Responsibility redux

by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2005

It is always a mistake to pick fights with people when you are about to be away from a computer and so will be unable to take part in further iterations of the argument. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the position I find myself in with respect to a post from Norman Geras and Eve Garrard responding to my attribution to them of the view that only the immediate perpetrators of bad deeds can be blamed for those deeds. They deny that they hold the view I pinned on them, and say that I should have seen that if I’d read more carefully. I’m happy to receive the correction.

Now comes the “but” bit ….

Nevertheless, my belief that they hold a view like that was not based only on that single post but on many others, especially concerning Iraq. In particular, Norman has often argued against the view that Bush and Blair should be held responsible for the continuing carnage in Iraq, stressing, rather, that the immediate perpetrators of (most of) that carnage, the Iraqi “resistance” should be blamed and that Bush and Blair should not be. Norman and Eve’s latest post quotes an interesting earlier paragraph in this respect, which counts—as they insist—against my attribution.

The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity, doesn’t show that they, as well as the direct agent(s), are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn’t serve to justify it.

There is, I think, doublethink going on here. Norman wants to tell us that the Iraq war was justified because of the many bad things Saddam did and would continue to do to his people if he remained in power. Critics of the war (like me) want to say that we should also take account of the bad consequences of overthrowing Saddam, including the carnage caused by the “resistance”, the many many thousands of excess dead (see the Lancet report …), etc. Norman and Eve’s restrictive clause enables them to argue that, even if things are actually worse, their worseness can’t be blamed on the initiators of the war, because their actions were not in themselves wrong (because justified by stopping Saddam) and don’t serve to justify the Iraqi “resistance” (agreed, they don’t). In other words, Norman helps himself to an essentially consequentialist justification for the Iraq war, but, faced with bad consequences, uses a non-consequentialist discourse of responsibility to filter them out of the consequentialist calculus. At least, that’s what seems to me to be going on.

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Ginger Yellow 07.15.05 at 8:26 am

It’s more than doublethink, it seems to be outright dishonesty. I can’t honestly believe that’s what they think. Surely they realise that a political act has to be judged on its consequences. It’s one thing to say that an act can still be justified if it has some predictable (and let’s not forget predicted) negative consequences. And you can also argue that if nobody had predicted the negative effects then culpability is lessened. But to say that the perpetrator of the act is not responsible for the predicted negative effects as well as the positive is a gross distortion of moral responsibility. And let’s not forget British intelligence warned Blair the invasion would distract from the efforts in Afghanistan and increase the risk of terrorism.

If I save a cat from a tree, but in the process kill a child, am I not responsible for that?


clayton 07.15.05 at 8:26 am


One minor point. This remark strikes me as potentially misleading:
In other words, Norman helps himself to an essentially consequentialist justification for the Iraq war, but, faced with bad consequences, uses a non-consequentialist discourse of responsibility to filter them out of the consequentialist calculus.

On most respectable non-consequentialist views, the permissible course of actions open to us are those within a range of choices with tolerable consequences. It is often overlooked that the rusty, dusty doctrine of double effect cannot be carted out to defend actions unless there is also a suitable cost/benefit rationale for the act in question. It cannot be used to justify acts where the cost/benefit analysis goes against the action. If the principle is to have any plausibility, these effects would have to include foreseeable effects due to predictable reactions to our actions.

I worry that in this passage you are illicitly suggesting that your opponents views will have strike those with non-consequentialist sympathies as plausible. If your opponent really is trying to avoid facing up to the possibility of a consequentialist criticism of the war or the manner in which the war was executed, they are overlooking the fact that they have to first defend the levels of losses as acceptable.


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 8:27 am

It may be worth noting that John Quiggin made a similar point:

In fact one of the fascinations of the war debate, for me, is the number of ethical systems that people can appeal to in order to get the result thay want.


rich 07.15.05 at 8:28 am

Does this also mean that Saddam cannot be held responsible for the invasion of Iraq, and consequent civilian deaths; nor the hardship caused by the embargoes on Iraq imposed after the first Gulf war?


Ray 07.15.05 at 8:30 am

Doesn’t the Normblog argument also mean that a successful anti-war campaign would have been morally justified?
An anti-war campaign, justified by the desire to avoid tens of thousands of civilian casualties, that explcitly refuses to justify any of Saddam’s actions, can’t be held resposible for those actions.
So its really just a matter of 1) picking a bad thing that you say you are trying to avoid, and 2) saying that you don’t support any of the bad things that happen as a result, and you can make any position on the war morally justified.
This doesn’t just work for the Iraq war, of course. Because you can discount _completely_ any bad side-effects, as long as you make it clear that you agree that they are bad, you don’t have to worry about balancing consequences at all.
For example, a hostage situation. Some terrorist has taken over an office block, and rigged it to explode, killing thousands of people if his demands are not met. Being a fiendish terrorist, he has rigged a dead man’s switch. There are several ways of dealing with this – at one extreme, you can give in to all demands. At the other, you can shoot him, and watch the office explode. The Normblog argument seems to be that shooting the terrorist and seeing the office block explode is okay, and the shooter bears _absolutely no moral responsibility_ for the explosion as long as 1) it’s okay to shoot a terrorist, and 2) shooting the terrorist doesn’t ‘justify’ blowing up the office block.


Linda Grant 07.15.05 at 8:32 am

I was making a point about the problem with Iraq being the consequences with Eve Gerrad last night, and she countered with a point I have some difficulty answering:

Had the Iraqi people risen up in revoltuioon against Saddam and it had failed as badly as the US invasion (accespting that the failure would have had different manifestations) would I have retrocatively decided that it was a bad idea for the this Iraqi revolution to have taken place?

I am still pondering that one.


Bob B 07.15.05 at 8:49 am

Quite so. As best I can gather, despite diligent searches no historian has managed to uncover a piece of paper with Adolf Hitler’s signature on it authorising the Final Solution. I suspect Norman knows that . .


Ray 07.15.05 at 8:52 am

Isn’t that a question that would have to be answered by the Iraqi revolutionaries themselves?
If I was one of them, and I took part in a revolution because I thought it would save lives, and the revolution ended up killing tens of thousands in a bloody civil war, I might think that I made the wrong decision, yes.

The trouble with the Normblog argument is that it doesn’t matter _what_ happens – Iranian invasion lading to exchange of WMDs with Saudi Arabia, millions of people dying, the whole Middle East turned into a radioactive wasteland – and the response would be “Well, I didn’t want any of that to happen, and those things are bad, I completely agree. But nonetheless, overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.”


Tom Lynch 07.15.05 at 8:59 am

The argument seems a little misplaced. The conventions of blame assignment always bring favoured targets into the foreground while others are conveniently ignored. People on both sides of the “Bush and Blair are to blame”/”Islam is to blame” argument (it’s such a reductive debate, but it’s being fought across the opinion pages of every newspaper in the world) buy into this, and both sets of people need to be made accountable from time to time.

It would be more worthwhile to discuss why some people feel that the moral calculus justifies the war on Iraq despite the catastrophic loss of life that has been a result, and some do not. We have to make the argument in terms of the information we have available with an understanding that people have different standards.


Ray 07.15.05 at 9:01 am

“I might think that I made the wrong decision, yes.”

To clarify, I’d probably still be sure that my motives were good. So I might think “I was right to _want_ to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but wrong in the way I went about it, so wrong that it would have been better if I’d done nothing”.

