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Friday, April 18, 2003
This is an editorial I wrote for SBU's graduate student newspaper, "News and Blues". I wrote it two weeks ago, but it finally came out on the newsstands (well, more like piles of newspapers) this week. It's a little out of date, and intended for people that may be unfamiliar with some of the arguments I make here.
I've formatted this in my blog format, but otherwise it's what was published. Thanks to Chris for helping edit the first half of this (the good half).
Why This War is Moral
The most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence reads:
Since Saddam Hussein seized power in 1979, he has denied both life and liberty to the citizens of Iraq. He has repeatedly waged war against his neighbors, and the nations that moved to defend them, including the United States. His continuing support of terrorism has lead to many deaths, and his possession of weapons of mass destruction could lead to far more. To protect the lives and liberty of people around the world, the only moral act we can undertake is to remove Saddam's regime.
Saddam's first act upon taking office was to line up potential political opponents and have them shot. Since then, his reign has been a continuing series of external wars and internal genocides. Since then, there have only been three years when Iraq has been at peace. Under Saddam, Iraq has launched offensive wars against Iran and Saudi Arabia. Missiles have been launched into Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. During the so-called peace between the end of Desert Storm and the start of Iraqi Freedom, Iraq has continually attacked US and UK pilots tasked with enforcing the no-fly zones.
These no-fly zones were put into place to protect Iraqi minorities from the regime's attacks. The Saddam regime has repressed Shi'a and Marsh Arabs in the south, and Kurds in the north. His genocide against the Kurdish people was committed with chemical weapons.
At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Iraqi regime had chemical and/or biological weapons. Despite sanctions and international pressure, the efforts of UN inspectors to verify disarmament have been rebuffed. If Saddam had disarmed, why would he not invite weapons inspectors to verify that fact, to lift the sanctions on his country? The only possible conclusion is that Saddam values the possession of weapons of mass destruction more than the lives of his people. Indeed, Saddam exploits these sanctions by selling humanitarian aid sent to the Iraqi people, spending the money on palaces and weapons, at the cost of thousands of innocent lives, lost every month to starvation and disease.
Saddam has a well-documented history of supporting international terrorism. Under his regime, Iraq has harbored terrorist organizations such as the Abu Nidal Organization, responsible for a string of assassinations and hijackings. Most recently, the Iraqi regime has taken to giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. The possession of weapons of mass destruction by such a regime is too dangerous to allow.
War is never an attractive option, preemptive war even less so. But September 11th showed that terrorist groups with state support would slaughter thousands, even in peacetime. The devastation done by a terrorist group armed with chemical or biological weapons could be much greater.
The Afghan war teaches us another lesson. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, women and girls were forbidden from receiving medical treatment and education. After the Afghan war, hundreds of thousands of children were vaccinated. UNICEF estimates that this change of regime saves over 35,000 lives a year. These children also have a better life, now that they are all able to be educated and healed. Had the Taliban been attacked a year before September 11th, 2001, it's likely that the same number of civilian lives had been lost (about a thousand, according to responsible sources that do not blindly include every account from state-run media.). But tens of thousands of lives would have been saved, both Afghani and American.
From that, we can come up with an idea of the conditions under which preemptive war could be moral. A sufficient condition could be that a preemptive war is moral if it protects innocent lives on both sides, increases liberty on both sides, and is the only option that does both. These conditions depend only on the circumstances of the action, and not on the motivations of those involved, or the approval of other nations.
In the case of the current war with Iraq, these conditions are met. The refusal to disarm of Saddam's regime causes the continuation of sanctions that kill thousands of Iraqis a month. Thousands more are arrested, tortured, and even killed for criticizing the regime. As long as Saddam is in power, more people will die. The only way to stop the bleeding is to remove the regime.
The Iraqi people also lack the liberty that is taken for granted in America. Here, hundreds of thousands of people can march to criticize government policy, without fear of repression. In Iraq, such criticism can lead to the torture and murder of entire families. Single candidate elections aside, the Iraqi people did not choose to live under such a regime. The Iraqi people call out for freedom, saying to former human shield Ken Joseph, Jr.:
After liberation, the coalition will install a new Iraqi government to manage the transition. This government will ensure that the Iraqi people have such liberal values as freedom of speech. Eventually, the Iraqi people will hold elections, and the government will be turned over to them. In the meantime, the interim administration will be subject to inspection and oversight by the people of the coalition, the ultimate guarantors of liberty restored to the Iraqi people.
This war is made moral by the promises of life and liberty we make to the Iraqi people. Defeating Saddam will save lives that otherwise would have been lost to his reign of terror, both inside and outside Iraq. The actions of Americans and other coalition members will bring to the Iraqi people a liberty that many have never known. That is why we should be proud to stand on the side of the coalition of nations that support Iraqi freedom.
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