Ending Tyranny in Iraq

Article excerpt

As it did at least three times during the twentieth century, the United States (this time joined by its most reliable ally, the United Kingdom, and a few others) has once again deposed a brutal tyrant. The long and cruel rule of Saddam Hussein came to a close in 2003 after a short war. Operation "Iraqi Freedom" had four phases: military deployment and preparation; initial attack; capture of Baghdad and overthrow of the regime; and reconstruction and peacekeeping. In every phase except the last, the Anglo-American alliance (the Coalition) had remarkable success. (1) The first three phases--that is, the international war proper--lasted from March 19, 2003 until April 14, 2003. These were followed by a period of military occupation, the return of sovereignty to Iraq, and, finally, an unprecedented democratic election in the country--all of it amid virulent insurgent violence. (2)

The war in Iraq has reignited the passionate humanitarian intervention debate. President George W. Bush surprised many observers in his second inaugural address when he promised to oppose tyranny and oppression, and this in a world not always willing or ready to join in that fight. Humanitarian intervention is again on the forefront of world politics.

Many have criticized the war, in all parts of the world. Much of the criticism challenges the twin assumptions made by Coalition leaders: that the United States had to neutralize the dangers posed by Iraq, and that the war can be justified as part of the war on terror. The legal arguments against the war have focused largely on self-defense and enforcement matters, in particular: whether the justifications given by the Coalition were genuine, given the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq; whether the war could be justified as enforcement of prior Security Council resolutions; whether preventive self-defense is admissible under international law; whether the war against Iraq can be justified as part of a reaction against the attacks of September 11, 2001; whether the Iraq war has severely undermined the system of the UN Charter; and whether the law of self-defense should be radically changed in the light of the new realities that the international community has to face. (3) These criticisms have arisen against the background of a growing distrust of American power and the anxieties created by new threats to peace and liberty.

In this essay I respond to a different criticism of the war: that it cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention. I will not, therefore, address self-defense or other possible justifications of the war unrelated to the abject human rights record of the deposed Iraqi regime. I argue that the war was morally justified as humanitarian intervention. In substantiating this claim, I will, for the most part, set aside legal and political questions and concentrate on the moral legitimacy of the intervention. (4)

There are four claims that have been advanced by those who argue that the war in Iraq cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention:

Claim 1: The war cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention because it is always prohibited to wage war for human rights; that is, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is invalid.

Claim 2: The war cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention because the Coalition leaders did not offer that justification but different ones. They did not say that the war was waged for humanitarian reasons.

Claim 3: The war cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention because Coalition leaders did not intend the humanitarian objective. They had a different intent: to suppress a security threat.

Claim 4: The war cannot be justified as humanitarian intervention because the Coalition did not comply with other requirements established by the doctrine of humanitarian intervention.

I deal only briefly with the all-important claim 1, the general justification of humanitarian intervention. …