Does anyone really think that good intentions justify all bad consequences, because that seems to be the root of the argument?


Marc Mulholland 07.15.05 at 9:02 am

On the ‘revolution’ point raised by Eve Gerrard and mentioned in comment 6, I think there is no moral sanction for a third-party to inflict massive trauma in pursuit of revolution ‘from above’. Societies as organic political entities are constrained by a Hobbesian social contract that threatens penalties on those who would disrupt it or maintain it against disruption. There is in principle reciprocity here: the costs of change or resistance to change are borne by the putative beneficiaries. A third party is not similarly licensed to conduct politics by force. It can show solidarity with immanent tendencies within a society, but it cannot force revolutionary civil war upon it. Why? Because if it goes wrong, it is not the third party which (primarily) suffers, but the object of benign experimentation. In revolution, risks are matched to actions. In invasions to produce revolution, they are not.


Mark 07.15.05 at 9:14 am

I think Chris has a point here. I’ve seen Norm try to defend this position before, and I think it is neither tenable for the reasons Chris mention above, nor necessary for the reasons I mention below.

Perhaps Norm dislikes the apparent direct causal attribution of moral responsibility to Blair and Bush (it’s not like they’re ordering Moore’s Islamist Minutemen to tear Iraqi children apart with shrapnel for the Glory of Allah); still, it could be argued that Blair and Bush should have reasonably anticipated that some Iraqi Sunni fascists and the regional dictatorships would seek to destroy an Iraqi democracy this way. This, however, doesn’t affect the overall justification of the war unless we put it in the context of the competing alternatives.

In this regard, Norm could just accept the consequentialist argument (and its limitations as outlined by Chris), and respond that the reasonably estimated consequences of the anti-war position (leaving Iraq to the tender mercies of long-term rulership by Saddam & Sons), would have resulted in far more deaths than any of the estimations we have so far (see UN report, IBC, even Lancet). I’ve yet to see the anti-war left plausibly refute this. It’s mostly a chore to get them to even admit that the consequences of the anti-war position was the continued long-term existence of a genocidal fascist dictatorship.


efraim 07.15.05 at 9:19 am

To be fair, the Normblog quote says causal contribution of a particular sort “doesn’t show” moral responsibility. Perhaps further conditions must be met to show it – say, (a) predictability of relevant bad consequences, (b) their avoidability, (c) their importance compared to good consequences, (d) reasonable precautions taken against them, (e) length of time and scope for action, including by others, before bad consequences arise, etc.

I don’t think you can avoid talking about such details. The abstract debate about consequentialism strikes me as a red herring. Surely you’re quarreling over which consequences matter and which consequences we ought to be held responsible for?

What’s a “non-consequentialist discourse of responsibility”? Can there be talk of responsibility without talk of consequences?


Ray 07.15.05 at 9:20 am

I admit that the consequence of the anti-war position was the continued existence of a genocidal dictatorship. But I disagree that the most reasonable estimate of the consequences was that the war would save lives. (And I doubt that the motivation behind the invasion was simply to save lives, which is important because the motivation determined the nature of the occupation, and the priority that would be given to saving Iraqi lives)


Donald Johnson 07.15.05 at 10:12 am

One minor point here–we don’t know which side has caused most of the civilian casualties and don’t even know how many there have been. I’d guess the insurgents are killing civilians at a higher rate now, but that probably wasn’t the case in other phases of the war, particularly in the months during which Fallujah was being bombed (in which the Fallujah neighborhood surveyed by the Lancet team lost 50 people).

I don’t have anything else to contribute to the discussion that someone else hasn’t said better, but that never stops me. As Rich points out in comment 4, the pro-Iraq war side always puts all the blame for the civilian suffering in Iraq on Saddam. So when the US bombed Iraqi civilian infrastructure with the intent of using the sanctions to prevent repairs, it’s Saddam’s fault if the infant mortality rate went up. This is a convenient ethic–so long as the other side is bad (and it is), we’re allowed to hurt innocent people, sometimes deliberately, and blame our enemies for it.


Jon 07.15.05 at 10:14 am

Sounds like Norm and Eve are simply playing on the doctrine of double effect. In simple, classical form–If you intend to do something that is not wrong in itself (or is rather “good”) you are not morally responsible for the foreseeable, or even necessary, “bad” consequences. Same reasoning that allows us to claim we are morally clean when we kill civilians in air raids (“collateral damage”) while at the same time condemning insurgents more direct (or “intended”) attacks on civs. Thank god for the Catholic Church.


dsquared 07.15.05 at 10:16 am

I have, I think, argued against this view in the past. At this point, I’ll just repeat my age-old point that the “pro war left” were (objectively or subjectively) pro the actual war that was fought, not any hypothetical perfect war, and thus supported the myriad of bad planning decisions which led to the carnage in Iraq. I hate to repeat this because it looks like gloating, but there were lots, lots of us who could see that this was in the process of being executed badly.


roger 07.15.05 at 10:19 am

Leaving aside for the moment that counting only the casualties inflicted by the insurgents is one sided book keeping, one would think the consequentialist view would have to take in account what the invasion has wrought, politically. The reality disconnect of the Bush administration has become the default of the pro war crowd, who keep insisting that we are fighting for a secular democracy in Iraq, even though the closest ideological match of the current SCIRI and Dawa Parties that run Iraq is the fundamentalist government that runs Iran. Basra is under de facto shari’a rule, according to stories in the NYT and the Christian Science monitor. And then there is this, from the Kurdish media monitor:

“Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa stating that the future Iraqi state will be called “The Islamic Federal Republic of Iraq.”

On 10th of July, al-Sistani had issued another fatwa in which he stated, “The Iraqi constitution must not contradict with Islam.”

Al-Sistani, who in the past has stated that he would not get involved in Iraqi politics, daily issues decisive fatwas on the way the Iraqi socio-political system is to be shaped, which has so far meant that al-Sistani has practically overridden the work of the committee that is responsible for producing the new Iraqi constitution.

It has also been noted by observers that the Shiia bloc uses al-Sistani as, what has been termed, a “pressure-pump”. Whenever the Shiia bloc wants to impose an issue over the Iraqi Assembly and the Kurdish bloc, they request al-Sistani to issue a fatwa. As it is known, “Fatwas” are non-negotiable.”

Eve’s revolution in Iraq happened. It just so happened to be Khomeini’s revolution.


Neel Krishnaswami 07.15.05 at 10:19 am

So, I’ll willfully miss the point of this post entirely, and ask a weird analytic philosophy question.

Now, Chris suggests that mixing consequentialist and non-consequentialist argumentation is not a good idea, but it seems like even if you have a deontological view, your deontic obligations might let you view multiple acts as permissible in a situation. Then, you might want to choose between the permissible options in a consequentialist way. This seems like reasonable moral decision-making to me.

Furthermore, we can formalize many kinds of non-consequentialist moral reasoning using some kind of deontic logic. And you can think of traditional probability theory as a particular semantics for classical propositional logic. But there’s no particular reason why the logic you use for your probability theory has to be classical logic, as Timberite Brian Weatherson has argued.

So, my question is, can we invent a deontic probability theory, and then use that as the basis for an “ethical decision theory”? A person’s utility function would still be their wants, and the modalities in the deontic probability calculus would let us reason about how to best satisfy that person’s preferences, subject to ethical constraint.

