March 19, 2003

I have refrained from making any public comment about the coming war with Iraq that Australia is about to enter. Partly out of general reticence, partly because the whole matter is very depressing, and partly because my own thoughts and feelings are inarticulate. However, one way to deal with inarticulate thoughts and feelings is to attempt to articulate them, so here I go.

Along with most people, I agree that the Hussein regime is terrible and Iraq would be better off without him. Along with most people, I agree that a full-scale invasion, with cruise missiles, bombs, tanks, infantry, chemical and biological weapons and the consequent death, carnage and destruction is a terrible outcome. But none of this is what depresses me most. What depresses me most is what could have been and how much more sane what could have been compares with what is coming.

Had things gone differently, we would have had stronger international institutions. Instead of the blunt instrument of war and occupation, with all of the historical connotation of western invasions in the region, we would be able to deal with this regime differently. Not just the UN Security Council: that’s clearly a blunt instrument too. What we need is an operative, experienced and powerful international criminal court and an international criminal justice system. If we had this, Saddam Hussein and his regime could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. If we had a robust international judicial system, we would be able to prosecute criminals and treat them with justice in a way that is also seen to be just. The only convincing reasons I have heard for the invasion and occupation of Iraq are actually better reasons for a police action to detain a criminal and to bring him to justice. If only we had the institutions and practices in place to make this possible. Unfortunately, neither Iraq nor United States signed up for the International Criminal Court (and Australia kicked up a bit of a fuss about it, before eventually signing up) so it appears that they would rather have the bloodshed and confrontation.

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I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. ¶ I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.



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