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Iraq and the Just War Theory: Why I choose not to support the anti-war movement.

August 21st, 2007 by Matt

I found this last night, I wrote it at the beginning of the US invasion in 2003 at that time I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq and was considering joining the anti-war movement in Dunedin. I posted it up on a newsgroup to get some answers from peace activists. I have edited it slightly and incorporated some of the responses I made to objections in the ensuing discussion into the main text.My views on permissibility the invasion have since changed. However I stand by what I said here:

I was sitting down last night watching the News and pondering whether the doctrine of a Just War ruled out a military intervention by the US in Iraq. While I was doing this an idea came to me. I was struck by the fact that no one has asked whether the Doctrine would justify Iraq defending themselves against the US invasion. It seems odd that no one has asked this. There is after all two sides to a conflict and both sides are required to act according to Gods law. Why were people predominately concerned with the actions of only one of the belligerents? It is almost as if we people think that democratic nations have a duty to refrain from unjust belligerency, dictatorships do not. I submit that this is absurd.

Upon reflection I came to the conclusion that the just war doctrine would not permit Iraq to engage in a defensive war against the US. Just war doctrine states that a war to be lawfully prosecuted must meet 6 requirements 1) it must be fought for a just cause with just aims 2) it must be prosecuted by someone with the lawful authority to do so 3), It must be a last resort 4) one must have a reasonable chance of success in prosecuting these aims 5) The cost one incurs by going to war must not be greater than the evil one is trying to prevent and 6) only force must be used proportionate and discriminate ( aimed only at non combatants) force should be utilized in prosecuting the war.

I will examine each of these criteria in turn.

1) The cause and aim is to prevent a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, being removed from power this is hardly a just cause.

Some deny this, they suggest that Iraq is defending it’s oil reserves from foreign annexation. I demur for three reasons

First, “the no blood for oil” argument is a bad one. The aim of the US is to topple the regime, of course Oil could be the motive (just as it could be the motive of Frances decision to veto). But even if it was all it shows is that the US has bad motives. It does not show their actions are unjust. Consider a person can give to charity because he wants others to be impressed by his piety, this would be a bad motive but it does not follow that giving to charity is wrong, or that he should not give to charity. It simply tells us about his character the no blood for oil argument expresses a logical fallacy, attacking a person’s character not their reasons.

Second, Saddam’s aim is not to prevent the US getting Oil. To see this simply ask whether Saddam would settle for a situation where his regime fell, his people liberated but Iraq kept the Oil. Would he stop fighting and surrender on such terms NO. Which shows his aim is self preservation not protecting people from getting oil?

Third even if protection of Oil reserves was Saddam’s aim (which it is not) the question could still be raised over whether this is a just cause. Is maintaining possession of Oil and money is a just cause for war, normally one does not have aright to kill to defend money. If America is not permitted to shed blood for oil why is Iraq?

2) Holds only if one grants that a dictator who ceased power by force and stays in power largely by rigged votes is the legitimate ruler of Iraq. notice the words “if” here I was cautious because I am tempted to think that a de facto regime can be legitimate even if dictatorial, that does not mean that everything the regime did is legitimate. We recognize China’s government for example and various others.

The standard response I get to this is that Bush rigged the election in Florida and so does not have lawful authority either. This is not an adequate response. My suggestion is that Saddam lacks lawful authority to wage war. Saying that Bush has no such authority does not address this, in fact it tends to confirm it. If Bush can’t wage war because he was not really elected then neither can Saddam why is it acceptable for dictators to engage in wars and yet not unelected leaders of free countries?

3) Clearly does not hold, Saddam could have taken numerous reasonable non violent actions to prevent invasion. He could have stopped oppressing his people. He could have gone into exile. Saddam could have stepped down; he could have allowed his people to have free democratic elections and reformed the regime so that it upheld justice and human rights. These are all perfectly reasonable things that he had a duty to do any way and they would have averted war. Why is the US is being condemned for not exhausting all non violent solutions when Saddam did not either. You can’t have it both ways, a rule that says dictators don’t need to find peaceful alternatives but free countries do.

4) Does not hold, it is not likely that Saddam can defeat the coalition in a war, he could not beat Iran, was beaten soundly by the US last time and has a weaker army this time.

