The Just War Tradition After 9/11
The above serves as an overview of Just War criteria, but with the advent of the War on Terror there arose a need to focus on and revise some of the ten criteria that Reimer lays out. For instance, how can we prosecute a war against anonymous terrorists while maintaining discrimination between combatants and noncombatants? Who would the legitimate authority be for prosecuting the War on Terror? While the Just War tradition lays out criteria for a preventative war, does it justify a preemptive war?
The answers to these questions are not only important for Christians involved in moral discernment, but for all who are interested in a justifiable use of force and the upholding of international law (often largely based on this tradition). The question of discrimination in the War on Terror is perhaps the most difficult to answer. In a situation where the line between a terrorist enemy and a civilian bystander is amorphous, differentiating between who is a justifiable target and who is not becomes extremely difficult. Often the resulting solution becomes an attack on infrastructure as a means of compelling the noncombatant public to take steps to either turn over the enemy or to restrict its ability to use civilians as camouflage. This, however, leads to its own perilous effects. Citing George Lopez's findings, Kenneth Himes points to the targeting of infrastructure as a large cause of civilian death. In the first Gulf War, the casualties suffered among Iraqis due to disrupted water, sewer, and electrical services was greater than 100,000 (Himes 153). The criteria used by the United States in target discrimination is based on the “war sustaining” nature of the target (Himes 154). This proves grossly vague and results in the targeting of infrastructure that is nominally war sustaining but predominantly life sustaining. Europeans, on the other hand, “[restrict] targets to those that 'have an immediate effect on the enemy with whom one is engaged'” (Himes 154). This second criteria proves much more just than the United States' overly broad criteria yet still allows troops to prosecute a war effectively.
The case of legitimate authority in the War on Terror is obvious on the one hand – Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. therefore the U.S. is the legitimate authority – and complex on the other – Iraq had not attacked a nation therefore the legitimate authority for an attack on Iraq is more difficult to discern. The details involved in this discussion are discussed below.
The question of prevention vis a vis preemption is possibly the central issue of Iraq War justifications. The Just War tradition has long held that a nation has the right to defend itself against a known attack before it happens. This falls under prevention and comes from the age when invasions required the amassment of large numbers of troops and materiel on borders days or even weeks before an actual invasion. As the technology of war allowed for more rapid deployment of troops as well as the ability to inflict death from afar, the rules of prevention have grown more complex.
Being scared of an enemy is not enough to justify a preventive strike. As Himes puts it, “suspicion or fear about another's intentions is not adequate” for justifying war (145). But at what point does that fear become justified? Walzer addresses this at length and uses various historical illustrations to further his concept for preventive attacks in the landscape of modern war. He boils the decision to attack before being attacked down to the idea of a “supreme emergency” (Walzer 251-268). For Walzer, the risk of attack needs to be time sensitive. A risk that could develop over the course of years does not justify a preventive attack. This constitutes the “emergency” half. The risk must also be of an overwhelming magnitude in order to justify the preventive use of force. This makes up the “supreme” half. Walzer uses the concept of supreme emergency to examine the civilian bombing campaign of England in WWII as well as the Israeli Six Days War. In both cases, Walzer believes that the initial decision to attack was justified by a supreme emergency.1 The threat of Nazism to overrun European civilization as they knew it was both “in the now” as well as of a grand magnitude (Walzer 255-263). For Israel, the writing was on the wall of an imminent attack which threatened its mere existence (Walzer 82-85). If we accept the theory of supreme emergency then the United States would be justified in a first strike against Iraq if that nation posed a risk of supreme emergency. This theory, as we shall see, will also play a part in the Bush administration's argument for going to war.
Having covered many of the theoretical bases necessary for examining the Iraq War, it is now possible to turn to the practical side of its justification. How was the war in Iraq “pitched” to the American people? What attempts were made beforehand to justify the invasion? Were the ends consistent before, during, and after the war or did the arguments change midstream? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, were the arguments for going to war accurate or misinformed?
