Michael J. Totten has an absolutely brilliant piece on the immorality of the anti-war position where he intellectually skewer’s The Nation’s Paul Savoy. His arguments are quite clear and show exactly why taking the anti-war position is not taking the moral high ground. A sample:
He fails, at this point in the piece anyway, to take into account that Saddam Hussein killed more Iraqis by orders of magnitude than the U.S. has or ever will. I know he knows this. He comes right out and acknowledges as much later on in the same article. He apparently thinks – he must think on some level – that it’s morally better if a lot of people die by someone else’s hand than if a few die by ours. This is nothing if not an abrogation of responsibility and a total lack of regard for the well-being of the people in question. The same rationale would tell us to let Slobodan Milosovic put the Muslim population of Europe to the sword. The same rationale excuses our (and everyone else’s) refusal to stop the past genocide in Rwanda and the current one in Sudan. It’s a great and terrible shrug. The post-Holocaust notion of “Never Again” doesn’t even enter in the equation. Did anyone who said “never again” mean a tyrant has to be exactly as bad as Hitler to be worth stopping? No. Even if that’s what was meant, Mr. Savoy still never takes that into account. In his view, genocide can only be resisted by the victims. Never by a well-armed third party.
It’s true that many people are dead in Iraq because of what we did. It’s equally true that a larger number are alive because of what we did. The well-being of Iraqis isn’t even remotely what’s at issue to Mr. Savoy. He only cares that we are morally pure. Tyranny, barbarism, and genocide are fine with him in a lesser-evil sort of way as long as we can sit safe and sound on our side of the ocean and not have to dirty ourselves by messing with it.
Not only is this morally reprehensible, it isn’t even logical. We do not sit safe and sound on this side of the ocean as the terrorism on September 11, preceded by Al Qaeda’s genocidal death warrant, has already shown. The political culture of the Middle East absolutely is our business. Middle Eastern political science topples buildings and kills thousands in our own cities.
Paul Savoy is a September 10th person. He doesn’t understand that we’re at war whether we’re happy about it or not.
At the end of the day, the anti-war position would have left Saddam Hussein in power. That isn’t an idea that is even remotely debatable. There is some question as to how long his regime could have lasted, but without any major domestic opposition the most likely answer is decades – and then Iraq would be ruled by the sadism of Uday and Qusay.
In order to justify the anti-war position, one has to prove that either Saddam Hussein wasn’t a tyrant, which is prima facie unsupportable, or that the greater interest of the world wasn’t served by removing him. The second is an argument that can be made on reasonable grounds, but it still doesn’t hold water.
The most common argument from the anti-war crowd in response to the humanitarian argument is that "there are many other dictators in the world, so why focus on only Saddam?" This argument seems reasonable on a prima facie basis, but it doesn’t withstand any rhetorical scrutiny. We cannot realistically overthrow every dictatorship on the planet. It simply isn’t possible. So, if we accept the argument that no dictator can be overthrown by the US without dealing with all dictators, then no dictator can ever be overthrown. By that logic, attacking Hitler was wrong, because leaving Stalin in power would invalidate everything done to overthrow Hitler.
Obviously this isn’t an ethically acceptable position to take. The logic behind this statement is fallacious and the moral repercussions of a philosophy of absolute consistency on human rights would forever tie the hands of any state that wished to overthrow a dictatorial regime. It’s a false dichotomy – saying that we can either expel no dictator or expel them all, while conveniently ignoring the fact that removing one tyrannical regime creates a net benefit to the world.
The next argument is that the United Nations is the only arbiter of a just war. Again, this idea has no basis in ethics or law. Ethically the United Nations is very likely to have been involved in illegally funding Saddam Hussein’s war machine through the widespread corruption of the UN’s Oil-for-Food program. It is not ethically acceptable for any group that has ties to the Hussein regime and has a strong economic interest in the continuation of that regime to be allowed to decide the future of the Iraqi people. Yet in order to argue that the UN should have been allowed to decide the fate of the Iraqi people one must make exactly that argument.
