By Tibor Machan
Every time I drive to school, I listen to Rush Limbaugh for about five minutes. It is cultural anthropology for me more than an interest in his latest ridicule of Daschle & Co., although I sympathize with that.
Last time I tuned in, Limbaugh was trying hard to explain away the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had yet been found in Iraq. His take was there were other good reasons to go to war there, namely the alleged connection between Hussein’s regime and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network, and Hussein’s sadistic dictatorship. So, Limbaugh reasons, never mind the WMD — we had the authority to do the war even without them.
Why would Limbaugh try so hard now to rationalize the war with Iraq? Well, for one, he seems to be loyal to a fault to George W. Bush and wants to make sure the guy continues in office. Without the WMD he may well be beaten up in the upcoming race for taking America to war without good reason. The sad fact for Limbaugh is those other reasons he gives for why Bush was justified in going to war are not good reasons.
It is not the business of the U.S. armed forces to engage in retaliatory armed conflict against some country that is merely speculatively connected with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Some kind of procedure is needed whereby within the rule of law the connection is firmly established and Iraq’s regime is shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have supported al-Qaeda’s terrorism.
Just to point a finger and say it had something to do with this simply isn’t enough, not in a civilized society. The thing that is supposed to differentiate terrorists from civilized warriors is the former care nothing about the niceties of the rule of law — due process, burden of proof, rules of evidence and such.
What then about Saddam being a vicious dictator? Trouble is there are many such around the globe, have always been, and while everyone is authorized to try to assassinate these guys, morally speaking, armies of various countries owe it to their citizens to stay on their post and stand ready to defend them. They have no moral authority to gallivant about the globe and purge it of dictators. They already have a job of defending the rights of their citizens.
So Limbaugh’s efforts to bail out Bush just won’t wash. Bush knew better, too, which is why he insisted the war with Iraq is first and foremost about the weapons. Why was that important?
Because in a free country the military must act defensively, never aggressively. Preemptive strikes are justified only if there is serious, demonstrably high probability that another country will attack. This is akin to the idea in the criminal law that if one acts against another because the other is about to act against oneself, it is excusable; otherwise it is aggression, nothing less.
Even in the cases where battered woman’s syndrome is invoked, the idea is that the man was certainly going to attack the woman, so she could only escape the attack by acting first.
Of course, the U.S. military has acted in the past without the justification needed for preemptive attack. But those cases are far more testy to square with the basic American idea that self-defense is the only justification for using force against other people.
Humanitarianism is usually given as the justification for such cases of military interference. Are they justified? May a country’s military invade another country when that country’s rulers oppress the people?
This is a big question with only a little space to deal with it. Suffice it to say that citizens of other countries could, as volunteers, be justified in coming to the aid of the oppressed but the armies are not since, well, their job is to defend their own citizens.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu