Iraq and just war, revisited

George Weigel

A year later, here’s the question posed to those who argued that it would be morally justifiable to use armed force to compel Iraq’s compliance with U.N. disarmament resolutions: if you knew then what you know now, would you have made the same call?

I would.

We know some things now that we also knew then. We know Saddam Hussein was in material breach of the “final” U.N. warning, Resolution 1441; his formal response to 1441 was a lie. We know he had the scientists, the laboratories, and the other necessary infrastructure for producing weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. We know he was seeking long-range ballistic missiles (again in defiance of the U.N.) to deliver biological, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons. We know now, in even more horrifying detail, that Saddam’s was a terror regime in which unimaginable brutality was normal state practice. We know, now as then, that Saddam’s regime provided safe haven for terrorists.

And we should know now, as we should have known then, that these four facts – Saddam’s pursuit of WMD, his internal repression, his defiance of the U.N., and his links to international terrorism – were of a piece. Some have said recently that Saddam himself was the real “weapon of mass destruction” in Iraq. That’s a little too clever. But the truth in the trope is that Saddam’s regime, as its actions and capabilities demonstrated, was an “aggression underway.” The aggression took different forms at different moments over twenty-some years. But the “aggression” was constant.

We also know now that we haven’t found caches of WMD in Iraq. What difference does this make to the moral analysis?

Prior to the war, no one doubted that Saddam had WMD. The U.N. thought he did. France thought he did. The only question in dispute was, how was he to be disarmed? And while the investigation of Saddam’s WMD programs is incomplete – millions of pages of documents remain to be translated; some high-ranking Iraqi WMD scientists still refuse to cooperate – it seems to me that something like this happened:

Saddam got rid of chemical and biological weapons in various ways: some were destroyed outright, other materials may have been sent to Syria, still other weapons may remain buried. Saddam was willing to bet that the U.N. would never authorize an armed enforcement of its resolutions; that the U.S. would cave in; and that he could then ramp-up his WMD programs after U.N. sanctions were lifted. Meanwhile, as David Kay noted in his now-famous report, internal controls were eroding in Baghdad, making it more likely that Iraqi military officers or scientists would transfer WMD to terrorists or other rogue states (which is why Dr. Kay told the Senate that, despite the failure to find WMD caches, Iraq was perhaps even more dangerous than we thought).

Suppose we knew all that in March 2003? Would that have made a substantive difference to the moral case for the war?

I don’t think so. If the “regime factor” is crucial in calculating “just cause” in situations like this, the more complex WMD situation as we now understand it doesn’t vitiate the case for the war. As David Kay suggested (in a largely unreported comment), it may strengthen it in some respects.

And while moral arguments from consequences are not without difficulties, the case for the war has also been strengthened by several of its results: Iraq is building the infrastructure of a civil society; no more mass graves are being dug; rape is no longer an instrument of state policy; a free press flourishes; children are learning from reliable textbooks rather than being poisoned by propaganda; an interim constitution that provides protection for a broader array of human rights and a more representative form of government than can be found anywhere else in the Middle East has been successfully negotiated by a wide variety of Iraqis; Iraq’s economic resources, including its oil, are being used for the benefit of the Iraqi people, not a murderous regime; the Iraqi people are vigorously engaged in publicly debating their future.

A year later, I would still contend that the war was morally justified. The argument isn’t a simple one. In this kind of world, it never is.

COMING UP: Lebanese priest: ‘We need your prayers’ after Beirut explosions

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A Lebanese Catholic priest has asked believers around the world to pray for the people of his country, after two explosions in Beirut injured hundreds of people and are reported to have left at least 10 people dead.

“We ask your nation to carry Lebanon in its hearts at this difficult stage and we place great trust in you and in your prayers, and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” Fr. Miled el-Skayyem of the Chapel of St. John Paul II in Keserwan, Lebanon, said in a statement to EWTN News Aug. 4.

“We are currently going through a difficult phase in Lebanon, as you can see on TV and on the news,” the priest added.

Raymond Nader, a Maronite Catholic living in Lebanon, echoed the priest’s call.

“I just ask for prayers now from everyone around the world. We badly need prayers,” Nader told CNA Tuesday.

Explosions in the port area of Lebanon’s capital overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

“It was a huge disaster over here and the whole city was almost ruined because of this explosion and they’re saying it’s kind of a combination of elements that made this explosion,” Antoine Tannous, a Lebanese journalist, told CNA Tuesday.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored explosive materials. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

According to Lebanon’s state-run media, hundreds of injured people have flooded hospital emergency rooms in the city.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has declared that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning. The country is almost evenly divided between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Chrsitians, most of whom are Maronite Catholics. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Featured image: A picture shows the scene of an explosion near the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)