Accountability is a weird concept. It’s one of those that seems pretty straightforward at best but complex when you think about it. It’s complex because accountability seems so wrapped up in how you view meta-ethics as well as counterfactuals. Consider an example to see this. Most people deem George Bush hugely accountable for the deaths in Iraq during the Iraq war. He’s regularly condemned for this. One reason people judge George Bush accountable is that many people warned of a civil war in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was out of power and tribal groups battled for power. As these people forecast a quasi-civil war erupted leading to hundreds of thousands dead1
However consider the following. By nearly any measure the civil war in Syria has killed many times more people per capita than the Iraq war did. Further it seems difficult if not impossible to imagine Syria reaching a semi-stable government akin to what now exists in Iraq.2 If the experts were right and a civil war was being held back by Sadaam then wouldn’t any Arab Spring that put Sadaam out of power led to fighting at least as bad as we see in Syria?
If we compare Syria and Iraq then instead of seeing George Bush as responsible for hundreds of thousands dead we see him responsible for saving hundreds of thousands. If he is responsible it is for not ensuring a better battle plan and saving thousands more.
Now I’m not saying that we ought judge George Bush one way or the other. I am saying that it seems very difficult for me to tell how to judge George Bush’s responsibility. I admit that to me I’m pretty sympathetic to this more Utilitarian styled analysis. But at a minimum there seems a strong undecidability about it.
One thing is for sure — even those who seem instinctively to talk about consequences seem to have a hard time with judging in this manner. It seems like as soon as you talk consequences you end up talking counterfactuals. Counterfactuals are understandably hard to get an intuitive grasp on since they are at best so speculative.