Is this nuts? Or sensible? Or both?


a 07.15.05 at 10:25 am

Use Hitler instead of Saddam. Is Poland responsible for the deaths caused by WWII because it resisted Nazi demands and decided to fight rather than give in? In order to attribute blame one does have to consider whether one is justified in one’s actions, and whether the bad conseqeunces are the result of someone else’s bad actions.


Mark 07.15.05 at 10:32 am

dsquared is correct. We on the pro-war side must take into account, in any justification, the war that was actually fought – together with the negligent and/or bad planning. But the other side of that position is that the anti-war side must consider the circumstances for Iraqis under Saddam & Sons continued rule. Consequentialism has its strengths as well as weaknesses.

Ray, I’m not sure the concept of “motivation” does the justificatory work you think it does. Moreover, given the reasonable estimates of comparative death rates under liberated Iraq vs Saddam & Sons Iraq (see Geras), I believe that the assertion in your second sentence is false.


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 10:55 am

If only I could answer Neel Krishnaswami’s question, or even understand it, it might be possible to figure out how Norm Geras does this dance between consequentialist and non-consequentialist brands of morality. Since I can’t, here is my alternative question, which long-time Geras fans may be able to answer: is Geras committed to any known code of morality? Without claiming to be a historian of ideas I think I know, in a rough sort of way, how Aquinas, Machiavelli, Bentham or Marx would have decided whether a war is justified or not. Can Geras be said to belong to any particular school of thought? Or does he just make it up as he goes along?


Clicking on my link above to a JQ post will take you to a lengthy discussion of the issue you raise. You (or a namesake) also raised it in that thread. There’s no sense in making the same old points and ignoring those which have been made in response.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 11:04 am

Maybe I’m writing in the wrong thread, but I don’t see the point of assigning blame now.

The important thing is to choose what to do next.

And in the context of what to do next, if you’re a stockholder in a company where the president announced a great new product rollout, but the product didn’t work and the advertising campaign was no good and the company lost a lot of money,

and the president then promoted the people responsible,

and instead of any attempt to fix the production problems and make things right with the customer base the president appeared to be spending all his efforts on persuading the stockholders that everything was OK,

The issue isn’t whether the president of the company had good intentions, or whether he was morally justified. It isn’t whether his employees had good intentions or were morally justified. It isn’t whether the stockholders who supported him at the last general meeting had good intentions or were morally justified.

It’s time for a proxy fight.

And arguing with other stockholders about what they thought at the last meeting is useless. Let bygones be bygones about that. What matters is where they put their proxy now.

As far as I’m concerned, republican legislators who jump on the impeachment bandwagon early enough can get my vote.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 11:06 am

Mark, are you arguing that you were right to be pro-war back when we first invaded? Or are you still pro-war today?


abb1 07.15.05 at 11:12 am

“…To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

– Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.


Ray 07.15.05 at 11:13 am

Mark, Kevin’s pointed out that this discussion has been had before.
Before the war, there were two things to consider – the likely number of deaths in an invasion, and the likely number of deaths without an invasion. The evidence is that Saddam’s ability to murder large numbers of his population was decreasing with time (due to sanctions, no-fly zones, and other effects of the first war). Given these facts, I think it was reasonable to believe, before the war, that invasion would kill more people than no invasion. (And all the evidence we have since then tends to support that belief)

As for the work done by ‘motivation’ – what are you arguing? That the reason for an action will not have some bearing on how that action is carried out? That a war whose primary purpose is to save lives will not proceed differently from other wars?


Brendan 07.15.05 at 11:15 am

The consequences of Saddam remaining in power arguments doesn’t seem as strong to me as it does to those on the pro-war side (no surprise there, but hear me out). For the following reasons.

1: How long would Saddam/the Ba’athist regime have lasted? We have learnt in the 20th century that totalitarian regimes, all of which seemed so powerful and strong, inevitably, invariably, collapse. To the best of my knowledge not one totalitarian regime has yet lasted 100 years. Hitler’s only lasted 12. It seems reasonable to assume that Saddam’s regime would have eventually collapsed, just as the USSR did, just as Pinochet’s Chile did, just as Franco’s Spain did, etc. And of course we don’t know when that might have happened. Perhaps it would have happend fifty years after the invasion, under Saddam’s sons. On the other hand, perhaps it would have happened 5 years after. But unless you specify how long you think Saddam’s regime would have lasted, and provide reasons for that, then it is impossible to create an adequate cost/benefit scenario. In any case, according to Amnesty, in the last few years of his regime, Saddam was ‘only’ murdering about 5,000 people a year. Assuming that stayed the same, you would have to assume that Saddam would have stayed in power for another 20 years minimum for him to match the estimated 100,000 excess deaths that the Lancet study detailed (any posts that discuss the ‘discredited’ Lancet study will be ignored, unless the poster has statistical training).

2: A few months back, pro-invasion bloggers got pretty excited by the Sudan, mainly because the villains were Muslims attacking Christians. Many went as far as to call for an American invasion of that country (or an ‘intervention’ as it is coyly euphemised nowadays). But it was very obvious that Bush was not going to do this and one of the most important reasons for that is that his army was overstretched. In other words, if you are going to include the hypothetical number of victims that Saddam would have killed if he had not been deposed, you also have to include the amount of victims in OTHER countries who were and are being killed because the US cannot afford to intervene precisely BECAUSE of Iraq. Even by the logic of their own argument the pro-war case runs into trouble.

(of course as soon as this became clear, the topic of the Sudan mysteriously disappeared from the pro-invasion blogosphere).

3: The US is running, to put it mildly, a lot of major risks, risks that would almost certainly not have arisen under Saddam’s rule. For example, there is the strong risk of civil war (with concommitant casualty figures that will be astronomical), not to mention possible consequences of that (a Kurdish state, for example, which will bring Iran, Syria and Turkey into the war). To be fair these haven’t happened yet. But if they happen (and let’s not forget that the Kurds are now more or less allied with the Israelis, and that if Iran attacks the potential state of Kurdistan, the Israelis might retaliate, and the Israelis have nuclear weapons) this could raise the death toll way above anything that Saddam could conceivably have achieved. Consequentially speaking, this would be a disaster for the pro-war argument.

4: Finally, if we all agree to have a moratorium on the Bush equals Hitler meme, could we also have a stop to describing Saddam’s regime as ‘fascist’ (except insofar as describing any authoritarian regime anywhere as fascist). Fascism is a specific word with a specific meaning, and it is not clear to me how describing Saddam’s regime as being ‘fascist’ illuminates or illustrates anything. Is Saudi Arabia fascist? Can we make reference, therefore, to George Bush walkiing hand in hand with a fascist Saudi politician, or the fascist Pakistani dictator Mushareff, or the fascist Egyptian leader Mubarek? Apart from the obvious rule that no ally of the United States must ever be described as fascist, why not? Alternately, can we describe Stalin (or Lenin) as a fascist? Is this illuminating?

I am also unclear as to why the word ‘genocidal’ is so frequently used to describe Saddam’s regime, and not, generally speaking, by those who excelled themselves by protesting the genocides when they were actually taking place.

