A Philosopher's Blog

Leaving Iraq

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 15, 2008

I opposed the Iraq war on moral and practical grounds. Sadly, my views turned out the be vindicated: the justifications for the war turned out to be unfounded and the war has proven a costly mess.

Given my past views, it would be natural to assume that I would support the removal of American troops from Iraq.

On one hand, the idea of leaving Iraq is appealing. Doing so would save American lives and free up American resources that can be better used elsewhere (such as education).

On the other hand, there is a moral case against leaving. We decided to invade Iraq and we effectively destroyed the country. This would certainly seem to morally obligate us to remaining until we repair the damage we did. To use an analogy-if I destroy my neighbor’s house, I have an obligation to repair the damage. Likewise, since we broke Iraq, we have an obligation to fix it now.

It might be replied that many people did not support the decision to go to war and thus they can now impose their will to get us out of Iraq (now that the war is less popular)-just as the people who supported the war imposed their will.

However, we are bound to our past actions. While many people did oppose the war, they are still morally accountable for the war. As citizens, they agree to go along with the decisions of the majority (or, more accurately, the leaders). If they do not wish to abide by such decisions, then they are rejecting the basis of democracy. Hence, despite our opposition, the war is still our war and we are morally bound to it. As such, we are accountable for what the nation did. That is the moral price of democracy.

It might be objected that we should put American well being first and save ourselves. This is a moral argument and can be made quite effectively.

But we need to be honest about what we would be doing. We would be abandoning a country we destroyed and hence we would bear the moral responsibility for our actions. While we would not be killing people ourselves, some of the blood would be on our hands. It might be best for us in the sense that we would save American lives and treasure, but it would not be best in terms of the right thing to do.

The right thing is often a hard thing and the cost is often very high.   What is at stake is our moral standing. Are we a people who create messes and simply flee when things do not go our way-thus leaving chaos and death behind? Or do we accept the responsibility for our misdeeds and struggle to make them right?

It can be replied that by leaving we will make things better for everyone. This is a reasonable point. If this can be shown to be the most probable outcome, then we should leave. We would then be doing the right thing. However, this seems to be an unlikely outcome.
It can also be replied that we can do nothing now-we created a mess, but all we can do now is escape and minimize the deaths by leaving. Perhaps this is the case and Iraq is beyond out ability to help. If so, we should leave. But we should remember that we did a terrible wrong and then ran away because we could not set things right-and that should be a matter of lasting shame for us.

One unfortunate thing about politics is that the people who create a mess rarely have to suffer the consequences.  The just thing is, of course, that those who did evil or who screwed up pay the price. Thus, we should ship the entire Bush administration, those who voted for the war (like Hillary) and all the pundits who called for the war to Iraq and let them reap what they planted. That would be justice. George could get the chance to put those skills he learned in the National Guard to good use-he could fly combat missions in Iraq. Those without  prior military training could go through basic training. I’d love to see Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton and Rush Limbaugh clearing IEDs out of the streets of Iraq. They certainly owe it to America.

Tagged with: , , ,

The Danger of Terrorism

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 15, 2008

I must admit that I miss Rudy Giuliani’s run for President. Without his constant reminders, I often forget that there are terrorists who want to kill me and, presumably, my pets as well.

Obviously, the threat of terrorism is real-people are killed by terrorists. However, there is an important question that often goes unanswered: how much of a threat do terrorists present?

In terms of the numbers, terrorists cannot hope to even match automobiles in raw killing power. After all, about 43,000 Americans die each year in automobile related events (many of which involve alcohol as well). In terms of injuries, terrorists also fall behind toilets (in 1996 43,687 people were injured by toilets), pruning (36,000 in 1996), and even buckets (10,000 injured in 1996). They are, however, well ahead of sharks (about 11 attacks per year in the US). Terrorists also cannot hope to compete with natural dangers such as extreme weather and illness.

Given the numbers, it would seem that terrorists are but a minor threat. Yes, even a single death is significant-but if we applied that sort of justification across the board we would also need have massive wars on everything that harms people-things ranging from swimming pools to fatty foods.

Obviously, the war on terror is not motivated primarily by the desire to protect people-we could save more lives by having wars on things that kill far more people (like a lack of health insurance). The main motivations are the usual things. A war on terror allows money to be funneled to the allies and friends of the politicians, it allows the government to justify numerous evil misdeeds (spying, torture, violating rights and so on), and it allows the government to shore up its power by generating fear.

It might be countered that although terrorists do not kill that many people each year, they would if they could. Plus, it is just a matter of time before they get WMDs and go on to kills vast numbers of people.

In reply, it certainly seems that terrorists could kill more people if there was, in fact, a terrorist threat that actually matches the hype put forth by the Republicans.

First, the American borders are a sieve. As the Republicans constantly warn us, illegal immigrants are swarming across the borders. If average folks from Mexico can cross the border and get into the United States with little difficulty, so could terrorists. Yet, there have been no attacks.

Second, America is extremely vulnerable and our defenses are rather ill-prepared. Right now, we have gang problems, problems with crime, vulnerable infrastructure and so on. If people can go on shooting sprees, if gangs can run parts of America cities, and if traffic accidents can tie things up for days, then terrorists should have an easy time of it here. Yet, they don’t seem to be doing anything.

Based on the evidence, it seems that the terrorist threat is vastly overstated. Yes, terrorism is a serious matter-but it is not a threat of the magnitude that some Republicans claim. It certainly does not justify the expenditure of billions of dollars, the systematic violation of rights, and the use of evil deeds like torture.

That said, we should be on guard on against terrorists-but to the degree that they pose a threat. Our priorities should be based on the degree of danger and there are far more serious dangers than the bugbear of terrorism.