This morning I read in an AP article that Jimmy Carter has called the US war in Iraq an unjust war. My first thought was, "Hello, Captain Obvious!" At this point saying that our involvement in Iraq constitutes an unjust war is almost trivial. But it has not always been so obvious.
Lest anyone accuse me of being virulently anti-war in all cases, and thus attempt to explain my opposition to this particular war in that way, I am publishing here an essay which I wrote during the events leading up to the war.
My best friend (who thanks to a strange twist of fate was living in my basement at that time. He used to joke that if we had kids we could threaten them with the ogre in the basement. Alas, Travis, now that we have a kid, the basement has no ogre!) was a Marine who eventually fought bravely in that war. My opposition to the war he fought in has no bearing on how proud I am for doing what he did. He, like many good soldiers, displayed the kind of courage and integrity that we should all honor. It is a shame that such courage and willingness to sacrifice was spent unjustly.
I wrote this paper in a college ethics class (taught by my good friend Brian Cubbage). The format of the class was to look at ethical theories and then apply them to concrete situations. When it came time to study Just War Theory it was obvious that the United States was, barring some sort of divine intervention (and yes, United Methodist ministers tried to arrange such an intervention), headed to war. Anyway, here is how I approached the subject at that time:
According to William O'Brien, who cites St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and the history of ethical thought concerning war to support his theory, war is permissible only under certain circumstances which would make that war a "Just War". These circumstances have to do with "the substance of the just cause, the forms of pursuing the just cause, the requirement of proportionality of ends and means, and the requirement of exhaustion of peaceful remedies." That is, for war to be justified, four conditions must be met:
1. The war must be motivated by a cause so weighty as to justify the taking of lives in a full scale war. The three causes that O'Brien quotes Childress as claiming would justify this are:
(1) "to protect the innocent from unjust attack,"
(2) "to restore rights wrongfully denied" and
(3) "to re-establish a just order."
2. The war will be either offensive or defensive. If it is defensive, then it is justified outright, because every sovereign nation, as well as each person in that sovereign nation, has a right of self-defense. If, however, it is offensive, then it is only justified if it intends to "protect vital rights unjustly threatened or injured." O'Brien does point out that several Scholastic philosophers once permitted religious holy wars, but that consensus is against justifying those now, contrary, perhaps, to the "jihad" of al-Qaeda.
3. The scale of the war, and the way in which the war is waged, must be proportional to the cause of the war, the objective of the war, and the threat posed by the opponent in the war. It is permissible only to use as much violence as is necessary to accomplish the objectives, and no more. And, of course, civilians must not be targets, and every attempt must be made to keep them out of harm's way.
4. War is only permissible when all other peaceful remedies to whatever problem or situation is to be solved or resolved by that war have been exhausted. War is a messy business, and it involves killing, making it morally very weighty. This killing in war is only permissible if it the only way to achieve an end which might justify the killing. Peaceful solutions must be tried first.
The question is, in light of possible US involvement in Iraq, is war, in this situation permissible? Many involved in the US cause claim that the world changed on September 11, 2001, and, to a certain extent they are right. Each action changes the world, to a degree, and, certainly any action which takes the lives of so many people enacts a great deal of change. However, did September 11th change the nature of ethical conduct? I hope not. I believe that for a group of terrorists to dictate a new morality with a series of violent explosions would be an even greater and irrevocable tragedy than the senseless killing that took place. My mother always told me that two wrongs don't make a right, and, the events of September 11th notwithstanding, I'll take her at her word. Is the US justified, according to the "Just War" theory, if it decides to wage war on Iraq?
The first thing which must be examined is "the substance of the just cause." Why is the US threatening Iraq with war? This is a more complicated question than it, at first appears, and many people have many different theories about the answer. However, I will assume that, this time, our country is not lying to us. If that is the case, then there are two answers to this question. The first is that Iraq was, in part, involved with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and is active in funding terrorism and terrorist acts against the United States. As such, the US is justified in responding to the attacks against it, and is retaliating in self-defense. This, it is hoped, will discourage others from attacking us.
The second cause is perhaps more serious. It is claimed by both the US and Great Britain that Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq has, or intends to get "weapons of mass destruction;" and that, if he has them or gets them, he intends to use them. They support this claim with a number of factually verifiable claims, including that he has used chemical weapons on his own people. I believe that these two claims, and particularly the second, meet Childress' criteria of protecting the innocent from unjust attack. I'm not sure about the claim to self-defense, because I don't know that US officials have demonstrated a strong enough link to al-Qaeda, but, if Saddam Hussein is the sort of threat that officials claim he is, then the end of protecting the innocent from unjust attack, particularly the severe attack from "weapons of mass destruction" would justify the means of war against Iraq, providing that all other conditions for a "Just War" are met.
So, on to the second condition: The proposed war would be an offensive war, all claims of self-defense aside, because it would be waged in Iraq. As such, for the war to be a just war, it would have to meet conditions which would justify an offensive war. It is difficult to, in this instance, separate the first from the second criteria, and the argument used in the first works here. If Saddam Hussein can be demonstrated to be an immediate threat to innocent people, then, providing that all of the other conditions for a just war are present, war against Iraq would be justified.
