Sunday, February 01, 2004


I just came across two items which together bring some light to an issue on which there's been a lot of overheated rhetoric: whether the War in Iraq was justifiable on humanitarian grounds. Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch (via Juan Cole) argues that it was not. He makes several points, but the most important ones are that wars of humanitarian intervention are only justified to stop ongoing mass murder, or to prevent future mass murders if such murders are imminent, and that neither of these was the case in Iraq in March 2003. Though Saddam had committed mass murder in the past, punishing rulers for past crimes is not in itself sufficient grounds for humanitarian interventions. Juan Cole disagrees, arguing that there should be no statute of limitations on mass murder, and in any case Saddam's campaign against the Marsh Arabs constituted a "recent and ongoing" genocide. Cole is strongly opposed to the way Bush went about it, though, arguing that he should have applied to the Security Council to have Saddam removed "on the basis of egregious violations of the UN Convention on Genocide." (Implicit in Cole's statements is that Bush should then have abided by the Council's decision, though Cole doesn't explicitly say so.)

Me, I'm still undecided. On the question of the Marsh Arabs, I simply don't know the facts. On the question of principle, I can see arguments for both sides. I'm more inclined to go with Roth, though: in an ideal world I would love to see rulers be held accountable for their past crimes, but in the world we live in I suspect this would simply provide a rationale for removing regimes we don't like, bringing the concept of human rights into disrepute. But read both items.

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