The Moral Case Against the Iraq War
May 18, 2004 8:59 PM   Subscribe

The final argument advanced by the Administration, as well as some human rights advocates, is that the war was morally justifiable as a humanitarian intervention to defend the Iraqi people from mass slaughter by Saddam's brutal regime. However, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention cannot be applied retroactively to morally justify war as a means of punishing a political leader for past atrocities, such as Saddam's killing of more than 100,000 Kurds in the Anfal campaign, which occurred almost fifteen years before the invasion. Because it is essentially a principle that permits the defense of others, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, like the concept of self-defense, requires actually occurring or imminent large-scale killing to justify the use of military force. Criteria proposed in 2001 by an international commission of legal scholars and practitioners would permit humanitarian intervention to defend a vulnerable population from "large scale loss of life" or "large scale 'ethnic cleansing'" that is either actually "occurring" or "imminently likely to occur." Human Rights Watch, applying these criteria to the Iraq war in its 2004 World Report, concludes, "That was not the case in Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March 2003.... despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein's rule, the invasion cannot be justified as a humanitarian intervention."
posted by y2karl at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2004

I love opinion pieces that weave together soundbites and factoids to suit a personal agenda. Sometimes I wish I could write similar pieces to convince women that I'm incredible in the sack.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:20 PM on May 18, 2004

but you ARE!
posted by quonsar at 9:24 PM on May 18, 2004

::nods sheepishly::

You really think so, quonsar?

BTW, the first article was indeed informative, and a great refresher course for those with their head up their ass for the past year, but really, how many different combinations of the same facts and arguments can be constructed before we get frustrated with the entire puzzle?
posted by BlueTrain at 9:27 PM on May 18, 2004

The MORAL case against the war?

How about the "any randomly selected five year old could have listed about a dozen reasons why it's a dumb frikkin' poopyheaded idea" case against the war?

Oh yeah. There was a moral case to be made too.
posted by troutfishing at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2004

BlueTrain - how many different versions of "Mr. Potato Head" can be assembled from all the available parts?

- the answer, my friend, is blowin' on the Web.
posted by troutfishing at 10:00 PM on May 18, 2004

before we get frustrated with the entire puzzle?

yeah, how frustrating.
I mean, watching other, less-educated people (often not even citizens) being sent off to a foreign land to fight in one's place (and in one's kids place of course) in an ill-planned war can make people strangely... blasé about, you know, stuff.
pass the remote control, please...

I'm really not a fan of Roy's when she's writing -- sophomorically, mostly -- about geopolitics ("the marmot whisperer"), but come on, of all emotions stirred by the war debate, boredom really seems one of the less noble at this point.

bah. anyway:

Iraq's daily oil output falls short of Cheney's predictions
May 19, 2004

New York - Iraq's daily oil output in the year since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has fallen as much as a million barrels short of the 3 million barrels that US vice-president Dick Cheney predicted.
Cheney, who for five years headed Houston-based Halliburton, the largest oilfield services provider, said in April last year that Iraq should be able to produce 2.5 million to 3 million barrels a day, "hopefully by the end of the year".
Iraq in December pumped 1.98 million barrels a day, based on Bloomberg data.
The highest output since the war started was 2.38 million barrels a day in March, or 4 percent below pre-war levels.
"The strategy was to have another country be able to provide more crude that was competitive to Saudi Arabia," said Kamel al-Harami, former president of Kuwait's Q8 brand of petrol stations in Europe and Thailand. "We're in the second year and we're just not seeing it."

posted by matteo at 10:00 PM on May 18, 2004

BlueTrain: Aren't all opinion pieces essentially just factoids assembled in such a way as to make a point? (or to "suit a personal agenda".) Didn't even documentarians pretty much abandon the concept of the "objective reality" in the early 60's?
Even if you do believe in the highly problematic concept of neutral representation, then that doesn't change the fact that opinion, or editorials have no pretenses of neutrality. They are by definition, taking all the facts that can be gathered to make a specific point, and then making that point using them.
If the piece had been a pro-war, pro-bush analysis of events, then it would have been doing the same thing, but from the other side.
posted by paultron at 10:03 PM on May 18, 2004

