Immorality of the War Against Iraq
The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.
Free Inquiry magazine does not endorse political candidates
nor political parties. We recognize the wide diversity of political viewpoints
among secular humanists. We do, however, take positions concerning two vital
issues: first, we support humanist ethical principles on grounds independent of
religion; and second, we defend the separation of church and state.
By both these standards, the United States faces an urgent
crisis today, for the Religious Right has virtually captured the Bush
administration. Increasingly, the administration’s moral ideology is that of
evangelical Christianity. This directly impacts on U.S. foreign policy, which
shows strong overtones of self-righteous moral indignation and seems guided by
the sense that we face a battle between “good and evil.” This can be read in
the speeches of Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and others. Unfortunately, in
its extreme form the War on Terrorism smacks of a Holy Religious Crusade against
Islam. This impression has been created by some administration rhetoric and
reinforced by a torrent of inflammatory language from right-wing pundits and
clerics of the Religious Right. Disturbingly, millions of Muslims around the
world now believe that the War on Terror constitutes an American Christian jihad
against their religion.
As we go to press, the War on Terrorism has morphed into an
impending war against Iraq, which may have erupted by the time you read these
words. President Bush has repeatedly condemned Saddam Hussein as evil (surely
Hussein is no angel—far from that—but that is true of many world leaders).
Bush has further demanded the disarming of Iraq and the replacement of its
government with a regime to our liking.
We object to the impending war on Iraq on moral grounds.
What especially bothers us is the crescendo of drumbeats
advocating, however incoherently, a preemptive strike. This marks a fundamental
reversal in American foreign policy. Never before has the U.S. openly announced
its intention to strike first in the absence of an immediate threat.
America has previously gone to war in response to ambiguous
or arguably fabricated threats (the Spanish-American War, Vietnam, and the
Panama incursion come to mind), but the very fact that U.S. leaders went to such
lengths to craft threat scenarios demonstrated that Americans considered the
resort to force unthinkable without at least the pretext of aggressive
provocation. In dispensing with such niceties and espousing an open doctrine of
pre-emption, Bush blazes a disturbing trail.
One might conceivably justify a first strike when there is
danger of imminent attack by a threatening adversary. Iraq currently does not
fit into this category. Defeated in the Gulf War of 1991, its population
impoverished, its economy in shambles, its no-fly zones constantly bombarded by
American and British aircraft, Iraq hardly poses a threat to the safety of the
If the United States reserves the right to engage in
preemptive warfare (even nuclear1), what are we to
say about the confrontation between India and Pakistan—would they or anyone
else be justified in taking the same action? We believe in a world in which
there are certain norms of established international conduct and in which one
power (in this case, a hyperpower such as the United States) does not
arrogate to itself the right to dictate acceptable behavior across the globe.
We thoroughly approve of the administration’s earlier
decision (under the influence at that time of Colin Powell, who has since become
more hawkish) that U.N. inspectors return to Iraq and that retaliatory measures
be taken only if explicitly authorized by the U.N. Security Council. But we hope
that war could be avoided, for we believe that the best method of resolving
international conflicts is by the negotiation of differences. We thus agree with
efforts to disarm Iraq peacefully.
Obviously, current U.S. policies threaten to undermine the
entire fabric of collective security so carefully developed by the world
community after the Second World War. As a result of our policies, will the
United Nations be rendered impotent like the League of Nations and left unable
to resolve international conflicts? If so, this could have tragic implications
for the future of humankind.
Indeed, the Bush administration’s recent policy choices,
such as its refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming or to accept the
jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, illustrate an
increasingly chauvinistic character.
Mr. Bush expresses his reasons for war in high-flown
rhetoric about defending ourselves from the weapons of mass destruction of
Saddam Hussein. Interestingly, his speeches are drafted by evangelical
speechwriters (such as Michael Gerson), and they express a dismaying level of
They convert the presidency into a bully pulpit for God,
which simultaneously masks underlying imperialist economic ambitions while it
suggests divine sanction for American policy. We wonder whether the real motive
in all this is oil, for Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world;
and we suspect that the underlying goal of the United States and Britain is to
replace the Iraqi oil contracts bestowed upon France and Russia with new ones
benefiting themselves. Nevertheless, we deplore the undermining of the United
Nations and NATO and the disenchantment of our traditional allies, who view our
foreign policy as a form of unilateral nationalism.
There is one measure the president has recommended that we
thoroughly support: the decision to provide economic assistance to African and
Caribbean countries suffering high rates of AIDS. Some 15 million Africans have
already died from the disease, and there are an estimated three million new
cases a year. There is a desperate need for medicines, and the president is to
be applauded for proposing financial assistance to purchase them.
Will his administration also undertake the preventive
measures that Africans so desperately need, namely, contraceptive education and
the free distribution of condoms to the millions who cannot afford them? Or will
the administration’s dominant theological-moral position cause such assistance
to be choked off, as it was in the past, in the name of a “higher” religious
morality, which instead urges abstinence and offers no promise of reducing AIDS
transmission? The first measure that the administration adopted upon Bush’s
inauguration was to cut off all contraceptive aid for the developing world,
fearing that it might lead to abortion. In this area as in others the foreign
policy of the United States suffers from being dominated by a theologically
driven conception of morality, and this has had dire consequences for the entire
Parenthetically, we wish to express our approval of the
uprisings among students and other dissidents in Iran, and especially to commend
the views of Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah, who courageously
demands democracy, human rights, and a secular state in a future Iran. The
Prince should not be simply identified with his father; for he is a strong
advocate of a new constitutional democracy for Iran. Iran has suffered a
terrible religious Inquisition at the hands of the Ayatollahs; and it is
encouraging that there are today genuine calls for secular democracy. Were that
to take root in Iran, what an enormous difference it could make in the Middle
Paul Kurtz, Editor-in-Chief
Tom Flynn, Editor
Norm Allen, Deputy Editor
Andrea Szalanski, Managing Editor
Tim Madigan, Chair, Editorial Board
Pentagon is eager to develop nuclear-tipped “bunker buster” munitions for
use against, among other targets, buried structures in Iraq. See http://www.usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa083102a.htm
That’s Rev. Mr. President!
The startling intrusion of evangelical Christian
language into President George W. Bush’s official statements is
typified by his brief address to the nation following the tragic loss
of the Space Shuttle Columbia. These two concluding paragraphs
constitute fully one-third of the entire
In the skies today we
saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is
comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your
eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings
out the starry hosts one by one, and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is
The same creator who names the stars also
knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.
The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not
return safely to Earth. Yet we can pray that all are safely home.
May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless
Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, is
editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry and professor emeritus of philosophy at
the State University of New York at Buffalo.