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Why can't Objectivists agree on Iraq?

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johny118
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After my first question about global warming, I am wondering what the Objectivist position on the war in Iraq is. I have read some of the previous threads but am not satisfied at all by the answers.

My own position is that it was not justified. Politicians blatantly lied about WMD; Saddam posed no threat to anyone but his own people.

So the question becomes: is it justified to invade a country to liberate the people from an evil dictator? It is not. It is nothing more than altruism to spend billions of dollars and thousands of lives in order to liberate another country.

Those two points summarise my argument. Saddam was no threat plus it is not worth the lives and billions of dollars to liberate the Iraqi people.

What do you think?

This leads me onto my real question. I don’t understand why Objectivists don’t agree on the Iraq war. The use of reason should only lead to one right answer – there can’t be two contradictory right answers.

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This leads me onto my real question. I don’t understand why Objectivists don’t agree on the Iraq war. The use of reason should only lead to one right answer – there can’t be two contradictory right answers.

I'm not going to debate the merits or demerits of the Iraq war here, but I do want to address this question.

Reality is non-contradictory. That's true. We use reason to identify the facts of reality in conceptual terms, leading to truth. But (and this is the key point) the operation of reason is not automatic, and it is not guaranteed to be correct in any given case. When faced with a complicated issue that is influenced by multiple interrelated factors, the right answer is not obvious. If two people disagree about a factual issue, they can't both be right. (They could both be wrong.) How do you figure out who is right? You debate. You discuss. You analyze. You disagree. In short, you do all the things you seem to find baffling.

The existence of disagreement isn't a sign of irrationality; it's a sign of rational people trying to ferret out errors in a complicated world.

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I am wondering what the Objectivist position on the war in Iraq is.

Those two points summarise my argument. Saddam was no threat plus it is not worth the lives and billions of dollars to liberate the Iraqi people.

This leads me onto my real question. I don’t understand why Objectivists don’t agree on the Iraq war. The use of reason should only lead to one right answer – there can’t be two contradictory right answers.

I don't think there is (or at least should be) an "Objectivist position" on Op:Iraqi Freedom. I think reasonable people can disagree on it. One reason is that "no threat" and "not worth" are going to be very subjective terms.

While I personally agree with the two points of your argument, I think it can be argued very strongly the other way too.

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I agree with kHaight: Reason would lead to the same conclusion if everyone was using all the exact the same premises. However, when it comes to "current affairs", many of those premises are not simple. For instance, two people may agree that voting for Bush will further a religious agenda and may also agree that voting for Kerry will further a socialist agenda. Even agreeing about this much, they may disagree about whom to vote for. They obviously still differ on some premises: perhaps about likelihoods or degree of evil.

Secondly, when speaking of current events, sometimes folks on the forum will say they support a certain action assuming but not stating the context of: among the options that are realistically likely to happen. So, for instance, I might say Bernanke was a decent choice of Fed chairman. The unstated context is that the Fed should be abolished and there ought not to be any chairman, that the one chairman I'd like to see is someone who will implement a plan to dismantle the Fed. However, since this is not going to happen anytime soon, I might not mention that.

With reference to Iraq, those threads were a while ago. I doubt, however, that you will find anyone here saying that the war in Iraq was exactly the correct move, executed exactly right and would be exactly what America would be doing if it were a Capitalist country. The support is much more of the form: given the options that the various parties might realistically have taken, this is the one that is the best.

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My own position is that it was not justified. Politicians blatantly lied about WMD; Saddam posed no threat to anyone but his own people.

So the question becomes: is it justified to invade a country to liberate the people from an evil dictator? It is not. It is nothing more than altruism to spend billions of dollars and thousands of lives in order to liberate another country.

Those two points summarise my argument. Saddam was no threat plus it is not worth the lives and billions of dollars to liberate the Iraqi people.

I lied; I am going to write a bit about the Iraqi Campaign specifically.

First: I don't think there is an "Objectivist" position on this issue. Whether the Iraqi Campaign was a good idea or not is an application of Objectivist principles to a complicated real-world event. As such, there is room for disagreement. What we have here is less an "Objectivist" position than a number of positions held by different Objectivists for varying reasons.