Shadow on the U.S. Beacon
posted by homunculus at 10:06 PM on May 18, 2004

Opec ready to stem surge in oil price

The world’s largest oil exporters are likely to agree to increase their production quota - possibly as early as this weekend - in response to the surging oil price that threatens global economic growth.
Saudi Arabia appears to have persuaded even the most reluctant members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to agree an increase of 6 per cent in the cartel's output quota.
With Venezuela and Iran now likely to side with the kingdom, Opec is expected to agree in principle to raise the output ceiling by 1.5m barrels per day, from 23.5m b/d to 25m b/d, when it meets in Amsterdam on Saturday.
But some countries, including Venezuela and Iran, do not want to give the impression that they are caving in to pressure from the US and other consuming countries to lower the oil price. They are expected to argue that the final quota decision should not be taken before Opec's next meeting, which will be held in Beirut on June 3.


The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in Baghdad, Iraq, in September 1960, to unify and coordinate members' petroleum policies

(...) Although Iraq remains a member of OPEC, Iraqi production has not been a part of any OPEC quota agreements since March 1998. EIA estimates the current eleven OPEC members account for almost 40% of world oil production and about 2/3 of the world's proven oil reserves.
OPEC collects pricing data on a "basket" of seven crude oils, including: Algeria's Saharan Blend, Indonesia Minas, Nigeria Bonny Light, Saudi Arabia Arab Dubai Fateh, Venezuela Tia Juana and Mexico Isthmus (a non-OPEC oil). The OPEC price — which was introduced on January 1, 1987—is an arithmetic average of these oils. OPEC uses this price to monitor world oil market conditions. Because the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil is a very light, sweet (low sulfur content) crude, it is generally more expensive than the OPEC basket, which is an average of light sweet crude oils such as Algeria's Saharan Blend and heavier sour crudes (with high sulfur content) such as Dubai's Fateh.

posted by matteo at 10:09 PM on May 18, 2004

I love opinion pieces that weave together soundbites and factoids to suit a personal agenda.

I love wars justified in the same way and for the same reason.

Oh, yeah: except substitute "flat out bald-faced lies" for "factoids", and "massive transference of the nation's wealth to the business interests of cronies and family members" for "personal agenda."
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:46 PM on May 18, 2004

Metafilter: soundbites and factoids to suit a personal agenda.

- and great link, btw.
posted by iamck at 10:53 PM on May 18, 2004

U.S. Faces Growing Fears of Failure

The public criticism on Capitol Hill mirrors growing alarm expressed in private throughout the U.S. foreign policy community as well as among Iraqis about the political transition and deteriorating security. The U.S.-led coalition has dramatically lowered its goals, they say, from an early pledge to create a stable, democratic country that would be a model for transforming the greater Middle East, to scrambling to cobble together an interim government by June 30 that will have only limited political authority and still depend on more than 130,000 foreign troops.

"We've sacrificed the preferable to that which is most expedient," said a U.S. official involved with Iraq policy. "We've gone from hoping for a strong and empowered government to one that can survive, literally, until a new constitution is drafted."...

posted by y2karl at 11:13 PM on May 18, 2004

Right...somehow because I tire of the same information being thrown around here relentlessly, I am now in favor of the war. Why not turn this character defamation into high gear and call me a facist?

