Remarks by Maplewood Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta
at Be About Peace Day Forum 3-29-08
IRAQ WAR REMARKS
By Fred R. Profeta, Jr.
Maplewood Deputy Mayor
One day of the Iraq war costs the American taxpayer $720,000,000. That is an obscene number. We have much better ways to spend our money. I spoke about one such way when we went down to Congress last July. I noted that we are experiencing a planetary environmental crisis, and that the Federal government is shirking its clear duty to avert this crisis. Good environmental policy costs money -- and we should be spending money to save lives and our ecosytems -- rather than spend money to destroy them, as we do in Iraq.
It is good practical policy to point out the obscene cost of this obscene war. It is a means to reach a wide range of persons, to develop allies against the war where they might not otherwise exist. We should use this strategy. But -- we should also be aware of its deficiencies.
Why are we REALLY against this war? Because it is expensive? Does that mean that if it were cheap, it would be OK? Of course not. But we want to make sure that we all remember that. I submit that we lose our power if we simply sound like pragmatists about the matter of war. It is the moral imperative that drives us -- Thou shalt not kill. We must never lose sight of that, whatever tactics we employ in cause of morality.
So what does South Mountain Peace Action believe in -- fundamentally? Is our group against all war? Or do we support "just wars"? I don't think that the Mission Statement speaks to that. The Statement does endorse the values of the United Nations Charter. But the Charter talks primarily about process -- and it does permit certain wars -- in self-defense, or when approved by the Security Council.
It seems clear to me that the United Nations does support the doctrine of a "just war." And it would be odd if it did not -- the Charter was drafted right after the genocide of Hitler was defeated. This doctrine of a "just war" (or justus bellum) was developed a long time ago. Cicero provided much of the philosophical and ethical underpinnings. And those were further developed by Aquinas, and Hume, and Kant. Most commentators and philosophers agree on these necessary components of "Justus bellum":
1. Just cause -- such as correcting a grave evil
2. Declaration of war by a proper authority -- such as Congress or the United Nations
3. Possessing right intention -- in other words, there must be an intention to further the just cause,
4. Proportionality -- the anticipated benefits of the war must outweigh its expected evils, and
5. Last resort -- all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted before going to war.
It is obvious that the Bush Administration has not waged "Justus bellum" in Iraq. It has flunked on all accounts. Jimmy Carter made that point quite well in a NYT editorial on March 9, 2003, before the war started. Even if one were to argue that there was approval by a proper authority (i.e., Congress), I would maintain that the approval was obtained through illegal fraud -- claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction when there was no such thing.
I mention these values tonight because I think that the peace movement has to revisit them. The morality of conflict in the future is going to be a harder issue. For example, the argument for peace is more difficult when the opponents are terrorists. How does the doctrine of "Justus bellum" apply when the opponents specialize in the UNJUST war? It is the very essence of terrorism to violate morality -- to hurt and kill the innocent. That's what makes it so terrifying, so effective, and so paralyzing. How do we apply the precepts of "Justus bellum" to this sort of evil?
Of course, many of you will rightfully say that the best way to deal with terrorism is to expose its moral bankruptcy and to deprive it of supporters. Terrorists are basically nihilists. Nihilists don't have enough money to threaten the world-wide community. But their sympathizers do. We must show the sympathizers that terrorists deserve no sympathy.
But there will be times when our military knows where the terrorists are. Should we kill them then and there? What if they are there with their families, as they often are? What kinds of assurances do we need that the targets are really terrorists? So far, our standard operating procedure seems to be to kill everything in sight. The moral outrage is not there because so many people hate the terrorists. And remember this -- it doesn't cost $720,000,000 to kill a terrorist. It's cheap! Does that make it OK?
We have to do better. Cicero's rules may easily apply to Iraq, but not so easily in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Peace activists must lead the way here. We must continue to employ all practical tactics to end the war in Iraq.
But we must be ready to engage in the next debate. The issues are already before us. Money will not be a big part of this debate. Morality will. And that's our turf.
