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Wednesday, July 23, 2003


First published on June 6th, 2003, with the original still lost in cyberspace, this article --- which draws on the philsophical argument by Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson at the University of Texas --- appears here again and seems more relevant than ever . . . what with the shrill nature of the criticisms launched at the Bush-Blair policy of destroying a brutal regime that ruled by deceit and mass-terror for decades and was in violation of 17 UN Security Council resolutions.

Keith Burgess-Jackson, a professor at the University of Texas --- a philosopher in the dominant philosophical school that has prevailed in the English-speaking world and Scandinavia for decades and is now making big inroads on the Continent of Europe, both in the western and eastern halves --- turns out to have produced a provocative, mentally astute argument about Bush's motives and the moral justification for going to war and smashing Saddamite Iraq. The buggy prof's own comments are heavily influenced by that argument. A good place to start then is to identify Burgess-Jackson's overall philosophical approach and to clarify it against its frequent opposite, Continental philosophy.

Two Kinds of Philosophical Work

What distinguishes analytical philosophy from its usual contrast, Continental philosophy with its roots in Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger --- along with a potpourri of Marxist thought of various kinds and post-modernist speculations like those of Foucault or Derrida --- is a preference for clear and rigorous argument, an openness to dialogue with other philosophers about your arguments (however famous you might be), precise conceptual analysis, and other more technical matters. Most analytical philosophers, moreover, don't have the built-in aversion to technology and industrial life that seems almost reflexive in Continent philosophy since Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger --- most of them, if you want a clear tag put on their shared thinking here, romantic elitists who deplore mass modern industrial society and capitalism and yearn for some utopian breakthrough and a more "authentic" existence, whether it's backward looking or forward-looking. If anything, most analytical philosophers --- including their pragmatic forerunners, especially Charles Peirce and John Dewey --- regard scientific methods as inclined to uncover more and better things about the world, even if they don't add up to some ultimate truth.

As Burgess-Jackson puts this nicely,

"The expertise of philosophers, hence their authority, is technical, not normative. We are trained to analyze concepts, expose fallacies (understood as errors in reasoning), and clarify arguments and methods. One important element of clarification is identification (articulation, exposition) of assumptions. Another is attention to meaning. The philosopher is adept at distinguishing conceptual, evaluative, and factual claims. In public discourse, these are often entangled, resulting in confusion and fallacy. No other discipline, not even law, self-consciously inculcates analytical, critical, argumentative, and methodological skills in its graduates. Without these skills, intelligent discourse would deteriorate and ultimately cease. Forgive the metaphor, but philosophers are logical police. Their nightstick is nothing more, or less, than the principle of noncontradiction."

This is not the Continental style, whether in the 19th century, the 20th, or now. Philosophers in that broad school aren't usually rigorous or even clear, often write in oracular and obscurantist manner, and believe they have the understanding and knowledge to speculate on all or most of the big questions in life, such as what's the True, the Good, the Beautiful, the Meaning of Life and Death, and so on. And the more famous they are, the more reluctant they are to engage in clear argument with others in print. Derrida would do this now no more than Heidegger or Hegel would, and neither have the other gurus in Continental philosophy that we put in the postmodernist group. Foucault once commented in public on Derrida's oracular evasions. According to John Searle of Berkeley, a friend of Foucault, Derrida's response was in Foucault's interpretation: "Vous ne me comprennez pas, vous etes idiot!" You haven't understood me, you're an idiot!

Burgess-Jackson's argument deals with a front-burner topic that the buggy professor has handled recently: the problems so far of uncovering the weapons of mass destruction in post-Saddamite Iraq.


The Problem: Where are the WMD?

Recall that our argument here was that we need to be patient: both UNSCOM and its current Blix-led UNMOVIC believed there were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and maybe a nuclear program still going on; the Clinton administration believed so no less firmly than the Bush administration and in fact sent several hundred cruise missile warheads into Iraq on December 16, 1998, in order to try decapitating Saddam and his regime associates . . . all in response to the failure of Iraq to cooperate with UNSCOM; British, French, and German intelligence agreed with American intelligence that there were stockpiles and labs, and George Tenet, the head of the CIA, continues to argue that there were no falsifications of its consensual conclusions sent to the White House; neither the French nor German nor Russian governments, opposing a war, ever claimed there weren't such weapons, only that disarmament could be achieved through more inspection; Saddam used chemical weapons twice in the 1980s, once against his own people, repeatedly against Iranian soldiers; and Saddam's refusal to cooperate fully with UNSCOM, a far more qualified group of weapons inspectors than the current Blix-led UNMOVIC (created last fall), led to three UN Security Council Resolutions alone in the fall of 1998 demanding full compliance and was the basis of UNSCOM's decision to withdraw from the charade in Iraq in December 1998, the immediate cause of the Clinton missile attacks on the 16th of that month.

