Sunday, April 27, 2003

Friedman still doesn’t get it
In his regular column in today’s New York Times Thomas Friedman points out that Saddam was a bad man. “As far as I’m concerned we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war,” he proclaims. I don’t personally know anyone who opposed this war because they thought Saddam was a nice person who was doing a great job. I know such idiots exist, but their numbers are so insignificant that they don’t need to be part of this discussion.

Friedman has absurdly low standards for justifying a war. Without going into the rich philosophical tradition of just war literature, I’ll say justifying a war requires more than “he was bad and deserved it.” A convincing argument for war needs to cover at least: why the enemy deserves it, why the war needs to be now, why we should be the ones to fight it, and the process of justification needs to be done in the right manner. Although there were more than enough reasons why Saddam needed to go, the administration couldn’t agree on one and put forth a consistent message. Although legitimate why-now and why-us arguments could have been made, they never tried. And perhaps most importantly, in justifying their war they used dishonesty, misdirection, bullying, and divisiveness instead of openly and honestly making a case for war in the international marketplace of ideas. They lied to the American and world publics. They critically injured several of the institutions that have made the world safer over last sixty years (the UN, NATO, the Geneva Conventions). They demonized some of our oldest and ideologically closest allies and continue to do so. They set an example of the crudest might-makes-right diplomacy. They debased the very institution of diplomacy.

Friedman is right to be happy that Saddam is gone. The world is a better place without him and perhaps a few tyrants will clean up their acts to please Washington. But it is just as likely that the tyrants of the world will ensure their survival by following one of two paths: those that will try to make themselves dangerous enough that Washington will tread lightly in confronting them and those that will suck up to Washington and be our new best friends (Pakistan is managing to follow both paths). Neither path requires become less murderous or more democratic. The damage to the established mechanisms of international conflict resolution is too deep to heal anytime soon.

Friedman’s goes on in his article to ask why so few people are as happy as he is with the current happy ending. He lists a number of different constituencies and mentions why they may see this outcome as bad. The foreigners, he says, are sullen for impure reasons: Europe sees its influence waning and Middle Easterners have guilty consciences. He at least admits that Democrats and liberals at home might be a trifle justified in being reluctant to see a newly energized administration roll back a century or so of progressive legislation and rights. But this is small beer. We should put such small reservations aside, roll up our sleeves, and help Mr. Bush make Iraq a happy place.

Well, if he’s happy, I suppose I should say, “good for him.” He should enjoy the mood while he can. It won’t last.

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