Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Preventative War

by Jeremy Page

Given today’s political climate, this subject is probably the touchiest one we will encounter this semester. I have no doubt where most of our class’ opinion lies with respect to the Iraq War. I suppose most of us are willing to slam the war, decrying the preemptive strike Bush made along with the accusations of American imperialism. No doubt Thursday night will be amongst the most heated discussions we will have. Those things noted, I suppose I need to discuss what I am supposed to be writing on.

I find myself to be somewhat of a national egoist, combining that with a realist philosophy when it comes to war really seems to make me a jerk. While the interests of the global community are important; it should take the backseat to one’s own country. Why? Because I live here, along with my friends and family-this nation’s policies directly affect me (a bow to egoism as well as national egoism). I’m not arguing that global issues do not impact me, I simply tier American interests to be higher than global ones-at a political level.

In touching on politics, I am convinced that it is important to separate one’s morality and one’s politics. I am not proposing that morality and politics should never intersect; I am simply stating that to confuse political and moral ideals will shortchange either side. Considering that my political obligations are much less stringent than my moral obligations is fairly accurate. As an example: it is a moral obligation to prevent genocide or to feed the homeless, but I cannot commit myself to state that these are political obligations. Treaties and coalitions not being taken into consideration; I am especially certain of this as far as it applies to the U.S.

Moving on to the Iraq situation: David Luban asserts that the U.S. listed three justifications for invading Iraq: the first reason is “a legalistic argument that the war was necessary to enforce United Nations resolutions in the face of Iraqi defiance.” The second reason is humanitarian, the removal of Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. The third and most controversial reason given was that the invasion of Iraq was a preventative war.

The legalistic reason(s) given is somewhat laughable. I am sure I am not the only one who believes that Bush was using this idea to help support his second and third reasons for the invasion. Surely Bush is sensitive to the United Nation’s sentiments in some ways, but to declare one self the (nearly) sole executor of the U.N.’s will is overkill. I doubt Bush cares that much about the U.N. Some people might even cynically state that he does not care at all.

The humanitarian excuse for the invasion of Iraq seems to be much more respectable, but once again I would say that it was given more in support of preventative war than as a reason in and of itself. I doubt anyone would really question whether or not Saddam Hussein ran a despotic regime. Whether or not the U.S. should have toppled his government is in question, but as I see it, even if it had not been us, someone would eventually have to do something.

And now we find ourselves in the area of contention: preventative war. President Bush issued a National Security Statement stating that America “’must stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends…’ which requires acting ‘against such emerging threats before they are fully formed’” (Luban). According to Luban the stance taken by Bush is “an important revision in just war theory…” I seek to find out why exactly this is, while using Walzer’s piece and the piece by Galston.

According to Galston, citing the U.N.’s international law (and just war theory), “the first duty of every government, they say, is to defend the lives and security of its citizens.” To assume that Saddam Hussein was actually an imminent threat to the U.S. would be to assume that the U.S. was justified in its invasion of Iraq. Because of the lack of evidence that Hussein was an “imminent threat” it is not possible to show that the invasion of Iraq was justified. According to Galston, “the threat to the United States from Iraq is not sufficiently specific, clearly enough established or shown to be imminent.” Galston’s commentary was given previous to the war in Iraq, and like many other critiques’ claims, it still seems to hold true.

Whether or not the Iraq war can be said to be justified or not will require us to look at Walzer’s work on “anticipations.” It is best to make an attempt to define what would justify a war of prevention and then attempt to apply it to the Iraq situation.

The legalist paradigm for preventative war seems to be lacking. It allows for an individual or country to “defend themselves against violence that is real but not actual” (Walzer 74). I question how something can be “real but not actual,” given the definition of each term. Walzer seems to believe that this reduces defense and pre emption to a “reflex action.” I would say that if the other side has already thrown the punch, you are well past the point of pre emption; at that point I would suppose you would find yourself in a wartime situation. The scope of consideration that goes into a preventative war would be much more calculated than something that can be reduced to a mere “reflex action.”

Preventative war asks states to make decisions that have no real standard for measurement. When is a threat “imminent?” Does it matter if a threat is more talk than action? Are troops gathering near a country’s borders cause enough for a preemptive attack? Does the attempt at acquiring nukes constitute a pre emptive strike? Does past history play a role in the way a country is treated? How are the actions of a country read by other countries? All these are questions that do not have a scale to be measured by-they must be measured in the context in which they happen. Walzer notes that preventative wars were fought to maintain the “balance of power.” He makes reference to Europe while addressing the balance of power.

Quoting Francis Bacon, Walzer states (about balance of power and the classical concept of prevention): “it requires of the rulers of states….that they ‘keep due sentinel, that none of their neighbors do overgrow (by increase of territory, by embracing of trade, by approaches or the like) as they become more able to annoy them than they were.’” Bacon continues to state that “a just fear of imminent danger” is cause enough to strike first. I feel that this idea for preventative war is somewhat lacking; Walzer brushes aside its weight as well, noting that using a utilitarian philosophy when not knowing the consistent outcomes of war and peace is not in the slightest bit practical.

Walzer goes on to present the ideas of a man named Vattel. Vattel’s ideas, is seems bring Walzer to point out a few more details on preventative war- Vattel’s ideas dealt with the War of Spanish Succession (the quote can be found on page 78 in Walzer’s book). It is noted that the mere acquisition of power is not enough to initiate a preventative war, and neither are insults or comments made without the ability or intent to back them up. All of the trash talk in the world matters very little if the nations being threatened knows the country making the threats cannot do a single thing to back it all up. Once a country has the means, will, and intent (my phrase), and such an attack is imminent-then the country who is the potential victim may act.

