Paul Baxter and I have been discussing pacifism and just war theory a bit in the comments on this post, and I've discovered that I've never posted my reflections on just war theory and Iraq. I should have a later version of all this somewhere, but maybe it got lost in a hard drive failure or something, and I can't find it online anywhere. So what I've got is something I wrote on April 4, 2003, just after the allied forces began invading Iraq. I'm not changing anything here, so this reflects my thoughts at the time. I've learned a bit more about just war theory since then, and there have been plenty of revelations in the followup to the invasion, but this concerns simply what just war theory would support given what we knew at the time. I'm not sure I'd still endorse eveyrthing I say in this, but I think it represents my thinking in most of its details even after all we've learned. [Update: I did find one later treatment of this lifted from my lecture notes with bad formatting. I'm not sure why the Ektopos internal search engine couldn't find that post. I had to use Google.]
From this point on, everything is from my previous piece.
The war is on now, so objections won't stop it, but I've had some thoughts about the objections given in light of a just war theory, and they're worth detailing and examining. One issue is how Christian just war theory is, and the other is how this war stands up in light of traditional just war theory. Some claim that just war theory is a pagan notion imported into Christianity with the Romanizing of Christianity. Some just say that just war theory wouldn't allow this war. These two issues intersect in a couple ways, and I wanted to set forth some things to think about in relation to them.
First off, Cicero did formulate a just war theory. Cicero was before Christianity, and Aquinas' version of just war theory did owe a fair amount to Cicero's formulations. Of course, much of Aquinas' thought owed a fair amount to Aristotle, not that he accepted everything Aristotle said without carefully thinking it through and accepting it, rejecting it, or (more usually) accepting aspects of it that he found consistent with biblical thought while developing it in a new direction to focus on more biblical concerns. This is accepted by scholars of all stripes on many different topics in Aquinas' thought. The same is true of his use of Cicero in this issue.
[Notice that lots of ideas in Christianity were held before Christianity by pagan philosophers. The idea of a God who initiated the whole universe is one. Does that mean Christianity got it from them? No. Genesis 1 came long before Aristotle or Plato, and Jesus and Paul were obviously far more influenced by the Hebrew scriptures than the pagan philosophers and religions.]
Cicero had two bases for a just war -- to defend your person or community from physical danger and to defend or avenge your honor or the honor of those important to you. In his era these two bases were seen as much the same thing. Augustine's development of a just war theory a few hundred years later removed the second concern as inconsistent with biblical conduct. Defending one's honor is not a reason to fight. Augustine saw no command anywhere in scripture not to defend oneself or one's loved ones from physical attack threatening your life. The vendetta mentality is as non-Christian as one can get, and just war theory allows no such thing, in Augustine, Aquinas, or just about any other Christian just war theorist. So it's false to say that these just war theorists simply adopted a pagan theory without putting it through rigorous examination in light of scripture. The very reason for modifying it the way they did is because of passages like the sermon on the mount.
D.A. Carson, in Love in Hard Places (Crossway Books, 2002), presents the consistency of a love motivation and a bringing to justice as God's duly appointed minister of justice [lots of my discussion is indebted to Carson’s penetrating and balanced analysis, though he doesn’t discuss Iraq as more than a future possibility and only for a few sentences, and a fair amount of my thought has been influenced by discussions with John Hartung] :
Love demands that we do not demonize Osama bin Laden. He is a human being made in the image of God. He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord's alone. Do not offer the alternative "Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?" The right answer is yes.
This response seems to be to be Christian through and through. Pacifism and vengeance, therefore, are both the wrong answers (though vengeance isn't necessarily bad, if it's good for the Lord, just that it's bad for us -- which means the pacifist Jesus is again out the window, since he says this himself).
As for the rightness of this war, given a just war theory, several factors need to be considered. Here is a list of a standard just war theory similar to that of Aquinas:
1) A just war can be started only in defense against violent aggression.
