Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, April 03, 2003  

Part 3 - Is the US-Iraq War Just?
Using the just war doctrine as a template gives at least some measure against which to judge to current war. For the purposes of discussion, I’m going to go ahead and assert that the current administration subscribes to the model of waging just wars and is therefore accountable to the theory. (Evidence: the war in Afghanistan, which clearly met every condition. Some arguments were made—as they always are—that there was no just cause to invade Afghanistan, but here we have the benefit of hindsight, and reasonable people will agree that the outcome verified the cause.)

In the case of Iraq, we can only judge the justification for war. (We can also judge the conduct of the war to this point, but that discussion is best left until all the fighting’s done.) Giving some leeway to the administration on its rationale, four of the five conditions were met. The war with Iraq: was declared by a lawful authority (meaning our own government); arose from the honorable intention to disarm Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq (control of oil and water being fringe benefits); has a reasonable chance for success; and is a proportional response to the stated goals (in the case of disarmament and “regime change,” the administration’s position is consistent with the reality of Hussein’s grip on Iraq).

Ah, but what about just cause? Although the President has made much hay about Iraq’s misdeeds, he central reason for favoring invasion over inspections was the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption:

“[The policy of national security is to defend] . . . the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.”
[US policy on national security, Sept 19, 2002]



This violates just war theory.

I believe this for three reasons. One. It’s not possible to read the national security policy as advocating self-defense, which is the only circumstance under which one may argue just cause for invasion. “Destroying threat” is not tantamount to self-defense. And next, how do you possibly qualify “defending our interests abroad” as self defense? It’s not possible.

Two. There’s a serious argument to be made that terrorism throws the whole notion of just law on its ear. How is it possible to defend oneself against unseen forces except by aggressive policy? It’s an interesting hypothesis. But in order for it to carry any water as a just strategy, it cannot be pre-emptive and unilateral, both of which the US reserves as its right. If a new dispensation is going to be added to just war theory—that just cause includes pre-emptive strikes—it must also include further conditions. In the case of pre-emption, it must include a condition of international support.

Three. The only reason my first two points are even being discussed is because of the assumption of the US’s noble intent. This is where the argument constantly ends: a proponent of the war concludes that despite violations of just law conditions, the result will be positive because the US is the champion of liberty and democracy. But if it were China’s policy of unilateral pre-emption we were weighing against just war theory, there would be no contest. Further, China would be denounced by the world, and quite possibly face international military action for invading another country under these conditions.

Further reading: ”Iraq and the Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self-Defence”

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |
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