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My Lesson for This Anniversary

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I was recently at a dinner in DC at which a prominent neo-conservative
columnist took issue with a politician who said the Iraq War was immoral.
The pundit argued that our intentions of removing a mass murderer and
promoting democracy were highly moral. But if we have learned anything from
this war, it should alert us to be wary of such oversimplified claims of
moral clarity. Even if we grant purity of intentions, this is shallow moral
reasoning. We should judge morality in three dimensions -- intentions,
means and consequences -- and this war fails on the last two counts.
Imagine that I offer to drive your child home after a party. I ignore the
slick road conditions, drive too fast, skid off the road and your child is
killed. I can plead good intentions of trying to get your child home
quickly, but by my neglect of appropriate means and the full range of
possible consequences produces a catastrophe that is not excusable even if
I had good intentions. To defend this (or any future war) on the basis of
the moral clarity of our intentions is impoverished one-dimensional moral
reasoning. Whatever the president's motives, his inadequate attention to
means and the full range possible consequences makes this an unjust war.
That is my lesson for this anniversary.