War and its consequences

by John Quiggin on July 18, 2005

Chris’s post on responsibility got me started on what I plan to be the final instalment of my attempts to analyse the ethical justification for war. It’s not quite Holbovian in scale, but quite long enough. Comments much appreciated.

In thinking about justifications for war, I haven’t found just war theory to be of much use. The checklist it requires seems to leave too much room for interpretation to really settle anything.

Instead, I’m going to start, but not finish, with consequentialism. On a strictly consequentialist view, actions (including decisions to go to, or persist with, war) are morally neutral; it’s consequences that matter.

As I’ve argued previously, a serious consequentialist analysis suggests that war usually has more bad consequences than good. In particular, anyone who takes consequentialism seriously must reckon with the fact that war is a negative sum game. This means either that at least one side in a war has miscalculated or that the costs of war are being borne by people who don’t have a say in the matter. In addition, it’s necessary to take account of rule-based concerns about the effect of decisions to go to war in particular cases weakening generally desirable rules to the contrary.

My main concern though, is to look at positions that diverge from consequentialism, either by justifying war even when its net consequences are (reasonably expected to be) bad or by opposing war even when its net consequences are (reasonably expected to be) good. I think the first position can reasonably be called “pro-war” and the second “anti-war”.

The pro-war arguments typically amount to claiming that some of the bad consequences of war “don’t count”. An extreme version is the position of Norm Geras that those who initiate a just war aren’t responsible for the consequences of the (by hypothesis) unjust resistance of the other side. Chris has responded to this, and I said much the same here.

Not many supporters of war push things this far, but a large proportion seek some sort of let-out clause, allowing them to ignore at least some bad consequences of war, while claiming most or all if the good ones . The most common let-out is to ignore the casualties suffered by the opposing side, even though most of those killed or wounded would not, as individuals, deserve this fate. This is a common feature of pro-war analyses but it is morally indefensible.

In the case of the Iraq war, the Coalition and its militia allies have fought at least four different (overlapping) groups of opponents: the Iraqi army during the invasion; Sunni nationalist and ex-Baathist insurgents in the subsequent continuing resistance; jihadists led or symbolised by Zarqawi; and Sadrist militia in the two outbreaks of fighting last years. Of these, the Sadrists and what’s left of the army are now part of the Iraqi government, and presumably some sort of settlement will be reached with the Sunni nationalists in due course. Those who survived the war are (or will be) regarded as being citizens with human rights. But those who were killed will still be dead. Using war as a means of pursuing policy goals entails moral responsibility for all the deaths that result, not merely those of civilians or innocent bystanders.

A second common feature of pro-war analysis is a failure to take account of the opportunity cost of the resources used in war. The $300 billion used in the Iraq war would have been enough to finance several years of the Millennium Development project aimed at ending extreme poverty in the world, and could have saved millions of lives. But even assuming this is politically unrealistic, the money could surely have been spent on improved health care, road safety and so on in the US itself. At a typical marginal cost of $5 million per live saved, 60 000 American lives could have been saved. This is morally relevant, but is commonly ignored.

In summary, a lot of pro-war argument may be characterised as consequentialism+special pleading.

Turning to the anti-war side of the argument, the standard criticisms of consequentialism are nowhere stronger than in relation to war. Any decision to go to war, or to persist with war when peace is available, involves a collective decisions to kill and injure innocent people, to destroy their homes and livelihoods and to require our soldiers to obey orders to do such things or face military punishment. On any account of morality that takes individual rights and moral responsibility seriously, such a decision should require more than a mere expectation, based on balance of probabilities, that the net consequences of the decision will be good.

These rights-based considerations are less of a problem in the case of a purely defensive war, since we are morally entitled to defend our own rights. In addition, since willingness to fight defensive wars discourages aggression, it gains support from a rule-consequentialist viewpoint. But this only strengthens the case against wars of choice, where the other side can plausibly present their fight (at least to the soldiers and civilians who are expected to bear the costs) as one of self-defence against an outside aggressor.

Based on all this, I conclude that a war of choice aimed at overthrowing a dictatorial government or taking control of another country. should face a very high burden of justification. Examples include imminent threat of attack, intervention to stop current large-scale killings or or (and this is the case that ought to be treated most stringently) interventions where it is beyond reasonable doubt that the dictatorship can be overthrown, and a democratic alternative put in place, with minimal loss of life.

Once the decision is undertaken, it is morally obligatory to commit sufficient military and financial resources to make success as certain as anything can be in an inherently uncertain world, and to ensure an approach in which civilian deaths and injuries are minimised in the same way as they would be if the people involved were citizens of the country doing the attacking.

There are some wars that would meet these criteria and instances where decisions not to intervene were morally wrong (for example, Rwanda) but they are far outweighed, in the historical record, by morally unjustified wars.

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1

abb1 07.18.05 at 5:29 am

I don’t understand why none of you guys is (or seems to be) willing to consider the concept of jurisdiction here, lawful authority.

If we were to apply this consequentialist approach to our ordinary lives, we would’ve quickly ended up with some Wild West model full of villains and vigilantes killing and lynching each other on every street corner. This kind of arrangement existed and was empirically proven unworkable. Consequently, the government has taken a monopoly on violence, except for clear incidents of self-defense, proportional self-defense.

Why do we have to pretend that this is somehow different in the paradigm of international relations? Clearly the right to commit violence must be given in the same way to an extranational entity of some sort, with a possible exception of clear self-defense. Why do we even discuss consequentialism in this context? What we should discuss is how to build this extranational entity.

2

Brendan 07.18.05 at 6:14 am

One of the many problems that strict consequentialism poses for the pro-invasion argument is that even the smartest of them tends to assume that ‘this is as bad as it gets’, and that the situation will tend to stabilise over time. Perhaps it will. However, equally, perhaps the situation might spiral out of control and produce consequences worse than any conceivable consequences of the continuance of Saddam’s rule.

If for example a civil war starts, it is possible that the Kurds will declare an autnomous Kurdish state. This will bring Iran, Turkey and Syria into the war (given that Kurdistan will contain large chunks of their countries) leading to a 4 way civil war with the Sunnis backed by Saudi Arabia (and Osama Bin Laden), the Shias backed by Iran and Syria, the Kurds backed by the US and Israel, and the US and the British themselves, like all the other sides, jockying for power and influence.

The risks of a proxy-war between Saudi, Iran and Israel need hardly to be stated. However, things could get even worse if this becomes a direct war, considering that Israel (and the US) have nuclear weapons and have made it perfectly clear they will use them if the circumstances are ‘right’.

Moreover, there was a certain time limitedness about Saddam’s reign: he wasn’t going to live forever. However there has been a certain shortage of imagination in even the anti-war case, with the most pessimistic voices foretelling a US presence in Iraq for the next 12 or 15 years. But why only 12 or 15? Why should the US EVER leave Iraq? What incentive does it have for that? Even if one doesn’t accept this, one is left with the Catch-22: as everyone except those who don’t want to believe it accept, it is the US presence in Iraq that is, to a large extent, causing the insurgency, but it is also the insurgency that means that the US cannot leave. This Catch-22 could mean the US presence staggers on in Iraq for 20, 30, 40 or even more years. Again, this is more of a fundamental and long term risk to the existence of Iraq as a sovereign entity than Saddam ever posed.

3

a 07.18.05 at 6:15 am

“interventions where it is beyond reasonable doubt that the dictatorship can be overthrown, and a democratic alternative put in place, with minimal loss of life..” This isn’t war, it’s a police action.

4

Alex 07.18.05 at 6:23 am

People forget how pragmatic Grotian Just War criteria are: just cause (always debatable), lawful authority (everyone thinks they are it), and probable success. Applying it to “humanitarian intervention” flips up 2 definition questions. How serious is serious? And does it have to be current (if not, it would justify punitive as well as preventive or reactive action)?

If the cause must be current, that gives us something akin to Webster’s criteria of self-defence (instant, overwhelming and leaving no moment for reflection nor choice of means).

Probable success, of course, sounds terribly Realpolitisch, but futile intervention is the worst of all possible options.

5

soru 07.18.05 at 7:00 am


conceivable consequences of the continuance of Saddam’s rule.

If I can conceive of something worse than your projected picture, but resulting from Saddam’s continued rule, does that change the story?

There’s always something worse. If things go well from now, the end result will probably be one of the less bad plausible ends to saddam’s regime, which after all had to finish sometime.

If things go as badly as they could, you won’t find many people defending the proposition that the war was a good idea.

soru

6

Idiot/Savant 07.18.05 at 7:01 am

Despite your decision to reject Just War theory, you seem to end up in a place that looks an awful lot like it, and which condemns the Iraq war on pretty much the same grounds.

7

Brendan 07.18.05 at 7:14 am

‘If things go as badly as they could, you won’t find many people defending the proposition that the war was a good idea.’

I find this hard to believe actually. I find it highly unlikely that the messianic ‘appointed by God’ George Bush (or his Christian fundamentalist friends) will ever admit that Jesus got it wrong when He told Dubya to go into Iraq. I also find it hard to believe that that the smugger than smug hardcore Republicans (like Glenn Reynolds) who backed this wretched invasion will ever perform a volte face. Both of these groups have, for example, decided that despite overwhelming evidence man made global warming ‘doesn’t exist’ (some of them believe evolution by natural selection doesn’t exist), and so they are all well versed in the psychological tricks necessary to evade reality.

Likewise the liberal imperialists at Harry’s Place etc., the Christopher Hitchens et al….are you seriously arguing that the ‘Hitch’ might actually turn round and say ‘I was wrong’? If you disagree, try and visualise Hitch (or the Hitch lite, Nick Cohen) actually enunciating the words ‘I made a mistake: I am sorry’. Not an image it’s easy to conjure up is it?

The key point for all these people is that when anything goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. When this sorry mess finally staggers to a halt in about 50 years, expect many explanations as to why it all went wrong because of the ‘insurgents’ or Osama Bin Laden, or the Kurds, or the Shias, or the Sunnis, or the French or the Spanish.

As long as we aren’t perceived to have anything to do with it. Heavens no. Our motives are so pure we are prepared to donate our own money, out of the goodness of our hearts, to help the Iraqis in making the right electoral choices.

8

soru 07.18.05 at 8:55 am


try and visualise Hitch (or the Hitch lite, Nick Cohen) actually enunciating the words ‘I made a mistake: I am sorry’.

I believe he did say precisely that about this piece:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4277363,00.html

When he became aware that reality did not match his opinions, he changed them.

While you can always find exceptions, the majority usually do, one way or another. If Iraq does go unarguably bad, expect the Republicans to entirely blame ‘ex-trotskyite idealists’ who temporarily blinded them to the true interests of america, or something.

soru

9

Slocum 07.18.05 at 8:58 am

interventions where it is beyond reasonable doubt that the dictatorship can be overthrown, and a democratic alternative put in place, with minimal loss of life.

The allied invasions of France and Italy during WWII don’t come close to passing your test–is that what you intend? In 1943-44, the dictatorships (of Mussolini and of Petain) were not killing large numbers of their own citizens, but the invasions did kill enormous numbers of civilians. Certainly at this point in the war, the axis powers would have negotiated a peace treaty. Even the holocaust was largely over (and, in any case, that was not the motivating factor of the war effort). Think what could have been done with not only the money spent on those invasions but ALSO the mind-boggling sums spent rebuilding Europe after the war. The same is true of the island-to-island fighting in the Pacific. The Japanese would certainly have accepted terms long before the end of the war, and 100,000-150,000 civilians on Okinawa ALONE would not have perished.

