Mike the Mad Biologist

Wars of Choice and Crimes of War

The revisionist pro-Iraq war argument that ‘the idea was sound, but the implementation was problematic’ has always bothered me. It assumes that a ‘war of choice’–that is, an unprovoked assault against another nation which does not pose an immediate threat–will work out just fine. So when it doesn’t work out–and it almost never does–it’s not the fault of war supporters, it’s someone else’s. Never mind that wars of choice almost always end in massive blowback, there’s just no conceivable way anyone could have foreseen the outcome….

Glenn Greenwald, responding to Dan Drezner and Megan McArdle, says this far more eloquently (bold original; italics mine):

What I wrote — as clearly as the English language permits — is that people like them who advocate aggressive wars, such as the invasion of Iraq, are responsible for what naturally follows. That’s a principle established by the Nuremberg Trials….

The only thing I said they supported was aggressive war, which is true. I also argued that people who support aggressive wars are responsible for what follows, which is why they’re so blithe about the fact that those things that followed — such as the Government’s war crimes and even things like the suspension of the Fourth Amendment — are receiving so little media attention. Could that be any clearer?

People who are convinced that, deep down, they’re so Good will automatically accuse you of “misrepresenting” their views if you link them to bad things, because how else could they possibly be responsible for bad things other than if you distort what they think? Believing that is fine. Running around petulantly claiming that I said they were pro-torture when I made no such statement isn’t fine. We’re all supposed to agree that Good people can advocate horrendous policies and still be Good — or, more to the point, not responsible for what they cheered on — and if you don’t accept that premise, then it means that you’re being unfair and shrill and must be misrepresenting their views.

If you cheer on optional invasions and aggressive wars, you do so knowing that you’re supporting things that will — at best — lead to mass destruction and the deaths of thousands and thousands of people. Aggressive wars lead to war crimes; it itself, by definition, is a “war crime” by virtue of our own principles and legal framework. I know full well that it’s impolite, overheated and shrill to point all of this out — to suggest that those who advocate such wars, even the good, nice, well-meaning people, bear responsibility for what follows — but that doesn’t make pointing it out a “misrepresentation.

While Greenwald’s right, if U.S. history is any guide, there aren’t going to be that many people who truly fess up to having made a dreadful decision

Comments

  1. #1 BWV
    April 10, 2008

    The basic problem is the idea that we can impose liberal democracies at gunpoint. That nation building does not work should be apparant to any objective observer. You cannot create political institutions from without.

  2. #2 Awk & Shaw
    April 10, 2008

    Eichmann;s defense was “I was only following orders”. Rumsfeld’s defense will be “I was only issuing orders”. Bush’s defense will be “I wanted to be a war president.” Cheney’s defense will be “I was only staying the course”.

    What will the next president’s defense be?

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    April 10, 2008

    BWV: You cannot create political institutions from without.

    Not necessarily – consider, say, the British Raj in India.

    Howsomever, it seems accurate to say that in this as in just about everything else, if it needs to be done the best strategy is to ask what the current US regime would do, then do the opposite.

  4. #4 BWV
    April 10, 2008

    “Not necessarily – consider, say, the British Raj in India.”

    OK, given a hundred years of a colonial government in Iraq we could create some real institutions

  5. #5 blf
    April 11, 2008

    The revisionist pro-Iraq war argument that ‘the idea was sound…

    Snort! The premise (of being a sound idea) is laughable. The UN Inspectors couldn’t find any WMDs; most of the world believed the Inspectors (or at the least believed the Inspectors should continue searching); and the only significant military help Teh Cheney-Bush Taliban could obtain was from a poodle who was already in their back pocket (Bliar in the UK, who had to fabricate evidence (e.g., the Dodgy dossier) to convince the British to very reluctantly agree).

    Plus, of course, there is the widely(?)-suspected elephant in the room: Oil.

  6. #6 natural cynic
    April 11, 2008

    We’re all supposed to agree that Good people can advocate horrendous policies and still be Good — or, more to the point, not responsible for what they cheered on — and if you don’t accept that premise, then it means that you’re being unfair and shrill and must be misrepresenting their views.

    And these people called themselves conservatives. And I thought that conservtives always tried to minimize uninteded consequences by eschewing radical actions. Silly me.

  7. #7 The Barefoot Bum
    April 11, 2008

    wars of choice almost always end in massive blowback

    All wars always end in massive blowback. That’s why you don’t ever fight a war until and unless you have no feasible alternative whatsoever.

    “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.” — Isaac Asimov

  8. #8 Kevin
    April 11, 2008

    here is part of a letter to the editor I wrote. First part was about torture and spying.

    “Bush has lied his way into an immoral and illegal war, allowed polluters to destroy the environment, and ruined our nationís finances and created $3trillion in debt. His administration has falsified reports on science, health and global warming; it has secretly distributed propaganda to influence elections here and abroad; it has wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, stolen by consultants, contributors and contractors aligned with a small group of radical republicans.

    Their greatest crime is the death and maiming of over 50,000 Americans and over 500,000 Iraqis in their neo-con schemes and power strategies. I expect we will see them in the dock at the Hague, unless they seek asylum in the like-minded dictatorships Saudi Arabia, Quatar or far-away Uzbekistan.”

  9. #9 Kevin
    April 11, 2008

    “wars of choice almost always end in massive blowback”

    “All wars always end in massive blowback. That’s why you don’t ever fight a war until and unless you have no feasible alternative whatsoever…

    errr Bum? I think that’s what he means by the other kind of war, as in wars of no choice…

    and I don’t think you are right. Look at the winners of the Vietnam War… okay they had a little spat with China and had to invade Cambodia but there was no massively bad thing that happened after their victory. (wasn’t so good for the losers in the re-education camps but they were not all killed for sport either)

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