I might finally point out that the situation in the Congo was and is worse (from a human rights position) than any place on earth, and that this has been the case for about the last 20 years (the Congo war, ‘Africa’s world war 2′ has left roughly 4 million dead and the number is rising all the time), and yet few in the West ever expressed any interest in this ongoing nightmare. Again, part of the reason for this (not all of it) is the West’s obsession with events in the Middle East, which only the naive would think is related to our deep sympathy with Arab culture and civilisation.


Mark 07.15.05 at 11:32 am

Kevin, I agree that we’ve had this argument before, and need not take it up again here. I simply wished to point out that Chris is correct in noting a problem in Norm’s position, but that Norm can concede the point and turn the argument back on the anti-war left with the other blade of the consequentialist sword: accepting the reasonably anticipated results of an action means anti-war leftists must have accepted (and sought to integrate into their anti-war justification) the consequences of the continued existence of a genocidal fascist dictatorship ruling Iraqis for the foreseeable future. Not a pleasant place to be.

“The evidence is that Saddam’s ability to murder large numbers of his population was decreasing with time (due to sanctions, no-fly zones, and other effects of the first war). Given these facts, I think it was reasonable to believe, before the war, that invasion would kill more people than no invasion. (And all the evidence we have since then tends to support that belief)”

Ray, I disagree that your “facts” prove that Saddam & Sons would not have murdered more Iraqis, in the long-term, than have died in the liberation.

j thomas: I have argued (here, at and elsewhere) pre-war and post-war that the war was and remains justified. I have yet to see an anti-war arguments that refutes the strongest pro-war arguments.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 12:12 pm

Nark, thank you for revealing your position.

If you are capable of maintaining at this point that the war should be continued, then I find it tactically unappealing to discuss that point further with you.

If you believe that now, given current evidence, I can hardly imagine evidence that would change your mind.

I will try to note who the poster is each time, and if it’s you I’ll discuss other topics but try to leave that one alone.

Still, I hope you will reconsider and come to reality at some point in the near future. The coming proxy fight could use your help.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 12:27 pm

Brandan, you argue that the prowar people should have taken into account the possibility of civil war after the invasion. However, you also argue that Saddam’s government would have collapsed at some point. And so we should include the possibility of civil war when that happened. It worked like that in Yugoslavia.

So to the extent that we considered that possibility, we should have looked at the relative likelihood of civil war with versus without Saddam, and the likely timing.

The details get increasingly vague, and we have to use subjective estimates about things we mostly don’t understand. This is a problem generally for arguing from consequences. We don’t know what the longterm consequences of our actions will be.

The germans who got rid of the Kaiser didn’t know that they were creating the conditions for Hitler.

And when we got rid of Saddam we didn’t know what we were starting in his place.

And similarly if we get rid of Bush/Cheney we might be leading to something worse. But it isn’t the way to bet. And we should work toward something better.


Uncle Kvetch 07.15.05 at 1:00 pm

In revolution, risks are matched to actions. In invasions to produce revolution, they are not.

Well said, Marc. It’s a point that is forgotten all too often.


Mark 07.15.05 at 1:12 pm

j thomas, I am open to consider evidence at any time. I just don’t think your bare assertions count as evidence. I’m not sure why you find this surprising. Back when universities trained students to think critically & independently, it was common practice to make and defend arguments; if you are willing to do so, I am happy to engage with them. Until then, you’ll have to excuse me if I find the loss of your rejoinders somewhat less than crushing.


Brendan 07.15.05 at 1:35 pm

j thomas

you are of course correct. Perhaps there would have been a civil war in any case.
However given the obvious threat of such a thing happening, one might argue that that in itself might argue against a war. If you have a large barrel full of petrol perhaps it would be lit by lighning, or static electricity or something of that sort. It’s happened. On the other hand, wading in by throwing matches around would definitely increase the probability of something bad happening.

Moreover since the invasion one has to ask whether such brilliant ideas as disbanding the army were really so terrific (and as you know i could easily list many points at which the American chose to wilfully alienate the Sunnis).

I might also point out the obvious: any civil war will not be a three but a four way battle: the Shias, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Americans (plus the Turkmen and various others), guaranteeing ongoing American involvement in the country for decades. This of course would not have been the case without the invasion. The presence of the Americans will also gurantee the involvement of other powers, most obviously Israel(who have, let’s never forget, nuclear weapons).

Pro-invasion types who talk about the ‘good news’ from Iraq may have a horrible ironic victory. It may well be that people look back on what has been ‘achieved’ in Iraq since the invasion as a kind of golden age.

Compared to the nightmare that followed.


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 1:44 pm

Mark, the problem with your approach to evidence was pretty well expressed by Rob in the JQ thread:

Other points were also put to you in that thread which you might consider. You cannot reasonably complain that the rest of us aren’t responding to your arguments if you don’t respond to ours.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 1:51 pm

Mark, I’m not trying to convince you and I’m not interested in arguing with you. You’ve made it plain that isn’t worth doing.

I was merely mentioning to you that I don’t intend to do that.


Mark 07.15.05 at 2:09 pm

j thomas, I think I made it clear that I don’t consider your assertions to count as arguments, so we are in agreement that you aren’t contributing anything to our discussion; I was simply acknowledging that, as a result, I am not too concerned with your threat to withold your non-arguments.

kevin, if you want to critize me for not continuing a discussion in a previous thread after the posts reached into the mid-100s, fine, I’ll accept that criticism. I will not have it said, however, that I simply ignored salient points or fled from some unbeatable anti-war argument, either in that thread or in this one. If you want to reconstruct the previous arguments and show me where my reasoning was faulty, feel free to do so.

I responded to Chris; if you have an argument to defend his position, then make it. Why else are we posting?


abb1 07.15.05 at 2:21 pm

…consequentialist sword: accepting the reasonably anticipated results of an action means anti-war leftists must have accepted (and sought to integrate into their anti-war justification) the consequences of the continued existence of a genocidal fascist dictatorship ruling Iraqis for the foreseeable future.

Your whole “argument” here seems to be hanging on the phrase ‘genocidal fascist dictatorship‘. It has been demonstrated right here in this thread that dictatorship ruling Iraqis was neither genocidal nor fascist.

So, if this is how you want to “argue”, then why don’t we just start exchanging random radical right/left statements, like this for example: …the continued existence of American genocidal fascist plutocracy is an existential threat to the human civilization. Start presenting your counter-arguments now.



J Thomas 07.15.05 at 2:37 pm

Mark, I am not attempting to contribute to discussion with you. I am pointing out that attempting discussion with you is futile.

People who attempt to discuss this topic with you are demeaning themselves. They are demonstrating poor judgement by attempting to do so, after observing your previous behavior.

It’s silly for anyone to take you seriously intellectually, they should take you seriously more like they would a rabid poodle or some unknown variety of small spider.

You appear to me to practice a fundamental dishonesty. (If anyone here wants to email me links to examples where this isn’t so, I’d be interested to see them.) You are simply not worth my time. There are plenty more like you if I need a type specimen, and that’s the main use for you.


Mark 07.15.05 at 2:42 pm

abb1, I suppose you and I are using a different notion of “demonstrated”. It was my understanding that the early Ba’athist party was based, in part, on fascist ideology. Re: genocide – see Marsh Arabs; see also Kurds.

In any case, if you like, replace “genocidal fascist” with “dictator who slaughtered an estimated 300,000-400,000 people, and who started pointless wars resulting in approximately 1 million dead”. I admire you for at least acknowledging the other edge of the consequentialist sword. Most anti-war proponents pretend that it can’t cut them.


