As Steven Den Beste, Arthur Silber, and others have pointed out, war with Iraq is no longer an abstract question. We’ve already threatened Saddam with force, many times and with increasing shrillness, unless he disarms. He’s failed to do so, as everyone acknowledges, even Inspector Magoo and the French. Arthur writes:

But here is the problem that confronts us now: after all the posturing, preparations, and speech-making, especially over the past year, if we were to do nothing now, we might as well hand out engraved invitations to terrorists to come and attack us again. Paper tiger wouldn’t even begin to describe the problem. We might as well be defenseless — because, in effect, we would have rendered ourselves defenseless.

One could describe this policy as unilateral moral disarmament.

Opponents of the war continue to argue in a vacuum, as though we have not promised to disarm Saddam by any means necessary. It’s certainly possible to argue that we shouldn’t have made any such promise. What I’d like to see is an argument that, having promised to disarm him, we should then proceed not to do so. Just asking, is all.

Aaron Haspel | Posted February 16, 2003 @ 12:45 PM | Politics

9 Responses to “Unilateral Moral Disarmament”

  1. 1 1. Aaron's father

    Nations can sometime fail to carry out their threats without suffering any diminution of credibility. Israel, which depends for its survival on its reputation for always retaliating for attacks, nevertheless does not always retaliate for attacks, e.g., the Iraqi scud attacks in 1991. Despite this, Israel enjoys such safety as a firm reputation for retaliation can bring.

    If, by some miracle, we do not invade Iraq, our adversaries will, correctly, conclude that we were dissuaded by international pressure in general, and, in particular, lack of support on the Security Council. Our adversaries will also correctly conclude that next time we will not make the mistake of seeking international or United Nations support before launching a war. Since we hardly need worry about losing our well-deserved reputation for strength (or, if you dont like Bushs policy, for ferocity) the arguments for not invading Iraq remain what they have always been:

    The small gain of eliminating remaining chemical and biological weapons (nobody any longer even pretends that Saddam could develop nuclear weapons) does not justify the large costs in men, money and international support.

    If we invade, we will be responsible for rebuilding a large country and policing a three-way feud for years, if not decades.

    An invasion of Iraq will divert men, money and, most importantly, attention, from our most pressing enemies, North Korea, Iran and Islamic terrorism.


  2. 2 2. Aaron Haspel

    Your arguments against the war are much better than your arguments against my point. Since Israel didn’t threaten to retaliate against the 1991 SCUD attack (because the U.S. assured them that it was going to do the job for them) the circumstances are far from analogous.

    Our foreign policy has been much bark and very little bite for fifty years. This will be an especially egregious case because we are dealing with a culture well-acquainted with, practically based on, lying and bluff. They will read our failure for what it is, and it won’t be costless.


  3. 3 3. Itea

    Aaron, your argument seems so silly to me that I think there’s a good chance I’m misreading it.

    Of course most domestic opponents of the war are disregarding the conditional threat of the Bush administration. They don’t agree with the threat, and they don’t feel bound to follow through on it.

    Here is a parallel:

    Let is imagine that you disagree with eradicating civil liberties for the sake of security against terrorism. Then, the current administration comes out with a new Patriot Bill that removes those civil liberties, and proclaims that if the bill is not passed and the US is subsequently the victim of another large terrorist assault, martial law will need to be declared across the country with incumbent curfews and random identification checks. The bill is defeated, and a few months later NY is bombed with loss of hundreds or thousands of lives.

    Would it now be a sign of "unilateral moral disarmament" to protest martial law? Or more accurately, would the administration be immoral to change its stance?

    Yes, there is a lot of value in following through on one’s commitments. There is also a lot of value in recognizing and admitting that one has made a mistake. You think that the present administration’s current stance is correct – I, and many other people, strongly disagree.

    What’s ironic is that while the Bush administration constantly criticizes the Iraqi government (and other politically unpopular regimes) for ignoring the will of the majority of its citizens, it seems likely to ignore the will of the majority of US citizens if necessary in regards to this issue.

    And no, I am not in any way suggesting that the Bush administration is as bad a regime as Saddam Hussein’s.

    Can you do me a favor and state why you agree with military action against Iraq? Without linking to someone else’s argument, but instead in your own words?

    – Itea


  4. 4 4. Aaron Haspel

    Itea: You really don’t see the difference between threatening an enemy nation with force and not following through and reversing a policy when your own citizens complain? Really?

    Since you’ve accused me of employing political rhetoric in the past, let’s have a look at the rest of this. Saddam is not criticized for "ignoring the will of the majority of [Iraqi] citizens" but for rather more serious matters, like torturing Iraqi citizens and murdering Iraqi citizens and attacking Iraqi citizens with poison gas. In any case, whether the majority supports a war with Iraq depends on how you phrase the question. Also, don’t you find your analogy a trifle tendentious? Eradicating civil liberties? Martial law?

