No planning = unjust war

Like the pope, I opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because, among other reasons, I found it impossible to defend according to the jus ad bellum criteria of the just war tradition.

Specifically, I was far from convinced that we had reached the necessity of last resort; I believe that “preventive” or “pre-emptive” wars require a far greater burden of proof than the advocates of this war were willing to meet; I was troubled by the Bush administration’s sneering disregard for the criterion of right authority; and — foremost — I doubted that this war had a reasonable chance of success.

That last criterion is always a matter of judgment, of prudence, and it involves more than a simple comparison of military capabilities. It also involves the calculation that the war in question won’t end up making things worse. It seemed likely to me that this war would end up making things worse.

(What could be worse than Saddam Hussein? How about civil war and chaos in Iraq; the creation of a failed state that shelters and breeds terrorists; the diversion of American forces, funds and attention from the pursuit of al-Qaida; the erosion of multilateral institutions and cooperation; and the loss of American prestige, respect and persuasion as a proponent of democracy and human rights. The last three have already occurred. The first two may still be preventable, but it’s a longshot.)

I based this calculation partly on the nature of the undertaking itself — an audacious experiment in nation-building conducted almost entirely by soldiers and smart bombs. America’s military is the most effective in the world, but this was not primarily a military task. We seemed to be using one tool for many different jobs, including some for which that tool was not designed. You can pound a screw in with a hammer if you hit it hard enough, but the results will be less than satisfactory.

But another part of this calculation had to do with my lack of confidence in the people in charge. The quote in the previous post from Heart of Darkness seemed to me an accurate description of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al. — “… there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world.”

Andrew Sullivan — who very casually dismissed his church’s objection to the war — describes his response to this particular objection:

The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong.

I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn’t sense how they would grotesquely under-man the postwar occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events spun out of control. …

To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen — after a year of other, compounded errors — is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account. Shock has now led — and should lead — to anger. And those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it.

My point here is not to defend my earlier calculation that the Bush administration could not be trusted to wage this effort successfully. I only want to point out — as Sullivan has come to realize — that this was not merely “facile Bush bashing,” but part of a principled objection to the war.

  • Chris Lowe

    Moreover you should have included Afghanistan to make this stronger. When Bush and co. wanted to go to war in Iraq, we could already see the mess of Afghanistan. We could already see that they had not given their all to make Afghanistan a stable state.
    We had a strong arguement against the war there, with strong proof. But those who supported the war seemed to think that Iraq would be treated better than Afghanistan.

  • Darryl Pearce

    …and inspections, while costing perhaps $1.2 billion, were still far cheaper in treasure… and certainly in lives.
    Saw an interesting set of bumperstickers the other day:
    GOD BLESS AMERICA
    GOD DAMN WAR

  • oh

    I guess it’s back to the trustworthy path of bombing pharmaceutical plants. Surely, if Bush is directly responsible for the disgrace of these recent photos, Clinton’s bombing of a pharmaceutical factory, and the resulting “erosion of multilateral institutions and cooperation; and the loss of American prestige, respect and persuasion as a proponent of democracy and human rights” makes him directly responsible for 9/11.
    Oh, and surely Gandhi is responsible for the 250,000 people killed during the partition of India he unleashed. Iraq still looks remarkably good by Gandhian standards.
    Still Fred you raise good questions. I think our biggest disagreement is captured in the phrase, “audacious experiment in nation-building.” Iraq certainly is that. But I believe the US had failed for nearly a decade to be audacious enough. What should have occured, when the Soviet Union collapsed, is a massive realignment of American power on behalf of the promotion of democracy. We deserve an al-Qaida for still being on friendly terms with numerous dictators throughout the world. I’m waiting for the Chinese al-Qaida to emerge.
    If Bush Sr. had been acting upon the recognition that, while cozy relationships with totalitarian governments might have been justifiable during the Cold War, the time had come to put real American muscle behind securing civil rights for everyone, everywhere, then al-Qaida might never have had the opportunity to gather momentum. The status quo of the post-Cold War was ugly and unacceptable. But Bush Sr. lacked “the vision thing” and Clinton was having too much fun to notice the gathering fury of those governed by the terror of US backed governments. 9/11 made us take notice.
    “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.” Like being the first President to endorse a Palestinian state this speech by Bush Jr. was not too audacious – it was over a decade too late.

  • Fred

    Josh –
    Laudable goals x zero planning = zero.
    Actually, I fear, much less than zero. Anyway, you’re still taking Bush’s commitment to the spread of democracy far more seriously than anyone in the Bush administration is. At some point that ought to start bothering you.
    But you do win the Golden Clenis for a nifty irrelevant insertion of the former First Member into this conversation. Your statuette is in the mail.

  • oh

    You’re right. I’m genuinely worried that we’re about to repeat the mistakes of 1991 and betray the Iraqis again. I think it’s too soon to judge, and certainly the majority of Iraqis are still grateful for our intervention, but it appears we may let them slide back into rule by terror once again. Every betrayal, and every hasty withdrawal, will rightly be recognized as a victory for rule by terror and strengthen the influence of those who, even now, effectively seek to use terror to blackmail and rule the world.
    It’s an exceedingly difficult role that the US has been thrust into. We need to fight the influence of terror without ourselves becoming terrorists. It requires discipline and character. Judging from the photos coming from Iraq we are bound to lose. We’ll accept the compromise of letting terrorists run their governments, exploit their own people, and pay them their blackmail. After all we’ve already done it once in North Korea. There’s a model to build on.

  • hesprynne

    Some of us might submit that just maybe, “cozy relationships with totalitarian governments”–say, like provision of money to Saddam back in the days of the Great Communicator–*during* the Cold War played their part in creating the current situation also.

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