An Unjust War II


One moral aspect of the Iraq war that seems to me to have been under-estimated is the ultimate, moral responsibility of the United States for the thousands of civilian Iraqis murdered under U.S. occupation. Yes, obviously, the vast majority of these deaths were not at the hands of U.S. forces. Yes, obviously, Iraqis - Sunni and Shia - bear responsibility to some extent. But the laws of warfare - the moral guidelines for just warfare - insist that an invading and occupying army is responsible for the basic security of the population under its care. We broke it; we own it. The violence that has taken so many did not happen immediately. It grew slowly, with forewarning. It took off after the bombing of the Samarra mosque last February. All of it was foretold; and many urged passionately for more troops to maintain order from 2003 onward. The president and his war-criminal of a defense secretary heeded not a word. They sent no more troops. They allowed one of the most brutal civil wars in modern history to gather pace under America's watch. The blood of 34,000 Iraqi civilians last year therefore finds its way onto the hands of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld. By refusing to fight a serious war, to commit enough troops for security, and to adjust as circumstances shifted, they let these innocent people die by the thousands, and they have abandoned those who risked their lives for us to scenes from Hieronymus Bosch.

The damage the conduct of this war has done to America strategically is profound. But to my mind, by far the deepest damage has been to the idea of America, to the decency of America, and its reputation for responsibility in world affairs. From authorizing torture to the acquiescence in mass murder, this president has stained the honor of this country and the West. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said days after the invasion, as the chaos first emerged. Wrong. In a country with a serious government or occupying power, stuff doesn't happen. And it is a total abdication of morality and responsibility to say it does.

(Photo: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty.)