Thursday, February 27, 2003

The American government has made it clear that the anti-war protest marchers are completely irrelevant, and the push by the Bush junta towards an attack on Iraq will continue. There is a distinct logic to the American position: they want to take over Iraq, they think they can take over Iraq, so they will take over Iraq. Bush acts as any psychopath would act, and morality doesn't enter into the discussion. On the other hand, Tony Blair is pompously and self-righteously basing his support for the attack on Iraq on morality. Morality is the last refuge of the scoundrel in this case, as the earlier arguments that Saddam isn't cooperating with the inspectors and that he is associated with al-Qaeda have fallen apart. People in Britain have noticed that Blair somehow feels that his morality is superior to the moral feelings of the millions of anti-war protest marchers. The problem with Blair's attempt to place his warmongering on a moral basis is that it has become completely incoherent. He is arguing that Saddam must be removed for moral reasons because he is a tyrant to his own people, but at the same time he is admitting that if Saddam can be disarmed without war, there need not be a war. But isn't Saddam just as much of a tyrant to his own people if he is disarmed? Blair is using his argument based on morality to counter the moral arguments against war put forth by the anti-war marchers, but displays the essential immorality of his position when he admits that Saddam could be allowed to stay if he is disarmed. It is completely obvious that all these false reasons are being used to cloak the real reasons for the United States and Britain to want to attack Iraq. I want to consider the 'moral argument' in more detail:

  1. The NATO bombing attacks on Serbia unfortunately put an end to the idea that sovereign countries were not to be attacked unless they represented a real danger to another country. The war philosophers managed to convince themselves that it would be a swell thing to use military force to instal a version of American democracy wherever they could get one to fit. The sad fact is that even the smartest bombs have never improved anyone's life. This sort of 'humanitarian' war has never worked before (look at the mess that Serbia is in) and it should be clear that war is simply too blunt a weapon to improve the lot of its victims.

  2. We have to see the 'moral argument' in the context of the American triumphalism that was still believable in the 1990's. American propagandists had pronounced that it was the end of history, that the Hegelian mind had worked out all its problems with a synthesis that turned out to be exactly the government and life of Americans living in the 1990's [insert your own ironic comment here]. No further progress to human life or politics was felt to be possible. For our current standpoint this belief seems profoundly misguided and naive, but it was the common currency of think-tanks and neo-cons at the time (I wonder if Francis Fukuyama walks around with a brown paper bag over his head now?). It was thus a short step to forced evangelical conversion of those benighted people who suffered under a regime that wasn't sufficiently like the one enjoyed by Americans. In these days of unelected leaders and the fascist security state and the probable destruction of the U. S. economy through a mixture of incompetence and greed, it is difficult to see how anyone would want to be blessed with the American system. The idea that your own beliefs and mores are the best of all possible beliefs and mores, and that you have the right to force them on others, is the most profound kind of colonialism, and lies deeply beneath the assumptions of the 'moral argument'.

  3. Of course, dropping tons of bombs on urban areas from a great height tends to cause a few problems on the ground. The deaths and injuries are thought to be unfortunate, but a necessary sacrifice for the dubious benefits of Americanization. It is not moral to treat the lives of human beings as a means to achieve benefits for others (that is the main precept of Kantian morality). How would we feel about killing healthy people so that we can harvest their organs to help other people? How do we feel about killing innocent Iraqis so that other Iraqis might have a chance at a better life? The American technique of bombing is called 'shock and awe'. How does Tony Blair find morality in dropping hundreds of bombs a day on an urban area? Even if you somehow accepted the idea that killing thousands or tens of thousands or even more people was somehow 'just' if it could lead to a better life for others, the onus is on the warmongers to prove that the same goal could not be accomplished by another means, a goal they have not even attempted to meet.

  4. A confidential UN document predicts that 30 percent of children under 5 in Iraq, or 1.26 million, "would be at risk of death from malnutrition" in the event of this war. UN relief agencies have actually started a program to 'beef up' Iraqi babies in order to give them a better chance to survive the war. What kind of a monster must Tony Blair be to think he can toy with lives like this?

  5. There is a rather obvious hypocrisy in the 'moral argument', in that it tends to be selectively applied. Noam Chomsky has made a career about pointing out the inconsistencies in American foreign policy, where the most vile of dictators (including, ironically, Saddam in the 1980's) are supported if there is an American geopolitical reason to keep the dictator in power. When there is a perceived need to remove him, suddenly the American government and press are filled with stories that the dictator is a terrible abuser of human rights. Saddam was doing the same things for years and years with nary a peep out of Tony Blair or any of the other warmongers. The bad faith has happened so often that it is not possible to accept the positions of the American government as anything more than propaganda. Many have noted that the worst human rights abuser in the area is none other than U. S. ally Israel. The Israelis are killing 30 to 40 Palestinians a week now by making incursions on land thay have no right to be on. The Israelis have nuclear weapons of mass destruction they have no right to have. Why not regime change there?

  6. There are numerous awful regimes in the world. Is Tony Blair ready to commit the British military to fight to fix all of them up to Tony Blair's moral standards? If not, why is Iraq so lucky?

  7. There is the famous joke about the man who kills his parents and then looks for leniency at his murder trial because he is an orphan. Tony Blair has made lots of arguments based on the suffering of the Iraqis, not mentioning that a great deal of this suffering is caused directly by the bombs dropped by American and British planes on the no-fly zones, and on the unreasonably stringent way the sanctions are being administered (see this outstanding article on how the Americans and British have repeatedly interpreted rules of the sanctions to prevent humanitarian relief to civilians and thus to cause unnecessary suffering on the Iraqi people). For Tony Blair to base his argument for war based on this suffering makes him exactly like the orphan.

