Current Issue
Web Exclusives
YFP Store
Contact Us

America is now engaged in a war with Iraq. Many have argued that the war is unjustified, that Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat, making a preemptive attack illegal. Yet there is a strong case to be made for why this is a...

Just War

William Rogel • April 2003

The case for war with Iraq has not yet been made, at least to some citizens. There are many unanswered questions about the prudence of going to war and the consequences of military action. Will the Iraqi people welcome us? Will this mushroom into a war between the Judeo- Christian West and Islam? Can Iraq exist as a liberal, democratic state? Will we irreparably damage our alliances? Will we create more resentment and face more terrorism? These are important questions to ask; however they are essentially unanswerable. They depend, first of all, on the conduct of the war itself and secondly, on chance and the decisions of many people. If making the case for war entails proving that the war will go well and knowing precisely what the results will be, then the case for war will never be made – the outcome of the war will create the case for the war. If it goes well, the doves will look cowardly; if it goes poorly, the hawks will have been rash and arrogant.

The truth is, knowing the consequences of the war will not suffice to determine whether or not the war was a good idea in the first place. The case for the war is made if this question is answered in the affirmative: is the status quo bad enough that taking a risk in the hope of improving the situation good policy?

There is ample room for disagreement and discussion about the prudence of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” even if the time for disagreement was before America issued threats of war); however there should be no question as to whether or not this war is justified. The case for war is clear. Those arguing that the war is illegitimate are at best hopelessly optimistic and at worst simply anti-American. This is certainly true of our European “allies.” Some are fearful and jealous of the American military strength that has been and is deployed for their protection. Others seem to believe that “diplomacy” would work if we would only try hard enough. Evidently, the French plan for disarming Iraq is adding the phrase “…with sugar on top.”

Justification by First Gulf War

First of all, inasmuch as international law exists, this war can be justified as a continuation of the first Gulf War. In 1991, Iraq agreed to UN Resolution 687, which ended the War on the condition that Iraq agree to give up all weapons of mass destruction. Disarmament, then, was a prerequisite for the cease-fire. Given this treaty, the burden of proof lies with Iraq. Iraq agreed to disarm in exchange for an end to the war, and so it must show that it has lived up to its end of the bargain. Saddam agreed to make some changes in observance of the terms of peace. It must be presumed that no change has taken place unless some evidence is shown. There has not been any evidence of this sort.

The Iraqi argument for their compliance is laughable, or would be were its consequences not so great. First, they maintain that they have disarmed, but that they have no evidence of this disarmament. Why would Saddam have destroyed his weapons of mass destruction without documenting this destruction? Why would he no longer possess the chemical weapons he used against the Kurds in 1998, especially since there were no UN weapons inspectors there in the interim? Presumably, he would have destroyed weapons in order to comply with the peace he agreed to or to prove that he is now a reliable and trustworthy partner who should be welcomed back into the global community. These motivations would also encourage him to document the destruction of those weapons. Why on earth would he destroy them in secret? Our intelligence says he still has weapons of mass destruction, and he replies, “I have no proof, but trust me, I don’t. You can’t prove I have any.” Then, when we actually find prohibited weapons, he agrees to destroy them, as if it is some act of charity, and then says, “Well, you can’t prove I have any more.”

In addition to Saddam’s refusal to observe the terms that ended the first Gulf War, evidence of the legality of using force against Iraq can be found in the fact that occasional strikes by aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and strikes against suspected weapons facilities in Iraq have occurred regularly since the end of the war. If Iraq were deemed to be in compliance with the cease-fire, if they were legally entitled to peace, such actions would have been wholly unjustified. The current action is different in magnitude, not in kind, from the military actions taken against Iraq for the last twelve years. This action could have been taken any time since 1991, since at no point was Iraq in compliance with the terms of the treaty. That delay of war was nothing more than an act of patience; it should not have been construed as a promise of tacit withdrawal.

Justification as Part of Diplomacy

Just as it is wrong to separate this use of force from the previous war, it is silly and naïve to make the sharp distinction many do between diplomacy and war. The truth is, all diplomacy is premised on the threat of force. Nations do not seek America’s affirmation for its own sake. This is why the French look so ridiculous right now – they are basing their foreign policy on the faulty assumption that other nations care what they think. Some nations care what the international community thinks; however, this is only inasmuch as they recognize that cooperation is in their best interest and so make concessions in the hope of future repayment. Most reasonable nations can be convinced by the threat of economic sanctions. However, sometimes this most drastic of diplomatic measures fails. Neither the threat of economic sanctions nor the sanctions themselves were persuasive to Saddam Hussein. When a nation does not respond either to the threat of economic sanctions or to the threat of the loss of prestige, there is only one other option – the threat of actual military force. This war is the consequence of our threatening force and Iraq’s unwillingness to respond.

This war, then, is necessary for diplomacy to be possible. Credibility is the most important asset of a diplomat, and it depends upon the perception that a diplomat is willing and able to follow through on whatever threat is made. If the doves had their way at this point, the US and the UN would look something like the boy who cried wolf. Each time we threaten Iraq and do not follow through we lose authority. After twelve years, the UN and the US have finally told Saddam that he has run out of chances to disarm peacefully. If, in the face of this language, Iraq had persisted and we had backed down, then our credibility would have been crippled It would have been better had Iraq responded, but it is hard to blame them for thinking that after twelve years of empty threats, they could get away with noncompliance. The current war is not a failure of diplomacy; however, allowing the rhetoric of UN Resolution 1441 to ring hollow most certainly would be.