Oh, better yet:

"Look guys! He may or may not disagree with the war. I can't tell, but I'll assume all sorts of crazy things to fit my perspective. Now quickly, let's alienate him before he has a chance to refute the facts. That way, when he gets insulted and personally attacks us, we can say that HE started it! Yay!"
posted by BlueTrain at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2004

Here is the direct link to the pdf. Damn MSNBC trying to put pdf's in frames...
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:59 AM on May 19, 2004

if george bush ever walks across the road in front of me, i'm gonna run the fucker over with my jeep cherokee.

come and get me, you secret service cocksuckers.
posted by quonsar at 8:41 AM on May 19, 2004

bluetrain, you fascist. i can't really tell whether you're for or against the war, but i'm going to assume that because you haven't called bush the great satan that you support all of his policies.

fascist pig. i can't believe you came into this thread, wrapped yourself in the flag, and started calling people names and using ad hominem attacks.

posted by lord_wolf at 8:46 AM on May 19, 2004

How American Was Abu Ghraib?

There is certain irony in the fact that the Abu Ghraib coincided with the 50th anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, in which Vietnamese guerrillas routed the French colonial army and took its surrender. Although Cold War considerations prompted the U.S. to get involved, in the end they proved no more adept than the French — or the Chinese hundreds of years earlier — had been in bending Vietnam to foreign will.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, now 93, who orchestrated the victory at Dien Bien Phu and also the political-military strategy that forced the U.S. to withdraw, made a rare appearance before the media to mark the anniversary. Inevitably, the international press wanted to know his thoughts on Iraq. "Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat," he answered.

America, Washington insists, has no desire to force its will on Iraq. But it's far from clear that the Iraqis see it that way — even a poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority confirms that a majority of Iraqis now want the U.S. to leave immediately. A growing number of U.S. officers in Iraq are also stepping forward with the blunt assessment that the war can't be won. That's not a conclusion that goes down well at home. Forget the lessons of history; this is America, exceptional, somehow immune. In the end, though every nation that has ever claimed stewardship over another's destiny (including the United States in Vietnam) has claimed the mantle of virtue, usually divinely ordained. The other side seldom saw it that way.

Japan and Germany are often cited as the model of benign selfless occupation, but they may actually have been the exception. In both instances, their populations were under no illusions that their own leaders had started disastrous wars. Elsewhere, however, the occupier's presumption of virtue is seldom affirmed by the occupied. And Iraq has proved no different. However extensive the goodwill toward the Americans for getting rid of Saddam, it has steadily eroded over the past year. The prison abuse photographs outraged Iraqis, but may not have surprised them as much as the Americans. Nor are Iraqis impressed by the Bush administration's explanation that these were the actions of a few bad apples. Which may be why some of the officers on the ground are saying the war can't be won on these terms. Unfortunately, we may have passed this way before.

posted by y2karl at 8:50 AM on May 19, 2004

Here's Adam Michnik with the moral case for the war, and a recent interview with Michnik in Dissent.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2004

Stop the Moral Equivalence - Garry Kasparov
posted by hama7 at 9:07 AM on May 19, 2004

Compared to What? - Thomas Sowell
posted by hama7 at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2004

Listen closely hama7 and I'll explain this to you one more time you hard headed bastard stepchild of a Bush you.

The ONLY confirmed relationship between Iraq and Al Queda was in Northern Iraq, the area controlled by "Friends of Bush."

Now tell me again about those great links you provide.
Sounds like authorative sources.
Especially Mr. Sowell Uncle Tom at townhall.
Got any links today to WorldNut Daily?
Perhaps Rush Limbuaghotomy?
You're such a soft target! err ... Sucker!
:-) Have a wonderful day!
posted by nofundy at 9:39 AM on May 19, 2004

Thanks for those breaths of fresh air, hama7. In the midst of all this mealy-mouthed liberal blather about moral philosophy, those links brought some much needed clarity.

I liked the Sowell column in particular:

With a guerrilla and terrorist war going on in Iraq, nuclear weapons being made in North Korea, and American troops deployed in countries around the world, do those who are calling for Secretary Rumsfeld's head think that he should be trying to keep track of every sparrow's fall down at the level of individual privates and non-coms in the army?

