There is a distant friend of mine who is a conservative, political activist who regularly insults and belittles ideological opponents on Facebook. A few weeks ago in one of his many cyber-arguments he quipped, “I am a social conservative and a Republican because of my faith in Christ.” A few days later, my wife and I were entering one of our favorite restaurants. Out front was an older, economy car with both 2008 and 2012 Obama/Biden bumper stickers and another sticker declaring, “I am a Democrat because of my faith.” Beside the statement was a cross.
On the eve of the exit of President Bush, it seems appropriate to review what will most likely be the lasting legacy of this President – the Iraq War. The Christian conservative community has largely been accepting of whatever has come from the Bush Administration, and most of all his foreign policy decisions, often because of President Bush’s claimed Christian faith and the belief that he must be honest and well-intentioned. Libertarian Christians, on the other hand, have seen through this fog and call the President to repent of his abuse of power. In the following, I will review the three common arguments from the pro-war side and explain how these cannot be adequate justifications. Hopefully, you can remember them the next time you have a chance to talk to your conservative brother or sister in Christ.
On the arguments for the Iraq War and the War on Terror
The initial reason given for starting the Iraq War was that Saddam possessed all sorts of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). That is, if Iraq has WMDs they are in a position to kill us all. First off, if you still believe that Iraq had WMDs, you are mistaken. President Bush doesn’t even use that argument anymore; he has now accepted the fact that there were none. A “slam dunk” case, as Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove said? I think not. Second, let’s play devil’s advocate. Suppose Iraq had a few WMDs – does it actually matter? At the Soviet Union’s pinnacle of power they had over 10,000 nuclear weapons at their disposal and yet were unable to “blackmail” the US into doing their bidding. Do you seriously think that a country with few weapons (including North Korea and Iran, incidentally) could threaten us? Don’t be naive. Even a rogue country knows that using a WMD would get them blown sky high in under a minute by the U.S. arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Our God-given survival instinct is a powerful thing. Yes, suicide bombers do exist, but a country is not a suicide bomb. Saddam Hussein had more to worry about than the hopeless extremism of suicidal terrorists and the supposed heavenly virgins. It is a well known fact that Saddam was not a fundamentalist Muslim. He had an entire country under his thumb, and if you know anything about dictators throughout the history of the world, you know they do not just give away their kingdoms (i.e. let themselves get blown to smithereens), to support fanatical religious ideology. The United States should focus simply on protecting our borders, which is easily more important, demonstrably more efficient, and far more moral than trying to play policeman throughout the world. But now, the war hawks continue to play the WMD fear card against Americans regarding other Middle Eastern countries. It’s high time we stop believing this garbage and demand that the government cease foreign interventions on the basis of WMDs.
The second argument proffered from the pro-war side is the “threat of terrorism” claim. In other words, Iraq was the most important target in the war on terror, and taking them out was the only way to win. But the supposed threat of terrorism from Iraq is not justification for launching a full-scale war. In fact, the argument on its face shouldn’t have even made sense to the well-informed. It was well known before the invasion that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. The evidence for Saddam supporting international terror was slight at best and is laid out entirely in the 9-11 Commission Report. The evidence points much more strongly towards Iran and even Saudi Arabia than Iraq.
Furthermore, one cannot possibly know the consequences of an invasion with respect to terrorism. Will an intervention deter or inflame terrorism? How will the intervention affect uninvolved civilians? You cannot know beforehand. But supposing we could judge on the results, then we must conclude the invasion has had the exact opposite effect as was intended. (You will find that this is the unintended consequence of the overwhelming majority of government actions.) Numerous reports from 2005 to 2009 suggest that terrorism has actually increased as a result of the Iraq occupation. There are other reports, even from within the Bush administration, saying the war is actually attracting many terrorists into Iraq from outside countries. If Iraq was really the hotbed of terrorism in the world, how is it that after the U.S. sponsored nation-building effort terrorism flourishes all the more? I can tell you why. By eliminating the state of Iraq, the U.S. unintentionally created a brand new, rich breeding ground for international terrorism to develop. How a conservative can argue that the threat of terrorism has been reduced through the Iraq War simply cannot fit either evidence or reason.
Many people have told me that if we were not fighting the war on terror abroad, we would be fighting it in our homeland instead. I think they overestimate the power of terrorism. Consider what would happen if the nation that spends more money and manpower on their military than any other country in the history of the world decided to pull out our soldiers from all corners of the earth, stop policing the world, and then truly protect the U.S. borders. After reorganizing the military in this way, ceasing to enact aggressive foreign policy, do you seriously think we would still have terrorists destroying our cities from Los Angeles to Manhattan? If so, I think I have much more faith in the military than you do. Enacting neutrality in foreign affairs, exercising free trade, and protecting our borders is a much more reasonable course of action rather than attempting to meet the threat abroad.
