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This article was written in August 2003, after about 6 months of the Iraq War. Hindsight may change ones views. If you have comments, please add them in the comments section below.
Iraq: Howard no moral leg to stand on.
Whilst in the US a searching review of the morality of war is unlikely, the Australian Parliament has belatedly joined our British cousins in reviewing the war in Iraq – and John Howard should come off last in the Iraq morality stakes.
In the lead up to the war three main arguments were put to dislodge Saddam. The US and UK argued that Saddam sponsored terrorists. They also argued that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (the 45 minutes to midnight argument). The US and UK also mumbled about so called ‘Regime Change’ as a bi-product of these reasons.
Whilst agreeing with the WMD and terrorism arguments, John Howard said that Australia was ONLY going to war for these two reasons. ‘Regime change’ Howard said, unlike the US and UK, was not part of Australia’s motivation for war.
Tony Blair ran a third ‘moral argument’ as well. At his party conference and at a later press conference he said that if one wanted a legal reason for the war, it was the WMD argument. But if one wanted a moral reason for the war it was the removal of the despotic dictatorship of Saddam.
No matter how bad a ‘war’ would be, the argument went, the ‘peaceful Iraq’ led by Saddam was worse. Some commentators in Australia used a ten-year average of 137 innocent people being killed by Saddam each day, as the human cost of Iraqi ‘peace’.
Using this figure approximately 20,000 innocent people would have been killed in the ‘peaceful’ Iraq if there had been no war and Saddam stayed in power, increasing by 137 each day.
As it has turned out about 5,000 innocents have so far been killed in the conflict. As absurd as it seems there is an argument that the human cost of peace was higher than the human cost of war.
Hence a moral argument exists that the war was the ‘least bad’ of bad alternatives.
There was no ‘cost free third way’ proposed. There was no left wing argument for a peaceful removal of Saddam and no French-German proposal to prevent Saddam from killing his own people. There were plenty of arguments about oil, but none from the left about stopping Saddam’s killing, only stopping the US killing.
So now that the WMD and terrorism arguments are beginning to unravel, and the left proposed no moral argument to stop Saddam killing, where does that leave the ‘Coalition of the Willing’?
The US has an amazing self-belief. They have what many consider to be fundamentalist religious approach (a fundamentalist Muslim is a terrorist, but a fundamentalist Christian is a President?). They honestly believe that their way is best and that they have an obligation to take ‘their way’ to the world, by force if necessary.
Many outside of the US are understandably uncomfortable with this approach.
So in the US the argument is not based on morality – they believe they were right. US arguments and criticisms of the Administration are based on efficiency. Could it have been done better? Should the rebuilding be done better? It is on this basis that the US people will judge George W., not on the morality of this war.
In the UK surveys show that up to 90% of Britons believe that their government deliberately lied to them about the war. They were lied to about the WMD and lied to about terrorism and the lies were so bad, many believe, that one of their top scientists suicided over the issue.
But Blair can still fall back on the ‘moral argument’ saying that even if legally the war was wrong, Saddam was still a bad man and now Saddam is gone. ‘Sorry about the law’ he can say, ‘but in the end we did a good thing’ he can argue.
This may save Blair’s political skin.
But what about John Howard now that it appears our intelligence reports were doctored?
John Howard is caught in a trap. If Blair runs the ‘legally we were wrong but morally we were right’ argument, where would that leave Australia’s PM?
If the UK was legally wrong to go to Iraq, then so was Australia. But unlike Blair, Howard cannot run the moral argument. After all Howard said that ‘Regime Change’ was specifically NOT one of Australia’s reasons for going to war.
Of the major (and minor) world leaders who supported the war, only John Howard specifically excluded removing Saddam as one of his justifications for war.
Of the major (and minor) world leaders only John Howard can not, and must not be allowed to, use the moral argument for war.
I believe Saddam is a bad man and that removing him from power, even for bad reasons, is on balance a good thing. John Howard excluded himself from this justification. John Howard is the only one who has no ‘moral argument’ for this war and it on the war’s legality that we must hold him to account.
More discussion like this is in: