sound like Sadr was running a sort of rambunctious sit-in movement, something not too far from the early days of the civil rights movement, when in fact its an effort to destroy the institutions of the new Iraqi state wherever he can and replace them with the authority of his own militia, a project already far advanced in the Shiite slums of Baghdad. He has kidnapped and killed policeman, and mortared police stations. Whatever opinions people have about the war, surely everyone can agree that the absolute worst outcome would be a civil war after the complete destruction of any central state capacity to govern? Is there a faster way to this outcome than to simply stand aside and let every militia out there seize what it can? There are plenty of criticisms to be made of the way the coalition has handled Sadr, particularly last April, but your moral calculas is radically incomplete.

2

Russkie 08.08.04 at 8:15 am

This post is titled “war crimes” …… but the post doesn’t talk about international law.

Instead, you seem to be evaluating the US against some Kantian or utilitarian standard of morality (you do so inaccurately in my view – but that’s beside the point).

Have I understood you correctly?

3

Russkie 08.08.04 at 8:16 am

This post is titled “war crimes” …… but the post doesn’t talk about international law.

Instead, you seem to be evaluating the US against some Kantian or utilitarian standard of morality (you do so inaccurately in my view – but that’s beside the point).

Have I understood you correctly?

4

John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 8:20 am

Certainly, I’m making a moral point rather than a legal one.

5

John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 8:47 am

rd, how does the current fighting differ from civil war, except that the US is one of the participants?

6

nick 08.08.04 at 8:58 am

On the one hand, al-Sadr’s people are shooting, so you shoot back.

On the other hand, it’s worth stepping back and trying to work out just how the fuck you go from being attacked by Sunni militants trained in Afghanistan, and get to a shooting war with a rag-tag Shi’a militia in Najaf. Somehow I don’t think this was on the PNAC timetable.

I mean, it’s like the Spanish government being attacked by ETA and ending up in running battles with the UVF along the Shankhill Road.

7

Andrew Boucher 08.08.04 at 9:00 am

Shutting down a newspaper inciting violence justifies an insurrection (taking control of “some” police stations)? I guess you can argue that the situation could have been handled better, but it seems that the U.S. lacks the knowledge of Iraqis and Iraqi culture to evaluate these situations correctly. The hammer approach is the only one possible because that’s the only one which the U.S. army knows. Is ignorance a moral sin?

(Which is to say, this places the sin back to the original act of invading with so little knowledge in the first place. But you can also criticize a lot of people, groups, and nations, who do know the Iraqis better, who basically threw up their hands in disgust at the Bush Administration, and decided not to persist -really persist – to help after the taking of Baghdad.)

8

Russkie 08.08.04 at 9:12 am

> Certainly, I’m making a moral point rather than a legal one.

Maybe Dubya is a Nietszchean superman who responds to grad school moral calculus by laughing in its general direction.

Seriously however: it’s my impression that you believe that this type of thing (ie. the unjustifiable US actions against Sadr) should be redressed by international “legal” mechanisms (as opposed to electoral mechanisms or diplomatic pressure).

9

rd 08.08.04 at 9:29 am

Good grief, how does the current situtation differ from a civil war?
A full scale civil war between militias after the collapse of any possible central state would make all the violence that has taken place so far in Iraq look like a year and a half long tea party. See for example Afghanistan and Somalia in the early 1990s. The scale of human suffering would be immensely greater and the future of the country would be blighted beyond recovery for decades. See current day Afghanistan and Somalia. The whole point of what we’re doing now is to help build an Iraqi state that can govern and then accomodate peaceful political competition for control of it. The odds may be stacked against this, but I don’t see any other reasonable path to better avoid a catastrophic breakdown. Sadr wants to short circuit this process by seizing as much power by force as he can now, disdaining the option of simply competing in elections come January. If he’s allowed free rein to do so, other actors will have to step forward with force to make sure they’re not cut out of any influence, and we’re on the path to hell.

10

John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 9:48 am

russkie, to the extent that there is any redress, it will be electoral.

rd, as I argued in the post, there’s no likelihood that the current bloodshed will make any significant difference to anything. It will end in another messy compromise which leaves Sadr’s position largely unchanged. The alternative, a full-scale assault on Sadr City is too awful to contemplate.

11

rd 08.08.04 at 9:59 am

His position certainly won’t be unchanged if he can occupy police stations across the south and break down any possibility that Iraqi police and security forces can operate, leaving either anarchy or control by his militia. It seems a fairly heroic assumption that he would have simply given up successful efforts to drive out the representatives of the Iraqi state without the application of force back in April and May, or that he would hesistate in such attempts if he wasn’t opposed by force now.

12

abb1 08.08.04 at 10:12 am

The whole thing is so fucked-up – nothing good can come out of it. Anything they do there can be classified as more terrible or less terrible, with the least terrible option of getting completely out of there tomorrow.

Well, since they, apparently, don’t want to get out of there at all, they need to keep the mayhem going one way or another. They could attack Falluja, of course, but Falluja is packed with former Iraqi military officers who can shoot straight; last time they tried to take Falluja over a hundred marines were killed within a couple of days. The Sadr’s militia, OTOH, is just a bunch of kids with AK47s, easy targets, just point and shoot like in a shooting gallery. What can be better?

13

WeSaferThemHealthier 08.08.04 at 10:36 am

Boucher,

“Is ignorance a moral sin?”
When you can reasonably expect that your ignorance will result in suffering and you choose to go ahead anyway when you had a choice not to, yes.

“The hammer approach is the only one possible because that’s the only one which the U.S. army knows”
Blame Clinton and Bush. It might have been hard for Clinton to include fourth generation warfare structures in the military ( he would have been accused of making it a girly army ) but he should have done it anyway. Bush had the time from sept11 onward to develop something more subtle than the hammer approach.

“who do know the Iraqis better, who basically threw up their hands in disgust at the Bush Administration, and decided not to persist -really persist – to help after the taking of Baghdad”

Even if, say, Jordanians or the French had been on hand, would they have been able to convince those calling the shots of not using massive force? Advice only works if the person you’re giving it to is willing to listen. Listening to advice is a tacit admission you might be wrong. When was the last time a foreign country succeeded in changing Bush admin foreign policy to a significant extent( besides Israel of course )*?

* Blair getting Bush and Powell to the UN is not significant because the lack of UN approval changed nothing to the decision to go to war or not.

Basically, even if someone had offered advice about how to deal with Sadr ( or fallujah or anything ), it would have been treated as appeasement, cuddling islamofascists, being a Soddomite, soft on terror etc.

14

Luc 08.08.04 at 11:06 am

You shouldn’t take that report from the US military too seriously. They do run a propaganda campaign. And as there is no real independent media, or any other way to confirm or deny that story of 300 death, you can’t declare it automatically false, but I personally certainly don’t trust it.

This is a supposed quote from a CO active in Iraq from about the same date:

Today we had a Company formation and our C.O. came out and talked to us. We told us we all did an incredible job and was proud of all of us. He said we all executed our jobs perfectly. He also informed us that the people that were wearing all black were actually insurgents from Iran, members of Al Qaeda. He said the Army estimated that there were at least 100 of them out there attacking us the other day.

This is simply misinformation. 100 Al Quada fighters from Iran, in Mosul?? Never mind the missing Al Quada membership cards and Iranian passports, but the whole idea is a bit bunk.

And if the blogger is genuine, the “facts” are fabricated by the Army.

Propaganda is still alive and kicking in this war in Iraq.

15

Luc 08.08.04 at 11:14 am

You shouldn’t take that report from the US military too seriously. They do run a propaganda campaign. And as there is no real independent media, or any other way to confirm or deny that story of 300 death, you can’t declare it automatically false, but I personally certainly don’t trust it.

This is a supposed quote from a CO active in Iraq from about the same date:

Today we had a Company formation and our C.O. came out and talked to us. We told us we all did an incredible job and was proud of all of us. He said we all executed our jobs perfectly. He also informed us that the people that were wearing all black were actually insurgents from Iran, members of Al Qaeda. He said the Army estimated that there were at least 100 of them out there attacking us the other day.

This is simply misinformation. 100 Al Quada fighters from Iran, in Mosul?? Never mind the missing Al Quada membership cards and Iranian passports, but the whole idea is a bit bunk.

And if the blogger is genuine, the “facts” are fabricated by the Army.

Propaganda is still alive and kicking in this war in Iraq.

16

srini 08.08.04 at 11:30 am

We’re minimizing it by talking about al-Sadr and not about Iran. After the invasion, tens of thousands of “pilgrims” flooded across the Iran-Iraq border. These Iranians finally had access to several Shi’ite holy cities, one of which was Najaf. Got news for ya: those weren’t pilgrims.

Iran is behind the most coordinated elements of this insurrection. Obviously, the US can’t have that, so we’re killing them as fast as we can. The hardest-core elements of ideological armies seek foreign adventure. Major elements of the Iranian special forces are currently in Iraq. Remember when Chalabi spilled the beans that we had broken the Iranian cipher? We were monitoring Tehran’s communications with its army. Now Iran has switched to its backup code, and we can no longer predict the events that its command content will precipitate.

This direct confrontation between Iran and the US could well be the opening rumbles of World War III. Unless we stop lying to our own people and calling this situation a domestic Iraqi crisis, we’ll be blindsided by the brewing conflict with Iran. A.Q.Khan sold Iran what it needs to refine uranium; they will have a nuclear arsenal within six years or so at latest. Iran is after oil fields and domination of the Islamic world, and it has been since the Revolution. By eliminating Hussein, a major check to Iran’s ambitions, and purporting to hold Iraq’s territory with what is by all accounts a token force, it doesn’t take Sun Tzu to figure out that we’re vulnerable.

Why would “we” play to lose? Well, the United States of America is hardly “united”; the neocon agenda is quite obviously at odds with the interests of the common American. Rumsfeld and the neocon axis are tempting Iran to invade Iraq and thus initiate the war that will enable the Republican agenda to rampage across what remains of American freedom. The emergence of a hostile mini-superpower would give the military-industrial complex plenty of grist for its mills.

What if Iran were to hurl its considerable army towards Baghdad after a particularly bloody month in Najaf? Would our troops be able to handle that – especially if a second front opened up around the oil fields in the south? Unfortunately, our troops are overextended; there simply aren’t enough of them to hold territory in heavy adversity. Pretty much the only thing the US forces have an advantage in is technology, but the Iranians, with their Iraqi Shi’ite (and maybe Ba’athist too?) allies, are the home team, and can probably throw a half million troops into the conflict.

The best way to proceed would be to empower the liberal element in Iran to prevail upon the clerics in charge to renounce their continuing imperialist war in Iraq, but that plan was set in motion a long time ago and it might take a second Iranian revolution to accomplish that.

-s

17

Giles 08.08.04 at 11:33 am

If you’re looking at the question from a utiltarian point of view, you do at some stage need to factor in how willing the participants are and how much they’re enjoying things.

Its a simple fact of life that young men enjoy firefights and the impression I get is that both the sadr and american troops are enjoying this conflict. So this part of the conflict is probably utility increasing. And given that the sadr uprising has not caused many collateral casualties and that a large section of the iraqi population takes some vicarious pride in the militia sticking it up the yanks, for the country as a whole the upriosing is utility increasing.

By contrast the al quada/bathist side of the conflict probably is’nt welfare enhancing due to the collateral causlties and fear it induces in the iraqi population.

