A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq / Edition 1

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Current debate over the motives, ideological justifications, and outcomes of the war with Iraq have been strident and polarizing. A Matter of Principle is the first volume gathering critical voices from around the world to offer an alternative perspective on the prevailing pro-war and anti-war positions. The contribu-tors—political figures, public intellectuals, scholars, church leaders, and activists—represent the most powerful views of liberal internationalism. Offering alternative positions that challenge the status quo of both the left and the right, these essays claim that, in spite of the inconsistent justifications provided by the United States and its allies and the conflict-ridden process of social reconstruction, the war in Iraq has been morally justifiable on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant, a flagrant violator of human rights, a force of global instability and terror, and a threat to world peace.

The authors discuss the limitations of the current system of global governance, which tolerates gross violations of human rights and which has failed to prevent genocide in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda. They also underscore the need for reform in international institutions and international law. At the same time, these essays do not necessarily attempt to apologize for the mistakes, errors, and deceptions in the way the Bush administration has handled the war. Disputing the idea that the only true liberal position on the war is to be against it, this volume charts an invaluable third course, a path determined by a strong liberal commitment to human rights, solidarity with the oppressed, and a firm stand against fascism, totalitarianism, and tyranny.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Before the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, there were writers and thinkers who distrusted Bush but favored the war largely on human rights grounds: members of that contingent recall, defend and re-examine their arguments in this meaty, provocative, if often academic, collection. "Had there been no war," editor Cushman (a professor of sociology at Wellesley) points out, "Saddam Hussein would still be... torturing and killing." Many contributors make that claim their bottom line. Several explain why they thought the war just in principle, without defending it in practice: "If I knew in spring 2003 what I know now," says the historian Jeffrey Herf, "I would not have supported the invasion." Other writers do not so much defend the war as attack glib arguments against it: Dissent magazine editor Mitchell Cohen denounces "all-explanatory dogma" from right or left; British philosopher Daniel Kofman denounces "confusion in the antiwar movement." Philosophers and political science professors take up the theories of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. Europeans, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, denounce reflexive anti-Americanism; onetime Polish dissident Adam Michnik explains his "very strong... support for the war" in a revealing interview. Strongest of all in their rhetorical force are a pair of speeches from Tony Blair, the last two of the volume's 24 entries. Though it will change few minds, Cushman's volume may include the most articulate support yet for America's Iraq adventure-even if some of its voices express second thoughts. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This anthology of some 23 specially commissioned contributions is intended to offer a defense on "liberal-humanitarian grounds" of President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. In fact, the book provides a much broader spectrum of opinion from American and European writers who include active politicians (Prime Minister Tony Blair), former political dissidents (Adam Michnik), and editors (Richard Herzinger of Die Zeit), along with academics and public intellectuals. This variety accounts for such themes as the Franco-German opposition to the war, the character of Middle East politics, the logic of collective moral choice, and the role of an ecumenical church. If the book's focus falters, its vigor compensates. An intellectually demanding and relevant collection, it lacks only fuller discussion of the war's actual conduct. Recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520245556
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 7/11/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Cushman is Professor of Sociology at Wellesley and Editor in Chief of The Journal of Human Rights. He is coeditor of George Orwell into the Twentieth Century (2004) and editor of The Time We Knew: Western Reponses to the War in Bosnia (1996).

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Read an Excerpt


Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq

The University of California Press

ISBN: 0-520-24555-5


The Liberal-Humanitarian Case for the War in Iraq

What exactly was the war in Iraq? It has alternately been seen as a move to protect the national security of the United States in light of the tragedy of September 11; a preventive war of self-defense against terrorism; a way to foster stability, security, and democracy in the Middle East; a counter to arms proliferation and support of terrorism around the world; an exercise in the expansion of the American empire and protection of American material interests in the region; a war for oil; an illegal act of aggression that has fostered hatred of the United States and helped to strengthen Islamist fundamentalists in Iraq and elsewhere; and a humanitarian intervention and an act of liberation from totalitarianism in the service of human rights and democracy. The debates about the Iraq war have been strident and polarizing at the level of personal and cultural interaction, international relations, and intellectual and political discourse.

