Monday, March 07, 2005

Democracy, war, moral questions

From CNN:

WASHINGTON (DC) -- Noting the "remarkable developments" spreading from Cairo to Kabul, President Bush said Saturday that "the trend is clear: In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march."
Speaking in his weekly radio address, Bush cited examples of progress in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. He pointed to the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in the Lebanese capital of Beirut after the assassination recently of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. "Lebanese citizens who have watched free elections in Iraq are now demanding the right to decide their own destiny, free of Syrian control and domination."

Did the war in Iraq contribute in a significant way to any of the recent political developments in the Middle East? Is freedom on the march?

I'm not sure. First, a step back.

The related and more theoretical, philosophical question is whether an unjust action or series of actions can end up good in light of unexpected, positive consequences. Good Kantians would say absolutely not, as the only question that counts in a deontological moral system is the will of the agent. Utilitarians would be more inclined to say yes, but even utilitarianism makes a distinction between 'actual utility' and 'expected utility,' thus including a provision for the condemnation of actors who make immoral choices that turn out well.

I think questions like "Did the Civil War have to be fought?" and "Is India better off after having been ruled by Britain for a hundred years?" are best left answered in pieces. Thus, without attempting to retroactively justify the war in Iraq, we can simply ask what good consequences, if any, it is having.

I don't believe that the Iraq war impacted the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. The word on the street is, of course, that Saddam Hussein was paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers; his fall from power would certainly curb this practice. But I think that recent developments here have been the result of 1) Arafat's death, 2) Abbas's accession to power, and 3) Sharon's new willingness to listen to more moderate members of his cabinet.

The catalyst for Lebanon's move was the assassination of Hariri, not the Iraq war; the Kabul elections were the result of the war in Afghanistan, a war I think was justified; Mubarak in Egypt is not really going to change anything; and the Saudi Arabians still have a tight grip on our economy.

The best consequences for the Iraq war will be, I hope, for the Iraqis. For every soldier that kills an insurgent in the heat of battle, there are 5 helping average citizens put their lives back together. I still believe that this was a completely immoral and unjustified war built on lies; but in no way does that diminish the courageous actions of our soldiers or my hope that Iraq stabilizes and becomes a democracy.

What I see here is more blind conflation by Bush. He and his administration want to make 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the fake war on terrorism and any steps towards democracy on the Arab street the same thing, so that no American will be able to think about one without the other. They're not yet rewriting history: I believe history will show the justification for the war to be progressively more farcical. In the future we'll look back on Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld the same way I hope we currently do on Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk and Richard Nixon. But Bush continues to twist the present.

Yes, the Iraq war can have good consequences, and I hope and pray it does. But if freedom is on the march, it is because citizens are choosing it from the ground up, and not because our massive war machine went to work.


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