18

Greg Hunter 08.08.04 at 11:57 am

Srini,

Thanks for the analysis. I guess I am buying, what you are selling.

19

abb1 08.08.04 at 12:15 pm

What if Iran were to hurl its considerable army towards Baghdad after a particularly bloody month in Najaf? Would our troops be able to handle that – especially if a second front opened up around the oil fields in the south? Unfortunately, our troops are overextended; there simply aren’t enough of them to hold territory in heavy adversity.

This is simply absurd. Iranian troops moving into Iraq and attacking US troops there? Have you ever heard about US ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads (about 10,000 of them)?

What was the last time any foreign government attacked the US post-Hiroshima – name one. Can’t? Why do you think they haven’t?

20

kevin donoghue 08.08.04 at 1:52 pm

If you swallow the premise that America was justified in overthrowing Saddam and installing Allawi, then the question of what to do about groups like the Sadrists is mostly a matter of tactical calculation. Can you bring them on board without abandoning your goals? Presuming those goals to include both a lasting American presence and a government which is even minimally democratic, probably not; so you have to crush them.

If you want to discuss the morality of it, perhaps the best place to start is with the doctrine of liberal imperialism as promulgated by Niall Ferguson and a host of others. This seems to be based on a godlike utilitarian calculation: sum the civilising benefits of empire, subtract the costs in blood and treasure and convince yourself that it’s all worthwhile.

In that sort of computation, a few thousand lives count for little more than rounding errors.

21

sitis 08.08.04 at 2:16 pm

abb1 asks, “What was the last time any foreign government attacked the US post-Hiroshima [?] “
Can we count the 180,000 Chinese who poured into North Korea on November 25th 1950 in response to MacArthur’s advance? This strikes me as the event srini had in mind when spinning his(?) scenario.

22

bob mcmanus 08.08.04 at 2:18 pm

In Iraq, like Afghanistan, your prestige and legitimacy is measured by the studs with guns you can mobilize.

Fallujah has an militia;Sadr has a militia;President (of Baghdad)Allawi has a few guys that run away and the US Marines. After 15 months this is so incompetent as to be despicable.

As far as Iran goes, well maybe. Sadr has some support from Iran but not as much as SCIRI. I doubt the guys fighting this week are anything more than Sadr City kids.

23

abb1 08.08.04 at 3:31 pm

Can we count the 180,000 Chinese who poured into North Korea on November 25th 1950 in response to MacArthur’s advance?

I guess we could, if we note that a massive nuclear attack was seriously considered by Truman a couple months later including, apparently, shipping atomic bombs to Okinawa. But of course Stalin was more than likely to retaliate with his own atomic weapons, so Truman blinked first.

Now, this time around – who is going to put his ass on the line to defend Iran?

24

Tom 08.08.04 at 3:54 pm

Maybe I am missing something, but I am choking on the last line of the original post:

“Sadr bears his share of the guilt for this crime. The US government is even more guilty.”

What purpose does Sadr’s army serve? I understand what the US army is trying to do (perhaps ineptly)- what morally legitimate goal is Sadr trying to pursue? In what way have his confrontations with US made life better for Iraqis?

Tom

25

Tom 08.08.04 at 4:04 pm

Another thing that bothered me about the original post. The moral calculus should also include:

1) If Saddam stayed in power, presumably sanctions would also have continued. I know there are arguments about the size of the impact of the sanctions but I do not think there is any doubt that the impact was larger than the dead from the war.

2) Saddam’s regime would ultimately have to change, perhaps with his death. Such a change might have been bloody as well.

None of which is to say that if Iraq even stays as it is now (low-level conflict, appointed leader), the war was right. But if the US does succeed, I think this is a huge moral win.

Tom

26

paperwight 08.08.04 at 4:13 pm

Just a couple thoughts:

1) On those Iranian Al Qaeda members, it’s just possible that they’re Sunni Al Qaeda who were hiding out in the mountains of Iran, but last I checked, (a) direct frontal assault on American troops isn’t Al Qaeda’s style, and (b) the Iranian government is Shia, and isn’t all that interested in helping Al Qaeda in a meaningful way. They might like a somewhat destabilized Iraq, but probably not at the expense of strengthening the Sunni hand. In other words, that just sounds too weird for it to be true.

2) I don’t think the Iranians have to directly attack American troops. Why would they? No hurry for them — just keep supporting the Shia in the south and eventually the Americans will get sick of their children being shot at for no good purpose, and they’ll bring them home.

Americans have this weird notion about timelines in months or a very small number of years that a lot of other cultures just don’t have. Why would one think that the Iranians aren’t willing to wait for years for this to settle out in their favor, just giving the situation a nudge here and there. It’s not as if the population of Southern Iraq is going to be any less Shia 5 or 10 years from now.

27

Otto 08.08.04 at 4:44 pm

The attacks on Sadr’s army are part of setting up an Iraqi state with the monopoly of the means of force. It must be done for those Weberian reasons, just as the ability of the Duc de Guise to have a private army had to be ended by absolutism in France, and in the same way that English kings tore down private castles.

28

Dave 08.08.04 at 5:03 pm

I don’t really understand this post, either. Sadr is trying to destroy the infrastructure of the new government, and take control of as much of the country as possible with a private army. He’s shooting at Iraqis and Americans alike. As long as we’re there, trying to support the new government, and as long as we and that government are under attack, we have no choice but to fight Sadr.

29

Steve Carr 08.08.04 at 5:14 pm

Let me echo these last few posts. John, are you seriously suggesting that if a private militia of thousands of men, armed with AK-47s, took over police stations in Brixton, murdering cops and effectively running the streets, that the proper course of action would be for the British government to sit by and do nothing?

30

minnesotaj 08.08.04 at 5:16 pm

…don’t forget the Sy Hersh piece about Israeli Mossad aiding Kurds and infiltrating northeastern Iran to prepare for just this instance. So, yeah, this is a real ball of wax. On the other hand, honestly: a million Iranians versus 150k US troops in all-out battle (as opposed to fairly gentle patrols through the streets)? A bloodbath for the Iranians, none of whose planes or helicopters would be in the air after the first 48 hours–so, they’d never do such a thing. Much more believable is semi-permanent clusterfuck between all the different interests in the region, w/our best hope not leaving altogether, but convincing UN/Arab World to send in troops of their own, but for that to happen we need a reprise of Uncle Ronnie’s “Tear Down That Wall!”

31

kevin donoghue 08.08.04 at 5:17 pm

“If Saddam stayed in power, presumably sanctions would also have continued. I know there are arguments about the size of the impact of the sanctions but I do not think there is any doubt that the impact was larger than the dead from the war.”

It is hard to picture a scenario in which Saddam could have stayed in power without somehow satisfying the UNSC (including America). The invasion force wasn’t going to come home without some serious concessions from him. How could sanctions hve been maintained after that? It was common ground that the sanctions regime needed to change drastically even if he remained obstructive.

For present purposes the impact of the sanctions is best compared with the impact of chaos and misgovernment on health services, electricity and water supplies, all of which must be taking its toll. The trouble is that we don’t have any trustworthy data for either the old or the new regime.

32

McDoo 08.08.04 at 5:55 pm

Let me echo these last few posts. John, are you seriously suggesting that if a private militia of thousands of men, armed with AK-47s, took over police stations in Brixton, murdering cops and effectively running the streets, that the proper course of action would be for the British government to sit by and do nothing?

Ditto, Steve. This (John’s) has to be one of the silliest posts on CT in a long time.

33

Barry 08.08.04 at 5:56 pm

Posted by Andrew Boucher:

“But you can also criticize a lot of people, groups, and nations, who do know the Iraqis better, who basically threw up their hands in disgust at the Bush Administration, and decided not to persist -really persist – to help after the taking of Baghdad.)”.

At this point your credibility in this argument is at -100%, Andrew. The US administration repeatedly rejected the advice of everybody who knew what was going on, precisely because that advice was not ‘rice and flowers’.

34

Tom 08.08.04 at 6:07 pm

Kevin,

I think you outlined the best non-war outcome. I am not sure it would have been the only one. For example, I thought there had been efforts to change the sanctions regime before that had failed.

As I understood it, the original post is asking about the morality of the US going to war – the morality of the US choice. The question then to me is what would have happened if the US had not gone to war, not what would have happened if Saddam had made some “serious concessions.” In truth, I am not sure what those concessions would have been (resigning?).

Cheers,
Tom

35

Robin Green 08.08.04 at 7:00 pm

For example, I thought there had been efforts to change the sanctions regime before that had failed.

Yes – because of US obstructionism.

36

Kevin Donoghue 08.08.04 at 7:35 pm

Tom,

My reading of John’s post is that he sees the war with the Sadrists as separable from the regime change, hence a decision to be evaluated on its own merits. To an extent I agree with him. If my understanding of events is anywhere near correct, they are in no way analogous to an unprovoked attack on Brixton police station. America is out to diminish the Sadrists as a political force, because they certainly won’t tolerate a continuing role for the US in the affairs of Iraq, and perhaps also because they won’t coexist peacefully with secular Iraqis.

Having said that, I don’t see how anyone who argued that the overthrow of Saddam was morally right could oppose war against the Sadrists. I think that if you want to present a moral justification for changing a regime which was odious but no real threat, then the only position which looks at all defensible is liberal imperialism. That argument turns on the claim that Iraq and the Arab world will be a better place thanks to America’s decision to shoulder a truly imperial role there, as distinct from the more modest role envisaged in the Carter doctrine and its successors. If people can stomach that (which I certainly cannot) then wasting a few thousand Sadrists really shouldn’t bother them.

I think that the sanctions regime was coming to a close one way or another. That’s why I don’t think the suffering they were causing (in part of course through Saddam exploiting them) should enter into any utilitarian calculation justifying the invasion. My fall-back position is that even if the new and old regimes are to be compared in that particular respect, it isn’t clear that things are any better.

As to Saddam making concessions: if he had done enough to get a more favourable report from Blix it would have been difficult for the US to abandon (muscular) diplomacy.

37

Barry 08.08.04 at 7:45 pm

IIRC, the gist of Blix’s pre-war report to the UN was:

1) Not all WMD’s from the first Gulf War had been accounted for.

2) There was no current obstruction of practical importance.

3) No evidence of WMD’s or such programs has been found.

4) US intelligence furnished to the UN inspectors was 100% worthless.

Given that sort of report, there wasn’t much that Saddam could have done – the US administration wanted a war, and was actually racheting up the conditions.

38

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.08.04 at 8:34 pm

“But what possible moral justification can there be for the two bloody campaigns against Moqtada al-Sadr?”

Perhaps when Sadr’s people shoot at you repeatedly you get to shoot back. Especially if you are the current Iraqi government. And what pray tell are the stated aims of the Sadrist movement? Do you approve of them John?

39

Antoni Jaume 08.08.04 at 8:57 pm

Who began to shoot?

As for the aims of Sadr, I don’t see why he needs any. Saddam killed his father, that made him the leader of a bunch of people (some 2 million IIRC), and to protect his leadership he needs a militia.

DSW

40

Adam 08.08.04 at 9:17 pm

John,

There’s a huge flaw in your basic assumptions with this post: you equate the deaths of enemy soldiers with the deaths of civilians.

From a moral standpoint there is surely a world of difference between the military killing a soldier vs. killing a civilian. The soldier signs up for battle, explicitly saying that he is willing to die for what he believes in. The civilian, on the other hand, is just trying to go about his daily business, and is completely innocent. An enemy soldier who is actively attacking a military unit is not.

