The United States is once again massing troops for an attack on Iraq. After months of the Bush administration's attempts to build a case against Saddam Hussein, Bush seems impatient to unleash the might of the U.S. military against Iraq. It seems that Saddam Hussein has violated the terms of the peace agreement imposed upon him in the First Gulf War. Maybe he has weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps he has ties to Al Qaeda. Virtually no one in the United States has any doubt that Saddam Hussein is a Very Bad Man, and there have been the usual comparisons to Adolf Hitler.
It would seem that the first and best reason for the United States to take military action against another nation would be to defend Americans against a foreign threat of violence originating in that nation. In Christian thought, there are few other reasons for war. (In a previous article on this site, I mentioned Philippe du Plessis Mornay, a 16th century French Huguenot who contended that the king of a Christian nation should go to the rescue of beleaguered Christians in other nations.) So, we might well ask: is Bush's proposed war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq going to increase the security of the United States?
We might justify going to war with Iraq if it has violated the 1991 peace agreement. Even here, we must reexamine the moral grounds for the first Gulf war. The reason given at the time was that Iraq had invaded the sovereign nation of Kuwait and was apparently threatening Saudi Arabia. However, Iraq's action did not threaten the United States, and it is not at all clear that having a military large enough to force Iraq out gave us a moral right to do so. Neither is it clear that obtaining a consensus through the United Nations provided that moral right. If we should not have been in the Persian Gulf in 1991, then we should not be too adamant about enforcing the restrictions placed on Iraq as a result of that war.
It is true that the United States does a great deal of business with oil-producing nations in the Middle East, and some have suspected that oil lay at the root of our earlier intervention. With Saddam Hussein is in power, the Middle East is a very unstable region, and the flow of oil is threatened. However, to base military intervention on the commercial interest the United States has in the stability of the region is an insufficient justification for war.
In any case, if the region were made more stable by an American invasion, this is not quite the same thing as increasing American security. If hundreds of thousands of American infidels pounce on a Muslim nation that has not attacked the United States, and occupy it indefinitely, will this make the recruitment and fundraising work of terrorist organizations more difficult, or easier? Would the people of Iraq would successfully retain whatever approved (not to say puppet) regime we leave behind? One thinks of the ousting of the Shah of Iran. Osama bin Laden must be ecstatic.
It may be that an American invasion of Iraq would eliminate Iraq's ability to produce nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Yet the motivation to use such weapons against the United States would increase, and these weapons are or soon will be available in many other nations. Given the extreme difficulty of containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction in other nations, it would seem that our security would be better enhanced by reducing the motivation to attack the United States.
One way to do this is by opening ourselves to international trade. We have a practical incentive to avoid conflict with others when those others provide us with some part of our livelihood. Another way is to win over the "opposition" to our worldview. At the core of this ideological change would be a spiritual change. Of course, after bombing Iraq it may be difficult to get Iraqis to listen to American missionaries.
At an earlier point in the history of American foreign conquests, after the subjugation of the Philippines, William Graham Sumner observed,
We were told that we needed Hawaii in order to secure California. What shall we now take in order to secure the Philippines? …We shall need to take China, Japan, and the East Indies, according to the doctrine, in order to "secure" what we have. Of course this means that, on the doctrine, we must take the whole earth in order to be safe on any part of it, and the fallacy stands exposed. If, then, safety and prosperity do not lie in this direction, the place to look for them is in the other direction: in domestic development, peace, industry, free trade with everybody, low taxes, industrial power.1
This approach, in varying degrees of consistency, has been followed with great success by many smaller nations. Switzerland, for example, has remained at peace, without need of defense alliances and with negligible terrorist activity, for over four hundred years.
There remains the possibility that Iraq has harbored or otherwise rendered aid to al-Qaeda in its 2001 attack on the United States. If this can be proven, then in my opinion war would be justified against those who have assisted our enemies. With or without the permission of the United Nations, I might add.
- Timothy D. Terrell
Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.