Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just War Theory and the "War on Terror"

Philosophy professor Robert Koons has posted a very helpful summary of the global war on terror and just war theory. I don't agree with everything he says (e.g., on the draft), but it's the most concise and clear piece I've read yet--pointing out what the Bush Administration did right and what it did wrong. Here's an outline:

1. The atrocities of September 11th were not crimes but acts of war, and the appropriate response to war is war, not judicial proceedings.

2. This war is not about retaliation or revenge: it is simply an act of national self-defense. The point is not to punish our enemies but to vanquish them.

3. Terrorists are not the enemy – they are the weapon. The enemy consists of those sovereign states that created this weapon and aimed it at the United States, fully aware that an attack like that of September 11th would eventually ensue.

4. When defending ourselves against hostile nations who deliberately conceal their identity, we are justified in acting against any nation whom we suspect of being among our attackers, if we have evidence sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief in its guilt. We do not need to meet the burden of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, as we do in criminal proceedings.

5. All just war is essentially preventative and preemptive. We go to war, not to exact retribution for past actions, but to protect innocent lives against murderous aggression. Consequently, the case for war against a particular nation does not rest on tying its leaders to the planning or execution of a past attack (such as the attack on September 11th), but on demonstrating that that nation is actively harboring and aiding terrorist groups who pose a threat to us in the future.

6. If war would be justified against more than one nation, it is not contrary to justice to make war on some but not all such nations. If prudence dictates that we focus our war-making efforts on the softer of two targets (on Afghanistan or Iraq, rather than Iran or Syria), then the absence of military action against the harder target does not invalidate the rationale for war against the softer. The “unfairness” of leaving some enemies unmolested while invading another is simply a consequence of the complexities of applying moral principle to geopolitical reality.

Koons suggests the Iraq war was muddied by two factors:

(a) The tendency of the triumvirate of the CIA, the State Department and the New York Times to deny any connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, both before and after Sept. 11th, despite evidence of high-level contacts between al-Qaeda and the Hussein regime from 1990 on, evidence that Iraq was using the Salman Pak site for training jihadist terrorists from around the world in the art of airplane hijacking, and despite the indisputable fact that, after Sept. 11th, Hussein’s Iraq served as a safe haven for jihadists escaping the American attack on Afghanistan. One can only speculate about motives, but all three organizations had reason to minimize these connections in order to justify their own blindness to the threat posed by the al-Qaeda-Taliban-Hussein combination prior to 9-11. In addition, all three organizations are largely peopled by those whose worldview is diametrically opposed to the populist conservatism represented by GWB.

(b) The Bush administration, partly intimidated by the CIA, and partly due to an unfortunate obsession with securing U.N. approval, decided to make the relatively minor issue of weapons of mass destruction into a central rationale for the war on Iraq. This resulted in the anomaly of a Republican war justified as needed to make the world safe for UN Security Council resolutions. The CIA, with its uncanny knack for being wrong about everything, joined with the rest of the world’s intelligence communities in certifying that Hussein was on the verge of developing nuclear and biological weapons. This now seems to be certainly wrong, but this error does not invalidate the justice of the war in Iraq, for two reasons. First, the error was certainly an honest one, and one for which Hussein bears the sole responsibility. Hussein interfered with outside inspectors and deliberately did everything he could to create the impression that he was close to possessing WMD. Second, the threat of WMDs may have been the sole basis for UN approval of the war, but it was never the only justification given by the Bush administration. Iraq’s role as a safe haven for post-9-11 terrorists was always the principal rationale, and rightly so.