  8. One of the main arguments used by the Americans was the terrible plight of the Kurds under Saddam. Indeed, the northern no-fly zone was supposedly established to protect the Kurds from the attacks from Saddam (actually, its real purpose seems to be to keep Iraqi oil production down to artificially keep the price of oil high) . It now appears, at the first instance of complaint from Turkey, that the Americans are prepared to completely abandon the Kurds. The best solution for the Kurds would be to have their own state. The most practical solution would be to have their own province within a loose Iraqi federal state. Thanks to American appeasement of the Kurds, they are likely to be left in some permanent state of war or Turkish occupation. The irony is that the Kurds are now closer to having a country than they have ever been (actually two countries, as the Kurds also fight amongst themselves). In fact, with world recognition, they could have a full-fledged country now (presumably such recognition isn't forthcoming because of Turkish opposition). In the case of the Kurds, the hypocrisy of the 'moral argument' is completely clear.

  9. Another aspect of the 'moral argument' is that the Anglo-American war will restore sovereignty to the people of Iraq. The government in exile was set up to take power once the troops had removed Saddam. Well, that was the stated plan. Now it appears that Iraq will be run by a permanent pasha, an American general. Iraqis won't even get the dubious benefits of American democracy (will they get an Electoral College, President selected by a corrupt Supreme Court, and crooked voting machines?).

  10. Iraq was cobbled together specifically to make it ungovernable except by a dictator who would take direction from the colonial power. As is the case in many other states in the area, the dictator was hand-picked (in this case, with CIA assistance) to be from a minority group so that he could only govern with the violent assistance of the colonial powers. It is not an accident that there are similar dictatorships of minority groups in the area. While much is now made of the evils of Saddam, he is not noticeably more violent against his own people than, say, the Saudis are against their own people. In fact, Saddam's main failing from an American point of view was that he was a secular socialist who distributed a much higher proportion of his country's wealth to the people than many other states in the region. This beneficence largely ended when he squandered Iraq's position in two wars, the first of which, against Iran, he waged with the active support of the Americans, and the second of which, against Kuwait, he started only after being tricked by the placid response of the American ambassador when he told her of his plans. The problems of Iraq and Libya were that they were a bad example for other countries in the area and represented a threat to U. S. oil interests, and thus both had to be repressed. The current sad state of Iraq is a direct result of these colonialist games, and the United States and Britain are largely to blame. Their attempts to 'fix' the problem of Saddam are just more colonialist games hidden under this 'moral argument'.

  11. The same problems of how the various Arab states were constructed means that there is going to be a huge civil war between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites after Saddam is removed. Can we count on the United States and Britain to stop the bloodshed that will be caused by this civil war? Of course not!

  12. What exactly happened between the 1980's, when the United States and Britain were happy to support Saddam and sell him the implements with which he attacked his neighbors, and now? If the 'moral argument' didn't apply then, how does it apply now? The 'moral argument' gets particularly overworked when we consider the connections of the Americans (including members of the current Bush Administration) and British using BCCI to illegally arm Saddam.

  13. Remember Afghanistan? Well, the Bush junta doesn't. The Americans had promised all kinds of money as part of their 'humanitarian' mission to save the Afghans from the evil Taliban. When they made up their budget they 'forgot' to include any money to rebuild Afghanistan, and the money had to be added by the U. S. Congress. Afghanistan has been left a disaster, at least as badly off as it was before. What do you think are the chances that Iraq will receive any assistance in reconstruction after the damage caused by the Anglo-American attacks? Afghanistan, needless to say, will be deeply forgotten once the U. S. has to run Iraq, and will therefore be another indirect victim of this war. How many times do the Americans have to lie before people notice that they always lie? The military operations of the United States in the last thirty years have always resulted in disasters for their victims. Why is this going to change now?

  14. We know that this dirty war is going to be justly seen by Muslims around the world as a crusade against Islam. It will thus be the inspiration for more terrorists and the direct cause of innumerable acts of terror causing much more suffering. This terror will lead to governments further restricting the freedom of their citizens (and will lead the Americans further down the path to the complete '1984' fascist security state). It may very well cause massive civil wars in various countries including Pakistan (it might even lead to a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, especially if it causes a massive increase in terrorist attacks against India), the Philippines, Indonesia and all the states in the Middle East. How can people like Tony Blair be blind to this massive risk of apocalyptic destruction and loss of freedom?

  15. Apart from everything else, this war is going to destroy much of the authority of the United Nations and international law. The United Nations was established to allow for an international mechanism to avoid war. Now, the Bush Administration is explicitly threatening that it will remove all authority from the United Nations if it does not rubber-stamp his war, a war that breaches all rules of international law. In other words, Bush is threatening the effective end of the United Nations unless it goes against all the principles for which it was established. He is simultaneously threatening to destroy the international understanding that comprises international law that is the result of hundreds of years of rational thought on war. How can anyone see this as moral?

The 'moral argument' is immoral. Tony Blair has the nerve to use it in support of a war which is completely illegal under international law (it would have been considered to be an unjust war 2000 years ago by St. Augustine). We know that there are many reasons for this war, and not one of them is moral. Tony Blair is obviously a moral cretin, so I don't expect much from him. Why do other people who care about the issue give support to this vile 'moral argument' by pretending to consider that it might have some validity?