War on Iraq
The war on Iraq in 2003, serves as a perfect example of how difficult it is to use the "just war theory" when the war is other than a defence against an aggressor or aid offered to a country facing aggression. Was the attack upon Iraq by America, England and Australia, a just war? Can it be justified on the basis of any of the three types of wars that we label "just" (morally defensible)?
When a state goes to war, it usually declares its reasons and these reasons serve to either justify or condemn the decision. The initial reason for war against Iraq was that it possessed "weapon's of mass destruction" in defiance of a resolution of the security council of the United Nations. The problem was that Iraq was not in breach of this resolution since it had allowed United Nations inspectors free access to confirm their claim that they no longer possessed such weapons. The inspectors were inspecting and disarming Iraq when America, England and Australia unilaterally invaded without a United Nations mandate, prior to a definitive report either way by the United Nations' inspectors.
The Australian Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard, generalized the weapons issue by saying that the Iraqis may possess such weapons and may be supplying terrorist groups with them. This possibility was ground enough for the invasion. The American President, Mr. George W. Bush, moved from the weapons issue to "regime change" on the basis that the Iraqi regime was evil and that it was right to remove it from power. May West's line "I'm no angel" could certainly be used of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. Both arguments were documented by the English Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, although some of the material published was shown to be fanciful.
On the basis of the reasons provided by the coalition it is possible to present either a fore or against argument for the first and third "just war" theories:
i] "A war undertaken as a defence against an aggressor." Iraq supplied weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, one such group having attacked America and killed thousands of citizens. Against this proposition it can be argued that no such link has ever been proved. Iraq's only dealing with "terrorists" has been with the Palestinian uprising which, it can be argued, is a just war of liberation. In fact it could be argued that the coalition forces were the only ones acting as terrorists, particularly as they tried on numerous occasions to assassinate the Iraqi president and his family. As for weapons of mass destruction, Iraq at one time developed chemical weapons, particularly mustard gas, and has most likely experimented with nerve and biological agents, but the evidence has yet to be uncovered that it has produced chemical or biological weapons since the United Nations embargo, nor that it has supplied such weapons to terrorist groups. Nor is there any evidence that Iraq developed nuclear weapons, unlike its neighbor Israel. In its war with the coalition it did not use any banned weapons. The coalition, on the other hand, used high tech. weaponry of lethal power that simply slaughtered the iraqi forces, giving them little or no chance for a fair fight in defence of their country. The coalition claimed the mantle of the Geneva Convention, but the convention never envisaged a war enacted with such an uneven use of force. In defense of their country, the Iraqis were accused of breaking the Geneva convention by using suicide bombers and the like; they were labeled as "evil cowards." Arab commentators described them as heros, while describing the technicians, who controlled "America's weapons of mass destruction" used against Iraq, as cowards.
ii] "A war undertaken as retributive judgment upon a nation which is evil, but not an aggressor." In "just war" scenarios this stands as the most dubious justification for an invasion. The invading allies claimed that the Iraqi administration had suppressed and persecuted the Iraqi people, which claims can certainly be substantiated (although it is always a matter of degree). Against the proposition that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, persecuted his people, it can be argued that there are many dictators who are violent toward those who oppose their regime, but that often the nature of the country demands a "strongman" form of leadership (Iraq being a good example with all its contesting tribes and racial groups and long history of internal disputes - eg. the regime has aggressively sought to suppress Shiite Islamic fundamentalism). It can also be argued that the human cost of removing such a dictator often far exceeds the cost of living with him. Some ten thousand Iraqis lost their lives in the war, the nation's infrastructure was destroyed and its heritage plundered by the breakdown of law and order following hostilities. It is a generally accepted convention in international affairs that the internal politics of a state is best handled by the people of that state. The government of a people will inevitably reflect the will of the people, while aberrations will inevitably disappear. Imposed solutions from without not only exacerbate the situation, but are most often stained by complex motivations.
The justice or otherwise of the war is further clouded by the more subtle reasons behind the invasion. For example, the Australian prime minister, for obvious political reasons, chose not to mention the Australian American alliance and its importance in offsetting any future problems Australian could have with Indonesia and Malaysia. To what extent was Australia's involvement in the war simply a sop to the U.S. and how do we assess the justice or otherwise of what is nothing more than politics?
Only as the war developed did the Bush administration begin to emphasize the goal of freedom. Following the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the initial punitive attack upon Afghanistan and its many terrorist cells, the administration set about to address the cause of Islamic terrorism directed toward America. The Bush administration gave the impression that they saw Arabian dictatorships as the source of transferred aggression toward America. The answer was seen in the creation of Middle Eastern democracies where an enlightened East can join in friendship with a free West. Following the war, the Bush administration spoke of a free and democratic Iraq becoming a glowing example of democracy to its neighbors.
The problem with this scenario is that it fails to address the real cause behind Islamic terrorism directed against America. The problem of Israel, its defiance of resolutions of the security council, the annexation of Palestinian land, particularly Jerusalem, and the subjugation of the Palestinian people, has never been properly addressed by the American government. In the eyes of most Arabs, America seems to support Israel, despite its continued aggression toward the Palestinians. Islamic peoples throughout the world grow in rage as they witness what, is in their view, America's support of Israeli evil. The invasion of Iraq has only heightened this anger and promoted the very thing the invasion was supposed to control. The war has created thousands of potential recruits for Islamic terror against the West.
The many subtle reasons for the invasion of Iraq, reduce further our ability to determine whether the war was just.
"The first casualty of war is the truth", but then whose truth is the casualty? The Australian minister for foreign affairs, Mr. Downer, has continued to berate France, Germany and Russia for their opposition in the Security Council to unilateral action independent to the United Nations and prior to a definitive report by the U.N. inspectors. Does Mr. Downer actually believe what he is saying or is it nothing more than a smoke screen, particularly when the prime minister, Mr. John Howard, admitted that there was no definitive proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Maybe it's America, England and Australia who should be berated. The fact is that the majority of the United Nations member states opposed an invasion of Iraq. For example, America's neighbors, Canada and all of South America opposed the war; the majority of Australia's neighbors opposed the war as did England's neighbors.
In the post-war search for weapons of mass destruction the American administration, along with the other coalition members, have suggested that the reason why the allies have been unable to find Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, is that they were possibly shipped out of the country. Syria was identified as the recipient of the weapons. The claim amazed the international community, particularly when the Bush administration directed "rogue state" descriptives toward Syria. The Arab states naturally began to ask if Syria was next on the hit list? The many national governments opposed to the war have suggested that the U.N. inspectors be allowed to return to verify once and for all the existence of such weapons, but the U.S. has refused, reserving the right to investigate its own claims, so removing independent verification.
Most commentators enjoyed the daily reports by "Baghdad Bob", the Iraqi minister for information, or more properly misinformation, but have not enjoyed the deft handling of the truth by the coalition members.
In the end, it is very difficult to argue the justice of a military action that is not either a defence against an aggressor, or an action taken in aid of a country facing aggression.
These notes were penned toward the end of 2003. The reader would be well aware of how events have unfolded since the invasion of Iraq.