Wouldn’t you agree that there is a moral difference between bombing a munitions depot, and bombing a hospital — even if the two result in an equal number of deaths??

41

John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 9:39 pm

Numerous commentators have suggested that the campaign against Sadr was justified by his attacks on US forces and Iraqi police, destroying infrastructure and so on. This appears to confuse his militia with the insurgents who were, prior to Bremer’s April campaign, largely confined to Sunni areas of Iraq.

As far as I am aware, prior to the April campaign, Sadr had not advocated armed resistance to the Americans. I’m not aware of proven instances of attacks by Sadr’s group on US forces prior to this. No doubt there were some instance of fighting between the two groups, but nothing that would justify thousands of deaths.

The real claim is that having overthrown Saddam, the US is justified in imposing a government on the Iraqis and crushing resistance to that government, killing as many people as necessary along the way.

For those who claim to base their support for the war on the humanitarian benefits of removing Saddam, this ought to be deeply troubling.

42

Michael Otsuka 08.08.04 at 9:40 pm

I concur with the last post. But the “huge flaw” that I thought I had also detected when I first read John’s post was so huge that I figured I must be missing something. So, John, were you equating the deaths of combatants with those of civilians? And if you were, shouldn’t you have flagged this assumption, given how contentious it is?

43

kevin donoghue 08.08.04 at 9:43 pm

“Who began to shoot?”

Without going to Google, my recollection of the sequence is as follows:

US invades Iraq – a rival of Muqtada’s starts to muscle in on his territory (with US encouragement?) – rival is murdered – Muqtada publishes anti-US newspaper – his newspaper is shut down – Muqtada preaches fiery anti-US sermons – he is accused of murdering his rival – his braves go on the warpath – with Fallujah simultaneously on their hands the Americans make peace overtures – situation calms down – Allawi is appointed – situation heats up again….

Who cares who shot first? George W. Bush has one plan for Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr has another, neither of them has much common sense. They are natural enemies.

As to the rest of your post, Antoni, I agree completely. It is a chaotic situation and al-Sadr’s prospects are grim in any case. He might as well go down fighting.

The question John raised related to the morality (or even the advisibility) of backing guys like this into a corner. As often happens, the question is being ignored by the my-country-right-or-wrong brigade.

44

Michael Otsuka 08.08.04 at 9:44 pm

PS: By “last post” I meant Adam’s post.

45

Antoni Jaume 08.08.04 at 9:50 pm

When most Iraqis have their own experience of the US troops shooting on women and childs, and most families have probably a kalashnikov or similar at home, how do you differenciate between civilians and combatants?

In Spain civil war, Franco troops killed any civilian they suspected to have fired a riffle. Now, I’ve no particular reason to doubt the US troops tend to behave similarly.

DSW

46

kevin donoghue 08.08.04 at 10:09 pm

Barry,

My recollection of Blix’s report is not very different from yours but I do think it suggested that Iraq could have done more. Certainly the US administration wanted the war. It’s all a bit off-topic in any case; the point I was making to Tom was that it is hard to paint a scenario in which sanctions would have remained in place, so their humanitarian impact cannot reasonably be part of the case for the invasion.

47

John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 10:12 pm

Adam, thanks for raising the question of a distinction between combatant and non-combatant deaths. I had originally drafted a longer post covering precisely this point, and I’ll try to put it up later on.

In my view, this distinction isn’t relevant in making a moral assessment of those who choose to start wars. In particular, Saddam’s great crimes were the foreign and civil wars he started.

That’s not to say that, in the course of fighting a war there aren’t morally relevant distinctions to be made. But 2000 people dead is 2000 people dead, and if you choose a course of action leading to this outcome, you’re responsible for those deaths.

48

Tom 08.08.04 at 10:14 pm

Kevin,

I agree with your point on the same moral justification applying to the war and to moving against Sadr. I also should say I have no idea if he, personally, could have been coopted, rather than fought.

My main unhappiness with the original post were the last lines about the US being more guilty than Sadr.

Tom

49

Michael Otsuka 08.08.04 at 10:14 pm

John’s 9:39 pm post, incidentally, doesn’t answer the question I raised in my post immediately below his. (Not to say that it should have, as his predated mine.) It doesn’t answer my question because there’s a moral distinction to be drawn between the killing of combatants and non-combantants even when those doing the killing are fighting an unjust war. Even those who think (as I think) the US waged unjust war in Vietnam draw a distinction between the My Lai massacre of non-combatants and the killing of an equal number of combatants.

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Detached Observer 08.08.04 at 10:14 pm

Quiggin on Sadr’s militia: “These people weren’t Al Qaeda or Baathists, they were (apart from the inevitable innocent bystanders) young Iraqi men who objected to foreign occupation…”

This is, arguably, the strangest and most ill-conceived sentence I have ever read on Crooked Timber.

One doesn’t need to have a PhD to realize that these young Iraqi men did a bit more than peacefully offer objections…

Given that they committed violence against Americans, forgive me if I am not too bothered that they are not Baathists or members of Al Qaeda…

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Michael Otsuka 08.08.04 at 10:40 pm

My posts keep crossing with John’s. What, John, do you mean by ‘choose to start a war’ in your 10:14 post? Suppose that Blix had reported that Saddam Hussein was obstructing weapons inspection in non-compliance with 1441, the Security Council had passed a second resolution authorizing war, and a just (as well as legal) invasion of Iraq had ensued. Who would have ‘chosen to start’ the war in that case? If the invaders, then I’m sure that ‘choosing to start a war’ doesn’t bear the moral significance you think it bears. But even if ‘choosing to start a war’ means something like ‘do things which make it justifable to wage war against one’, then what I say above about My Lai undermines your 10:14 post.

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Michael Otsuka 08.08.04 at 10:43 pm

I meant 10:12 post, not 10:14 post.

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John Quiggin 08.08.04 at 11:19 pm

Michael, suppose that Saddam obstructed inspections and, to make things clearer, let’s suppose that he was concealing weapons of mass destruction. Certainly in these circumstances he would be morally guilty for the war and the casualties on both sides.

But that does not absolve the UN/US of the need to make a moral judgement that the harm caused by the war, including the deaths of Iraqi soldiers, is outweighed by the harm prevented. (I’m posing this in utilitarian terms, but I think the same point could be made in other ways).

This doesn’t mean that killing enemy soldiers in battle is the same as My Lai. If the war is justified, killing enemy soldiers is a necessary evil.

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Michael Otsuka 08.09.04 at 12:23 am

John,

Two replies to your 11:19 pm post:

(1) It doesn’t follow from the fact that somebody unjustly starts a war that ‘he would be morally guilty for … the casualties on both sides’. This is because his opponent might commit unjustifiable atrocities for which they, and not he, would be morally guilty. The Japanese are not, for example, morally guilty for the casualites resulting from the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

(2) In deciding whether to respond with military force to an unprovoked aggression, one should not count all deaths as on a par. The fact that, for example, 2,000 of the soldiers of the aggressor would need to be killed in order to prevent them from killing 1,000 non-combatants, should not prevent one from killing their soldiers to protect these civilians even though the harm to 2,000 is greater than the harm to 1,000.

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John Quiggin 08.09.04 at 12:39 am

Michael, I’m not sure about (1). I agree with (2), but that doesn’t mean you can assert that the lives of enemy soldiers, or rebels against a government you support are morally valueless.

The point of my post was that the number of deaths caused by these campaigns was both very large and grossly disproportionate to the causes involved.

56

Otto 08.09.04 at 1:23 am

“The real claim is that having overthrown Saddam, the US is justified in imposing a government on the Iraqis and crushing resistance to that government, killing as many people as necessary along the way.”

So do you think that governments in general are not justified destroying private armies in the name of creating the monopoly of force required for politics and law? Or you object to invading armies particularly? Would you object if an indigenous Iraqi government was taking on the private armies?

“For those who claim to base their support for the war on the humanitarian benefits of removing Saddam, this ought to be deeply troubling.”

I would have thought a state monopoly of force one the most beneficial developments a society can achieve.

57

praktike 08.09.04 at 1:26 am

Look, these al-Mahdi dudes are a bunch of gangsters … if anything, we’re protecting people from being extorted. I mean, this guy’s been going around robbing people and blowing up businesses. They just need to die.

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John Quiggin 08.09.04 at 1:30 am

‘I would have thought a state monopoly of force one the most beneficial developments a society can achieve.”

I think the Iraqis enjoyed (if that’s the right word) that particular benefit before the war.

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Otto 08.09.04 at 1:44 am

“I think the Iraqis enjoyed (if that’s the right word) that particular benefit before the war.”

Not correct, I believe. One of the features of pre-war Iraq was the existance of private militias, including Sadr’s lot, with the Iraqi army being just the biggest ape in the ape-house, and lots of resulting violence.

You really doubt a state monopoly of force is a benefit to society?

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Adam 08.09.04 at 2:36 am

John,

Getting back to your original post. You stated:
If the figures reported by the US military are true, nearly 2000 of Sadr’s supporters have been killed by US forces (1500 in the first campaign launched by Bremer just before his departure and another 300 in the last couple of days). This is comparable with plausible estimates of the number of people killed by Saddam’s police state annually in its final years.

In that paragraph you are implying that the harm caused by killing Sadr’s soldiers is larger than the harm caused by Saddam’s goons towards innocent Iraq civilians.

That seems like a pretty indefensible position. What is your defence of it?

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Adam 08.09.04 at 2:38 am

sorry… I should have said “equivalent to” rather than “larger than”

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John Quiggin 08.09.04 at 3:27 am

I’m not asserting equivalence between this and the crimes of Saddam Hussein. I am asserting that this large-scale killing is morally unjustified and that the idea that “it’s OK because these guys were gangsters/rebels/soldiers” is morally indefensible.

In this context, it’s relevant to point out that, as far as the number of people killed is concerned, this is on the same scale as the things we supposedly fought to stop, and I did so.

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Adam 08.09.04 at 3:35 am

Think of it from this perspective. Take the decision of whether or not to go to war at all as a sunk cost. The question is, given the position we are in now, is it morally defensible to kill Sadr’s soldiers?

If the goal is to make Iraq as stable, safe, and democratic as possible, I think the answer is clearly yes. They are a clear barrier to this, and as soldiers who have signed up to die in defense of their cause, I see no moral problem with killing them. That is even putting aside the fact that they are actively trying to kill allied soldiers.

Your argument against killing them seems to rest on the idea that we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place. But if the decision to go to war is viewed as a sunk cost, what do you feel is the right thing to do?

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MQ 08.09.04 at 4:46 am

The U.S. wants military bases in the Persian Gulf, and pliable governments that will knuckle under to our wishes in the major states in that area. This is about U.S. control of Iraq, not “democracy for Iraq”, “humanitarian causes”, or any of these other flimsy front reasons. How could anyone not see this after looking at our conduct since the invasion?

Anyway, Sadr was dangerously radical and a apparently a threat to putting in place a compliant puppet government, hence he needed to be taken out.

If one wants to get “moral” you can argue that a U.S. client state in Iraq imposed by military force will be a better outcome for the typical Iraqi than any alternative. Quiggin raises some legit questions about that; certainly it is extremely open to question whether the lives of typical Iraqis have improved due to our invasion.

