Part I of III
Arguments over war in Iraq and its justification, recently fuelled by emotions running high over the first anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, have been plaguing the libertarian camp. Samizdata decided to summarise its contributors’ positions on war in general and Iraq in particular and received some interesting responses. There are many strands of arguments for and against war on Iraq and it is impossible to even mention them all in one posting. There are several interesting points I wish to add to or stress in the debate.
One of the objections to Perry’s position on the destruction of tyranny and libertarian opposition to it comes from Julian Morrison (a comment on the above linked article):
There are many ways and means of destroying tyranny, but the only ones that are “libertarianly correct” are those which do not involve harm to innocents. Assassination is far preferable, for example, to war – and hand-to-hand war is preferable to blanket bombing. There exists no right to murder, regardless of how convenient it might be.
Here justification of war is reduced to the effects it may have on the civilian population or innocents. This makes opposition to tyranny impossible. For example, makes it impossible to fight anybody ruthless enough to use human hostages.
Ignoring for a moment the other important conditions of just war, which I will deal with in Part II, I want to look at Nazism and communism as examples of historical tyrannies that were accepted as evil to be justifiably eliminated. Opposing Nazism by force was justified as self-defence and the war against Hitler and Germany has been accepted as a just war. The WWII experience proves appeasement wrong on both grounds – moral (fails in self-defence) as well as strategic or practical (gives the enemy opportunity to accumulate weapons and pose a greater threat).
Although during WWII the distinction between a dictator and the nation he lead was blurred, the Cold War made abundantly clear that there is a difference between a dictator waging a war with the country behind him and a dictator with the civilian population being at his mercy and under the same threat as his opponents.
Perry mentions Czechoslovakia as a case in point and I will merely add to his voice. During 1968 Prague Spring civil resistance the Warsaw pact used military threat on the civilian population and in the early days of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 there was in our minds a real threat that the communist government would use the army on the demonstrators. How could an attack by the West make the situation any worse in a country where the state is ready to use ‘military force’ (not just law enforcement) on its citizens? Whether I die being run over by a T-55, shot by AK-47 or by a stray ‘Western’ bomb does not make much difference to me as an individual in such situation. In fact, young and idealistic as I was in those days, I’d probably prefer the latter, given that being killed during a ‘Western liberation’ would at least serve a purpose I agreed with, whereas being killed by communists wouldn’t.
We know Saddam has used military force and chemical weapons on Kurds and will not hesitate to use such force again… Those who oppose war on Iraq on ‘moral grounds’ will find it hard to wriggle out of agreeing that it was right for the West to fight Nazism and wrong to leave the nations of Eastern Europe under communism. The problem is that Nazism and communism are obviously wrong ex-post and the current debate is about determining the moral and strategic position ex-ante.
To be continued…
Doctrine of Just war and libertarians (Part II)
Strategic considerations for attack on Iraq (Part III)