Thursday, April 26, 2007

Moral Failure ≠ Military Defeat

Peter Levine offers a conciliatory narrative on the Iraq War:
Whether or not we should have invaded Iraq in the first place, we succeeded in removing a hateful dictator and smashing a major army halfway around the world with hardly any casualties on our side. That is a sign of enormous strength. A civil war then broke out. That conflict is morally our responsibility, because we might have been able to prevent it. In any case, we are accountable for what happens to a population whose nation we chose to invade. Nevertheless, there is very little we can do to end the civil war. We lack the necessary skills and knowledge. More important, civil conflict is just not something that can be resolved by an outside force; it must be negotiated by the parties. Possibly, if we imposed an effective martial law for many years, the factions in the Iraqi domestic conflict would run out of energy and resources. But the odds favor disastrous results even from such an enormous investment of our resources. Therefore, it is past time to leave. This is a moral failure but not a military defeat, and it is certainly not a "surrender."

(An interesting way of putting things, though it reminds me of a certain Monty Python sketch...)


  1. the US should never have allowed the debate to be about whether they can use military force to make iraqis model citizens in the first place.
    As long as they make sure not to do it again the main problem is fixed.

  2. The sentence "That conflict is morally our responsibility, because we might have been able to prevent it." is almost certainly false. In, say, Darfur we might have been able to prevent some of the atrocities, and we may or may not be responsible for that. In this case, though, it is morally our responsibility because we caused it, not because we failed to prevent it.

    Saying this, or saying that "A civil war then broke out." is just a cop out - the civil war didn't just break out (as if it was a matter of bad luck). It was caused by, oh, the speedy overthrowing of a stable dictatorship without any significant planning for what to do afterwards.


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