This brings us to the first real problem for the US cause: It is assumed that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that the threat should be eliminated. That is something that most sane people agree on. However, for the US cause to be justified, any war must be both just, and limited. The scale of the war must be such that it does not create larger moral problems than the ones that it eliminates. It must be understood that Iraqis are people, morally speaking at least, with the same claim to rights as US citizens. And, while Iraq's leadership clearly poses a threat to the innocent people in the United States, as well as other nations, the innocent people of Iraq must be taken into account as nations such as the US decide how to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Any war which does more damage to innocent people than most probably would have been the case without the war is most likely not a "Just War." While the rights of innocents must be protected, in protecting those rights, the rights of other innocents should not be trampled.
This is a problem because, though we have advanced weapons which are supposed to be "smart", or accurately guided, many innocent people were killed in the US action in Afghanistan last year. That being the case, it is difficult to claim that the same thing won't happen this time, particularly when the United States overtly censored media coverage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. However, if the United States could wage a limited war in which few if any civilians were harmed, and the media were given the freedom they need to cover any incidents of civilian casualties so that we would know that every effort was being made to wage a limited war, this is probably not a fatal problem for the US cause.
The more fatal problem, at least temporarily, is found in the fourth criteria. In order for a war to be just, all peaceful remedies must be exhausted. While there are other problems, this is clearly the biggest, and, while steps are being made to correct this, leadership in the United States seems far too anxious to go to war prematurely. Some peaceful remedies have been sought, including UN resolutions and trade embargoes. However, when the United States announced that they were prepared to go to war unilaterally, without the aid and support of the United Nations, that short-circuited many possible international peace efforts, such as weapons inspections, which are only now becoming realistic options again.
It is too early to tell whether or not a potential US war against Iraq will be morally justifiable. However, it cannot be ruled out. The threat posed is sufficient enough, assuming it is being correctly advertised, to consider anything in a "worst case scenario", including a limited war. However, that war must be limited, and, must take place only when all of the facts concerning the threat Iraq poses are known, and only after all reasonable peaceful measures have been taken to eliminate the threat.
As you can see, I (and many others like me) was once prepared to believe that, assuming that a few basic conditions were met, the US could be justified in the war in Iraq. Alas for our nation and our military, it is now obvious that those conditions were not met.
In my paper I wrote:
I will assume that, this time, our country is not lying to us.
That assumption should not seem so foolish now. Alas, it has become obvious that our presidential administration systematically manipulated and fabricated intelligence, deceiving so many of us into suspending our disbelief and (at least tentatively) subscribing to an unjust act.
I also wrote:
It is assumed that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that the threat should be eliminated. That is something that most sane people agree on.
But, inspired by manipulated and fabricated intelligence, I overlooked that whatever threat Hussein posed to our security was already being addressed effectively. We now have no credible evidence at all that Iraq under Hussein had anything close to a functional weapons of mass destruction program. Absent that program - particularly given the crippled nature of the Iraqi military - Saddam Hussein and the nation of Iraq posed an insufficient threat to US national security to justify anything like a war.
But even with my flawed assumptions about the honesty of this presidential administration and the credibility of their intelligence reports, the conditions laid out in my paper for a just war were still not met. Consider these conditions:
1. [I]f the United States could wage a limited war in which few if any civilians were harmed, and the media were given the freedom they need to cover any incidents of civilian casualties so that we would know that every effort was being made to wage a limited war, then the war might but justified.
2. In order for a war to be just, all peaceful remedies must be exhausted.
The US waged a war in which, during active combat, more than 10 times as many civilians as soldiers were killed. While I believe that the US, particularly the soldiers involved, probably made an attempt to prevent excessive civilian casualties, they were (as is the nature of a war fought first and foremost through air strikes and bombing runs) unable to prevent a high civilian death count. Thus the conduct of the war was not sufficiently limited to be morally justifiable.
Additionally, as I feared in my paper, the US rushed to war without letting peaceful solutions run their course. The great tragedy of this is that, after the fact, it now seems like the peaceful solutions would have been sufficient to solve the problem.
Iraq had not weapons of mass destruction, and no credible connections to al Qaeda. Thanks to our military involvement in Iraq, however, it has become a "breeding ground" for terrorist organizations, radicalizing populations which could have been moderate under different circumstances.
Populations unite against a common enemy. By the way in which we have waged this avoidable war we have given many populations in the area around Iraq an enemy against which to unite.
I hereby apologize for the charitable assumptions I made about the credibility of our presidential administration, and for not mobilizing against this war until it was far too late.
The primary question facing us now, however, is not whether or not this war has been just (it has not been), but what we can do about it. We must of course hold those who dragged us into this mess accountable. The tragic irony here is that those who campaigned on restoring credibility to the office which Bill Clinton's foolishness with an intern supposedly destroyed have done more to undermine the credibility of that office than anyone since the Nixon adminitration.
But we must also find some constructive course of action in Iraq. We can't just break it, say "Ooops!" and walk out like nothing happened. To that end I am thankful to the many military personnel still working in Iraq to restore that country's infrastructure and return it to autonomy. We owe it to them to get them home and out of harm's way as soon as it is feasable to do so.
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