All this is not to say that any nation that does not bend to our will must eventually face war. At each step, it must be decided what sort of threat is proportional to the diplomatic goal. If disarming or removing Saddam does not justify war, diplomatically threatening Hussein with force would be unjust as well. It would be nothing more than bullying to demand concessions by the threat of unjustified but overwhelming force.

It is not clear under what conditions possession of weapons of mass destruction by a nation could justify war. A case could be made that war is justified if a nation has proven itself sufficiently aggressive. And Hussein seems to be aggressive, both in word and deed. The particular history of this conflict provides an easier explanation for our right to use force in pursuit of disarmament. Had Iraq never invaded Kuwait, we would be forced to decide whether or not Iraqi disarmament and war are proportional to each other. But the demand for disarmament, as was discussed earlier, was first issued in exchange for our relenting in a war that was justified—justified by unprovoked military aggression. In this sense, then, we agreed that Iraqi disarmament and war could be exchanged for each other. Saddam proposed the exchange and has not followed through. We can justly demand a refund without debating over the fairness of the price.

Justification as part of the War on Terror

Iraqi ties to the September 11th attacks, or even ties to terrorism in Israel, are not at issue here. The intelligence community seems to think there are ties, and there is little reason not to believe them. But the war on terror is not limited to reprisals for 9/11, and it is not just about terrorism directed at the United States. Saddam Hussein directs acts of terrorism against the people of Iraq themselves. For years, Hussein’s totalitarian regime has made common practice of imprisoning and torturing dissidents and their families. He has planted many of his forces in the civilian population as spies. This was done for the purpose of making the people of Iraq afraid to criticize Saddam, even in private. His tactics in the war show that motivation by terror is one of his primary means of maintaining power. We have seen Iraqi troops posing as Americans and slaughtering other Iraqis trying to surrender, making those who might surrender afraid that those who are ostensibly Americans really are not. We have seen women and children used as human shields. We have seen soldiers masquerading as civilians, thereby endangering non-combatants. Saddam counts on unpredictability and confusion to make every person distrustful.. Creating a general atmosphere of fear where nothing is what it seems and the enemy (in this case the Iraqi regime) can be anyone and can strike at any time is terrorism, pure and simple.

A true war on terrorism, then, should include a war on people like Saddam Hussein. He should not be understood as a sovereign. He does not rule for the benefit of his subjects, and the people do not obey his authority – only his cruelty. Iraqi citizens, with few exceptions, do not believe that there is any moral imperative to follow the dictates of Saddam’s regime. Thus, he cannot be said to exercise any authority. The difference between a government and a man with a gun to one’s head is that the government force is somehow conceived of as justified or rightful. “Law-abiding” is used as a compliment in this country, and so it should be in a legitimate state. Can anyone conceive of using that word to praise an Iraqi?

If Saddam is an illegitimate ruler, then his use of force can be viewed as an act of aggression. More importantly, his particular use of force is terrorism. The fact that he claims some right over the geographical area he terrorizes is not relevant. Hussein has no more right to do what he does to Iraqis than he would to do it to a Kuwaiti, a Finn, or an American. And if he were, in fact, doing these things to any of the aforementioned, nobody would hesitate to act under the banner of a war on terrorism.

Sadly, it is not clear that most who speak of the “War on Terror” mean it to extend beyond Al-Quaeda or terrorism directed at America and her allies. The war on terrorism need not be understood only as retribution for past acts and prevention of future acts against America, or the West, alone. Granted, attacking Iraq can probably be justified on the grounds of preventing future terrorism. Many have argued that Hussein’s hatred of the US makes him a likely sponsor of future terror attacks on the US, possibly using the weapons of mass destruction he claims he does not have. But there is something to the argument heard from many leftists after the 9/11 attacks that economic hopelessness can make people desperate enough to become terrorists. And, even if the sanctions do harm, it is clear that there is no greater impediment to the wealth of the Iraqi people than the current regime. Saddam’s luxury is bought at the expense of his people’s suffering, even without sanctions. For example, France violates the sanctions all the time. Yet, the Iraqi people do not see even a single Franc. It all goes to build extra-fortified bunkers and doors with golden door-knobs for Saddam Hussein.

Iraq, then, presents a potential source of future terrorism. That case can certainly be made. More immediately, though, it is the site of ongoing and brutal terrorism, a terror inflicted upon people not from afar but from within. There has been much debate about waging humanitarian wars. Perhaps many on the Right were wrong to oppose action in Kosovo. In fact, they probably were. But the war on terrorism demands intervention in at least one particular humanitarian capacity. If terrorism is a means that is inherently unjust, if it constitutes a violation of the basic rights and dignity of all people, if it casts all into fear, then states that adopt particularly cruel means must be fought in every prudent way. Again, there may still be doubt about the prudence of attacking Iraq. But if terrorists merit attack by virtue of being evil, and not by virtue of having simply targeted us, then eliminating Saddam Hussein and putting an end to the decades of terror he has inflicted on his people is a clear cut case of taking the war to the terrorists and freeing the people of this world from the slavery of fear.

William Rogel is a senior in Berkeley College.


Return to Top