Was the Iraq War Right?

William A. Galston
Bill Galston
William A. Galston Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies

September 3, 2010

William Galston and Michael Cromartie discuss the costs and consequences of the Iraq war as the U.S. ends its combat mission on PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

BOB ABERNETHY, Host: With President Obama’s formal announcement that combat operations in Iraq are over, two assessments of whether the war was the right thing to do. William Galston is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, also in Washington. Welcome to you both. Michael, was the Iraq war the right thing to do?

MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Well, Bob, you know the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has just come out with an autobiography, and he makes the point in there that the removal of Saddam Hussain from power was a great good. I agree with Tony Blair that the Iraq war is tragic. It has been, in the loss of life—that’s been sad. It was the right thing to do.

ABERNETHY: If you had known in 2003 what the costs would be, the costs in lives and money and everything, would you still have favored it?

CROMARTIE: Bob, the cost of lives and money and—every war is a miserable cost, painful cost, and I think looking back on any war you want to say is any war worth it after we see what the results are? That’s can’t be considered without considering what was going on before—what Saddam did to his own people, what he did to his neighbors, the threat that he posed to so many parts of the world.

ABERNETHY: Bill, was it worth it?

WILLIAM GALSTON: I don’t think so, and equally important, a large majority of the American people don’t think so either, and in a democracy that’s something that needs to be taken into account. It’s not dispositive, but it needs to be taken into account. And one of the principles of just war theory is the principle of proportionality—that even if it’s justified the good that is done has to exceed the harm. There’s also reason to believe that the war did not satisfy the requirements of just war theory. It was not a defensive war. It was not a preemptive war. It was a preventive war, which is very hard to justify, and the administration’s case for preventive war did not pass muster.

View the full interview on PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newseekly web site »