Andrew Sullivan says, of my argument that war crimes are not tied to having bad motives for your war:

I'm sorry but this is preposterous, uninformed, ahistorical. The United States has managed to go to war for two centuries without the president authorizing and monitoring the torture of prisoners. The Bush administration's legalization of torture and withdrawal from Geneva is unique in American history. Yes, wars will lead to individuals committing war crimes in the heat of battle. Yes, it carries a horrifying logic. But an advance, pre-meditated decision by the president to engage in war crimes is new and unprecedented. Bush really is uniquely awful as a president in this respect: an indefensible war criminal, who has permanently stained the country he represents and betrayed the soldiers who expect decency and lawfulness in their commander-in-chief.



I did not say that what the Bush administration has done is no different from what any other president has done. I said that what the Bush administration has done was not the result of choosing what Glenn Greenwald called an "aggressive" war in Iraq. (To be distinguished, presumably, from the peaceful, passive sorts of wars that other countries have.)

What the Bush administration has done has been a choice of the Bush administration. They did not have to make it, even after they had gone to Iraq. They could (and did) make those choices even before we went to war in Iraq; they didn't stem from the fact this is a special, bad kind of war that requires torture in a way that other wars don't. Torture is a tactic that works just as well (or as badly) in defensive wars as in other kinds. The decision to do it is not an inevitable outgrowth of invasion. Lots of defending peoples have committed atrocities against their invaders.

I am arguing that it is dangerous to attribute war crimes to the type of war you are waging, because the implication is that when you fight a "good" war, you won't have war crimes. That tilts the calculus too heavily in favor of future wars.