Sunday, November 21, 2004

War on Iraq pt. 2

Allow me to entertain a seemingly similar, yet notably different, anti-war strategy. Rather than questioning our justification, let’s question something that I feel is more important, namely, our obligation. First off, note the trivial truth that justification does not imply obligation. I might be justified in being angry with Fred for kicking my shins, but clearly I am not obligated to be. I will grant something like Vallicella’s argument (clearly a cumulative-case argument is the way to go), thereby admitting that we are justified in going to war, but argue that our obligations (if any) were elsewhere. Nonetheless, I will also grant that we did have an obligation to go to war with Iraq, but I will argue that it was outweighed by a competing obligation that we ignored. An example of competing obligations: I am obligated to get to class on time, but I have a (stronger) competing obligation to not drive recklessly and run over fellow students in order to do so.

(An interesting question I will leave untouched is where our obligations now lie, given all that has already occurred. Here’s an article on that particular subject.)

So, presuming that our actions were justified and obligated, why should we think that our greater obligations were elsewhere? I will use the Golden Rule, which is common to most respectable ethical systems, as my primary justification. I was, as all of you probably were, born into a life of privilege. By privilege I don’t mean exceeding wealth, but simply safety and comfort—never having to worry too much about starving to death, contracting fatal illnesses from the little food or water consumed, dying a violent death as an innocent, etc. Nonetheless I can counterfactually imagine that, if I had been born into a life of poverty, I would want the privileged people to aid me.

The U.S. and ‘western’ European nations consist of about 900 million people. According to this site, there are about 842 million hungry people in the world. This is almost as much as there are in all western nations combined! This means that, given that you are alive now, there is about as much chance that you’re in one of the privileged western nations as there is that you’re hungry. Also, it should be noted that about twenty-four thousand of the hungry die every day, three out of four of which are children under five. (For those of you who are pro-lifers--whom I am not unsympathetic with--compare this to the estimated 3600 abortions occurring daily in the U.S. in 2002.)

According to this site, with the money that the U.S. (not including our allies) has spent on the war on Iraq thus far, we could have fully funded global anti-hunger efforts for 6 years. Imagine how many years that will be when our work in the Middle East is finally complete. If we could fully fund those efforts for about 13-15 years, then by the estimates of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization we could cut the number of hungry people in half. If you follow the above link to the article on the FAO website, you will see that halving hunger would also have immense benefits for both the national and world economy.

I believe that we should have helped these hungry people instead of engaging in the war on Iraq. I believe we are aiding fewer people by our efforts overseas than we would be aiding through the reduction of hunger. I also believe that reducing world hunger would have resulted in fewer American deaths than our efforts overseas have. Related to the last comment, I believe that this war will cause more violent deaths in general than aiding hunger. And finally, I believe that fewer unnatural deaths simpliciter would have occurred if we had chosen differently. Being someone who is both (a) glad that they are not hungry and (b) glad they have not died an unnatural death, I use the Golden Rule to believe we were obligated to reduce those two things.

If governments and nations have any moral obligations at all, then surely the U.S. had many sets of competing ones. We were obligated to help those being slighted by Saddam’s hand, and we were also obligated to help the hungry. Because our aiding the hungry would have enhanced more lives and harmed fewer, I argue that this was a stronger obligation.

So, even while admitting that the war was justified, and that we had an obligation to help those in Iraq, I claim that we had a competing obligation that was stronger and, therefore, we acted incorrectly.

Four concessions (with competing considerations):
(1) I’m not sure if the figures reporting the cost of war include how much money we make from the taxing of corporations who sell our nation weapons. That is, perhaps our government wouldn’t have been able to afford spending as much money on allaying world hunger as we have on the war, because the war immediately produces government income. Keep in mind, however, that aiding world hunger would also create some extra government income from the people who produce the food.
(2) Of course I can’t be sure that fewer people would have died violent deaths had the war not occurred, but we know that the number of violent deaths in Iraq has increased since our invasion, and certainly more American soldiers have died in the last year and half than the years prior.
(3) I'm sure some of you out there are thinking that we had to go to war because we gave Saddam an ultimatum to which he did not acquiesce. Perhaps not following through on our word would make us look like pansies in the eyes of the world. I ask you: Does it really seem like we have gained respect in the world's eyes through our actions? Did our similar actions in Vietnam gain us respect? Do you think we appear credible, or stubborn?
(4) Spending money on the war is contrary to spending money on hunger, but not contradictory to it. We could be doing both if we had taken even more money away from other government projects. Granting this, you can take my argument as saying that the hungry should have taken a higher priority than the war.


At 3:07 PM, November 26, 2004, Blogger cocodrylo said...


I think your argument is flawed. Granting that the war is justified gives too much to the pro-war side. If you grant that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and that we had good reasons to believe that he did, then you have made the case too severe for our considerations of other issues to trump it.

World hunger is itself a very problematic issue. Sure, the US could easily buy enough food to feed all that are hungry. But one problem is with things like Somalia, when we couldn't get the food to the appropriate distribution facilities. The food was being hijacked by guerillas. We sent in troops, but public opinion fell and we pulled out.

Another more important problem with world hunger in general is the problem of socialization. Sure, granted that we can get the food where it is needed, we still need to worry about future costs. Satisfying hunger may have negative side affects. The biggest one that comes to mind is allowing uneducated people to multiply in numbers. You can give people food, but that will give them energy to reproduce, making more mouths to feed. There need to be larger social changes before we can simply give money (or food) as a solution.

