Monday, June 16, 2008

Another inadequate reason for war

The investment of some people with claims to expertise in the Iraq war means that however inept the administration itself might be at justifying the war, there is a ready coterie of writers eager to come up with rationales. Of course, this means that the stated justifications for war among the chattering classes keep changing, but that doesn't bother the true believers. Any novelty will do.

One of the latest to come up with yet another "real" reason the United States government, or to be a little more pinpoint, George W. Bush, started this conflict is Fouad Ajami, writing for the reliably pro-war Wall Street Journal. In his op-ed piece, he claims it was really a war of deterrence:

The country was "gripped by legitimate concern over gathering dangers in the aftermath of 9/11. Kabul and the war against the Taliban had not sufficed. A war of deterrence had to be waged against Arab radicalism, and Saddam Hussein had drawn the short straw. He had not ducked, he had not scurried for cover. He openly mocked America's grief, taunted its power."

We had to go to war because a small-time thug was -- gasp!! -- taunting us? Is the world a fourth-grade schoolyard? Well, Ajami claims, there was more to it:

"We don't need to overwork the stereotype that Arabs understand and respond to the logic of force, but this is a region sensitive to the wind, and to the will of outside powers. Before America struck into Iraq, a mere 18 months after 9/11, there had been glee in the Arab world, a sense that America had gotten its comeuppance. There were regimes hunkering down, feigning friendship with America while aiding and abetting the forces of terror."

Leave aside the easy imputation of unanimity to the "Arab world." Ajami doesn't name the regimes. Maybe Saudi Arabia, still maintaining its "special relationship," fits the bill, but never mind. Suppose several regimes were secretly abetting terrorists. Does that justify starting a war of aggression, which the Iraq war most definitely was? Does it make the war one of "necessity," as Ajami retrospectively wants to make it? Was the only other choice to give the aggressor (presumaby he means al-Qaida) "what he seeks"? Did making Iraq an example make the other Arab countries trust us more, or desire more strongly to be allied with the U.S.?

Even under Ajami's late-blooming justification, this was what international law theorists call a "preventive" war as distinguished from a "preemptive" war. A preemptive war is started when an enemy has signaled an intention to begin hostilities imminently, e.g, by massing troops on the border or activating pilots. A preventive war is waged to prevent a problem or hostility that might (or might not) materialize somewhere down the road, years or even decades away. International law theorists view it as unjustified, as an act of aggression. The U.S. used to claim it only engaged in wars to deter or punish aggression, that were always attacked first. However truthful that was, the administration and its apologists don't bother with that justification anymore. We can start wars because people are taunting and deceiving us, and might actually do something concrete sometime. We're the world's policeman, and we don't have a Fourth Amendment to keep us in line. But empires pay for their arrogance eventually.

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