But how does one attempt to put a value on the difference between a post-war world where diminished Nazi and Imperial Japanese governments remain in power vs one where they are expunged from the earth (but at great human and financial cost)?

It seems to me that the requirements that one must know, beforehand, that democracy can be established with minimal loss of life beyond a reasonable doubt establishes a standard that would allow interventions only in the smallest, most inconsequential situations (the U.S. invasion of Greneda, for example).

And there is also a risk of moral hazard–namely that the more that a rogue regime is prepared to indiscriminately kill its own people as a form of “resistance” during or after an invasion, the less justified the war is by your logic. In fact, unless we can be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the regime will NOT go to ground and engage in a terror campaign against it own countrymen (and how could we ever be certain?) no invasion could be justified.

10

A-ro 07.18.05 at 9:12 am

As long as we’re thinking along consequentialist lines: what about the effects of continuing sancitons on Iraq?

– More dead among the least powerful Iraqis.
– Futher infrastructure deterioration, making it even harder than it is now to maintain post-Sadaam stability.
– A source of Arab antipathy toward the U.S. and the West as a whole (yes, of course not as big as the occupation of Iraq, but nevertheless important to consider).

Given that an unconditional end to the sanctions was not acceptable, our options were to carry on with them or overthrow Sadaam Hussein and try to get something better going in Iraq.

I don’t think that the sanctions situation was, by itself, justification for invading Iraq. This brings up an interesting (to me) question: should we use some sort of “justification summation” to decide whether to invade (i.e. sanctions dilemma + whatever legitimate security concerns we have = just war)? Can we add two substantial (but in themselves) reasons into a justification? (This question can be separated from your critiques of the specific reasons I’ve listed here.)

For many, the answer is easy: no. For some reason, I still find the question interesting.

11

A-ro 07.18.05 at 9:14 am

Typo in comment #10: near the end of the second to last paragraph: “(but in themselves)” should be “(but in themselves insufficient)” or something like that. Sorry.

12

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.18.05 at 9:40 am

I would like to echo both slocum and a-ro’s responses.

“The most common let-out is to ignore the casualties suffered by the opposing side, even though most of those killed or wounded would not, as individuals, deserve this fate. This is a common feature of pro-war analyses but it is morally indefensible.”

I would also note that while slocum and a-ro limit themselves to noting that huge numbers of civilians died in those actions, that you are also asking us to count the huge number of NAZI soldiers and Japanese soldiers who were also killed. Surely liberating France and replacing the Japanese government wasn’t worth all that under you analysis. Or if it was, perhaps you had best explain how that works in your analysis. A war justification analysis that doesn’t allow for most of the US intervention in WWII isn’t going to fly. Or do you just think that Hitler declaring war gets you out of the whole problem?

13

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 9:50 am

Given that an unconditional end to the sanctions was not acceptable, our options were to carry on with them or overthrow Sadaam Hussein and try to get something better going in Iraq.

If the inspections process had been allowed to run its course the sanctions would have had to end in any case.

Can we add two substantial (but in themselves insufficient) reasons into a justification?

If one is prepared to accept consequentialist arguments within limits (as John Quiggin is) then why not? If we are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the harm caused by tolerating the status quo is great enough to justify war, then the fact that the harm comes in two different forms should not be an impediment. JQ considered this in a recent post but he didn’t seem to find any compelling reason why multiple justifications, in themselves, are morally problematical. They do however make a circus out of the debate between pro- and anti-war factions.

14

Brendan 07.18.05 at 9:55 am

Soru

apologies. Should not have included the aside about Nick Cohen. My point still stands for Hitchens though, I think.

As for the other posts:

‘ Certainly at this point in the war, the axis powers would have negotiated a peace treaty.’

Where on earth did you get this idea? In case you didn’t notice, Hitler did not want to surrender when there were tanks actually in Berlin!!

Likewise: ‘The Japanese would certainly have accepted terms long before the end of the war.’

This is a use of the word ‘certainly’ i have never come across before. The Japanese, remember did not even surrender after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Instead the Cabinet adjourned
the next day with no decision on whether a surrender would occur (remember this was when the Japanese were clearly defeated and had no chance of any form of victory, so the government was effectively deciding in favour of the anninhilation of the Japanese people). It was only when the preservation of the position of Emperor was made (more or less) clear that Hirohito stepped in and ended the argument by arguing for surrender.

The key point is that Hitler and the Japanese Cabinet would have fought on to the bitter end, even if this meant the end of their countries. The Allies had no choice but to invade and take the war to the people who had started it.

The comparison with Iraq is instructive. In Iraq, invasion wasn’t the last choice, it was the first choice. Far from having no choice, the US had all the choices in the world, as we now know that Saddam’s backward tinpot regime posed no threat to anyone, least of all the Americans. Moreover in WW2 let’s not forget, the US and the UK faced a genuine worldwide threat that if it had won, who have ended the concepts of democracy and human rights as we know it. The consequences of ‘no war’ with Iraq on the other hand, were rather different.

Finally.

‘Given that an unconditional end to the sanctions was not acceptable’

Says who?

15

roger 07.18.05 at 9:57 am

John,
Although I am highly anti-war, I think that philosophical reasoning about war in general is very dysfunctional. Your consequentialist take doesn’t seem to me to solve the usual problems entailed by war. Take, for instance, quantifying benefits and costs of the war. If we bracket moral considerations and simply consider lives and dollar costs, that can make a certain practical sense. But as soon as we mix moral considerations with these quantities, we start going astray. Or at least sideways. The problem is that these calculations are additive, but the moral actors don’t consider themselves additive — they consider themselves irreplaceable.

What that means is that quantifying over lives stops when it comes to my own life. Otherwise, I would have to make the same calculations about my own self defense, in which case I could not calculate my own life as more than 1 — which would seem to mean that if I were attacked by two men, and the only way I could survive that attack would be to kill both of those men, I have a moral obligation to let them kill me. I think most people would say, no, that can’t be right.

But the problem comes in thinking that there is no cost too great to preserve my life. One of the arguments for bombing Hiroshima is that it saved American lives — which is a fancier version of the situation of being attacked by two men. In my opinion, all of these problems exist because war is looked at as a process leading to absolute victory, instead of a process leading to negotiation. What one wants to find out, really, is that point at which negotiation is preferable to continuing hostility.

16

Luc 07.18.05 at 10:02 am

I just have a single but. I wouldn’t describe the (current) pro-war position of the neo-cons and more specifically the UK pro war left as consequentialism + special pleading. It looks to me more like a (wrongheaded) moral one.

They assert the (moral) right of a democracy to go to war against a dictator/fascist/failed state.

There’s just a thin line between morality and consequentialism, thus in deciding war opportunity and cost does play an important role.

Yet the basics of the case for war has mostly been a variant of that moral one.

Just a copy/paste of what I’ve written somewhere else about how they reason away from civilian deaths and the ongoing hostilities:

I’ve seen two strains of reasoning away from the civilian deaths.
The argument that Saddam killed and would kill many, and thus that the current civilian death count is no good argument against the war, is just that. A counter argument to make the point that a cost/benefit analysis with deaths will not resolve the issue. It is portrayed a sideshow put up by those who are too cowardly to oppose facism.

The second is that fighting fascism/dictators requires fighting all of it, and thus that includes the Iraqi “resistance/terrorists”, as they are the same evil that Saddam was. It would not be relevant what causes evil since it cannot alter the reasons given for the need to defeat it.

17

Slocum 07.18.05 at 10:12 am

Where on earth did you get this idea? In case you didn’t notice, Hitler did not want to surrender when there were tanks actually in Berlin!!

I didn’t say the Germans and Japanese wanted to surrender and certainly not unconditionally as the allies demanded. That is not the same thing as negotiating an end to hostilities that left the Nazi and Imperial Japanese governments in place and in control of their countries. Note that this less than total, unconditional surrender was not unusual–at the end of WWI, for example, Germany had to accept terms it did not like at Versailles, but it was not an unconditional surrender. The allies did not take Berlin, Germany was not occupied, the Kaiser did not die in a bunker.

18

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.18.05 at 10:19 am

“‘Given that an unconditional end to the sanctions was not acceptable’

Says who?”

Yup, this is precisely the thinking on a large part of the left and is precisely why d-squared’s “Bush was wrong to push the war now because if he had waited a bit longer he could have gotten rid of Saddam with international help” line is so wrong.

If you can’t even use sanctions as a method of force, you have to live with the fact that most dictators will stay in long for their entire natural lives–and like North Korea will pass it on to their children. And as ususal the consequentialist effect of not acting gets deeply discounted.

19

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 10:29 am

[The neo-cons and more specifically the UK pro war left] assert the (moral) right of a democracy to go to war against a dictator/fascist/failed state.

Luc,

I think that’s what they do assert. That’s the trouble. This is where John Quiggin’s objection comes in. These neo-Jacobins claim to wage a “just war” (although not in the sense usually meant by “just war theory”) and so they “aren’t responsible for the consequences of the (by hypothesis) unjust resistance of the other side.”

If you don’t like the description “consequentialism + special pleading”, how about consequentialism with a free pass for the Revolutionaries? That seems to be what they are after.

20

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 10:56 am

Sebastian’s comments remind me that these discussions often become confused, simply because some advocates of war are not in John Quiggin’s sights. Once we allow that war is justified if long-term benefits outweigh costs, we are in Machiavelli’s camp. That’s OT, since morality as most of us understand it is out the window at that stage.

21

Thomas 07.18.05 at 10:57 am

“The pro-war arguments typically amount to claiming that some of the bad consequences of war “don’t count”. An extreme version is the position of Norm Geras that those who initiate a just war aren’t responsible for the consequences of the (by hypothesis) unjust resistance of the other side.”

doesn’t fit with:

“These rights-based considerations are less of a problem in the case of a purely defensive war, since we are morally entitled to defend our own rights.”

The second is just an assertion that, in some circumstances, “some of the bad consequences don’t count.”

22

Jack 07.18.05 at 11:11 am

Sebastien,
if we don’t do something we will have to live with the fact that malaria will remain a killer for the rest of our natural lives, we will have to live with the existence of North Korea as a nuclear armed dictatorship for the rest of our natural lives, we will have to live with the biggest war since WWII continuing in the Congo for the rest of our natural lives.

Your argument would hold more water if there were any reason to believe that such beliefs were what determined US or UK foreign policy but it very obviously doesn’t. Invading Iraq might fit into such a scheme if you don’t look to closely but Darfur and Uzbekistan and funding the Taliban (in its early days) do not.

Anyway, who made it our job to save the rest of the world from dictators? The same people who made it OBLs job to restore the caliphate?

23

lurker 07.18.05 at 11:14 am

Why does self defense get a pass? By this logic, shouldn’t a country surrender to an invasion if it can be shown that that would lead to fewer deaths?

Surrender now! To resist is immoral!

24

Elliott Oti 07.18.05 at 11:22 am

If you can’t even use sanctions as a method of force, you have to live with the fact that most dictators will stay in long for their entire natural lives—and like North Korea will pass it on to their children.