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Detached Observer 08.09.04 at 4:56 am

john quiggin wrote: “I’m not asserting equivalence between this and the crimes of Saddam Hussein…it’s relevant to point out that, as far as the number of people killed is concerned, this is on the same scale as the things we supposedly fought to stop.”

Funny. You write that you are not asserting equivalence between the crimes of Saddam and the battle with Sadr’s army. And then you go ahead and do it anyway.

When you say “…this is on the same scale as the things we supposedly fought to stop…” you ignore the fact that the things we fought to stop involve the deaths of defenseless civilians whereas what is going on now involves the deaths of soldiers sworn to the cause.

You cant compare the scale of the two events – at all – without implicitly equating the death of a civilian to the death of a soldier.

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Mark 08.09.04 at 6:08 am

“In this context, it’s relevant to point out that, as far as the number of people killed is concerned, this is on the same scale as the things we supposedly fought to stop, and I did so.”

I’m not sure I understand: how is fighting against militiamen seeking to implement Islamic fascism “on the same scale as” Saddam’s genocidal rampage, mass torture and enslavement of 25 million Iraqis?

If you are going to use deontological or utilitarian arguments to evaluate the war, be honest about it.

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abb1 08.09.04 at 10:01 am

Anyway, Sadr was dangerously radical and a apparently a threat to putting in place a compliant puppet government, hence he needed to be taken out.

No, don’t think so. The “moral” approach to a problem like this (popular disobedient leader) is an assassination. Certainly they could pay someone a few million dollars and get the guy killed quietly, without killing thousands more.

I think what they are trying to do is to break the resistance, to demonstrate that any resistance to the occupation/new client regime will be crushed exactly the same way it used to be crushed by Saddam. Methods are the same: torture and extrajudicial executions, firing rockets into city blocks, etc.

If one wants to get “moral” you can argue that a U.S. client state in Iraq imposed by military force will be a better outcome for the typical Iraqi than any alternative.

Well, I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that something imposed by military force will be better than any alternative. But I’m sure it won’t stop them from trying.

Anyway, let’s even accept for a second that the outcome will be better. Then this argument, basically, amounts to: the ends justify the means. Now, how moral is that?

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abb1 08.09.04 at 12:13 pm

how is fighting against militiamen seeking to implement Islamic fascism “on the same scale as” Saddam’s genocidal rampage, mass torture and enslavement of 25 million Iraqis?

This is how:

Reuters:
…Sadr, a hero to Iraq’s downtrodden Shi’ite youth, rejected the order to quit his hometown.

“In the presence of occupation, there are no politics,” he said. “You can’t twin democracy and occupation, you can’t twin freedom and occupation.”

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Mark 08.09.04 at 4:50 pm

Sadr’s claim – arguably false – is belied by the conduct of his militia in seeking to establish Islamic fascism, complete with his own courts and ministries.

As described by one Iraqi (at iraqthemodel.com):

“These militant groups have betrayed Iraq by their collaboration with other countries to destabilize the situation in Iraq while the true sons of Iraq are working to build their country.”

By failing to consider the nature of the militia – in this case, Islamic fascists – your moral reasoning is deficient.

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Antoni Jaume 08.09.04 at 6:14 pm

Mark, are you sure that your characterisation of Sadr militia as “fascist” is accurate?

DSW

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Mark 08.09.04 at 6:39 pm

Since Sadr seeks to derail the move toward Iraqi democracy through the use of assassination, kidnappings & executions, and implement rule by clerical dictators in which a single religion encompasses the state, I feel comfortable with my claim. You can call it Islamic totalitariamism if you like. I just make few moral distinctions between marxist, fascist, theocratic or other types of dictatorships.

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dsquared 08.09.04 at 6:43 pm

ignore the fact that the things we fought to stop involve the deaths of defenseless civilians whereas what is going on now involves the deaths of soldiers sworn to the cause

Look, no doctor ever said “Congratulations, Mrs Sadr, it’s a beautiful bouncing baby combatant”. John is entirely right in his main point here; these “soldiers” that you’re talking about were civilians until we invaded them and shut down their newspaper.

I am currently a civilian. If a foreign power were to be occupying the streets of North London and censoring the property pages of the Ham & High, I dare say I would consider throwing the odd petrol bomb at them (at least, I like to think I would). If the right of the common people to take up arms against a government they don’t like is to mean anything, surely to God it can’t mean that as soon as you do so, you exit from the moral calculus because you become a “combatant”.

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dsquared 08.09.04 at 7:15 pm

Since Sadr seeks to derail the move toward Iraqi democracy through the use of assassination, kidnappings & executions

Not wanting to be a dick here, but the Allawi government has not exactly been backward in coming forward when it comes to assasinations, kidnappings or executions, have they?

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Mark 08.09.04 at 10:15 pm

dsquared,

John is wrong on his main point precisely in the same way that you are: you fail to consider the type of regime for which Sadr is agitating and against which he is fighting.

A number of years ago Timothy McVeigh blew up a US Federal building claiming to fight against an unwanted government. He would make exactly the claim you and Sadr have: I have a right to throw bombs if I consider my government to be inappropriate; my cause is moral.

This argument is faulty because the nature of the regime (fascist Christian right-wing; Islamic fascist theocracy) is not considered in one’s moral reasoning.

Essentially, 9-11 has forced the West, despite the destructive force of philosophical post-modernism, to affirm its classical liberal values or relinquish its moral position. Given its misinterpretation of philosophical post-modernism, this is a difficult thing to do for the academic left. Hence we see strange locutions like: “It’s ok to throw bombs at foreign powers if you are asserting your right to establish a fascist theocracy”.

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kevin donoghue 08.09.04 at 10:22 pm

“Not wanting to be a dick here, but the Allawi government has not exactly been backward in coming forward when it comes to assasinations, kidnappings or executions, have they?”

Ah, but it is the locomotive which is hauling Iraq towards democracy. The signs on the carriages say so. And that nasty Muqtatda is an Islamofascist who is trying to derail the train.

The moral issues could scarcely be clearer.

I often wonder whether there is any body-count which the utilitarian accountants who defend this war regard as a kind of breakeven figure? 100,000? A million? Are there weightings based on combat status and nationality?

I suspect part of the motive for John’s post was to try to get at that question but if so it hasn’t worked. All credit to him for trying though.

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dsquared 08.09.04 at 10:29 pm

Hence we see strange locutions like: “It’s ok to throw bombs at foreign powers if you are asserting your right to establish a fascist theocracy”.

My actual locution was “It’s ok to throw bombs at foreign powers if their troops are walking down your street”.

Ah, but it is the locomotive which is hauling Iraq towards democracy. The signs on the carriages say so.

Signs on carriages say all sorts of things, mate. Do you realise that this is the exact same thing that your equivalent might have being saying 35 years ago about the Diem regime?

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kevin donoghue 08.09.04 at 10:44 pm

“Do you realise that this is the exact same thing that your equivalent might have being saying 35 years ago about the Diem regime?”

You underestimate my age. Ah yes, I remember it well. In fact I was reminded just recently of the episode which first made me wonder whether perhaps there might be something wrong with America’s “noble cause.” It was when the television showed the Saigon police chief putting a bullet in the head of a Viet Cong suspect.

There are reports that Mr Allawi does that sort of thing too, but not in public so we don’t know for sure.

I think you may have misread the intent of my comment.

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dsquared 08.09.04 at 11:02 pm

sorry, yes. being drunk, I didn’t see that one comment had ended and another had started.

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abb1 08.09.04 at 11:16 pm

Since Sadr seeks to derail the move toward Iraqi democracy through the use of assassination…

Not that it’s especially relevant, but does anyone else here (other than Mark) believe this ‘democracy’ crap? I thought the ‘democracy’ talking point has already gone down the memory hole and now it reads “somewhat-representative government”. Mark, you, apparently, missed that fax from the Ministry Of Truth…

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Mark 08.10.04 at 12:00 am

dsquared,

Once again, you have avoided addressing your failure to distinguish between Sadr’s drive to implement another brutal dictatorship and Iraq’s nascent democracy. Given that it’s crucial to my counter-argument, what makes you think I’ll drop this point?

kevin,

Myself and many others have gone through utilitarian and deontological arguments for and against the war over at windsofchange.net many times. You can easily search the threads to see for yourself (if you are terribly bored and mistakenly believe all pro-war people are insensible brutes). That you would suggest Iraqis might be better off under a genocidal fascist like Saddam rather than under their present government is rather odd, given HRW’s figures for Iraqi genocide over the past 20 years.

But I’m willing to listen to you argue the moral case for leaving Saddam in power. Give it a go.

abb1,

If you want to make angry noises instead of arguing, you’ll have to find someone else at whom to grunt. Witty comments about the “Ministry of Truth” etc are rather boring, don’t you think?

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dsquared 08.10.04 at 12:18 am

Once again, you have avoided addressing your failure to distinguish between Sadr’s drive to implement another brutal dictatorship and Iraq’s nascent democracy. Given that it’s crucial to my counter-argument, what makes you think I’ll drop this point?

I was hoping that you’d get embarrassed by

  • The fact that you’re now reduced to using cliches like “brutal dictatorship”
  • You’re putting huge amounts of faith in “Iraq’s nascent democracy”, a government which is currently a dictatorship run by a man who apparently murders prisoners and one which tortures prisoners.
  • You are applying a moral premium to fictitious acts of “Islamofascism” which exist in a hypothetical future of your own imagining and a discount to actual deaths of real people
  • You’re ignoring my point that it makes a difference that one side is fighting on its home ground and the other isn’t, so why the hell should I care about yours?

You do realise how your sort of reasoning worked out in Vietnam, btw, in another context where the USA sincerely and correctly believed itself to be defending democracy?

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Mark 08.10.04 at 2:15 am

dsquared,

Why would my pride or embarrassment be relevant to the argument? If you object to my characterization of Sadr’s proposed rule or Saddam’s former rule as a brutal dictatorship, then attack it, if you can. Otherwise don’t waste my time.

Since you believe Iraq’s nascent democracy is a dictatorship, you’ll have no trouble explaining your view, with hyperlinks to Iraqs new political structure so we can judge for ourselves. While you’re at it, I assume you’ll have no trouble proving Allawi executed prisoners as you say.

I’ve never discounted deaths of actual people. I just don’t believe Islamic fascists like Sadr and his militia, who are explicitly fighting to remove the freedoms Iraqis now enjoy, deserve the same consideration you give them.

I’m not sure why you think “home ground” is relevant. If you can tell me why it is, then perhaps I’ll have more to say. I’ve addressed why your argument for equivalence ignores the nature of the project to which each side is committed. Since you keep ignoring it, I can only assume you either don’t understand it, or have no adequate rebuttal.

If you want to compare Iraq to Vietnam, make a credible argument. Remember when the left could mount credible arguments instead of just mouthing old slogans like “Quagmire” and “Vietnam”?

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dsquared 08.10.04 at 2:23 am

Since you believe Iraq’s nascent democracy is a dictatorship, you’ll have no trouble explaining your view

Well, it wasn’t elected and isn’t accountable. If you want o substitute “junta”, be my guest.

If you object to my characterization of Sadr’s proposed rule or Saddam’s former rule as a brutal dictatorship, then attack it, if you can.

Just as soon as you explain how you got such detailed information about “Sadr’s proposed rule”. I seem to remember in April that he was calling for immediate elections.

Meanwhile, you’re in a quagmire, the situation is directly analogous to Vietnam, and all you can do is claim out of hand that all comparisons are invalid.

