Bush's 'Moral Clarity': The American Nation May Be Done Lasting Harm
Published on Thursday, January 9, 2003 by the International Herald Tribune
Bush's 'Moral Clarity'
by William Pfaff

PARIS --  President George W. Bush continues to repeat moral arguments for a U.S. attack on Iraq because his domestic political adviser, Karl Rove, has convinced him that the "moral clarity" of his declarations about the war against evil and the wickedness of Saddam Hussein have proved a decisive electoral asset.

However, his current difficulties in consolidating U.S. and international opinion behind an invasion of Iraq lie in the realms of reason and evidence. His speeches have, in those respects, offered nothing new to demonstrate that the United States should attack Iraq here and now, with or without a new United Nations mandate.

No one needs to be convinced of Saddam Hussein's iniquity. Scarcely anyone in the Western world defends him or pretends that international society would not be a better place if he were gone. But speeches such as the one the president gave at Fort Hood in Texas last Friday, again claiming that "either you're with those who love freedom or you're with those who hate innocent life," say nothing to those who need to be convinced that military intervention in Iraq will actually leave the Middle East better off than before.

Bush's critics include pacifists who are against war itself, and others who defend international law by opposing cross-border interventions, or at least those not warranted by some immediate and overt offense against international norms.

Genocide in Africa, and barbarous tribalisms and nationalisms there and in the Balkans, have in recent years made a widely accepted case for military interventions that offer a high probability of doing more good than harm, which is the traditional philosophical justification for "just" war. However, the administration has failed to answer the many people in America and in allied countries who want prudential, political and practical evidence to convince them that intervention in Iraq provides such a case.

Take the weapons inspections. There has been a steady, critical commentary by administration officials concerning the UN inspectors, even though, supposedly in order to protect U.S. intelligence sources, the inspectors are not being provided the evidence that the United States claims to possess about the location of mass destruction weapons and facilities.

Accordingly, and despite its failure to account for certain stocks of chemical and biological agents, Iraq's strategy of accepting inspections and allowing full access to its installations has thus far lent a certain plausibility to its claim to have renounced mass destruction weapons. One would have thought that in order to justify its policy, the Bush administration would do better to help the inspectors.

It surely can do the administration no good to have the inspectors come in at the end of this month with a report consistent with Iraq's claims. Even if Washington then makes dramatic new accusations, if these, too, are undocumented, the United States would fail to make its case.

Critics of the Bush administration's policies are concerned about the balance of harm and good reasonably to be expected from a war, and about the war's likely long-term consequences for American foreign relations. They would like a more intelligent discussion of strategic outcomes than unsupported assurances that the Arab world, including the Palestinians, will welcome "liberation" by the United States, allied with Israel.

Senator Chuck Hagel, the influential Nebraska Republican and a friend of President Bush, is one such person. He came back from a Middle Eastern trip in mid-December to tell the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations that invading Iraq "will neither assure a democratic transition in Iraq, bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians, nor assure stability in the Middle East." He specifically rejected the argument that "the road to Arab-Israeli peace" goes by way of Iraq's invasion. Almost daily reports from Washington convey a contrary claim. They describe how an Iraq war would successfully be fought, how post-intervention Iraq would be governed and how regional peace would prevail. All this is given to the press by interested parties. Attacking another country to accomplish "regime change" is a grave matter in human terms, and in the effect it will have on international norms and legal precedent. An attack on this particular country, in these particular Middle Eastern political circumstances, against a culturally charged background of strained Islamic-American relations and difficult U.S. alliance relationships, demands much franker, more open and more serious debate than Bush's policy has received until now.

If the affair goes badly, the administration and the Republican Party will pay. But the American nation may be done lasting harm.

© 2003 the International Herald Tribune