This is not true. What you are describing is called a “monarchy”. In most dictatorships, the strongman does not die a natural death, and the regime does not survive the strongman. North Korea and Haiti being notable exceptions. However Papa Doc and Baby Doc constitute a succession but no dynasty as Baby Doc was toppled in 1986, and I seriously doubt Kim Jung-Il’s children will be able to take over from their father.

Some other authoritarian ME countries have had father-son transitions, sometimes in the form of an authoritarian monarchy (Jordan, Morocco) or as the head of a one-party state (Syria).

However, I find frustrationg the cartoonish caricatures which apparently constitute some people’s entire perception of politics. Dictators are not supermen, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or bend entire populations telepathically to their will. There are larger social dynamics at play, ethnic tensions and restricted access to wealth-generating resources being the most important. Remove the dictator without changing the underlying dynamics and you don’t change a damn thing. You get, in due course, another dictator. Ceteris paribus, I expect the behaviour of a fully democratically elected autonomous Iraqi government to slowly converge to that of one party autocracy in perhaps as little as 5 to 10 years.

25

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.18.05 at 11:34 am

“we will have to live with the existence of North Korea as a nuclear armed dictatorship for the rest of our natural lives”

Perhaps we have overlearned from Hitler. If he had been stopped at the beginning (say when he violated the Treaty of Versailles and reintroduced conscription in 1935, or when he occupied the Rhineland in 1936, or when he was appeased with the Sudetenland in 1938) many millions of civilians (and soldiers unjustly fighting for the NAZIs which apparently counts just the same under the reasoning above) would not have been killed.

The problem with nuclear weapons, and what makes the EU lack of interest in putting any real political capital much less military muscle into non-proliferation so vexing, is that it makes for the possibility of that millions can be killed without warning if you just sit back and let lots of despotic governments gain the weapons. We will probably have to live with a nuclear armed dictatorship in North Korea for our lifetimes (unless he drops a surprise nuke on Seoul and kills a million people (only 1/10 of the population) but that is only because non-proliferation was not taken seriously by Bush I and Clinton administrations in the 1990s (the lack of seriousness from Europe being a given at all times through the 1980s and 1990s of course).

26

soru 07.18.05 at 11:45 am

‘aren’t responsible for the consequences of the (by hypothesis) unjust resistance of the other side’

Without pretending to speak for the entire anti-fascist left, I would say that the only claim is that the decision to go to war is not uniquely so responsible, in the sense that a simplistic slogan like ‘Bush lied, 100,000 died’ would imply, as if those were the only two relevant facts in the entire situation.

In other words, deaths due to insurgents or terrorist are morally comparable, from the point of view of western policy-makers, to deaths caused by sanctions, or Saddam’s wars of conquest, not to those killed by western troops or air strikes.

If western bombs even conceivably had directly killed 6 figures worth of non-combatants in Iraq, as they certainly did in Vietnam, the morality of the war would not be in doubt.

soru

27

mpowell 07.18.05 at 11:56 am

I don’t understand the claim that war must be a negative sum game. I recognize this is true for state actors, which is why the assumption that someone has miscalculated makes sense. But if you extend this claim to all the people involved (which is what it sounds like when you talk about the costs being borne by people w/o a choice in the matter), then it would appear you have already ruled out a consequentialist justification for any war. Can someone please distinguish why this is not so?

Also, whereas completely ignoring enemy combatant casualties may be inappropriate, it would seem entirely reasonable to discount them substantially versus the value of other innocent lives.

28

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 11:59 am

In other words, deaths due to insurgents or terrorist are morally comparable, from the point of view of western policy-makers, to deaths caused by sanctions, or Saddam’s wars of conquest, not to those killed by western troops or air strikes.

This is just the kind of reasoning I fail to understand and evidently John Quiggin has the same problem. Where does this kind of moral reasoning come from? It doesn’t look as if it has religious origins. It can’t be derived from a consequentialist argument, in which a dead body is a dead body. Who dreamed up this “moral comparability” thinking and more to the point, what are the premises on which it is based?

If western bombs even conceivably had directly killed 6 figures worth of non-combatants in Iraq, as they certainly did in Vietnam, the morality of the war would not be in doubt.

If the Viet Cong had just accepted Ngo Dinh Diem or his successors as their leader, as America desired, there would have been very few deaths. What distinction is being drawn here? The commies were thugs, the Baathists are thugs. Are they not “morally comparable” in whatever sense that applies for you?

29

abb1 07.18.05 at 12:08 pm

N.Korea has the same Stalinist socio-economic-political system as the Soviet Union had. The Soviet Union is a good example of how the evolutionary process makes a society move into direction that seems promising at the beginning, run its course, fail, and return into the mainstream. Pan-Arab socialist idea behind the Baath Iraqi regime might’ve become another example of this evolutionary process of trial and error if it wasn’t rudely interrupted. Now they are up to their ears in their Arab nationalism again (not to mention a fair amount of new-found religious fundamentalism) and they’ll have to go thru this stage again.

Only Soviet Mongolia could skip capitalism and jump from feudalism directly into developed socialism (or so I’ve been told), others have to gradually evolve like everybody else. It’s boring, it takes decades, sometimes centuries, but it’s the only way, IMO.

30

Brendan 07.18.05 at 12:20 pm

Perhaps we have overlearned from Hitler? Ah ha ha ha…what a lovely way of putting it.

Or perhaps we have underlearned from Mussolini. If the pro-invasion grouping will insist on looking for analogies for our current state of affairs in the 1930s, might I suggest that Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia would be a better analogy than Munich?

To quote from the Wikipedia :

‘The Abyssinia Crisis was a pre-WW2 diplomatic crisis originating in the conflict between Italy and Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). Its effects were to undermine the credibility of the League of Nations and to encourage Italy to ally with Germany.

Both Italy and Abyssinia were members of the League of Nations, which had rules forbidding aggression. After their border clash at Walwal in 1934, Abyssinia appealed to the League for arbitration, but the response was dull and sluggish.

In actuality, many nations were working independently of the League in order to keep Italy as an ally. Shortly after the initial appeal, Pierre Laval of France met with Benito Mussolini in Rome and they created the Franco-Italian Agreement. This treaty gave Italy parts of French Somaliland (now Djibouti), redefined the official status of Italians in French-held Tunisia, and essentially gave the Italians a free hand in dealing with Abyssinia. In exchange for this, France hoped for Italian support against German aggression.

There was little international protest to Mussolini when he then sent large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, two colonies of Italy that bordered Abyssinia on the North and Southeast respectively.

Britain did attempt to alleviate the situation at one point, sending Anthony Eden to broker peace. It was a failed mission though, as Mussolini was bent on conquest. Following that, Britain then declared an arms embargo on both Italy and Abyssinia. Many believe that is was direct result of Italy’s decree that supplying Abyssinia would be perceived as an act of unfriendliness. Britain also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered access.

Shortly after the League exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italy attacked, resulting in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The League responded by condemning the attack and imposing economic sanctions on Italy. However the sanctions excluded vital materials such as oil, and were not carried out by all members of the League. The United Kingdom and France did not take any serious action against Italy (such as blocking Italian access to the Suez Canal).

Even actions such as the use of chemical weapons and the massacre of civilians did little to change the League’s passive approach to the situation….’ this leading to the Hoare Lavale pact which attempted to hand Abyssinia to the Italians.

This caused outrage, and was instrumental in destroying the League of Nations. Hitler watched and from then on war was inevitable. (Note: the British people actually came out on the streets to protest Mussolini’s belligerence and contempt for international law, but then as now, the views of the British people were irrelevant. Perhaps they were being ’emotional’ and ‘sentimental’).

So, what we have here is a European country invading a North African/Middle Eastern country in defiance of international law, and in defiance of the relevant international body’s insistence that no country should attack unless attacked first. The British people of course then (as now) supported these international bodies, but the ruling elite did not (and do not) and wished to destroy them, which they succeeded in doing. As Haillie Selassie pointed out at the time the choice is always between international law and lawlessness. There is no third choice.

And what were Mussolini’s motives?

You will be astounded to hear that even though history talks about colonialism, oil and natural resources, Mussolini did not talk about that at the time. Instead he argued that this was a ‘human rights’ based invasion, to destroy the ‘barbaric’ practice of slavery which he argued (probably correctly) was endemic in Ethiopian society. He also argued that:

‘Our cause in Ethiopia is a just one. In a few days it will be laid before the League’s counsel. It will be laid before the whole world—proof that the Ethiopians are… sunk in the practice of slavery’

He also claimed that he did not want war: instead the Ethiopians had to be punished for violating international law. In other words, he was supporting the League of Nations.

‘Reporter: “And that will mean of course…”

Mussolini: “War. It would not be my choice, but the League of Nations.’

And finally

‘No nation can accuse [Italy] of desiring warfare’

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA04/wood/mot/html/ethiopia.htm

Does anybody have any idea why this analogy has not occured to the pro-invasion-as long-as-they-don’t-have-to-do-any-actual-fighting-group? The analogies seem obvious to me. Perhaps they just need a little reminder?

31

Elliott Oti 07.18.05 at 12:27 pm

but that is only because non-proliferation was not taken seriously by Bush I and Clinton administrations in the 1990s (the lack of seriousness from Europe being a given at all times through the 1980s and 1990s of course).

So what constitutes “seriousness”, and what approach would you rather have seen from the US and the EU with respect to the big proliferators of the last 25 years, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and (most recently) Iran?

Or does “seriousness” exemplify rhetoric as opposed to results? Bush II will have 8 years in which to demonstrate the “seriousness” of current anti-proliferation policy. Let’s see if it turns out to be more effective than his predecessors’ .

32

soru 07.18.05 at 12:29 pm

_Who dreamed up this “moral comparability” thinking and more to the point, what are the premises on which it is based?_

Don’t really know, it just seems intuitively obvious to me that personally killing and eating one person is worse than failing to donate sufficient money to Oxfam to save two lives. Similarly, I fail to see how removing a tyrant like saddam, to the acclaim of the majority of the directly affected populace, is inherently evil in the way invading Belgium would be, though it certainly could be unwise.

As an actual personal morality, consequentialism sucks, for well known reasons. However, as far as I know it’s the only plausible way to even address a dispute between two people, one of whom thinks ‘war is wrong’ and one who thinks ‘tyranny is wrong’.

Within the framework of one-country hegemony (i.e most of the 19C and post 1945), tyranny does seem to kill more people than war. So I would be pretty suspicious of any moral framework that didn’t even attempt to address that issue.

soru

33

Jack 07.18.05 at 1:02 pm

Sebastian, are you saying that we are seeing too many parallels to Hitler or that we are not doing enough about those we can see? Also asking what you could do about Hitler at earlier times gets more interesting the closer you get to the end of the previous war.

US anti-proliferation policy may be serious but it would be hard to argue that it was effective. Condoning Pakistani and Israeli nuclear weapons has hardly been a tremendous success. Iran has at least three nuclear armed neighbours, is clearly on some kind of US hit list and has seen how you get treated if you do have nuclear weapons (North Korea) and how you do if you don’t (Iraq). At this stage there is only the threat of US force remaining as a disincentive to pursuing a weapons programme and even that could go either way as the North Korean example suggests.

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Brendan 07.18.05 at 1:06 pm

‘Similarly, I fail to see how removing a tyrant like saddam, to the acclaim of the majority of the directly affected populace…’

Ipso facto, I suppose Russia’s liberation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and, for that matter, East Germany after WW2: ‘to the acclaim of the majority of the directly affected populace’ could hardly be ‘inherently evil’.