This volume consists primarily of essays by leading world political figures, writers, scholars, and activists who supported the war on what might be broadly called liberal-humanitarian grounds; a few authors who did not support the war offer some observations about the political response to it. What unites the authors is a common recognition that, in spite of theinconsistent justifications provided by the United States and its allies and the conflict-ridden process of social reconstruction, the war can be seen as morally justifiable: Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant, a gross violator of human rights, a torturer, a mass murderer, a force of global instability and terror, a threat to world peace and to what John Rawls refers to as the Law of Peoples. For more than three decades, his crimes against humanity, wars of aggression, support of international terrorism, and volatility as a destabilizing force were tolerated, aided, and abetted by world powers and the international community for the sake of political expediency, stability, and material interests. Coming to the rescue and aid of a people who had been subjected to decades of brutality and crimes against humanity is entirely consistent with the basic liberal principle of solidarity with the oppressed and the fundamental humanitarian principle of rescue. The war can be seen as morally legitimate on grounds of basic human rights as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the ethical basis for the international world order. This body of moral principles was ignored by the United Nations Security Council in the case of the Iraqi people in favor of adherence to statutory international law.

Seeing the Iraq war as justifiable on moral and ethical grounds is a distinct minority view within the liberal community. Even Human Rights Watch, which has played a significant role in documenting the heinous crimes of Saddam's regime, claimed that the Iraq war was not a humanitarian war on the grounds that it was not motivated by the humanitarian concern of preventing genocide (this view leaving unanswered the question, Is prevention of genocide the only legitimate reason for humanitarian intervention?). The arguments by the United States that it was removing a tyrant fell flat against the recognition that the United States had once supported Saddam Hussein in his brutal war against Iran. Moreover, the United States failed to remove the despot after its victory in the first Gulf War; instead, it fostered Iraqi resistance to Saddam but cruelly abandoned that resistance to the brutal retaliation of the Baath regime.

In this respect, though, the international community was hardly any better. The ethical foundations of the international community, as encoded in the International Declaration of Human Rights, rang hollow as the United Nations implemented sanctions against Iraq that only strengthened the brutal regime and allowed the people of Iraq to remain subject to what Kanan Makiya has referred to as the Republic of Fear, denied protection, rescue, and human rights. Much of the resistance to the war was grounded in a critique of American imperial ambitions in favor of a multilateral consensus forged by the United Nations according to statutory international law rather than moral imperatives. Peace and stability, rather than justice and human rights for the Iraqi people, were the central concerns of those members of the international community who stood against the liberation of Iraq.

In being critical of both the Bush administration's handling of the war, on the one hand, and the arguments of those who were against the war, on the other, the essays in this volume constitute collectively what might be called a third view. The basic elements of this perspective are a strong liberal commitment to human rights, solidarity with the oppressed, and a firm stand against fascism, totalitarianism, and tyranny. In this regard, the authors constitute part of what Paul Berman, following the lead of the French socialist Leon Blum, refers to as a Third Force of liberal internationalism. Berman articulates a vision of liberal internationalism that sees the current war on terror (and the war in Iraq in his later work, which appears in this volume), as a battle against Islamofascism that is being waged in order to protect the basic values of liberal internationalism: solidarity with the oppressed, the promotion of republican and liberal values, the emphasis on promulgating basic human rights as embodied in the UN Charter, and the promotion of democratic government. Berman calls for

a Third Force different from the conservative and foreign policy cynics who could only think of striking up alliances with friendly tyrants; and different from the anti-imperialists of the left, the left-wing isolationists, who could not imagine any progressive role at all for the United States. A Third Force, neither "realist" or pacifist-a Third Force devoted to a politics of human rights and especially women's rights, across the Muslim world; a politics of ethnic and religious tolerance; a politics against racism and anti-Semitism, no matter how inconvenient that might seem to the Egyptian media or the House of Saud; a politics against the manias of the ultra-right in Israel, too, no matter how much that might enrage the Likud and its supporters; a politics of secular education, of pluralism, and law across the Muslim world; a politics against obscurantism and superstition; a politics to out-compete the Islamists and Baathi on their left; a politics to fight against poverty and oppression; a politics of authentic solidarity for the Muslim world, instead of the demagogy of cosmic hatreds. A politics, in a word, of liberalism, a "new birth of freedom"-the kind of thing that could be glimpsed, in its early stages, in the liberation of Kabul.

