When I studied ethics in college, one of the big issues was the question of whether motives or actions were of greater importance. If I remember correctly, Kant said “both.”

The impending war with Iraq demonstrates that Kant was right. It may be the case that making war on Iraq is the right thing to do, if done for the right reasons. I am convinced that the USA’s reasons for a war are not the right ones.

What would be a good reason for war? That Saddam is a threat to American interests and to his own people. Both of these are true.

Why is the USA so intent on war against Iraq? The reason given by the Bush administration is pretty much what I just wrote above. What are the real reasons?

My guess is that the Bush administration is using war on Iraq as a proxy or distraction for the war on terror (I’ve always objected to that term — it’s not a war any more than LBJ’s “war on poverty” or Nixon’s “war on cancer” were wars), which doesn’t seem to be offering any positive results. Indeed, success in a war on terror is defined by an absence of news: no structures blown up, no suicide bombers, etc. Hard to make the case that you’re doing a good job. Not as marketable as a good old-fashioned war.

Another analysis — which I don’t quite buy — is that it is being done at the behest of the Israel lobby. While I’m sure Israeli politicians will be delighted to see Iraq get a good smiting by the USA, I don’t get the impression that they had been agitating for it before the Bush administration made it a priority. And, although the Israel lobby probably does have disproportionate influence (especially given the unholy alliance between Israel and American fundamentalist Christians these days), I’m not convinced that it’s influential enough to push America into a war.

And there’s the old standby, oil. I’ve read reports that representatives of major oil interests from the USA, Britain, Russia, etc, have already met to decide on how they will carve up a postwar Iraq. This is plausible. And while a war will probably be hard on the economy overall, it will be great for certain sectors — obviously the military-industrial complex, but also oil, which will be much more expensive while the war is going on.

And I do believe that Saddam’s threat to American interests is on the list, but pretty low on it. It’s not a credible justification. He’s not significantly more of a threat now than he was before Bush started making all this noise about him.

So if we do go to war against Iraq, it will be mostly for the wrong reasons. This will lead to doing the wrong things, such as shortchanging higher priorities (like that war on terror) and prosecuting the war in a way that might not lead to the best outcome in terms of American security overall, but might be best in terms of oil interests. And almost inevitably, the rebuilding of postwar Iraq will be cursed by American short-termism and by American appeasement of Saudi Arabia. (Institute a real democracy? Don’t count on it.) And so on.