Sago Boulevard

Friday, October 07, 2005

Some Bad Arguments Against War In Iraq

I haven't posted about the Iraq war mostly because I have mixed feelings. As much as I love debating, something changes for me when the issue at hand involves the lives thousands of soldiers and civilians. Almost all cases of self-defense or perceived self-defense are incredibly complicated, both ethically and politically. That said, I supported invading Iraq, overthrowing Saddam, and establishing democracy there - despite serious doubts that we could have done (and still can do) a better job.

But while I'm timid about making the case for war, I'm never shy about pointing out bad arguments and the current anti-war movement is full of them. The most common criticism goes something like this: "Bush justified this war on the basis of Saddam having WMD. As it turns out, no such weapons were found and likely never existed. Since Bush's primary stated reason for going to war doesn't apply, the war is unjustified."

First of all, as Russel Roberts points out, Bush didn't make up the idea of WMD. Saddam somehow managed to convince the whole world that he either had or was building weapons. Even the countries that most strongly opposed the American-led invasion didn't deny that he had them. Secondly, arguing that Bush justified this war on the basis of Saddam having WMD is misleading. He justified the war on the basis of having sufficient reason to believe that Saddam had WMD. According to the facts available to Bush, Blair, and other world leaders, it was the reasonable conclusion to draw. And faced with the possibility of a nuclear or chemical attack, it was reasonable to take military action based on that conclusion. None of this changes in light of the new information that in fact, no such weapons exist.

An analogy from poker: You're holding kings and the flop turns up another one. The guy across from you raises all-in. You call and he draws a flush. You lose. So you must have made the wrong move - should've folded, right? No, of course not. Given the information available, knowing neither what the other guy is holding nor the next two cards in the deck, that's the right decision. Foreign policy is necessarily based on limited information and the best action is one that will yield the desired result based on that limited information.

You could argue that the condition itself is insufficient for going to war. That is to say, if faced with the threat of attack by a homicidal maniac dictator who's used chemical weapons on his own people and, according to available intelligence, is prepared to launch a nuclear or biological attack, invasion is still not justified. But my point remains. The fact that no weapons were found has no bearing on the justifiability of the war.

Among the other reasons given for opposing the war is that it makes the US hated around the world. Of course, those who depend on Saddam staying in power will hate us, as well as those whose interests are hurt by an increase in US influence. More importantly, though, we have no reliable way of knowing what feelings Joe-average Iraqi will have about the US when all is said and done. To quote Roberts again:
A lot of times, people are glad when the US army shows up. They're glad in New Orleans. They were glad in Paris in 1945. Are they glad in Baghdad? I have no idea. Let me say that again. I have no idea. And neither does anyone else who lives here and watches the nightly news and reads the papers. There just isn't enough information.

I think there is a case to be made for the war, particularly on human-rights grounds. But I'll leave that for another post.