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Donald Johnson 08.10.04 at 3:11 am

I probably shouldn’t go on this tangent, but dsquared, do you think that what the US was defending in Vietnam was a democracy? It had some of the trappings, but they also tortured people for no good reason, something that democracies never….hmm, I see your point.

On another subject, anyone know if there is any particular reason to believe that the 300 dead were all militia? I mean, other than that’s what the US government claims.

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Mark 08.10.04 at 3:55 am

Where, exactly, did I claim “all comparisons are invalid”? Is it too much to ask that you read text before you respond to it.

The present Iraqi government is composed of a coucil, sub-councils, a number of ministries, a fledgling military and a bureaucracy, all constrained by a constitution and a set of laws, upheld by a judiciary. Positions at the municipal level are often elected, some governmental positions are chosen by the provisional Iraqi government from amongst local representatives, others are simply appointed by ministry heads. The whole ungainly thing is only proto-democratic, but its a helluva lot better than what you would have condemned them to.

Here is Sadr and his militiamen, the freedom fighters you equate to Iraqis trying to work toward democracy:

Shubari [commander of Sadr’s Diwaniya Madhi army] claimed: “In Diwaniya, the Mahdi Army is restoring peace and order. We have sharia courts, they are run by judges sent from Najaf and we impose 80 lashes for stealing and drinking alcohol. The punishments are carried out by court police.” from http://atheism.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml%3Fxml=/news/2004/04/18/wirq218.xml

This after Sadr’s army laid waste to Qawliya, an small Iraqi village, killing many of its 1500 inhabitants. I can find more examples of Sadr’s brutal imposition of Sharia law if you like, or you can concede that he’s nothing more than a thug seeking to shoot his way to power.

Which brings me back to the points I initially raised: your argument fails to address the nature of the project each side seeks to implement. Keep ignoring it, keep spouting off about quagmire and vietnam, and I’ll keep driving it home.

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dsquared 08.10.04 at 4:15 am

ling military and a bureaucracy, all constrained by a constitution and a set of laws

This is clearly some new sense of the word “constrained” with which I was previously unacquainted.

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Mark 08.10.04 at 5:09 am

If I wait long enough, dsquared, will you make or respond to an argument, or is that asking too much?

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John Quiggin 08.10.04 at 5:09 am

Mark, it’s highly likely that some version of Sharia law will be put in place if there is ever a freely elected government in Iraq. Not only Sadr, but SCIRI and Al-Dawa support Sharia, as does Sistani and many Sunni groups. Do you propose to suppress these groups also?

To put it more bluntly, how many people are you prepared to have killed in order to protect the freedom to consume alcohol?

89

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.10.04 at 5:15 am

“You’re ignoring my point that it makes a difference that one side is fighting on its home ground and the other isn’t, so why the hell should I care about yours?”

It doesn’t matter what Sadr’s people are fighting for? It doesn’t matter that they want Iran II?

90

Mark 08.10.04 at 5:30 am

As far as I know, the political parties that participate in Iraqi democracy will have to adhere to the constitution, which enshrines many of the safeguards that liberal democrats (though perhaps not the marxist elites who infest academia) would recognize. Given this, I’m not overly worried if and when Iraqis choose to implement more religious law than I would prefer in their own version of democracy.

In answer to your loaded question: If Islamic fascists such as Sadr seek to impose their will on the rest of Iraqis through the practices described in the Telegraph article (see “villages, razing of”), I’m prepared to see him and his thugs destroyed. That you are not prepared to do so doesn’t exculpate you; it just means you are content to see Iraqis suffer and die under another form of dictatorship. But, since you would have condemned Iraqis to continued slavery, mass torture and genocide under Saddam, I suppose that you, at least, have the virtue of consistency.

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abb1 08.10.04 at 7:24 am

Mark,

If Islamic fascists such as Sadr seek to impose their will on the rest of Iraqis through the practices described in the Telegraph article (see “villages, razing of”), I’m prepared to see him and his thugs destroyed.

Well, I think everyone here is prepared to see him and his thugs destroyed, that’s not an issue.

The original argument had to do with his thugs being destroyed specifically by American Christiano-fascist thugs – to borrow your terminology.

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abb1 08.10.04 at 7:56 am

Correction:
Sorry, I just realized that my previous comment was offensive and inappropriate.

Please read “Judeo-Christian fascist thugs” instead of “Christiano-fascist thugs”.

I apologize.

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John Quiggin 08.10.04 at 8:32 am

Mark,

The Qawliya incident was an ugly one, and none of the competing accounts show Sadr’s group in a good light. But a search on “razed Iraqi villages” produces lots more examples than this, including ethnic cleansing by, and against, Kurds, demolition of houses and razing of plantations by US troops.

You can also find credible, but unproven, accusations of murder against Sadr, Salem Chalabhi, Allawi and a number of other group leaders.

If you think that “destruction” of all the groups involved in such things (with the inevitable “collateral damage”) is a good thing, you might as well advocate killing everyone in Iraq.

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kevin donoghue 08.10.04 at 12:08 pm

“I’m willing to listen to you argue the moral case for leaving Saddam in power. Give it a go.”

Mark,

I too have been through these arguments many times; so the weary old “Saddamite” taunt doesn’t greatly bother me, nor do terms like “brutal dictator” and “genocidal fascist” make much impression given the cosy relationship he had with all the major powers, including America, in his blood-spattered heyday.

I would never have dreamt of arguing the case, moral or Machiavellian, for leaving Saddam in power, even for another month, if I had the slightest confidence in the morals (or management skills) of the sordid bunch of incompetents who took it upon themselves to oust him without having the foggiest idea of where they were going to go from there. But we have to choose from what’s on offer, ignoring the alternatives that might have been.

For purposes of this argument I reluctantly go along with the premise (implicit in your earlier comments) that American foreign policy is influenced to a significant extent by the desire to bring democracy and prosperity to distant lands. Even granting that doubtful premise, the fact remains that you cannot have an obligation to do something which is beyond your power.

America is incapable of ruling Iraq. It is that simple. When you have done with the Sadrists you will have to go on killing others who are unwilling to tolerate being ruled by the likes of Chalabi, Allawi or whoever is next to come through the revolving door.

You could of course pursue the goal of democracy by holding genuine elections. But the resulting government would hardly go along with American plans for maintaining large bases on Iraqi soil, for guiding Iraqi policies towards Iran, Israel and the Gulf monarchies and for adapting the management of Iraq’s oil resources to American interests. A sovereign, democratic Iraq might not agree, either, that America has any right to veto Iraqi ambitions to develop WMD in a region where potential enemies are exceedingly well armed.

So you are left with the tired old policy of colonial powers past: hold off on elections until the natives have come to see the merits of your preferred candidate. In the meantime the gulf between the rhetoric of freedom and the reality of repression grows so wide that only the true believers can fail to see it. There will be plenty of those around, even at the bitter end and long after. But once the majority of Americans have ceased to buy that shining vision, the game is up. At that point you will hand over to whichever thug comes closest to accommodating American interests (as defined by the usual crowd) and leave the Iraqis to their fate.

If you persist in calling it liberation at that point you merely add an enhanced reputation for hypocrisy to the already steep costs of Operation Rolling Blunder.

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Mark 08.10.04 at 2:16 pm

Kevin,

I searched your post for an honest appraisal of the nature of regime that you would have left in power; but, alas, none exists. You seem to make an issue of the character the decision-makers on the moral nature of the activity: this is nothing more than an ad hominem. I don’t know how else to explain it other than to direct you to a logic website.

Likewise your suggestion that the US has acted badly in the past is but another ad hominem tu quoque. However, since you brought it up, I note that the SIPRI report lists Russia, France and China as the major suppliers of conventional arms to Saddam, with the US at around 1%. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good myth.

Reviewing your arguments, then, one finds that it is unresponsive to the moral case for war (using either deontological or utilitarian principles); this is not too surprising, since most other anti-war leftists, when pressed, concede that the moral case falls on the side of liberation. But lets turn to your other positions.

Your opposition to the war comes down this:

“You could of course pursue the goal of democracy by holding genuine elections. But the resulting government would hardly go along with American plans for maintaining large bases on Iraqi soil, for guiding Iraqi policies towards Iran, Israel and the Gulf monarchies and for adapting the management of Iraq’s oil resources to American interests.”

If the impossibility of Iraqi democracy was a known fact prior to the war (or now), it surely would (or should) influence the argument. Since, however, you simply assert this (rather controversial) premise, we might ask for more proof of it. Upon what do you base this assertion? There are other nations that transitioned from dictatorship to democracy after liberation, so what makes Iraq different? Please clarify your theory.

John,

Since I’ve already said that, imo, Sadr should be brought to justice (or eliminated if he resists) because of his participation in brutal crimes, why would my answer be any different for other groups? If these other groups are credibly found to be committing similar crimes, they should answer for it. Your suggestion that if I sanction the destruction of the guilty parties, I am sanctioning the death of all Iraqis is absurd; if you’re telling me that we have no credible evidence that certain groups engaged in these crimes, then there is an issue. But for groups that are known to have committed atrocities, they should be punished. If you won’t punish them, then you are implicitly content with further similar crimes.

Why do you find this so controversial? Are you suggesting that the Iraqi government allow these crimes to continue? Why is it that the left only selectively condemns genocide and mass slaughter? Do you think non-leftists won’t notice? Until you address the nature of the project Sadr advocates, and his brutal methods in achieving that project, your moral argument cannot be taken seriously.

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dsquared 08.10.04 at 3:16 pm

Mark, there are at least 10 million Iraqis, about half the population, who want to see some form of sharia law imposed in Iraq. That’s enough to form a government. How do you propose to stop them, and does your method of doing so look like “democracy”?

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kevin donoghue 08.10.04 at 3:28 pm

Mark,

If you must use terms like “ad hominem” please pay some attention to their meaning. If I say that I don’t propose to allow Donald Rumsfeld to perform cataract surgery on me, that isn’t an ad hominem argument: it is a statement about my opinion of his ability to perform the task. It does not imply, either, that cataract surgery is immoral. If the logic websites you refer to claim that a statement such as “this man isn’t up to the job” or “he cannot be trusted to do the job” is an ad hominem argument and/or a moral evaluation of the job itself, then I really wouldn’t want to use them, thanks all the same.

I am sad to hear that you searched my comment for “an honest appraisal of the nature of [Saddam’s] regime” but couldn’t find one. The main reason is that my comment wasn’t primarily about that, a secondary one is that you passed over the references that were there, eagerly noting that “the SIPRI report lists Russia, France and China as the major suppliers of conventional arms to Saddam” while ignoring my reference to “the cosy relationship he had with all the major powers, including America, in his blood-spattered heyday.”

Saddam was a tyrant and he was supported by all of the aforementioned; that’s a given. The support went well beyond supplying arms, conventional or otherwise. We don’t need SIPRI or lessons in logic (or in Latin) to establish that.

You find my comment “unresponsive to the moral case for war (using either deontological or utilitarian principles)” – well I’m crushed. The principle I asked you to consider is this: “you cannot have an obligation to do something which is beyond your power.” I don’t know where that fits into your scholarly classification of principles and to tell the truth I don’t greatly care.

Eventually you get to the point: “There are other nations that transitioned from dictatorship to democracy after liberation, so what makes Iraq different? Please clarify your theory.”