Second: I dispute your claim that politicians blatantly lied about WMD. The belief that Iraq had WMD was widespread and bipartisan prior to the war. You can claim they were mistaken, but I don't think you can claim they were dishonest. That's an important distinction. (In point of fact, some WMD have been found in Iraq. Not huge stockpiles, but we did find chemical weapons and some other stuff.)

Third: Objectivism is very clear on the point that dictatorships have no right to exist. Rand stated bluntly that a free society has every right to invade a dictatorship and recreate it as a free society. The question of justification turns purely on the question of whether doing so is in the self-interest of the free society.

So... was the Iraqi Campaign in the self-interest of the United States? Going in, I thought it was. There were a number of governments in the Middle East that supported terrorism and needed to be changed. These included Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. All of these governments will need to be changed before we can declare victory in the overall war. (The true lynchpins, in my opinion, are Iran and Saudi Arabia.) The United States needed a beachhead. Iraq looked like a good candidate. There was much higher public support for invading Iraq than any other nation on the list. There seemed to be a solid causus belli. As the starting point of an extended campaign, Iraq was justified.

(This, incidentally, is why I call it the Iraqi Campaign instead of the Iraq War. The invasion of Iraq cannot be understood outside of the broader strategic context of which it was a part. And that's why, even if true, the claim that Iraq posed no direct threat to the United States is irrelevant. The first nation that the United States invaded in World War II was Morocco. They never attacked us; they posed no direct threat to us. But invading them was strategically necessary as part of the larger war against Germany. Dropping that strategic context and critizing the "Morocco War" as an isolated incident would be absurd.)

Those are my essential reasons for supporting the Iraqi Campaign ex ante. I think they were defensible. However, we are now faced with additional facts that were not available in 2002 -- specifically the fact that the Bush administration seems either unwilling or unable to prosecute the larger war of which the Iraqi Campaign should have been the first step. Instead, they are trying to build a freer society in Iraq in the hopes that it will serve as a reference model for internal reform or revolt in the other nations in the area. I think this is a mistake. Iraq cannot be stabilized while Syria and Iran are using it as a platform to wage war against us. This is just another indication that what we should be fighting (but aren't) is a regional war. In effect, what the Bush administration has done is undermine post facto the core justification for the Iraqi Campaign ex ante. Iraq is a beachhead, but a beachhead is only of value if you use it to stage further attacks on the remainder of the opposition.

If I had known how this would play out in advance, would I have supported the Iraqi Campaign going in? I'm not sure. I'm not happy about the way it's playing out. But what would have been the alternative? Should we have invaded Iran directly? Perhaps, although I suspect that if we had done so many of the same people complaining about the Iraqi Campaign would be making the same complaints with "Iran" in the place of "Iraq". Should we have done nothing after Afghanistan? What course of action would have both pleased those critical of the Iraqi Campaign and advanced the strategic goals of the war against Islamofascism?

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You make some excellent points Kyle. I believe that one of our problems is the entire idea of a "War on Terrorism". How can we ever win such a war when we don't even properly identify the enemy? The current situation is like fighting a war on obesity or drug use or some other form of bad behavior. This is a war on Islamic extremism. The Islamic extremists have chosen terrorism as their primary weapon, but it certainly isn't their only weapon. Unfortunately, our leaders and our allies in Western Europe are philosophically unprepared to fight this war.

If you'd like to read a series of 3 interesting opinion pieces on the war (by Tony Blankley), they are here:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20...22024-9420r.htm

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20...21424-2655r.htm

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20...15221-4519r.htm

I already posted these in the Riots in Paris thread in the current events forum. Although I can't agree with everything Blankley says, they are worth your time.

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I think it was absolutely imperative that we attack someone, just to demonstrate that the U.S. wasn't going to take the 9/11 massacre sitting down. Afghanistan wasn't a big enough or strong enough target . . . we needed to carry the war to a militarily powerful aggressor in order to make the point plain.

Now, though, I think Iran would have been a better ideological choice, but Iraq was better strategically to serve, as Kyle said, as a beachhead. Or it would have been, etc.

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This leads me onto my real question. I don’t understand why Objectivists don’t agree on the Iraq war. The use of reason should only lead to one right answer – there can’t be two contradictory right answers.

I am familiar with many Objectivist opinions about the war, and when they disagree it is usually about strategy. They agree that the US government has an obligation to retaliate against foreign agressors, and that we are not at war with "terrorism" but with some form of Islam. In other words, they agree on the principles involved.

