In the April 5th issue of the Weekly Standard, there is an interesting article by David Gelernter called The Holocaust Shrug
. Gelertner makes the argument that the Iraq war was necessary not just on a political level, but also on a moral one.
On the political level, this war was a necessity and was fought not because of the supposed presence WMDs, as many of the war’s detractors continue to insist. Many try to make the case that the war was one of choice, and not of necessity. While on the surface this is true, Iraq itself did not threaten the US and was a fairly minor threat to US interests in the region, in reality it was a war of necessity.
On September 11th the US was attacked by an Islamist group; a group that grew out of the corruption and backwardness of the Arab Middle East (as well as of our overlooking those things). The Bush administration, understanding the culture of honor and revenge of the Middle East much better than the previous administration or most governments in Europe, realized that the US had to hit back.
Afghanistan was first simply because they were directly involved in 9/11. But Afghanistan was not enough. At first, the nay Sayers and doom mongers told us that it was too much, that we would get bogged down like the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th. Of course all of these nay Sayers did not take into account that the way the US would fight - bearded special forces operators on horseback with laptops, directing precision guided bombs to their assigned targets – was completely different from the way the British and Soviets fought – the traditional full on assault of infantry and armor (or cavalry), the way wars had been fought for centuries. But once the Taliban had been removed, the same people who said that it was going to be impossible to win this war were now saying that of course the US won, the Taliban barely had an army.
The Arab world had to be convinced that the US was serious about its new War on Terror. Iraq, with its long history of violations of UN resolutions, as well as breaking the cease-fire agreement it had signed with the US after the Gulf war made itself the next target of the US. This was a country that was acknowledged by Arabs to be a military power in the region, and what better way to convince the Arab world of US seriousness than to destroy a regime that billed itself as the leader of the Arab world and historically had been one of the centers of Arab culture. By taking down both the Taliban and Saddam, the US would no longer be seen by the Arab world as, in the words of bin Laden, “the weak horse”.
The second political reason for the Iraq war was the Bush Doctrine, the realization that the main problem of the Arab world - the thing that allowed anti-Americanism (and anti-Semitism) to fester - was the political systems of virtually every Arab nation, and the determination to change these systems to some form of consensual government. Democracies rarely fight each other, and if people are concerned about their own governments, and feel that they can meaningfully participate in the political process, they will be much more concerned about themselves, and will be much less likely to blame us for their problems. It is in our interest to have a freer and more democratic Arab world. The Bush doctrine is, perhaps, one of the most progressive foreign policy initiatives that the US has undertaken since the Marshall Plan. It is amazing that the Left, the self-proclaimed progressives, are fighting so hard against this.
As such, the Bush Doctrine contains a large moral component – the US will actively try to liberate people from their oppressors, i.e. their own leaders. But even with this moral component, the Bush Doctrine is one of self-interest, not an “act of selfless national goodness”. It is hard to think of a war waged by the US (or any other major power) for purely altruistic reasons. Even the US intervention in the Balkans, the reasons for which were ostensibly to stop ethnic cleansing was in reality a war to preserve the stability of Europe. And even then, it came too late and was largely ineffective in stopping Milosevic in his ethnic cleansing campaign. In addition, it should not have even been undertaken by the US, but by the Europeans in whose direct interest it was to stop a war on their borders. As Nudnikette suggested, European powerlessness to intervene in a conflict so close to them was an indication of one of the main new cultural issues of Europe: while still being Christian, Europe has also become Muslim by virtue of the massive immigration, and therefore had trouble taking either the Christian side or the Muslim side for fear of upsetting each respective group.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that there has never been an altruistic war is that war as altruism is a very new idea. Prior to the idea of waging a war for human rights, wars were Clausewitzian in nature, i.e. the extension of policy by other means. The goal of war then was not to liberate anyone for the sake of liberating them, but to force the other side to conform to your wishes. Another possible reason for the lack of purely altruistic wars even now is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince one’s own people that a war for others as opposed to for one’s own interest is one where it is worth sacrificing blood and treasure.
In the case of Iraq, the freeing of people from an oppressive and cruel dictator was not a “step towards the act of selfless national goodness” even if it were the only reason for the war, since the freedom of people in Iraq and the entire Arab Middle East is entirely in our interest.