Reflections on War with Iraq

Towards a Robust Ideal of Peace
Daniel Terris, director

I am writing in mid-March, in full awareness that by the time this letter is in print, a war may be raging in Iraq.

Whether we are at war, beyond war, or in a continuing state of uneasy anticipation, we will need one thing desperately: an ongoing debate about the state of our world that rejects the rigid rhetoric of the past few months.

Like the rest of the world, the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life has not spoken with a single voice on these questions. Longtime faculty associate Kanan Makiya is one of the leading members of the Iraqi opposition. In Republic of Fear and Cruelty and Silence, he documented in excruciating detail the abuses of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In recent weeks and months, he has been the Iraqi opposition’s leading spokesman on behalf of a vision of a democratic Iraq, and he was the lead author of an eloquent document that outlines the process by which the country can get there. That route counts on military intervention and support from the United States.

Board member James Carroll, by contrast, has been one of the most eloquent voices in the United States in opposing the Bush administration’s rush to war. Carroll has voiced concerns that a war in Iraq will harm Iraqi civilians, lead to global instability, and usher in an era of triumphal American militancy whose consequences could be catastrophic.

Makiya and Carroll spent a week together as part of an institute that I convened last summer under the auspices of Brandeis in the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts. Debating the ways that 21st century human beings "play God," they clearly disagreed on the proper course of action with regard to Iraq. But they also understood that they shared a common commitment to candor, reflection, and fidelity to principle.

The dialogue between these two leading authorities represents an effort to embrace the complexities of our times. In an era of stark simplicities and single-mindedness, we need to engage the widest possible array of people – diplomats and community leaders, soldiers and peacebuilders, judges and development workers, politicians and citizens –in creating a robust ideal of peace.

A robust ideal of peace precludes reckless forays, recognizing that violence is likely to beget violence. But it also embraces and responds to the needs of men and women around the world who do not have the luxury of living with either security or justice. A robust ideal of peace includes the development of a strong system of international law to protect human rights around the globe. Respect for the global system will need to go hand-in-hand with the willingness to develop tough enforcement mechanisms for the laws and orders of international courts.

In Iraq, those who favor a robust ideal of peace will be not be satisfied with a quick military intervention that lacks the staying power to bring democracy and liberty to the Iraqi people. Nor will they be satisfied with a policy of inertia that allows the abuses of the Iraqi regime to continue unchecked.

The human rights community has been at the forefront of calling such abuses to the world’s attention, while antiwar activists have warned of the ways that military intervention can itself wreak havoc among the dispossessed. Both camps represent important principles. What has not yet been developed is a common language and strategy that actively seeks to protect the world’s most vulnerable people, while simultaneously applying our best ideas about preventing conflict.

Complexity is one of the first casualties of war. Our challenge in the months and years ahead is to preserve a spirit of engaged reflection that will save us from the worst of our excesses.

See also: "Being antiwar isn't enough", by Daniel Terris, LA Times (3/16/03)

  Kanan Makiya,Center faculty associate   James Carroll,
Center board member

Opposition leader urges US to bolster Iraqi democrats
The Jerusalem Post (4/21/03)

A Nation at War: Consitution, The New York Times (4/20/03)

Kanan Makiya on NOW with Bill Moyers (3.17.03)

Our hopes betrayed, The Observer (2/16/03)

Iraqi opposition slams plan for military governor, Luke Harding, The Observer (2/16/03)

Makiya takes leadership role in shaping Iraq's future, The Justice (1/14/03)

Makiya participates in a meeting at the White House with Iraqi Dissidents, Judith Miller, The New York Times (1/12/03)

Makiya on NPR


A nation lost
The Boston Globe
by James Carroll (4/22/03)

War's power of seduction, The Boston Globe (3.11.03)

A war policy in collapse, The Boston Globe (3/4/03)

Watching the war with both eyes, The Boston Globe (2/25/03)

Saying no to war, The Boston Globe (2/11/03)