[note: one response I got to this point was that I was completely brainless if I thought this. I was told that Saddam’s forces would drive the US advance back, another respondent said the Arab world would unite and defeat the US as a response to the invasion. I have not put my responses to this here. I don’t think I need to…]

5) Does not hold the “evil” being prevent is the toppling of a brutal dictatorship and so is not an evil at all. Consequently the costs incurred by the Iraqi people by fighting the coalition are not outweighed by a positive good.

The response I get to this claim is that Saddam is no more of a dictator than George W Bush who signed Bush has signed over 200 death warrants [ Bush is the former governor of a death penalty state see here ]. Again this is beside the point I have not argued that the US or Bush are fighting a just war, I merely said Iraq is fighting an unjust one. Even if one grants that Bush’s actions are problematic it does not mean that Saddam’s are not. Taken at face value this argument confirms my claim. I take it that people who make this argument consider these actions by Bush to be wrong if so then Saddam doing the same thing is wrong and I assure you he has executed more than 200 people.

I am surprised anyone takes this argument seriously. There is a world of difference between executing people found guilty by due process of committing first degree murder which is what happens in the US. and executing women and children without trial, often for trivial reasons, or for actions which are not crimes ( such as criticizing the government or being a Kurd).There is also a difference between a lethal injection and being tortured to death in an Iraqi torture chamber. I am at a loss to understand why some who oppose the war cannot draw such basic and obvious distinctions. Is as though any killing by the US, no matter what the circumstances, is murder but when the same action is done by Iraq it’s excusable.

6) Saddam is does not have a track record of using force discriminately. He has a history of massacring civilians. His defenders tend also to disrespect non combatant immunity by a) housing military targets in close proximity to civilian centers and hence effectively using civilians as shields b) executing POW’s and disrespecting their rights, c) disguising troops as civilians.

[One peace activist responded to this point by saying that my claim Saddam did these things was simply my biased opinion and hence worthless. He appeared to maintain that Saddam was a democratically elected popular leader. I kid you not]

So Iraq fails on nearly every criterion, except perhaps 2). In fact I am inclined to think that even if the US invasion is unjust it meets more of the criteria for a just war than Iraq’s defense does, making the American invasion less morally problematic than the Iraqi’s defense . This means in fact that Saddam had a to not defend himself against the attack. If he had done this the US would not have used force and nearly every adverse effect associated with the war that people are concerned about would not have happened. Saddam therefore is as much responsible (perhaps more so) for whatever happens as the US is. His derelection of the duty to not engage in an unjust wars has lead to these things coming about

These observations lead me to question the tactics and strategy of the Peace movement. This movement is advocating that the U.S withdraw because they are fighting an unjust war. It states that because the US are prosecuting such a war there should be demonstrations against the US. The question needs to be asked are governments allowed to prosecute unjust wars, if the answer is yes then the peace movement has no case , because Bush is not doing anything wrong, if the answer is No then it follows that Iraq also has a duty to refrain from fighting this war and that Iraq has a duty to cease fighting and withdraw its defenses from Bagdad. The peace movement should be picketing Iraq’s decision to fight, burning Iraqi flags demanding that Saddam step down, storming Iraqs embassies etc. We should see hundreds of thousands of people marching denouncing Iraq. But we do not.

Consider it this way. The war can be stopped in two ways either by the US ceasing to invade or by Iraq ceasing to defend, It seems to me that putting pressure on Iraq to stop fighting is in fact preferable to demanding a US withdraw. For three reasons first because even if one grants the unjust nature of both wars I suspect that the US will conform to the model of a just war better than Iraq does. Second, because Iraq withdrawing and the US liberating Iraqi people from tyranny without violence is surely a better outcome than the US withdrawing and liberated people being crushed with violence, reprisals etc And Third because if it did this it would also gain support of those who support the US invasion and hence represent a broader base of people and gain more popular support.

Why then is the peace movement most of its efforts on denouncing the coalition? If the peace movement wants to credibly pass itself of as concerned with justice for the people of Iraq rather than a simply a movement that is committed to anti Americanism while turning a blind eye to dictatorships It should focus most of its efforts protesting the actions of the Iraqi leadership. It should call for the Iraqi leadership to put down its weapons and cease fighting an unjust war. Until it does many people even those who have doubts about the justice of Americas actions will remain skeptical of its goals. If not morally appalled at its selective blindness and lack of concern for the Iraq people.

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