Casuistries of Peace and War

Jacob Levich jlevich at
Thu Mar 6 18:59:56 MST 2003

 From London Review of Books, devastating critique of the liberal,
"multilateralist" case against the war.


>LRB 06 March 2003
>Casuistries of Peace and War
>Perry Anderson
>The prospect of a second war on Iraq raises a large number of questions,
>analytic and political. What are the intentions behind the impending
>campaign? What are likely to be the consequences? What does the drive to
>war tell us about the long-term dynamics of American global power? These
>issues will remain on the table for some time to come, outliving any
>assault this spring. The front of the stage is currently occupied by a
>different set of arguments, over the legitimacy or wisdom of the military
>expedition now brewing. My purpose here will be to consider the current
>criticisms of the Bush Administration articulated within mainstream
>opinion, and the responses of the Administration to them: in effect, the
>structure of intellectual justification on each side of the argument, what
>divides them and what they have common. I will end with a few remarks on
>how this debate looks from a perspective with a different set of premises.
>Taking an overview of the range - one might say torrent - of objections to
>a second war in the Gulf, we can distinguish six principal criticisms,
>expressed in many different registers, distributed across a wide span of
>1. The projected attack on Iraq is a naked display of American
>unilateralism. The Bush Administration has openly declared its intention of
>attacking Baghdad, whether or not the UN sanctions an assault. This is not
>only a grave blow to the unity of the Western alliance, but must lead to an
>unprecedented and perilous weakening of the authority of the Security
>Council, as the highest embodiment of international law.
>2. Massive intervention on this scale in the Middle East can only foster
>anti-Western terrorism. Rather than helping to crush al-Qaida, it is likely
>to multiply recruits for it. America will be more endangered after a war
>with Iraq than before it.
>3. The blitz in preparation is a pre-emptive strike, openly declared to be
>such, that undermines respect for international law, and risks plunging the
>world into a maelstrom of violence, as other states follow suit, taking the
>law into their own hands in turn.
>4. War should in any case always be a last resort in settling an
>international conflict. In the case of Iraq, sufficient tightening of
>sanctions and surveillance is capable of de-fanging the Baath regime, while
>sparing innocent lives and preserving the unity of the international
>5. Concentration on Iraq is a distraction from the more acute danger posed
>by North Korea, which has greater nuclear potential, a more powerful army,
>and an even deadlier leadership. The US should give top priority to dealing
>with Kim Jong Il, not Saddam Hussein.
>6. Even if an invasion of Iraq went smoothly, an occupation of the country
>is too hazardous and costly an undertaking for the United States to pull
>off successfully. Allied participation is necessary for it to have any
>chance of succeeding, but the Administration's unilateralism compromises
>the chance of that. The Arab world is likely to view a foreign protectorate
>with resentment. Even with a Western coalition to run the country, Iraq is
>a deeply divided society, with no democratic tradition, which cannot easily
>be rebuilt along postwar German or Japanese lines. The potential costs of
>the whole venture outweigh any possible benefits the US could garner from
>Such is more or less the spectrum of criticism that can be found in the
>mainstream media and in respectable political circles, both in the United
>States itself, and - still more strongly - in Europe and beyond. They can
>be summarised under the headings: the vices of unilateralism, the risks of
>encouraging terrorism, the dangers of pre-emption, the human costs of war,
>the threat from North Korea, and the liabilities of over-reach. As such,
>they divide into two categories: objections of principle - the evils of
>unilateralism, pre-emption, war; and objections of prudence: the hazards of
>terrorism, North Korea, over-reach.


>What conclusions follow? Simply this. Mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's
>crudity, is merely saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war
>would do better to focus on the entire prior structure of the special
>treatment accorded to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over
>the secondary issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or
>to put it out of its misery quickly.
>Full article at:

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list