35

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 1:10 pm

Within the framework of one-country hegemony (i.e most of the 19C and post 1945), tyranny does seem to kill more people than war. So I would be pretty suspicious of any moral framework that didn’t even attempt to address that issue.

Soru,

The framework proposed by John Quiggin does address it, as his closing paragraphs make clear. Where intervention to stop genocide is practical it is not only permitted, but obligatory. Some tyrants can expect to die in bed, not because removing them is “inherently evil” as you put it, but because in practice the cost is too high. There is nothing to be suspicious about there.

36

anony-mouse 07.18.05 at 1:20 pm

That is not the same thing as negotiating an end to hostilities that left the Nazi and Imperial Japanese governments in place and in control of their countries. Note that this less than total, unconditional surrender was not unusual—at the end of WWI, for example, Germany had to accept terms it did not like at Versailles, but it was not an unconditional surrender. The allies did not take Berlin, Germany was not occupied, the Kaiser did not die in a bunker.

On the other hand, it has been argued by many that the conditions Germany acquiesced to following the first world war directly resulted in the economic instability that allowed Hitler to arise and be a primary cause of a second world war. Who would have reasonably forseen that outcome two decades before it occurred?

That is a noteworthy flaw in this sort of consequentialist reasoning — the consequences have branching effects that can only be accurately assessed in hindsight.

Put another way, having just endured the horror of the first world war, nobody wanted to expend the kind of effort necessary to nip a key progenitor of the second world war in the bud. Thus, all kinds of creative “But Hitler just wants…” excuses and pacifist rhetoric abounded until it the human cost had already become too high to bear. Well, we know now what the consequences of that were; but few people are ready to apply the lesson in the present, and instead, we have that same kind of rhetoric all over again.

Which is not to say that such rhetoric is automatically wrong. But only a course of action that follows that rhetoric, and then examines the results after the fact, can tell us whether it was correct, and the price of being wrong could be high, so high as to make civilian war deaths pale by comparison. If that’s the threshold a consequentialist anti-war position is willing to accept, then so be it, but it would be nice to see such a thing accounted for in the analysis.

37

Jesus (He-Sues) 07.18.05 at 1:44 pm

I believe you all are gravely mistaken and are technically flawed. You may think this intellectual discussion will further your knowledge, but you all are talking about things you, frankly, DON’T KNOW.

You do not understand a Muslim; you may know what he likes and dislikes, but you cannot feel, relate, or personally identify emotionally. What if “these” people wanted to maintain their culture identity and lifestyle that Americans disagree with?

Devil’s Advocate: What if we brought them education, political rights and freedoms, democracy, and supposedly more happiness?

HOW DO THEY WANT TO LIVE?
What is happiness for “them”?

My point being that you must first truly understand them, which is impossible because most of you are deep-rooted in your own (nose flaunting)ideologies. We must first figure out who “they” are, before who we THINK “they” are…

A consequentialist is by definition less stringent upon the means. Any global action should be based on good and just means, but any action should have the least bit of leeway to be EFFECTIVE. Because, as we all know, the just way is usually never the most effective way.

So what am I saying?

You cannot state that the Iraq War was right or wrong with these elemtary arguments or sharing your closed conscious opinion.

Until you know who “they” are, what “they” want, and what is best for “them,” then you can begin to argue this endless discussion.

First you must understand, before you can definitively state your opinion…

Jesus (He-Sues)

38

abb1 07.18.05 at 1:56 pm

I’m afraid you guys grossly misunderstand the roots of German militarism in the 1930s. It wasn’t something the West was trying and wanted to prevent, just the opposite: Nazi Germany was built up and cultivated with the idea to pit it against the Soviets. Munich agreement was a part of the same strategy, of course. British and French elites loved Hitler, he was their creation; it’s only after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact they realized that they got carried away too far with this.

Yeah, and overall: this idea that a national government would ever start a war for purely humanitarian reasons is simply absurd.

39

Luc 07.18.05 at 2:28 pm

If you don’t like the description “consequentialism + special pleading”, how about consequentialism with a free pass for the Revolutionaries? That seems to be what they are after.

Yes, but that free pass (especially using the arguments of those like Geras) undermines a sense of a common conseqentialist analysis.

For them the benefits realised are clear, removal of a dictator and elections, and the costs, whatever they are in human lifes and dollars, are therefore justified.

And as an aside, I think the argument that the pro-war coalition is not responsible for the resistance has another reason than just trying to minimize the negative in a consequentalist sum. It looks just as much as a defense against the “root causes” and other cause and effect explanations of terror, and specifically suicide terror. I.e. the terror is not a response to the invasion and occupation, but a resistance to freedom and democracy, or a freestanding evil that is part of extremist Islamism.

40

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 3:07 pm

Luc,

If I understand you correctly you believe Geras & Co regard building free societies as the goal of their morality. That goal is so good in itself that it is morally dubious, cowardly perhaps, to count the cost in blood and treasure which will be incurred to achieve that goal. So really they aren’t speaking the same language as John Quiggin, for whom humanitarian intervention means, first and foremost, prolonging people’s lives and promoting their welfare in a more worldly sense.

I am putting it a bit starkly perhaps so as to be sure I get your meaning. If that is what you mean I think you are right, there is a failure of communication between the pro- and anti-war sides which goes beyond a difference of opinion about calculating costs and benefits. For the pro-war side there is a missionary aspect to this which an anti-war economist will not easily relate to.

Mind you, although they often seem to feel that way, they don’t come out with it; so we really don’t know what they’re at.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 3:11 pm

M. Powell,

[Because war is a negative-sum game] it would appear you have already ruled out a consequentialist justification for any war.

A war to stop genocide would clearly be justified. In that case, the people who miscalculated would be the ones who thought they could get away with genocide. A defensive war would also be justified provided it wasn’t hopeless. Futile resistance is commonly considered immoral and it must be so to a consequentialist. However this thread is mainly about wars of choice, not defensive wars.

42

soru 07.18.05 at 3:29 pm

_Ipso facto, I suppose Russia’s liberation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and, for that matter, East Germany after WW2: ‘to the acclaim of the majority of the directly affected populace’ could hardly be ‘inherently evil’._

Can you clarify what you mean by that? I really can’t tell if you are being sarcastic, obscure or profound.

Certainly, if the USA ends up militarily occupying Iraq in 2038, crushing the Baghdad spring with hovertanks, then that would not be so good.

soru

43

Thomas 07.18.05 at 3:35 pm

Kevin, when you refer to “promoting their welfare in a more worldly sense”, do you mean to suggest that the freedoms of a modern liberal democracy are other-wordly?

44

Brendan 07.18.05 at 3:58 pm

‘Can you clarify what you mean by that? I really can’t tell if you are being sarcastic, obscure or profound.’

I think part of the problem with the pro-war case (one of the many problems) is that when reference is made to the United States being in Iraq in 2038 it is posited as some form of bizarre science fiction scenario, as your reference to hovertanks implies. However nothing to me seems more likely than that the US will still be in Iraq in 2038 (which isn’t to say it will necessarily happen).

The pro-war/invasion crew seem never to really have thought through the ultimate Catch-22 of this war.

1: The US cannot ‘win’ this war, as everybody agrees. No occupying power has ever, long term, held onto occupied territory. In the end, even Rome fell.

2: Therefore only people who can ‘win’ this war is the Iraqi people themselves. Therefore the only way for the US to get out is for the Iraqis themselves to take over security.

3: But it is precisely the continued occupation of the Americans that precludes this ever happening (the comparisons here with Vietnam are eerie). As long as the US are in Iraq, they will be seen as an occupying force (as indeed they are). Therefore, the ‘best and brightest’ will not join the security forces, as they do not want to be (or at least to be seen as) Quislings. Moreover, because the security forces are seen as Quislings, they are therefore considered fair game for the insurgency. Insurgent attacks on the Iraqi security forces also discourage Iraqis to join. This is why the Iraqi security forces tend (how can I put this politely?) not to be either the sharpest tools in the box, nor the most honest.

4: The insurgents don’t just kill the Iraqi security forces (although they do that as well), they infiltrate them. Therefore the security forces are riddled with insurgent spies. Therefore the Americans cannot trust them, and so they are never given the combat experience (or the firepower) they need to actually take over the security operations they are allegedly being trained for. This breeds resentment, which means more of the security forces are willing to spy for the insurgents and so it goes on.

5: While these problems are seen and understand, what is not understood is that there is literally no way out of this dilemma. The US can’t leave: as the pro-invasion group never fail to remind us, this means that Iraq will probably become a pro-Iranian Islamic state, or collapse into civil war (they might be right in both cases). But they can’t stay either, because the longer they stay, the longer they have to stay, if you see what i mean.

6: The only possible way out is either the Americans are physically kicked out (as happened in Vietnam) or else Iraq will simply disintegrate. There is no other option. That fantasy you have of an independent,democratic and secular state? Ain’t never going to happen.

7: Or to put it in a much simpler form: the Americans cause the insurgency. But the Americans are the only ones who can fight the insurgency. Therefore, the Americans must stay (permanently, if necessary) to fight the insurgency they created .

I see no particular reason why this situation should ever be resolved.

The British entered Ireland nearly 1,000 years ago and are still there.

The Americans might not last quite as long in Iraq, but make no mistake, the boys are not coming home soon.

45

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.18.05 at 4:16 pm

We haven’t come home from Germany yet, it is already apparent that Iraq is harder.

46

John Quiggin 07.18.05 at 4:20 pm

A few responses:

Idiot/savant. You’re right that I come out somewhere near just war theory. I’d claim that by anchoring the criteria to a modified consequentialism, we can make the fairly general just war criteria more specific in a way that makes it harder for proposals for war to pass.

A-ro, I looked at the issue of multiple rationales for war not long ago. Short answer is that this reasoning commonly fails because different rationales imply different war aims and strategies.

On defensive war, as I indicated, the arguments against a neutral consequentialist position generally run in the pro-war direction. So, while a futile defensive war is morally unjustified, defensive war can be justified even when the aggregate bad conseqences (including harm to innocent people on the other side) outweigh the good.

47

soru 07.18.05 at 4:22 pm


There is no other option.

One word: Oman.


The British entered Ireland nearly 1,000 years ago and are still there.

Think that might just be a consequence of the mass migration and settlement campaign? If a large area of Iraq somehow ends up with an ethnic anglo christian majority, then that’s a fair analogy.

Meanwhile, every single other country formerly in the British Empire would seem to be a straightforward contradiction of your thesis. 30% of the world’s population is quite a large thing to miss.

soru

48

John Quiggin 07.18.05 at 4:31 pm

One further response

MPowell. Given that war in total is negative sum, no war can be justified in the sense that all parties involved can be said to be acting justly.

On the other hand, if one side is irrational, or controlled by a dictator/king who can push the costs of war onto his subjects, the other side may be justified in fighting.

An aside to all this is the observation that democracies should never fight wars against each other. At least one side must have got things wrong, and there’s no objectively defensible reason for either side to think that it’s the other who is in error. More on this sometime, I hope.

49

ASteele 07.18.05 at 4:34 pm

Yes Soru, but the British were still there for a very long time. Additionally, they didn’t do a lot of those countries any favors, which is a polite way of saying they left a lot of dead bodies.