Moreover, the world population is exploding. We are almost at 7 billion people. I remember in the seventh grade when there were 5 billion. 2 Billion more in 13 years is a lot. This rate of growth cannot continue for more than a couple more decades. And the growth is occuring the most in third world countries where there are food problems, but there is also much more food than there was in the centuries before (which is evident by the population explosions in those areas).

I think that we might have obligations to areas that have been affected by American (and European) colonialism. Solving food problems is going to be very difficult: if we try to do it, we have certain obligations at that point. Namely, we cannot simply give people food and leave it at that. Such actions will only result in future chaos and not solve the problem of population growth.I think the war question can be solved by attacking the arguments for war, showing that they are flawed. I will use the Cumulative Case argument:

First off, having R1 to do x and then R2 to do x does not necessarily make for a cumulative case. This is possible when R1 and R2 are inconsistent with each other. However, the five reasons presented are not prima facie inconsistent with each other.

(1) "One reason for going to war was the widely shared belief that Saddam had WMDs."

What do we mean by "widely shared"? This belief was not widely shared by the rest of the world. Very few European nations sided with us on this. Furthermore, new evidence has come to rise that not only was the evidence flawed, but we were well away of it being flawed before the war.

(2) "Another was that he was a known sponsor of Palestinian Arab terrorists and a reasonably surmised sponsor of other terrorists."

This is a good point. However, we demand to know how much terrorism he sponsored on the Palestinian side. Also note the terrorism caused by the Israeli side, which is done with US support.

(3) "A third was humanitarian: the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator and his sons."

Humanitarian efforts do not involve the death of thousands upon thousands of civilians. Additionally, the humanitarian goal was not widely used until after the war was showing itself to be a failure, which suggests that it is ad hoc.(4) "A fourth was to enforce unanimous U.N. resolutions that this august body did not have the cojones to enforce itself."

This is known as unilateralism. If the UN does not find good reason to invade Iraq with UN troops, then perhaps it's not an issue of "cojones," but more of an issue of the US being too aggressive. Additionally, it is hypocritical to go against the UN in the name of punishing those that go against the UN.

(5) "A fifth was to end the ongoing hostilities, e.g., Iraqi attacks on coalition warplanes."

True. I have no argument here. But this is far from a sufficient reason on its own.

So, from 1-5, we have 3 major reasons that seem severly flawed (1,3,4). The other two are that Hussein supported Palestinian terrorism, atlhough I would say that this not an important US security issue, and to end Iraqi attacks on coalition warplanes. Those two are not sufficient. The other three are highly contentious and in dire need of more support.

We could make arguments to invade other countries. I'll call it the "combine and conquer" strategy. Saudi Arabia (1) has a brutal regime in dire need of humanitarian intervention, (2) has ties to Al Quaeda, and (3) supports Palestinian terror. Do we have cumulative case? If not, we don't have a cumulative case against Iraq, since all other reasons for invading Iraq are flawed (and not in hindsight).

At 3:23 PM, December 07, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Iraq Without a Plan" By Michael E. O’Hanlon is an article in this month Policy Review.

Michael E. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in military issues.

It worth a read about 9 pages.

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At 7:04 PM, January 26, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

Now that the search for the Weapons of Mass Destruction (a search somewhat reminiscent of O.J. Simpson's search for his wife's "real killer") is finally officially over, I think its worth re-visiting this.

Lets say for the sake of argument that there were WMDs in Iraq. So what? I don't personally think that any country should acquire such weapons, but that is clearly not the issue. The USA has more WMDs than any other country has or indeed ever has, and is the only country in the history of the world ever to have used atomic weapons.

Even in Iraq, the USA used chemical weapons--to wit, Mark 77 firebombs, which differ from napalm only in their use of a slightly different starter fluid. So proponents of the war clearly didn't believe that no nation-state should ever be allowed to acquire WMDs--just that Iraq didn't. Why? I've never seen any arguments advanced on this point, even as many liberals conceded for no apparent reason the conditional that if WMDs had been present, invasion would have been justified.

When pressed to explain this, war supporters usually said obviously baseless things like "Saddam was a madman," despite the fact that the only times that Mr. Hussein's government had ever used chemical weapons (in the Iran-Iraq war and in suppressing a Kurdish rebellion) were times when he had the support of his then-allies in the U.S. government--the Reagan Administration continued giving Iraq large doses of financial and military aid before, during and after those incidents. There is plenty of evidence of the Iraqi governemnt acting brutally in sort of a classic, cold-blooded Kissinger/Machiavelli way, but none of anything that could reasonably construed as "unpredictable" much less "insane."

So again, why does the militarily belligerent, aggressive United States (which has bombed or invaded dozens of countries since WWII, none of which have attacked or threatened to attack the U.S.) get to have WMDs, but not Iraq? It seems to me that given that the U.S. is surrounded to the north and south by friendly nations, to the east and west by vast oceans and has the most lethal military and stockpile of conventional weapons in the world with which to repel any possible invasion, the U.S. is arguably the single country in the world with the *least* legitimate claim to need a nuclear deterrent. Pre-invasion Iraq, on the other hand, was tiny, relatively defenseless, surrounded by U.S. bases and was constantly threatened by U.S. invasion. This is exactly the sort of scenario under which, if we grant as a premise that it is morally acceptable to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent, such acquisition might be justified.

Similarly, Iran and North Korea today are both fairly small countries with fairly weak militaries that would most likely be unable to repel invasion by conventional means, and both live under constant veiled and not-so-veiled threats (e.g. in Bush's 2nd Inaggural speech) of invasion by the best-armed country in the history of the world. As such, I think that both countries could make far, far better cases than the U.S. ever could that they have a right to acquire such weapons.

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