Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Libya vs. Iraq: A Moral Comparison

There are those who say that the moral case of interfering in Libya is the same as the moral case against interfering with Iraq.

I disagree

Case 1: A person charges into a neighbor's house, kills the head of the household, and claims that he did so in self defense. He asserts that the neighbor was going to harm him. This is in spite of the fact that the neighbor presented no clear and present danger. Further investigation shows that the neighbor did not even own a weapon and, furthermore, agents for the attacker had been in the house looking for such a weapon and finding none.

Case 2: A community, faced with clear evidence that the head of a household is engaged in the murder of his children in clear view of that community, organizes a comunity response to stop those murders.

I hold that these represent a proper analogy for examining the attacks against Iraq and Libya. The first case represents the invasion of Iraq, while the second represents the attack on Libya.

I am being told that I must not permit or endorse the Libya response because doing so endorses the actions of the agent in the Iraq case.

Ultimately, on the face of it, this is absurd.

In raising objections to Bush's attack on Iraq, I argued that Bush violated a basic principle of justice. Except in the case of an immediate act of self defense against a clear and present threat, an individual has an obligation to appeal his case to an impartial third party. The Bush Administration failed to do this.

Analogously, our attacker in Case 1 above simply asserts that his neighbor was a threat without providing any information and without any sign that the neighbor was going to launch an immediate attack.

In the case of Libya, there was an appeal to an impartial third party that endorsed the conclusion. A U.N. resolution was passed authorizing the use of force against Libya.

In the case of Iraq, no use of force was ever authorized. the Bush Administration attempted to get a resolution passed authorizing such an attack, but withdrew the attempt when it was seen that the resolution would almost certainly fail.

In fact, it appears that the only way Iraq could have avoided a US invasion would have been to turn over stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and weapons research it did not have. This would be like saying that the attacker in Case 1 was authorized to kill his neighbor unless his neighbor agreed to produce a weapon the neighbor did not have.

Granted, I am not spending all of my time studying the facts of the case in these situations and I may have missed some relevant facts. Yet, the facts that I do have - if they are true and complete - would suggest that there is a significant moral difference between these two cases, and many and strong reasons to condemn the first set of actions (the attack on Iraq) while endorsing the second (the attack on Libya).


NeilE said...

IIRC, Saddam was using poison gas on the Kurds in Iraq, and quietly killing a lot of his other citizens to boot, Pinochet-style.

I'd suggest that the Iraqi Case 1 completely contained Case 2, rather like someone actively killing their children and claiming, 'I've got a bomb, so you'd better stay out!' When the police look like they're going to call his bluff on the grounds that he has a bomb and not on the grounds that he's killing his children, he then claims not to have a bomb - and that's a negative that can't be proved.

As Case 1 subsumes Case 2, I'd suggest that the invasion of Iraq was technically as justified as the intervention in Libya.


What was wrong in the Iraqi invasion was the intentions of the US and UK government. Their desire-as-end was 'feel good about ourselves by kicking Saddams butt', and when the UN wouldn't sanction that they went ahead an did it anyway using unsubstantiated and uncorroborated intelligence as their excuse. They wanted (desire-as-means) the intel to be true, and hundreds of thousands have paid for that decision with their lives, most of them Iraqis.

It's interesting to me that both Bush and Blair were ostensibly religious leaders.

Eric Noren said...

I agree with Marcellus on the first part. While you obsess over WMDs as though those were the sole motivation for invading Iraq, both actions can be justified as Case 2: toppling a dictator who murders his own people.

Iraq was not only about WMDs, therefore lack of WMDs does not prove that Iraq was a "bad" war. And the evidence for WMDs predated Bush, and had achieved international consensus. As we see with global warming, consensus doesn't necessarily mean truth.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Heathen Republican

I agree with Marcellus on the first part. While you obsess over WMDs as though those were the sole motivation for invading Iraq, both actions can be justified as Case 2: toppling a dictator who murders his own people.

You make a mistake in thinking that this is a post about "invading Iraq". It is a post about the WMD argument offered in defense of that attack - an argument that has all of the flaws that I mentioned here.

