Blogs > Liberty and Power > Tributes to Robin Cook: Altogether Too Much

Aug 9, 2005 2:40 am

Tributes to Robin Cook: Altogether Too Much

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

OK, let me get this straight: you were not only against the Iraq war, you were against sanctions? So I take it that your position on Iraqi WMD was that Iraq was free to violate its 1991 post-war obligations and develop a WMD program of any specifications it desired?

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I don't see the relevance of your comment. The sanctions were clearly responsible (in conjunction with Clinton's bombing campaigns) for degrading Saddam's weapons program. I would argue that they didn't go far enough, but they certainly played an important role. Had they not been there, Saddam would very likely have developed a full-fledged WMD program.

The sanctions did not "target" the general population, they targeted Iraqi industry and affected the general population as a secondary consequence. Saddam never starved from them, true, but that has nothing to do with their effect on his weapons programs.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Thanks for the (backhanded, question-begging, insulting and inaccurate) tribute to my honesty. In fact, my position is that the disarmament of Iraq was a moral imperative, and that responsibility for the adverse consequences of disarmament rests with the government of Saddam Hussein, whose initiatory aggression made sanctions and their consequences necessary.

If you can find that thought in Machiavelli, I'd be much obliged for a citation. And if you can refute it, I'd be obliged for your civilizing influence. But I'd be mighty surprised to see you succeed on either count.

While you're at it, you might try to explain how you would have gone about disarming Iraq without sanctions or war. If you wouldn't have disarmed Iraq, and would simply have allowed it to develop any weapons it desired, a frank admission on that score would be...what's the word...honest.

Roderick T. Long - 8/11/2005

Okay, I'll bite.

Persons are not to be used as mere means to the ends of others; as Locke put it, they were not "made for one another's uses."

That means, at a minimum, that one cannot inflict suffering and death on millions of innocent people in order to achieve a good end.

I think it does make some difference whether the suffering and death are intended or merely foreseen, but the difference it makes is very slight and only alters the morality of the action in cases on the moral borderline. (In any case, the effects of sanctions on the civilian population were clearly intended and not merely foreseen; sanction proponents explicitly stated that one of the goals of the sanctions was to make the civilian population unhappy enough that they would overthrow Hussein.)

I agree that Hussein himself likewise bears responsibility for the effects of sanctions, but I don't think that diminishes the responsibility of those who inflicted the sanctions. Responsibility isn't a material quantity where one person's increase means another's decrease.

If the goal of disarming Hussein could not be achieved except by unjust means, then it should not have been pursued.

I also have yet to see why Hussein's possession of WMDs would be a greater evil than the United States' possession of WMDs. The U.S. has actually used them, and has a long history of threatening to use them. And I see no reason to suppose that Hussein would have been especially likely to use them aggressively, knowing the consequences that would have rained down on his head; I imagine his chief aim was to use them to defend his regime from invasion. (And no, before anyone puts words in my mouth, I'm not claiming that Hussein had a right to develop WMDs; he was an evil dictator who had no right to wield power of any sort, WMD or otherwise.)

chris l pettit - 8/9/2005

you have to remember that Irfan is honest enough to admit that nothing he talks about has to do with law or rights...justice is non-existent...doing things the "right" way only refers to "right" within a power based ideological position. In that context, it is perfectly fine to starve a population as long as your policy goals (in this case the contribution to the end of Hussein's WMD program) is achieved. Morality is is pure Machiavellian ideology. While I totally disagree and don't see how he can sustain his argument on a basic level, if you accept his fundammentally flawed assumptions and acknowledge his position, it is perfectly feasible to claim that the sanctions were effective and not question whether there could have been significant changes to the system to make it much more effective while protecting the hundres of thousands that were solved. It conveniently turns the problem into a black and white...either you sanction and get rid of the WMDs (starvation be damned) or you dont and Hussein remains a nasty dictator threatening "civilized" nations like the US. I would agree with a claim that Irfan's reasoning and positions are rather primative on their most fundamental level...but have to at least respect him for dropping the hypocritical pretense of having any concern for legality, morality, or rights and admitting that he operates in a purely power based framework...most others have not reached that point of honesty and sophistication yet and still operate in the deluded universe of thinking that their ideological definition of rights (those that are non-universal) somehow has anything to do with true legality or morality at all.


Max Swing - 8/9/2005

I don't think he means this kind of sanctions, but rather the economic embargo, which did not target Saddam, but the population in general. Saddam never starved from any of the embargos against Iraq.