Note now. If the Iraqi regime had destroyed its WMD as it claimed in its early December 12,000 catalogue of its weapons --- which even French intelligence found wanting according to the International Herald Tribune published in Paris --- why wouldn't Saddam have cooperated with UNSCOM more effectively. That was especially needed when UNSCOM, relations with which Saddam broke off early in 1998 --- and which came back to Iraq only later in the year after the UN General Secretary brokered a new deal --- was back on the ground and had to have three new Security Council resolutions passed between September and December 1998 when it decided that it was only be stonewalled by the Saddamites? Why would Saddam --- a brutal mass-murdering butcher who nonetheless seemed to crave being loved by the Iraqi people (a state-of-mind that Jacques Chirac assured was was genuine at least in the inverse way) --- have let over a $100 billion of sanctions be inflicted on the country for lack of effective cooperation?


What Burgess-Jackson does is use his rigorous training in moral theory and epistemology to illuminate wider considerations about the [1] motives of President Bush --- and presumably Prime Minister Blair --- and their governments to go to war, [2] the justifications at stake, and [3] the possibilities of various kinds of moral justification. Only if we could ever find clear evidence of deliberate lying --- something that most likely didn't occur, even if there were the ordinary and predictable efforts of political leaders to interpret certain ambiguous intelligence reports in ways favorable to their biases (usually unconscious) --- would Bush and Blair be culpable of the crime that their increasingly shrill critics now charge them with. The same critics, you'll recall, who were wrong about Iraq to begin with in most instances: its brutal and totalitarian regime, its mass atrocities, its favoritism for currying the favor of appeasing, self-interested governments like those in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow (lots of oil contracts and export sales), the national resolution of the Iraqis to resist American and British troops, and on and on . . . right down to largely fabricated, overblown stories about huge post-war looting of priceless Iraqi artifacts (down from hundreds of thousands to about 30 or 40 now), and huge medical and food emergencies that seem non-existent, and postwar chaos and resistance.

What is a clear problem has been law and order in the aftermath of the destruction of the regime and the collapse of its police power, along with the fear and terror by which the regime ruled. We should have done more to anticipate this; there should have been several thousand MP's, trained for such work, immediately flown to the liberated cities in Iraq. Why that didn't happen isn't clear, though recently there's some evidence that the quick fall of Baghdad in the first week of April took US policymakers by surprise.


Burgess-Jackson's Argument Unfolded and Analyzed

Substantively, Burgess-Jackson argued in particular three points, all generally persuasive:

Point One

[1] Motives aren't necessarily the reasons for our actions, let alone good and morally desirable ones . . . quite simply because good intentions aren't always enough. And not only at certain times not enough; worse --- far worse --- well-intended actions may go astray and cause harm. Hence sayings like "Good intentions aren't enough," "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," "Yes, you did the right thing even if for the wrong reason." The first two sayings underscore a problem that occurs frequently in our daily lives, as any parent can attest to; and in foreign policy --- what with key national security interests at stake --- an action may be well-meant but have disastrous results. The third saying, as Burgess-Jackson observes, indicates that we frequently approve of an action as desirable and good even though we know it had ulterior or base motives.

To illustrate the first two sayings --- good intentions aren't always enough --- think of the appeasers in Britain and France in the late 1930s who were trying to avoid war and believed that Hitler was a reasonable man with reasonable grievances that could be appeased . . . appeasement itself a sound enough diplomatic guide in the right context. In plain fact, it was the disastrously "wrong" context to push the policy, and from all angles and by any measure. As we know all too well, the efforts at appeasing Hitler --- fast and public German rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty (1933 on), German reoccupation of the Rhineland (1936), German annexation of Austria (1937), German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudentenland at Munich in September 1938 --- only encouraged Hitler's contempt of the democratic countries (including FDR's more pointed warnings directed at Hitler and Japan after 1936 that, however, weren't backed by American power and willingness to use it), and made a war not only inevitable but far bloodier and more catastrophic when it came. "The Unnecessary War": that's how Winston Churchill described WWII in his memoirs. Meaning? Meaning that timely blocking action by the democratic countries, Britain, France, and the US, if need be by preventive war, to destroy a demonic system before it became so powerful that it took six years of total warfare and tens of millions of deaths before Hitler, Mussolini, the other fascist powers allied with them, and militarist Japan were destroyed and forced to surrender unconditionally.

