Ending Tyranny in Iraq
Teson, Fernando R., Ethics & International Affairs
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. I will assume that sometimes it is justified to intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons (as was the case in Kosovo). (5) I do, however, outline a version of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention that I defend more fully elsewhere. I then respond to claims 2, 3, and 4. I will examine the criticisms that humanitarian intervention principles cannot justify the war in Iraq because it was not really humanitarian, and the criticism that the war did not meet other requirements for legitimate humanitarian intervention. I conclude that, whatever its value as a defensive reaction against terrorism, the war was indeed justified as a humanitarian intervention.
THE HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION DOCTRINE (6)
I define humanitarian intervention as proportionate help, including forcible help, provided by governments (individually or in alliances) to individuals in another state who are victims of severe tyranny (denial of human rights by their own government) or anarchy (denial of human rights by collapse of the social order). Humanitarian interventions are guided by the following principles:
* a justifiable intervention must be aimed at ending tyranny or anarchy;
* humanitarian interventions are governed, like all wars, by the doctrine of double effect (that is, the permissibility of causing serious harm as a side effect of promoting some good end, coupled with an adequate theory of costs and benefits);
* in general, only severe cases of anarchy or tyranny (7) qualify for humanitarian intervention;
* the victims of tyranny or anarchy must welcome the intervention; and,
* humanitarian intervention should preferably receive the approval or support of the community of democratic states.
These principles should not be understood as strict necessary conditions for legitimacy. Rather, I suggest that they are principles in Ronald Dworkin's sense: if they apply, they incline our judgment toward approval of the intervention. (8) They do not automatically determine legitimacy. Conversely, if the intervention does not satisfy any one principle, that is a reason for condemning it, but it does not automatically render it wrong. For example, suppose a government contemplates intervening to stop genocide. Suppose further that it deceives public opinion, or refuses to seek authorization (if authorization is desirable or possible), or does not comply with the strictures of the doctrine of double effect. Those facts ought to incline our judgment against legitimacy, but they ought not be treated as decisive for that judgment. We must consider those facts in light of the urgency of ending tyranny in particular cases. (9)
Here I do not attempt to defend this particular version of the doctrine. Rather, I wish to challenge the view expressed by many that even if (some version of) the humanitarian intervention doctrine is accepted, the intervention in Iraq cannot be justified on humanitarian grounds either because it was not really humanitarian, or because even if it was (intended as) humanitarian, it did not meet other requirements of the doctrine.
THE QUESTION OF RIGHT INTENT: INTENTION AND MOTIVE
Many commentators have dismissed the possibility of treating the intervention as humanitarian. Citing the shifting justifications that President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair gave before, during, and after the war, they claim that the United States was "really" trying to find weapons of mass destruction (or "really" doing something else), rather than trying to rescue the Iraqis from Hussein's rule. (10) This objection may take the form described in claim 2--that Coalition leaders did not say they were intervening for humanitarian reasons--or the form of claim 3--that they did not really intend the war to be humanitarian but had other, nonhumanitarian, intentions. These critics may or may not have been ready to approve of the intervention had they been persuaded of its humanitarian nature, but, at any rate, categorizing the intervention as humanitarian is a preliminary step even to starting to discuss the issue of justification. For these critics, the fact that the United States is helping the Iraqis to build democratic institutions during reconstruction might be a good thing, but it is not enough to characterize the intervention as humanitarian, and thus not enough to justify it retrospectively under the humanitarian intervention doctrine. They require one of the following things to occur before or at the time of the invasion: the intervener must say that he is acting for humanitarian reasons (claim 2); or, whatever he says, he must actually have a humanitarian intent (claim 3).
These two versions of the objection can be joined into a single one: that the Coalition lacked humanitarian intent. This is because the first version, the performative theory of justification (that what matters is what governments say they are doing), while popular with international lawyers, is untenable. Simply put: governments, like individuals, may lie about why they are doing what they are doing, or they may be mistaken about why they are doing what they are doing and about which rule, if any, is available to justify their behavior. Words lack magical power, so whether the intervention is humanitarian cannot depend on the government saying so. This view involves, in addition, a fallacy. Suppose a government has two available justifications for a contemplated act. If it chooses to justify its behavior under one of them, it does not follow that the act cannot be justified under the rationale it did not choose to invoke. The justification is still valid, and if it applies it may justify the act even if the government did not invoke it. (11)
Distinguishing Right Intent from Right Motive
But the question of right intent (as opposed to right rhetoric) as part of the definition of humanitarian intervention is important and deserves close examination. Most writers agree that a necessary condition for the justification of humanitarian intervention is that the interveners act out of humanitarian concerns, at least in part. (12) If a government's preeminent reasons or motives are nonhumanitarian, the intervention will not be humanitarian, and should not be evaluated under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, even if the doctrine is deemed valid. The use of force will be something else (self-defense, for example), and it should be judged accordingly.
But what facts are we describing when we say that a government has or doesn't have right intention? To answer I introduce, following John Stuart Mill, a distinction between intention and motive. (13) Intention covers the contemplated act, what the agent wills to do. I see a person in distress, decide to rescue her, and do it. (14) The action was an act of rescue. I intended to rescue the person, I committed to doing it, and I did it. The way I understand it here, intention covers the willed act and the willed consequences of the act. (It is controversial whether intention also covers foreseen but not willed consequences of the act.) Intention, then, implies not only desire to do something but commitment to doing it. This involves believing that the act is under the agent's control. If I intended to rescue someone but failed to do so, say because I didn't put in enough effort, or I was clumsy or otherwise …
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Publication information: Article title: Ending Tyranny in Iraq. Contributors: Teson, Fernando R. - Author. Journal title: Ethics & International Affairs. Volume: 19. Issue: 2 Publication date: October 2005. Page number: 1+. © 2009 Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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