Please read my comment again, particularly the paragraph explaining why it is not in America’s interest to establish a democracy which would inevitably reflect the interests of Iraqis, not those of Americans. I know that you can copy and paste it, what I am asking you to do is read it. Then ask yourself, when did America, or any other great power, ever willingly grant self-rule to people whose interests so obviously conflict with its own?

You attribute to me a belief in the “impossibility of Iraqi democracy.” I hold no such belief. I think it is quite possible that Iraq will eventually become a democracy, perhaps within a matter of years. But the presence of a foreign army won’t help. For a conquered people, independence is usually the first goal.

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Mark 08.10.04 at 3:53 pm

dsquared,

I’m not aware of figures suggesting that “10 million Iraqis want some form of sharia”. You’ll have to link your poll. As well, the meaning of the phrase “some for of sharia” is not clear. Does this mean prayer in schools or automatic death sentence for espousing another religion? There’s quite a range of situations in that phrasing, so you’ll have to clarify your question.

But if you’re asking me if the West should tolerate a one-vote, one-time “democracy”, then I’d say no. Part of the strategic and moral goal of the liberation was to allow Iraqis to build their own version of democracy; it seems to me that the West is committed to advocating minimal liberal democratic principles. (The discomfort that leftists feel when someone advocates one political system over another is related to the left’s misinterpretation of post-modernism; they think it’s coherent to hold “There is no objective morality; therefore it is wrong to choose one political response over another”; some of this incoherence is present in John’s “equivalence” reasoning that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It stems from a misunderstanding of traditional Western philosophy and the post-modern critique thereof. I don’t blame John; I blame his shoddy marxist profs.)

As I said, above, the West must affirm its own liberal democratic tradition in the face of Islamic fascism or retreat into moral oblivion. That is, the Iraqis are not free to choose another type of dictatorship. I’m comfortable with this constraint on their political choice. One of the small victories of the CPA was to make it possible for a group of (albeit unelected) Iraqis to agree on a provisional constitution that enshrines liberal principles; at the very least, Iraqis now have a model document to which they can refer should some political party attempt to impose illiberal laws.

It’s not perfect, or failsafe, or final, but it’s a start.

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Mark 08.10.04 at 4:33 pm

Kevin,

If you want to maintain that the “Iraq war was wrong because Rumsfeld & co. have bad morals, are a sordid bunch of incompetents with no management skills” does not constitute an ad hominem, then go for it. Similarly, the putative trustworthiness, or drunkeness, or religious zeal of Bush is no response to an argument for or against the morality of the war. I’m not going to argue with someone who ignores or does not understand basic logic.

If you insist on continuing to maintain that the character of the state actors is relevant, I would only note that the UN, France, Russia and Germany all had an interest, under the UN Oil-for-Food scam, to support Saddam’s fascist regime. At least they had an economic interest in their slave-trading. So much for the trustworthiness and moral character of the UN and France.

If you are going to concede that the anti-war left didn’t really base its opposition to the war on moral grounds because there were only weak moral grounds to oppose the war, then we are in agreement. We can move on.

Let’s review what you said, because you have a disturbing ability to re-cast your own words:

“…American foreign policy is influenced to a significant extent by the desire to bring democracy and prosperity to distant lands. Even granting that doubtful premise, the fact remains that you cannot have an obligation to do something which is beyond your power.”

It is clear, from this, that you maintain that it is beyond the power of the US to bring democracy to Iraq. Since this is either a deficiency of the US, or of Iraqis, or both, I thought evidence and clarification might help. You countered that it is really not the fault of Iraqis, and even allowed that Iraqis could create democracy. But you then attributed to the US interests that Iraqis would reject, and predicted that the democratic project would be a failure. This is nothing more than speculation (based on your view of what Iraqis would necessarily choose as policy positions), with some goal-post moving thrown in. I’m not at all satisfied with your predictions, so perhaps you wouldn’t mind justifying your prescience on this score. Please provide links.

America doesn’t need to rule Iraq; it should strive to do the opposite. Nor does America require Iraqi interests to exactly coincide with American interests. West German, South Korean or Japanese interests didn’t coincide with American interests, but these nations are democracies nonetheless. The West simply needs a functioning, non-genocidal liberal democracy in Iraq to reduce the political dysfunction of the ME that is arguably the prime cause of Arab terrorism.

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dsquared 08.10.04 at 5:35 pm

As I said, above, the West must affirm its own liberal democratic tradition in the face of Islamic fascism or retreat into moral oblivion.

And as I said, above, if you substitute “communism” for “Islamic fascism”, then this quote could have dovetailed neatly into any one of a hundred speeches made during the Vietnam War.

As Kevin says, you cannot have a moral obligation to do something which is beyond your power. If you go out attempting to do something which is beyond your power, then you are answerable for the consequences.

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kevin donoghue 08.10.04 at 8:34 pm

“If you want to maintain that the “Iraq war was wrong because Rumsfeld & co. have bad morals, are a sordid bunch of incompetents with no management skills” does not constitute an ad hominem, then go for it.”

Mark,

Since you insist on turning this into some kind of logic tutorial, let’s do it; consider the following statement: “In principle, I think it highly desirable that action X should be performed; but in present circumstances Mr A, the only person with the authority to do it, is incompetent and in addition his motives are highly suspect. Hence it is well-nigh certain that the results will be catastrophic so, regretfully, I conclude that action X should be postponed for a time, perhaps indefinitely.”

Now, your contention is that an argument of this form is defective; not as to facts but as to logic. Specifically, you claim that it is an example of argumentum ad hominem. It isn’t. The speaker may of course have his facts wrong: Mr A may be impeccably skilled and pure in heart; if so, the conclusion is surely false, but not because of any flaw in the logic. An ad hominem argument has a quite different form: “Professor J’s paper claims he has solved the problem, but he’s a twit.” He may be, but to refute him we must check his calculations.

Similarly, a juror who rejects the testimony of a witness is not engaging in argumentum ad hominem. Some witnesses are credible, some are not.

Now let’s look at some of your logic; you present a deduction in the following form:

Premise: Kevin agrees (albeit arguendo) that American foreign policy is influenced to a significant extent by the desire to bring democracy and prosperity to distant lands.

Premise: Kevin asserts that you cannot have an obligation to do something which is beyond your power.

Conclusion: Kevin maintains that it is beyond the power of the US to bring democracy to Iraq.

I want some of whatever you’re smoking, but not ahead of a logic exam, thanks. Did I say America always does whatever it is morally obligated to do? Did I say that nations (or even individuals) are obliged to do whatever good is within their power?

Reading your comments, I think I have a pretty good idea as to what divides us. It relates mostly to facts and our interpretation of them, not logic. I don’t maintain that, in principle, it is beyond the power of the US to bring democracy to Iraq. (That is not, repeat not, an assertion that it is within America’s power; if you think it is, please look again.) It is far beyond the power of President Bush, constrained as he is in various ways. Politicians do not operate in a vacuum. They have to balance a variety of interests.

For example, suppose, just suppose, that all that would have been required for the invasion to lead to democracy in Iraq was the following:

(a) a far larger military presence, to maintain order during the transition;

(b) a commitment to leave within a specified time, which would reassure Iraqis regarding US intentions.

To provide those, the president would have had to institute the draft and offend those of his supporters who envisage a long-term presence, for various reasons. Could he have done that? In my view he couldn’t, realistically. It is not beyond America’s power by any means, but it is far beyond the power of a president with an extremely weak electoral mandate, supported by an assortment of interest-groups who are not always in harmony.

In the real world even meeting those requirements would not have been sufficient. But enough already.

In your reply to D^2 you let the cat out of the bag: “the Iraqis are not free to choose another type of dictatorship. I’m comfortable with this constraint on their political choice.” Sorry, Squire, but your comfort with their institutions is beside the point. Sovereignty includes the right to screw up.

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Kevin 08.10.04 at 8:41 pm

Mark, my remark about smoking was out of line: apologies, please disregard.

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John Quiggin 08.10.04 at 9:21 pm

Mark, let’s get specific. The groups I listed as having similar accusations made against them included the Kurdish peshmerga – the evidence that members of this group have engaged in ethnic cleansing (not systematic, but on a larger scale than Qawliya) is pretty clear-cut. Are you willing to advocate “destroying” this group?

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Mark 08.11.04 at 12:03 am

Re: smoking line. No worries. Thanks for the apology. I’ll attempt to take the tone of my responses down as well.

On to the substantive bits:

Re: ad hominems. Just so we’re clear – I think, in an argument about the justification for war, that accusing Rumsfeld & Co. of having “bad morals” or speculative attribution of motives constitues ad hominem abusive and circumstantial, respectively. I think you may be confusing credibility with validity. But we’ve both made our cases, so I’m content to move on.

I leave out the Administration’s putative incompetence because it seems connected to your later point that Bush is not capable of creating democracy in Iraq (although, oddly, you then allow that Iraq may still become a democracy “in a couple of years”; since Bush may be in power, it’s not clear if this speculation will change with the next election). Since I don’t believe you’ve adequately made out a case for this, there’s not much I can say in response. I will concede that there have been mistakes, but, imo, it’s not clear that the Administration, together with willing Iraqis, is now, or has been in the past, precluded from successfully implementing democracy.

Lastly, I note that you haven’t provided justification for your speculations that disparate Iraqi interests and American interests would necessarily lead to a meltdown of the Iraqi democratic process. If Iraq doesn’t want US bases on its soil, or refuses to sell oil to America, there won’t be a whole lot Bush or anyone else can do. Re-fighting the war would be absurd. If this happens, you can quote me from this thread and I’ll have to eat my words. Realistically, I don’t think Bush needs these things; all he needs is a semi-functional democracy in the Arab ME to serve as an example to Arabs that their nature state isn’t slavery.

Re: constraint of Iraqi political choice. IIRC, the Administration has said that Iraqis will not be free to choose another dictator (Islamic, Baathist, marxist, or otherwise). I’m not sure why you find this controversial. Are you suggesting that citizens of a country should have the ability to vote themselves, over the objections of their fellow minority citizens, and their unborn future generations, into dictatorship? If so, how does this square with your understanding of the US system of government specifically, and liberal democracies in general?

dsquared,

It’s not clear that democracy in Iraq is beyond our power. If you disagree, feel free to make an argument supporting your position.

Your comparison of Iraq to Vietnam would be more interesting if you outlined the exact points of comparison. Or we can all use telepathy to divine them.

John,

I think I answered your question, above. If other militias engage in crimes of the same magnitude, and attempt to usurp the democracy-building process, they should meet the same fate.

Let me ask you this: If a group of young armed men came to Anytown, USA, destroyed shops, shot women and children, razed the village, and attempted to implement a radical strain of Christianity, complete with priest/judges enforcing “divine” justice, what would your response be?

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John Quiggin 08.11.04 at 2:09 am

“If a group of young armed men came to Anytown, USA, destroyed shops, shot women and children, razed the village, and attempted to implement a radical strain of Christianity, complete with priest/judges enforcing “divine” justice, what would your response be?”

From the viewpoint of Al-Sadr’s supporters, and substituting “godless capitalism” for “Christianity”, this is pretty much what the US has done. Do you think a bloody campaign against them is going to change this view? Or do you think you can exterminate them altogether?