Mark 07.15.05 at 2:52 pm

j thomas, I come back to crookedtimber because, in my experience, most here are quite capable of having civil disagreements; you, obviously, are not. Your descent into ad hominem is indicative of surrender. We’re done talking.


abb1 07.15.05 at 3:14 pm

Mark, frankly I’m puzzled with your preoccupation with a lousy two-bit dictator who didn’t even have a single nuke.

Think bigger: with the American genocidal fascist plutocracy you have a regime guilty of over 100 years of slavery, genocide of the native American people, using atomic weapons on civilian targets, murdering estimated 4 million people in Viet-Nam with chemical weapons and the infamous scorched earth tactic, overthrowing democratic governments all over the world, terrorizing central America for at least a decade, supplying ME dictators with weapons, causing over 100,000 excess death in Iraq just in the first 18 months the occupation. But wait, there’s more: this regime has 10,000 nuclear warheads ready to be launched any second and is developing more as we speak – that’s 10,000 nuclear warheads, Mark. And it’s planning to deploy nuclear weapons in space.

Get on the case now, Mark, while it’s not too late. I don’t think the pathetic Ba’ath party deserves even a second of your attention under the circumstances.


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 3:20 pm

j thomas, I am open to consider evidence at any time.


Having read your comments in the JQ thread, Rob reached this conclusion:

by your criteria for evidence, neither of us have any about the situation in Iraq (unless you’ve got some statistical study you’re not telling us about). Most people do accept articles published in reputable medical journals, especially when there’s no other evidence of comparable quality. If you don’t, fine, but it leaves you with nothing to support your assertion that it life is better than the Lancet suggests. Also, unless you’re prepared to cite, with more detailed statistical analysis than was offered on the thread discussing the Lancet study, evidence of Saddam’s genocidal behaviour towards his own people, I think you’d better drop that claim too.

In the light of your comments in the JQ thread that really is spot on. Unless your criteria for evidence have changed, it is misleading to say you are open to evidence. You may be willing to accept the findings of future empirical work but you reject what we actually have – unless of course your thinking on the matter has changed.


Mark 07.15.05 at 3:23 pm

Excellent, abb1. You and I both agree with the principle that genocidal fascist regimes should be sanctioned &/or removed when it is morally and politically feasible to do so. We just differ on which regimes qualify and where to start. Glad to have your endorsement of the pro-war position, and the larger foundational (but now forgotten) mission of the United Nations.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 3:39 pm

Abb1, here we see a typical example of this creep’s method. You present him with a reductio ad absurdum and he concludes that you agree with him.

Unless you enjoy using him for your indestructible chew-toy, why bother? He just admitted that he comes to Crooked Timber because he finds here people who’re easily trolled.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with chewing on him, it might polish your teeth. But don’t you have anything better to do?


abb1 07.15.05 at 3:43 pm

Well, in this case I’m just trying to demonstrate that demonizing what was in 2003 a perfectly ordinary third world government is not a particularly convincing way of reasoning here.

Anything can be easily demonized: ‘Red’ China, back-stabbing France, fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, Taliban, Baath, Putin’s Russia, Bush’s America. Consequently any aggressive war can be justified as ‘liberation’ or ‘fighting evil’. That doesn’t work. Starting war is a crime.


Mark 07.15.05 at 3:45 pm

Kevin, I’d prefer to stick to the thread topic. If you want to continue our old discussion, and maintain that the consequentialist position favours a return to pre-war Iraq because of the Lancet study (and arguably contrary to the UN or IBC study (an issue on which Chris hasn’t opined nor is required to opine here), then do so on the other thread. I’m not sure I want to read through 120 posts or so to respond, though, but I will do it if you really want to get into it. Or you could just agree to exchange emails and we could carry on privately. Your call. I have enough difficulty getting a simple admission here that the pro-war consequentialist position has any force to get enthusiastic about making another good faith effort.

Again, is it your claim that because I didn’t respond to a 120+ post thread that went on for more than 4 days, I am not open to evidence? I’d prefer to focus on reasonable arguments.


Mark 07.15.05 at 3:58 pm

abb1, I’m not sure your injunction against “demonizing” a genocidal fascist government that is indeed a genocidal fascist government is a useful moral guideline. I may be having difficult pegging your argument. Feel free to expand on it.

As far as starting war being a crime; it sounds fine at first blush, but there may be cases where war is a morally and politically acceptable alternative to certain conditions. A few that come to mind: genocide and slavery. One might argue that the foundational UN assurance of state sovereignty should or can be suspended when a state commits genocide against &/or enslaves its own citizens. Query: how bad does Darfur have to get before governments take action to stop the genocide? How bad would South African apartheid have to have been before governments intervene to free people?


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 4:27 pm

Again, is it your claim that because I didn’t respond to a 120+ post thread that went on for more than 4 days, I am not open to evidence?

No, that’s not my claim at all, as anyone who reads what I wrote can easily see. Your own statements in the JQ thread indicate that you demand higher standards of evidence than anyone can hope to provide at present. However you evidently accept much weaker evidence when it suits your case. That is the point which Rob made and which I endorsed.

Any consequentialist argument must rest on empirical claims at some point, so standards of evidence matter.


Mark 07.15.05 at 4:36 pm

Ah, I see Kevin. I disagree with your interpretation of my position. I try to demand the same evidentiary standards of myself that I do of my opponents. Since this thread is about the consequentialist problem and not my personal evidentiary standards (which might be a rather boring diversion), I’ll leave it at that. If you are willing to dredge through the posts JQ thread to prove otherwise, I am willing to continue the discussion there, or by private email. Let me know what you decide.


Brendan 07.15.05 at 4:36 pm

Ok hooooooooooooold it right there.

‘It was my understanding that the early Ba’athist party was based, in part, on fascist ideology.’

Really? Says who? Here is a standard description of Ba’athism.

‘Baath Party, formally the Baath Arab Socialist Party: Political party and movement influential among Arab communities in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. The Baath Party was from the beginning a secular Arab nationalist party. Socialism (not Marxism) was quickly adopted as the party’s economic dogma: “Unity [Arab], Freedom [from colonialism], and Socialism” are still the watchwords. From its earliest development, the motivation behind Baathist political thought and its leading supporters was the need to produce a means of reasserting the Arab spirit in the face of foreign domination. Moral and cultural deterioration, it was felt, had so weakened the Arabs that Western supremacy spread throughout the Middle East. Arabs needed a regeneration of the common heritage of people in the region to drive off debilitating external influences.’

etc etc.In other words it was a socialist movement that concentrated on Arab unity as a way of fighting back against colonialism. ‘Unity Freedom and Socialism’ is a very different mantra from ‘Kinder, Kirche, Kuche’ or ”travail, famille, patrie’. The idea that Ba’athism was ‘indistinguishable’ from or ‘identical to’ fascism has become something of a meme on pro-war sites but historically there is little evidence for it (it seems to me). The key point (invariably glossed over by the pro-invasion crew) is that fascism was an imperialist movement that had conquering territory as the core essence of its foreign policy, whereas Ba’athism was an essentially reactive movement that, on the contrary, saw itself as being ANTI-colonialist: arab lands for arab people.