Finally, there is the “liberation of Iraqis” argument, which currently is the most often used argument of the Bush Administration and many other supporters of the war. For a more complete explanation, I refer you to this article by Dr. David Gordon of the Mises Institute for more information. Gordon uses Robert Higgs’s book Resurgence of the Warfare State to explode the so-called humanitarian argument for the Iraq War. This argument does not justify the Iraq War on the supposed presence of WMDs, and in fact it admits that the WMD defense must be rejected. (Of course, the fact that this argument was the invented justification long after the WMD argument was given up should say something as well…) Rather, the argument claims that humanitarian considerations supported the overthrow of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. has killed innocent people in the process, but the good somehow outweighs the bad. Quoting the argument of Gordon and Higgs:
“Their deaths have been accidental, and these must be weighed against those who would have suffered and died had Saddam’s government continued in power. Higgs rejects completely this sort of moral calculation… [Higgs says that] In the present case, making such a judgment with anything approaching well-grounded assurance calls for powers that none of us possess. How does anybody know, for example, what the future harms caused to innocent parties by Saddam or his henchmen would have been, or that those harms, somehow properly weighted and discounted, would be greater than the harms caused by the U.S. armed forces in the invasion of Iraq? (p. 167)”
In short, you cannot know what harm you will cause, and you can’t say without literally knowing the future that the harm you most surely will cause will be less extensive than if you do nothing. You cannot let your ends (liberation) justify your means (unintentional mass killing). An ends-justifies-means argument should be on its face morally reprehensible, and a Christian should know this better than anyone else on earth – “shall we do evil that good may result?” (Romans 3:8) Why should an action that is wrong for an individual to do become right when a group of individuals, or even a state, does so? The Apostle Paul says people who think like that deserve condemnation. The humanitarian argument fails simply because God is God, and I am not. I cannot go strutting around the world causing havoc, then answer critics by saying “I meant well.”
One might ask, “How many Iraqis would have to die at Saddam’s hand before a liberation war is justified?” I respect the empathy in this question, but I disagree that it is valid in the first place. You cannot make this sort of moral calculation because you cannot know the future consequences. But, perhaps we can learn something from history.
Some experts estimate that there are literally untold tens of thousands of people killed in Iraq. Even if the controversial Lancet report is off by as much as 50%, we are still talking about 50,000+ Iraqis dead or maimed. And you can’t tell me that all the 50,000+ are the “evil enemies.” This doesn’t even count the Americans soldiers and civilians dead or maimed. If history is any indication at all, we must reject the humanitarian argument. It begs the question from the “noble liberator”: how many more Iraqis and Americans will have to die before we can agree that a pre-emptive, interventionist war is never justified? How many more will have to die before we agree that this cannot work? The question is impossible to answer. You see, neither the “noble liberator” nor I can play moral calculus here – it leads to nonsense and the abandonment of rationality. The liberation argument must be rejected from the outset.
Even so, the humanitarian argument fails for another reason. Once Iraq’s threat to America is invalidated as a reason for war, leaving only the humanitarian justification, every other tyrannical regime in the world today becomes fair game for American intervention. One must then ask: was Saddam really the worst of the worst? What about the evil governments in Africa, where children are forced to rape and murder family members so that those children will be brainwashed and shamed into remaining servants and soldiers of the state? What about the hundreds of thousands of people in North Korea who die because of malnutrition, etc., and all the people executed or put into concentration camps for political dissidence? What about communist China, where they have in the past forced women to have abortions? Are we really willing to put America on the line for “preserving democracy in the world” to the point of starting virtually world-wide war? I highly doubt it.
This argument could go on indefinitely, for there are many more arguments against the war. Iraq has not only been a failure, it was wrong to enter in the first place. Our problems simply will not be solved by war. Ron Paul, the only true anti-war candidate in 2008 from either party, has said, “A real solution to our problems will require a better understanding of, and greater dedication to, free markets and private property rights… If we hope to restore any measure of constitutional government, we must abandon the policy of policing the world and keeping troops in every corner of the earth. Our liberties and our prosperity depend on it.” Neutrality abroad, in the manner that George Washington, who would likely side with today’s libertarians, would have the United States follow, is a much better way of protecting ourselves than causing foreign interventions abroad.
The pro-war conservative can only be pleased from the 2008 election, for he was given multiple choices for escalating the conflict. Barack Obama has claimed to be a “peace” candidate, but his rhetoric about the Iraq War, Israel, and further Mideast interventions betray that he is no different than a neo-con. Furthermore, choosing Washington war hawks as cabinet members indicates that he continues to seek advice from those who seek others lives for political gain, such as Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. He clearly cannot be expected to do anything but escalate the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and perhaps other completely unrelated countries such as Darfur that he thinks we should “liberate.”
There will always be “wars, and rumors of wars,” but we must refuse to participate in what is so clearly against the message of the Prince of Peace.