Re: [OPE-L] Norman Geras and the killing fields in Iraq

From: Philip Dunn (hyl0morph@YAHOO.CO.UK)
Date: Tue Oct 17 2006 - 18:43:42 EDT

Lenin also seems to have an opinion on Geras.

On Tue, 2006-10-17 at 21:39 +0200, Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
> Moral philosopher and ex-Marxist Norman Geras (author of "Marx and Human
> Nature") writes:
> "Too many people have died in Iraq and too many people are dying there - and
> this is to say nothing of the wider social disaster that has overtaken the
> country, the numbers of the dead aside. The above is not intended as a
> comment on the latest Lancet report. I didn't comment on the first one, not
> by so much as a syllable, and I don't mean to depart from that self-imposed
> restraint. I didn't comment then and neither will I now, for three reasons.
> First, I lack the statistical competence to be able to judge these reports.
> Second, beyond any matter of technical competence, I don't know how -
> morally, humanly - to deal in calculations that say that n deaths (where n
> is a very large number) are an acceptable price to pay for some putatively
> desirable end result. (...) Sometimes there is a justification for opposing
> tyranny and barbarism whatever the cost. Had I been of mature years during
> that time, I hope I would have supported the war against Nazism come what
> may, and not been one of the others, the nay-sayers."
> It sounds very honest, but what a wonderful way to philosophize (sic.). All
> of a sudden, the war in Iraq and World War II are morally equivalent
> conflicts, and one form of tyranny and barbarism is a "lesser evil" to
> another form of tyranny and barbarism... Geras admits he doesn't know how to
> evaluate the deaths, though claiming there were "too many'', but
> nevertheless felt confident to pronounce on the ethical justifiability of
> the war, "whatever the cost" (in which case the number of deaths really do
> not matter). This is purely a matter of faith, a bit like Tony Blair saying
> that "history will prove me right" or some such thing, a rather neat way to
> let yourself off the hook in the present. Just how the Bush government has
> deluded the christian faithful is indicated by David Kuo's new book.
> Nobody who is civilised has ever kept a moral accounting book such that "n
> deaths are an *acceptable* price to pay for some putatively desirable end
> result". What has been argued at times is that a certain number of deaths
> are, in the given situation, realistically the inevitable or necessary price
> that must be paid, to achieve some end result. The two are not at all the
> same thing however, and I think Norm as moral philosopher shouldn't run them
> together.
> The Lancet report
> provides quite some detail on the methodology followed to establish excess
> mortality. It states among other things that:
> "Causes of non-violent deaths were much the same both pre-invasion and
> post-invasion (p=0ยท290). We estimate that between March 18, 2003, and June,
> 2006, an additional 654965 (392979-942636) Iraqis have died above what would
> have been expected on the basis of the pre-invasion crude mortality rate as
> a consequence of the coalition invasion. Of these deaths, we estimate that
> 601027 (426369-793663) were due to violence."
> One could say in regard to the excess deaths estimated in the new Lancet
> Report that:
> (1) a fraction of the excess deaths estimated - just over 50,000 people -
> was not directly due to violence,
> (2) a fraction of those that did die from violence, did not die directly
> from the violence of the occupying forces,
> (3) an unknown portion of deaths could have been falsely blamed by
> respondents directly on the actions of the occupying forces ("response
> error"),
> (4) The pre-invasion crude mortality rate might have been wrongly estimated
> (too low).
> The Bush-Blair team could claim that they are not "morally culpable" for a
> portion of the excess deaths, many of which might have occurred whether
> there was a war or not. That remains a matter of opinion. The main point is
> that these people did die, in wartime. It is unlikely that respondents would
> be able to lie successfully in the survey about people dying as such.
> Commenting on the Lancet study, Richard Horton writes (bit of an
> understatement):
> "Of most serious concern must surely be the collapse of a foreign policy
> based, in UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's words, on "progressive
> pre-emption".
> His doctrine of international community was forged on the humanitarian
> crisis in Kosovo. At that time he claimed that "The most pressing foreign
> policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should
> get actively involved in other people's conflicts". A longstanding principle
> of non-interference in the affairs of other states was no longer credible,
> he argued. Intervention based on values as much as territorial ambition was
> to be the new military strategy. "The answer to terrorism", he has said, "is
> the universal application of global values." And in August, 2006, he called
> for "a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those who threaten
> showing that our values are stronger, better, and more just, more fair
> than the alternative". Yet the splinter of our presence in Iraq is
> increasing, not reducing, violence. By making this a battle of values, Tony
> Blair and US President George Bush risk pitting one culture against another,
> one religion against another. This could rapidly become-and for many it
> already is-the politics of humiliation."
> What is the point of pursuing "the universal application of global values"
> if they lead to this much killing and maiming (the study does not delve into
> the number of injured or disabled)? What kind of "values" are these anyway?
> What Norman Geras is really saying is that "I don't know how to evaluate
> this war, technically or morally, but nevertheless I believe the war was
> justified". But that has precisely been the problem with this war all along.
> It was started on false pretenses, in contravention to principles of
> international law, and the perpetrators have invented more and more
> after-the-fact justifications for it, suggesting that, in time, the war
> would justify itself, as the New Babylon (new Jerusalem?) arose from the
> ruins of the old. As it turns out, however, the moral justifications offered
> for fighting the war are the weakest, rather than the strongest for fighting
> it.
> The strongest moral case that might have been rationally made in favour of
> the war, is that either any alternative course of action would have led to a
> worse result, i.e. would have caused more casualties, or that there was
> simply no alternative in practice (which is basically what Dick Cheney
> argues). But that would be difficult, if not impossible to prove. After all,
> conceivably a new humanitarian deal could have been struck with Saddam
> Hussein whereby the billions of war-dollars (Stiglitz suggested an all-up
> war cost of $2 trillion!) would be spent on improving life in the ruined
> country, through direct intervention under a UN mandate - if, as Horton
> suggests, human health was made a foreign policy priority and a "global
> value". Even a fraction of the total financial cost of fighting the war
> would have sufficed to that end.
> Faced with the disastrous consequences of the war, there is really only one
> sort of apology left - that the perpetrators at least had good intentions in
> terms of what they thought could be positively achieved as the outcome of
> the war, i.e. that they wished the best for the Iraqi people and the world
> and genuinely aimed to reconstruct the country. However, it is likely that
> more inquiries into the real decision-making processes leading to the war
> will reveal that even those good intentions didn't really exist, at least
> not to the extent of the public rhetoric.
> Jurriaan

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