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Mark 08.11.04 at 3:25 am

John,

I’ve noted your attempts to equate Sadr’s drive to implement fascist Islam and the Coalition’s attempts to implement democracy. I think it’s based on a facile misinterpretation of philosophical post-modernism, probably filtered through marxist academia. But that’s just a guess: I’m happy to hear your view of epistemology upon which you base this position. Until then, my provisional assessment of your “moral equivalence” argument is that it is incoherent. Prove me wrong. I only ask that you please link the main philosophical positions and counter-positions to justify your critique.

The problem for the left, and for you, is this: if there is no basis upon which to distinguish between Sadrist theocracy and liberal democracy, then why should anyone pay the slightest attention to what you say? I mean, if you’re telling me any politial-moral view is as good as any other, (“It all depends on one’s point of view”), why should your analysis or advice count for anything? All you’re giving me is an intellectual shrug of the shoulders. Isn’t the left reasoning itself out of the game? Why should I read Marx, as opposed to, say, Hayek?

I’ve already alluded to my view of the “solution” to this problem: affirm, despite the lack of philosophical gounds, Western liberal democratic values. I can muster a few decent practical arguments for democratic liberalism, but, ultimately, if you, or Hamas, or Sadr presses me, I won’t be able to bring up “fundamental Truth”; but neither will anyone else. So then we return to the question we’ve always had: do you want to live in a world of Sadrist militias, or with imperfect, fallible liberal democracies? Your call.

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abb1 08.11.04 at 9:33 am

Fighting fire with fire, western-liberal-democratic way:

US wants to build network of friendly militias to combat terrorism

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon (news – web sites) urged Congress to authorize 500 million dollars for building a network of friendly militias around the world to purge terrorists from “ungoverned areas” and warned Muslim clerics against providing “ideological sanctuary” to radicals.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq (news – web sites) war, told the House Armed Services Committee the money would be used “for training and equipping local security forces– not just armies — to counter terrorism and insurgencies.”

Well, this wouldn’t be the first time, would it? Time-proven imperial practice.

Notice the world “insurgencies”: anyone who dares to challenge US supremacy anywhere in the world is an insurgent. Nice.

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kevin donoghue 08.11.04 at 3:41 pm

Mark,

I start with your closing questions to me since they are the heart of the matter:

“Are you suggesting that citizens of a country should have the ability to vote themselves, over the objections of their fellow minority citizens, and their unborn future generations, into dictatorship? If so, how does this square with your understanding of the US system of government specifically, and liberal democracies in general?”

If the citizens of a democracy are foolish enough to vote extremists into office they thereby vote their democracy out of existence. It is not a question of whether I think they should have that ability, they have it whether I like it or not. Liberal democracies have developed a number of safeguards such as an independent judiciary and a free press. But ultimately the system depends on the strength of its citizens’ belief in its merits.

It is quite hard to guess whether any particular people will make a go of democracy. India has done it despite poverty, illiteracy and sectarian strife. Please note however that the British did not “install” democracy in India. The Indians got rid of them and installed their own democracy. So don’t be puzzled by my saying that Iraq may become a democracy despite the fact that Bush may still be in power. King George III was still in power when the USA became a democracy, of a sort; that doesn’t mean he had much say in the matter. That democracy, warts and all, reflected the facts on the ground following his forces’ departure.

It seems to me you disregard some harsh facts of political life, in particular the extent to which power corrupts. You say for example: “If Iraq doesn’t want US bases on its soil, or refuses to sell oil to America, there won’t be a whole lot Bush or anyone else can do.” There is quite a lot he can do if Iraq’s leaders are not to his taste. Remedies range from assisting the opposition to assassination. Do you really think American policy-makers value the Iraqi democratic process above US strategic and economic interests? While I grant you that the US has an interest in promoting democracy, it has more mundane interests also. You say that all Bush needs is “a semi-functional democracy in the Arab ME to serve as an example to Arabs that their nature state isn’t slavery.” Seriously, that’s ALL he needs? You ignore the factors which have sustained American involvement in the region for over half a century.

The point of referring to the past is not to apply some daft logic of the form: “Bush is a liar so overthrowing Saddam must be wrong.” It is to suggest that we can learn about how decisions are made by looking at the way they have previously been made. That also tells us something about the decision-makers, which is highly relevant since policies are not created or implemented by abstract principles, however lofty, but by individuals.

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abb1 08.11.04 at 7:25 pm

There’s nothing lofty about these principles. Just the usual “white man’s burden” bullshit – brutal, appalling and long-discredited form of Judeo-Christian fascism (I like this term, thanks Mark).

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Mark 08.11.04 at 9:20 pm

abb1, if you want to contribute, you’ll have to at least attempt to make an argument.

Kevin,

Looking at how decisions are made and at the policy-makers themselves may be interesting, but it doesn’t tell us much about the justifications of a particular policies. I don’t think you’re trying to make the primitive “Bush lied, therefore the war is wrong” argument, but I suspect you can see where my concern would be regarding “bad morals” and speculative attributions of motives. Enough said.

I’m not sure you are correct on the issue of the ability of citizens to vote their own democracy out of existence. It’s not theoretically possible in most liberal democracies of which I’m aware; the idea of liberal principles is firmly set in constitutions &/or executive or legal precedents. So, for example, citizens of Canada could elect MPs to create disenfranchising laws, but those laws wouldn’t survive a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Most basic freedoms are going to be protected under these provisions regardless of the views of an electoral majority. Now, as a practical matter, if a most Canadians rose up and demanded that Paul Martin (current PM) and his heirs be made King (something Canadians, given their recent voting habits, might just be stupid enough to do), the democratic system might collapse under the pressure, but that wouldn’t make it politically or morally right. Or, to put it another way, the West would have good moral and political grounds, based on its own intellectual traditions, to seek to prevent such an occurence. If you want to argue that we must not interfere, you won’t be able to escape moral considerations, because you’ll have to live with the brutalities that the new dictatorship will inevitably produce.

True, democracy has to take hold through the efforts of native peoples, but if Iraq does become a democracy, surely it’s because of the war. It can’t be seriously argued that something other than the war created the pre-conditions necessary for the beginnings of freedom & civil society, and thence, democracy. The war didn’t bring democracy, but it made it at least possible for democracy to take hold.

“Do you really think American policy-makers value the Iraqi democratic process above US strategic and economic interests?”

I think the Iraqi democratic process is bound up with US strategic interests. In fact, this is at the heart of Bush’s idealist foreign policy that the left has often derided. If the left but responded to this central argument – that political dysfunction is the most significant cause of ME terrorism, and that democracy, therefore, is, in addition to being a political-moral good, also a strategic good – it would make for an interesting debate. As it is, I haven’t seen the left plausibly contend that this argument is fundamentally flawed; so, provided democracy takes hold in Iraq, a major strategic goal with be achieved. To that extent, Bush will have been successful.

If you’re telling me that this new strategic democratic good could conceivably conflict with another economic good, then I won’t argue. But I note that if the Administration simply valued its economic interest above this new strategic-democratic interest, it would have been better off joining the French, Russians and Chinese in signing deals with Saddam, and thereby participating in the rape of the Iraqi people. I mean, the UN already had a program set up for it: UN Oil-for-Food. Beyond this, wouldn’t it have been much easier to continue taking cheap oil from the Saudis without upsetting the balance of regional stability? So, the US has already demonstrated that it is willing to put its long-term strategic-democratic interests ahead of at least its short-term economic interests.

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kevin donoghue 08.11.04 at 11:49 pm

Mark, you say:

“Looking at how decisions are made and at the policy-makers themselves may be interesting, but it doesn’t tell us much about the justifications of a particular policies.”

For you, a policy is evidently something that can be approved without reference to the attendant circumstances. For me, not so. I have seen many splendid statements regarding politicians’ intentions. If you ask me do I think the sentiments which GWB expresses concerning freedom are admirable sentiments, yes indeed I do.

It takes more than fine speeches to make a case for war. At a minimum, it requires a clear statement of the goals and a plan for accomplishing them which stands up to inspection. I don’t need to remind you of the optimistic twaddle that was circulated before the hostilities commenced, nor of the twists and turns which have followed as the US has sought credible Iraqi partners to work with.

My guess is that you file items like this under Mistakes Made With the Best of Intentions. You don’t see it as a moral issue. But I do. For those on the receiving end, there is a lot at stake. Failing to do your homework is inexcusable. If you don’t know how you are going to finish a thing like this, it is utterly wrong to start it. I don’t mean sloppy. I mean wrong. If you seriously want to understand my point of view, not just to whack the ball back at me, then you have to understand the strength of my feelings on this point.

“I’m not sure you are correct on the issue of the ability of citizens to vote their own democracy out of existence. It’s not theoretically possible in most liberal democracies of which I’m aware; the idea of liberal principles is firmly set in constitutions &/or executive or legal precedents.”

Again, you are looking at politics as a matter of what’s written on pieces of paper. Sure, the switch from a democracy to a dictatorship generally involves illegality at some point. But once a sufficiently unscrupulous bunch of politicians has been voted into office, the switch is as good as done. At that stage the only remedy is rebellion.

“If you want to argue that we must not interfere, you won’t be able to escape moral considerations, because you’ll have to live with the brutalities that the new dictatorship will inevitably produce.”

I have never argued that. I do argue that to interfere without adequate preparation is morally culpable and that it vitiates the enterprise itself.

“It can’t be seriously argued that something other than the war created the pre-conditions necessary for the beginnings of freedom & civil society, and thence, democracy.”

Agreed. It can however be argued that other courses of action were preferable. I don’t want to go exploring counterfactuals in detail, but let me cite just one example. I don’t have the details to hand, but I recall reports that at some stage it was proposed that the invasion should be confined to the Shiite south of Iraq, creating an autonomous region like that which the Kurds had. The idea was to leave the Sunni triangle to Saddam, thereby diminishing his stature and possibly setting him up for a coup. That struck me as a far more sensible idea than trying to take control of the country with a force which experts felt was too small for the job. The loss of life would surely have been a lot less.

Was that idea really a runner? I don’t pretend to know. But I am entirely convinced that a better plan could have been found than the one that was adopted – giving Ahmed Chalabi a ride to Baghdad, disbanding the Iraqi army and hoping for the best.

Again, I suspect you don’t see this as a moral issue. I do. To go to war using Plan A is morally wrong if a better plan exists, or even if there is a reasonable possibility of finding one. What was done could very easily end up doing more harm than leaving Saddam in place. There is a real risk that we have yet to see the worst of this thing.

As you say, a discussion of the claim that “political dysfunction is the most significant cause of ME terrorism” could make for an interesting debate. To make it relevant in the present context you would have to argue that the ME will be less dysfunctional thanks to the invasion of Iraq. That’s a pretty tough case to make. I have heard lots of prayers along those lines, but I’ve never seen an argument worth bothering with. Last I heard even Michael Ignatieff had recanted. I’m sure Thomas Friedman is still plugging away, though.

You finish with a denunciation of the French, Russians and Chinese. I hold no brief for them, any more than I do for America. In the world of international relations, what Thucydides said all those years ago still rings true: the strong do what they can and the weak endure what they must. That emphatically does not mean that anything goes: one can debate international ethics from different standpoints, but there is no way you can claim moral justification for sloppiness that results in heavy loss of life.

Judging by your closing comments you probably don’t agree that America behaves as Thucydides predicted. There’s an interesting debate there too, but that’s for another day.

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Mark 08.12.04 at 3:03 am

I think at least we are beginning to see where we disagree.

