Oliver Kamm recently wrote that he would not have reconsidered his position that the war to depose Saddam was right, however things had turned out afterwards. He wrote:
Deliberately allowing such a regime to remain in place when we had the power to remove it would have been to violate values that are axiomatic. Again, I can’t easily argue for them, they merely seem to me obvious and irreducible. That’s not to say it would be right to overthrow a bestial regime regardless of any other considerations, ever; there would, however, be an overwhelming presumption in favour of such action where it was possible to take it.
It was indeed a matter of moral values and we agree with Kamm's conclusion. However, we do not think that the relevant values are axiomatic and we shall now supply an argument for them.
We human beings do not understand the world all that well. That is not to say that there aren't some things that we understand very well indeed. The current state of human knowledge is an astonishing achievement for which we should feel pride and awe. However, the fact remains that our ignorance dwarfs our understanding – and (as Donald Rumsfeld recently remarked) when we are ignorant of something, we do not always know what. Therefore, when we think we are following a good policy based on a good underlying theory, we will sometimes be wrong. So we need to have a way of coping with such errors.
The way that we in the West do this is through institutions that allow people to withdraw their support from policies, ideas or leaders that they think are in error. Liberal democracy is one such institution: if we think that a political party that we once supported was so badly in error that we no longer wish to support it, we may vote for another party and try to persuade other people to do the same. Because of such institutions, the West is not necessarily doomed to be limited by the mistakes of any of its subcultures. This has made it the first and only society in history that is stable under rapid changes, and therefore also the first ever to be capable of sustained rapid improvement.
In some countries – of which pre-liberation Iraq was certainly one – the rulers go out of their way to destroy such institutions or to prevent their formation. They do this to maintain themselves in power, to murder and extort with impunity. Such societies never thrive, and are doomed to suffer the errors of their rulers indefinitely.
From the point of view of these evil dictators, the open and self-improving nature of the West is an ever-present threat to their legitimacy and their lives. If they realise this, as they often do, they will be willing to go to considerable lengths, and take considerable risks, to hurt, cripple or destroy the West if they possibly can. If we let an evil dictator such as Saddam persist in acquiring weapons of mass destruction we run the risk of facing a mortal threat to our open society: there is the direct threat of mass casualties and the fear thereof; and there is the fact that in a society that cannot effectively suppress the intimidation of good people by evil factions, political progress is, at best, on hold. We also sacrifice the possibility that the dictator's victims would one day have contributed something distinctive to our understanding of the world.
A possible reason why Oliver Kamm missed this argument is that he is of the left. The left generally wants the state to interfere in economic transactions. Now, in short, you can switch your electricity company in a rather short time without going to jail, but you can't stop paying tax to the current government anywhere near as quickly or as certainly. In this and many other respects the market is an even better institution of criticism than liberal democracy. This argument is closely related to the one given above. Leftists, by definition, either do not know this argument or do not understand its generality. Hence being a leftist puts one at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the reasons why the war to depose Saddam was right.