Just War Critiques of the Iraq War
Both leading up to the Iraq War and in its aftermath, many politicians, ethicists, theologians, and citizens have offered justifications for and against the United States' actions. Here I will focus mainly on those from the Christian tradition of Just War. Many of them contain common arguments that will help to identify mistakes made and lessons learned. Some offer unique highlights that witness to the creative side of the Just War tradition. All of them, however, make note of the change in circumstances between the lead up to the invasion and the years following the invasion.
Arguments of American imperialism aside, no one can deny that on September 11th, 2001 the United States was attacked without provocation. And outside of false flag conspiracy theories, the attackers were acknowledged to be terrorists mainly of Middle Eastern background – predominantly from Saudi Arabia. The situation gets a bit more complex when into this description is added their years presumably spent training in Al-Qaeda camps located in Afghanistan. America was, therefore, placed in a defensive position, but identifying the aggressor was a bit more problematic. Faced with the realization that Al-Qaeda was operating out of Afghanistan without hindrance and possibly with the support of the Taliban government, the aggressor was nominally Afghanistan. The first criteria of the Just War tradition, that of a legitimate authority, was answered in the affirmative for the war in Afghanistan – the United States was the aggressed and Al-Qaeda and the Taliban by proxy were the aggressors. Due to the amorphous nature of terrorism, and the deft use of rhetoric by the Bush administration, the War on Terror, however, was more than just a battle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
For a conflict against Iraq as opposed to Afghanistan, there would be additional dots that would need to be connected in order to establish the United States as a legitimate authority to prosecute an invasion. Before examining the two main arguments for an invasion of Iraq, it is important to address two other arguments that were sometimes used for the same purpose. These two were often used as secondary excuses for the war in cases where the primary two, which will be addressed shortly, were contested. It is important to note that Just War tradition requires only one justifiable cause for going to war, not four almost-good-enough causes. These two secondary arguments were: (1) Saddam Hussein's government was corrupt and oppresive to its own citizens to the point where a humanitarian intervention was necessary; (2) Hussein's violation of U.N. sanctions was egregious enough to merit punishment.
The first of these arguments proved unjustifiable because of the lack of recent evidence of Hussein's treachery. Even if a bad government were assumed, the historical precedent of humanitarian intervention set the bar much higher than the situation in Iraq merited. When considering how many corrupt and oppressive governments were not the target of humanitarian interventions, a decision to invade Iraq based on humanitarian reasons would therefore belie a self-interested cause which is anathema to the Just War tradition. The argument regarding U.N. sanctions holds no water because the legitimate authority to enforce the violation of U.N. sanctions would be the U.N., not a U.S. led coalition. The authority for the use of force by the U.N. is contained in Chapter VII of its charter where it states “[s]hould the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
The two primary arguments used for a war in Iraq needed to address the fact that Iraq had not attacked the United States. As has been shown, there need not be an attack in order to justify a response. Walzer's supreme emergency establishes the criteria for preventive war. So in order for the United States to be considered a legitimate authority for invading Iraq, it would have to be shown that Iraq presented a risk to the United States that was both in the “now” temporally and in the “catastrophic” in magnitude. In order to meet this criteria, there were two main arguments that were used to justify an invasion of Iraq: (1) the presence of considerable stores of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) along with the ability to continue producing and using them, (2) there were ties linking the government of Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda.
The ad bellum justification, then, for the Iraq War rests on these two arguments. Brian Stiltner addresses both arguments in a piece entitled “Just War: Second Thoughts on Iraq.” Stiltner highlights the change in circumstances mentioned above with his choice of “second thoughts” in his title. When addressing arguments before the invasion, he states that “war seemed justifiable because of the intelligence reports concerning Iraq's weapons programs and because Saddam Hussein . . . was likely to be highly dangerous if he acquired weapons of mass destruction” (Stiltner 34). Stiltner echoes the thoughts of many of the other authors surveyed – the WMD argument and the Al-Qaeda argument together met the criteria for a just war. He goes on to hint at an argument for supreme emergency when he states that these arguments “persuaded many people that Iraq posed an imminent threat” (Stiltner 34). The emergency criteria is covered by the threat's being imminent and the supreme criteria is met by the magnitude of damage a biological or chemical attack could do. Yet these arguments faded slowly al niente as Stiltner addresses when he states that “the just cause of addressing weapons of mass destruction collapsed after investigations by the press and by governmental and independent commissions revealed deep flaws in the intelligence” (34).