Personally, I would not call it "Extremist Islam." The evidence I have seen points to a historical pattern of mainstream Muslims supporting genocidal conquest. That's what Mohammed did, so why shouldn't his modern followers? I would say we are at war with simple, old fashioned Islam. I'd call the peace loving Muslims radicals.

As Iraq is part of that war. Iraq was nominally secular, but remember, Saddam did write "God is Great" on the Iraqi flag. This is a regional and ideological conflict, and America dropped the ball when it stopped the war at Iraq's borders. I, like others, agree that Iran and Saudi Arabia should be the primary targets.

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I wouldn't either, and don't. If "Extremist" is an anti-concept (as Rand thought it was), how could a compound concept like "Extremist Islam" be valid or useful?

Good point. When people use "extremist" to connote negativity, they are really just showing how the principle being taken to the extreme is bad.

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A more accurate and descriptive term would be Fundamentalist Islam, i.e. Islam as it is in it's deepest, most accurate interpretation, as opposed to the quasi-secular variety, similar to the quasi-secular Protestantism, Catholocism, and Judaeism we've got in the U.S.

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Personally, I would not call it "Extremist Islam." The evidence I have seen points to a historical pattern of mainstream Muslims supporting genocidal conquest. That's what Mohammed did, so why shouldn't his modern followers? I would say we are at war with simple, old fashioned Islam. I'd call the peace loving Muslims radicals.

Well. That's quite inflammatory :lol::)

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My own position is that [the war in Iraq] was not justified.

Saddam was cooperating with jihadists (Islamic terrorists), including Ansar al-Islam. It is in our interest to continue to fight the jihadists in Iraq rather than withdrawing and having them come to America and have to fight them here.

The use of reason should only lead to one right answer – there can't be two contradictory right answers.

Even if two people are rationally applying the same principles, they may reach different conclusions because the conclusions depend on their understanding of the factual situation as well as the principles. If they disagree about the facts, they get different results.

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Even if two people are rationally applying the same principles, they may reach different conclusions because the conclusions depend on their understanding of the factual situation as well as the principles. If they disagree about the facts, they get different results.

It's even more complicated than that. In the case of the Iraqi Campaign, the question of whether the invasion was in the interest of the United States depends in part on what you think the consequences will be. And for issues this complex, the consequences of any action will be mixed. So people can differ not only in their knowledge of current facts, but in the principles they use to project the results of actions in the future and in the relative weights they give to different projected consequences both good and bad.

The total number of causal factors involved is high enough, and their interrelationships complex enough, that monolithic agreement on concrete policies would actually make me suspicious.

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My own position is that it was not justified. Politicians blatantly lied about WMD; Saddam posed no threat to anyone but his own people.
I have a few questions for you:

1) Are all statements that turn out to be false lies? Do you see no distinction between a "lie" and an "error"? If it turns out that Saddam WAS a threat to us, is your statement above a "lie"?

2) At what point, after his invasion of Iran and his invasion of Kuwait, did Saddam renounce the initiation of force, disarm, and declare his intent to peacefully coexist -- and why did you believe him?

3) At what point, after he sent an assassination team to kill the first President Bush, did Saddam lose his lust for revenge against the U.S. over his humiliating defeat in Gulf War 1?

4) At what point did he cease sending $25,000 in reward money to the families of suicide bombers that killed Israelis?

5) Why is it impossible, as it must be according to your position, that the WMDs were moved from Iraq to Syria (another Baathist paradise) before our invasion?

6) Numerous international terrorists were living in Iraq at the time of our invasion, including, for instance, the terrorists that hijacked the cruise ship and killed Leon Klinghoffer. The night of our first strikes, the PLO bitterly complained to the U.N. because one of their top "operatives" was killed in an airstrike. When did Saddam announce that no additional terrorists could take refuge in his country, and how come the PLO had not heard about it?

7) When, exactly, did a madman, sitting on trillions of dollars in oil reserves, and possessing the fourth largest military force on the planet, and having a track record of mass murder of both his domestic enemies and his neighbors, cease to be a threat?

