Just War and Iraq Wars

Article excerpt

The first phase of the Iraq Wars came to a dramatic--and ominously prophetic--denouement on that heady day in April 2003 when U.S. Marines stormed into central Baghdad and pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein that the local citizenry couldn't quite manage to topple.

Several months later, James Turner Johnson, our foremost historian of the just-war tradition, wisely observed that neither the Iraq War in its largest sense nor the moral debate about the war was going to end any time soon. Just-war thinking, as Johnson reminded us, is not only about the justification of the resort to armed force or the ways in which that force is deployed. Just-war thinking also includes a serious moral analysis of the goal of peace, to which the use of armed force must be ordered. Just war in the age of global jihadist terrorism, he wrote, "is not simply about the right, even the obligation, to use armed force to protect ourselves, our societies, and the values we cherish; it is not only about how we should fight in this cause; it is ultimately about the peace we seek to establish in contrast to the war the terrorists have set in motion. We are, as Augustine put it, to 'be peaceful ... in warring,' that is, to keep the aim of peace first and foremost, and not only to 'vanquish those whom you war against' but also to 'bring them to the prosperity of peace.' ... The ideal expressed in the just war tradition ... is an ideal in which the use of force serves ... to create peace. This is a purpose that must not be forgotten."

Just-war thinking is usually taken to include the moral analysis of the ius ad bellum and the ius in bello: "war-decision law" and "war-conduct law," to use William V. O'Brien's modem terms for two clusters of distinct but related moral criteria. The secular just-war theorist Michael Walzer has been proposing for some years that there is another leg, so to speak, on the just-war stool: a ius post bellum (as Walzer styles it), a set of moral criteria for defining the peace to be sought as the moral goal of the use of armed force. "It seems clear," Walzer wrote in November 2003, "that you can fight a just war, and fight k justly, and still make a moral mess of the aftermath--by establishing a satellite regime, for example, or by seeking revenge against the citizens of the defeated (aggressor) state, or by failing, after a humanitarian intervention, to help the people you have rescued to rebuild their lives."

Walzer suggests that the opposite--an unjust war (ad bellum or in bello) that nonetheless produces a just peace--is "harder to imagine." Yet, he concedes, it's not completely beyond the realm of moral and political possibility that "a misguided military intervention or a preventive war fought before its time might nonetheless end with the displacement of a brutal regime and the construction of a decent one." It is not hard to imagine the situation that Walzer--who argued in early 2003 for a "little war" strategy of intensified sanctions and extended no-fly zones as a means of toppling Saddam Hussein--has in mind here.

James Turner Johnson has noted that Walzer, whom he credits with significant contributions to the revival of just-war thinking, is nevertheless strikingly uninterested in the tradition's intellectual history. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that Johnson, a true intellectual historian as well as a man trained in theology, is inclined to think that what Walzer calls the ius post bellum is, in fact, already embedded in the ius ad bellum criterion of "right intention," rightly understood. Right intention is one of the deontological criteria of the ius ad bellum: It denotes a moral duty, not merely a prudential judgment (such as the ad bellum criterion of "last resort"). In this respect the criterion of right intention is like the ad bellum criterion of "just cause": Right intention is a specification of a legitimate public authority's duty to do what is good, which in the case of war does not end with repelling evil but includes the duty to build the peace of tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of a just public order. …