Fred is right -- these are key issues that the peace movement needs to address. And thanks for reminding us of the fundamental moral issues that we sometimes lose sight of.
One distinction I'd like to make is between whether the military "knows" who the terrorists are or whether the military "suspects" who the terrorists are. As we have learned from this war, what is claimed by intelligence agencies or by government officials cannot necessarily be assumed to be true.
I think Fred raises an important point -- if you bomb the homes of "suspected" terrorists you are likely to kill innocent civilians (and the "suspected" terrorist might also be innocent).
What's needed in my view is to restore the fundamental principle of bringing criminals (terrorists) to justice. We apply that principle domestically in the United States. We should do it overseas.
In practice, this means asking foreign nations to extradite suspected terrorists for prosecution. This was the initial step taken toward Afghanistan with regard to Osama bin Laden. When the Taliban government refused, the US was justified in using force to hunt down and extradite bin Laden. However, the Bush administration chose to militarily overthrow the Taliban government and begin an occupation that has no end in sight.
The United Nations issued a resolution on terrorism in 2006 which can serve as a guideline for an effective policy to address terrorism by providing mechanisms to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice and by working to eliminate many of the root causes of terrorism itself.
Here are two provisions of the resolution and a link to the full text.
To cooperate fully in the fight against terrorism, in accordance with our obligations under international law, in order to find, deny safe haven and bring to justice, on the basis of the principle of extradite or prosecute, any person who supports, facilitates, participates or attempts to participate in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or provides safe havens.
To ensure the apprehension and prosecution or extradition of perpetrators of terrorist acts, in accordance with the relevant provisions of national and international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law. We will endeavour to conclude and implement to that effect mutual judicial assistance and extradition agreements, and to strengthen cooperation between law enforcement agencies
Ending the Politics Of Fear
Mr. Profeta's speech masks an underlying message that conservatives have worked diligently for decades to plant in the minds of the public: That progressives lack resolve - as if caring for each other is being "soft." Rather than question the validity of the conservatives' terror war, Mr. Profeta believes we should enlist, and that the only thing stopping progressives from doing so is sufficient legal and moral justification, which he attempts to provide.
Progressives must reframe the American political conversation with our values of empathy, responsibility, and strength.
Joe Brewer at http://www.rockridgenation.org/ says:
"We need to reclaim the discourse with true American values like compassion, community, and opportunity. This requires us to get beyond the conservative politics of fear. For too long, conservatives have raised bogeymen to promote their idea that the world is a dangerous place, so you need a strict father to protect you. (see The Conservative World View http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/projects/strategic/nationasfamily/sfworldview/) They have told us to fear "terrorists" who hate our freedom, colored people who cannot be trusted, "illegals" who threaten to take our jobs, and "Islamofascists" who want to destroy our beliefs.
Conservatives have worked hard to create these impressions in the populace. They created a terrorist threat meter to routinely reinforce their view of the world. All the while, they took actions that made us less safe. Promoting fear in this way achieves two things:
1. It promotes the conservative worldview.
2. It establishes power over the people.
Progressives don't want either of these things. We want people to feel empowered. We want to promote a progressive worldview."
The "soft on terror" argument also feeds into the general message of betrayal the conservative juggernaut, through groups like Freedom's Watch (http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/005103.php) will be using to smear progressives as weak going into the election (http://www.rockridgenation.org/blog/archive/2008/02/01/america-betrayed-will-progressives-take-the-fall).
So how do we reframe this particular debate? Cognitive science tells us that negating the frame. ("We're not weak on terror!"), only reinforces the original frame. It is necessary to completely reframe the debate in our own values. Again, Brewer:
"1. Americans are not afraid. We are a strong and proud people when we come together as a nation. Anyone who tries to divide us with fear has failed to understand what America is all about. Do we really want someone like that to "lead" us into the 21st Century?
2. This is the 72-hour Fear Stunt. We've seen this over and over again. Three days before an election ads come out with the specific goal of pumping people with fear. Manipulation of voters like this reveals a callous disregard for the basic decency of people. It is reprehensible.