    Why do I support the war? Hussein has dangerous weapons now; he will have more dangerous weapons later. (He would have nuclear weapons if Israel hadn’t bombed his facility in 1981; I’m going to take a wild guess that you didn’t support that action either.) He refuses to disarm, and if we don’t get rid of him no one will. I have no confidence that he won’t use his weapons against us, or give them to someone who will. Do you?


  5. 5 5. Itea

    Point by point here…

    >Itea: You really don’t see the difference between threatening an >enemy nation with force and not following through and reversing a >policy when your own citizens complain? Really?

    If the topic is the ideology of not following through on a threat, then no. As far as the practical scope of the actions, they are different.

    Abstractly, I’d prefer that the US holds true to its stated principles. But the US backs down all the time; for example, they threaten retributional trade tariffs every so often, and most of the time there’s a compromised settlement.

    What if the US threatened to use nuclear weapons? What if they threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb over Baghdad if disarmament was not "proved"? Is there any extent to which you’d disagree?

    Besides which, if the topic of discussion is abiding by one’s word, then it is really just a matter of granularity, since in the more distant past we have agreed to abide by UN decisions.

    >Since you’ve accused me of employing political rhetoric in the past, >let’s have a look at the rest of this. Saddam is not criticized for >"ignoring the will of the majority of [Iraqi] citizens" but for rather more >serious matters…

    Obviously violating the will of the Iraqi people is not the _only_ criticism of Saddam by the US government. It is, however, the relevant one for this part of my argument, which is that the administration would be hypocritical to engage in a war counter to the will of the American people when it has repeatedy stated that its conflict is not with the Iraqi people, but Saddam and his government, who don’t represent the Iraqi people.

    >…like torturing Iraqi citizens and murdering Iraqi citizens and >attacking Iraqi citizens with poison gas.

    I believe Saddam has done all of these things, and I believe he is a terrible, terrible person. I’d really like to see him removed from power.

    I would support a conscientious global military that defended basic human rights everywhere. The US is clearly not that global conscience, as it hasn’t bothered to involve itself in numerous comparable situations over the last couple decades; notably in Africa where massive genocide has occurred.

    I do not think the suggested military initiative is likely to improve US security, and I doubt it will improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people.

    It’s a complicated and depressing situation. I do not have a perfect answer. What I am sure of is that if there is a war, many people will die.

    >In any case, whether the majority supports a war with Iraq depends on >how you phrase the question.

    I am not stating that a majority of the US is against a war. I don’t know the answer to that. What I am stating is that the Bush administration seems willing to ignore whatever the actual answer to that question is, be it 15% or 85%.

    >Also, don’t you find your analogy a trifle tendentious? Eradicating civil >liberties? Martial law?

    A trifle. But from my viewpoint, the current administration is as out of line with what it ought to be doing as you might find martial law to be out of line with your utopia. Also, if the rumored copy of the updated Patriot Bill has been reported accurately, there are aspects that are not far from martial law. Certainly it abdicates due process.

    >Why do I support the war? Hussein has dangerous weapons now; he will >have more dangerous weapons later. (He would have nuclear weapons if >Israel hadn’t bombed his facility in 1981; I’m going to take a wild >guess that you didn’t support that action either.) He refuses to disarm, >and if we don’t get rid of him no one will. I have no confidence that he >won’t use his weapons against us, or give them to someone who will. Do >you?

    That’s a valid opinion. I don’t have confidence that he wouldn’t use weapons against us, and that’s a serious worry. But I don’t think that cycically going after any nation we see as a threat is an improvement to security – I think it’s the opposite.

    [Here is some more of what I see is hypocrisy – the people who want to wage war will often call Hussein a "madman", or "insane", yet they will justify military action by saying that it sends the message that the US stands strong against terrorism. But if the people we worry about are madmen, or insane, why do we expect them to concur with this logic?]

    In 1981 I was ten years old, and didn’t pay much attention to global politics. I do think that playing "what if" with the past in that manner is highly suspect.

    There are many weapons out there in the world. It is impossible to police every other country in such a manner as to ensure 100% security to US cities. It’s my opinion that discontentment breeds desperation, and that rather than shooting the malcontents it is more efficient to try to remove the cause. The weapons aren’t making certain Muslim nations despise America – it’s the other way around.

    Here’s another question for you – suppose control of the Saudi ruling family falls into more radicalized hands, and they embark on an accelerated weapons-building program. Would you be in favor of a preemptive strike? Iraq was our ally in the not-so-distant past.

    – Itea


  6. 6 6. Itea

    Coincidentally, I came across this piece by Charley Reese today (it was linked from Nathan Newman). Reese and I are usually on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but he very clearly agreed with my earlier point:

    ***
    On the other hand, the president, having foolishly said he would go to war with or without the United Nations, now stands to lose credibility if he doesn’t go to war. We went through this crap in Vietnam; 58,000 Americans died to save face for politicians in Washington who in the end stabbed them in the back. George Bush’s credibility isn’t worth a single American or Iraqi life. He can say simply, "I’ve changed my mind." That’s a hell of a lot better alternative than war.

