The Moral Quandary | The Nation


The Moral Quandary

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Moreover, Saddam, despite his brutal record, is not now carrying out the type of mass slaughter he did against the Kurds in the late 1980s. Iraq today is not like Rwanda in 1994, when Hutus were massacring Tutsis, nor Bosnia in the early and mid-1990s, when Serbs were killing Muslims. So, however cruel Saddam's regime might be, it is not perpetrating the type of atrocities that could normally justify a humanitarian intervention. For this reason, Human Rights Watch has not called for intervention in Iraq, as it did in the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia. (Peter Bouckaert, despite his encounters in Iraqi Kurdistan, remains opposed to military action.)

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Michael Massing
Michael Massing, a New York writer, is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and Columbia Journalism...

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Finally, there's the fundamental fact that we have not been attacked by Iraq--a major distinction with Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. If Saddam did obtain a nuclear weapon, of course, it would represent a major peril, but most experts agree that the threat is not imminent, undermining the Administration's case for a pre-emptive strike. "Pre-emption and imminence go together," Michael Walzer observed at the NYU forum. "Nobody expects an Iraqi attack right away, so there is nothing to pre-empt." Nor, he said, could a war against Iraq be considered just, according to the strict criteria for making such a judgment. What is justifiable, Walzer said, is "using the threat of force to enforce the inspections system."

But what happens if that threat fails? Strikingly, at the NYU forum, FitzGerald, Gitlin, Urquhart and Walzer all agreed that if the United Nations finds Iraq in noncompliance with Resolution 1441, it would have no choice but to act. "If there's a clear violation of the UN, we would have to go to war," FitzGerald said, summing up the panel's view. Certainly a war conducted under the aegis of the UN would be preferable to one waged unilaterally by the United States; a UN-authorized assault, by embodying the collective will of the international community, could blunt the anger that might erupt if the world's lone superpower went it alone.

Yet here, it seems, the left faces a trap. By insisting that any action against Iraq be undertaken multilaterally, it seems bound to endorse the decisions of the UN--even if they include a declaration of war. Yet, as was clear during the deliberations over Iraq, the Security Council has become more and more subservient to the will of the United States. What's more, the forces unleashed by an invasion--even if backed by the UN--could still be catastrophic. If the Security Council sanctions a war, does that automatically make it just?

There must be another way. One nonviolent alternative, proposed recently in these pages by Andrew Mack (a former aide to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan), would seek to bolster the internal Iraqi opposition by lifting most of the sanctions on Iraq and opening up the country to foreign investment and other forms of international engagement [see "Containing Saddam," December 16]. A more hardheaded policy of "containment-plus," proposed by Morton Halperin and others, would combine an expansion of the no-fly zones in Iraq to cover the entire country, more intensive surveillance and inspections, and the use of precision airstrikes against targets not destroyed voluntarily on the ground. If evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program did emerge, a raid like the one Israel carried out in 1981--this time with UN backing--could effectively dispose of it.

The great drawback of such an approach, of course, is that it would do little to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. Sadly, one might simply have to live with that. In the end, the moral case for intervening in Iraq is very strong, but not strong enough.

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