2) The only just intention is to restore a just peace -- just, that is, to friend and foe alike.
3) Military force must be the last resort after negotiations and other efforts (e.g, mediation) have been tried and failed.
4) The decision to engage in such a just war must be made by the highest governmental authority.
5) The war must be for limited ends, i.e. to repel aggression and redress injustice.
6) The means of a just war must be limited by proportionality to the offense.
7) There should be no intentional and direct attack on noncombatants.
8) War should not be prolonged when there is no reasonable hope of success within these limits.
[I took these from the above mentioned Carson book, but their original formulation is from Arthur F. Holmes, "Just-war Theory" in IVP's New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, ed. David J. Atkinson, David F. Field, Arthur Holmes, and Oliver O'Donovan, 1995, pp.521-523.
Since his book is about love, with this chapter as a sort of aside on war due to the significance of these issues after 9-11, Carson spends a great deal of time discussing each of the eight requirements and why an attitude of love would include a motivation to do something, often regrettably involving violence, but also requiring all these limits. Anyone who wants to pursue that issue should read his book. It's excellent in a number of other ways also and thus worth reading.
Three categories of people have voiced objections against this war. Most of my discussions have focused on pacifism and why that view is both unbiblical and will not succeed in accomplishing most of its aims. The second category is radical Marxists, by far the most prominent among the protest groups (since it is behind most of the rallies). This group deserves little attention within a Christian discussion, since their fundamental claims are absolutely suspect from a Christian viewpoint. The idea that the only legitimate war is caused by those at the lowest levels of society, whereas the legitimate, God-given leaders are wrong in whatever they do (simply because they are in power), is just plain idiocy from the point of view of the biblical authors. The idea that violence is always wrong when a war is going on to protest but always right when directed against one's own government is similarly hypocritical. I need not go on.
The worrisome arguments for Bush, his advisors, and the coalition allies are the ones from just war theorists. A close look at the eight conditions shows some real concerns over whether this war can count as a just war.
1) This war seems to be a pre-emptive strike and not just a response to aggression against the United States.
2) The goal does seem be a peaceful Iraq, but a just war as formulated above requires a just peace between the combatants. That means both sides have to agree on the standards of justice being used, and the actual enemy needs to be at peace after the war, not just the people of the country, who are not the enemy in this conflict.
3) Negotiations have been tried and failed, but many are insisting that the negotiations should have been tried longer.
4) While George Bush is the highest governmental authority, some have claimed that the United Nations is higher, and he did willingly submit himself to their authority by requesting that this be tried first through those channels.
5) The ends of a just war are supposed to be to repel the invading enemy and to redress injustice. This war is specifically aimed at removing a whole government.
6) The means of the war have to limited in proportionality to the offense. That depends on what the offense is. If the offense is merely a potentially future offense, that limits us to potentially future war. If it's supposed to be 9-11, then it would be a significant offense, but we have no clear ties to 9-11 that have been proved. If it's the violence against the Iraqi people, that's a serious offense, but does it allow the kinds of warfare being used?
7) There has been killing of noncombatants, and lots of people are making a big deal about it. For instance, American soldiers took out a whole truck of civilians, including children, with no indication that they weren't civilians (but no indication that they weren't either).
8) There is now indication that this operation may take far longer than some had said. So is it worth doing if it has to involve even more loss of life and even more military occupation of Iraq indefinitely?
I'm not aware of any serious arguments against the war from just war theorists besides these kinds of concerns. Maybe there are more, but I've been pretty thoroughly exposed to most of the objections. At first glance, it does seem as if there are problems with this conflict, even by the standards of just war theory (and if the above structure of just war theory is fair and if all the above arguments are correct, then it fails by all the standards of just war theory). However, the issues are more complicated than that. Let’s take each issue separately.
