The ethics of rebuilding Iraq's Josh Burek spoke to ethics expert Rush Kidder about the ethical aspects of rebuilding Iraq and spreading democracy around the globe. Mr. Kidder is founder and president of the Institute for Global Ethics. [Former Pentagon Adviser] Richard Perle has talked about achieving "high moral purpose" in Iraq. What ethical standard has the Bush administration used to achieve this "high moral purpose"?

Kidder: [Americans] are conflicted. We love the idea of peace - as well we should. We also feel guilt that we've accumulated a living standard far beyond other countries. What we are seeing is a broad, rather rapid, shift from the concept of deterrence to the concept of preemption.

What has pushed us in this direction is that there's a new parameter here. And that is the presence of widespread suicide as a weapon.

The problem is, of course, you can't deter suicide bombers. You have to preempt them. What we need to understand is that there are various forms of preemption. In Iraq, what we've seen is the bluntest of those instruments ... heavy armor used as preemptive technique. What we have to move to is the ultimate preemption, which is not armor, but intelligence. What are the ethical tensions involved with building democracy?

Kidder: The looting is this tremendous outburst - a pent-up ... sense that "I have been stifled and imprisoned for 30 years, and I suddenly have a euphoric freedom. What am I going to do with it? How do I know? Everything I've been raised to think is that this moment of freedom is a sudden thing. If I don't seize this, there'll be another Saddam [Hussein]."

The challenge now [for Iraqis] is to back that off into [a sense of] community, so people can say, "Let's put up with discomfort so we can build institutions, obey them, work with the security force and government. Let's do that." That's the ultimate prosperity.

It will be the same kind of tension we saw expressed in the classic right vs. right in the invasion of Basra. The British could've gone in right away. There was a humanitarian crisis developing, people were going to die, not from combat wounds, but the culture of combat.

So they have every incentive, every moral reason to say, "Let's get in there now. Let's blow this place apart. Let's sacrifice some people, but for the greater good, we must go in." On the other hand, you can't just indiscriminately blow up innocent civilians for the sake of possibly saving larger numbers from a threat that may or may not materialize.

We know enough as a country to set up American-like institutions in Iraq almost overnight. We could empty out our police academies, send them over, and basically Americanize the place ... On the other hand, we can build a long-term future, and help the Iraqis do what Bush says they want to do - help them run the country. Do we really believe that? For 30 years, they haven't been near the levers of power. Can they run the country? You can build a powerful case on both sides. Some observers claim President Bush has exaggerated the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda in order to justify regime change. They worry he'll use this success to push for new campaigns against regimes hostile to the US. Are leaders justified when they exaggerate claims to win support for a course of action?

Kidder: Yes, I think that the danger is there, in the run-up [to a war], of exaggeration - or the converse: absolute silence on things. It was [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, I believe, who kept persisting in saying we won't go to war in Europe, when he was, in fact, training American troops in Canada and not saying anything about that.

But that comes back to a broader point: The need to shift ... from armor and toward intelligence. We wish we lived in a world without the CIA. But we have to have that information. The thing that will bring down Al Qaeda, is not having armor and bombers. It is intelligence. It's the ultimate preemptive tool.

I agree, generally, that we must move toward preemption, but it doesn't mean send in armed forces every time there's an issue. I'd love to think that [Operation Iraqi Freedom] is the last armed incursion of this sort that we have to mount, because from now on, our intelligence sources will become so good.

Bear in mind that there was a peculiar threat that Saddam Hussein posed ... There's a logic in the administration's reasoning. You can't make [weapons of mass destruction] WMD in any amounts that matter in a cave in Afghanistan. You must have a sophisticated military-industrial factory. A fly-by-night, nomadic terrorist group can't get its arms around it. You need a nation state willing to do this. The only nation state that was deeply invested in bio-chemical stuff was Iraq. A common line holds that since Napoleon, no two "mature" democracies have ever fought a war against each other. Why don't democracies typically fight each other? If they don't, how does that affect the ethics of shaping the world in the American image and likeness?

Kidder: I think what happens is that first of all, the essence of democracy, there are controls and checks and balances... [They] make it difficult for a country to get itself in a situation of tyranny that would [lead it to] say "Yes, we're going to fight this war no matter what."

Now, that doesn't speak to the short term. One of the things that critics of the Bush administration have pointed out: We've come close to that now. It's as though the military and political apparatus has been taken over by a group that said "We're going to fight no matter what." But then you look at the polling data. Most people in this democracy are in favor of that.

I also think probably war is the last and most stupid and idiotic of the methodologies whereby one resolves conflict .... Most democracies are sophisticated enough to realize the cost of war, and they realize the need for compromise.... I want to read something to you. This is an excerpt from a recent Monitor article:

"There were waves and waves of people coming at them, with AK-47s, out of this factory, and they were killing everyone," says Lieutenant Colonel Radcliffe. "The commander called and said, 'This is not right. This is insane. Let's hit the factory with close air support and take them out all at once.'"

For some soldiers, trauma is already sinking in. "For lack of a better word, I feel almost guilty about the massacre," says one soldier privately. "We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?"

Can you comment on the ethical situations these young soldiers are facing? How do they make sense of moral courage in these situations? Are they being trained for this kind of dilemma?

Kidder: We've not done a good job raising the next generation to understand the need for a meaningful philosophy of life. There's some polling data suggesting that younger people aren't interested in a philosophy of life. They're looking for success.

Suddenly in these [war] situations, these metaphysical questions confront you. As Americans, we're not very prepared for this. We're not a very introspective culture. It's as if we say: "We don't think great existential thoughts, we're not French. We get the work done."

Suddenly, though, in doing the course of work in war, we're coming face to face with the heart of darkness. These are profound wrenching questions.

Imagine, if just two weeks before they had ... bombed Jacksonville, Florida. Well, these soldiers wouldn't hesitate in fighting. They'd say, "It doesn't matter, they're not innocent." But these days, there's such an asymmetry, our weapons are so darn good, we have the luxury of asking those questions.

Look at casualty counts from WWII, even Vietnam. They were orders of magnitude higher. Nobody in Vietnam was raising those questions. Soldiers were saying, "If I can save a few more soldiers by mowing down these 500, by God, I'll do it." In a sense, and I don't want to celebrate this fact, that are our soldiers are in anguish is a kind of privileged philosophical position. That's been unavailable in previous generations.

Our question is: How do we deal with that? It may be harder and harder to find young people willing to do the work of war. It may not be a bad thing. That's what commander on ground [in the story excerpt] is responding to. War has become a bit sterile and antiseptic. We're bombing people you can never see, from hundreds of miles away with a Tomahawk missile. The old-fashioned warfare, where the enemy sets at you in waves, causes you to suddenly think there must be a better way to treat this. Do it all at once with a bomb from distance. The problem there is then you don't have to think about it. I suppose I'd always want people to think about it.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to The ethics of rebuilding Iraq
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today