I think the reason the pro-invasion group continually stress this apart from wanting to make Saddam sound just that little bit worse, is because if you imply that Saddam was an imperialist then you go a long way to implying that he might have posed a threat to Europe or the US.


Ray 07.15.05 at 4:48 pm

Mark, you agree, at least, that it was possible for people to sincerely disagree, before the invasion, about whether it would save lives?

According to the UN, lack of clean drinking water and inadequate sanitation kills 1.7 million people a year (most of them children), far more than Saddam Hussein at his worst. $200 billion dollars spent on clean water and sanitation would save millions of lives for years to come, without any doubt.

Opportunity costs should be taken into account.


Kevin Donoghue 07.15.05 at 5:11 pm

I try to demand the same evidentiary standards of myself that I do of my opponents.

Mark, the JQ thread provides ample evidence to the contary. But I will retire to the sidelines and see whether you and Brendan can agree on criteria to settle your differences on Baathism etc.

What I would really like is for some kind soul to answer my question about the moral code of Geras. My impression is that he has developed a creed according to which progressives have a duty to overthrow reactionaries and the evil consequences are the fault of the reactionaries; a bit like the Jacobins wanting to strangle the lask king with the guts of the last priest. So consequentialism doesn’t really come into it.


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 5:31 pm

I want to go back to my original point. Trying to decide who to blame for the mess is not productive.

Want to blame Saddam? Maybe if you enlist you’ll wind up being a prison guard in his prison and you’ll get a chance to kick him.

Want to blame Bush? It’s vaguely possible you can get him impeached and imprisoned. And then if you get a job as a federal prison guard there’s some possibility you’ll get a chance to kick him.

Cheney? Rumsfeld? Maybe they’ll wind up in jail but likely they’ll be too old and maybe dead before they can be brought to justice.

Want to blame Zarqawi? Bin Ladin? I’m not sure whether we have DNA samples on either of them. I’m sure somebody somewhere will get killed and it will be announced it’s them. That will have to do.

But what should we do *now*? Like, say we had some sort of influence on the US government, what advice should we give about iraq? Is it true that no matter how stupid it was to start what we’re doing, now we have to keep repeating it until we win?

Suppose we gave military and economic aid to the current iraqi government, but had no troops there. Would that be worse than what we’re doing now? My guess is that it would match our stated goals a lot better. The iraqi government would have a lot more credibility with iraqis if we weren’t there. The iraqi army would have a lot more motivation. They could handle their internal affairs much more effectively if we weren’t sticking our thumbs in. They might do something sort of genocidal, maybe, but at least it wouldn’t be like random air strikes.

Maybe they couldn’t fight the insurgents. Why would that be? If they were getting money and arms and power plants and such from us, and the insurgents were getting, uh …. Arms from syria? Money from saudi arabia? What?

If 16 million government supporters can’t beat 4 million insurgents, maybe they don’t deserve to win. Do iraqi soldiers need training from us? I doubt it. How much good has our training done? we train them to set up checkpoints and disrupt traffic. At the checkpoints they’re targets, which is one of the reasons we want them to do it instead of us. Would they use this method if it was them in charge? Would we use that method in the USA? Imagine car bombers in Chicago. So we set up random checkpoints and shoot anybody who looks suspicious, and we stop anybody who wants to go through and thoroughly search their persons and their vehicles, and we disrupt traffic so much that the city’s trade drops by 3/4. Would we put up with that? Hell no. At the very least we’d do profiling and let most people through with a quick ID check, and we’d do careful studies on everything we could find out about the cars that exploded and their drivers looking for clues, and we’d zero in on them. And we wouldn’t have the problem that we were more unpopular than the suicide bombers.

We’ve trained enough iraqi soldiers and police that they can incorporate whatever they want of our training into their own training program.

OK, suppose some sections of iraq are so fully controlled by the insurgents that iraqi troops can’t move in without a lot of US air support. What would that imply? I say, declare them de facto independent and invite them to vote for representatives to join the government. If they join, great. If they don’t join they’re a problem but not the problem they’d be if they weren’t on the other side of a border. And if it comes to a war, again it’s 16 million iraqis against 4 million insurgents, and the iraqis have the oil at this point.

Why wouldn’t it work at least as well as what we’re doing? Well, here are some things that wouldn’t work as well. If iraq is heading for some sort of religious-based government, it would look bad. As long as our military is the strongest military in the area and we hold Baghdad, we can tell them not to publicly admit they’re doing that.

And as long as we’re there they can’t publish casualty figures showing how many of their civilians we’ve killed.

And as long as we’re there they have to sell oil to who we say at the price we say. We don’t admit we’re doing that. Maybe that one doesn’t count.

As long as we’re there the iraqi government has to be against arab terrorists. They may not be at all effective against arab terrorists, but they have to say they’re against them. If we leave the iraqi government might start saying nice things about arab terrorists which would enrage americans.

As long as we’re there, iraq won’t have any real cooperation with iran. They recently announced some cooperation. If we left they might follow up on that. It would make us look bad.

If we pull out of iraq we can’t use iraq as a staging area to invade iran. I don’t see how invading iran is in the cards, but if we pulled out then the possibility however slim it is now would be entirely gone.

Similarly we couldn’t use iraq to invade syria.

If we pulled out of iraq, chances are the iraqi government would say some things that sounded ungrateful and it might be hard to get our Congress to approve the aid package we’d depend on to make sure the iraqi government won over the insurgents. That would both make the war effort look bad and it would increase the chance of the insurgents winning. The best response would be for the US press to not report such statements, but they probably would.

Also we’d get reports that government corruption was wasting some of our aid. Not like that isn’t happening now, but with our military there and with the high level of violence inhibiting the media, it needn’t get reported much now. If the violence dies down it will be a hot topic.

Still, in spite of all these potential problems, I think we’d be better off to withdraw our armed forces and provide military and economic aid to whatever government iraq winds up with, until they get back on their feet or we get too disgusted with them — whichever comes first.


Mark 07.15.05 at 6:40 pm

ray, although I’ve been back and forth on this, I believe it was possible to hold sincere, but mistaken, beliefs that opposing the war was a morally tenable position. I don’t doubt that some people sincerely believed leaving Saddam & Sons in place would result in fewer lives lost than liberating Iraq from their genocidal rule; I just think this belief was mistaken, and poorly defended. The better view, IMO, given certain moral assumptions and prior commitments, was the pro-war view. The consequentialist position outlined by Geras in prior posts is a good weapon against this anti-war position. And, with regard to the present thread, I don’t think Geras needs to adopt his present position (if Chris has correctly articulated it in his post).

Re: Opportunity costs. I’m not sure it’s reasonable to suggest that we could have disbursed $200 billion in Iraq to help the Iraqi people while a dictator had absolute control of the expenditures. Saddam had plenty of money to help his own people (see palaces, etc); he was more inclined to bury a good portion of them in mass graves.

brenan, re: fascist Baath party. See Lewis, 2003 “Saddam’s Regime is a European Import”. I would think that its pseudo-intellectual fascist origins, Saddam’s belligerent expansionism with respect to Kuwait and Iran, and the ultra-nationalist character of his police state would allow for the use of the term “fascism”. I’ll concede that there isn’t an exact match, but the term is still descriptive enough, to me, to capture something about the regime.

Kevin, I’m sure the audience is free to wade through the 120 some odd posts of the JQ thread to assess your otherwise unfounded and diversionary claim, since you don’t appear inclined or courteous enough to do so yourself.