3. America is looking for a leader. Following the same old fear tactics of conservatives like Karl Rove is just another example of the kind of experience that got us into the mess we're in now - an endless occupation on foreign soil where body bags keep piling up, a broken economy where people are a paycheck away from losing their homes, and corruption so severe that people are at risk of losing faith in the greatest strength we have as a nation - our democracy."
Mr Profeta does a great service by raising these fundamental questions. I have several reactions to these remarks within the just war tradition. By arguing within the just war tradition, I’m not implying that other traditions, like pacifism, are wrong. That is a deeper question and one to which I don’t know the answer. The just war tradition is a very strong one in our country, and one whose form of arguments I’m somewhat familiar with. (It may also be equivalent to pacifism in some interpretations, as there are those who argue that just wars in modern terms are impossible.)
1. Is it crass to pay attention to the cost of the war? As I noted, probably incoherently, on March 29, cost-benefit analysis is part of the jus ad bellum criteria. Proportionality says that the expected costs of a contemplated war have to be at least as great as the benefits, and ultima ratio says that the benefits cannot be achieved more cheaply in any other manner. For modern practitioners of cost-benefit analysis, ultima ratio is generally expressed as the dam-site problem: if two contemplated projects cannot both be accomplished (eliminating WMD from Iraq by diplomacy and eliminating them by force) then the project with greater excess of benefits over costs should be done. Costs and benefits are the social constructs that Bilmes and Stiglitz use, not the accounting constructs that pay attention only to some version of the government budget.
So the information on the cost of the war to Americans, which was the topic of the night, is clearly one piece of any jus ad bellum discussion. But it is only one piece. It leaves out costs to non-Americans—Bilmes and Stiglitz try to do this a little and I left it out entirely—and so is not even a complete accounting of cost. It also leaves out any discussion of benefits. And proportionality and ultima ratio are only two of the necessary conditions in jus ad bellum. But you have to start somewhere. One thing at a time. We need to discuss non-American costs and to discuss net benefits, but I believe those topics have been addressed at other times and other places by SMPA. If not, they should be.
These costs are pieces of a moral decision, and that’s why they are important.
2. Killing terrorists. This is Mr Profeta’s hard question. It is a hard question, but not incapable of interesting answers within the just war tradition.
First, let us assume that the war on terrorism is a just war under jus ad bellum criteria. Then the question of how to conduct a war, the question Mr Profeta is raising, goes under the topic of jus in bello (justice in war, as distinct from justice toward war). Traditionally there are three criteria for jus in bello
a. Noncombatant immunity
b. Micro proportionality
c. Not to employ methods that ‘shock the conscience of mankind’—weapons bans generally go under this rubric
Note that there is no ‘tit-for-tat’ in these criteria; jus in bello applies to just wars against combatants that adhere to it and those who do not.
The hypothetical terrorist strike violates noncombatant immunity and possibly micro proportionality (since the deaths of villagers are just as costly as the deaths of American noncombatants in the just war calculus).
Second, if strikes against noncombatants are necessary for winning the war on terror, then the war on terror is not a just war. That is because one of the six criteria for jus ad bellum is likelihood of success—conditional on following jus in bello. A war that is likely to be lost, even for a just cause, should not be fought, because it will not produce the just cause but will produce death and destruction.
Finally, the war on terror probably is not a war after all because the ‘opponent’ is not a state—a local violence monopolist. Al Qaeda is a criminal gang, and bringing criminal gangs to justice is a police problem, not a war problem. If 9/11 had been defined as the responsibility of the NYPD, as it should have been, bin Laden would be in custody now or “heads would roll.” (Notice that bin Laden is not in custody and no one’s career has been in the least disrupted.) The rules of good police practice should apply, not the rules of jus in bello, but the rules of good police practice give the same sort of answer—you don’t kill innocent people.
So the traditions that we have inherited, both jus in bello and good police practice, have the same sort of advice on the hard case. This advice is different from utilitarian or teleological advice, and it is different from what you would probably hear on talk radio.
