Just Cause = Just War?
In his Oslo address, President Obama did a memorable job of trying to explain why he, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, paradoxically found himself, as commander-in-chief of American troops, fighting a war half a world away from the shores of the United States in Afghanistan. To do so, he appealed primarily to classical “just war” theory. America had been attacked on September 11, 2001, by al Qaeda terrorists whose base of operation was Afghanistan, a country then under the rule of the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban political movement, and therefore America – as well as the rest of the freedom-loving world, represented primarily by the NATO countries – have just cause to be there in a combined effort to defeat the Taliban, especially in its efforts to regain control of Afghanistan.
No one doubts the “just cause” when seen in this light. But there are several problems with this line of reasoning. One is equating the Taliban, a largely ethnic (Pashtun) dominated political movement with an international terrorist organization simply because they happen to share a similar fundamentalist Muslim religious outlook. Al Queda, founded by a Saudi of Yemini origins (Osama bin Laden), inspired by a radical Egyptian political theorist, and with another Egyptian second in command, has also found a home at one time in Somalia, and has had branches or imitators in Iraq, Indonesia, the Philippines, and has sympathizers and supporters just about anyplace else in the world where there are disaffected Muslims. Thinking that the United States can somehow achieve justice or eliminate al Queda by defeating the Taliban (which happens to be bankrolled by heroin production) in Afghanistan is a lot like thinking that cocaine or other drug addictions can somehow be eliminated by closing down the Colombian cartels or burning all the marijuana plots in Californian, Hawaii, or elsewhere.
However, the bigger problem with this appeal to a “just cause” is that it is only one of several elements in the “just war” equation. Besides being declared by a competent authority (and there is no doubt that Congress is such an authority), a just war, according to classical Christian reasoning on the matter, has to be fought by just or proportionate means. Or, to put this in another way, the damage done can not outweigh the good that one intends to accomplish. While 2752 people were killed on 9/11, the U.S. invasion of Iraq – concocted by false claims of connections between al Queda and Saddam’s regime and hysteria over the latter’s failed attempts to possess nuclear weapons – has resulted in the deaths of 4282 U.S. service personnel according to the latest (mid-December) tally, while Iraqi casualty estimates range wildly from about a hundred thousand to over one million – most of them civilians. Similarly, while coalition casualties in Afghanistan have only amounted to 1542 deaths (935 American) over eight years, Afghans -- including their president, Hamid Karzai -- have increasingly complained about the deaths of innocent civilians, many of them caused by U.S. air-to-ground strikes attempting to kill Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Similarly, missile strikes in the Pashtun tribal regions of Pakistan, carried out by drones remotely controlled by “pilots” located in the U.S.A., have scored a few significant kills of insurgent leaders and other plotters of terrorism, but in doing so seem to have killed many more innocent civilians than terrorists. Calling such unintended casualties “collateral damage” does not change their counter-productiveness, indeed the fundamental immorality when such results can be foreseen, of resort to such tactics.
This in turn leads us to what is probably the most difficult factor to predict in this whole Afghan situation. This final factor or qualification for a just war is a realistic hope of success, in other words, that it has to be winnable. Even if defeating the Taliban might be possible (providing the Pakistanis do their part, which they must do since at least half of the Pashtun homeland, hence half of the Taliban power base, is located in Pakistan) there is little or no chance that al Qaeda’s influence in the Muslim world will be diminished. In fact, a Taliban defeat by foreign forces (U.S. and NATO) might just increase the appeal and influence of al Qaeda. It is absolutely necessary that the Afghan and Pakistani Muslim people themselves defeat the Taliban and in doing so, discredit and undermine the al Qaeda movement and mentality. Indeed, even Obama tried to emphasize this necessity. We are there only to help. But will our help turn out to be a hindrance?
Of course, there are those who say that all such worries must be put aside to make sure that the Taliban (and hence al Qaeda) never get their hands on the nuclear bombs possessed by Pakistan – that this worry trumps all other considerations. Perhaps so, but I think that it is safe to say there is also a greater possibility of al Qaeda getting its hands on other sources of “loose nukes” (as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union) in forms that don’t require a modern air force or long range ballistic missile capabilities for delivery. Further alienating Muslims by sending even more American and other foreign troops into the Islamic world, unless they are wanted by that world’s residents and not just by a few of their politicians, is probably the surest way to guarantee that sooner or later America will suffer much, much bigger losses than we ever did on 9/11.
R W Kropf 12/17/09 Just Cause=Just War?.doc 09-12-17.html