Analogies and Justification in the Run Up to the Iraq War

Gustav Seibt on the flaws in reasoning that lead to the Iraq war (originally inthe Süddeutsche Zeitung, translated by Naomi Buck in signandsight) .

Most of those behind the war – the exception being Herfried Münkler – didn’t even concern themselves with Iraq, international law, the chances and risks of a war in the Middle Eastern context. The vast majority of arguments for the war were drawn from European experience of the last two or three generations. Thus, one wrote about the overriding issues such as pacifism and anti-Americanism, appeasement and anti-Semitism, rather than addressing the thing itself.

First and foremost was an attempt to draw broad historical analogies. The fall of Saddam, a desirable enough goal, was compared directly with the fight against Hitler, the democratisation of Iraq with the democratisation of West Germany and Japan after the Second World War and the chance for democratic change throughout the entire Middle East was compared with the end of the East bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies afterwards. But virtually nobody had anything to say about the actual domestic situation in Iraq today.

Things developed differently than the expectations of imminent success suggested. And therein lies an almost obscene arrogance that is occasion for a sharp criticism of the West. A country is subjected to absolute misery and with what justification? Memories of our own history. It’s understandable that Iraqi intellectuals fall into a cold rage over this today. But we can assume that these Iraqis have other more pressing concerns. Of course the main responsibility for the disaster is to be borne by the political-military actors who initiated an adventure based on falsified information, unrealistic goals and absurd arrogance. No wonder it went spectacularly wrong. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that rarely was such irresponsible behaviour accompanied by so much empty talk.

The comparison with 1914 is all the more depressing because in 2003, we see again the syndrome of a “Literatentum” – a term coined by Max Weber during the First World War, referring to the phenomena of a body of literature that used critical, aesthetic, definitely non-expert, uninformed superstructures to justify risky decisions in matters of war. A lot was at stake in the First World War as well: culture and civilisation, politics and music, the German spirit and the Western anti-spirit and vice versa – and the “war goals” of an obviously unrealistic, in fact insane blueprint.