Brendan 07.15.05 at 7:12 pm

Bernard Lewis is not an unbiased authority on the Middle East, as you should know. In fact his views on Arabic culture etc. are rejected by the vast majority of Middle Eastern scholars. Doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything, but it does mean that his views shouldn’t be accepted without outside support.

I have no idea what the phrase ‘pseudo-intellectual fascist origins’ means.

As you know (or should) Iraq attacked Iran and Kuwait in both cases because Saddam was enouraged to do so by the United States. Moreover in both cases (as the relevant Wikipedia article makes clear) the wars were started because Iraq believed that it was seizing territory which actually belonged to Iraq (again, an ANTI-imperialist view, not an imperialist view): in the case of the Iran-Iraq war, the region of Khuzestan. Famously (or notoriously) Iraqis of all political persuasions believe that Kuwait is ‘really’ part of Iraq, in the same way that Argentinians believe that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.

If you describe any regime which is nationalist and a police state as fascist then almost every non-democracy is fascist. Would you think that describing Castro’s cuba, or China or Saudi Arabia as ‘fascist’ illuminates anything?


Brendan 07.15.05 at 7:30 pm

More to the point, I haven’t heard any pro-warrior explain why the situation in the Congo, since Rwanda (which it is related to) the biggest humanitarian disaster in the world, has failed to exercise the same grip on the public imagination as Saddam’s crimes, even though at the time the situation in the Congo was at its worst, Saddam’s crimes were trivial in comparison. Nor have i heard an explanation as to why the largest and most lethal war since WW2 in any continent has received almost no publicity in the Western media. This is very different from the ‘we’re getting to them’ argument sometimes used in response to the situation in China or North Korea. I have read quite a lot of pro-war rhetoric, and not once, ever, have i ever heard it mentioned that an ‘intervention’ might be possible or desirable in the Congo. In fact, few of them given any hint that they know where the Congo is. In fact, how many of them have even heard of Laurent-Désiré Kabila or are aware that by any objective standards he is an infinitely worse monster than Saddam ever was?

In fact the only places pro-warriors tend to be interested in in Africa are the Sudan (opportunity to bash Muslims) and Zimbabwe (disgraceful attacks by blacks on whites). One might almost think that the ‘third world’ was only of interest insofar as it could be exploited by the West, which would obviously be a disgracefully cynical suggestion.


Mark 07.15.05 at 8:08 pm


The amount of other scholars who disagree with BL is irrelevant to the strength of his conclusions. BL outlines the origins of the early Baathist party in his article. Either engage with his argument or concede the point; your empty dismissal is rather unpersuasive, as is your hand-waving invocation of bias.

I don’t see why raising other motivations for Saddam’s wars defeats my claim. Saddam may well have believed that he could get away with gobbling up territory; that didn’t make him any less belligerent or expansionistic. IIRC, Shirer or Speer (?) recounts that Nazi Germany believed it had the green light to invade Poland. So what. Similarly, (again IIRC) some Germans thought that the Sudetenland was part of Germany. This is irrelevant to the fascist nature of the regime.

Pointing out that there are other places that deserve intervention as much as or more than Saddam’s Iraq at best establishes a real-world inconsistency of the pro-war interventionist principle; it doesn’t defeat the argument that it was morally and politically appropriate to rid Iraq of Saddam’s regime. If the police catch a murderer, it is unreasonable to claim their successful campaign was wrong due the existence of another bad or worse uncaught killer. Also, it seems to depend, for its operation, on accepting the force of the pro-war principle: we accept the appropriate of ending genocidal regimes, but we want you to also get rid of these other genocidal regimes – to which the pro-war side might respond “Great! Let’s start with Sudan!” (Enter contrarian France, China, Arab states, “anti-Imperialists”, etc.)


J Thomas 07.15.05 at 8:32 pm

Brendan, if anyone suggests to the US army that we invade central africa, the VA guys get to give the lecture.

When we send in Peace Corps guys there every now and then one of them gets airlifted out in a decontamination bubble. They take him to the CDC in atlanta, by which time he’s likely dead already, and they try to culture the virus to find out what it is and get some idea whether they can work out some sort of defense, and it isn’t unheard of they lose all the workers in a CDC wing.

Get a *lot* of americans in there working together and you’re exposing them to a posisble epidemic that will kill 90% or more of them. Maybe 99%.

It’s going to take a lot of new medical technology before we send ground troops to the Congo. Stuff that isn’t on the horizon yet. Regardless what we think is morally right, we aren’t going to play War of the Worlds in africa.

If we’d known about iraq then what we know now, we’d have stayed out of there too. Maybe the moral thing requirement is to always do what’s right and never conmt the cost. But in practice we count the costs and also the benefit to us. We follow the Hornet-man’s Code like Captain Roadstrom, which says “Never incite a local populace unless there’s something in it for you.”


Ray 07.16.05 at 3:07 am

Mark, it takes a very strange reading of my post to interpret it as suggesting that $200 billion should have been distributed in Iraq. I’m saying that if your goal is to save lives, then invading Iraq is a bad way of achieving that goal. It’s extremely doubtful whether _any_ lives will be saved that way. But spending that money on basic health projects around the world would, without doubt, save _millions_ of lives.

The fact that the Bush administration chose the extremely risky project, rather than the guaranteed project, which would be more effective than even the best case Iraqi invasion, suggests that ‘saving lives’ was not their motivation.


Brendan 07.16.05 at 6:32 am

‘The amount of other scholars who disagree with BL is irrelevant to the strength of his conclusions. BL outlines the origins of the early Baathist party in his article. ‘

As you know (or should) BL was one of the premier (and indeed only academic) flagwavers for the Iraq war. Judging by the time of his article it can’t be seen as anything but a post hoc attempt to portray Saddam’s regime in the blackest possible terms, which means the inevitable comparison to Hitler. I have quoted evidence that the Ba’athist party (in the beginning) was socialist and anti-colonialist: where’s your counter-evidence?

It is absolutely true that Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was part of Germany: not claims that could seriously be made about Russia or, for example, the USA, other countries he declared war on. I think that those who fling around the Saddam equals Hitler meme should not forget that the ambition of the Axis was quite literally to conquer the world, and have Europe and Russia belonging to Germany, the British Empire transferred to a British puppet regime, North Africa (and through them and various friendly powers, for example in South Africa) the rest of Africa controlled by Italy, and Asia controlled by Japan, with South American neutralised by the installation of various pro Nazi puppet regimes and the USA surrounded and impotent.

Saddam on the other hand, wanted Kuwait back, and couldn’t even defeat Iran, which at that stage was in chaos. I think people who have seriously managed to persuade themselves that Saddam equals Hitler should really regain their sense of perspective.

Right from the moment of their creation the fascist states were belligerent and aggresive towards their neighbours, and continued to be so throughout their existence. Saddam on the other hand posed no threat to anyone in the ’70s, got stuck into a disastrous failed war with Iraq in the 80s, invaded Kuwait (encouraged by the US), and after that made no sounds about invading anybody else, or posing any other kind of threat.

Are you seriously arguing that Hitler might have done the same?

