Our obligation to Iraq

In many discussion about the Iraq situation both here and elsewhere, war supporters says that the United States has a moral obligation to the people of Iraq. Since we created the condition for the current conflict, the argument goes, we have duty to keep forces there until it’s over. “We broke it, we bought it” is a common phrasing.

I disagree with this assertion. I don’t think the USA has any moral obligation to guard the people currently in Iraq.

When we discuss moral obligation, it must occur in a framework of somebody’s desires. Specifically, if A has a moral obligation to do something for B, it goes without saying that B wants that something. Suppose I’m in someone’s home and I spill a glass of milk. It might seem obvious that I have a moral obligation to clean the milk up, but that statement rests on the assumption that my hostess wants it cleaned up. If–for whatever reason–she prefers having a puddle of milk on the floor, then I have no moral obligation to clean it up. However much I may feel that it should be cleaned up, even if I have objective evidence that the milk has damaged her rug, it’s still not my decision.

In fact, we can see that if everyone gets to choose their own moral obligations, absurdity results. Imagine a serial killer who invades the home of a family of four, kills the parents, and then declares that he now has a moral obligation to raise the children. This is plainly ludicrous. The serial killer, by his actions, has proven himself outside the rules that define civilized behavior. Hence no one could take seriously his claim that he wants to do what’s best for the children. In fact, most of us would agree that if he wants to recover a shred of his humanity, the best he could do would be to stay as far from the children as possible.

Regrettably the United States has gotten itself into an analogous situation in Iraq. We invaded under false premises in flagrant disregard of world opinion. Unsurprisingly, the Iraqi people distrusted us from the start. They have made it quite clear that they want us out. Saying, in effect, ‘we have a moral obligation to reduce the violence here and we’ll keep killing people until they agree’ just isn’t a sensible position. Therefore I say that our only moral obligation is to get out as fast as possible.

Agreed. In fact we’re hurting them by staying. Let them sort themselves out.

But let’s say your neighboor is a house painter and a control freak. You don’t want your house painted, but while away on vacation, your neighboor comes over and paints your house and really screws the job up. So now he wants to help make things right. But you don’t trust his offer to even help (knowing his control freak nature and his lack of ability). I think it’s his duty then to step aside but PAY for the new paint and labor involved to make your house right again. No matter what the cost.

So, that would mean we should pay to re-establish a police state and a dictator to bring order back to the country. Somehow that doesn’t seem right.

You can’t say that the neighbor has a moral obligation to repaint your house with 6 different colors and special trim features if that wasn’t the way it was before. If your house was drab gray, you get to have it drab gray again.

The US would have a moral obligation to leave if we are asked to do so by the Iraqi government. Citing public opinion polls doesn’t cut it. Alternatively, we have a moral obligation to leave if we establish that we are making things worse by staying. Some people may think that, but others don’t. Who is right, we may never know.

If you want to say we have a moral obligation to leave Iraq because of what public opinion polls say, then we need to make some BIG changes in this country. We can start by re-introducing pray to public schools and teaching creationism alongside evolution. Next we would need to open offices in various cities so that Muslims can register their whereabouts. Where we go from there I don’t even want to think about.

No, but we can pay for the physical damage we’ve done to the country. We can never really make things right but at least we can get out of the store and quit breaking more stuff.

In this analogy, the vandalizing neighbor isn’t being asked (or trusted) to repaint anything,only to pay for a new paint job and that paint job can be whatever the victim wants it to be.

This is kind of specious qulaification since the US dictates what the Iraqi government “asks for.” There really is no Iraqi government because there really is no Iraq. What passes for a government in Iraq is an American sock puppet with George Bush’s arm up its ass. It is not representative of the opinions of the Iraqi people.

How about public opinion polls in Iraq where the overwhelming majority wants us out?

We are making things worse by staying. Everybodyy knows that. This is not a serious issue of debate. Sure there are people who try to argue the contrary, just like there are people who try to argue against global warming or evolution. Those people are what we call “full of shit.”

Not a valid comparison. Religious freedom (and the prohibition on state endorsements of religion) are Constitutionally EXEMPT from the authority of public opinion. The execution and funding of wars is not.

I think we are, although I don’t know how you’d calculate the tab and how that compares to the money we have given.

OK, but you only get $$ equal to the amount needed to restore the status quo ante.

That’s an interesting opinion, but it does not stand up to close scrutiny. I doubt that Bush is any too happy to see al-Maliki shaking hands with Ahmedenajad.

That’s what I meant.

Cite that “everybody knows that”? Not even the top 3 Democratic presidential candidates are advocated a complete pullout. That’s Edwards, Clinton and Obama. Also, for your consideration: Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say.

On that you are simply wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I would call that statement delusional. Now, I have called over and over again for us to begin the withdrawl process, as I think we are just acting as a crutch to a government that won’t make the hard choices it needs to make. But I recognize that reasonable people can disagree about this, and can come to different conclusions.

Wrong. The interpretation of that clause has been the subject of much debate. Besides, the 1st amendment can be modified if enough people want it to be-- it isn’t etched in stone. Nothing is exempt from the authority of public opinion, it’s just that stuff in the constitution has a higher threshold.

Why ? The Iraqi “government” is neither legitimate nor does it govern much. They have no more moral right to make decisions for Iraq than most of the “insurgent” groups; less, if anything.

There is no legitimate authority in Iraq.

