Brandon Kirby: Welcome to the newest installment of perspectives. I have a lot planned in terms of the direction and ultimately my hope to move into an audio format. I also believe in moving to a one-on-one discussion as that tends to foster more criticism, which is necessary for arriving at truth.
This week I invited Nicholas Amato and Arthur Cleroux to debate the justice of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Amato is an editor with Being Libertarian and a political science major with San Jose State University. Cleroux is also an editor with Being Libertarian and has worked with global non-profit NGOs in four continents.
Nicholas Amato: Murray Rothbard said all government wars are unjust, and there were only two just wars — the American Revolution and Civil War, which were both secessionist acts. I agree with this logic. Not only is a state that is involved in wars a perpetuation of state violence as an adequate means of foreign relations, but supporting government wars validates the state in general and its ability to act in an aggressive manner.
The Iraq War began as a result of incorrect information. Our government likely jumped the gun too soon without making an effort to do their research. If one were to argue for the validity and pros to a government-led war, they definitely could not explain why our government had any business being in Iraq. It was a reactionary action that was fueled by people who were angry and wanted revenge. Self-defense should be something that as a nation and as a people is our only strategy of domestic defense from foreign threats, but even the argument that “the state shouldn’t be involved in wars” notwithstanding, this war was not only misguided, but it led to regime change, other Middle Eastern conflicts, and the bubble that eventually created ISIS.
Arthur Cleroux: To start, I should state that I was opposed to the Iraq War when it was still in discussion. I still think it was a mistake overall (for reasons that will need to be discussed another time) and agree very much with what Nick said. However, there are certain aspects of the war that I believe were ethical, and at the very least made sense:
1. President Bush said in his memoirs that one of the reasons for the Iraq war was a strategic decision to deprive al-Qaeda of a host nation wherein they could safely train and prepare further attacks against the United States. It seems that this backfired horribly with the rise of ISIS, but in its intention, it was an ethical plan. Sun Tzu (the great strategist) once said: “Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.” Miyamoto Musashi (the famous Japanese swordsman) followed up this principle when he said: “If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover”. The idea behind both quotes being to deprive your enemy of any place where he could recover and strike you again. Many of you might say that the invasion paved the way for the rise of ISIS, but what really made the rise of ISIS a possibility was not the invasion or the rebuilding of Iraq; ISIS is a result of the premature withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Premature because the government of Iraq was not ready to hold together a country divided in as many factions, as Iraq was.
2. The second aspect of the war that I find to be an admirable, and ethical, attempt on the part of the United States was the desire to give the people of Iraq a chance at freedom. I realize the idea of bringing freedom to the people of Iraq was overused during the war, and is seen as nothing but propaganda by many; however, it is something that seems to have been the goal of many US troops who fought there, and was something that a lot of the troops honestly believed, and fought hard to achieve. As the Iraqi Army (with US help) pushes ISIS to the borders of its last stronghold in Mosul, that dream seems to finally be on the verge of becoming reality. The people of Iraq now have the freedom to vote, the freedom to choose their method of government, and are no longer under a dictatorial rule. What they do with this freedom is yet to be seen, however the ethics behind spending blood and treasury to break the control of a tyrannical dictator is something that is inherently a part of American history and I believe something to be proud of. America’s contribution can in many ways be compared to France’s during the Revolutionary War. America’s contribution and involvement was much obviously much greater than France’s was during Americas struggle for independence; but the concept is similar: A powerful player in world events lends a hand to a small group of people struggling for a chance at creating a free nation. If only America had (once engaged in this war) stayed to complete the mission; helping Iraq draft a constitution of rights similar to that of the United States, and staying to ensure its successful transition from dictatorship to an example of a constitutional republic that would have been the envy of the Middle East. However, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and rather than fulfilling what could have been a remarkable transition, Americans grew weary of the struggle and withdrew prematurely.
Amato: As a former neoconservative I full well understand the good intentions that come with the idea that nation building and spreading democracy are necessary endeavors. The truth is that they do more harm than good, and should be avoided at all costs. We wouldn’t have had a problem with premature removal if we weren’t involved in war in the first place. I respect Sun Tzu highly, but I often make note of the fact that I believe that taking the first strike is most often times a mistake, and it generally creates more problems than it solves. In my opinion, the art of war is self defense, not preemptive action. I think both sides here can agree that the Iraq War was a mistake. I believe that promoting and spreading the idea that good intentions are a justification for a war, or that even if a war is a mistake that we should praise its good intentions, is a bad move to make, because it just leads to the notion that good intentions are cause for action.
Cleroux: I agree with Rothbard that the majority of wars throughout history have been unjust. Religion, patriotism, and the ‘protection of innocents’, have often been used as covers for what amounted to little more than greed and petty feuds over pride or territory. It is not often that a war is as black and white as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or World War 2, and even those wars can have their “honorable purposes” questioned. I do however believe that it is the responsibility of government, as representatives of the will of the people, (another topic for another time) to wage war when necessary.
One can argue the ethics of the Iraq War in the same way that many others have been justified.
1. In protecting people who were seeking freedom, and helping them to overthrow a tyrannical government.
2. in defending the citizens of the United States from further attacks by preemptively destroying the enemy’s capability to carry out another attack.
Since almost the only purpose of government is the defense of its citizenry, there is debate to be had over whether an offensive that neutralizes an enemy before he is able to attack, injure or kill those same citizens can be considered a defensive action. Another argument for the war could be that its ethics or effects can be viewed subjectively. The revolutionary war for example was fought over an almost insignificant tax, that was only a breaking point because of the years of priming by men like Benjamin Franklin stirring up the populous who until that point were quite uninterested in the idea of self-rule. However as an outcome that war produce arguably the greatest testament to freedom and individual liberty the world has ever seen in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. From a loyalist point of view, especially only a few years after the war, it could easily be seen as an unnecessary act aggression and an unnecessary shedding of blood to continue to be taxed, only now with representation. Maybe time will show the ‘Iraq debacle’ to be a catalyst for a great example of democracy and freedom in the middle east!
Cleroux: In conclusion: For this costly experiment to become anything more than dubious attempt at regime change there needs to be a strong nurturing of the Iraqi national conscience. A nurturing of the desire for individual liberty, for the tolerance of the many other faiths, sects, and minorities that call Iraq home, and a desire for the wealth and fruits of a free market. Now that we are in the position we are in, now that the war is over and Iraq has come close to destroying ISIS, there is an opportunity to plant and nurture the seeds of freedom in this fledgling nation. If America, and American libertarians can take Iraq ‘under their wing’ it could still turn out to be worth the high cost and sacrifice. But we must keep from turning away in an attempt to distance ourselves from the mistakes of the Iraq war. We need to continue to be involved in Iraq, not militarily, or through treasury, but in ideology.
Kirby: Thank you both for your comments!