‘If the police catch a murderer, it is unreasonable to claim their successful campaign was wrong due the existence of another bad or worse uncaught killer’

No but that wasn’t my point. It was to do with what attracts peoples attention. My point was specifically not that the invasion of the Congo had been posited and rejected it was that it hadn’t even been posited (not that I’ve seen anyway). The difference in police attention between the Yorkshire ripper and the Shankhill Butchers (concurrent) gives an intersting insight into the priorities of the British police at the time.

Incidentally, i notice that you haven’t picked up on my point that if Saddam was a fascist then many others are fascists too.

If this picture ( was published in the New York Times with headline ‘Bush walks hand in hand with fascist Saudi politician’ would you consider this fair comment? If not, why not?

If every reference to our dictator allies in the ‘war on terror’ was prefaced with fascist would you consider this fair comment?

For example if the headline to this story was ‘Bush vision at odds with fascist Arab allies’ and if the first sentence began ‘Shortly after Sunday’s vote in Iraq, President Bush called Nazi Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, fascist anti-semite Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, and Jordan’s brutal fascist dictator King Abdullah.’ would you consider this a reasonable and unbiased description of the event? Again, if not, why not?


Daniel 07.16.05 at 6:33 am

Just to point out that the Lancet and UNDP projects both referred to excess deaths figures counted over the eighteen month period after the war; since the death rate is unlikely to have dropped all that much, the figure is now more like 150,000 excess deaths.


Brendan 07.16.05 at 6:38 am

Finally i have actually read the Lewis article. The key para is this.

‘That was the time when the Baath Party was founded, as a kind of clone of the Nazi and Fascist parties, using very similar methods and adapting a very similar ideology, and operating in the same way — as part of an apparatus of surveillance that exists under a one-party state, where a party is not a party in the Western democratic sense, but part of the apparatus of a government. That was the origin of the Baath Party’.

That’s it! No references, no arguments, no facts!

All that I gain from this article is knowledge that BL believes the Ba’ath party to be influenced by fascism and of that I didn’t have the slightest doubt whatsoever.

(It was written for that famous scholarly journal Front Page Magazine incidentally).


Mark 07.16.05 at 7:35 am


Actually, BL wrote the op-ed for the National Post; it was reprinted in various places, including Frontpage Magazine. This should be apparent from the text underneath the Frontpage reprint that says “National Post, April 4, 2003″. (I’m not sure why you think that’s relevant, but your irrelevant error is still an error.) Still, I think we’ve come as far as we’re going to; we both agree that the Ba’ath party had fascist influences (“of that I didn’t have the slightest doubt whatsoever”!) and you don’t subsequently dispute its militarist, expansionist, dictatorial nature.

ray, it was not entirely clear from your post whether you meant saving lives in Iraq or saving lives across the world. Thanks for the subsequent clarification.

daniel, iirc the UNDP report estimated deaths at 18-29k (more in-line with IBC estimates); not sure how you get from that to 150k.


Kevin Donoghue 07.16.05 at 7:38 am

That’s it! No references, no arguments, no facts!

But see the beauty of it. Nobody can pick holes in the methodology since there isn’t any.


Kevin Donoghue 07.16.05 at 8:03 am

iirc the UNDP report estimated deaths at 18-29k (more in-line with IBC estimates)

Tim Lambert has dealt with this issue:

This makes a misleading comparison between the Lancet number for all excess deaths (which includes the increase in murder, accidents and disease) and the ILCS number for deaths directly related to the war (which just includes deaths caused by the coalition and the insurgents).

As Daniel commented:

Since the IBC and Lancet estimates are not comparable with each other, obviously they can’t both be comparable with the UNDP (in fact, neither are).


J Thomas 07.16.05 at 10:41 am

Brendan, I want to note that when you responded to this troll he took your statement saying approximately “I have no doubt that BL believes…” and quoted you to say approximately “I have no doubt that Ba’ath had fascist influences”.

I have no doubt that this misquote was intentional.

Unless responding to him helps you clarify your thinking, or unless you really enjoy debating honestly with a slimy misquoting misattributing bad-sourcing liar, why do it?


Brendan 07.16.05 at 12:11 pm


J Thomas’ point is correct. Whereas my statament about Front Page Magazine was an honest mistake you blatantly misread my statement about fascism to produce the opposite of what I meant. Thomas is also correct in that unless we have a basic commitment to honesty in terms of quotation and evidence, there really is no point in continuing this discussion.


abb1 07.17.05 at 9:25 am

…chief investigating judge told a news conference in Baghdad Saddam had been charged, with three others, with killings of Shi’ite Muslims in the village of Dujail in 1982.

The case is seen as relatively minor compared to accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity that have also been leveled at the former president. But investigators say it may be easier to prove Saddam’s personal culpability in the smaller case, leading to a swift conviction and possible death sentence.
The Dujail case relates to the killing of an estimated 140 residents after an attempt to assassinate Saddam as his convoy passed through the village, 60 km (35 miles) north of Baghdad.

The retribution is also alleged to have included jailing hundreds of women and children from the town in southern Iraq and destroying the date palm groves that sustained Dujail.

Compare to hundreds of routine murderous actions sanctioned by has-a-right-to-defend-itself Sharon, like this one for example:

July 24 2002 – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Tuesday congratulated his forces on the air strike that killed the military leader Hamas in Gaza, along with 13 civilians, including eight children. While the U.S. did not comment on the F-16 attack, the Palestinian Authority said it will file a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sharon called the raid on Gaza City that killed a total of 15 people “one of the most successful operations” to have been carried out by Israel’s forces, Israeli Army Radio said, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

What gives? Where’s the difference?


sennoma 07.17.05 at 2:45 pm

When we send in Peace Corps guys there every now and then one of them gets airlifted out in a decontamination bubble. They take him to the CDC in atlanta, by which time he’s likely dead already, and they try to culture the virus to find out what it is and get some idea whether they can work out some sort of defense, and it isn’t unheard of they lose all the workers in a CDC wing.

With respect, j thomas, absent a few supporting links that looks like some pretty serious exaggeration to me. “Lose all the workers in a wing” — has that ever happened, even once?

I know a little about emerging viral diseases (used to do research on HIV-1), and the argument that “we shouldn’t send people into foreign countries because they might have communicable diseases we don’t know about” seems entirely bogus to me, as does your prediction of an epidemic with a 90-99% kill rate (even Ebola struggles to get that in most instances). There’s little in my experience to suggest that Central Africa, for instance, is likely to throw up more or worse emerging diseases than any other part of the world. I also don’t think that current medical technology needs any kind of improvement before we can send troops anywhere with reasonable confidence in the face of emerging disease risks. (I’m not advocating sending anyone anywhere, just saying that medical tech makes emerging disease just one of many risks rather than an overwhelming hazard to be avoided at all costs.)


J Thomas 07.17.05 at 8:05 pm

Sennoma. I don’t know which is why I used weasel-words.

I used to live in the shadow of CDC Atlanta and I heard stories then, but they might have been made up. I had the impression they were talking about the workers on one floor of one wing. I heard similar stories later but I recall seeing the claim in print only once. I said “isn’t unheard of” because I’d heard of it.

The claims about african viruses came from my virology teacher who was pretty well respected but it was 20 years ago and he might not have been completely serious. He was british and I may have missed a lot of his nonverbal cues.

I believe it’s a serious consideration for sending large numbers of troops into central africa. I don’t know how vital a concern it is, and I believe it’s more of an issue than most civilians think.

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