There are many, many grounds for criticizing Bush and the war effort -- and I'll bash Bush with the best of 'em -- but the notion that the whole thing was a deliberately trumped-up LIE and that Iraq posed NO threat is an outrageous attempt to re-write history. That may not be this poster's intent, but it IS a goal of the whole anti-America crowd.

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5) Why is it impossible, as it must be according to your position, that the WMDs were moved from Iraq to Syria (another Baathist paradise) before our invasion?

That is something I almost addressed, and is one of the reasons I think the US should have taken out Syria along with Iraq. I am still not certain Saddam abandoned his chemical weapons program. He was given several months to ditch the weaponry.

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I do not believe that a war against Iraq is a bad choice, in and of itself. I do, however, believe that the only thing worse than to not fight Islamic terrorism is to fight it the way we currently are. Pussyfooting around the Middle East the way Dubya has us doing is exponentially worse than just adopting an isolationist foreign policy, in the wake of 9/11.

Although an isolationist policy might have been seen by many as a show of defeat, it would be better than going to war and actually losing, which is what I think is happening to us right now. If we'd fight a proper war, I'd be all for it.

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We're only winning in the same way that we "won" Viet Nam. While we never lost a military conflict, we lost by withdrawing and giving up. The only way to Westernize these savages is to completely obliterate their civilization and then have it rebuilt, with our influence. Since we aren't willing to do that, peace and democracy in the Middle East will not be acheived through our current efforts. We will eventually pull out of Iraq, the Middle East will continue to be a barbaric civilization, and the War on Terror wil rank with Viet Nam as an American defeat.

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We're not losing, we're winning very slowly, and with many setbacks.

Strange. That's what they said about Vietnam.

While I can see both sides of the issue, I was against us invading Iraq mainly because of the lack of support from other nations to do so. (And frankly, Kuwait doesn't count). I think that from a Purely PRACTICAL side, sacrificing our soldiers as simply a distraction was not worth the effort of fighting terrorism. I think new/harsher foreign trade policy and an ACTUAL Homeland defense system (that which ours does not qualify) would be a much better anti-terrorism war. Though, as stated earlier, there's FAR too many little variables and opinions to get a REAL measure of worth for this conflict. If you ask the soldiers, we're liberating the Iraqis, if you ask the Shiites, we're liberating Iraq. If you ask the Sunnis, we're American oppressors. If you ask the dirty hippies at college, we're there for the oil. If you ask democrats, we're there because "Bush" wanted to finish the job that his father didn't. I don't think there's a real cut and dried answer for this one.

On the other hand, I fully believe that Iraq had (and may still have) WMD. I don't, however, think they had the balls to use them outside of their country.

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While I can see both sides of the issue, I was against us invading Iraq mainly because of the lack of support from other nations to do so[...]

Interesting. How many nations need to give permission before the US takes military action to defend itself?

More to the point, why do we need to ask permission? Is this about consensus being a principle useful in guiding foreign policy, or is it aboug strategy? If it's about strategy, why do you think the opinions of other countries are relevant?

-edited for clarity

Edited by FeatherFall
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Interesting. How many nations need to give permission before the US takes military action to defend itself?

More to the point, why do we need to ask permission? Is this about consensus being a principle useful in guiding foreign policy, or is it aboug strategy? If it's about strategy, why do you think the opinions of other countries are relevant?

-edited for clarity

It's not so much about permission as it is about support and money. We do not have the money to successfully invade the middle East, thus it would require support from other nations. Had Europe fully backed us on this, you can bet this would have been over already. I, as in me, don't think we need to ask anyone for support in defending ourselves, but I think it would be marginal, at best, to say that invading Iraq had ANYTHING to do with defending ourselves (That's what Afghanistan was for).

I think (to answer your questions) the opinions of other countries are relevant because we, the United States, cannot take on the whole world. We are just not that powerful. Not militarily, and not (anymore) finicially. Just like you can't do certain things at work without your co-worker's consent or Boss's consent, it is generally frowned upon to invade other countries without ABSOLUTE proof that they were a danger. And I'm pretty sure that other countries will not suffice with the,"We're a free country, which gives us the right to invade other countries to make them free."

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We do not have the money to successfully invade the middle East, thus it would require support from other nations.
The tiny nation of Israel, population about 3 million, has simultaneously defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordon on four different occasions, even when those countries had the backing of the Soviet Union. What does that tell you about what is required to defeat nations in the mid-east?
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