Knowing then what we know now about claims of WMD, that argument would not have been justifiable in the use of force against Iraq. A connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq could still be used, however. While diminishing the “supreme” nature of supreme emergency, Al-Qaeda could still inflict mass casualties against the United States even without WMD if they could count Saddam Hussein as an ally. In his critique, Andrew Calabrese notes that in early 2003, “Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council and presented what he characterized as compelling evidence of the existence of WMDs in Iraq and of links between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government” (155). Through the provenance of this statement, it was later discovered that this assertion was attributed to an MI6 report, but that MI6 had not made this statement. MI6 went so far as to “[leak] its own report on the same date as Powell's speech, denying that there had been any evidence linking Iraq and Al-Qaeda” (Calabrese 156). Calabrese also goes on to point out that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also “discredits claims made by the Bush administration that there was valid evidence of an Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection” (157). It is important to note that Calabrese believes that the evidence for both the WMD and the terror connection claims were shoddy from the beginning. He attempts to prove that this is not a case of hindsight being 20/20: “during this period [the lead up to the war], such claims were disputed, and the evidence used to support them was discredited before, during, and since the U.S. invasion of Iraq” (Calabrese 156). If the two arguments used to justify the invasion of Iraq proved to be false, then it can only be stated that the Iraq War does not meet the criteria for a just war.2
The arguments I have made so far concerning the war in Iraq have all been of the ad bellum variety. An obvious example of an in bello atrocity would be the Abu Ghraib scandal. There is simply no argument to be made for what occurred there. I will address a possible cause for similar atrocities below. Other in bello arguments concern the ability of the U.S. Armed Forces to inflict damage from afar with weapons such as cruise missiles, “smart bombs,” and drone aircraft. Many of these arguments will have to be developed further based on case studies from Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that at the heart of these new techniques is the importance of aim. Accurate aim means a combatant is more likely to be hit and a noncombatant less likely to be hit. Aim also has target assignment as a prerequisite. Assigning proper targets also address the issue of noncombatant immunity. I will address these topics later when dealing with military training.
It is not the goal of this paper to assign blame for the evidence used to justify an invasion that ended up being proved false. The arguments have been made that the Bush administration knowingly and willfully misled the public. It has also been argued that the intelligence given to the administration was simply flawed and no malintent was present. Regardless of which argument proves true, there can still be lessons learned from the Iraq War and its relation to the Just War tradition.
It is my belief that it was not the criteria of the Just War tradition that caused us to enter into an unjust conflict in Iraq, but rather institutional and systemic issues that prevented the country and its government from arriving at the proper decision. I will focus on three sine quibus non which contribute to the decision making process as well as the prosecution of a just war. First among these is the importance of training in the military – both technical and ethical. This first prerequisite is not Iraq specific; military ethics training is important for the Just War tradition in general, but has gotten short shrift in many military training programs As mentioned previously, aim is of the utmost importance and should not be overlooked, but neither should the training of all troops in military and combat ethics. Second among these prerequisites is the need for a high quality press whose product is accurate. Since the press is the main non-governmental source of data that goes into the decision making process, a low-quality press could result in a poor decision. Garbage in, garbage out. And lastly, the need for honest public conversation about war must take place before the decision is made to initiate one. This is especially true for a democracy such as the U.S.
1Walzer believes the contiued bombing of civilian populations, however, ceased to be just at some point.
2The majority of Christian critiques of the Iraq War are remarkably consistent on this point. See Burghardt, Casey, Colson, Gorringe, Himes, Lull, Revering, and Stiltner for similar non-justified arguments. Strehle is the sole author arguing for a justified intervention in Iraq.