    In the meantime, he has sent exactly the opposite message from what he wanted to. He has said to the world, you’d better arm yourself like North Korea or we’ll attack you. Not a good message.
    ***

    – Itea


  7. 7 7. Aaron Haspel

    Itea, we will go nowhere in this discussion because our premises are radically different.

    I’m an ethical egoist. Therefore I believe that the only purpose of foreign policy is to defend the interests of the United States, and that it is evil to extort, via taxes, money from Americans to solve every problem in the world. The welfare of the Iraqis, despite the fact that losing a war with us would improve it considerably, carries no weight with me whatsoever.

    There are many people who, for many reasons, implacably hate the United States, the West and all the values of civilization. The "root cause" of what people believe is, unsurprisingly, what people believe. This is why pie-in-the-sky proposals like "a conscientious global military that defended basic human rights everywhere" are absurd. You do not enlist nations that have no interest in rights — by which I mean life, liberty, and property, while you probably mean something else, God knows what — to defend rights. This is setting the fox to guard the chickens. It is also why empty threats to our sworn enemies and empty threats to voters, or trading partners, are entirely different matters.

    I’m afraid we need to discuss the premises before we can discuss the war.


  8. 8 8. Itea

    Aaron wrote:

    Itea, we will go nowhere in this discussion because our premises are radically different.

    I’m an ethical egoist. Therefore I believe that the only purpose of foreign policy is to defend the interests of the United States, and that it is evil to extort, via taxes, money from Americans to solve every problem in the world. The welfare of the Iraqis, despite the fact that losing a war with us would improve it considerably, carries no weight with me whatsoever.

    ***
    Then why did you bring it up before, and again here ("despite the fact that losing a war with us would improve it considerably")?

    If you don’t care about the welfare of an Iraqi, then why did you write an earlier piece decrying the UN inspectors who would not let an Iraqi citizen seek asylum in their vehicle, and call them "evil"?
    ***

    There are many people who, for many reasons, implacably hate the United States, the West and all the values of civilization. The "root cause" of what people believe is, unsurprisingly, what people believe. This is why pie-in-the-sky

    ***
    This is rhetoric. I don’t call Bush "war-mongering", or "poor-hating", etc. "Pie-in-the-sky" is an obvious passive-aggressive putdown. Just call it "unrealistic".

    And, if "many" is meant to mean something like "a significant portion of the world’s population" – well, you’re wrong. Travel more.
    ***

    proposals like "a conscientious global military that defended basic human rights everywhere" are absurd.

    ***
    I assume you realize that I did not suggest that it was a near-term goal, and in fact stated that it did not exist. What I said was that were it to exist, I see reasons to support it.
    ***

    You do not enlist nations that have no interest in rights — by which I mean life, liberty, and property, while you probably mean something else, God knows what — to defend rights. This is setting the fox to guard the chickens. It is also why empty threats to our sworn enemies and empty threats to voters, or trading partners, are entirely different matters.

    ***
    Is Iraq a sworn enemy or a trading partner?
    ***

    I’m afraid we need to discuss the premises before we can discuss the war.

    ***
    It’s OK, I’ll stop commenting on what you write. You seem to prefer the "attaboys". The term ethical egoist sounds nice, but I don’t really see any justification for it. If you’re going to equate taxes with extortion, you might as well just acknowledge that you don’t believe in government, which is fine, but undermines any arguments you have about what the US government should or shouldn’t do.

    I think you are incredibly hypocritical to try to discuss morality and what is right, because you only have a viewpoint when you feel that perhaps your "rights" are being transgressed. I haven’t seen any posts from you that discuss whether inheritance is moral, or whether it’s "fair" that some people are born extremely disadvantaged compared to others. You take standards that are advantageous to Aaron Haspel as obvious fait accompli.

    I would categorize you as selfish. And if someone down the street takes a gun and blows the head off of someone you love to steal a few bucks out of their wallet, you’ve got nothing to bitch about – it’s your dog-eat-dog world out there.

    I’m sure you think you know a lot of people just like me, all deluded.

    No need to respond for my sake, feel free to answer for anyone else who might have read this far. I’m deleting your site from my bookmarks. Maybe in a few years, if you have kids or something, you’ll have a change of heart – feel free to look me up then.

    – Itea


  9. 9 9. Aaron Haspel

    Temper temper. Itea suddenly feels entitled to call me "hypocritical" (because my moral precepts differ from hers) and "selfish" (and so I am, though not in the sense she intends), and to advise me that I could improve myself by having children. And all because I described her proposal of "a conscientious global military" as "pie-in-the-sky" when she would have preferred "unrealistic," and called some of her assumptions about foreign despots and swine who strap on Semtex into question. She will note, however, that I did not call her names or speculate about her innter life.


Add a Comment

Basic HTML acceptable. Two-link limit per comment.