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First published in Philosophy & Public Affairs 35 (2007): 359-400. Is forcing a people to be free possible, and if so, is it ever morally permissible? The question cries out for clarification: What is it to be a people? What is it for a people to be forced? And what is it for a people to be free? As with so many questions in political philosophy, the hardest task here is to ask the right one, so I will spend most of my time specifying and clarifying what I am asking. When the question is well posed, it will almost answer itself, or so I hope. The question in some form is very much on our minds, provoked by the war in Iraq and one of its stated justifications: freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny. When ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ as the war was called, began, President George W. Bush announced, ‘Our mission is clear: to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.’ Now that it has been established beyond doubt that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion, and now that the White House has acknowledged that there is no evidence at all of a connection between the September 11 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein’s regime, the freedom argument must bear all the weight of justification for both the invasion and the extended occupation that has followed. The Bush administration’s case for war initially had three legs. Can it stand on one alone? And if ‘to free the Iraqi people’ is a good enough reason to permit the forceful occupation of Iraq, in what way does the Iraqi people have to be free before such permission runs out?


Applbaum, Arthur Isak. Forcing a People to Be Free. Legitimacy, Justice, and Public International Law. Ed. Lukas H. Meyer. Cambridge University Press, 2009, 270-310.