Berman's vision provides us with a set of basic values of a liberal internationalism that led some to support the war, even if war itself is seen as an imperfect means for social and political advancement. As Mient Jan Faber notes in his essay in this volume, this kind of liberal denies him- or herself the choice of standing against the Iraqi people and the rights they are entitled to according to the international community's own fiat, the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The contributors to this volume represent the voices of a Third Force of liberal internationalism. They understand the limitations of the current system of global governance, which tolerates gross violations of human rights and which failed to prevent genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, and the need for reform in international institutions and international law. At the same time, the authors in this volume do not attempt to apologize for the specific mistakes and deceptions of the Bush administration's prosecution of the war, and this book is not an attempt to whitewash history or to second the ideological positions of that administration. The authors share the language of freedom and liberation that the US president has adopted but ground that language in a specific body of liberal principles. (It is hard, in this sense, to see George W. Bush as the "human rights president," but the consequence of the war was, in spite of the conflicts and problems in its aftermath, a significant advance in the human rights of the Iraqi people.) For most of the authors, the liberal internationalist case for the war was not made strongly enough by the Bush administration or at least as strongly as the argument for anticipatory self-defense, which turned out to be empirically ungrounded. What is striking about these essays is the willingness of each author to voice pointed criticism of the Bush administration and its practices (as Christopher Hitchens wryly notes in his contribution, "I write as one who could not easily name a mistake that the Bush administration has failed to make").

Yet at the same time the authors also offer pointed critiques of the liberal-left opposition to the war, much of which is contradictory, reductionistic, logically flawed, or excessively emotional, and irrational. Even the most sober and reflective critics of the war occupied a stage that also displayed demonstrators toting placards of Bush with a Hitler mustache, waving Iraqi and Cuban flags, and passing out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ironically, many of the authors in the volume point out that the antiwar position was, in fact, something of a conservative one in that it aimed to preserve a regime of intolerable cruelty in order to preserve the deeply flawed system of international law that gives both tyrants and democratically elected leaders equal seats at the table of international justice. Indeed, as Daniel Kofman notes in his contribution here, it is odd that many leftists, who have built careers on challenging the unrestrained sovereignty of states and state power, would find themselves arguing in favor of the current system that supports and guarantees the power of sovereign despots and the inviolability of their states, even in extreme cases such as Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, or Saddam Hussein. Had there been no war, Saddam Hussein would still be in power rather than preparing for his trial for crimes against humanity. He would still be tormenting, torturing, and killing his own subjects, destabilizing the Middle East, and giving succor to international terrorists who are the avowed enemies of liberal democracy.

It is from this two-sided critique that the authors offer alternative viewpoints that challenge the status quo of both the left and the right. The essays in this volume offer unique observations by those of liberal disposition who wrestled with their consciences and took a stand in support of the liberation of the Iraqi people from tyranny, all the time recognizing that in conception, execution, and consequence, there were and remain significant problems with the prosecution of the war and the process of social reconstruction. The historical value of the present volume lies in the fact that it challenges the idea that the only true liberal position on the war was to be against it.

Maintaining a consistent humanitarian and liberal defense of the war has been a position increasingly difficult to sustain in light of the postwar developments in Iraq. Indeed, some liberal thinkers who originally supported the war changed their minds and decided that their original defenses could not be maintained in light of the mismanagement of the war, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the increasing hostility of the global community toward the United States, and the strengthening of the resolve of Islamofascism in its war against liberal democracy. Those who saw the removal of Saddam Hussein as an act of liberation and as a first step in the democratization of the Middle East are now confronted with the messy facts on the ground in Iraq. Several of the contributors express ambivalence about the humanitarian rationale for the war and concern about the unrestrained use of American power and unilateralism, the process of social reconstruction and democratization of postwar Iraq, and the perils and dangers associated with preemptive strategies. A crucial strength of the volume, though, is that the authors consider the war and reconstruction in all of its complexity and aim, constructively and critically, to remain committed to the possibilities for the advancement of liberal democracy in Iraq and for the advancement of the principles of liberal internationalism more generally. In the spirit of liberal hope, the authors focus on positive consequences and outcomes-the restoration of sovereignty, the establishment of a new government, the hope that the Iraqi people themselves have about the future. This liberal hope, rather than the cynical pessimism and the moral indifference of realism, defines the spirit of the authors of these essays.

