However one frames the debate, it is apparent to any fair minded and rational person that the invasion of Iraq, based as it was on misinformation at best, lies and deceptions at worst, was a mistake and should never have occurred. Certainly President Obama has made this claim on numerous occasions as well as many who had previously supported (and voted for) the war. After having acknowledged this fact, however, President Obama and others would have us forget the past as it serves, in their view, no practical purpose to rehash and moralize over things that cannot be undone. It will be the work of future historians, legal scholars, and philosophers, they argue, to untangle, interpret, and make judgments regarding the complex events and decisions that led to the invasion and characterize the occupation of Iraq. They warn that it is imperative at this crucial juncture that we deal with the matters at hand, that we act quickly and decisively in our national interest to ensure that our Country remains safe, that our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan are achieved, and that our sacrifice in blood and treasure is not for naught.
What President Obama and others who advocate such a position fail to appreciate is that we live in a Nation that understands and accepts the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law, both moral and International. Accordingly, we determine our behavior, how we conduct ourselves as a Nation, not only by what is in our national interest but also by what is right, not only by what we CAN do, but also by what we OUGHT to do. This is what we stand for as a people, the values we hold sacred as a nation. Consequently, to focus exclusively on “practical considerations” – present conditions and problems – considered in isolation and apart from the causal chain of events that led to the situation as it exists today is morally and legally unacceptable and incoherent and counter to the principles and values we believe must guide and determine our future course of action not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world as well.
By accepting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake we must accept all that such an admission entails. According to Just War Theory and International Law, the illegal and immoral use of violence and deadly force against a sovereign nation and its citizenry, constitutes aggression. Aggression is morally wrong and a war crime under International Law. Aggressors violate the rights of the aggressed to life, self-determination, and to live in a nation that enjoys political sovereignty and territorial integrity – sometimes referred to as the “rights of nations.” Aggressors are Unjustifiable Combatants. The victims of aggression have the privilege to assert their rights – to act in self and national defense. As such, they are Justifiable Combatants. Consequently, our invasion and occupation of Iraq is aggression, members of our military are aggressors – Unjustifiable Combatants – and those that struggle against us, the “insurgents,” are Justifiable Combatants asserting their right of self and national defense.
This is the reality of our involvement in Iraq, a reality entailed and implied by a recognition that our invasion was a mistake and should never have occurred. The “fact” that we may have had good intentions does not alter the moral and legal value of our involvement. “Mistaken” aggression is no less aggression, no less a war crime. “Mistaken” aggressors are no less liable to be resisted – warred against in self and national defense.
Yet despite the realization that the invasion and occupation in Iraq is aggression and despite our economy bordering on collapse, President Obama, and many of our fellow citizens, argue that we cannot just stop the killing and destruction and walk away. One important reason, they offer, is national security. We must end the chaos created by our aggression and restore stability in Iraq to ensure that it does not become a training ground and sanctuary for terrorists who wish us harm. A second reason, interestingly enough, is a moral one. Paradoxically, we cannot stop the killing and destruction in Iraq because we recognize our moral culpability and responsibility for our aggression. That is, we cannot just abandon the Iraqi people to the endless civil war and sectarian violence that would “inevitably” occur in the power vacuum created by our departure. Consequently, we are morally obligated to continue the killing and the destruction in Iraq for at least a few more years, in order to save the Iraqis from themselves and so they may enjoy the gift of freedom and democracy as recompense for our aggression. While the initial use of violence and deadly force against the Iraqi people may have been aggression, now, however, we are on solid moral and legal ground, as the continued killing and destruction entailed by our remaining, is humanitarian intervention. (General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, by the way, said recently that his strategic planning envisions combat troops remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as ten years).
This argument for the continued occupation of Iraq is clearly incoherent. It is as though our political leaders have accepted that the American public is incapable of rational thought and will accept any reason and justification for war as long as it is presented as furthering our national interest and feeds our national ego regarding our benevolence and moral superiority in the world.
It is time, therefore, long past time, that we show President Obama and the Congress that we will be duped no longer, that we are not a nation of sheep, and that we possess the ability to reason and think critically. It is time, therefore, long past time, that we accept the reality of what we have done and continue to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. We must stop the killing and the destruction now, not later. We must understand that bringing stability to the region is not about escalating violence, increasing the number of troops, or dropping more and larger bombs. Nor is it about searching out and destroying al Qaeda or the Taliban, or even capturing or killing bin Laden. Rather, it is about inclusiveness, diplomacy, understanding and dialogue. It is about doing the difficult work of reconciliation and of addressing the grievances that nourish radicalism. Most important, I believe, should we at long last recognize that the days of US unilateralism and imperialism are over and realize the necessity of involving and soliciting the assistance of area powers such as Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China and India, not only will the world be a better and safer place, but perhaps for the first time in many years, we will begin to live according to the principles and values that we claim characterize our nation and of which we are so proud.
Camillo “Mac” Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is a former Marine Corps Officer, Vietnam Veteran, long-time activist for peace and justice, and the Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for