Monday, March 19, 2007

Across Five Marches

Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I remember clearly where I was when I heard the news that the actual war had begun: The evening of March 19, 2003, was the occasion of the last Washington-Lincoln-Reagan Dinner to raise funds for the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Republican parties. The after-dinner speaker was former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. The buzz about the war news spread through the banquet room at the Boar's Head Inn even as the keynote address was still being delivered. As soon as Mr. Thornburgh finished his remarks, nearly everyone skedaddled back to their homes so they could watch CNN or (more likely) Fox News. A post-dinner reception with coffee and liqueur for high-dollar donors with Dick Thornburgh was abandoned.

It was still a very successful evening and much remembered in local GOP circles.

By lasting four years and counting, the Iraq war has already leaped over the time the United States was involved in World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. (Technically, of course, the war in Korea has not yet ended; there is a ceasefire that has been remarkably solid for more than 50 years, and the shooting war has not recommenced.) The Iraq war has spanned nearly the same period as the U.S. War Between the States.

Somehow, I do not think the Bush administration expected to still be embroiled in a conflict in Iraq forty-eight months after the invasion and the relatively easy toppling of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. It has often been commented that the administration knew how to win the battles, but was befuddled as to how to handle the peace that followed. "Peace," of course, is used here in a relative sense.

During the run-up to the Iraq war, I wrote a piece that appeared in several religious and secular publications that outlined how to approach the impending war through the lens of Western just-war tradition. It may be useful to pull that article up today to see how it stands in retrospect. I ask my readers: Have the criteria I discuss in the article been met? If not, why not? If you believe they have, feel free to elaborate as to why you think that to be the case. (Your answers will not be graded but similar questions may appear on the semester final.)

The "Just War" and Iraq
(from The Metro Herald, September 20, 2002)

(Charlottesville, VA) --- Each day, the United States edges closer to war with Iraq, with an aim of deposing Saddam Hussein and finishing the task begun in the Gulf War of 1991. The Bush administration seeks cooperation from U.S. allies in this endeavor, even as doubts about a new U.S. invasion of Iraq are being raised in many quarters, including among Republicans on Capitol Hill, most notably House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX).

Especially within the context of the broader War on Terrorism, we must assess the morality of this prospective situation in light of the "just war" theory. Although a minority pacifist tradition teaches that war can never be justified, the larger religious heritage of the West teaches that in certain circumstances the use of military force may be just, obligatory, or both.

Just war theory is the common ethical heritage of all the mainline Christian churches -- Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist -- embraced in international law as the right of national self-defense. While most of the criteria for the just war were refined in the Middle Ages by Catholic scholars, basic documents of the Protestant Reformation reaffirm the applicability of the just war doctrine. For instance, the Augsburg Confession says: "Our churches teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God and that it is right for Christians to engage in just wars," and the Westminster Confession speaks about wars that are "just and necessary."

Augustine of Hippo asserted that war must be fought only as a last resort, after other political or diplomatic efforts have failed. Thomas Aquinas added that war must be authorized by a sovereign (in our case, through the democratic process defined by the U.S. Constitution), it must be for a rightful cause, and it must be fought to stop evil or advance good. Three questions require answers:

* Is the objective of the action just? According to Western norms, military action taken solely to conquer or subjugate other peoples is unjust, while military action designed to defend one's own or an ally's territory against external aggression is justified. Neither is revenge alone a just cause.

* Are the means employed both just and appropriate? The force used must be proportionate to the objective: just ends can be betrayed by unjust and inappropriate means.

* Will the chance for justice be enhanced if the action succeeds? However noble the end and just the means, military action is not justified if it has little or no prospect of achieving its objective. Assessing the chances of success or failure is a moral as well as a political imperative.

Policymakers must translate abstract goals -- peace, security, freedom -- into more specific objectives so they can choose appropriate means to achieve them. Moral judgment must be tempered with a sense of political realism.

Given the not-so-secret aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime, it may be instructive to frame the "just war" question in another way.

Ernest W. Lefever, founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, turned to Abraham Lincoln for instruction on what to do when faced with a tyrannical regime. Lincoln offered philosophical and common-sense principles that Lefever summarized in this way:

People have a right to overthrow a tyrannical or utterly corrupt ruler or government when three conditions are met. First, they must have suffered the tyrant for some time; second, they must have exhausted all legal and peaceful means of getting rid of him; and third, the prospect for the tyrant's disappearing without their intervention must be bleak. Under these conditions, said Lincoln, the people have not only a right but an obligation to remove the tyrant, by violent means if necessary.

If a U.S. invasion of Iraq is considered as aid to the long-suffering Iraqi people, Lincoln's tripartite formula might inform the decision-making process.

But let's not fool ourselves. This is not a rescue mission. Whatever the political or humanitarian condition of the Iraqi people, no invasion will take place unless vital U.S. interests are at stake. And no invasion should take place unless all the conditions for a just war are met.

However we arrive at the decision, the default position must always be not to intervene, not to go to war. This is not a decision to be made capriciously nor -- as Thomas Jefferson wrote -- "for light and transient causes." Such a decision requires tough thought peppered with moral reasoning.

The job of the Bush administration is not merely to persuade our allies that the cause is just. It has to persuade the American people, as well. The administration must assure us that even if the cause is just, the war will be carried out with appropriate means and right intention, with the aim of promoting justice, peace, and security.

Readers, it's up to you: Did the Bush administration do the job I suggested in the last paragraph?


Steve Foerster said...

Across five Marches, indeed. Horrific though it was, at least the American Civil War was done after this amount of time.

Steven Latimer said...

It's amazing just how long the leadup was to going to war.