Sebastian, is of course right. I am a little unsure how he squares a continuing unpopular occupation of a country with any sort of “human-rights” or “democracy” for the occupied, perhaps he thinks the occupation of Iraq will unexplicably become popular in the near future.

50

anony-mouse 07.18.05 at 4:37 pm

brendan: Your points could be persuasive, but as presented, much of what you claim seems to me a mix of worst-case scenario and outright speculation. That’s fine IF presented as being one of several possible hypotheticals, and that’s equally fine if presented in the accompaniment of clear evidence, but as presented now I can’t find much use in it.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.18.05 at 4:38 pm

“On defensive war, as I indicated, the arguments against a neutral consequentialist position generally run in the pro-war direction. So, while a futile defensive war is morally unjustified, defensive war can be justified even when the aggregate bad conseqences (including harm to innocent people on the other side) outweigh the good.”

Now it is pretty clear that defensive war occupies a different space in our minds. But from a consequentialist point of view there is no reason this should be so. Rather than examining what might be wrong with the consequentialist view such that it leads to a result which most people would instantly reject, you seem to just dismiss the problem. If the consequentialist point of view can’t even handle the easy case of defensive war, why do you think it is such a great method?

52

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 4:39 pm

Kevin, when you refer to “promoting their welfare in a more worldly sense”, do you mean to suggest that the freedoms of a modern liberal democracy are other-wordly?

The slogan “live free or die” suggests a degree of enthusiasm which cannot easily be explained in purely worldly terms. Luc’s point, as I understand it, is that the pro-war left has a conception of the Good which cannot really be reconciled with John Quiggin’s.

53

james 07.18.05 at 4:40 pm

Starting with the idea that a war to stop a genocide is justified. The logical conclusion is one in which an offensive war may be justified by a purely moral consideration. Once this point is reached, what is to stop a State from setting the moral bar low enough to justify any war?

54

anony-mouse 07.18.05 at 4:45 pm

abb1: That is a fair criticism, but it actually increases the parallels to the present. Saddam was a similar creation of other powers who hoped to find a use in him. Later, it became clear that the machine had aquired a ghost of its own and had ideas beyond the creators’ original aspirations.

55

soru 07.18.05 at 4:46 pm

_The slogan “live free or die”_

Who used that slogan? Doesn’t sound like anything I’d associate with the anti-fascist left.

soru

56

h lecter 07.18.05 at 4:50 pm

Don’t really know, it just seems intuitively obvious to me that personally killing and eating one person is worse than failing to donate sufficient money to Oxfam to save two lives.

I don’t think so, Mr Soru. Chianti?

57

Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 5:10 pm

The slogan “Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst of Evils” was composed as a toast by General John Stark for a commemoration of a battle fought during the American Revolution. The short version appears on New Hampshire license plates. No, it’s not a slogan that the “anti-fascist left” would be likely to use, in the UK anyway. Incidentally, is there a pro-fascist left? It sounds like a contradiction in terms – or the sort of label Harry’s Place would slap on Galloway.

All this is drifting a bit. The comments of Luc, my replies to them and my reply to Thomas’s question are not all that relevant to the discussion. I am speculating a bit, though I probably shouldn’t, about whether the rhetoric of freedom used by some on the pro-war side reflects a quasi-religious attitude. If it did that would explain why I can’t make sense of their position.

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soru 07.18.05 at 5:21 pm

_is there a pro-fascist left?_

Seems pretty self-evident that there are three ‘lefts’ right now, anti-fascist, anti-war and anti-imperialist, all of whom are defined by what they think is the greatest avoidable evil.

soru

59

Thomas 07.18.05 at 5:22 pm

Kevin–I don’t think this is drift. I think that when counting consequences and only consequences, we must know what it is we’re counting. In your view, we shouldn’t count such things as “freedom of speech” or “the right to vote”, but should count things like deaths and life expectancy and so on. I daresay that JQ agrees with that, since there’s no attempt to include in the evaluation any positive value for freedom–in his view, it is something otherworldly.

There’s also no value assigned to the benefits of war for those who enjoy war. Those on the left are usually quite quick to accuse their political opponents of enjoying war, but in this case, the fact–and it is a fact–that some enjoy the destruction of war isn’t considered at all. Nor is the value of various forms of injustice considered from the perspective of the oppressed. I’m not sure why JQ is simply throwing these things to the side, but he must, or else his insistence that war is always a negative sum game is untenable.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.18.05 at 5:57 pm

Thomas,

The big problem for anyone trying to judge the morality of war (lets say the Iraq war just to be concrete) is how to weigh up all the diverse consequences. I wouldn’t say that only quantifiable things like life expectancy matter. Of course freedom matters (and I’m sure it matters to JQ as well). But you have to form a view at the outset as to whether a free society is likely to emerge within a reasonable time-frame and how free it is likely to be. My own opposition to the war, once it became clear that the WMD story was a con, was based on the judgement that the outcome was likely to be either: (1) a less tyrannical, but still authoritarian, state; or (2) a collapse into civil war. (I think it’s still in the balance.) It seems to me that the US is not entitled to take that kind of risk with another country’s destiny.

I don’t want to go into whether that is or isn’t too gloomy a view. I just mean it as an illustration of what a consequentialist argument is likely to look like in practice. As to the fact that some may derive enjoyment from war and the other points you raise, it’s late here so I won’t even think about that.

Sebastian,

If the consequentialist point of view can’t even handle the easy case of defensive war, why do you think it is such a great method?

John Quiggin: since willingness to fight defensive wars discourages aggression, it gains support from a rule-consequentialist viewpoint.

Is there a problem? Surely not. Of course it is possible to argue that even defensive war is unjust. Pacifism is a respectable stance, morally, though not a very practical one.

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Brendan 07.18.05 at 6:49 pm

AAAAAAArrrgh! I was wondering if anyone would make that point….to be frank, not the deepest point to make…..

‘Meanwhile, every single other country formerly in the British Empire would seem to be a straightforward contradiction of your thesis. 30% of the world’s population is quite a large thing to miss.’

OK just to make things clearer, I am not actually claiming that the US will be in Iraq literally for ever. Presumably they will leave at some time. My point is that this ‘time’ may well be a lot longer than either the pro or anti war side is currently thinking.

So: to be absolutely clear, I don’t think the Americans will be in Iraq for the next 1,000 years. But your point about the British Empire is interesting. Absolutely in the end all the countries in the British Empire (or nearly all) achieved their freedom. But turn the telescope round the other way (as it were). Look how long many of those countries were occupied for.

I think the best analogy for what is happening to Iraq (and the best model for predicting what will happen in the future) is, as you might expect, the last time the British occupied Iraq. However, another analogy is British involvement with Egypt.

In both cases these involvements (however you might want to term them) lasted many decades. And if I had to guess, I would guess that that will be the lengthy of time we have to talk about in terms of predicting where this sorry mess will end up. So: to return to your point, unfortunately I don’t find the idea of the US carrying out military options in Iraq in 2038 at all unlikely.

anony-mouse : it’s true that some of the implication of what I’m talking about are worst case scenario, but frankly I think people should start thinking about that. In fact, I think it’s incumbent on people who invade other countries (especially when, as in this case, the other country hadn’t done anything to the invader) to think: ‘well look, what’s the worst that could happen?’. One of the most annoying (and disturbing) facts about the Bush administration is their wide eyed tendency to always take the optimistic view, even in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

Moreover, what I described in terms of the security forces isn’t speculation, it’s what’s actually happening (too many references to mention, but check out Juan Cole for details).

Of course this may change at some point in the future. Perhaps in the next 3 or 4 years, a well disciplined, well paid, non-corrupt, well armed Iraqi army will emerge which will, using intelligence, persuasive propaganda and military might, succeed in crushing the insurgency. Perhaps then the Americans will go home (equally, perhaps they won’t).

But, equally, perhaps this might not happen, and I think people should start seriously thinking about this latter possibility. What disturbs me about both sides of this debate, is there seems to be a tacit agreement that the situation at the moment is as bad as it gets. Actually, things could get much much worse, unless we start to realise how badly we have screwed up, and unless we start to make serious efforts to fix some of our past mistakes. So far, I see little evidence of this attitude emerging.

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Thomas 07.18.05 at 6:50 pm

I don’t see a “reasonable time” qualification in the consequentalist reasoning that JQ offers, and I can’t see why we would expect one. Rather, consequentialist justifications are from the perspective of eternity, which is a mighty long time.

I also don’t see any restrictions on risks taken with another country. Talk of entitlement presupposes that we’ve run the consequentalist analysis, and so begs the question, or else isn’t based in consequentalism, and thus is inconsistent with our project here. I think that consequentalism must hold that we can take risks with other countries, but that we’re morally culpable if they don’t turn out, in the long run.

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John Quiggin 07.18.05 at 7:18 pm

Thomas, you need to reread my piece. I don’t stop at consequentialism, and explicitly say that my anti-war position incorporates rights-based arguments such as those raised when one country takes risks with another.

As regards long-term consequences, I think the real problem is that, since these are highly unpredictable, they rapidly collapse into Machiavellian reasons of state, in which we are supposed to accept the judgement of our rulers that long-term good will ensure from short-term evil.

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neil 07.18.05 at 7:22 pm

But in the end where does this line of reasoning go? At one end of the consequetialist spectrum we had Chomosky and others arguing that Melosevic’s increased attacks on civilians in Kosovo was a foreseeable consquence of NATO inervention and that the prospect of 3 milion deaths from stavation etc in Afganistan was a possible consquence of intervtion there.

Most people would consder this to be nonsense but its an indication that people can make whatever argument they want from such principles. Since this sort of argument will always rest on counter factuals it will never be conclusive.

65

Luc 07.18.05 at 7:29 pm

Kevin,

That is an exaggeration, but essentially right.

But I should have clicked on the link, and read John Quiggin’s earlier piece about Geras.

If you accept Geras’ argument, though, there’s no need to abandon support for this or any just war, even if its consequences are more evil than good. The bad consequences in Iraq are due to the insurgents who are unjustly resisting the Americans. And more generally, it’s hard to imagine any war that can’t be justified, on both sides, by this kind of argument. If your cause is just (in your own eyes), and the rules by which you fight it are justified (in your own eyes), then the death and carnage of war is all due to the manifestly unjust actions of the other side.

The result is the same. The cost in human life doesn’t affect the justness of the war.

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Ben P 07.18.05 at 7:54 pm

It seems to me the “pro-war left” (basically consisting of a faction of the British Christian Democratic Labour Party nothing more really) has simultaneously overthought and underthought the Iraq War.

Underthought, in that they are completely unable to understand the conflict outside of their own rather closed romantic/philosophical circle of argumentation. And unable to see how larger geopolitical and political economic forces and consequences are at work – in the MIddle EAst and beyond – that can’t neatly be separated out from their crusade. Underthought in that the policies they advocate are only possible through alliance with America’s right wing foreign policy establishment, which has a whole set of priorities that only slightly overlap with how and why the war they want to fight is being fought.

Overthought in that all of their energy is spent on arguments such as the above, going round in circles, arguing points that are never going to be settled, arguments that are nonetheless at best tangential to the reasons the war is fought. And strangely enough, slowly proving why the vast majority of this world’s people are religious – because morality is very hard to “prove” without reference to some kind of higher power, even for very, very smart people.

