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.