Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Setting an Example: Bush and Iran

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared recently that, if the United States attacks Iran, that Iran will respond by attacking Israel.

For an ethics blog, this is one of those events that wears its immorality right out there in the open for all to see. What type of leader would use an attack by Country/Entity A, as a pretext to fulfill a burning desire to attack an unrelated country I? What type of person would find such an act conscionable?

Yes, I do feel a need to spell out the obvious. A = Al Queida/America. I = Iraq/Israel. Ahmadinejad is simply announcing his intention to follow the international moral guidance given by our great moral leader George W. Bush.

Too few people can see the similarities.

Clearly, I am not comparing America to Al Queida and Iraq to Israel. That would be preposterous, and an insult.

Except, from the subjective point of view of the leaders involved, the two cases are entirely parallel. From the point of view of Iran, America is a foreign power that is now threatening its people with weapons of mass destruction. Israel is an oppressive regime responsible for the violent oppression of the Palestinian people, and the world would be a better place when the Palestinians are freed and their oppressors are brought to justice.

In fact, I strongly suspect that Ahmadinejad believes, and would have no trouble convincing the people in his own country, that Israel is allied with the United States are cooperating against Iran, in the same way that Al Queida and Saddam Hussein were cooperating in a joint project to attack America. Only, in this case, I think that [leader] could probably make a stronger case than Bush ever could.

Certainly, from the American point of view, Iran is evil and Israel and America are on the side of good -- in fact, America is on the side of God. Yet, from the Iran perspective, America and Israel are evil and Iran is on the side of good -- in fact, Iran is on the side of Allah.

Okay, then, am I saying that all subjective perspectives are equally valid?

Of course not. I just spent two posts defending the idea that people do not always have a right to their opinions. I have spent this whole blog defending the idea that moral statements have an objective truth value. I am not going to sit here and write that all perspectives are equally valid.

However, I will assert that all subjective perspectives appear equally valid to the people who hold them. This is a fact about the world in which we must live, and an objective morality cannot be one that ignores facts about the world -- including this one.

One of the reasons why it was wrong (immoral) for the Bush Administration to invade Iraq as it did is precisely because it puts innocent people (the people of Israel and America) at risk of harm from people with different subjective perspectives on the world. This is one huge example of how the actions of this administration has created an international situation where we and the people of Israel are less safe than we would have been, not more safe.

It would have been so much better if America could have said to the world, "It is an evil and despicable leader who uses an attack from one entity as a pretext for attacking some other country that it hates." However, the Bush Administration cannot say that now, without looking like a hypocrite in the eyes of the world. Heck, it would look like a hypocrite because the words would be so completely hypocritical, given the circumstances.

Of course, Iran could say that it has evidence that Israel and the United States are cooperating in plans to attack Iran.

A morally straight administration would have then been able to answer, "That evidence had better be pretty solid and substantial to justify something as extreme as an attack on another country." However, this is another thing that the Bush Administration cannot say without appearing completely hypocritical -- without being completely hypocritical.

In this case, there are two roads we can take. We can assert that Bush was within his moral authority to attack Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence as he did, and have no reason whatsoever for condemning Iran for using that policy.

Or the Bush Administration can admit that its actions were wrong -- that morality itself prohibits using an attack from one entity as a pretext for invading a different country, and for launching an attack without making absolutely that the evidence justifying the attack was solid and substantial -- and then condemn Iran for such actions.

However, this second option would require that we actually show that we recognize that our acts were wrong. If somebody were to break into an electronics store and steal a computer, he does not prove that he truly repents for his wrongdoing by saying that he is sorry, but keeping his computer. He must also accept some form of punishment -- his willingness to accept that punishment being proof that he accepts that his actions were wrong.

Without that, any criticism of Iran for asserting that it can use an attack from one country as a pretext for attacking another will sound hollow.

I wish that I still lived in a country with sufficient dedication to the principles of right and wrong that it could take the moral high ground against countries like Iran, rather than teaching such countries a different type of example.

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