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Preventive War Is Always Unjust

David French defends [1] 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.

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9 Comments To "Preventive War Is Always Unjust"

#1 Comment By DOM On March 21, 2019 @ 12:50 am

But, the war against Iraq and its subsequent destruction along side with Syria was in the interest of Israel. As is today, the potential war against Iran will only benefit Israel.
We mast not forget, the interest of Israel will always prevail over the interest of USA.

#2 Comment By Ken_L On March 21, 2019 @ 5:10 am

A faction of the #NeverTrumpers wanted French to run against Trump as an independent Republican. What strange times we live in.

#3 Comment By Christian Chuba On March 21, 2019 @ 8:13 am

Just War Theory:
The U.S. is the supreme law of the land. Saddam defied and edict to go into exile. Therefore, we had the right to use lethal force to enforce our edict.

Of course the Romans could say the same thing when they destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem but then again, God is on our side.

#4 Comment By DIY On March 21, 2019 @ 9:15 am

One of the most repulsive things about people like French is their willingness to send Americans to the Middle East to fight and die instead of demanding that rich, comfortable, cowardly allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia do the fighting.

As you say, the “threat” posed to America by Saddam Hussein was virtually nil. And to the extent that he posed a threat to Israel or Saudi Arabia, then by Christ they should have done the fighting and bleeding. America shouldn’t even think about getting involved in a Middle East war until the Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians, and the other bloodsucking “client states” have tried and failed. They can come back and talk to Uncle Sam after they’ve sustained a few hundred thousand casualties apiece and spent a trillion or so of their own money.

#5 Comment By Alan Vanneman On March 21, 2019 @ 10:26 am

The entire “presence of weapons of mass destruction justifies an invasion” argument is a fraud. When Saddam’s invasion of Iran began to go sideways, U.S. intelligence helped him locate Iranian troops, whom he then slaughtered with poison gas. Saddam was never going to attack the U.S., didn’t use poison gas on U.S. troops when he had it when the U.S. attacked him for the first time, and took care to only use it against fellow Muslims, including the Kurds, with tacit U.S. approval. The “existential danger” of WMD was a bogyman created by right and swallowed by almost the entirety of “respectable” opinion in the U.S., contested only on the fringes.

#6 Comment By David On March 21, 2019 @ 11:36 am

I like NR, and David French. However, before he passes, I would hope David would find it in his soul to finally admit the war was not a “just war”. It was a war a crime; a stain on America’s history.

The Bush Administration’s crimes against the nation of Iraq are unforgivable. How can any defender of this action continue to try to justify it’s just nature? Surely the experienced men in Bush’s Cabinet KNEW that this intelligence was BS at worst & woefully thin at best. Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rummy, should all stand trial for this crime.

The even bigger crime was dissolving the Iraqi army post invasion. What the heck was in the mind’s of these genius’, we will never know.

A truly despicable crime.

#7 Comment By Sid Finster On March 21, 2019 @ 12:47 pm

Forgive me for the Reductio ad Hitleram, but David French’s arguments could have been used just as facilely, to justify the Nazi invasion of Poland.

#8 Comment By Anonne On March 21, 2019 @ 9:02 pm

They weren’t going to harm us militarily. They were going to undermine the petrodollar. The same bs is happening again for Venezuela, except a “humanitarian crisis” is the cover. Funny how there is no such desire to stop our intervention in Yemen, which has a real humanitarian crisis.

#9 Comment By liberal On March 21, 2019 @ 9:13 pm

Kudos to Daniel for using the correct label: “crime,” not a mere “mistake”.