Why ? In Iraq it’s the best you are going to get.

False comparison. America at least has a semi-democratic government, and a Constitution & legal system that was written by Americans for Americans. Not a “government” of collaborators who depend on foreign conquerers to stay alive, with a constitution and legal system created by a hostile foreign power for it’s benefit.

They may not want us there, but we don’t want them degenerating into (even more) strife and civil war. From our point of view, that isn’t good for them and it’s even worse for our reputation and national security. And since we have the stronger military, we get to stay as long as we deem it useful, Iraqi public will be damned. And the moment we think it’s in our best interest to leave, we’ll be gone, Iraqi fallout be damned.

I doubt we’re there for them now any more than we were when the war first started and we were handing out freedom, democracy, love, and puppies. Maybe we’re still there because we don’t want to turn a partially suppressed horde of angry anti-American Muslims into a completely uncontrolled horde of angry anti-American Muslims. Morals schmorals. When was this war ever about morality?

And as for paying somebody… who would we pay? To what end?

Oh, and about just the morality in particular:

But everyone DOES get to choose their own moral obligations… and everyone, unfortunately, is also just as free to distort or disregard those same obligations. How do you think the world got to be such a mess?

The only rules that define civil behavior are the rules each country/religion/culture makes for itself. And under our haughty savior-of-the-world vision, cleaning up the mess we made despite Iraqi resistance is perfectly civilized and moral – they’re too ignorant to understand the innate superiority of the Western system, so, naturally, we’ll have to be patient and teach them.

But really, calling us a nation of serial killers is a bit insulting. We’re smarter than that. Mob boss is more like it. We take what we want from whoever we want, but we can always back up our actions with civilized, polite explanations that prove we’re really doing our victim a favor. We would never disregard world opinion. Never. We always listen carefully before correcting their flawed opinions through our enlightened actions.

We have a long tradition of awarding punitive damages. And the US is due for some punishing for this whole fiasco.

That’s an interesting opinion, but not one that squares with reality. The Iraqi government is recognized internationally as being the legitimate government of Iraq. That’s all there is.

Yes there is.

Nope. They have elections that are internationally monitored, and deemed legitimate. If you don’t like the government tough shit, but that’s not an argument.

Again, that’s an interesting* opinion but not one that matches the rest of the world.

*and I mean interesting as in unusual

Got anything citey for that, something along the lines that the world at large holds a better opinion of the Iraqi government than he does?

But not by the Iraqi people. THAT is more important than the opinion of America and the nations it bullies or bribes.

No, there isn’t. There’s a bunch of collaborators who can’t even govern Baghdad, much less Iraq. And they are dead or fled when we leave.

My opinion doesn’t matter. The Iraqis’ does, and I see no reason to believe that they consider the government or those elections legitimate.

What elucidator said.

But you’re not interested in the original assertion that there is not legitimate government in Iraq? If you want to play that game, then:




1 - Publicly release the entire and un-edited ‘intelligence’ on pre-war Iraqi WMD.

2 - Publicly release the entire and un-edited pre-war deliberations by the US administration and its advisors and pro-war lobbyists.

3 - An extensive system of independent war crimes trials for President Bush & Advisors, with the death penalty by hanging should a guilty verdict be returned to the charge of ‘waging aggressive war’.

4 - Similarly, war crimes trials and hanging for all American troops, having:

  • taken part in detainee abuse
  • killed, or injured iraqi civilians - eg. the spare shovel in the hummer ploy
  • stolen any iraq property
  • exhibited disrespect for iraq people, by action or word
  • known or reasonably suspected any of the above and failed to take preventative action.

5 - An unlimited reparations liability to Iraq, until a stable civil society is established.

Hey, that’s pretty good! You evade my question by suggesting that it is just gameplay, then demand the sort of answers you just evaded providing! Snazzy!

Civil wars can be awful: between 1998 and 2004 3.8 million people died in the Congo, for example.

I’m not saying that would happen in Iraq. But if the army splits and starts fighting with tanks and artillery, we could have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands, as opposed the current guerrilla war which has some 2800 civilian causalities per month.

So, yes, I think we have a moral obligation to prevent, say, a regional war which could kill millions, to the extent that we face that risk.

Furthermore, there are serious logistical issues in pulling out thousands of troops and support staff from Iraq. “As fast as possible” practically guarantees fiasco.

That said, it’s not clear whether our continued presence helps matters or merely postpones the inevitable. My take is that we should disengage: it could very well focus the minds of certain members of the current Iraqi regime. Regardless, we should make the qualitative decision that indefinite occupation undermines US national security and that while victory is no longer an option, there’s still time to sort through the remaining bad options.

[Straight Face]Unlike my ultra-conservative friends elucidator and Der Trihs, I agree that we should pull out if asked to do so by the Iraqi government, notwithstanding the very serious questions they raised concerning that government’s legitimacy. [/Straight Face]

I also think we should pull out if our presence does more harm than good in Iraq, on balance.

Well, you see, I am a radical conservative and Der is a very radical conservative.

And whether or not I think the government of Iraq is “legitimate” doesn’t mean shit to a tree. If the government of Iraq, legitimate or no, invited us elsewhere, we would have no other option short of declaring all those sovereignty ceremonies were faked, or we had our fingers crossed. Rather a hard sell, not even slick Johnny Bolton could sell that one, smooth talking seductive devil that he is.

So legitimacy doesn’t enter into that question.