Saving Grace

July 2004


The perception of threats and the perception of safety in the modern American landscape.

Our current President has been justifying his actions by claiming that these acts made Americans safer. Safer than what?

Our morals and our laws recognize the compelling nature of the desire to be safe. We are permitted to kill another human being, if we can prove that we believed that person to be an imminent threat. Protection of life and limb is a justification for just about anything you can do, as an individual, provided that the action does make you safer. But you have to prove the risk. Just because someone might have done something bad to you eventually is insufficient.

As originally proposed, the war in Iraq was initiated as a direct response to a very clearly and exactly articulated threat. The Secretary of State made an in-depth presentation to the United Nations on precisely what this threat was. We know now that this was largely balderdash. Without imminent threat, war is aggression.

The basic question at issue here is whether the people who made the case for attacking Iraq were honestly stating facts as they believed them to be, or whether they were perjuring themselves with the deliberate intent of practicing deceit for their own benefit. Were they credulous or were they selling us a used car?

In a legal setting, whenever someone asserts that they were not lying, but were honestly misinformed, the first thing the prosecution does is to discover whether there is any reason to doubt this claim - did the defendant benefit from the lie? When there is no clear advantage to the defendant, the claim of being misinformed is often believed. When the defendant gets something as a result of their lies, they are usually assumed to have been lying and to be lying about having lied.

The principal financial backers of the members of the current administration stand to make hundreds of billions of dollars from the war with Iraq. George W. Bush may not make an extra dime from the regime change, but all his family and most of his close friends will make substantial profits from de-nationalizing Iraqi oil. I won't even start on Cheney and Haliburton. According to the legal standard described above, it is reasonable to assume that Bush was lying then and that he is lying now.

And what about the claim that Americans are safer now than they would have been if we did not invade Iraq? That rather depends on what we would have done and what the rest of the world would have done if we had not made a largely unilateral war.

After 9/11, the United States had, for the first time in 40 years, a substantial amount of sympathy in many parts of the world. There were many nations who were lined up on our side and eager to work collaboratively to fight that kind of politically inspired murder. When we attacked Afghanistan, half of that support melted away. When we attacked Iraq, most of the rest of that support evaporated. Are we safer when we impose our will on other people by force, or when we work cooperatively with other nations on the basis of a common interest?

The Bush administration was either intentionally misinforming us or they were credulous. Responding to charges that his administration lied about the justification for the Iraq war, Mr. Bush argued that it does not really matter whether his former statements were connected to reality, provided that the policy works: we're "safer" now. Well, just about every global security analyst not on the administration payroll (and many on it) dispute the claim that the war in Iraq has made Americans safer (see also "We Are Not Immune" by Ronald Glasser in the July "Harper's").

It doesn't really matter whether you accept their claim that their policies accidentally resulted in benefits to this nation, or you believe that those policies have intentionally hurt our national security and position in the world. In either case, such an administration does not deserve much of a mandate from the electorate for four more years of enlightened self-interest at our expense.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.