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engels 07.18.05 at 8:13 pm

[The British “pro-war left”] are completely unable to understand the conflict outside of their own rather closed romantic/philosophical circle of argumentation

Yep, scoot over to Harry’s Place any day of the week and you can confirm this. The level of “argument” in the comments now seems to oscillate between “preaching to the converted” and something resembling 1984’s “Two Minutes Hate”.

morality is very hard to “prove” without reference to some kind of higher power, even for very, very smart people

But I think reference to a higher power doesn’t exactly improve matters…

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Thomas 07.18.05 at 8:31 pm

John– Two questions: What’s the source of the rights you refer to? When you refer to the “real problem”, are you referring to the problem with your theory, with consequentialism more generally, or with (some particular) justifications for (a particular) war?

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Tom Lynch 07.18.05 at 11:54 pm

Ben P. – (very much tangential in terms of this discussion) moral relativism has always seemed an unavoidable consequence of the absence of higher powers to me.

At best one strongly affirms one’s personal convictions and disdains those of others that disagree with them, but even then there is still generally a need to engage with an opposed viewpoint that can no more be brought to ultimate justification than can one’s own.

This problem plagues discussion of issues like the war on Iraq because not only can we not assume that the people one is arguing with shares one’s moral calculus when they state that the war has or has not been justified, we can’t even categorically state that one calculus or the other is correct. Many people would disagree with both JQ’s method for determining a justification or otherwise for war, and the data he uses to approach an actual result, but they cannot demonstrate their own approach to be superior.

Throw in the cloudedness and distortion of the facts in the media and the undetermined final outcome (or even political steady-state) in Iraq, and this discussion can only degenerate into a series of persuasive or abusive speeches promoting one mindset at the expense of others. What’s the point?

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Mike 07.19.05 at 12:49 am

Kevin (and John Q.)

“A war to stop genocide would clearly be justified. In that case, the people who miscalculated would be the ones who thought they could get away with genocide.”

In a theoretical forum, this seems straightforward and non-contentious. However, stopping genocide once it has commenced (or even when it is on the cusp) is far more problematic (ie, bloody) in the real world.

” The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda,” by Alan Kuperman, illustrates the logistical impediments to timely intervention in Rwanda that would have, in Kuperman’s view, prevented the rescue of the majority of the victims of the genocide even if western military intervention had occurred immediately upon commencement of the killing.

What makes Kuperman’s prognosis the most sobering are two circumstances; first, the logistical impediments were, for the most part, unavoidable, and second, the west was dealing with a fourth rate military opponent, and still, several hundreds of thousands would have died even if we had the conviction to go in immediately.

To provide full context, Kuperman does discuss at length the possibility that the Rwandan genocide could have been prevented, or minimized, had the UN committed adequate peacekeeping forces prior to the commencing of killing. That doesn’t affect Kuperman’s underlying premise, that it is a faulty assumption that genocide can be stopped in its tracks by modern western militaries once the killing has started.

Of course every circumstance is different (and history has shown that the free world has often failed to intervene to stop genocides, period), however I think it needs to be pointed out that many, many lives can and will be lost to future genocides, even if we have the political and physical fortitude to immediately intervene, and that these lives can only be saved by pre-emptive military intervention (be it peacekeeping where possible, or war).

Of course, measuring the net result in lives saved versus lives lost from pre-emptive action is impossible, there being no way to calculate a hypothetical loss of life from a hypothetical genocide that was pre-empted.

In my view, and perhaps only confined to the question of intervening in genocide (hell, let’s add most civil wars, since there isn’t any practical difference between them and genocide), the assertion that ” war is a negative sum game,” relies primarily on that inability to calculate a potential net saving of lives from avoiding the hypothetical scenario that intervention was intended to prevent.

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tristero 07.19.05 at 1:54 am

War has only one purpose: to turn human beings into hamburger.

Closely reasoned logical arguments in favor of war – or for that matter, against it – are just so much intellectual relish. They disguise the fact the meat is rotten. The true meaning of war is best understood within a context of revulsion. And to engage in a discussion of war without placing front and center the most graphic images of exactly what war does is to avoid the only inarguable result of war: sheer irrational catastrophe for those who experience it firsthand. In other words, no discussion of war is worthwhile that strays even slightly from an awareness of its individual affect on the victims.

There may be such a thing as a “just” war, but among those that have happened during my lifetime – 1952 to the present – I don’t know of any. Every contemporaneous war that I’ve learned about was pointless and horribly so, the result of blunders and incompetence by people who were rarely, if ever, personally affected by the consequences of their actions. As for earlier wars, I have essentially no opinion as to whether some might have been worthwhile, as I never had an opportunity to follow them as they unfolded, but could only read about them without the same level of emotional intensity.

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John Quiggin 07.19.05 at 2:12 am

Thomas, I’ll leave the question “Where do rights come from” to the professional philosophers.

As regards the “real problem”, I meant “The real problem in justifying wars on the basis of their putative long-term consequences”

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abb1 07.19.05 at 2:12 am

This is all very interesting, but in real life national governments never – never – start wars to liberate foreigners or to prevent a genocide of foreigners or to minimize deaths of foreigners. National governments act to advance interests of their constituency (economic interests, that is) not to rescue any unfortunate foreigners.

Historical materialism, folks, materialist conception of history.

Those for whom the goal of their morality is to build ‘free societies’ using power of the national government (or as I prefer to call them ‘deranged messianic megalomaniacs’) are nothing but dangerous madmen.

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soru 07.19.05 at 2:59 am


Underthought in that the policies they advocate are only possible through alliance with America’s right wing foreign policy establishment, which has a whole set of priorities that only slightly overlap with how and why the war they want to fight is being fought.

That was certainly true in 2003, but really american policy and preferences are hardly even a secondary factor in the war at present, the situation is shaped by the reality on the ground, not in washington. Go back two years in HP and you will see posts making that exact point.

Absent something like a major Plame indictment crisis completely paralysing the US government, the Iraqis will get to decide their own future, and that’s the most that could be said for any intervention.

soru

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 3:05 am

I don’t think the Plame crisis will do much to change the current situation, vis a vis the US and its foreign policy establishment. They may seem incompetent, but the US government is massive and can certainly do more than a few things at once. They aren’t building 14 bases in the country for nothing.

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jane adams 07.19.05 at 3:54 am

I think elements of the insurgency are seeking to trigger civil war with their brutal murders. I fear they will succeed. We have a truce with Sadr and other Shiite radicals have remained passive in response to us, but they have considerable power. Basra is a theocracy with hundreds murdered.

So all sides can explode.

Larger philosophical questions aside, the Rumsfeld DOD decided to ignore previous plans which called for a massive invasion taking full control with great focus on reconstruction before the invasion. 2 years ago they ignored calls from Senator Clinton and others (including many conservatives) claiming there was no use for such troops despite obvious uses such as unguarded ammo dumps and borders.

We have seen a very fierce campaign on the right to silence all questions. Critics are typically lumped into the category of democrat terrorist lovers. Most of the public doesn’t even know that majot military figures like Generals Scharzkopf and Zinni had major concerns.

We have seen a concerted movement to block any analysis and reform. Contrary to claims in many cases the press supports this.

For example the public believes that electricity is better than it was before the invasion. However according to the claims of our own officials Iraq now has 5 megawatts of production compared to 4.4, but currently 2 meg are typically down. Before 1991 there were 9 megawatts.

There has been resistance from American officials to bringing in German and French spare parts necessary to repair older facilities and few contracts have gone to Iraqis. Most of these only after terrorism made it dangerous for American firms. One the other hand IRAQI MONEY (we’ve spent little of the money allocated) has gone in huge and often unsupervised sums to American firms who have produced facilities that both sides agree Iraqis wiklll have difficulty mantaining. There are also hints of massive corruption.

Similarly while we know that 3,000 schools and hundreds of clinics have been built, we have no figures on what is operational. We know perhaps a quarter of Iraqi doctors have been terrorized out of practice. We also know that corruption is great, tht many officials will have better use for money than salary or supplies.

Last I heard the DOD was still refusing to give Congress the demaned checklist of accomplishments and failures.

For the record I believe that being there we must try to succeed and pay the possibly heavy costs. I also think the fierceist criticism must fall on the millions of rightists who have done all they could to shut out troublesome facts and silence those calling for reform. They have done far more damage than leftsi critics and have quite possibly turned a risky venture into tragedy.

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 3:58 am

You see, Soru, I would have much more respect for your position if you wrote things like ‘Iraqis will get to decide their own future,’ in (what common sense must tell you would be the correct form) the conditional tense. ‘Iraqis might get to decide their own future’. How could it be any other way? Unless you have the gift of precognition, how can you possibly know this?

So, it’s true, the Iraqis might get to choose their own political future. Equally they might not. All sorts of things might happen. Civil war might erupt. An extremist Islamic fundamentalist force might seize and take control. Iran might attempt to subvert Iraqi democracy (and might succeed). Even stretching the boundaries of possibility, theoretically I suppose you will admit that it is possible that the United States might attempt to twist Iraqi democracy to suit its own objectives (I know! crazy thought yeah?). Anything might happen.

To return to the topic of this post, it’s obvious that as some commentators have pointed out, the ‘ends justifies the means’ argment is rife in the pro-invasion argument, although they rarely use that phrase. The problem with this is that everything: the anninhilation of Fallujah, use of Depleted Uranium, use of napalm, torture and murder of innocent civilians, use of death squads, literally everything can be justified if one simply posits the ‘end’ as being ‘democracy’ (a word which which seems to have a hypnotic effect on even the smartest of the pro-invasion intellectuals), and, since ‘democracy’ is always ‘good’, then by definition anything that leads to that end can be justified and so it goes.

But their Trotkskyism is showing (and in this they are united not just with the rest of the pro-invasion Left, but but their intellectual soulmates, the Neo-Conservatives). When Trotsky was interviewed by, amongst others, John Dewey, Dewey had some sharp things to say about Trotsky’s use of this argument. Dewey said amongst other things (I’m quoting from memory) ‘What needs to be sorted out is a far stricter statement of the specific relationship between ‘ends’ and ‘means’…..’. Dewey was right, as he usually was.

Whereas Communists could justify anything, from purges to mass murder to the gulags merely by invoking the mystic word ‘communism’, the new Cold Warriors believe a similar effect can be obtained by merely stating the equally talismanic word ‘democracy’. But in both cases, the words themselves are in need of interrogation. Whose democracy? Run by whom? In what form? You dont need to be a great genius to work out that the word ‘democracy’ probably means something very different to Al-Sistani than it does to George Bush. Whose version is right? These are not trivial points. Whose version of democracy is currently being debated by the Iraqi elected officials and if they cannot work out a reasonable working definition of that word that will work in Iraq (and that means dealing with the Sunnis and the Kurds) then the Iraqi experiment will fail. Part of the sticking point is that the words ‘Iraqi democracy’ have a very different meaning depending on whether you are a Kurd, a Sunni, a Shia, a Turkman, or the President of the United States.

Equally, the relationship between means and ends needs to be looked at very carefully. Given that the Communists believed that Communism would lead to ‘real’ or ‘genuine’ democracy, they had already made the fateful argument that it is possible to use totalitarian methods to promote democracy. Equally, the pro-invasion Left and the neo-conservatives believe everything, including totalitarian methods are justified to preserve democracy. (as John Quiggin pointed out earlier, this can always be justified because as the war was so morally pure (shown by the fact that it was for ‘democracy’) then nobody rational should oppose it: therefore anyone who opposes it is irrational /and/or evil. So any measures are justifiable against such people. Moreover, since there ‘should not be’ any resistance then any problems in Iraq are all the fault of the insurgency. ‘The operation was a success, but the patient died’. )

In Fallujah at the moment, for example, democracy has been torn up root and branch and anninhilated. Innocent civilians are forced to be retina scanned and have an ID card and if they don’t carry one they are shot dead.

http://prisonplanet.com/articles/december2004/021204facechoice.htm

But all this can be justified in…of course…the name of democracy.