As an illustration of the third saying --- an action can bring about something good and morally worthwhile without having good intentions ---think of at least a few of Bush's critics here and in West Europe (where public opinion opposed to the US-UK led-war declined noticeably after the destruction of Saddam's regime and the graphic revelations of how it ruled by fear and terror). Some critics, to repeat, have relented. They might not be satisfied by the WMD rationale --- which the buggy prof still regards as a sound justification among others --- but they recognize that Iraq and Iraqis and maybe even the Middle East are much better off now that the monstrously maniacal, blood-soaked political system has been destroyed. Naturally, not all of Bush's and Blair's critics think this way. Most probably don't, especially in Britain (where a more politically correct media prevails than here); and it's precisely these critics that led Burgess-Jackson to write his article. As he sees it, no doubt rightly so, the critics are both hypocritical and full of carping bad-faith . . . unwilling to concede that they were wrong and the President and Prime Minister Blair right, and for that matter not just them but the democratic governments of Australia, Poland, and the Czech Republic, all of whom sent troops to participate in the war against Saddam. (Actually, Burgess-Jackson goes further and says, probably rightly --- given the passions and venom at stake (which also flared on much of the right regarding Bill Clinton's Presidency) --- that the critics hate Bush and will do anything to discredit his policies.)


Point Two

[2] Our actions, particularly complex ones where there may be moral or existential dilemmas, frequently involve more than one motive. A President --- to stay with diplomacy --- might want to be re-elected and expects or at least hopes that a tough stand against a dictator abroad will have a rally-around-the-flag effect, helping his standing in public opinion. At the same time, he may hate the dictator, find his behavior repellent and threatening to the US and others, and believe genuinely that the dictator's downfall will bring about moral and political good for the US, its friends and allies, and the people of the dictator's country.

Our only quarrel with Burgess-Jackson here --- a cavil really, nothing more --- is that he didn't make enough of these multiple motives. Consider the dilemmas we just mentioned. A moral dilemma exists when all the alternatives that seem feasible to a person --- a President again if you want --- involve at least some harm to others, such as American soldiers who will die in a war, or allied soldiers, or Iraqi civilians . . . including containment for months or years into the future of Iraq or serious wrangles with some allies; and a grave existential dilemma --- which didn't occur in the Iraqi case could have --- would exist when you can't possibly sort out the alternatives according to a clear scale of moral weight. As a twist, think of William Styron's prize-winning novel, Sophie's Choice --- turned into a good film about two decades ago too with Kevin Klein and Meryl Streep. A Polish woman who is put in a Nazi concentration camp in WWII, the fiendish commandant of the camp --- for his own motives and amusement --- offers her an impossible existential and moral choice: either he will kill both her children who are with her in the camp, or she can choose one --- only one --- whom he'll spare. What possible guidance in any moral code beyond fanatical zealotry could Sophie find?

As a further twist, consider further that all our motives might not be fully conscious to us as reflective agents --- the essence of the psychoanalytical approach to understanding human motivation. On that approach, lots of our motives --- the real engines of our actions --- aren't accessible directly to our own introspective efforts; they are buried instead deep in the thick murk of the repressed and unconscious areas of our minds, and we have a strong tendency to rationalize our behavior in ways that make sense to our self-esteem or in the eyes of others or both. Hence maybe, as Burgess-Jackson notes under his [3] point below, Bush's decision to destroy Saddamite rule in Iraq was prompted by a desire to avenge his father's failure to destroy it in 1991, but where Burgess-Jackson and the buggy prof part is whether --- had this been a motive in Bush's behavior --- Bush would even have been aware of it. (It's the essence of the psychoanalytical view of the mind that we cannot on our own penetrate to the unconscious motives --- not without the help of a psychoanalyst, who uses a variety of techniques, such as free-association and dream-analysis, to help us begin to understand the true motive-power of our behavior . . . especially when it and our emotional lives cause us mental pain and demoralization and lead us into neurotically repetitive self-destructive behavior. If it works, then we can replace our self-deceit about our motives --- and our behavior and relations with others --- analysis then allows for self-conscious understanding of a better, more rational sort and hence a degree of freedom we never enjoyed before.