According to Walzer, no country really desires to attack until they are threatened. A country cannot feel morally justified in initiating a war that might not have to be fought. Walzer refers to this as “moral security,” I think that this is highly idealistic of Walzer. I doubt countries are that concerned with morality, as they are concerned with saving face. “Moral security” is a public image phrase that adds weight to the reasons given for a pre emptive strike. Walzer uses his idea of “moral security” to state that in the Burke’s and Vattel’s ideas for morally justified preventative war are “worrisome” because they do not require some sort of aggressive action to be taken previous to a pre emptive strike. I would say that Walzer misses the mark with this statement because it would require a “reflex action” that he noted earlier on. Relying on such an action can be classified, in my opinion, as self defense, retaliation, or engaging in an open war. It is not pre emptive or preventative-that would require the nation fearing an attack to strike first (before the threatening nation gets a chance to).

Walzer eventually states his notions of what constitute a justified first strike (and then uses the Israel-Egypt 6 Day War as an example): “the line between legitimate and illegitimate first strikes is not going to be drawn at the point of imminent threat but at the point of sufficient threat.” Walzer believes his statement to be vague, as it requires even more of an explanation:

it requires: a manifest intent to injure, a degree of active participation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting or doing anything other than fighting, greatly increases the risk” to the country concerned about a pre emptive strike. I state this as simply: intent, will, and means and imminence of an attack. It seems that Walzer is using a little bit of utilitarian philosophy in his last statement-something I thought he did not see fit to use when discussing pre emptive war.

Walzer concludes with his summary of what would justify a preventative war, I feel that I must agree with him on a moral level. Although I disagreed with Walzer on my last paper, I feel that he gets it right here. Ultimately it is wisest for a country to consider its own ends before setting out to flirt with morality-but in some cases morality is the guise that helps save face.

As far as the Iraq War goes, I don't feel it can be justified if it is required to live up to the criteria presented in the works we read this week. Saddam Hussein and Iraq had none of the means, a little will, and doubtful intent. Does that mean we can't be there for other reasons? I think not, but I'm sure someone might have something.


Anonymous jamie mccall said...

I tend to agree with you on most things, however, I would have to throw a caution flag on the whole concept you state of separating politics and morality. From everything I have seen, political ideology is based on a core moral principle, and to attempt to divorce the two could prove to be very dangerous. Even on those "radical" principles that seem to have no morality, I still see evidence of what someone perceives to be "moral" (although I may not agree with it personally). Especially when we consider human rights domestically (ie, slavery) I think we must base our politics on some notion of morality.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

A brief word on "real and actual."
If my understanding is correct, the difference is something like this:
real -the probability having reached "critical mass" of existence
actual -I'm going to defer to a CompSci term here: an instance of the object in question, in this case, it pans out to something close to intent

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is just another way to say the country in question has both the means and the intent.

I am, though, going to have to disagree with the idea that nationalism should trump morality as it is applied to the world as a whole. I think that is what you were getting at in the beginning... I think.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

I think that morality should be the overriding factor and not nationalism. I agree that there probably is some kind of morality within the Bush administration, but I know that I wouldn't say that they have morals that I agree with. I also doubt that they have some of the best morals.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

Very enjoyable essay. I understand things better than I did when I read the stuff on my own. I agree with the majority of what you said but I think Jamie has a point, no matter how immoral politics may seem there are always morals involved (obviously ones most of us do not agree with in this administration but morals none the less). I also think every country has some kind of national egoism going on, the US just seems to be a bit more egotistical than others. With good reason of course but we should still concern ourselves with the goings-on of other countries because a good percentage of our livelihood depends on other countries. Then again, could it be our egotism that makes us stick our collective nose in the business of other countries? After all if it affects us we should know about it, right?

10:06 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

I'm going to agree with Jamie (for once) in that my big sticking point here is the calling for a separation of politics and morality. This goes back to what I (and a few others) have said a few times before - morality isn't a part time sort of thing. I think you are right, however, to point out that there can be different obligations to states than those to individuals.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Steven Grueshaber said...

I'm gonna go ahead and get on the 'morality and politics shouldn't be seperate' train. Why shouldn't the goal of politics be doing the right thing?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

To everyone wanting to legislate morality,
Well there goes abortion, gay marriage, oral sex, permarital sex, alcohol, marijuana, etc. etc. Who decides what is moral? and by what standards? Morality (to me) is a personal standard by which you live, not what someone else considers to be acceptable. Legality and morality are and should be kept separate.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I'm moving even further that that these days, Rick.

Morality and Ethics are looking more and more like bunk every day. None of it seems to look anything like the everyday life that people (real, breathing people with minds of their own) experience in their daily doings.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

This whole politics and morality things presents quite a problem. The thing is, politics and morality aren't separate BUT as Rick said they should be. Morality is a personal thing, but it's still in politics. The presidential debates are not only about policies but moral issues, subjects such as Iraq and abortion and gay marriage were side-by-side. However, as I said before, Rick makes a very good point, they should be separate but unfortunately for now, they are not.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

yes no matter how much we try to not bring morals into the matter, in the end we all are human and the hole idea of morality or at least for me is that untill you reach that point you are fine, but when its goes against what i stand for then we have a problem. You do a good job of arguing your poing but more evidence to support your argument, couldnt hurt, but over all Great job

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Smoke said...

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8:59 PM  
Anonymous Guitar Master said...

I wish I could blog as good as you, but what I can do is give you a nice Guitar Lesson!

4:32 PM  

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