Sly Cunning Bastards, addendum

Martin follows up to the previous entry, with an interesting question — is it ethical to lie to achieve a moral good, that is, (when) do the ends justify the means?

The only problem here is that it’s not apparent that anyone lied (ie, deliberately uttered things they knew were untrue, and that they knew would lead others to come to a conclusion that was known to be false); it’s merely alleged, and mostly by people who have a stated interest in attacking Mr Howard, Mr Bush, or Mr Blair. We have a fair degree of confidence that a number of the details were wrong, but it is far from immoral to merely be mistaken. I’m wrong quite frequently, and I don’t like it, but I’m not ashamed of it — saying wrong things and getting corrected is how you learn to be right.

And the other half of the problem is that while the details may have been wrong, the essence of the argument was entirely right. The only two acceptable options was to depose Hussein, or maintain heavy sanctions indefinitely. And while the stories of the sanctions killing babies have turned out to be fabricated propaganda (ie, actual lies, and rather revolting ones at that), leaving a dictator with the avowed desire to attack us who has a documented history of genocide and imperial ambitions in charge of a nation of twenty million is simply not a sane thing to do.

So what do you have? The various governments gave their best estimates of Iraq’s capabilities and intentions, which have turned out to not be particularly far off the truth — the weapons of mass destruction was overstated, the Al Qaeda connection appears to have been understated — and, probably more importantly, which no one was reasonably contradicting before the war (do you remember the arguments for the war? that inspections would successfully disarm Iraq?). They did the job that they believed was the best way of ensuring our continued security, and twenty million people no longer have to be worried about being abducted and tortured for sport. It’s difficult to find anything immoral that the coalition of the willing have done, in my opinion. It’s even hard to find things that have been done in a particularly suboptimal way: the initial intelligence gathering was obviously imperfect, and the diplomatic efforts were somewhat disappointing, but the real risks was in the effectiveness of the military attack (quagmire, vietnam, guerilla warfare, terrorist attacks, the Arab street rising up, gas attacks, etc) and that worked amazingly well, which demonstrates that in spite of the failures, both the initial intelligence (where should we bomb? who should we convince to defect?) and the diplomacy (do you mind if we base our troops here? would you assist us?) were effective anyway.

An interesting point is that the Hussein regime has exactly two things on which it can blame this war: its aggression, and its lack of transparency. If you know you have an enemy, and you don’t know what he is doing, you’re required to assume the worst — that he’s moving his troops and equipment to strike a crushing blow against you. Failing to cooperate fully with weapons inspectors really did make invasion necessary. (Rather than belabour the obvious, I’ll leave the rest of the explanation of this line of thought as an exercise for the interested reader)

Also interesting is the possibility that the Hussein regime had to simultaneously convince its Arab neighbours that it had weapons of mass destruction, and convince America that it didn’t, in both cases to deter possible attacks. Pity I’ve no idea where I read that argument.

(Martin also makes it impossible for me to fix the stupid inconsistent permalink I used for the last entry, dammit)

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