Questioning U.S. moral authority to wage war

Posted: Apr 09, 2003 12:00 AM
What I do not get about the anti-war advocates is the moral fervor. I can understand people who oppose the war out of prudence: We cannot be general liberators of the world, and what will happen in the Mideast once we oust the deadly (and perhaps now dead?) dictator of Baghdad? But how could any decent person not feel, at the very least, morally queasy at the idea of leaving the Iraqi people in the murderous hands of Saddam Hussein?

Yet here is the Rev. Bob Edgars, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, equating clergy who support the war to Pharisees who wanted to execute Jesus. A letter writer asks me that, now that a thousand civilians (his estimate) have died, how can I still support the war? I guess the 200,000 or so Iraqis that Saddam slaughters each year never appeared on al-Jazeera, so they do not count.

They are dancing in the streets of Karbala. The Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Mohammed Sistani issues the first pro-U.S. fatwa in memory, urging believers to "help bring this war against the tyrant to a successful end for the Iraqi people," according to The Wall Street Journal. The people of Iraq are ratting out their captors. The Iraqi minister of information is learning the limits of the post-modernist critique of truth.

Yet there is Kofi Annan announcing solemnly that if a post-war Iraqi government wants legitimacy, the United Nations will have to be involved. Polls show European public opinion continues to harden against the U.S.-led war.

Why? An essay by just-war theorist Michael Walzer in a new book, "The New Killing Fields: Massacre and the Politics of Intervention," points to one reason: "The United States and NATO generate suspicion among the sorts of people who are called 'idealists' because of their readiness to act unilaterally and their presumed imperial ambitions; the U.N. generates skepticism among the sort of people who are called 'realists' because of its political weakness and military ineffectiveness."

Huh? The United Nations is idealist and the U.S. is not? For many Europeans and U.S. leftists, apparently, the answer is yes. Most Americans feel exactly the reverse: The U.N. provokes cynicism and suspicion, while our own government is a depository of cherished ideals of freedom and self-government. No powerful nation in the history of the world has done what we propose to do for Iraq, what we have already done for Germany and Japan: conquer, liberate, rebuild. Of course, we had our own interests in each intervention -- preventing a threat to our nation. But we have no interest in running other countries.

Righteous advocates for U.N. idealism should consider by contrast what happened to Cambodia in 1993 when the United Nations supervised free and fair elections. The loser (communist dictator Hun Sen) threatened war with the U.N. So the U.N. caved, negotiating a coalition government between the loser of the election and the winner. Predictably, within a few months the communist tyrant who lost the election swallowed up the democratic victor, and once again the United Nations did nothing. Just as the United Nations and Europe failed to stop the slaughter in Kosovo before the United States stepped in. Just as in 1995, in Srebrenica, U.N. troops set up a safe enclave for Muslims, then stood by and watched the Serbs massacre the people they had promised to protect.

What gives a government legitimacy, Kofi Annan? Is it the general acceptance that comes when citizens witness their government generally acting in defense of the common good? The will of the people perhaps? Or must the Iraqi people get the U.N. seal of approval to form a government?

Is it really the United States whose ambitions are imperialist here?

"Not in my name," says the diehard anti-war crowd. OK, guys, it's a deal: not in your name.