As John more or less stated, there is really no point dealing with such arguments at least on their own terms. As long as the initial assumptions are not challenged (the means justifies the ends, ‘democracy’ is a noun that means the same thing to all peoples at all times and is always the supreme good, anyone who opposes a war for democracy has to be shot) then a hermetically sealed ‘alternate world’ can be created in which all objections can be safely dealt with.

It’s a great fantasy world these people have created. Unfortunately those of us in the reality based community have to live in it.

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soru 07.19.05 at 5:14 am

prisonplanet?

There is really no point in continuing the discussion if you take that lunatic conspiracy site as in any way meaningful. Can hardly settle nuances of priciple with someone whose canon of accepted fact is that radically different.

soru

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 6:00 am

Soru is too polite to mention that the ‘Prisonplanet’ site is in fact quoting from that well known source of communist propaganda NBC.

I could, incidentally, have gone much further: this quote from the Sunday mirror
alleges that Napalm is being used there. There is a 7pm curfew. More than half the population has no electricity. 85% of the population are unemployed/under employed.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64292-2005Apr18.html

It was at least discussed (details are unclear) that adult male Faullujans would be forced (presumably at gunpoint) by Americans to join forced labour brigades.

http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2004/12/05/returning_fallujans_will_face_clampdown/

There are plausible accusations that :
‘US armed forces killed scores of patients in an attack on a Falluja health center and have deprived civilians of medical care, food and water. ‘ a major war crime.

http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml%3Fi=20041213&s=schuman

It has also been argued that the anninhilation of Fallujah was ‘collective punishment’ another major war crime (since the Nazis perfected it).

It is of course true that it is difficult to verify much of what happens in Fallujah because non ’embedded’ journalists are not allowed in.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1366278,00.html

I find it tiresome when (for reasons of speed) I don’t quote a source directly but someone else quoting the source, and then this is used as some form of evidence for something or other. As you well know, the salient point is not what website does information come from, but does the information contained thererein correspond to the facts (in the way that, for example, information carried by the BBC, ITV and other sites did not correspond to the facts). It has happened a lot when debating pro-invasion intellectuals, and indicates to me that many of them are fundamentally dishonest in terms of what their real goals in Iraq actually are.

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James Wimberley 07.19.05 at 8:45 am

Going back a long bit, a wrote: “This isn’t war, it’s a police action.” This just defines away the problem, usually an unhlpful tactic. The number of casualties is never known in advance, and almost always underestimated (exception: D-Day, bu tnot the battle of Normandy as a whole). For Sun Tzu, no pacifist, the ideal victory was bloodless. There have been wars, and certainly parts of wars, that met this ideal: Garnet Wolseley’s suppression of the Red River Rebellion in Canada in 1870; the British Government’s threat at the end of the Crimean War to attack Kronstadt and St Petersburg with an armada of 200 steam gunboats – the Admiralty put them on show at Spithead and invited the Russians, who got the point and agreed to negotiate a peace.
The difference between police action and war is surely one of intention. If you are prepared to use a full range of methods of organised violence, you are in a war.

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soru 07.19.05 at 10:14 am


Innocent civilians are forced to be retina scanned and have an ID card and if they don’t carry one they are shot dead

That’s what you said, that’s what prisonplanet said. That’s not what the source said.
‘Stop or I’ll shoot’ is not the same as ‘oh dear, your card is out of date, kneel down now so I don’t get blood on my uniform’.

Here’s some more stuff prisonplanet says:


As I have suggested in previous articles, large sections of the elite have been subverted by satanic secret societies dedicated to establishing a new world order devoted to Lucifer. This requires a breakdown of all standards of morality and belief in God. The battle between paganism and monotheism has been going on for millennia. Paganism went underground and gradually subverted religion and society. The attack on Iraq and the “war on terror” will further degrade humanity and bring about a “culling” (nuclear war, smallpox virus), depression and one world tyranny.

If that’s your worldview, representative of your sources of information, then we have rather more significant differences than some subtle matter of moral calculus.

soru

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 10:38 am

SORU

as I have joyfully pointed out now, and you have persistently failed to accept, the data comes from NBC news, ok? Goodness anyone would think you didn’t want to believe it or something! Heaven forbid.

Just to point things out in words of less than one syllable:

This is a link from Prison Planet:

http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/july2005/180705fbimonitored.htm

Except it isn’t. It’s actually from the Washington Post. Gettit?

Ipso facto the information I quoted was not FROM Prison Planet it was FROM Tom Brokaw on NBC news even though the URL was ‘Prison Planet’. If you really can’t get your head round these complexities, might i suggest the internet is not for you?

If you really can’t bear to read Prison Planet here’s the same data on the Register.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/12/09/fallujah_biometric_id/

Why are you wasting my time with this nonsense?

The rest is simply a test of your gullibility. It’s true that I am sure that the US would swear blind that they are not shooting innocent civilians for not having an ID card, heavens no.

Equally, the US denied having used napalm and cluster bombs (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1519047,00.html, see also http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article226119.ece) both weapons of mass destruction. The US also lied about WMDs as the Downing Street Memo made clear.

I trust these sources are trustworthy enough for you, or would you really prefer it if I only referenced Downing Street or the Pentagon?

The fact is, if I believe 1 lie, it’s your fault for telling me, if I believe 3, 4, 10 lies it’s my fault for being so gullible. Those who choose (and it is a choice) to believe whatever nonsense the Pentagon happens to be spouting are being wilfully gullible. Downing Street and the Pentagon have demonstrated on numerous occasions over the last few years that, at least on the subject of Iraq, they are not reliable sources.

Now, if you have evidence that the US is not using retina scans in Fallujah, that they are not insisting on an ID card system, and that marines do not have the option of using lethal force if adult males are caught without such ID cards, then I will be pleased to hear it, and I will withdraw these accusations.

Otherwise….

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soru 07.19.05 at 11:11 am


if you have evidence that the US is not using retina scans in Falluja


large sections of the elite have been subverted by satanic secret societies dedicated to establishing new world order devoted to Lucifer

Listen to yourself.

soru

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.19.05 at 11:11 am

The US military uses retinal scans on a regular basis? Really? That seems a bit expensive, bulky and time consuming.

Are you confusing intial reports with verified facts? They are rather different things you know. For instance I could probably quote 40 or 50 initial reports of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Surely you wouldn’t take that as proof-positive that WMD were found. Or would you?

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Luc 07.19.05 at 11:38 am

The US military uses retinal scans on a regular basis? Really? That seems a bit expensive, bulky and time consuming.

Nothing wrong with being a bit paranoid about those things, but this happens to be true, even to my surprise.

http://www.arcent.army.mil/cflcc_today/2005/january/iraqi_election.asp

6th short message has a photo of the gizmo.

It’s a Securimetrics Pier 2 dot something.

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 11:40 am

Soru

I give up. Life’s too short. You still can’t get it straight in your head that I was quoting NBC can you? Thought not.

And the moral of the story is: don’t feed the trolls.

Sebastian,

I remember those initial reports of ‘WMD’s and they were staggeringly unpersuasive, except, to repeat, to those who wanted to believe them.

Perhaps the US isn’t using retinal scans (at least not any more). As there are no independent journalists allowed in there it’s hard to know, isn’t it?

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abb1 07.19.05 at 12:21 pm

…but this happens to be true, even to my surprise…

Although they probably aren’t immediately shot dead if they don’t carry a valid identity card, just tortured until they admit to being Syrian spies or something.

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mpowell 07.19.05 at 12:28 pm

Kevin and John,

I think I understand better now. To summarize: the decision to enter war may yield a positive expectation against an enemy with whom negotiation fails and so passes the consequentialist test. However, once an outcome is reached, then it would have obviously been in both sides interests to reach the same outcome w/o having to fight about it. And it is this latter sense in which war is a negative sum game.

My other point is slightly distinguished from soru’s. It is not who is doing the killing that matters, but who is being killed. And here a consequentialist is free to argue that although the means are irrelevant, when we evaluate the outcome, we are still free to use moral judgements about whose lives we value more. You may disagree w/ his assessment, but the consequentialist is not contradicting himself by doing so. And using the properly biased weighting scheme, I expect you could justify the war in Iraq.

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soru 07.19.05 at 12:44 pm


You still can’t get it straight in your head that I was quoting NBC can you

This is the link you posted.

http://prisonplanet.com/articles/december2004/021204facechoice.htm

This goes to an audio file of ‘A caller to the Alex Jones show’, Alex Jones being the paranoid nutter who runs prisonplanet. The NBC report that caller to a paranoid nutter’s talk show mentions (but doesn’t link to) doesn’t seem to contain anything except the mention of trying out retina scan kit, which is not controversial. All the stuff you said about shooting anyone who fails the scan is either your own fantasy, or, more likely, you repeating prisonplanet’s.

You don’t even know when you are being delusional do you?

soru

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roger 07.19.05 at 1:30 pm

I would think the problem with ends justifying the means arguments would be pretty obvious to Trotsky. It is a dialectical problem. The means transforms the ends, and — in good old dialectical fashion – embeds new means in accordance with those transferred ends. So, for instance, the end of saving American soldiers lives in Iraq (which who can disagree with?) requires technological means to make the death count climb among the enemy, which has the effect of killing greater numbers of civilians, which has the effect of generating insurgents willing to use lo tech means to continue the war, which has the effect of creating ever harsher reprisals by the American soldiers, and so on.

This can be laid out in a very nice dialectical fashion. In fact, the distinction between Hegel’s dialectic and Marx’s dialectical materialism is arguably all about this point. Das Kapital is an immense demonstration that there are no pure means, and there are no pure methods of segregating means from ends.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.19.05 at 1:52 pm

M. Powell,

Yes; although John Quiggin says that, in considering whether to launch a war, it is morally indefensible “to ignore the casualties suffered by the opposing side, even though most of those killed or wounded would not, as individuals, deserve this fate” it seems clear that he demands more than merely taking them into account. He rules out assigning lower weights to them also. Unless we are actually at war it is hard to see how we can regard the other side’s soldiers as having any less right to live than we do.

As noted upthread similar conclusions could be reached via Just War Theory and I think you could get there by other routes as well. I have been mulling over the question: what rules do rulers have to respect if we are to describe them as good global citizens? Bearing in mind that they may be of any religious faith or none, there can’t be very many “commandments” but there must be some if we are to disqualify Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. I reckon there are four “sins” in international relations:

1) Precautionary aggression: attacking another state just because it might attack you in the future must be wrong.

2) Chauvinism: it is wrong to disregard the fact that other states also have a right to security.

3) Lawlessness: in any age there are some conventions governing interstate relations; contempt for these is wrong.

4) Inhumanity: just because people are not citizens doesn’t mean they have no rights.

If states would respect these rules, I wouldn’t much care about the underlying philosophy. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom was mooted we have seen something akin to a home run. Having said that, most of the arguments between pro- and anti-war sides turn on questions of fact, not moral principles. If I believed everything Dick Cheney said (suitable drugs would probably do it) then I would be pro-war.

