WAR: "Why don't they just give up?"

The argument I’m setting forth is easy to misconstrue.

What is helpful is to bear this in mind: It’s meant to be a valid argument WHETHER OR NOT the powerful invading nation is assessed as being “in the right.” In this live case, it doesn’t matter (to the specific argument!) whether the US ought to invade Iraq, or ought to refrain therefrom. The ONLY salient point is that A has the military power to attain its goals (in essence, the occupation of B and displacement of B’s current regime) WITH OR WITHOUT the active cooperation of B. And the question is: given that premiss, is B morally obligated, in the best interests of its population and society, to attempt to allow A to achieve its goals without war?

To ask this question, and to make this argument, is not to assume ANYTHING about the moral rightness or wrongness US position. Even if I believed fervently that W is a crazy warmongering imperialist oil-grubber, it would neverthess be valid to argue, at this point, that the Saddam government ought to “just give up.”

Offhand, I see only two vulnerabilities in this argument:

(1) You might challenge the premiss that the US will inevitably achieve its goals through the application of military force. This might take some form of the claim that what I think is called “pacification” (ie, conquest) will be such a long, slow, bloody process that we’ll get tired of the mess and withdraw before the regime is replaced. That strikes me as unlikely; but make your case.

(2) You might challenge the premiss that accepting the US goals is preferable to widespread death and destruction, mass migrations of war refugees, regional destabilization, and all those things that are reasonably likely consequences of even a brief war. Is being under America’s thumb, loss of face, compromise of national sovereignty, risk to oil revenue, giving Israel certain benefits, and stroking America’s international ego truly a “fate worse than death?” What does the average Iraqi think? Is Saddam even obligated to care what his people think?

That’s how I frame the relevant issues.


“…Your argument, as i perceive it, would in the case of a bussload of passengers being held hostage by a crazed gunman justify blowing up the buss? Or at least if the bussload were iraqis…”

Nope. I’m not playing Catch-22. I’m not saying something like: Any nation that doesn’t roll over for us deserves to get blown up. And I’m especially not saying that the (possible) depravity of Saddam (the crazed gunman) somehow makes it OK to destroy the national population (the people on the bus). The argument has NOTHING TO DO WITH the legitimacy or illegitimacy of an American invasion, but rather with how we are to think of the refusal of the current Iraqi government to act in such a way as to mitigate future damages.

If I run over your dog’s paw and crush it, I’m morally culpable for the damage I caused. If you refuse to take the dog to a vet, hoping the dog will die so you can sue me for more money–your strategy won’t work, because you are expected to act in such a way as to mitigate additional damages.


“…Loss in what sense? Has the US ‘won’ in Afghanistan? Really? Thought the Soviets should have given up in WWII? What about the Brits?..”

So who gets to define victory? We didn’t get Osama or Mullah Omar; we did take out a regime that was explicitly aiding and abetting those who committed acts of war against the US. Do you suppose the Taliban bosses are now glad they didn’t hand Osama over?

Should Stalin have given it up to Adolph? Here “fate worse than death” may indeed be relevant. But the bigger issue is the absence of the “foregone conclusion” factor. It was in no sense a given that the Nazis would defeat the allies. But who is willing and able to go against the US militarily over Iraq? Can Saddam count on France and Germany to send in troops in his defense? China? Libya? Jerry Rubin?