Monday 15 December 2008

When the War Was Lost- Morally

Last week's poll was quite conclusive, really.

And no, not the result I voted for myself- as I think you appreciate, but you all voted overwhelmingly against outlawing sexual relationships between a man and a woman more than 25% his junior. 17 to 7 against my little proposal.

This week is a simpler issue.
It's about the point where, in my opinion, the west finally lost this little crusade it has going against the Muslim world.

Where the west actually showed to the world that the values it preached were hollow.

The west gave up all claim to the moral highground.

Let's leave aside the issue over whether the war in Iraq was legal in international law. It clearly wasn't. But there are always going to be some who will argue that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator, and there was a moral justification for the invasion. Not of course, that Darfur or Zimbabwe are crying out for help of some kind.

Let's leave aside the dire consequences of the invasion.

Let's go right to the key argument supporters of the war would use.
That the UN was unable to cope with situation like these, that evil triumphs because good men do nothing, that the UN had failed as an international organisation to 'do the right thing' and thus unilateral action by the guardians of the world's morality was justified.

The basis of this argument, is the moral superiority of the invaders. That the systems of values being removed is odious, that the invasion is a movement of 'liberation' to put in place a better system of values. That America and Britain were freeing Iraq and bringing hope and freedom to them.

In which case, there was some moral imperative to show that superiority in our actions, not only during the invasion but after.

Now it can be argued that the trial of Saddam Hussein was carried out by an Iraqi court and that he was sentenced by Iraqi judges.
This is an amazing evasion.
Iraq is an occupied country. That trial and execution could only take place with the full support of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Now the moral position of both countries here is utterly suspect.

First of all, the war crimes Saddam Hussein was charged with and convicted of, did not relate to the 1990 Gulf war.

They related to the Iran-Iraq war. Specifically, gas used against the Kurds in that war.
Now, I'm not for one moment saying this wasn't a war crime.
Except that the gas used was provided by the United States- nay more, SOLD to Iraq by Donald Rumsfeld himself.
And the United States didn't take a neutral role in this trial. It didn't happen against their wishes, they actively pushed for his execution. The United States couldn't actually try him for any crimes committed in the wars in which Saddam Hussein was their enemy, so they actively connived at convicting him for war crimes committed in a war in which he was armed and supported by the United States. At a time when the western world generally presented him as the good guy.

So yes, guilty of war crimes he most certainly was. But it still shows up painfully as an example of victor's justice. That you only get punished for war crimes when your winning streak finishes. It only emphasised the LACK of real justice in matters relating to killing fields generally.

And now on to the actual punishment. The death penalty.
Now again, it will be argued that Iraqi courts imposed this.
This was a new Iraq. An Iraq whose new Constitution was brought in under supervision of the US and the UK. So the fact that the new Iraq even has the death penalty, is something it was in the power of the US especially, to determine. And one can't help feeling that allowing it the death penalty was done with the possible execution of Saddam Hussein and other Ba'athists in mind.

Was it really the sign we wanted to be sending of the superiority of western liberal democracy? Executing defeated dictators?

And for the UK, there was no excuse. The UK will not permit anyone to be extradited to a country where they are being charged with a capital crime, unless the country agree in advance not to execute. The UK government has a policy against the death penalty.
And actually, I tend to think that's right. The death penalty isn't something we really want to have as part of our judicial processes in the twenty first century.

So you would have thought, bearing in mind British troops were in occupation of Iraq at the time, some form of FORMAL objection to the execution of Saddam Hussein would have been made by the UK government.
Not only was it not made, Tony Blair was asked in a press conference what his opinion on the execution was, and he declined to answer.

It was a shoddy moment for the West.

We lost all claim to the moral highground when that rope went round Saddam Hussein's neck.

Or such is my opinion.

But you may disagree.
And that's what I want to find out this week.

Poll's in the sidebar.

Have your say!

And if you need a reminder of EXACTLY what was involved here, today's YouTube is NOT Music. Only play it if you want to face what you see.