I have not written here on whether I consider a possible attack against Saddam Hussein to have been justified. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that I think the United Nations should have taken steps to remove him from power.

However, this does not justify "vigilantee justice" - which is the method that the Bush Administration decided to use.

The fact that I believe that a neighbor is guilty of a crime and should be imprisoned DOES NOT imply that I am necessarily infavor of a vigilantee neighbor taking the law into his own hands.

Iraq was not only about WMDs, therefore lack of WMDs does not prove that Iraq was a "bad" war. And the evidence for WMDs predated Bush, and had achieved international consensus. As we see with global warming, consensus doesn't necessarily mean truth.

I also believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction somewhere. Yet, I also believe in the rule of evidence. Again, it is the same as if I believe a neighbor is guilty of some crime. I may feel quite certain that he is guilty. Yet, his conviction and punishment is not to be grounded on my feelings. It requires evidence.

Anonymous said...

In 2003 Hussein was no more "using poison gas" than Microsoft was "conducting an initial public offering." Juxtaposing events separated by 15 or more years warns the reader of incoming spin.

Verb tense prevarication notwithstanding, it is true Saddam Hussein had committed atrocities against the Kurds with WMDs. Indeed, he'd done so with US-manufactured, US-provided WMDs. Since then, the OPCW and IAEA had kept an eye on Hussein, to ensure any efforts to stand up his own means of WMD production were thwarted.

An amended metaphor for Case 1 would depict a head of household who'd killed some of his own children with weapons provided him by the police. Since then, the same police had kept a presence in the murderer's house, let's call it a "prevention effort," and had successfully kept him from creating his own versions of the weapons he'd used to kill his own children. Until, to continue the metaphor, a new Chief of Police took over.

When family members of a different, but nearby, house bombed the police department, this new Chief -- knowing most of the world would know nothing of the ongoing success of his predecessor's prevention effort -- decided he could justify more aggressive actions. To do this he posited the head of household is creating the same sorts of weapons he used in 1988 to kill his own children. With these undetected weapons creation programs, argues the Chief of Police, the head of household could "again" bomb the police department. He repeats this line so often many of his supporters come to believe it was he, and not his neighbors, who bombed the police department.

Hardly mentioned in this scenario, even among politicos, is the new Police Chief's expression of "no confidence" in his predecessor. By arguing the head of household is indeed creating his own WMDs, the new Chief of Police is basically claiming the former Chief's prevention effort was a failure.

Unfortunately, not soon enough, we all learn this is wholly untrue.


As for global warming being untrue, that argument becomes sillier by the day. Time and mounting evidence are anathema to today's neocon agenda.


I have background on the whole WMD matter, and can tell you the sloppy metaphor amendment I offered above spells out just where we were in 2003. Hans Blix (jokes about whom have curiously disappeared from GOP mouths) and others were on top of things. Hussein had attempted to stand up a viable WMD program, but never could. This was an obvious result of the international inspections that occurred throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

Occasionally some of the 1980s-era WMDs (the ones the US shipped there) are unearthed in Iraq. Old HD mortar rounds, for instance. And this is when FOX and others scream, "See? We told you!" This line of argument insults the audience's intelligence. It was not the presence of old WMDs that Colin Powell used to justify our invasion. It was Saddam's "active" programs. Which did not exist.

Again, see: Hans Blix et al.


The glaring omission in this discussion are the ground troops. The dilemma in invading Iraq in 2003 was based on our estimation of Hussein's depravity vis-a-vis our knowledge we could stand to lose thousands of Americans in the process.

And we have.

Prior to 2001 our policy was no-fly zones and backing up the Hague in its inspections of Iraq's WMD efforts. This successful, dual-pronged approach was smashed by Bush. Today's no-fly zones over Libya are not a parallel to 2003's invasion of Iraq. They are a parallel to the early 90s no-fly zones over Iraq.

If, ten years from now, an American president sends hundreds of thousands of ground troops into Libya -- predicating the action on a lie -- then we'll have a fair comparison.