This week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Nicholas Kristof usefully reminds us of the catastrophic consequences of that decision, for the Iraqi people and for the Middle East, as well as its costs to the US in human lives and dollars. The invasion was “one of the most cataclysmic, expensive and idiotic blunders of the last half-century.”
I agree, but I can’t help pointing out what Kristof didn’t say about the war on Iraq: It was a blatant act of aggression, a gross violation of international law. It was an unprovoked attack on a country ruled by a terrible tyrant but which posed no credible threat to the United States, or, really, to any other country. It could only have been executed on the assumption—implicit but widespread in this country–that the United States of America is above international law, or maybe is international law.
I don’t think Kristof’s omission was entirely accidental. Back in 2003, he opposed the Bush-Cheney invasion plans on strictly practical grounds. (“There’s no moral tenet that makes me oppose invasion.”) Even though he doesn’t say so in so many words, he evidently shares the belief that we are an exceptional nation that need not be subject to the legal and moral constraints the international order imposes on “ordinary” countries. We need to challenge and debate that fundamental belief no less than we need to debate the wisdom of any particular act of war.