March 7, 2003


Is war with Iraq just? (Maggie Gallagher, March 7, 2003,
There is nothing in the Catholic tradition of just war that prefers multilateral to unilateral use of force, unless you subscribe to the belief that the United Nations -- that struggling collection of mostly tyrannical sovereignties -- is the only legitimate political authority. But for Catholics and many other Christians, the just war tradition, stemming from a profound reluctance to take any human life made in God's image, imposes real boundaries on the war on terrorism.

What are the strict conditions that justify war? As the catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: "The damage inflicted by the aggressor ... must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition." A good Christian cannot support fighting a war for national glory, for revenge, to grab territory or out of vague fears of some future attack, aka pre-emptive war. Wars, like all use of force, can only be fought in self-defense, or in the legitimate defense of another.

How does this apply to Iraq? For one thing, as Michael Novak has pointed out, the war with Iraq is not a pre-emptive war. It is a war made necessary by the failure of a military aggressor to abide by the terms of its peace agreement, after its invasion was forcibly repelled.

For another, the anti-war strategy that poses as the moral high ground may in actuality be a selfish swamp. Think it through. The French, German and Russian position is that war is not necessary because we can contain and degrade the ability of Iraq to threaten its neighbors through economic sanctions and inspections. Sure, we may not find every weapon of mass destruction, but we can prevent full-scale re-armament of a kind that would allow Saddam to invade his neighbors.

Meanwhile, how many people Saddam kills, rapes and tortures remains his own business unless he threatens to invade another country. What he does with terrorists is also his own business unless a smoking gun can be found. What the international economic sanctions needed to degrade his military power do to ordinary Iraqi people is also none of our business.

The anti-war strategy thus amounts to substituting vast civilian suffering for direct attacks against military targets. Is this just?

It may be legal, under International Law and Just War doctrine, but it can not be just to leave innocents to the predations of a brutal dictator.

N.B.--thanks to everyone who has sent links, we're compiling them here and should have a review of Michael Walzer's book up soon.

What a Little War in Iraq Could Do (MICHAEL WALZER, March 7, 2003, NY Times)

The way to avoid a big war is to intensify the little war that the United States is already fighting. It is using force against Iraq every day — to protect the no-flight zones and to stop and search ships heading for Iraqi ports. Only the American threat to use force makes the inspections possible — and possibly effective. [...]

Mr. Bush could stop the American march toward the big war if he challenged the French (and the Germans and the Russians) to join the little war. The result would not be a victory for Mr. Hussein or Mr. Chirac, and it would ensure that the Iraqi regime would get weaker over time.

So here is an exit strategy for the Bush administration. They haven't asked for it, but they need it. First, extend the northern and southern no-flight zones to include the whole country. America has already drastically restricted Iraqi sovereignty, so this would not be anything new. There are military reasons for the extension — the range of missiles, the speed of planes, the reach of radar all make it difficult for the United States and Britain to defend the northern and the southern regions of Iraq without control of central airspace. But the main reason would be punitive: Iraq has never accepted the containment regime put in place after the gulf war, and its refusal to do that should lead to tighter and tighter containment.

Second, impose the "smart sanctions" that the Bush administration talked about before 9/11 and insist that Iraq's trading partners commit themselves to enforcing them. Washington should announce sanctions of its own against countries that don't cooperate, and it should also punish any companies that try to sell military equipment to Iraq. Third, the United States should expand the United Nations' monitoring system in all the ways that have recently been proposed: adding inspectors, bringing in United Nations soldiers (to guard military installations after they have been inspected), sending surveillance planes without providing 48 hours' notice, and so on.

Finally, the United States should challenge the French to make good on their claim that force is indeed a last resort by mobilizing troops of their own and sending them to the gulf. Otherwise, what they are saying is that if things get very bad, they will unleash the American army. And Saddam Hussein knows that the French will never admit that things have gotten that bad. So, if they are serious, the French have to mount a credible threat of their own. Or better, they have to join the United States in every aspect of the little war.

