Just Cause, U.S. Independence, and Iraq

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As I was typing up the post announcing the Christian Carnival that I just posted, it took great effort to refrain from a snarky comment about the July 4 anniversary of U.S. independence. Here is what I was going to say, but I thought it needed to be in a separate post.

I was going to say that the Christian Carnival is up, complete with quotes from the Federalist Papers to celebrate the anniversary of U.S. independence from the oppressive, dictatorial regime rule of the British monarchy that had previously treated the colonists the way Saddam Hussein did the Kurds.

Seriously, I have to wonder at those who yesterday celebrated American independence from the relatively mild discomforts of British rule who yet think those who supported freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein had no just cause.
 
Now I admit that that isn't the only reason someone might have opposed the invasion of Iraq, but it is a common enough complaint, and I'm sure some making it nevertheless defend the American Revolution, which in my view was an unjust war. Clearly there have been worse wars in terms of the motivation, but I don't see it as having been one of the better ones either. The key comparison I have in mind is between the kind of oppressive regime in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the comparatively mild situation that the colonists considered oppressive enough to start a war to eliminate. I do think the oppression of the Afircan slaves of the colonists would have constituted a good case for a just cause, but the colonists were complicit in that while complaining about how they were being treated by the British government.
 
There are ways to resolve the inconsistency (although I think they involve false premises, e.g. the premise that it's ok to initiate a revolution against your own government but not ok to assist others in overthrowing theirs, which I would say gets it backwards in terms of which is more morally justified). But those who hold both views ought at least to try to resolve the potential inconsistency rather than simply not thinking about the tension between their views on these different issues. So I think it's worth pointing out the potential problem.
 
I want to say that I consider the U.S. system of government perhaps the best human government the world has seen. The ideal government would be rule by an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good dictator, but that's not going to happen until the final resurrection. Until then, (at most) few have come up with a better way to govern over fallen human beings than the U.S. model. My conviction on that matter doesn't mean I think the method of attaining such a system was right. I don't, and it amazes me the ease at which people will approve of it without ever thinking that such approval might even raise questions about their views on the invasion or Iraq.
 
While I'm at it, I might as well link to my What Should Christians Think About July 4? post from three years ago.

6 Comments

the premise that it's ok to initiate a revolution against your own government but not ok to assist others in overthrowing theirs, which I would say gets it backwards in terms of which is more morally justified

This is the kind of premise I would go for, not that I am wanting to justify the revolt of you colonists against our King. I don't agree that it is morally backwards. This is certainly justified in international law, which has little to say about internal affairs but clearly condemns outside intervention. But there is also a strictly moral argument to support this, that it is not justified to impose on a country from outside a solution which has not been chosen by that country's inhabitants; this is not freedom but oppression and slavery. There is a moral grey area when some people in a country are looking for a certain change, but there are not enough of them to effect that change on their own, so they ask for outside help. That I suppose would be the invaders' pretext, for they can trot out Iraqis who supported the invasion, although probably precious few who support the continued occupation. But any invader can find someone to support them; even in Afghanistan in 1979 the Soviets found a puppet president to invite them in. But I think it is reasonable to hold that it is wrong for one country to interfere in the affairs of another unless a substantial part of that country's population is asking them to. I'm not sure that was true in 2003, however bad the situation was under Saddam. And it is certainly not true now, and on that basis there is a moral imperative for the occupiers to withdraw their forces as quickly as possible, or at least as quickly as the government there wants them to.

To Christians who follow the Sermon on the Mount, there's a pretty significant barrier to self-defense that isn't present when it comes to defending others. I do think self-defense can be justified when it's a government protecting its citizens, because those making the decisions aren't the entirety of those being protected, but it does have to overcome that initial barrier. Protecting others does not.

There is some presumption in international affairs against interfering with wrongdoing in sovereign nations, but unless you take the absolutist view of the U.N. on such matters (and I don't) there will be some cases that are bad enough to justify intervention. NATO was willing to do so with Kosovo, for example, and many have been calling for action against the Sudan. In terms of the just cause issue, I don't see how Iraq is any different from those.

There is a moral grey area when some people in a country are looking for a certain change, but there are not enough of them to effect that change on their own, so they ask for outside help. That I suppose would be the invaders' pretext, for they can trot out Iraqis who supported the invasion, although probably precious few who support the continued occupation.

We need to remember how things were at the time, though. It was a failure of human intelligence, but the general understanding from the reports we had the sense that the Iraqi people were all on board with this (and by "we" I mean the intelligence shared by a much wider group of countries than those who invaded, including France). As for the current situation, the people elected a government, and that government has continued to request the forces in Iraq staying to help. President Bush has insisted that if the elected government of Iraq asks us to leave he'll pull out. So I think your last sentence is currently being fulfilled.

But I think it is reasonable to hold that it is wrong for one country to interfere in the affairs of another unless a substantial part of that country's population is asking them to.

I'm not sure mere percentage is the issue. What if it's an entire ethnic group being severely oppressed, and that ethnic group is a small percentage of the population?

I question your use of the phrase "freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein" to describe an invasion and occupation, by the nation that put Saddam Hussein in power, and that has caused the deaths of far more than a half million of the "freed" people.

Well, I question your questioning, then. Suppose Merlin discovered that Arthur was a disaster and was doing more harm than good as king. He could very easily remove him from power, thus freeing the people who were being harmed from his oppressive control. The fact that Merlin put Arthur into that position in the first place is completely irrelevant to the fact that his removing him would count as freeing those people.

Besides, the invasion was by a larger coalition that just the U.S., the set of people who helped put Saddam Hussein in charge was not the same set of people who took part in initiating the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. didn't exactly put Saddam Hussein into power to begin with, even if there was some influence from the U.S. in how he got there.

But the main point is that mistakes in the past do not make it wrong to do the right thing at a later time. Isn't undoing a mistake a good thing? This argument just seems to get the moral issues completely backwards.

But those who hold both views ought at least to try to resolve the potential inconsistency rather than simply not thinking about the tension between their views on these different issues. So I think it's worth pointing out the potential problem.

I agree -- but I think a lot of people have thought very deeply about the problem. They're just not the people who yell the loudest.

For my part, in the run-up to the war I had my own mirror image to your point here. I addressed myself to pro-lifers I knew who supported the invasion: "You believe that the American court system has ordered the state and federal governments to allow the killing of 40 million (!) innocent people. Yet if a Muslim entity invaded the United States to end abortion, you would fight for the murderous United States. What gives?" I made some people nervous with this question, but I don't think I ever got a good answer.

Like you, of course, I believe the inconsistency is surmountable. But a lot of my Republican friends were making facile humanitarian arguments with (apparently) no thought for the collateral consequences of invasions.

So yeah, it's a useful exercise.

Yes, I think one way to think about it is that people were presenting a just cause without dealing with the other requirements of just war theory. In the end, I think the other requirements can be met for Iraq, although I admit I'm in the minority on that issue among people who know the usual components of just war theories.

The issue for this post was just cause, though, and it's hard to avoid accepting at least one just cause among the reasons given by Bush and Blair if you accept a just cause for the American Revolution. But I think many have unthinkingly denied any just cause while never hesitating to consider the American Revolution just.

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