1) The pre-emptive strike issue is clearly against this standard formulation of just war theory, and this is the major plank of most just war theorists' objections to this war. However, this version of just war theory was formulated before the existence of weapons of mass destruction. When the worst fear is someone sending an arrow through your window, without the possibility of taking out a whole city in one blow, pre-emptive strikes do seem a bit extreme. However, if someone's got a clear motivation to take out a city, and they have the weapon and the delivery method (plus have threatened to do so and are credible in that threat), then a pre-emptive strike doesn't seem out-of-the-question anymore. Perhaps just war theory just needs to be revised in light of this. I'm not sure how it would be modified exactly. Certainly some more conditions would need to be added for when a pre-emptive strike is necessary and when it is not allowed, and it's not clear that every such formulation would allow it in this case, though some would. My point is that this issue complicates the objection based on just war theory's opposition to pre-emptive strikes.
2) Similarly, the issue of an agreed-upon justice will be very hard to deal with in cases where both sides don't see justice in the same light. Islamic thought is that justice is something only Allah can give, and Shari'a law is the only way a government can give it. Thus the United Nations, while a tool to manipulate for one's purposes when possible, can never administer justice, and the secular United States in its pagan Christian ways is no better. (This is why many Iraqis do not welcome the coalition efforts and why it's surprising that so many, even Shi'ites, actually do welcome and help them, which is testament to how badly they want this guy out of there. They have to overcome their deeply-seated belief that the United States is an evil secularizing influence that spreads its filth by promoting democracy and what it calls freedom, which is really license.) This complicates the picture incredibly, and a just war theory that could apply to a conflict like this would need significant modification given the impossibility of agreeing on standards of justice.
3) The issue of negotiations has been discussed to death (as opposed to some of these other issues that are more central but have been largely ignored). One point is that negotiations have been going on for 12 years, with little progress. Many claims by Iraq on the weapons clearly show signs of evasion, though it's worth keeping in mind that it's impossible to prove that you don't have something. The chemical plant they discovered (even if it wasn't for making weapons) was unknown to the inspectors and thus unreported. They have found chemical protective suits. They've seen stuff carted around in satellite photos taken just before sites were visited by inspectors. They're clearly hiding something. Perhaps negotiations might have succeeded after a long time, but they weren't really going anywhere, and Hans Blix's assertions to the contrary most likely reflect an unfounded desire to see this work out, but it turns out that we've seen enough to know that the negotiations probably weren't succeeding as they should have.
4) As for the issue of the UN authority over the US, there is no such thing. The US is a member of that organization, and US troops thus help enforce UN resolutions. US diplomatic endeavors often solicit UN help, and US military missions often seek UN support. However, George Bush is not under UN dictates in any way that requires UN support for a US military operation. It's worth mentioning that he did submit himself to their efforts in this matter, and he turned against their decision. Does that action require that he not then do the operation on his own with those who support him? I don't see why it would. Even if his submission to them puts him under them, it's clear that the UN is corrupt (uncontroversially -- putting Iraq in charge of human rights; more controversially -- the insistence on continuing negotiations that aren't working; even more controversially -- the tolerance of France in their pig-headed siding with terrorists who give them money over law-abiding countries like Turkey who request help). If the highest uncorrupted level under Saddam decided to overthrow him, that's great. It comes from the highest level that acknowledges the corruption and thus is more legitimate than the people themselves rebelling. So if the UN is corrupt, Bush's own action may be the appropriate one. Still, I'm not sure he's really under the UN anyway, given that there are no UN resolutions regarding what the US may or may not do about Iraq (as opposed to the UN resolutions about what Iraq may or may not do, which show that Saddam is under the UN in that sense), so this sort of argument may be unnecessary.
