Agnostics for Pacifism
By Bryan Caplan
A striking observation from my childhood friend Ghassan Bridi:
we never invaded Iraq, we may have seen the people of Iraq today take
to the streets and topple a despotic dictator in the second most
populous Arab country on this planet… and not one American life would
have been lost, no where near 1 million Iraqi lives lost, not one
dollar spent, and AT LEAST a fourth of our national debt would have
Three months ago, almost everyone – especially Iraq War supporters – would have mocked Ghassan for wishful thinking. Now they’re eager to claim credit for events in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond.
Are they right to claim credit? I don’t know – and neither do they. The hard truth is that predicting the effects of war is extremely difficult. If one man’s suicide can topple multiple Middle Eastern governments, Ghassan might be right about Iraq. In foreign policy, sometimes you sit back and problems solve themselves. Sometimes you act and create a massive domino effect. And sometimes the dominoes fall the wrong way.
By itself, I freely admit, extreme uncertainty is a double-edged sword. The consequences of war might be worse than you thought; they might be even better. But as I’ve argued in my common-sense case for pacifism, pacifists just need to add the weak moral premise that “before you kill innocent people, you should be reasonably sure that your action will have very good consequences.” This plausible premise, combined with the uncertainty of foreign affairs, creates an almost insurmountable presumption against war.
Of course, if you think you’ve got world politics all figured out, I’m happy to bet you about what happens next in the Middle East. But since you’re claiming confidence, and I’m pleading ignorance, you’d better offer me a lot more than even odds.