Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jus Post Bellum

It's the oft-forgotten third leg of just war theory. But it's a pretty essential part, nonetheless. The essential jus post bellum claim is that a necessary condition for waging a just war is that there be a just resolution to the war. That is, for a war to count as just it must be the case that
  1. The war be fought for a just cause (i.e., in defense of aggression or in defense of genuine humanitarian concerns)
  2. Winning the war must not require resorting to unjust means (i.e., the war must be fought justly)
  3. It must be possible to create a just peace after the war's conclusion (i.e., no reparations that bankrupt a nation, no forced regime changes except in truly drastic situations)
This is a point that one-time supporters of the war in Iraq seem to forget pretty frequently. Actually, it's an argument that I've made myself a number of times. During my time working in D.C., I had this discussion with a lot of folks around the office. (Hardly surprising; we were trying to get Democrats elected to office, so figuring out a good position on the Iraq war had some value.) I ended up changing my mind on this point, largely due to the arguments with our creative director. Since I'm still not sure how much of this shit is covered by the NDA I signed, I'm going to leave him nameless. Sorry, dude. Not that you read this or anything, but still.

Anyway, I typically presented the whole, "We broke it, so we've an obligation to fix it" line. It's the same sort of argument that one of Andrew Sullivan's commenters made today:
I'm strongly anti-war, but I still wish Petraeus true success, sincerely - because I presume that the key existential goal now is to "pacify" a spot of active, pure hell on earth that we are partially responsible for. That pacification may include using deadly force and would be morally justified on just war grounds. The situation now is one in which not to act at all is immoral
My boss conceded the point. But, he said, if it isn't actually possible to make things any better, then wouldn't it be immoral to stay? So simple. Yet he's exactly right; that's one of the demands of jus post bellum. It's a point that I had totally missed. It's the same point that Andrew's commenter misses, and that Andrew himself misses. Yes, Iraq is a mess. Yes, we created much of that mess. Yes, it would be a prima facie good thing to fix the mess that we've created, both because we created it and because it really is "a spot of active, pure hell on earth."

The problem, though, is that it seems increasingly likely that our presence, far from making Iraq less hellish, is actually making things worse. If that really is the case, then our waging a war to "pacify" Iraq fails the just war test. Contra Andrew's commenter, the use of deadly force is not at all morally justified, and the decision not to act might very well be exactly the right one. Indeed, the commenter seems to realize this position, insofar as he suggests that perhaps letting the Iraqis have their civil war may be just as moral as trying to put the place back together. But this, I submit, may not go far enough. If civil war is inevitable either way, then our staying merely prolongs the misery.

We seem to have run out of good options in Iraq. Now the issue is choosing from among the least bad ones.


Blogger Ryan Jenkins said...

Good to know you're alive. Email me sometime- studying war in London atm.

12:05 PM  

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