Furthermore, by that very same logic, Bill Clinton’s war in Kosovo against Slobodon Milosevic was immoral and illegal, and Clinton should have been impeached for those actions. There was no UN resolution authorizing force against Milosevic. Milosevic posed absolutely no threat to the US or its interests. Attacking Milosevic was not in any way shape or form an act of self-defense.
Yet George Soros didn’t spend $15 million on getting rid of Clinton, and MoveOn.org doesn’t compare Clinton’s foreign policy to Hitler’s war crimes. However, if one wishes to remain even remotely consistent and make the argument that Bush’s war in Iraq is immoral, they must apply the same criteria to Clinton. If Bush is a war criminal, then Clinton must be too. I wouldn’t be holding my breath for that.
The next argument is that the Abu Ghraib prison scandal means that the US doesn’t have any real interest in Iraqi democracy. This is a classic example of the fallacy of composition. One dozen soldiers doing something horrible does not mean that the other 135,000 are bad. The events of Abu Ghraib prison under the US involved inappropriate and disgusting abuse of prisoners. The abuses of Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam Hussein involved the wholesale slaughter and mutilation of thousands of people. One cannot dismiss the latter while hyping the former and argue that they’re taking the moral high ground. The abuses at Abu Ghraib under the US, while horrible, do not morally compare to the abuses under Saddam. Again, if one were to apply this principle as a constant, then those involved in fraternity hazings should be treated equally with murderers. Both are inappropriate practices, but the severity is manifestly different. Yet the left commonly attributes the actions of the few to the whole without any consideration of the ramifications of the argument.
By comparison, thousands of US troops are rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure, helping the Iraqis get food and medicine, and assisting in other forms of humanitarian aid. Arguing that the conduct of the guards at Abu Ghraib invalidates all of these efforts is not logically or ethically sustainable.
These are but a few of the handful of anti-war arguments that are frequently abused at the hands of the anti-war left. They are all exceptionally poor arguments and are treated as axioms rather than as assertions subject to debate. Attempts to do so are usually met with the typical ad hominem accusations of being a "fascist neocon" or the like. The efforts by the anti-war left to seek the moral high ground simply don’t match the reality of the situation. As I’ve written before, we can say with absolute certainty that the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein. By all objective measures, while Iraq remains unsettled, the rate of innocents being killed was orders of magnitude higher than they were under Saddam Hussein. This war has saved countless lives. It has not increased terrorism, as the number of terrorist acts has fallen in the last year. Every single poll of the Iraqi people find overwhelming support for the removal of Saddam. The humanitarian justification of the war should be a prima facie argument on the side of the war. Arguing that Saddam Hussein is better than George W. Bush is not only wrong, it’s morally and ethically repugnant, and it demeans the very real suffering of the Iraqis maimed and killed under Saddam Hussein’s bloodthirsty and tyrannical rule.
Yet none of these facts seems to have made sunk in among the members of the anti-war left. The same arguments are repeatedly trotted out ad infinitum, regardless of the facts at hand. One cannot reasonably argue that living under the bootheel of Saddam Hussein is an acceptable way to live. Given that premise, it can therefore be said that removing the Hussein regime is a good thing. Most sensible critics of the war have no trouble accepting these premises. However, the logical conclusion of that given that we accept freedom as a value worth fighting for and defending, is that fighting for and defending the freedom of the Iraqi people must therefore be weighed into consideration. Was this goal worth the loss of life in Iraq, both coalition and Iraqi?
The results of the war are that 25 million people have a chance to be free. Far many lives have been lost in far less noble pursuits. One can only argue that Iraq is not ready for democracy via the racist implication that the Iraqi people are not developed enough to support democracy – ignoring that democracy must start somewhere, and even if Iraq doesn’t become a fully-democratic state overnight anything would be better than the status quo. Our troops didn’t die for Bush, or for oil, or for any of the other distractions that are thrown in the way of discussing the real reasoning behind the war. Those who were killed died to make our country safer from terrorism by changing the Middle East from a place where terrorism, autocracy, and poverty are the rule to a place where individual rights, democracy, and tolerance have a chance to flourish. We owe it to them to ensure that such a great sacrifice was not made in vain.