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Was The Iraq War Morally Justified?

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Not all decisions that are made are black and white or blatantly laid out in terms of good and bad. Often, the most important decisions are choices between the better of two options. The decision to go to war in Iraq was not an easy conclusion but it was one that was made with best intentions. It is my opinion that even though there were some mistakes made in the determination to invade Iraq, it was a just decision on both a security and a moral basis. This paper will briefly look at the background behind the start of the war with Iraq and then examine the rationale of both the pro and con side of this determination. In the following arguments, this paper will concentrate not on security issues as much as whether the war was morally justified.

On January 17, 1991 the United States spear headed a coalition of countries in an intervention into Iraq after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Although, this venture was successful from the standpoint that Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, Iraq soon ceased to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 687 which laid the terms of cease-fire for Iraq. (Rourke 2006) Not only did Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, throw out the UN weapons inspectors but he also continued his persecution of Iraqi minority groups as well as providing financial and political support to radical terrorist groups. After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in the United States, President Bush declared war not only on the terrorists who had committed the act, but also on those leaders and countries who supported them, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them" (New York Times 2001). In the light of the United States' new commitment to fighting terrorism and its ongoing dedication to protecting human rights, the thought of invading Iraq was a logical one.

The decision to go to war with Iraq was not an unanimous determination by any measure. It had many critics who voiced numerous justifiable objections and even the American were greatly divided on it. In March 2003, shortly before the United States invaded Iraq a poll found that "67 percent of Americans approved 'of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power while ... 29 percent disapproved and 4 percent were unsure". (Rourke 2006). This poll shows that while the majority did support going to war, there were many that disapproved of it.

Senator Robert Byrd argues that by invading Iraq, the United States itself has redirected the focus of terrorism to Iraq. (Rourke 2006) In 2003 following the invasion of Iraq, Senator Byrd said, "Today ... it is Iraq that has become the most powerful magnet for Islamic terrorists. ... Ironically, Saddam Hussein and his henchmen are more of a threat to the United States today than they were before the war began." (Rourke 2006) While it is true that there is much instability in Iraq currently, it is my opinion that this situation has been improved by the removal of the Iraqi regime. Without a leader who is funding and encouraging terrorism, terrorist cells have been decentralized and fragmented thus rendering them less capable of staging dramatic, large-scale attacks.

One of the reasons the United States cited in going to war was that it was combating radical extremism and terrorism. Leon Wieseltier disagrees, saying, "this war ... was supposed to strike a decisive blow against terrorism. I do not doubt that seriousness of the Bush administration's intention to protect the United States, but I never understood this argument. We cannot fight Islamic radicalism, I mean militarily, without creating Islamic radicalism. The fight against Islamic radicalism, must be political and cultural, which is why the fight against Islamic radicalism must not be conflated with the fight against Islamic terrorism." (The New Republic 2004) This type of thinking is faulty in that it leads to a course of non-action. It is true that in combating an enemy, whether physical or ideological, you run the risk of rallying sympathizers to his cause but this is not justification for refraining from confrontation. It is merely a risk that any administration must be prepared to deal with when engaging an enemy.

Another objection is that even though the United States invaded Iraq to protect human life, it did not adequately consider the number of innocent lives that it would take in pursuing this endeavor. (The Nation 2004) Paul Savoy says, "It should make no difference whether the people who do the killing are freedom fighters like Palestinian suicide bombers, who purposefully kill civilians, or freedom fighters like the American liberators of the Iraqi people, who aim at military targets but who know with substantial certainty that they will incidentally kill civilians. In the eyes of the criminal law, a person is regarded as intending the death of another when he either has the purpose to cause the death of the victim or when he knows that death is substantially certain to result from his acts." (The Nation 2004) In criminal law this may be true, however it is also acknowledged that in war, you must chose a course of action that is the best collective good. It is not an easy or popular decision but sometimes the only way to save the lives of many is by sacrificing the lives of a few.

The reasoning for going to war did include dealing with the possible threat of Saddam Hussein holding WMD but if we lay that aside and look at the war from more of a humanitarian side, it is clear that we still had substantial reasons to go to war. "But, if our strategic rationale for war has collapsed, our moral one has not. In the '90s, [we] supported military intervention to prevent slaughter in Bosnia, Kosovo, and (unsuccessfully) Rwanda. And, in the process, we learned that stopping genocide brings unexpected rewards. Because the United States went to war twice in the Balkans, southeastern Europe is now largely at peace, increasingly democratic, and slowly integrating into Europe. By contrast, in Rwanda, where the United States stood by, genocide's aftershocks have helped plunge much of Central Africa into war."



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