The need for such a volume is clear. Those who supported the war on the grounds put forth by the Bush administration enjoy the privilege of power, which affords their arguments a high degree of visibility. Those who were against the war-a group that consists of left-liberal intellectuals who are effective writers and activists-have suffered few barriers to the voicing of their views and have produced a constant stream of antiwar essays and books on the subject. In many cases, antiwar views dominate the pages of the traditional left-liberal press (as, for instance, in The Nation, although several liberal-minded magazines, such as Dissent and The New Republic, have been notably pluralistic in offering some of the opinions expressed in this volume). The New York Times, the global paper of record, has exhibited strong antiwar positions in its editorial columns. It is almost always the case that war polarizes ideological and intellectual discourse, and this is certainly the case in the Iraq war: one finds books that either support the war more or less on the grounds of the Bush administration or oppose it for a variety of reasons. No single volume, however, has collected the writings of those who defended the war on traditional principles of liberal internationalism, as a struggle against fascism and totalitarianism, or on human rights grounds. Indeed, the ideological tradition uniting many authors in this volume might be described as "antitotalitarianism," as embodied in the views of the Polish leader of the Solidarity movement, Adam Michnik, whose ideas appear in an interview in this volume. In this respect, the authors are closer to the liberal form of solidarity that motivated those activist intellectuals who supported the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War than they are to an organization such as the United Nations and its realpolitik practices, moral indifference, and toleration of tyrants. As such, this volume serves as an important historical document that will ensure that a different voice of liberalism, one that remains principled and idealistic rather than descending into a vortex of cynical realism, appeasement, moral indifference, tolerance of tyrants, and the denial of human rights. Such a work is more important than ever, especially for the younger generation of liberals who, as Richard Just notes in his essay, have abandoned idealism for realism, thus jeopardizing the continuation of the most important defining quality of the liberal internationalist tradition.

The volume is organized around a set of central questions, and various authors approach these questions in different ways. The intent is not to provide definitive answers but to use the Iraq war as a case to raise questions and issues about the war that have not enjoyed a prominent airing.

1. Are the ideologies of antitotalitarianism, antifascism, and the promotion of human rights sufficient justifications for unilateral armed intervention on the part of states? Do the moral and ethical imperatives of human rights trump international law, and under what conditions? What exactly is the responsibility of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Security Council, its central political apparatus? Is the war defensible purely on human rights grounds? If so, what are the problems and paradoxes created by the use of state power and violence for the advancement of human rights?


Excerpted from A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : the liberal-humanitarian case for war in Iraq 1
1 The case for regime change 29
2 Liberal legacies, Europe's totalitarian era, and the Iraq war : historical conjunctures and comparisons 39
3 "Regime change" : the case of Iraq 57
4 In the murk of it : Iraq reconsidered 76
5 National interest and international law 95
6 Just war against an "outlaw" region 106
7 Moral arguments : sovereignty, feasibility, agency, and consequences 125
8 A friendly drink in a time of war 147
9 Wielding the moral club 152
10 Peace, human rights, and the moral choices of the churches 160
11 Ethical correctness and the decline of the left 179
12 Pages from a daily journal of argument 191
13 Liberal realism or liberal idealism : the Iraq war and the limits of tolerance 207
14 Iraq and the European left 223
15 Guilt's end : how Germany redefined the lessons of its past during the Iraq war 233
16 The Iraq war and the French left 243
17 Tempting illusions, scary realities, or the emperor's new clothes II 259
18 Antitotalitarianism as a vocation : an interview with Adam Michnik 271
19 Sometimes, a war saves people 281
20 Gulf war syndrome mark II : the case for siding with the Iraqi people 285
21 "They don't know one little thing" 297
22 "Why did it take you so long to get here?" 309
23 Full statement to the House of Commons, 18 March 2003 329
24 The threat of global terrorism 340
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