The hate-America brigade can trot out all the gloomy French morons they want to hand-wring over the moral conundrum state-sanctioned murder, but the clear-headed patriots already have an unassailable answer. Hear Thomas Sowell's words, Mefite pinkos, and see the error of your entire worldview. Abused prisoners? Skyrocketing body counts? Never mind all that: the Bush Administration is too busy to keep track of it all. Got it? Good. End of discussion.

[/heavy sarcasm]
posted by gompa at 9:49 AM on May 19, 2004

Hama I would have to agree(?) with Fundy that most of those links (in both senses of the word) are pretty weak.The key phrase to me is "in an area outside of Hussein's control". If that is the best that can be found, well I think you would have to agree it's not worth going to war over. Especially since Ansar Al Islam could have been decimated at any time without an invasion of Iraq.
posted by chaz at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2004

That should be "conundrum of state-sanctioned murder," obviously. Thomas Sowell remains a stunningly inept thinker regardless.
posted by gompa at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2004

Former Abu Ghraib Intel Staffer Says Army Concealed Involvement in Abuse Scandal

3 Witnesses at Iraq Abuse Hearing Refused to Testify

Three key witnesses, including a senior officer in charge of interrogations, refused to testify during a secret hearing against an alleged ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves.

The witnesses appeared April 26 at a preliminary hearing behind closed doors for Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., who has been identified in court-martial documents as the leader of a band of military police guards who humiliated and abused Iraqi detainees and compiled a bizarre photographic record of their activities. The prospective witnesses' refusal to testify is described in court-martial documents obtained by The Times on Tuesday.

That all of the prospective witnesses called up by prosecutors invoked the military equivalent of the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination indicates that key players in the abuse scandal may be closing ranks to save themselves and one another.

Brutal interrogation in Iraq - Five detainees' deaths probed

Brutal interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel are being investigated in connection with the deaths of at least five Iraqi prisoners in war-zone detention camps, Pentagon documents obtained by The Denver Post show. The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents.

Details of the death investigations, involving at least four different detention facilities including the Abu Ghraib prison, provide the clearest view yet into war-zone interrogation rooms, where intelligence soldiers and other personnel have sometimes used lethal tactics to try to coax secrets from prisoners, including choking off detainees' airways. Other abusive strategies involve sitting on prisoners or bending them into uncomfortable positions, records show.

"Torture is the only thing you can call this," said a Pentagon source with knowledge of internal investigations into prisoner abuses. "There is a lot about our country's interrogation techniques that is very troubling. These are violations of military law."

And, meanwhile...

U.S. Reportedly Kills 40 Iraqis at Party

A U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party early Wednesday in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Lt. Col Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of the city of Ramadi, said between 42 and 45 people died in the attack, which took place about 2:45 a.m. in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said those killed included 15 children and 10 women.

posted by y2karl at 10:42 AM on May 19, 2004

Especially Mr. Sowell Uncle Tom at townhall.

Come now, surely you can find a way to insult Sowell without resorting to that shit?
posted by Ty Webb at 11:23 AM on May 19, 2004

I don't know how someone can write an article about someone in the administration being aware that war crimes could be charged against administration officials, and not mention the Bush Administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:45 PM on May 19, 2004

down at the level of individual privates

See, if Rumsfeld had been paying attention at that level he'd have known about a lot of the stuff going on at Abu Ghraib (since they seemed to specialize in dealing with individuals' privates).

Speaking of which, how about those whiners over at Reuters, anyway?
posted by soyjoy at 1:03 PM on May 19, 2004

Some Iraqi perspectives:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
posted by dhoyt at 1:17 PM on May 19, 2004

Tough sell, karl.

