The Ethics of Rebuilding Iraq

Article excerpt

csmonitor.com's Josh Burek spoke to ethics expert Rush Kidder about the ethical aspects of rebuilding Iraq and spreading democracy around the globe. Mr. Kidder is founder and president of the Institute for Global Ethics.

csmonitor.com: [Former Pentagon Adviser] Richard Perle has talked about achieving "high moral purpose" in Iraq. What ethical standard has the Bush administration used to achieve this "high moral purpose"?

Kidder: [Americans] are conflicted. We love the idea of peace - as well we should. We also feel guilt that we've accumulated a living standard far beyond other countries. What we are seeing is a broad, rather rapid, shift from the concept of deterrence to the concept of preemption.

What has pushed us in this direction is that there's a new parameter here. And that is the presence of widespread suicide as a weapon.

The problem is, of course, you can't deter suicide bombers. You have to preempt them. What we need to understand is that there are various forms of preemption. In Iraq, what we've seen is the bluntest of those instruments ... heavy armor used as preemptive technique. What we have to move to is the ultimate preemption, which is not armor, but intelligence.

csmonitor.com: What are the ethical tensions involved with building democracy?

Kidder: The looting is this tremendous outburst - a pent-up ... sense that "I have been stifled and imprisoned for 30 years, and I suddenly have a euphoric freedom. What am I going to do with it? How do I know? Everything I've been raised to think is that this moment of freedom is a sudden thing. If I don't seize this, there'll be another Saddam [Hussein]."

The challenge now [for Iraqis] is to back that off into [a sense of] community, so people can say, "Let's put up with discomfort so we can build institutions, obey them, work with the security force and government. Let's do that." That's the ultimate prosperity.

It will be the same kind of tension we saw expressed in the classic right vs. right in the invasion of Basra. The British could've gone in right away. There was a humanitarian crisis developing, people were going to die, not from combat wounds, but the culture of combat.

So they have every incentive, every moral reason to say, "Let's get in there now. Let's blow this place apart. Let's sacrifice some people, but for the greater good, we must go in." On the other hand, you can't just indiscriminately blow up innocent civilians for the sake of possibly saving larger numbers from a threat that may or may not materialize.

We know enough as a country to set up American-like institutions in Iraq almost overnight. We could empty out our police academies, send them over, and basically Americanize the place ... On the other hand, we can build a long-term future, and help the Iraqis do what Bush says they want to do - help them run the country. Do we really believe that? For 30 years, they haven't been near the levers of power. Can they run the country? You can build a powerful case on both sides.

csmonitor.com: Some observers claim President Bush has exaggerated the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda in order to justify regime change. They worry he'll use this success to push for new campaigns against regimes hostile to the US. Are leaders justified when they exaggerate claims to win support for a course of action?

Kidder: Yes, I think that the danger is there, in the run-up [to a war], of exaggeration - or the converse: absolute silence on things. It was [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, I believe, who kept persisting in saying we won't go to war in Europe, when he was, in fact, training American troops in Canada and not saying anything about that.

But that comes back to a broader point: The need to shift ... from armor and toward intelligence. We wish we lived in a world without the CIA. But we have to have that information. …