Point Three

THIS PART TO BE CONTINUED, WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2003. 5:40 P.M. Santa Barbara time


What's Likely at Stake?

As Burgess-Jackson notes in the end, the shrill shrieks at work over the WMD are only the latest installment by the Bush and Blair critics of the war in Iraq to find some way for revenge. It's a stimulating and convincing argument.

It's also a good introduction to the kind of illuminating work about the nature of our moral life and judgments that analytical philosophy is capable of doing. It doesn't and can't tell us, philosophy --- of any sort --- what we should or ought to do. Philosophers in the past may have thought that, and many in Europe and elsewhere continue to tell us they have special insight, but why we should believe them or see them as more qualified than others remains a mystery to the buggy professor and no doubt others. Specifically, what insights do philosophers have about how we should order our personal and public lives that aren't available to ministers and rabbis and priests, or novelists and poets and dramatists, or anthropologists and comparative historians who've worked with different cultures in depth, or actors who have to get deep into the minds of their characters, or psychotherapists who deal daily with people's suffering, or for that matter introspectively candid members of our public in any station of life . . . the latter, candid introspection and self-reflection about as rare a virtue, it seems, as any in our world. With academics, I can assure you, probably less habituated to engage it --- thanks to their ability to rationalize and the very narrow scope of their lives --- than certain business professionals or mechanics or soldiers or musicians or actors. As for the pc-hooeyites, they come across as almost pathologically blocked when it comes to such candid self-examination and understanding, convinced as they are of their righteous ways and the truths they themselves know even as they claim all truth is relative.


Final Comment: Political Leaders, What We Expect or Not

A brief final observation, nothing more here. If you ever wondered why the Right in this country hated Clinton so much --- a man whose sins were numerous but petty stuff --- you might, if you're conservative, reflect on why the Left hates Bush just as much, or in Britain Blair now. Ideologues are ideologues, and compounding that problem is that people come to expect way too much from a President, maybe because of all the publicity and projected hopes and fears that he's the target of. Presidents and Prime Ministers and Senators and multi-billionaires like Bill Gates are ordinary people in their mixture of emotions, emotional needs, personality structures, and own hopes and fears: no less, no more. They might be somewhat more talented at some things than average people, but luck and circumstances play a big role too. Even a great leader like Winston Churchill --- who helped rally the British people at a moment of isolation in a totalitarian Europe, monstrous Hitler successful in Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France; the monstrous Soviets ruling in part of Poland, the Baltic States, and part of Finland; fascist dictators in Italy and fascist-like ones in Spain and Portugal and all over East Europe --- was brought to power only after years of being, as the British say, "in the wilderness" . . . a largely ignored if outspoken backbencher in the 1930s. And even he was something of a poseur, not to mention lush and at times crackpot in his military thinking (largely ignored by the British military leaders). FDR, who helped rally our country in the Depression and prepared us as best he could for war with the fascist countries before war occurred, hid his physical infirmity from the public eye, had a secret love life, and was essentially a puppet in the hands of his overbearing mother, who even when he was president looked over all his personal checks. John Kennedy, besides being an orgiastic philanderer, hid even more infirmities from the public and seemed to have a compulsive need to seduce a new woman every day, and sometimes several . . . a pathology that psychotherapy would have a field day analyzing the roots of.

Essentially, countries like the US and the UK and the other English-speaking countries, plus Scandinavia and Holland, are fortunate in having a rule of law and an ability to prevent clear psychopaths from getting to power and punishing clear violations of constitutional norms. Most of our leaders are so-so people, as are their achievements: they get overpraised for economic success when they hardly play a role, and criticized for failures that they're at best responsible for in a limited way, often indirect. Once in a while we get a talented leader --- like Churchill or FDR, and in circumstances where we need something done boldly --- but they remain human beings full of the same human frailties as the rest of us.

The pc-radicals and the indignant Right and its extremists show, by their outlandish accusations and behavior, that they have no insight into their own mental make-up and vent their hopes and frustrations in public by means of various kinds of projection- and transference-mechanisms, little else.