Here is a great essay on this same moral 'dilemma' of the left from normblog, a pro-war lefty, older (July 2003) but still relevant:
I am fully aware in saying this that the present US administration has made itself an obstacle in various ways to the development of a more robust and comprehensive framework of international law. But the thing cuts both ways. The war to depose Saddam Hussein and his criminal regime was not of a piece with that. It didn't have to be opposed by all the forces that did in fact oppose it. It could, on the contrary, have been supported - by France and Germany and Russia and the UN; and by a mass democratic movement of global civil society. Just think about that. Just think about the kind of precedent it would have set for other genocidal, or even just lavishly murderous, dictatorships - instead of all those processions of shame across the world's cities, and whose success would have meant the continued abandonment of the Iraqi people.

It is, in any event, such realities - the brutalizing and murder by the Baathist regime of its own nationals to the tune of tens upon tens, upon more tens, of thousands of deaths - that the recent war has brought to an end. It should have been supported for this reason, irrespective of the reasons (concerning WMD) that George Bush and Tony Blair put up front themselves; though it is disingenuous of the war's critics to speak now as if the humanitarian case for war formed no part of the public rationale of the Coalition, since it was clearly articulated by both Bush and Blair more than once.
The entire thing is worth a read.

Of course, a lot of other information has come about since July 2003, and we now know why France, Russia, and the UN didn't support the war -- and those reasons had little, if anything, to do with moral justification or respect for international law.
posted by David Dark at 2:08 AM on May 20, 2004

Human Rights Watch World Report 2004 Human Rights And Armed Conflict PDF, Chapter One: War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention, subtitled section

Humanitarian Purpose

Any humanitarian intervention should be conducted with the aim of maximizing humanitarian results. We recognize that an intervention motivated by purely humanitarian concerns probably cannot be found. Governments that intervene to stop mass slaughter inevitably have other reasons as well, so we do not insist on purity of motive. But a dominant humanitarian motive is important because it affects numerous decisions made in the course of an intervention and its aftermath that can determine its success in saving people from harm.

Humanitarianism, even understood broadly as concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, was at best a subsidiary motive for the invasion of Iraq. The principal justifications offered in the prelude to the invasion were the Iraqi government’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, its alleged failure to account for them as prescribed by numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions, and its alleged connection with terrorist networks. U.S. officials also spoke of a democratic Iraq transforming the Middle East. In this tangle of motives, Saddam Hussein’s cruelty toward his own people was mentioned—sometimes prominently—but, in the prewar period, it was never the dominant factor. This is not simply an academic point; it affected the way the invasion was carried out, to the detriment of the Iraqi people.

To begin with, if invading forces had been determined to maximize the humanitarian impact of an intervention, they would have been better prepared to fill the security vacuum that predictably was created by the toppling of the Iraqi government. It was entirely foreseeable that Saddam Hussein’s downfall would lead to civil disorder. The 1991 uprisings in Iraq were marked by large-scale summary executions. The government’s Arabization policy raised the prospect of clashes between displaced Kurds seeking to reclaim their old homes and Arabs who had moved into them. Other sudden changes of regime, such as the Bosnian Serb withdrawal from the Sarajevo suburbs in 1996, have been marked by widespread violence, looting, and arson.

In part to prevent violence and disorder, the U.S. army chief of staff before the war, General Eric K. Shinseki, predicted that “several” hundreds of thousands of troops would be required. But the civilian leaders of the Pentagon dismissed this assessment and launched the war with considerably fewer combat troops—some 150,000. The reasons for this decision are unclear, but they seem due to some combination of the U.S. government’s faith in high-tech weaponry, its distaste for nation-building, its disinclination to take the time to deploy additional troops as summer’s heat rose in Iraq and the political heat of opposition to the war mounted around the world, and its excessive reliance on wishful thinking and best-case scenarios. The result is that coalition troops were quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of maintaining public order in Iraq. Looting was pervasive. Arms caches were raided and emptied. Violence was rampant.