How is it just to wait on the borders while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis die of starvation and wretched medical care, but unjest to kill a few thousand in freeing them?

Heard an interview on the BBC the other night with the head if USAID. The interviewer seemed to think it a perverse irony, maybe even a hypocrisy, that each military unit has USAID staff attached to it: "Don't you think it strange that the troops in front will be causing the destruction while you're people will come along behind to repair it?" The American tried very patiently to explain: "No, this how America fights wars. We're not going there to destroy things, but to help people." It was like they were speaking different languages, which they maybe were: American and Euro.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2003 7:31 AM

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have not died of starvation, though malnourishment is a problem, and medical care is a serious issue. The newer regimen of "smart sanctions" would hopefully alleviate some of the hardship caused by the present sanctions.

Posted by: Peter Caress at March 7, 2003 10:20 AM

Also, while only a few Iraqi thousand civilians will likely die in a war, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers will surely die. Many of these soldiers are not hard core Repulican Guards but are conscripts or men desperate for jobs who will get killed before they even get a chance to desert. Surely we should consider their plight before endorsing a war.

Posted by: Peter Caress at March 7, 2003 10:50 AM

Each of them has a gun, right? All it takes is one bullett and there's no war.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2003 12:40 PM

Are Iraqi's two-legged beasts, Peter? What Orrin says of Iraqi conscripts is the same point I made about being a Turkish subaltern if that government sends its (allegedly) unwilling troops to war.

As for Just War and thelogical musings, it may be legal, under International Law and Just War doctrine, but it can not be just to leave innocents to the predations of clerical child rapists.

Ecrasez l'infame!

Seriously, I cannot imagine why anybody with a conscience would pay the slightest attention to what the Catholic Church has to say on a moral issue.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 7, 2003 1:45 PM

We all make choices and should expect to pay the consequences thereof, but I'm still able to rouse a little compassion for the 18-year-old draftees who will get killed in thier barracks by cruise missiles launched from hundreds of miles away, before they even fire a shot in anger.

I'm pro-war, by the way.

Posted by: Peter Caress at March 7, 2003 2:45 PM

Mr Caress:

Life isn't fair, especially not for Iraqi draftees.

And if God willing, the campaign goes well Iraq's future will be much brighter and prosperous than it otherwise would be.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at March 7, 2003 3:28 PM

Then if I were that Iraqi draftee, I'd take steps to even up the odds. Under the circumstances, a cost-free option and if you win you're a hero. Such a deal.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 7, 2003 4:51 PM

One odd aspect of this is that if you accept Just War doctrine and all regimes are de facto consensual, then killing civilians is entirely appropriate since they are implicated in the State's policies.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2003 6:09 PM

I think Just War theory tends to assume that "all regimes are de facto consensual" because it focuses on interstate conflicts, not civil wars. So it gives little guidance on when war is justified to overthrow a government.

Posted by: Peter Caress at March 7, 2003 6:34 PM

oj - I disagree with your last point - the quality of assent given by casting 1 vote out of a hundred million once every four years is insignificant -- totalitarian regimes receive far more significant support from their people every day in the form of acquiescence.

Non-consensual rulers hold power by "mere violence" in Augustine's phrase and therefore are not entitled to sovereignty. This is another reason from just war doctrine why Saddam should be defeated.

Posted by: pj at March 7, 2003 9:49 PM

I'm still able to rouse a little compassion for the 18-year-old draftees who will get killed in thier barracks by cruise missiles launched from hundreds of miles away, before they even fire a shot in anger.

Sure. However the plans I've heard suggest that the soldiers who stay
in their barracks, or who surrender retire/surrender at the first opportunity, won't be in great danger.

Posted by: Bill Woods at March 7, 2003 10:25 PM


From what I'm reading of Just War that's not what the theory says, though I believe you're correct as a matter of morality. They seem to consider any regime which is recognized to be in control of the government to be de facto legitimate.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2003 10:58 PM