The War in Iraq

Controversies and Ethics

Comprehending the actual reasons why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, and determining all the ethical issues relevant to them, is a complicated affair.   This dilemma is largely reliant upon the intense efforts by the Bush administration to promote viable reasons for taking so drastic a measure, in that those efforts both exploited and enhanced public concerns in a manner devoid of proper ethics.   If the Iraq war was an unjust one – and that is the position taken here – it must be evident that the real culpability for it rests with the government's authority.   That this authority took advantage of a national alarm only exacerbates the severity of an ethical offense perpetrated at so high a level.

First and foremost, the U.S. was very much in the grip of a post-9/11 atmosphere of uncertainty and dire fear.    As the attacks by Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, were literally unprecedented in the nation's experience of warfare, so too did they create something on the order of a national panic.   The 1941 bombing by the Japanese of Pearl Harbor galvanized the nation in a similar manner, but it was an insurgency different than terrorism; Japan's overt hostility had been verified, and the bombing was an overt act of war.   Terrorism inherently defies all the traditional manifestations of war, drawing its impact from sudden and subversive strikes, and often committed as no “opening act” of further hostilities.   In plain terms, 9/11 was an unthinkable occurrence.    The public was understandably confused and  in need of answers to questions never before posed, and this pervasive atmosphere of ignorance and dread enabled the Bush government to obfuscate certain international realities.  

In a very real sense, the Bush agenda of manipulation to gain support for the Iraq war was, from the onset, an extraordinarily risky venture.   It depended on two factors for its success:  a general dread of Arab states precipitated by the Al-Qaeda attacks, and an equally general inability on the part of the public to comprehend the complex factions and disputes, both internal and international, existing within all the Gulf states.   In assessing how the Bush administration exploited existing fears and belief systems in order to garner support for the war, it is crucial to comprehend the bias available to it at the time.   Ultimately, and so soon on the heels of 9/11, “U.S. popular perceptions of Arab peoples – abetted by press reporting and a traditional affinity for Jews over Muslims – created in the mindset of U.S. leaders an anti-Arab frame of reference” (Schulzinger, 2006,  p. 378).   More to the point, the generalized prejudice existing in most Americans in these years was a vastly powerful implement in the hands of leaders seeking to justify a costly and controversial war effort in Iraq.

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