Anonymous said...

The death penalty is brutish but at least Saddam got some kind of trial and the chance to say his piece unlike the detainees at Gautanamo Bay or the inmates of Abu Ghraib. The West will never remove the stain that Abu Ghraib has left on it's soul until the real culprits who created and tolerated that situation are brought to justice and the soldiers who were merely acting under instructions are no longer scapegoated. That was when the war was lost morally for me, when those photos were released.

Anonymous said... Seriously? You think that Saddam faced anything better than a kangaroo court? Look, I didn't like the man, either. But if Saddam's trial is our standard, then we are sad indeed. Saddam was not executed under a legally valid "death penalty." He was murdered, pure and simple. Was he a genocidal maniac? Sure. But he was still murdered.

I agree with your basic premise, Crushed, but for my part I'd move the time line up. The moral high ground was lost the moment the first bomb was released back in march, 2003: when the USA (backed by reluctant allies) invaded a sovereign nation as a "preemptive measure" with only hearsay and speculation as justification.

All war leads to horror. That is a fact. If you, as the leader of a nation, decide to take the step to initiate a war, then you must be willing to accept that you are sowing horror and evil. In 1939, England faced this choice, and she made it, grim as it was, because it was clear -- from events on the ground -- that a greater evil was growing.

George Bush had no such similar evidence. He faced a hobbled nation with a loudmouthed but impotent ruler. A nation with no control over its airspace, and swarming with UN weapons experts. He did not face a great evil. Rather, he faced a possible pathogen: something that might be a threat. And he chose to try to wipe it out.

Unfortunately, that "pathogen" was composed not only of a few bumbling bad guys, but also of an enormous population of Just Plain Folk. And he killed them all, in one way or another, often horribly, painfully, and pitifully.

George Bush is a christian, he says. There is not much good that I can imagine that Jesus, the incarnate God, would have to say about a man who created such a hell on earth with little more than "gut instinct."

Anonymous said...

To my mind war and killing is something to be avoided. If you have to kill anything best it is done quickly with minimum suffering.

I guess there are lots of people who don’t have any scruples about killing indiscriminately. Strong men who know about braking eggs to make omelettes.

I am not sure you can say war is moral, or not. Can you justify it as moral ever? Necessary maybe, but moral? Don’t give me moral.

I figure it had a lot to do with trying to suppress a terrorist stronghold/training area and maybe the oil helped too. Contrast it with Zimbabwe and Mugabe.

Without 9/11 I figure it wasn't likely, and how would it be possible to stir lazy people up against "the great Satan" without it?

I think your use of the word Crusader is foolish and wrong, it plays to other’s agendas. A “useful idiot” word. If it is a religious war then it is religious essentially from one direction only... Jihad. Others propaganda.

One thing we should remember about Iran and Afghanistan and the Lebanon is that it is quite likely they would all be reasonably peaceful places now if it were not for external forces (and I don’t mean the allied forces) constantly fomenting strife.

The sort that likes to use little boys and retarded girls as mobile bombs. The sort that blow up power stations and attack dams.

There is moral for you. I am sure they are promised God approves. Got to be moral then doesn't it?

It is my thought that without that there would be no allied forces in Iran or Afghanistan now. They would have left by now and then places would be on their way to being rebuilt.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts that I've had for a long time about Iraq:

1) Bush was simply finishing up his daddy's unfinished business, and used every flimsy excuse he could find to get us in there.
2) Saddam ruled the country the only way he could, the tribal factions could not be kept in line without an iron fist.
I'm not justifing his means, just the fact he did what he did what he had to, to stay in power.
3) And because of those tribal factions, it won't matter how long we stay in Iraq, it will devolve into a civil war after we leave.
4) Once we went in, it became a no win situation.

Anonymous said...

I've got to agree with you on this one, Crushed. The idea that this was
"natural Iraqi justice", rather than just as symbolic as that toppling of the statue.