21 August 2006

Just War

(This is a piece I wrote for the Chinook Observer, my then local paper, in April 2003. It was written in response to a guest column that asked "Is this War Just" but then rambled on endlessly without ever addressing the question.

The editor found that my column was also long enough that it might qualify as rambling on, and so was unable to put it in the paper in a timely manner, so I withdrew it.

I will, at a later date, come back and give my thoughts on the war today.)


In a “Guest Column”, Gwen Brake asks, is this war just? Since she does not attempt to answer the question, I thought that I might take a stab at it.

“Just War Theory” comes from Augustine of Hippo, augmented by Thomas Aquinas, secularized by Hugo Grotius and adapted over the years by various international bodies. There are seven generally agreed on principals to determine if a war is just. Let us consider these conditions as they apply to the situation in Iraq today.

(1) To be just, a war must have a just cause such as self-defense or restoring rights. The current action in Iraq is being conducted under UN Resolutions which required Iraq to disarm of its weapons of mass destruction and comply with international mandates as a result of Iraq’s invasion, rape and subsequent ouster from Kuwait 13 years ago. Removing those weapons from the hands of a regime that has to used them in the past is considered by many to be a key to the security of this and other countries, including coalition ally Kuwait, who knows all too well how brutal Saddam Hussein can be.

It is alleged that Saddam might give such weapons to terrorists who will do harm to the U.S. This is the primary reason given by the Bush administration for the conduct of this war.

One need not speculate about what Saddam ‘might’ do in order to make a terror connection to this situation. We have troops and equipment near Iraq in order to “contain” it, to protect the people of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States from Iraq’s aggression. Stationing our troops - “infidels” - in the “holy land of Arabia” is one of Osama Bin Laden’s primary reasons for attacking the U.S. on 9/11. “Containment” of Iraq is a primary cause of 3000 American deaths.

(We are also there to protect the flow of oil; a couple billion people around the world are dependent on that oil for their quality of life. Whether that is good or bad is a separate issue. Cutting off the flow of gulf oil would cause suffering around the world.)

I hold that there are two other reasons to prosecute this war which have a higher moral imperative. First, other nations in the Persian Gulf region fear Saddam Hussein and his weapons, and history gives them good reason to. Defending them is a moral imperative. Second, there are 23 million Iraqis who are oppressed by their own government. Amnesty International lists Iraq as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. As many as a million Iraqis have been killed by their own government in the last 30 years. Liberating those people is also, in my opinion, a moral imperative.

It has troubled me deeply that many on the “left” said nothing about the armed defense of Kosovo, yet have resisted the liberation of Kuwait (‘91) or the overthrow of Saddam (‘03). I, for one, do not think white skinned Kosovars are any more worthy of liberation than brown skinned Arabs.

(2) To be just, a war must be waged by a legitimate authority. Some argue that only the U.N. can wage a just war, but according to the theory, any nation is competent. I would suggest that the nation Saddam surrendered to in 1991 and agreed to obey regarding certain restrictions would certainly be competent. That would be the U.S.

It is truthfully stated that we are partly responsible for enhancing Saddam’s power over the years. It is then suggested that we should not, therefore, remove Saddam since he is our mess. This suggestion has it backwards: we have a greater responsibility to remove him. My mother always said I should clean up my own messes, not leave them for someone else.

(3) To be just, a war must be formally declared. This means no sneak attacks. Done.

(4) To be just, a war must be fought to restore a just peace. Peace is more than a cessation of gunfire. What would a just peace look like in the gulf region? American troops could go home. Kuwaitis, Saudis, Jordanians, Turks and Iranians could live without fear from one of the most militant, well armed nations on earth. Kurds and Shiites would be free from attack by their own government.

Will it work? No one knows, but if that stops us from trying, we will never try or accomplish anything. Besides, almost any outcome would is better than Saddam has been.

(5) To be just, a war must be a last resort. What alternatives are were to war? First is do nothing. This puts every nation in the Mid-East in danger, based on Saddam’s past behavior. Second is containment, with or without inspections. This requires vast numbers of U.S. troops to be in the region. (Remember, Bin Laden just hates that.) And given the carnage he has inflicted on his own people and neighboring nations, can anyone who claims to care about the Iraqi people seriously propose these?