The problem of understaffing was only compounded by the failure to deploy an adequate number of troops trained in policing. Regular troops are trained to fight—to meet threats with lethal force. But that presumptive resort to lethal force is inappropriate and unlawful when it comes to policing an occupied nation. The consequence was a steady stream of civilians killed when coalition troops—on edge in the face of regular resistance attacks, many perfidious—mistakenly fired on civilians. That only increased resentment among Iraqis and fueled further attacks. Troops trained in policing—that is, trained to use lethal force as a last resort—would have been better suited to conduct occupation duties humanely. But the Pentagon has not made a priority of developing policing skills among its troops, leaving relatively few to be deployed in Iraq.

To top it all off, L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, disbanded the entire Iraqi army and police force. That left the occupying authorities without a large pool of indigenous forces that could have helped to establish the rule of law. We recognize that security forces or intelligence agencies that had played a lead role in atrocities, such as the Special Republican Guard or the Mukhabarat, should have been disbanded and their members prosecuted. Some members of the Iraqi army and police were also complicit in atrocities, but the average member had significantly less culpability; there was no penal justification for disbanding these forces en masse rather than pursuing the guilty on an individual basis. The blanket dismissal took a toll on Iraqi security.

The lack of an overriding humanitarian purpose also affected Washington’s attitude toward the system of justice to be used to try Iraqi officials’ human rights crimes. The Bush administration, like many other people, clearly would like to see those responsible for atrocities in Iraq brought to justice, but its greater distaste for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has prevented it from recommending the justice mechanism that is most likely to succeed. The administration has insisted that accused Iraqi officials be tried before an “Iraqi-led process.” In theory, it is certainly preferable for Iraq to try its own offenders. But after three-and-a-half decades of Ba`th Party rule, the Iraqi judicial system has neither a tradition of respect for due process nor the capacity to organize and try a complex case of genocide or crimes against humanity. Were such prosecutions to proceed in Iraqi courts, there is much reason to believe that they would be show trials.

The obvious solution to this problem is to establish an international criminal tribunal for Iraq—either a fully international one such as those established for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, or an internationally led tribunal with local participation such as the special court created for Sierra Leone. Although the Bush administration has supported these pre-existing tribunals, it adamantly opposes an international tribunal for Iraq. The reason appears to lie in the ICC. The ICC itself would be largely irrelevant for this task since its jurisdiction would begin at the earliest in July 2002, when the treaty establishing it took effect. Most crimes of the Saddam Hussein government were committed before that. But the administration so detests the ICC that it opposes the creation of any international tribunal for Iraq, apparently out of fear that such a new tribunal would lend credibility to the entire project of international justice and thus indirectly bolster the ICC. An overriding concern with the best interests of the Iraqi people would have made it less likely that this ideological position prevailed.

An overriding concern with the best interests of the Iraqi people was never a factor in the planning, such as it *cough* was, execution or aftermath of this war.
posted by y2karl at 9:39 AM on May 20, 2004

Well laid plans dept continued:

Josh Marshall

It's an obvious question really, but worth asking, worth considering: How long do we think the administration, the CPA, the UN and whoever else now has a finger in the pie will wait to announce what government, even what sort of government we'll be handing 'sovereignty' over to at the end of June?

What's the absolute latest you can imagine? A month? A week? Could it be like one of Bill Clinton's state of the union addresses where they're fiddling with the small print until a couple hours before showtime?

I'd be surprised if they came up with a plan by the end of this month and I cannot imagine they'd leave it until less than a week before June 30th.

But just step back and look at how crazy this is: we've run Iraq for more than a year, spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the whole effort, lost many of our own sons and daughters as well as many Iraqis. And here you have what is arguably the big issue: who you hand the place off to and how you hand it off to them. And it's left to the last minute, with the powers that be having to ditch almost everything that has come up until this point and start from scratch.

The market in examples for how badly the Bush team has bungled this situation is admittedly glutted. But even if they're now going for a dime a dozen this is really one to marvel at.

posted by y2karl at 9:54 AM on May 20, 2004

An overriding concern with the best interests of the Iraqi people was never a factor in the planning, such as it *cough* was, execution or aftermath of this war.

Compared to what?
posted by David Dark at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2004

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