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Preventive War Is Always Unjust

DoD photo by Cherie A. Thurlby / Released

David French defends one of the great crimes of the 21st century:

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict — countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today.

There is good reason that the Iraq war has “precious few defenders.” The Iraq war was a great crime and a massive blunder. Not only was it illegal under international law, but it was undeniably unjust according to any fair reading of just war theory. Our government did not have just cause to invade Iraq and overthrow its government. Preventive war can never be justified, because it can never be just to strike first against another country because you fear what their government might one day do to you. That is simply aggression committed out of irrational fear. To say that you still think 16 years later that invading Iraq is “just and proper” is to admit that you don’t know what those words mean.

French talks a lot about what he believes about the Iraq war, but he doesn’t say much that is true about the war. He repeatedly calls it a just cause, but he doesn’t back that up with anything. French’s fervent belief in the rightness of the cause is striking and more than a little disturbing, but it doesn’t make the war any less wrong and appalling.

The arguments that supporters of the Iraq war use to defend it are always risible. That was true in 2002-03, and it is still true today. In addition to reciting extremely weak Bush administration rationalizations for attacking Iraq verbatim, he asserts that “his WMD program wasn’t nearly as extensive as we thought, but it is fiction to believe his weapons were entirely gone.” It is pitiful how dead-ender supporters of the war cling to what I assume are the reports of some residual stocks of old mustard gas as if they have anything to do with the fraudulent and dishonest claims of active weapons programs that the Bush administration used to sell the war. The Bush administration didn’t base its case for war on some leftover chemical weapons from the 1980s. They repeatedly and knowingly asserted falsehoods about supposedly growing unconventional threats from Iraq when there was no evidence to support any of this.

French goes on to say:

But I truly believe the choice our nation faced was to fight Saddam then, on our terms, or later, when he had recovered more of his nation’s strength and lethality.

I don’t know what else to call this other than delusional. Iraq didn’t pose a threat to the United States in 2003, and it wasn’t ever likely to pose one later on. The U.S. didn’t have to fight Iraq when it did, and it wouldn’t have had to fight later. What French “truly believes” is neither here nor there. His beliefs are based on shoddy ideological assumptions that were discredited more than 15 years ago. The Bush administration chose to start a war against a state that could never have done anything to harm us. It was obvious to many of us that it was profoundly wrong when it happened, and now there is no doubt that it was a terrible crime that caused enormous suffering to millions of Iraqis and continues to have deleterious effects on Iraq and its region even now. The idea that a weak dictatorship on the other side of the world threatened the U.S. enough to warrant waging preventive war for regime change would have been a bad joke if that idea had not led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, and the destabilization of the region that is still with us today. It is telling and not surprising that French has virtually nothing to say about the costs of the war borne by the people of Iraq, and even when he does mention them in passing it is only to deny our responsibility for them.

It is bad enough that people fell for the administration’s lies in 2003, but to continue defending the debacle after everything that has happened is inexcusable.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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