This is my attempt to think things through.
First. Let's stipulate a few things, just to get them out of the way:
Now, there are three basic justifications being given for the war:
The question is: are any of these any good? Let's look at them in order.
This one fails in the short term for a very simple reason: the war will cost some $75 billion. The question is not whether Iraq will be better off as a result of the war (we've stipulated that it will be), but whether we could do better things (from a humanitarian perspective) with that $75 billion. And the answer is: yes, we could do much better. You don't have to think very hard to find problems in the world today where the money could make a profound difference.
Of course, I'm being simplistic here, and assuming Saddam wasn't about to spread his evil past his borders. It seems reasonable to assert that he was "mostly contained" (e.g., he could send rogue agents out to cause emotionally significant but statistically neglible events to occur, but that he wasn't about to invade other countries again) though. That is, I'm assuming we know the scope of Saddam's evil, and it's not that big compared to the other problems we could solve (or at least work on).
In the long term, it's a harder question. Suppose we no longer have to enforce the sanctions (costing $x a year). That money gets freed up. And suppose that Saddam and his regime are no longer draining the Iraqi economy of all vitality (so that not only Iraq is helped, but the Iraqi people become more productive members of the world's economy). Maybe this is such a good thing that making war on Iraq turns out to be the best humanitarian investment. I doubt it, and I think no-one seriously believes it, but I also have to say I've never heard anyone seriously do a cost-benefit analysis of the war on Iraq from this perspective.
I find that last point particularly disturbing. If you're going to claim humanitarian reasons for the war, aren't you obligated to say why this use of funds is the best use of funds from a humanitarian perspective? I haven't seen any attempts to do that, and my conclusion is that, while the war will be good for Iraq, the humanitarian effects won't spread beyond the Iraqi borders and aren't particularly impressive, given the amount of money being spent. The humanitarian argument is mostly an emotional red-herring.
As a side note, I also find the idea of sending the US Army out on a large-scale humanitarian mission disturbing. It's one thing to tell a soldier to fight to defend the nation (that's in the job description), it's quite another to tell someone to fight on behalf of a third party for humanitarian reasons (that's not what the soldiers signed up for).
This argument basically says that the world changed after 9/11. That terrorism (terrorist tactics) and modern weaponry are so potent a combination that we are obligated to eradicate potential combatants. It's an interesting claim, and one that scares me because it relies on such an overwhelming assumption of knowledge: in order to make this claim effectively, you really have to know a lot, and be very confident of your deductions.
But, it seems to me that the proper response to an event like 9/11 is a combination of the following three things:
It follows that, if Iraq had chemical or biological weapons, Iraq would use them locally first (and, indeed, such weapons were deployed against the Kurds, to crush an uprising). It also follows that, from the point of view of self-defense, the problem is mostly a local or regional one. The countries in the area mostly likely to be affected are the countries with the most at stake, and are the countries that ought to be taking ownership of the problem. US policy ought to encourage local ownership of problems, not rely on the US military as a cudgel to solve them.
As an added bonus, nearby countries are likely to be much better at assessing the problem (they understand the culture much better, frequently speak the same language, have significant ethnic overlaps, etcetera). When they take action, they'll have greater knowledge and be more confident of their deductions.
This dovetails nicely with my basically isolationist beliefs-- I would much rather problems be solved at the regional level than at the global level.
I haven't seen any serious arguments for, or against, this. It's mostly brought up in the tail end of debates, as a sort of ginsu-style added bonus. "And, if you act now, we'll throw in the eventual liberation of Iran and Syria via popular actions at no extra cost."
As you can tell by my summary, I'm skeptical of this argument.
I'm not sure there are any conclusions here. I don't know how much the sanctions were costing each year to enforce, and that matters for a cost-benefit analysis of the humanitarian effort.
If there were evidence (or even strong arguments) that Iraq was planning on invading its neighbors in the near term, that would sway things as well (and I know of very little evidence about that).
In addition, if Syria really was helping Iraq hide chemical weapons (as some reports have indicated), then that's an indication that war was probably a right decision as well.
And, of course, now that we're in it, there's really no option but to win it. And then evaluate whether it was a good idea, and vote appropriately.
William Grosso is a coauthor of Java Enterprise Best Practices.
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