Words can never hurt me

Intentions, as I think we’ve often mentioned here, are notoriously hard to judge. It’s not, however, obviously impossible. Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber,” was just convicted for wanting to do something. Many of the same people who claim its impossible to judge psychological states (when it comes to, I don’t know, hate crimes) nonetheless celebrate Padilla’s conviction. But that’s another point really. While intention certainly matters in criminal law (mens rea), it’s a little bit different perhaps when it comes to moral judgments. Take the following for instance:

>Ignatieff like many Americans was wrong about Iraq, but while his judgment was wrong, his intentions were pure. He believed that advocacy for the war in Iraq was in the best interests of the Iraqi people and furthered important national interests. Clearly these views clouded him from seeing reality. He was not alone.

It should go without saying that Ignatieff, a professor at Harvard (at the time) should have known better–so should many many other people who supported the war. But here lies the confusion of these people and their defenders (such as the author of the above).

Ignatieff, Friedman, and everyone else who for whatever reason thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq, ought to have their arguments and their views criticized–even lampooned (in the case of Friedman). And they ought to realize that on account of the magnitude of their poor judgment–and their stature, purported knowledge of world affairs, degree of advocacy for the policy, and ability to influence the public-this criticism will appear harsh and it will, in many quarters, get personal. That shouldn’t be surprising, the policy has, after all, become very personal for the many who have had the misfortune to live through it.

Besides, in this case as in most cases, the purity of their motives isn’t being judged. They’re irrelevant. What’s at issue is their judgment, both moral and practical. To invoke the purity of their motives, at this point, is just a red herring: the motives of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were pure too, I bet. But they were horrifically wrong.