Won't Carter Please Go to Sweden and Stay There?
Jimmy Carter, or St. James the Least, has written an op-ed for the New York Times against the impending war with Iraq. I simply cannot restrain myself from an ad hominem attack upon the man, who more than anyone else turned me from a Democrat to a Republican. Once I have finished venting, I will attempt to answer his arguments, if I can make them out. The subject is a serious one, even if the arguments are frivolous. It has already received a good fisking.
First, the nasty bits. In his introductory remarks, Carter praises his own term of office. He cites our previous allegiance to “alliances that resulted in wise decisions and mutual restraint." In other words, if two heads are better than one, a couple of hundred would be even better. Anyone who has ever served on a committee would hesitate over that one. Then he slips in this outrage: “As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by international crises…" Let's look at how he handled the provocations he received in his official capacity. It was during Carter's single term in office that the USSR invaded Afghanistan to restore the quisling government that had been overthrown. Carter arose in his wrath and boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Wow. His most memorable foreign policy victory, of course, was his handling of the Iranian revolution. You may remember the American embassy being taken over by Islamic "militants," American personnel taken and held hostage for 444 days, and the disastrous rescue attempt that killed eight Americans. True to form, this rescue attempt was designed in its most minute details by Carter. The man was so famous for micro-managing that he even took charge of allocating court time for tennis at the White House for his staff. He seems to stick with his foreign policy achievements, so there is no need to go into the simultaneous double-digit prime rate and unemployment rate, or gasoline rationing.
There has been a gentlemen's agreement among past presidents to refrain from criticizing the incumbent. Naturally, Bill Clinton, no gentleman, wasted no time in violating this practice. Carter has been less obvious but possibly more dangerous. Read Jonah Goldberg's piece on Carter's independent contracting in foreign policy.
The main part of his article is concerning the christian doctrine of the just war, and how the current situation does not meet the criteria.
First, he states: "The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options exhausted. In the case of Iraq, it is obvious that clear alternatives to war exist." Note the appeal to authority. In fact, the nonviolent options have been tried since the cease-fire was signed in 1991, and Iraq has violated the terms repeatedly. I suppose abject surrender is a nonviolent option, but everything short of that has been tried. Sanctions have not worked, inspections have not worked; only the credible threat of immanent force has seemed to have a partial effect. There is nothing "obvious" about Carter's supposed alternatives.
Second, he says: "The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Extensive aerial bombardment, even with precise accuracy, inevitably results in 'collateral damage.'" This argument twists the the just war doctrine to mean that no civilian casualties can be acceptable, which is utter nonsense. Our campaign in Afghanistan resulted in lots of dead Taliban and very few dead civilians, even though the enemy hid and intermingled with civilians in contravention of the rules of war. Our armed forces are better able to avoid civilian casualties than any other force in history. That is what is making the campaign so difficult and expensive -- if we resorted to WWII-style saturation bombing, it would be quicker, cheaper and immoral. We are avoiding civilian casualties at the risk of our own troops. If this effort and result is immoral, and all previous wars have done worse, this means that all wars have always been immoral. Carter's argument is a reductio ad absurdam, since it eliminates the possibility of a just war.
Third, he says: "Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered. Despite Saddam Hussein's other serious crimes, American efforts to tie Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing." Carter misstates the test. Quoting from The Catholic Encyclopedia, the point is expressed differently: "... the question of proportion between the damages to be inflicted by war and the value of the national right menaced or violated must enter into consideration for the determination of the full justice of a title. Here we must take into account the consequences of such right being left unvindicated." We need not only measure the damage already inflicted upon us, but the damage we might sustain by allowing Iraq to rearm with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. He also seems to imply that we should only be permitted to wage a retaliatory or defensive war. This, too, is a misstatement of the doctrine. The other legitimate reasons for waging war include offensive war for the enforcement of a right or punishment of a violation agianst oneself or against others.
Fourth, he says: "The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent. The unanimous vote of approval in the Security Council to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction can still be honored, but our announced goals are now to achieve regime change and to establish a Pax Americana in the region, perhaps occupying the ethnically divided country for as long as a decade. For these objectives, we do not have international authority." This is just nonsense. The right to wage war rests with the state, not with any super-national organization. The US and Israel are the primary targets of Saddam and his accomplices. Iraq's target is not likely to be the Security Council, so it is a matter of complete indifference to China or Cameroon whether Saddam abides by the cease-fire agreement. They should not therefore be seen as constituting the proper authority.
Fifth, he says: "The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists. Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it is quite possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will destabilize the region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our security at home." Carter seems to have invented this one, unless he means it as an elaboration of the proportionality test. In that case, the results, including the likely state of affairs after the war, is part of the evaluation of the damages of war in proportion to the seriousness of the cause. It is not a separate matter. We are not required to have perfect foresight of the results before acting. The mere existence of a possibility, without looking at its likelihood, should not serve to freeze us motionless. We already have terrorism going on -- if Carter has information that this is likely to worsen, he should share the evidence.
To paraphrase Chirac, Carter has missed a great opportunity to shut up. This piece is so preachy and poorly reasoned that it could only have appeared in the NY Times, or maybe the Boston Globe. Carter is an embarrassment to his country, but he could be the pride of the NYT's editorial staff. Maureen Dowd -- watch your back.