Thursday, January 11, 2007

Just wars

In response to this question on the Washington Post site:

President Bush is preparing this week to send more troops to Baghdad. Do you believe there is such a thing as a "just war"? Is the Iraq war "just"?

Just wars are possible. As a Christian, I believe that war is about defending the poor and defenseless rather than "the national interest", which is the root of all kinds of evil. At times, our national interest has intersected the moral mission. That's about as good as any war is ever going to get, from my point of view. Just war theory was created to address what kinds of moral missions can justify wars, and thus to focus on the means and intentions of wars as opposed to the consequences, and especially as opposed to the potential realpolitik gains of a war.

If you only see war as a means to preserve the national interest rather than a moral question, there are no just or unjust wars. There are only wars that work and wars that don't work. That's why we hear so much about incompetence when pundits discuss the failed Iraq war. I feel the need to get a bit deeper than this.

I don't believe war is a righteous tool for the apocalyptic defeat of "evil". It's too easy to throw around the label for political purposes, and it's too easy to demonize rather than empathize. In other words, I don't think that the titanic struggle against world terrorism can justify the war in Iraq at all, even in the alternate universe where al Qaeda was in cahoots with Saddam (the same universe where Dick Cheney has taken up residence).

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is not a just war. We bombed Saddam heavily before the war declaration. Blair and Bush discussed ways to goad Saddam into taking the first shot, provoking the invasion. There were no WMDs, but Bush and his advisors were willing to lie about that to the American people. We fixed the intelligence to fit the predetermined policy. We even invaded without a compelling national interest, for the amoral policy wonks out there, much less a compelling moral interest. In short, the casus belli was either a lie, or as nonexistent as the weapons.

All the other post-facto rationalizations for the war pale in comparison. All the post-facto "oops, did I just disband the army" "mistakes were made" talk is a red herring; how we went to war does not change the overwhelming failure to explain why we went to war.

We had an unjust, immoral war. Besides that, now we have consequences: genocide, mutilated bodies in the streets of Baghdad, morgues full to overflowing, religious strife, death, shattered lives. Wars always have these things, which is why we try to avoid them: in an immoral war, there is no upside justification for them. Now we have a failed state on our hands, one that is splintering along religious lines. The failure of Iraq has consequences for regional stability as well.

Leaving troops in Iraq is doing nothing but providing Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias alike thousands of targets. We are occupying their country. We are infidels. We can do better than leave our soldiers holding the bag on our leader's profound failure. We don't just have an unjust war. Now we have an unjust occupation, one that has cost more American soldiers their lives than American civilians in 9/11. It's time to say enough to the war and enough to the occupation.


Goose said...

A beautiful post. Bravo! I'm thinking a just war can only be self defense or in the defense of a friendly nation (provided they did not instigate it). A lot of U.S. wars have been either engineered or provoked, or they claimed to be for a certain purpose, when, in reality, they were simply economic. Having said all that, I think WWII is the only "just" war that our nation has ever fought. But then again, there is probably no such thing as a "just" war. Again, great thoughts!

vince said...

Augustine also concluded that self-defense can be the only just cause for war. A nation or city has the right to exist.

He goes on to say that, even if the other country has ideas of government that we disagree with, we must not assume that we have a just cause for war to bring our 'better' ideas to the other country.

Both comments are in "City of God".