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 1:58 pm

What is interesting in Brendan and Soru’s above excahgne is that Soru never really challenges Brendan’s intellectual premise, but only argues about details of whether or not retinal scans are occuring. Whether or not they are is tangential to the larger point Brendan is trying to make.

That isn’t tinfoil stuff by the way. I don’t have the sources but the US was using them in Fallujah – or at least considering using them – after the assault last winter. I don’t have any idea about the rules of engagement though

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 2:12 pm

Here are some links to retinal scan stuff from non “tinfoil hat” sites:

This picture of a retinal scan actually occurring is from a blog run by American soldiers, as far as I can tell.

This is a post from Chris Allbritton’s “Back to Iraq” (he’s a journalist who writes for Time in the US.

is the same picture from the first link, but is actually on the US military’s own website.

Here’s a story from the Boston Globe about plans for this last December.

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soru 07.19.05 at 2:16 pm


that Soru never really challenges Brendan’s intellectual premise, but only argues about details of whether or not retinal scans are occuring

Can you clarify what you think that premise is?

All I could see was a bunch of paranoid ranting about mystic talismanic Trotskyites, nothing recognisable as a description of my views, or of those of anyone else I know.

Does anyone really think that stuff has sufficient connection to reality for it to be meaningful to argue against it?

Also to Kevin D: Pol Pot didn’t break any of your rules. The Vietnamese who deposed him did. Is that a mistake in framing them, or intentional?

soru

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 2:23 pm

To put it rather crudely, that the ends of the war will always justify the means of those fighting for the good side because the ultimate goal is morally pure and utopic. Thus, its alright to break a few eggs to make an omelet, so to speak. This was a classic position taken by revolutionaries throughout the 20th c., esp. Marxist revolutionaries. The Trotskyite bit comes in becomes, Trotskyites form the intellectual roots of American neo-conservatism as well as the British pro-war left (Hitchens, NOrm Geras).

Ben P

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John Quiggin 07.19.05 at 3:14 pm

MPowell you’re exactly right.

As regards the retinal scans, I must admit I was sceptical too, but it’s clearly true. For those commenters who scoffed (and want to maintain future credibility) a gracious acknowledgement of error might be a good idea.

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soru 07.19.05 at 3:22 pm

_the ends of the war will always justify the means of those fighting for the good side because the ultimate goal is morally pure and utopic._

Hardly.

If anything, that’s a caricature description of lack of self-reflection, illiberalism, ‘extremism’. You could find people who think that way with any political position, from those who would fly planes into building to establish the Caliphate (ok, technically pro-, not anti-, imperialism) to those who would let a half million Iraqis die to stave off the necessity of deploying US troops.

In order to avoid war, the US has set up the Sandanistas, backed both sides in the Iran/Iraq war (the better for them to weaken each other), and financed the precursors to Al Qaeda. Were those actions noble because they were comitted in the name of the morally pure goal of avoiding war?

As I said before, there’s a much more productive way of understanding the actual difference. ‘War’, ‘imperialism’, ‘fascism’. Which is the worse evil, which is easiest to avoid, least problematic to define (is the situation in Iraq now a war? If so, why do people mutter darkly about the threat of civil war? Is america an empire? Was the ba’ath part fascist?).

You can rank those evils differently without being one whit less pragmatic. The different histories of the UK and US with respect to winning and losing wars probably accounts for most of the reason that brits tend to see war as the lesser of at least two of those evils.

To put it another way, here’s a one word quote from Juan Cole today about the british-occupied areas of Iraq: ‘success’.

soru

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abb1 07.19.05 at 3:55 pm

I think it probably can be called a ‘success’ for one reason only: the Brits are acting merely as a peace-keeping force there, they are not trying to install any puppet government or interfere with any internal struggles or the economy or religion.

You can also read elsewhere that Muslim fundamentalism is rampant in those British-occupied areas, women are being attacked for smiling n’ stuff like that.

So, how does it justify the war, then? Why would you want to make a mess and kill people to replace Saddam&Co with al-Sadr&Co?

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 4:04 pm

to those who would let a half million Iraqis die to stave off the necessity of deploying US troops.

Come off it. The half a million figure is just as bad as Noam Chomsky’s stat about the US bombing of a medicine factory in Sudan. Thats simply unprovable.

To put it another way, here’s a one word quote from Juan Cole today about the british-occupied areas of Iraq: ‘success’.

Success in what sense, though? In establishing Sharia law in the Shi’ite South, governed locally by al-Sadr’s crew? Now I’m not saying this is necessarily a failure – probably a lot of people in this area do prefer this to Hussein’s rule.

But lets be realistic about the trajectory Iraq is heading in: that is three de facto separate countries: Kurdistan, a poor man’s Iran, and a failed and lawless Sunni center. These three regions may or may not hang together as a country, but whether they do is – to a good extent – beside the point.

That the Shi’ites and, to a greater extent, the Kurds are better off without Hussein is in most cases true. But this only one part of a much larger picture. Insofar as you separate out all those other pieces and cosequences and just view the Shiite and Kurdish aspirations in a vacuum, I think the war can be viewed as moral you have a point. But most of the war’s backers don’t confine themselves to goals this simple, for the most part. They believe they can radically remake the Middle East by forcibly westernizing Iraq along lines similar to Attaturk did in Turkey setting it up as a model.

Simply put, I believe that war is a brutal, violent illiberal exercise that is incompatible with a humitarian goals. This isn’t to say I oppose war all the time. But it does suggest that the bar for employing it is pretty damn high. Too high for me to justify the death of 1700 American troops for a war of dubious strategic and moral merit.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.19.05 at 4:07 pm

Pol Pot didn’t break any of your rules. The Vietnamese who deposed him did. Is that a mistake in framing them, or intentional?

Soru,

He certainly didn’t accept that non-citizens had rights, so he broke rule 4 (inhumanity). Of course he didn’t treat citizens any better, but that’s not a mitigating factor – quite the contrary. Also, I think leaders are guilty of inhumanity if they ignore genocide in another country when they are in a position to do something about it. So in deposing Pol Pot the Vietnamese did the right thing, though they behaved badly afterwards; and pretty well everyone is at fault right now in ignoring Darfur. But it’s true enough that Pol Pot’s infamy was not in the sphere of international relations, which is our topic, so I really shouldn’t have lumped him in with Hitler and Stalin.

I purposely keep the rules vague, because what I had in mind was the fact, which “abb1” and others have noted, that although there is a lot of talk about morality in international politics, when you look at the historical record you don’t see many uplifting examples. So I wondered how a historian ought to decide who was a good king and who was a bad king – other that for satirical purposes as in 1066 and All That with its “103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.”

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soru 07.19.05 at 4:11 pm


I think it probably can be called a ‘success’ for one reason only: the Brits are acting merely as a peace-keeping force there, they are not trying to install any puppet government or interfere with any internal struggles or the economy or religion.

Well _duh_ – that’s like saying the only reason you won the race is because you chose to run in the direction of the finishing line, instead of stopping off and having a coffee and buns.

I really think the word ‘war’ means a different thing in US and UK english.


You can also read elsewhere that Muslim fundamentalism is rampant in those British-occupied areas, women are being attacked for smiling n’ stuff like that.

Just to be clear, are you merely being oppositionist here, or do you genuinely believe that kind of cultural imperialism (literally) would be a good idea?

soru

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Kevin Donoghue 07.19.05 at 4:13 pm

erratum: for “other that” read “other than”.

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Ben P 07.19.05 at 4:19 pm

—I think it probably can be called a ‘success’ for one reason only: the Brits are acting merely as a peace-keeping force there, they are not trying to install any puppet government or interfere with any internal struggles or the economy or religion.—
Well duh – that’s like saying the only reason you won the race is because you chose to run in the direction of the finishing line, instead of stopping off and having a coffee and buns.

See, but this is the whole problem you have. The Brits are very much junior partners in this whole exercise. You have no real control over the real strategic and tactical decisions of this war.

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 4:28 pm

I’m not feeding tbe trolls again, but read my exchange, read what I said and then read that Soru claims I am claiming that ‘All the stuff you said about shooting anyone who fails the scan is either your own fantasy, or, more likely, you repeating prisonplanet’s.’

I mean is it me, or can these people just not read?

I got into another argument with another pro-war loon earlier on, who also mangled my words, seemingly unware that anyone can check what I actually said by just scrolling up.

If anyone cares, or still has the will to live, here’s the money shot:

‘US forces in Iraq are attempting to tame Fallujah with biometric ID, according to an NBC news report broadcast last week. The returning population of up to 250,000, reporter Richard Engel said on Tom Brokaw’s last Nightly News, is to be allowed back in gradually, a few thousand at a time. “They’ll be finger printed, given a retina scan and then an ID card, which will only allow them to travel around their homes or to nearby aid centers, which are now being built. The Marines will be authorized to use deadly force against those breaking the rules .’
Since one of the rules will be they must carry an ID card (read what I wrote) therefore (and follow my complex logic here) marines will be permitted to use lethal force if ID is not carried.

From the Register a ‘non-tinfoil hat’ site.

I honestly think that the army of lies regimented to support the WMD hypothesis has led the pro-war grouping to the conclusion that no one will actually be able to spot that they are lying.

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soru 07.19.05 at 4:43 pm


Since one of the rules will be they must carry an ID card (read what I wrote) therefore (and follow my complex logic here) marines will be permitted to use lethal force if ID is not carried.

Listen to yourself. That’s all I have to say.

soru

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Brendan 07.19.05 at 5:52 pm

‘That’s all I have to say’.

Oh if only.

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rollo 07.19.05 at 6:04 pm

“although there is a lot of talk about morality in international politics, when you look at the historical record you don’t see many uplifting examples”/i>

The tacit assumption being that morality exists, on its own, untethered to any particular perspective.
So that moral actions and immoral actions can be said to exist as entirely separate from the motives and designs of their actors. This is not exactly a proven thing. It’s an assumption, and it’s an inherited foundation of Western Civ.
but it doesn’t have any substance without the “God said so” part.
Without an outside source it’s just subjective values – good for me-bad for me, and/or you or them.
So of course history has no shining examples of moral war, there’ve never been any. It’s all biology, meat struggles – disguised as dominion and divine sanction, but biology just the same.
The particulars of any conflict have resonance, even profound moral resonance, but it dissipates like an echo the farther you get from its cause.
Dinosaurs roaring and thundering over territory, a spider and a wasp locked in mortal combat, two dogs contending for a bitch in heat – there’s your wars, every last one of them.

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Noryungi 07.19.05 at 6:25 pm

‘Slocu’:

You said: “In 1943-44, the dictatorships (of Mussolini and of Petain) were not killing large numbers of their own citizens […]”.

Excuse me, but have you ever heard of the final solution? The mass deportation of French and Italian Jews to the gas chambers, by their own governments? Said governments going even further that what the nazis demanded and expected?

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abb1 07.20.05 at 2:06 am

Just to be clear, are you merely being oppositionist here, or do you genuinely believe that kind of cultural imperialism (literally) would be a good idea?

I’m agruing that attempting to make masses of people happy (i.e. give them ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, etc.) by means of violence is a dangerous fallacy. So, I’m being oppositionist here, I guess.

Stealing their stuff, on the other hand, might be a rational idea, provided you can get away with it.

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