New Book Explores the Moral Reasons behind the War in Iraq

For immediate release:
June 22, 2005
Arlie Corday

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Opinions about the war in Iraq tend to fall into opposing categories: for or against. Now, a new book explores the war from the perspective of humanitarianism.

A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for the War in Iraq (University of California Press, July 2005), edited by Wellesley College Professor of Sociology Thomas Cushman, occupies a special niche in the wealth of commentary on this divisive issue. It is a collection of essays by some of the world’s most prominent writers and political figures including Christopher Hitchens, Adam Michnik, Paul Berman, Tony Blair, Ian Buruma, Ann Clwyd, Mitchell Cohen, Norman Geras, Jeffrey Herf, Richard Just, John Lloyd, Jose Ramos-Horta, Roger Scruton and others.

“It includes many leading public intellectuals, politicians, academics, scholars, church leaders and activists—all liberals who supported the war in Iraq,” said Cushman, who is editor in chief of The Journal of Human Rights. “There is no other book like it—others either whitewash Bush’s war or are inflammatory attacks on Bush and the U.S. This book presents a human rights case.”

A Matter of Principle is the first volume to gather critical voices from around the world to offer an alternative to traditional pro-war and anti-war positions.

“These essays claim that, in spite of the inconsistent justifications provided by the United States and its allies and the conflict-ridden process of social reconstruction, the war in Iraq has been morally justifiable on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant, a flagrant violator of human rights, a force of global instability and terror, and a threat to world peace,” Cushman said.

The authors discuss the limitations of the current system of global governance, which tolerates gross violations of human rights and which has failed to prevent genocide in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda. They also underscore the need for reform in international institutions and international law.

“At the same time, these essays do not necessarily attempt to apologize for the mistakes, errors and deceptions in the way the Bush administration has handled the war,” Cushman said.

Publishers Weekly calls the book “Meaty, provocative . . . Cushman’s volume may include the most articulate support yet for America’s Iraq adventure.”

Human rights and international relations experts, even those who disagreed with the war, have praised the book.

“The scholarship contained in this collection is superior: It includes the leading and most sophisticated advocates of liberal internationalism from the worlds of the academy, politics and the media,” said Richard A. Wilson, director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. “The arguments are complex and nuanced, and contribute to a new understanding of the Iraq war.”

Michael Barnett, professor of international relations at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, calls the book “a first-rate collection. By bringing together isolated, important, and at times iconoclastic voices on the issue of the invasion of Iraq, A Matter of Principle makes for critical and provocative reading.”

Several contributors explain why they thought the war just in principle, without defending it in practice. “If I knew in spring 2003 what I know now,” said historian Jeffrey Herf, “I would not have supported the invasion.”

Dissent magazine editor Mitchell Cohen denounces “all-explanatory dogma” from right or left; British philosopher Daniel Kofman deplores “confusion in the antiwar movement.” Europeans, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, condemn reflexive anti-Americanism; one-time Polish dissident Adam Michnik explains his “very strong... support for the war.” Forceful speeches from British Prime Minister Tony Blair are the last two of the book’s 24 entries.

For Cushman, the book’s message comes down to one basic fact: “Had there been no war,” he points out, “Saddam Hussein would still be torturing and killing.” Cushman stresses, as do several authors in the book, that “the majority of the Iraqi public supported the war as a means of their liberation from Saddam Hussein. The perils and dangers of the war’s aftermath have created much discord, but the fact is that Iraq has had its first democratic elections ever, Saddam will face trial for his crimes, and there is hope for the development of civil society in what previously had been one of the most totalitarian states in the world.”