5) The issue of ends of the war -- repelling the enemy invader and redressing justice -- are more complicated by the nature of the situation. The repelling of the enemy is complicated by the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, as I've said above. A just war theorist in our day would therefore need to rethink this restriction also. If the goal is to remove the weapons, that's one thing. If it's the removal of those who have been and could still develop them, that's another. If that's what it takes to repel the invader whose approach we can't predict or prevent, then maybe it's the just thing to do. I don't know how the revised theory would look. As for redressing injustice, I suppose there's the issue of the injustice vs. us or the injustice vs. his own people. We could just focus on us, but wouldn't that be selfish? The main complaint about US conduct in WWII is that we delayed until we were attacked. We had no compassion for those who were involved. That suggests another reason to adjust the "no pre-emptive strikes" restriction. We hadn't been attacked in WWII, but the right thing to do as just war theorists should be thinking, was to join the conflict earlier out of love and compassion for those who were already involved. That suggests the possibility here of dealing with Saddam for the purposes of addressing the injustice he dishes out against his own people. I don't know how the revised theory would look, but it would at least allow a goal of redressing that injustice.
6) As for the proportionality of the offense, we can now see that the objection is ill-founded. If the offense is a potentially future attack, one we have good reason to believe is coming, then we can prevent it with what it takes to prevent it in proportion to how reasonably we can expect it and what means would be involved in such a potential attack. I don't know how to evaluate this situation in light of these issues, since I don't have access to the intelligence reports the Bush Administration had when they made the decision to go in. However, the objection is at least held off pending that information.
7) The noncombatants issue has an easy response and a more complicated issue. The easy response is that no one has knowingly, deliberately targeted non-combatants. Every case we know about had at least some reason to suspect a combatant with the possibility of a threat (given how many disguised soldiers did exactly that sort of thing), and the non-combatants in the case I gave might have prevented the attack by stopping the vehicle and showing that they had children with them. It's even quite possible that some of Saddam's people were behind this incident, wearing plain clothes and bringing children with them just to make coalition forces seem to be targeting civilians. Does that mean the military made the right decision in this case? I don't know, but they're not targeting civilians deliberately.
8) The issue of time is important, but it's not the fundamental concern of the eighth requirement for a just war. It said "War should not be prolonged when there is no reasonable hope of success within these limits." First, the goals need to be clear. The coalition goals are to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power and eventually set up a new governing authority in Iraq. How long would that take? That's not the issue. The issue is if there's a reasonable hope for success within the limits of a just war theory, and there is. The war can be conducted within the limits of a just war theory appropriately modified in the ways I've been discussing. It can be ended within those limits. A government can be set up within those limits (though there is the issue of a justice agreed upon by all, but maybe subjecting Saddam Hussein to the new government, a government set up by the people according to their own standards, might fit these concerns). The issue is not so much time, though that raises questions about its proportionality to the offense. The issue is about success. Time enters in if success seems unreasonable, and then why prolong conflict for no purpose?
So it seems that just war theory needs some modification, but this seems possible, and this war may turn out to pass the test on some of the objections once such modifications are clear. It seems some of the objections just misunderstand the issues or the situation. It seems that there are some real worries, many of them stemming from lack of information on the part of those raising the worries.
I've still not said I would endorse the way (meaning that I don't know if I would have done the same if I were in President Bush's shoes), but my primary reason for this is because I don't know what his intelligence reports said, and I don't know how reliable all those reports were. If I trust him on those issues, I give him the benefit of the doubt. Many have raised doubts about his trustworthiness, but I haven't seen a good argument to doubt it. Time will tell if the war turns out more for good than for ill.
I'm not sure that will even tell us what the primary motivations of the leaders involved were. There are certainly good reasons available to them on many of these points, though I'm not sure I have enough information to know if it's enough to invade. I don't know if those are their primary motivations, though I have no choice but to give them the benefit of the doubt. Any other response would be slander, since I don't know if it's true. I don't know how carefully they thought about possible consequences either, and I don't know if it's even possibly to get much of a sense of what possibly consequences there might be. The issues are far more complicated because of the al Qaeda network and all the Arab countries who hate the US merely for being Christian (which to them means spreader of license under the name of freedom and democracy) but tolerate us and enjoy taking advantage of our need for their oil.