Ethical Implications of the War in Iraq Essay

The purpose of this paper is to argue that there was no humanitarian cause for the invasion of Iraq. I agree with Ken Roth’s analysis that the war in Iraq was not for humanitarian purposes and I would subsidize my reasoning with Peter Singer’s ideas of utilitarianism and consequentialism. I will first look at Ken Roth’s analysis; secondly I will analyze Peter Singer’s argument and apply it to Ken Roth’s analysis. Finally, I will synthesize my position with the previous analysis and argument to prove my thesis. Roth begins his analysis by questioning whether or not the Iraq war was a humanitarian venture.

In order to do so he needs to have a definition of the Iraq war and the definition of a humanitarian venture. The first is relatively easy to come by. The Iraq war was defined in terms of September 11th, prior to that, it had been primarily ventures of the 90’s and only intervening in the case of mass slaughter (Roth 1). He then defines what it means to have a humanitarian intervention. In the case of Roth, the Iraq war is fundamentally different of the humanitarian interventions of the 90’s and of course that leads him to question whether it was a fundamentally humanitarian venture in the first place.

This is where he provides a definition of humanitarian intervention: In our view, as a threshold matter, humanitarian intervention that occurs without the consent of the relevant government can be justified only in the face of ongoing or imminent genocide, or comparable mass slaughter or loss of life. To state the obvious, war is dangerous. In theory it can be surgical, but the reality is often highly destructive, with a risk of enormous bloodshed. Only large-scale murder, we believe, can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath.

Other forms of tyranny are deplorable and worth working intensively to end, but they do not in our view rise to the level that would justify the extraordinary response of military force. Only mass slaughter might permit the deliberate taking of life involved in using military force for humanitarian purposes (Roth 4). His definition provides two components. What instance allows intervention with military force and why that intervention would be justifiable in that case. The only way that military force can be involved with humanitarian fforts is in the case of genocide, or the systematic killing of a specific people, or mass killing. Roth explains his reasoning by saying that the only way to justify the highly destructive nature of war, at least in a humanitarian sense, can only be when the consequences are extreme as in the case of genocide. For instance, he talks about the intervention of France in the Congo as an example. In this case the intervention only occurred in order to curve the gross violation of human rights, or the mass killing of persons. Singer’s argument talks directly about consequences of particular actions.

This is not strictly a choice either, it is obligatory. The reason I’ve chosen to use Peter Singer’s work is primarily because he discusses the moral obligation of preventing “bad” things from happening. The basic layout of what Peter Singer is arguing is two premises. One is that “suffering from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” (Pogge & Horton 1). Basically, he’s saying that suffering is bad. His second premise is “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (Pogge & Horton 1).

It is our job to prevent suffering so long as we do not cause suffering more intense in the process. How does this apply then to Roth’s argument? Roth explains that the only reason for a humanitarian effort with military force is if there is mass killing, or in Singer’s wording, suffering. Singer has a similar argument saying it is our moral obligation to intervene if there is mass suffering. However, there is no known proof of any mass suffering until after the American intervention in Iraq. If we rewrote this argument in Singer’s terms, war is a bad thing. It causes great amounts of suffering.

We, moral individuals, have the duty to lessen suffering as much as possible. Thus we can never truly go to war as war is not of comparable moral importance to most suffering; however, what happens when there is a greater moral dilemma? For instance, in the case of genocide, the suffering there is so high that Singer would agree that military intervention would be appropriate, and morally obligatory This should be in any instance, universally. If there is mass suffering and we do not intervene, we allow a greater suffering to occur. If we allow a greater suffering to occur, we then allow for mass, preventable suffering.

Now let’s look at the actual case study of the Iraq war. Do we, by intervention, adhere to Singer’s argument? Allegedly, we went into Iraq for a humanitarian intervention. The American government explained the war with the excuse of hidden nuclear weapons in Iraq. Obviously, nuclear weapons would cause mass suffering and possibly even genocide, so supposedly our cause could be construed as humanitarian. However, there was no tangible proof of nuclear weapons in Iraq. There was no proof that a humanitarian effort was necessary, therefore, there was no mass suffering before the effort of the Iraq war.

When we did decide to invade Iraq, there was suffering, war. We caused mass suffering. Further, no greater suffering was prevented by suffering being caused. That is to say, because there is mass suffering after the invasion and no mass suffering before the invasion, there is no prevention of suffering occurring. Thus we did not follow Singer’s imperative. In the case of the Iraq War, no mass suffering existed in the first place, yet we exerted suffering there. Singer believes that we must prevent and not cause suffering. War is bad, in Singer’s sense of the word, and thus should not be used except in the most extreme circumstances.

Because Singer would not allow for intervention in this case, it stands that Roth would be correct in his assertion, because their arguments are of a similar type. Roth argues, with Singer I think, that war can only be attempted when there are gross, negative consequences should there be no war. As it stands the Iraq War did cause suffering and there is not proof that there would have been negative consequences should there not have been an intervention. Thus it must be that the Iraq war must be of a non-humanitarian variety. Throughout the course of this paper, I have argued, and agreed, with Roth’s assessment of the Iraq war.

The humanitarian effort that was purportedly present within the Iraq war, I have found to be fraudulent. With the help of Singer, I have only concluded that the interference of outside forces with military help should only be considered when there is current and present danger of mass suffering. This being not the case, the Iraq war, I argued, was baseless and should not have been fought under the guise of a humanitarian effort. That being said, the war was not necessarily unfounded, in a sociopolitical sense. There were certainly benefits, but not of a humanitarian variety.