The fog of war having somewhat cleared in Iraq, it seems likely that this one should provide decades’ worth of enjoyable historical casuistry. Namely, what is the moral balance between all the untruths used to start the war and the commendable result of deposing a murderous tyrant?

Result: Good · Everyone pretty well already knew that Saddam Hussein and his government were a bunch of murderous thugs. As with many things about Iraq, Salam Pax says it as well as anyone, speaking of the former Iraqi secret police: “You wouldn’t get your Mukhabarat ID if they didn’t know you were a sick fuck who would slit his mother’s throat to get up the party ladder.” Indeed: children's prisons, mass graves, the drearily-familiar apparatus of modern tyranny.

So, by any sane moral standard, this was a fine thing to have done, it seems to have been done cleanly, and Iraq, while in pretty severe pain right now, has a chance to do better.

The soldiers who did it have earned many thanks.

Lying: Bad · But you can’t close the books there.

Given the evidence now in hand, it would appear that the US Administration based the recent successful Iraqi campaign on a collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction on the subject of WMD, so fanciful that they had to route around their own intelligence agencies to make it plausible. Some of those, er, allegations that seem fanciful in the rear-view may be found here by searching for “anthrax” and starting to read at the second match.

Those fables were taken to the UN Security Council and ended doing severe damage to America’ relationships with pretty well everybody, because pretty well everybody refused to sign up for war on the basis that they were scared of Saddam’s WMDs, because they weren’t.

On Balance... · It seems that if there can be such a thing as a just war, this would be it. On the other hand, I don't think it’s OK to stand up in public and say things that aren't true, and I really don’t think it’s OK to berate your supposed friends because they won’t agree to pretend to believe them.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to accuse people of having been pro-Saddam because they were in fact uncomfortable with untruth.

One could construct an argument, based on a larger moral equation, that it’s on balance OK to fib to your population and the world if by so doing you achieve a greater moral good. But I just can’t get comfy with that.

Saddam got the payback he deserved. I’m not wise enough to figure out what payback the fabulists deserve, but I hope they get it.


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May 26, 2003
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