It appears that, while I was in the mountains, things turned particularly violent in Iraq. The string of bombings, followed by revenge killings, continued. Now, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Iraqi clerics are blaming the problem on American mistakes.
Ultimately, this is not true. I am not denying that America has made mistakes. In fact, I have written about some of those mistakes. However, when we talk about moral responsibility for an action, the responsibility rests first and foremost with the person who intentionally performed that action.
The people to blame first for a roadside bomb that kills and maims dozens of civilians is the person who set the bomb up to go off, or who set off the bomb. There is the true source of the evil. Blaming somebody else lets this person off the hook. It is as if to say that the person pressing the button or setting the timer had nothing to do with the fatalities. It says that he is not the murderer.
These types of claims are absurd.
People make mistakes around us all of the time. It is up to us to decide how we are going to respond to those mistakes. A person could either view somebody else’s mistake as an opportunity to shine and make things better, or he could view it as an opportunity to kill and maim as many young children as possible. As long that these are intentional acts, then the moral responsibility for those acts rests with the person whose beliefs and desires were the proximate cause of those acts.
Iraq would have been far better off – even in the face of American mistakes – if it were a country of people who had a decent respect for the principles of individual responsibility, a community obligation to protect the innocent (particularly children) from all who would do them harm, and a belief that the only legitimate person to punish for a crime is the person who committed the crime – and not the wife and child of somebody who happened to go to a mosque that shared some beliefs in common with those of the mosque attended by the person who might have (maybe) had something to do with the bomb.
In short, Iraq would be far better off right now if its people had an appreciation for the fundamental principles of justice.
This is the first and largest ‘mistake’ made in Iraq. The mistake is that the Iraqi people themselves decided to embrace injustice, murder, kidnapping, assault, and theft as a way of life. Or, at least, its Sunni and Shiite population has embraced injustice and crime so thoroughly. The Kurdish population seems to have a stronger appreciation for justice and, for that, they seem to be forming a calm and relatively prosperous society – as long as the Shiite and Sunni populations focus on each other and do not think to export their murderous lifestyle to the north.
Yes, the Bush Administration has made mistakes when it decided to invade Iraq. One of the biggest mistakes that the Bush Administration made is that they assumed that the people of Iraq were fundamentally decent and moral people, being held down by an oppressive dictator. He felt that they were just waiting for this barrier to progress to be removed, and then they, with their common sense of decency and justice, in an environment of freedom and justice, would show the rest of the world how much an Arab democracy could accomplish.
This is a mistake for which the Bush Administration should be held morally responsible. Bush should have listened to experts who would have told him that the Iraqi people will prefer slaughter and injustice over peace. He should have based his decisions on the best available evidence. He did not. Instead, he based his decisions on a ‘gut feeling’ – a form of knowledge that has a well deserved reputation for telling a person only what he wants to hear.
That intellectual recklessness is morally contemptible.
However, Bush’s intellectual recklessness does not mitigate the morally contemptible acts of the Iraqi people. Perhaps I should have known that my next door neighbor was a child murderer before I accepted their invitation for me to have my child visit. Yet, this does not change the fact that, as a child murderer, and as the person who murdered my child, my neighbor is still a perfectly contemptible and evil individual.
My intellectual recklessness does not count in my homicidal neighbor’s favor one bit. Bush’s intellectual recklessness does not count in favor of the homicidal behavior of the Iraqi people either.
Another mistake that the Bush Administration pursued in is Iraqi policy – and, in fact, in its overall domestic and foreign policy – was to teach injustice rather than justice. Through the actions of the Bush Administration, America has taught the world that torture is legitimate, suspected opponents may be rounded up and held in prison indefinitely without a trial, an operation need not concern itself too much with separating civilian from military targets – that there was no crime in bombing a house where a family was gathering for a religious dinner as long as the bomber thought that one of the dinner guests might be a suspected ‘terrorists’, that political entities may define terms in whatever way is convenient for them, and that laws and constitutions were to be ignored whenever a leader considers them too much of a burden.
These are the lessons that we have taught the world – and, in particular, to the people of Iraq, who were the victims of much of this injustice.
Yet, even here, the fact that one has not been treated fairly is never an excuse for harming innocent people. The citizen who was abused as a child – thus treated to the worst possible injustice – is still morally responsible for choosing whether to respond to that abuse by helping others, or by harming others.
The Iraqi people could have responded to Bush’s injustice by adopting a national program to prove that they were better than Bush – by insisting on justice (rather than death) in the face of the abuses of the Bush administration. Instead, they decided to prove how much worse they could be. That was their choice – and they were wrong to choose as they did.
Now, Iraqi clerics are calling for the Iraqi people to end the violence.
That should have been the national call 3.5 years ago.
It is tempting to blame America first for the perhaps hundreds of thousands of people killed in Iraq since the invasion. In fact, the first person to blame is always the person who did the killing. In most of the cases, the people who deserve the first blame are the Iraqi people themselves – those who murdered and maimed, and those who celebrated and supported them.