I’m willing to concede that liberating Iraq without a reasonable (not perfect) plan could become part of the larger issue of moral justification. But the issue should properly be subsumed under the broader utilitarian or deontological argument for or against war. For example, if one concluded that more lives were lost than would otherwise have been lost, post-war, as a result of this planning negligence, then it could affect the utilitarian argument. However, since politics almost always involves choice between alternatives, the negligence would have to be set against the lives lost under Saddam’s continued rule (assuming, as you seem to do, that negligent planning was a reason not to go to war). If these negligently caused casualties exceeded the total number of lives that would have been lost under Saddam, then you could argue the war wasn’t morally justified.

If you want to make this argument, I’d be willing to listen to it. Otherwise, I’m not sure what justificatory role the alleged lack of plan plays.

You can, of course, explore alternative policies to outright war and liberation. But these alternatives also stand to be critiqued by either deontological, utilitarian or other moral theories. The main problem with the half-invasion plan to which you allude is that it takes the worst of both war and peace: innocent people die as the tanks roll across sourthern Iraq, and it leaves Saddam in place to further his WMD aspirations, explore terrorist contacts and brutalize his own people.

I agree, though, that if Iraq deteriorates further, it might conceivably alter the moral case for war. Again, however, one would have to place the total amount of suffering against the suffering that would have been endured under Saddam’s continued rule. Using HRW figures (probably a conservative estimate), Saddam slaughtered 230,000 people; about 10,000/year during his reign. Since the alternative to war (as anti-war leftists well knew) was his continued rule, we have to assume he would have continued to kill, torture and rape with about the same frequency for at least the medium term. If you want to argue that Iraqis would have been better off with Saddam, feel free. Most Iraqis would disagree with you, though – at least from the polls I’ve seen so far.

I’m not sure I have to argue to a certainty that democratization will lead to lower ME terrorism. I would have to make a reasonably good case that democratization will most likely lead to lower ME terrorism, but I think I can do this, regardless of what putative experts claim (democracies tend not to attack one another or engage in ME-style terrorism; ideas tend to spread through geographic and intellectually related communities more rapidly than would otherwise be the case). Since there don’t seem to be any credible competing theories that explain ME terrorism – least of all from the left – I’m not sure this is as difficult as you seem to think.

I’m glad we both agree that the French, Germans and Chinese are despicable.

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dsquared 08.12.04 at 4:10 am

Using HRW figures (probably a conservative estimate), Saddam slaughtered 230,000 people; about 10,000/year during his reign

Mark, we’ve been through this in the post linked above by John. The HRW figures are decent, but you can’t use them unadjusted as the basis for a murders/year figure, because the figure includes Kurds killed in 1989 and Shia revolutionaries killed in 1991. If you look at murders/year in the period 1993/2003, then the figure is much lower; closer to 2,000 than 10,000. So unless you think that deaths in 1989 can morally be part of the rationale for a war 14 years later (not entirely a ridiculous point of view; as far as I can tell it’s pretty close to what Norman Geras thinks), then you have to use the lower figure.

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Mark 08.12.04 at 4:37 am

dsquared,

(Yes, I should give credit to Geras – a pro-war leftist.)

Your selection of a certain set of years from which to extrapolate future deaths under Saddam is arbitrary. I based estimates of future mass murder on his entire career. It is my contention that Saddam killed when he was politically vulnerable and when he thought he could get away with it; a man who poured toxic chemicals on children wasn’t likely to change his ways.

If you want to justify including certain years and excluding others, go for it. I’m sure you’ll give us a fine justification for doing so. My favourite is “Saddam had finished killing”.

I won’t hide from the knowledge that innocent Iraqis and soldiers died as a result of a war I supported. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to watch anti-war leftists squirm away from the uncomfortable consequences of their position – leaving Saddam in power to kill, rape, torture and enslave.

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abb1 08.12.04 at 8:56 am

Mark,
You’re right, I don’t have an argument. To argue with someone you have to live on the same planet and cogitate within the same (or very similar) axiomatic system. From where I’m sitting you appear to be typing your stuff out of some Escher-style universe where your basic logic is based on a bizarre mix of rationales of a far-right white (“western”) supremacist skinhead and a far-left “all-knowing all-good vanguard party” trotskyist. How do you argue with a trotskyist, Mark? How do you argue with a skinhead? It’s a waste of time.

Now, Mark, let me ask you this: if we hop into our time machine and return to, say, the year 1810 – would you advocate a military action by enlightened egalitarian French aimed to destroy slave-owning American Puritanofascists? Or would you prefer the aforementioned Puritanofascists to keep enslaving innocent people for several more decades while evolving on their own? Just curious.

Thanks.

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kevin donoghue 08.12.04 at 11:19 am

“I’m glad we both agree that the French, Germans and Chinese are despicable.”

Mark, I’d appreciate it if you would refrain from associating me with your xenophobia. What I said was that I hold no brief for the French, Russians and Chinese, any more than I do for the Americans. The fact that you lob another nation into your diatribe at least means you can hardly be accused of discrimination.

You concede that if “negligently caused casualties exceeded the total number of lives that would have been lost under Saddam, then you could argue the war wasn’t morally justified.” That is a rather grudging concession. On one side of your utilitarian ledger goes the total for Saddam and on the other goes the casualties, and only those, attributable to negligence. When it comes to putting your finger in the scales you are none too subtle.

That shows up again in your response to D-squared. You have a forecasting model for Saddam’s murders based on past performance, but in contrast to models used by reputable statisticians, it gives equal weight to older and more recent observations. You offer a justification, of sorts, for this: that Saddam killed when he was politically vulnerable and when he thought he could get away with it. That theory, in itself, is not bad at all, but when you come to apply it you ignore the fact that Saddam was quite effectively contained during the 1993-2003 period. Any repeat of his conduct in 1989 and 1991 would have triggered an attack and he knew that. Remember, at the very least the case for invasion has to beat the case for containment. As you know I believe the case should be tested by a higher standard than that: a comparison with the best alternative, not just the one that Bush Senior and Clinton favoured.

“The main problem with the half-invasion plan to which you allude is that it takes the worst of both war and peace: innocent people die as the tanks roll across sourthern Iraq, and it leaves Saddam in place to further his WMD aspirations, explore terrorist contacts and brutalize his own people.”

Innocent people die in any plausible scenario. The differences relate to scale. And while of course it is true that Saddam brutalised Sunnis as well as Shiites, he had much more support in the Sunni triangle. You say he killed when he was vulnerable but ignore the fact that he was less vulnerable there. They didn’t hate him nearly as much. They might even have kept him on as their ruler, the Emperor of Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad. That’s the downside to the plan – every plan has one.

When you go on to say that he would then have been able to further his WMD aspirations and explore terrorist contacts I have to conclude that dialogue with you is largely pointless. Has it escaped your attention that he wasn’t making much headway on those fronts even when he had the South? Are you one of these guys who think he could have refined yellowcake uranium in the garden shed?

I don’t doubt that you could make a “good case that democratization will most likely lead to lower ME terrorism.” The challenge is to make any kind of case at all that foreign occupation, and the brutality that is an inescapable part of counterinsurgency, is at all likely to lead to democracy. With a lot of luck it might, but a plan which relies so heavily on luck is indefensible.

There are lots of theories about terrorism, from left, right and centre. For someone who likes to label arguments “ad hominem” it is remarkable how often you refer to the provenance of ideas. I notice that abb1 is trying to figure out where yours come from. But the merits of a theory have nothing to do with its origin.

State policy is a different matter. You cannot reasonably separate the merits of a policy from the people who will carry it out.

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Mark 08.12.04 at 2:30 pm

Kevin,

“State policy is a different matter. You cannot reasonably separate the merits of a policy from the people who will carry it out.”

This is a rather odd statement. There is nothing relevantly different between a state policy and, say, an engineering policy. Both seek to implement a plan, both involve human actors with motivations and personal characteristics; arguments about both are subject to rules of symbolic and quantificational logic.

My problem with explanations for terrorism from the left is not that they originiate from the left; it’s that they are incoherent. The biggest problem, as you probably suspect, is that poverty does not strongly correlate with terrorist activity. Imo, this is one of the reasons the left has been so intellectually paralyzed by Islamist terrorism; religion, wealth, class and the mode of production in the Arab world are causing problems for marxist analysis. But if you want to champion a leftist explanation for terror, feel free. I’d be interested to see if it can be done.

I have good reason to condemn the French, Russians & Chinese: they traded the continued enslavement of the Iraqi people in exchange for petrodollars and military contracts under the UN Oil-for-food scam & sweetheart military deals, rather than support his overthrow. This is about as close to modern slave-trading as I’ve seen. Slave-trading, imo, is beyond redemption.

“On one side of your utilitarian ledger goes the total for Saddam and on the other goes the casualties, and only those, attributable to negligence. When it comes to putting your finger in the scales you are none too subtle.”

I’m open to including other casualties in the calculation. If you want recalculate based on your own understanding of who Saddam had killed and who he would or would not, go ahead. I can hardly object to reasonable estimates.

But those estimates must be reasonable. The “containment” argument is not. It assumes the Coalition was going to leave thousands of troops on Iraq’s border indefinitely. It also assumes that Saddam was deterable in this regard; but since the massed threat of 200,000 troops didn’t persuade him to change his ways, I’m not sure why you think he’d turn into a pacifist all of a sudden, particularly after the world’s attention was elsewhere. My faith in nations to swiftly and effectively respond to genocide is also not as strong as yours, as seen in Rwanda and Sudan (the latter intervention opposed by my old friends, of course, for the same reasons I mentioned previously. Xenophobia indeed.)

“You have a forecasting model for Saddam’s murders based on past performance, but in contrast to models used by reputable statisticians, it gives equal weight to older and more recent observations.”

As I said, I see no reason to exclude certain of Saddam’s killing years from the calculation (rather than use his entire career) other than to achieve a favourable anti-war result. It is an arbitrary move. You tipped your hand by an improper appeal to unecessary “reputable statisticians” rather than justifying the exclusion yourself.

I agree, the WMD discussion is probably pointless. The 17 shells containing cyclosarin found by the Polish troops in July, and the sarin IED exploded by US military in May, the mysterious WMD loaded truck discovered by the Jordanians, and the Kay report citing evidence of WMD related programs confirms that Saddam probably still had WMD aspirations and the remnants of a degraded WMD program kicking around for later activation. Many of the world’s Intelligence services reached a more sanguine conclusion. Enough to go to war in a post 9-11 world? Maybe, maybe not. Combined with other arguments? Imo, yes.

I’m not sure why Saddam would lose these aspiratins as well as the ability to pursue WMD programs had we followed your plan to invade only the South. You’ll have to explain that one a bit more.

So, your half-invasion plan relies on several dubious scenarios (Saddam surrendering WMD aspirations; not killing Sunnis). Also, I note that you objected to the war because of alleged incompetent post-war planning; how would this be any different for your half-invasion solution? Insurgent activity is quite active in Shiite areas, as we see in Najaf.

“The challenge is to make any kind of case at all that foreign occupation, and the brutality that is an inescapable part of counterinsurgency, is at all likely to lead to democracy. With a lot of luck it might…”

Your contention that it is only with alot of luck that democratization can occur in the face of insurgency is simply an unfounded assertion. You could be right, but you’d need more. In response, I’d note that democratization can occur in the face of insurgency: witness the early nascent American experience. Opposition by anti-democratic groups is insufficient to disprove my contention.

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