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Reviewing the rationale for war

By Soren Williams - posted Friday, 8 July 2005

Ever since the beginning of the war in Iraq, and in fact for some time prior, there has been a constant dialogue over the “justification” for the war, its validity, its rationality and so on. Critics have pounced on the fact no weapons of mass destruction were found as proof the war was unjust. Some have gone further to say the war was predicated on a lie. While given appearances it is explicable that people might come to this conclusion, anyone with a more discerning eye will not be so specious.

The justification for the Iraq war was never that Iraq definitely had weapons of mass destruction. It was that she continually defied UN resolutions demanding she prove she definitely didn’t. Iraq made a mockery of the UN’s authority for over 12 years. War was the chartered consequence for Iraq if she continued to defy the UN, but when it came to the crunch, the agency that is supposed to hold nations accountable to international standards wanted to go on making excuses.

America had its patience reserves drained and given that in 2001 war was declared upon her by terrorists, it’s understandable she would be less than willing to allow a terrorist nation to go so blatantly more unaccountable than others.


So America stepped in to do what the UN had failed to do: restore a culture of rules and order to the international community. Was this just? Well, “just” is relevant to your own moral standards. Many people seem to oppose war by definition. To pacifists, any time a nation uses violence against another nation it is unjust. Such an attitude seems so unrealistic that it’s not deserving of much attention. To others, a war is justifiable if there is a threat and all other avenues of disarming it have been exhausted.

Many people of this persuasion have labelled the Iraq war unjust by this criterion. Apparently there was still room for diplomacy. One would have to ask if 14 years worth of diplomacy wasn’t enough, how much more would be? Fifteen years? Twenty years? It is clear diplomacy was not going to work and in fact the UN’s dogged loyalty to diplomacy was what made Iraq so brazen in its belief that it could do what it wanted without consequences.

To the American foreign policy makers under the Bush Administration, America unilaterally waging war against Iraq was “just” because in an era when technology makes war a high stakes game, international rules and regulations are the only safeguard against the doomsday-type scenario of modern full scale war.

If nations, especially belligerent ones that have a documented will to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, are going to be able to treat international law with contempt, then global stability has regressed back to the pre-World War 1 era in which “might makes right” was the prevailing geo-political ethic.

America’s war against Iraq was a stand against the geo-political anarchy that has made war the constant state of affairs throughout millennia. A reversion to such a volatile international climate would be more disastrous and inhumane than the Iraq war could possibly be. In the face of such a prospect, due to the apparent impotence of the only agency in place to defend international standards, America rightly felt it her place to restore a standard of accountability to the international scene. It may seem paradoxical that America had to transgress international law to restore it, but that was indeed the predicament.

So does the fact WMDs were not found in Iraq paint the war unjust? No more than the police are to be considered unjust for arresting a driver who refuses to take a breathalyser when required, even if it happens to be he is not actually drunk.


Many critics accuse Bush of deception and erroneously point to comments made by him in his State of the Union address and elsewhere at media forums, in which he talks confidently about the prospect of Iraq having WMDs. This is unfounded. Bush merely relayed the findings of his intelligence agency to the American people, which, indecently, were the same as all the other major intelligence agencies throughout the world.

The Dalfour Report has proved Bush was acting only on the information he was receiving. This does not constitute a lie. Bush was possibly misinformed, but that is not a critical issue, because Iraq having WMDs was never the fundamental case for war in any event.

On occasions, Bush and members of his cabinet did candidly predict that Iraq had them, but that does not mean it was the premise for the war. Things like Iraq’s egregious human rights record, Saddam’s financial support for terrorism against Israel and the benefits of bringing democracy to the Middle East were also often mentioned. This does not mean these were the actual war premises, or that the war should be retrospectively appraised in light of them. These were just ancillary reasons.

The real reason America went to war with Iraq was to resurrect international standards and set a precedent of responsibility for other potential rogue, terroristic states.

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About the Author

Soren Williams is a freelance journalist from Adelaide. Soren is 24 years old and graduated from the University of Adelaide 2 years ago with a B.A. majoring in History.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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