(6) To be just, a war must have a reasonable expectation of success. As I write this on Monday April 7, this is looking pretty good.

(7) To be just, a war must be proportional in means and ends; it shouldn't make matters worse. Everyone is concerned about civilian casualties, from the White House to the street protesters. At this writing, the website Iraqbodycount,net reports a maximum number of reported civilian casualites at 1072, after 19 days of war. The figure is certainly higher, perhaps twice that.

But compare that to the exploits of General Ali Hassan al-Majeed. “Chemical Ali” as he was known, managed to kill 6800 Kurds in Halabja in one day in March 1988. British ITV news says he was also responsible for the deaths of 100,000 Kurds and 300,000 Shiites over the last 12 years. How does one justify leaving this man and his cousin in power and claim to be a humanitarian?

Through the use of technology, training and extremely high ethics - perhaps the highest ethics of any army ever - the coalition forces are using proportional means to remove an evil dictator from power, and to leave matters better than they were before.
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A few closing thoughts. As one reads through the above, I have tried to distinguish between fact and opinion. I have tried to label my opinions as just that. I do not consider my opinions to be the only valid ones, and I do not seek to quash disagreement, dissent or discussion. I encourage it, as that is what I think America and our system of government is about.

However, if one is going to engage in such a discussion, it is helpful to get one’s facts and terms straight. I have read, for instance, on the internet and in these august pages, all sorts of wild assertions. Accusations that the US would carpet bomb Baghdad and kill 5 million Iraqis. Suggestions that bombs made of depleted uranium were dropped in 1991 and that those had irradiated all of Iraq with tragic consequences. A claim that what Iraqis fear most is a civil war. These are statements worthy of Iraq's "information minister," Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. Baghdad Bob, who still says the Iraqi army is winning the war.

Hello? Reality check! No one ever suggested carpet bombing, but precision bombing. Depleted uranium has no dangerous radiation; that’s why it is called “depleted”. The media is beginning to see evidence on the street of what the left of center press (e.g. Newsweek, Time) has been reporting for months: what Iraqi’s have feared most is Saddam and his Baath Party. (And to define the Baath Party, think Arab fascist.)

Ms Brake asks, “How smoothly do you think democracy will run in a nation of ethnic tribes.” Well, it runs pretty well in this nation, which is made up of various ethnic and regional alliances. What form of government would Ms Brake suggest for Iraq? Is it one she would be willing to live under herself? It sounds almost arrogant or callous to say that these people are somehow not capable of coping with freedom and democracy.

Democracy in Iraq, as in other “third world nations”, like Italy and Florida, will likely face certain tests. Some days it will be ugly. But why not offer them the opportunity for self-determination? Remember the old saw: democracy is the worst possible form of government, unless one counts all the others.

I do not desire war, nor do I wish to underplay the severity of each loss suffered by each family over every death on both sides. I so admire the soldiers of this country, the U.K., Australia and Poland who have put their lives on the line for the Iraqi people. I am grateful for a president and a British prime minister willing to risk political futures to do what they believe is right. (Though I, too, have been taken aback by the rhetoric coming from some in DC that seemed almost to hope for war.) I pray daily for peace, but a real and just peace for the Iraqi people.

The Wall Street Journal closed an editorial last week with these words: “As the war enters what appears to be the endgame, it's worth pointing out that everything President Bush promised about the way this war would be conducted has transpired. The bombing is precise and limited to military targets. Civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure are minimal. Humanitarian assistance is arriving. And coalition forces are providing medical attention for injured POWs and civilians. This sure isn't the usual face of war, which destroys innocent lives and leaves cities in rubble. The only way that will happen now is if Saddam or his successor use chemical weapons or impose some other terrible disaster on their own countrymen. Otherwise, this war is about to end in a highly untraditional way: with Iraq's cities standing and its people alive and liberated.”

Is this war just? In spite of the failures and the ugly nature of war, from this point, I think history will judge it so.

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