I think it’s the right advice too. Philosophers have spent a lot of time on these issues in the last few decades, including at one point a plethora of extraordinarily clever trolley problems, and I haven’t kept up. Although I’m in a profession that is relentlessly teleological, as are the proponents of striking the village, I can’t deny that for these matters deontology probably has the upper hand.
The argument for striking the village is essentially that it results in an expected net reduction in lives lost. Consider the following proposal: that the US invade Muslim countries occasionally and find healthy individuals and harvest their organs. Since many people have 4 or more transplantable organs—2 kidneys, one liver, one heart, maybe something else—and many Americans lives depend on getting transplants, you would save approximately 4 American lives for each Muslim harvested. If you accept the argument for striking the village, then I think you have to accept the argument for organ harvesting.
But most of us don’t think organ harvesting is a good idea. Even though it costs lives on net, it’s not something we are prepared to do. We would rather spend money and ingenuity to encourage voluntary donations, even though at this point they don’t work as well as organ harvesting would, and to encourage researchers to figure out better ways of doing things. In the meanwhile, Americans will die who could have been saved by organ harvesting, and we will accept that as a sad inevitability.
Life is full of sad inevitabilities.
The Primary Issues Are Obscured
The justus bellum question is certainly useful for the underpinning strength and depth of reasoning it can provide to one's philosophical position on the Iraq war or war in general.
However, while I am in want of precise analogies, discussing just war at a rally to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq is akin to firefighters discussing the merits of various escape techniques while a house burns; or perhaps hedge fund managers discussing the merits of mortgage securitization at a foreclosed homeowners support group. While we enjoy our enriching philosophical discussion Iraqi citizens continue to die, wounded American soldiers continue to lack adequate care at home.
Since my feeling is that this discussion may have diverted attention from the core issues, and also obscured some additionally important ones, I would like to restate what I hope would be the primary objectives at such a meeting as this, and also state those issues that I believe the justus bellum discussion has obscured:
1. Bringing to an immediate end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
2. Preventing a U.S. attack on Iran
3. Curbing global U.S. military aggression in general.
Equally important additional topics:
1. The deception by omission in the U.S media of the thirty year oil contracts for western oil companies the Iraqi government is being forced to accept. These are currently a key sticking point in political progress that could bring peace, and they are also one of Bush's key requirements.
2. The deception by omission in the U.S media of the permanent military bases the U.S. has been constructing in Iraq since the Clinton years.
3. The outsourcing of military work to unaccountable contractors like Blackwater.
4. many, many more...
Important Distinctions That Are Obscured By the Justus Bellum Discussion
1. Since the Iraq war is a war of aggression, it was never a "just" war, and never will be. The invasion of Iraq by the U.S. is illegal. By discussing just war, are you implying that the Iraq war could somehow be just?
2. The Iraq war has never had anything to do with the conservatives so called war on terror. By invoking terrorism, are you implying that the Iraq war is, or ever was related to the war on terror?
3. Assuming that somehow the U.S. alone must summon the internal will to go after terrorists ignores the fifty year existence of the world court, created to handle just such criminals. The terrorism question, if it must be invoked, need not be so torturous (apologies for the bad pun). You catch them, put them on trial, and if they are found guilty they go to jail or are executed. End of story.
But this type of police action would not do for conservatives who want to use special war powers to concentrate control of government into an imperial presidency. Conservatives *need* their terror war. But there are ample existing international systems in place to bring terrorists to justice.
All best and peace,
One further thought
And finally, many of us appreciate the cozy assurance the stalwart logic of numbers can provide, particularly on an issue as fraught with emotion as this. But I wonder if these detached and logical discussions on the economics of the war are a balm for the awful truth that this war is at first a colossal betrayal of trust at the highest levels of our government, and that we as citizens of a supposed democracy bear much responsibility for it. Even the noble and right AFSC campaign about the cost of the war, which assumes Americans will get activated if they can see the war in terms of pocketbook issues, at some level veils the deeper truths of betrayal and responsibility, and the sheer awfulness of this debacle that we are trying to avoid facing.
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