The Occupation of Iraq

If the US-led invasion of Iraq back in 2003 raised serious moral questions in terms of the ethical theory of a "just war", so too does the continued occupation of that country. Back then the big question was whether or not Saddam Hussein's regime, given its well-known effort to acquire "weapons of mass destruction" and its proven record, at least in the case of poison gas, of its readiness to use them, in itself presented an "imminent threat". As it turned out, that threat was, for all practical purposes, non-existent. Today the question is somewhat different. Having ousted Saddam from power and thereby unleashed the fury of religious and ethnic tensions that Saddam brutally suppressed, the argument has been made by many (including myself) that having invaded and largely destroyed the country, that the United States and its unhappy allies now have an obligation to stay there and do all that they can to clean up the mess they created. But this raises other issues in "just war" ethics, like proportionality. Will the final outcome -- if it turns out to be a Shiite-dominated Islamic "republic" -- be any better than Saddam's secular but Sunni-dominated dictatorship? If not, can all the suffering that we have unleashed (even President Bush has admitted that at least 30,000 Iraqis have died in the violence in addition to over 2,100 Americans) have been worth it? In addition, some of the means or tactics being employed by the US forces also raise serious ethical questions. Recently it has been admitted by the Pentagon, that increasingly huge amounts of air ordinance, mostly in the form of 500 lb. "smart bombs" have been used to blast suspected insurgents in their hideouts. These bombs are directed by means of laser beams aimed on the basis of "tips" or other local "intelligence". Obviously, this is a lot safer way for our side to operate than having our troops continually shot at or blown up while on foot-patrol or in lightly armored "humvees". But are such tactics, even if they save whole towns or cities from destruction, morally defensible? While the tactics used by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza and the West Bank may have been slightly different (the IDF specializes in rocketing its targets from helicopter gun-ships) still the results have been often the same -- the blowing up of a few terrorists and much too often, of innocent men, women and children by mistake, with the predictable result of creating still more terrorists. A year ago or so, some Israeli pilots and at least one general officer came to the conclusion that such tactics are so immoral (not so say counter-productive) that they refused to carry out orders or even resigned their commissions in protest. How long will it be before our own pilots and generals come to the same conclusion? But even aside from the question of tactics, as the months, even years of occupation roll on, the larger issue remains, which is, just like the many decades of occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, do we not reach a point where the good we intend is far outweighed by the evils provoked not just by our tactics but even more by our continued occupation of that country? These are the questions that America now has to face, particularly if outcome of this week's parliamentary elections only further heat up what is already a civil war. We pray that just the opposite will happen, but if it doesn't, then what side will we be on? R W Kropf 12/12/05

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