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War and morality

By Peter Schwartz
web posted December 9, 2002

The hallmark of our political leaders today is moral uncertainty -- a quality that is shaping President Bush's shapeless policy toward Iraq.

George W. BushDespite his repeated assertions about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush chose to embrace the appeasing resolution recently passed by the U.N. Refusing to condemn Saddam Hussein as a vicious dictator whose government has no right to remain in power, the resolution offered him the mollifying "commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq." Wagging a finger at the tyrant who routinely gases political opponents and amputates the tongues of his critics, the Security Council warned Hussein that noncompliance will result in some fuzzy "serious consequences."

The Council members agreed with the Syrian representative, who insisted that the resolution "should not be interpreted [to] authorize any entity to use force." "The legitimate concerns of Iraq should be respected," said the Chinese deputy ambassador.

Hussein, who has snubbed his nose at 16 previous resolutions, knows that as long as he goes along with the ridiculous pretense that the arms inspectors can actually disarm him, the world's diplomats will keep him safe from a U.S. attack.

The U.N. opposes the unilateral use of force by America, because that would be a declaration of moral certainty -- a declaration that there is a danger which necessitates the extreme response of military action. The use of force would be an unambiguous statement that there are no "legitimate concerns of Iraq" to be respected, and that a dictatorial warmonger will not be allowed to remain in power.

By contrast, the diplomatic approach to Iraq -- the one President Bush has accepted -- rests on the premise that no one can be sure what is right. Diplomacy asserts: "Since there is no black-and-white, all differences are resolvable, so let's consider everyone's desires and work it out like gentlemen." U.N. representatives hail the current resolution because it was cobbled together by the collective consciousnesses of the world's rulers. No nation has the right -- they all claim -- to act on its own. No nation can take it upon itself to determine when it should go to war. Such decisions can emerge only from an international consensus that hails the "legitimate concerns" of all parties and that eschews all moral judgment.

President Bush could have categorically repudiated this approach. If he were more confident in the morality of waging a defensive war, he could have announced that the principles of a free country mandate that we defend ourselves by removing the threat posed by Iraq, regardless of whether other countries agree. After all, Hussein is a self-avowed enemy of America. He went to war with us eleven years ago, when he tried to seize control over the oil that America buys. He attempted to assassinate the ex-President Bush. He has chemical and biological weapons which can readily be delivered to the U.S. He is pursuing a program to acquire nuclear weapons. He finances and harbors terrorists.

Saddam HusseinAny dictatorship that has the capability, and has demonstrated the willingness, to attack America's interests, is a threat that deserves to be eliminated. The justification for war is not some amoral calculation about geopolitical "balances of power." The only justification is a moral one -- and the only nation entitled to invoke it is one that upholds freedom. In a battle between gangsters, both sides are wrong; in a battle between tyranny and freedom, it is the proponents of the latter who are in the right. Saddam Hussein is an enemy, potential or actual, of every free country in the world. The outlaw-state of Iraq has no right to its "territorial integrity" -- any more than did the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Nazis in Germany.

We all recognize the objective difference between criminals and the police. The fact that both parties carry weapons does not make it difficult to evaluate the one as a threat to our rights and the other as a protector of those rights. The same applies to countries: dictatorships are criminal states, while the government of a free country is the police who uses force to defend its citizens against those criminals. The moral distinction between the initiator and the retaliator is obvious to everyone except our diplomats (and our intellectuals). Passing moral judgment is the one act they seek to avoid. "Who are we to judge," they declare amorally -- leaving conflicts to be resolved through pragmatic horse-trading and arm-twisting.

But making moral judgments is the basic requirement of an effective foreign policy. We need to identify the danger posed to the value of human life and human liberty by certain regimes. The government of Iran, for example, which is the wellspring of world terrorism, is a physical threat to America and should be militarily subdued. The same goal applies to other aggressor countries that are demonstrable threats to the safety of Americans.

Twenty-one years ago, Israel sent 16 warplanes to bomb and destroy a nuclear facility in Iraq that was soon to be activated. It sought no U.N. resolutions, it issued no warnings about "serious consequences" and it was undeterred by the prospect of worldwide disapproval. It was confident in the rightness of its actions. One can only hope that President Bush will find the moral courage to emulate that approach.

Mr. Schwartz, editor and contributing author of Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution by Ayn Rand, is chairman of the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Send comments to reaction@aynrand.org. For more editorials on America's war on Islamic terrorism, go to: http://www.aynrand.org/medialink/actofwar.html

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