Saturday, March 13, 2010

The moral case for the Iraq War

After a lifetime of being anti-war the invasion of Iraq has been an education. Selective pacifism is rife on the left. Being anti-war is little more than a cover for anti-Americanism. So the moral case is too easily overlooked.

Fine analysis of the moral case for the invasion of Iraq by Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford, in today's Financial Times. He begins thus:

The surfeit of moral certainty among the commentators is suspect; the zealous clarity of their moral waters needs muddying.

The professor, in muddying those waters, does not shy away from the terrible death toll that followed the invasion. But he deals with it in a clear-minded way, asking how one can judge whether it is disproportionate. He gives short shrift to the issue of legality:

International law can be variously interpreted. However, even if we grant that the invasion was illegal, we still have to grapple with the fact that so was Nato’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo, which is now widely regarded as legitimate. The implication? That legality is not the final word.

The case comes to this:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

He concludes that the certainty with which the antis answer that question is unjustified:

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

THanks to John Rentoul for this.


Tom Carew said...

The ethically valid aim of military action, like surgery, is not to avoid all harm, at all costs, but to prevent greater evil. Surgery and war both involve physical evil, which always needs rigorous justifying, but neither is thereby necessarily a moral evil. Surgeons at times kill patients, as troops kill both their own comrades and innocent civilians, but that is not murder. That is the high-risk of tragedy which is ultimately inseparable from both surgery and military force. War is not revenge, and not about *kil1 of them for every 1 of you they have killed*. It is about removing a real and grave threat, and doing whatever is needed for that aim. Nigel Biggar's clear and consistent thinking is a most welcome contribution, and sadly all too rare, not least from church figures.

goodfornowt said...

Thanks Tom for this comment. Church spokesmen have identified with a broadly left consensus on matters like Iraq and the War on Terror which we're not supposed to refer to as such.