Friday, February 28, 2003

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Just war and Iraq

I said below that I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer on why a quick war with Iraq would not be more just than the status quo of immiserating sanctions.

Now Glenn Reynolds links to a Michael Walzer essay on a war with Iraq that provides one response. The key grafs:

Defending the embargo, the American overflights, and the UN inspections: this is the right way to oppose, and to avoid, a war. But it invites the counter-argument that a short war, which made it possible to end the embargo, and the weekly bombings, and the inspection regime, would be morally and politically preferable to this "avoidance." A short war, a new regime, a demilitarized Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi ports: wouldn't that be better than a permanent system of coercion and control? Well, maybe. But who can guarantee that the war would be short and that the consequences in the region and elsewhere will be limited?

That's a fair point, but it's worth asking whether the consequences of the "permanent system of coercion and control" -- which includes the embargo, no-fly zones, and the stationing of large numbers of troops on Saudi soil -- are more limited. One can argue that containment has substantially contributed to instability in Saudi Arabia and the growth of Al Qaeda.

That said, Walzer's point about the uncertainties of conflict are worth contemplating. So is the rest of his essay. He is intellectually honest enough to admit the following:

Today, the UN inspection regime is in place in Iraq only because of what many American liberals and leftists, and many Europeans too, called a reckless US threat to go to war. Without that threat, however, UN negotiators would still be dithering with Iraqi negotiators, working on, but never finally agreeing on, the details of an inspection system; the inspectors would not even have packed their bags (and most of the leaders of Europe would be pretending that this was a good thing). Some of us are embarrassed to realize that the threat we opposed is the chief reason for the existence of a strong inspection system, and the existence of a strong inspection system is today the best argument against going to war.

It would have been much better if the US threat had not been necessary —if the threat had come, say, from France and Russia, Iraq's chief trading partners, whose unwillingness to confront Saddam and give some muscle to the UN project was an important cause of the collapse of inspections in the 1990s. This is what internationalism requires: that other states, besides the US, take responsibility for the global rule of law and that they be prepared to act, politically and militarily, with that end in view.

posted by Dan on 02.28.03 at 02:49 PM