Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Just War vs. Iraq

The latest news from Iraq has focused on Fallujah, a city we've been pounding, relentlessly for days. Fallujah is only the most recent segment of an unjust war.

During the first 3 days of the battle of Fallujah, it was reported that 1,200 insurgents have been killed. In that same time, the Red Cross reported 800 civilians killed.

No one knows for certain how many of the so-called insurgents were truly insurgents, because the authorities have a habit of failing to substantiate that anyone labeled an insurgent was actually rebelling against the established authority.

Let's assume this time they were actually accurate. Let's say that every single person labeled an insurgent is an insurgent. If that number is accurate, then with our so-called "precision" targeting, we kill 3 innocent men, women, or children for every 4 fighters. To repeat, that's 3 innocent people for every 4 bad guys.

We turned 1 out of 10 buildings in a city the size of St. Petersburg, FL into a pile of rubble - just to get 1,200 guys.

Imagine if the St. Petersburg police killed 500 people a day for 3 days, and 335 of each day's crop were innocent bystanders. For the first few days of the current "Battle of Fallujah," that was the record. The numbers for the remaining days haven't come out, yet, but they're likely to be similar.

Whenever I think of Iraq, I think of how badly we've violated the widely recognized principles of the "just war."

The concept of the "just war" has been around for just about as long as there's been history of war, but the most commonly cited reference is from Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Principles that need to be met for a war to be considered just are:

  1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

  2. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.

  3. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.

  4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.

  5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

  6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

  7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.


Let's Look at Iraq in Light of Just War Principles

Principle 1
A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

Oops! That's one down.

Bush forgot to let the non-violent inspectors finish their job. Pooh! Better luck next time.

Principle 2
A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.

Hey, look! A just war requires support from the international community (or what the neo-cons like to call a litmus test). I guess we kinda blew that one, too.

Principle 3
A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause. Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.

Iraq, seriously weakened by years of sanctions, was harmless and posed no threat whatsoever. They committed no wrong against us. They did not injure us. This war is not a war of redress, it is a war of aggression, which is unjust, by definition:
... aggressive war is only permissible if its purpose is to retaliate against a wrong already committed (e.g., to pursue and punish an aggressor), or to pre-empt an anticipated attack.

Even the Red Cross finds this war unjust.


Principle 4
A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.

OK, so you must believe you have a reasonable chance of succeeding before you go in, otherwise, it's not a just war. In order to know what constitutes success, you need to know what the criteria are for ending the war: "We will leave when we have accomplished 'x.'" Those criteria are called the exit strategy.

The administration missed this one entirely - there is no exit strategy, a fact that worries even the Cato Institute, a major right-wing think tank.

Principle 5
The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

The only way for a better peace to prevail is for actual peace to prevail. Unfortunately, no one has come up with any peace-laden scenarios, yet for the post-occupation Iraq. The two most commonly cited scenarios are to pull out now, which will leave the country in civil war; or hang around, instituting a police state until the populace is pacified.

Sadly, it's human nature to fight back when someone invades your country. Even if you liked the reason they came in, if they overstay their welcome, you'll begin to dislike them, and eventually you'll come to despise them, especially if they put a lot of effort into keeping you "quieted."

Principle 6
The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

Um. Well, there was no injury suffered. That means that all force was greater than necessary. Darn.

Principle 7
The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

When an informant says an insurgent is living in an apartment building, how do you get that insurgent? How about if there are 1000 insurgents?

In a just war, bombing a city full of civilians all night long is, in game show terms, the wrong answer:

An AC-130 gunship raked the city all night long with cannon fire as heavy explosions from U.S. artillery continued into Monday morning. Warplanes carried out some two dozen sorties against the city, and four 500-pound bombs were dropped over Fallujah before dawn.

4 Comments:

Blogger Shareen said...

It is interesting to note that there is no concept differentiating a "just" war from an "unjust" war in the UN Charter.
The only reason that justifies attack (um, humanitarian intervention apart) is legitimate attack in self-defense. This must arise from a threat that is immediate and imminent. Jurists analogize this situation to loaded cannons, ready to strike.

2:50 AM  
Blogger Raised By Republicans said...

There is an interesting article in this week's Economist about the UN's response to the US invasion of Iraq. They are re-examining the entire legal framework that justifies military action. Of course the Economist has a somewhat right of center bias but they aren't raving maniacs and they usually get their facts straight and don't try to hide or camoflage their ideological agenda.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and all the un lovers , keep your heads buried in the sand. oil for food scandal ? just ignor it.

10:45 AM  
Blogger rhetoretician said...

Seems the Oil for Food scandal fell off the radar the moment Anan was cleared and Bush, Cheney et. al. were implicated, since it turned out illegal US purchases of oil from Saddam outstripped those of all other countries combined, and the Bush administration knowingly turned a blind eye. Oops!

11:41 PM  

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