The Fallacies of Pro-War Logic

News & Politics

There are two outstanding facts about the war on Iraq. One is that it was based entirely on lies. This most of us already know. There were no weapons of mass destruction, not until the U.S. dropped its own. There is no evidence that al-Qaeda movement was there either, not until the U.S. deployed its soldiers to fill out the pages of Osama's script.

But the other outstanding fact about the war is more perplexing: namely, that it is still being fought. Why are we still fighting a war that is clearly based on lies? Why does a solid, unwavering 40 percent of the American public continue to support the war effort, no matter the cost in lives or money?

It is no doubt true that, for a segment of pro-war America, the presence or absence of WMD or al-Qaeda is entirely irrelevant. In the minds of these war supporters, talk of either threat is as a mere bit of official token rationalism -- thinly veiled codeword for the barely concealed yearning to exact "revenge" on the ubiquitous "Them" for September 11.

But the official face of the pro-war rationale has not yet devolved into such a hideous visage -- not even if it is as "drink-sodden" as Mr. Hitchens'. The main public line of justification for the war employed by the Right is as follows: the United States liberated Iraq by removing a murderous dictator, thus freeing the people of a tyrannical menace and putting them on the path toward democracy. Conversely, the pro-war brigade maintains, anyone who is opposed to the war supports dictatorship.

What is the typical response to this rationale? Usually, a pathetic whimpering one: "Why, yes, dictatorship is bad, yes, Saddam is bad, yes, the people are better off, but the war was illegal and fought on false pretenses." This is a response crafted to convince a policy wonk or a U.N. bureaucrat, not a thinking American. It hardly addresses the pro-war argument, which attempts to make two points: one, that a desirable result brought about by dubious means nonetheless remains a good thing, and two, that a stance against the war is de facto in favor of Saddam.

The first point is plain enough. Sometimes the end can indeed justify the means. But in this case it is prudent to ask: what justifies the end? The removal of Saddam Hussein has not meant the removal of the suffering the Iraqi people endured whilst under Saddam Hussein. Outside of a tiny sliver of Baghdad, gangs, looters, rapists, mercenaries, and militias prowl the highways, the urban centers, and the hinterlands. Any semblance of real security in Iraq is, despite administration propaganda, nowhere in evidence. Under Saddam there was, at least, security to count on.

There were also basic services. Today these citizens of an oil-rich nation find themselves lining up for hours to fill their cars with petrol. The production of energy has barely reached that of pre-war levels, which is especially appalling since the latter was maintained under severe sanctions and dilapidated equipment, not the glorious free-market theology now flourishing in the country. There is little long-term prospect of improvement for either oil or energy production given the realities on the ground. Moreover, the reconstruction program -- twisted and contorted into abject failure by the well-documented greed of overpaid American contractors and select Iraqi cronies -- is severely crippled, at least under American auspices.

Adding insult to injury, as the U.N. discovered six months ago, malnutrition levels of children in Iraq are about twice as high as they were in the pre-war period. Unlike in the post-Gulf War era, the government does not -- and cannot -- carry out its past program of distributing foodstuffs. Who would be suicidal enough to deliver them in a country where even the main road to the airport is unsafe?

But what of the Shia, those most frequent and oft-cited victims of Saddam? Have they not benefited? Not a week goes by now in which dozens, if not hundreds, of Shia are senselessly slaughtered in markets, job centers, recruitment offices, and on pilgrimage. Surely, the ex-dictator must be pleased: he sits in his air-conditioned room eating English muffins and donning pajamas as the blood of his ethnic enemies in numbers that have obviously far exceeded the 168 executions of Shiites he is currently on trial for. Sectarian tensions resulting from this strife have been so inflamed that the term "civil war" is no longer taboo, but rather hotly debated in the country as a full-blown possibility. Indeed, it is now possible that Iraq will be "liberated" from its own national existence.

Last but not least, let us not forget the cheery fate meted to about 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have been freed only from their limbs and lives. That is the figure determined by a thorough, peer-reviewed study conducted by the British medical journal Lancet last December, indicating the number of innocent Iraqis killed as a result of the war. Unsurprisingly, the warmongers have tried to discredit these statistics, but the facts of the case are clearly arrayed against them.

Thus the picture is clear: life in this supposed zone of "liberation" makes the seventh level of hell look like a towering utopian vista. Therefore, there is no need for puerile abstract formulas about "ends justifying means." The end does not even justify itself -- let alone the means. With Saddam in power, many Iraqis died and suffered. Without Saddam in power, more Iraqis are still dying and suffering. Therefore, the real issue goes beyond Saddam.

This leads us on a collision-course with the pro-war argument's second point -- that opposing the war is tantamount to defending Saddam. The charge is, if nothing else, a very clever bit of theoretical legerdemain.

The thick fog of the charge can be cleared once we reframe the issue, away from Saddam and toward the fate of the actual Iraqi people. The U.S. armed Saddam with conventional, chemical and biological agents and diplomatic cover to make war on Iran, Iraqi Shiites and Iraqi Kurds before Gulf War I. All that is well-documented, well-known, and a part of Senate records. So when Saddam was in power serving U.S. interests, the U.S. had no problem with his atrocities.

Now, when Saddam does not serve U.S interests, the U.S. has a problem with Saddam -- but is busily carrying on its own atrocities against the same victims Saddam chose: ordinary Iraqis. Thus, for 30 years, the U.S. has caused harm and violence to ordinary Iraqis. The only difference now is that the middleman has been removed.

Meanwhile, the leftist anti-war movement consistently opposed Saddam when he was an ally of the U.S., opposed U.S. support for Saddam throughout the 1980s, and now, opposes the U.S. role in Iraq. Why? Because of one constant principle: a defense of the Iraqi people's right to peace and person, a defense against both murder-by-proxy imperialism a la Hussein and murder-by-proximity colonialism a la Bush.

For too long, too many of us have done too little. We have not been sharp enough, strong enough, or confident enough to attack the Right with ruthless conviction and courage. This applies doubly to centrist Democrats, liberals and dabblers who shy away from powerful arguments against the warmongers' rationales and instead resort to esoteric legalese or mere whining. When it comes to facing the Right, we must stop curtseying and tipping before its spears and start curtly sharpening the tips of our own spears. This is the only way to push the Right off center stage and place the betterment of humanity back on the agenda.

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