Part 1 of 2- U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not Just:

Eastern and Western Ethics of War Applied to the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

This article is the first part of a two part analysis which will discuss various aspects of the causes and conduct of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they fit into established ethics of war in both Eastern and Western traditions.  For the perspective of Western traditions of warfare we will rely on the Just War Theory in its current developed form.  For the perspective of Eastern traditions of warfare we will rely on early Chinese, Japanese, Islamic and Hindu traditions of warfare.

First, this analysis will deal with the justifications to go to war (jus ad bellum).  While second, it will focus on the conduct of war (jus in bello).  The analysis is divided further into each of the major causes of the decision to wage war and the major ideas of the conduct of warfare that will be examined both by the justifications given and the individual ideologies of the ethics of war.

The Cause of War

Just Cause: Self-defense

In any war the only justifiable cause of warfare is to defend oneself or to defend others, according to Just War Theory.  For the Iraq war, the primary justification to invade was on the grounds of self-defense.  Former President Bush, along with many other government officials told the country and the world that America must use “anticipatory self-defense” to protect the nation from an attack at home.  The primary reason given was that administration believed Iraq had and was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that it planned to use those WMDs against the United States probably by the proxy of the terrorist organizations they believed Iraq supported.

Self-defense is a unanimously justified as a cause of war in both the Just War Theory and each of the Eastern traditions specified above.  However, anticipatory self-defense is not as clearly justified.  Unfortunately the eastern traditions I have studied were silent on the subject of “anticipatory self-defense”; but international law, which the Just War Theory requires adherence to, is not.  Condoleezza Rice outlined the Bush administration’s view of “anticipatory self-defense” as “the right of the United States to attack a country that it thinks could attack it first” (Bumiller).  By this definition al-Qaeda and the Taliban were merely conducting “anticipatory self-defense” when they attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  This is so because Osama bin Laden and the Taliban received threats of possible American military strikes against them two months before the terrorist assaults on New York and Washington (Steele).  Also the White House was given comprehensive plans to conduct an offensive to “rid the world of al-Qaeda” just days before the September 11th attacks (Miklaszewski).  This conclusion would be absolutely outrageous to both the Bush administration and the American people.

International law states that for “anticipatory self-defense” to be justified the threat must be imminent and the burden of proof is on the country pushing to strike first to provide sufficient evidence of this threat (Rouillard).  The U.S. simply could not provide sufficient evidence that Iraq was developing WMDs and was intending to use them against the U.S.  However, there was quite a bit of evidence that suggested otherwise.  The reason for this disparity, of course, as the world soon learned, was that Iraq stopped development of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs back in 1991 in accordance with international law.  So it is clear that the grounds for “anticipatory self-defense” against Iraq were not sufficient for the Just War Theory, nor did the U.S. have the authority to make these decisions, another topic of Just War Theory that will be discussed later.

In the Downing Street memo, a note of a secret meeting of British government figures, the head of Secret Intelligence Services describes what he learned from a recent visit to Washington:  “Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” (Rycroft). The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in March 2003, just days before the invasion of Iraq, stated that it “did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programmes of weapons of mass destruction” (Blix).   Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, who was part of Hussein’s inner circle and was being paid by the French as an agent, confirmed that Iraq did not have WMDs, two senior CIA officers approved this intelligence and President Bush was briefed on this info on September 18th 2002.  Bush dismissed this intelligence and failed to share it with Congress or the CIA agents investigating whether Hussein had WMDs (Roston).   According to national security and intelligence analyst, John Prados, in a review of the documentary record, the Bush administration knew that Iraqi WMD programs “were either nascent, moribund or non-existent –exactly the opposite of the presidents repeated message to Americans” (Prados).   If Prados is correct then the Bush administration falsified intelligence to justify “anticipatory self-defense”.  In such a case the U.S. would then simply be aggressors in an unjustifiable war.  Presumably the cause of this war is to control the world’s second largest known oil reserve (a view shared by the majority of Iraqis in Bagdad) (Burkholder).  The cause of this war then would be to increase the country’s power.  This cause is not justified by the Just War Theory, but it is justified by some eastern traditions, Sunzi (an ancient Chinese society 481-221 BCE) (Lewis) and the bushi of ancient Japan (Friday).

Last Resort

The second cause given for the war in Iraq and the main cause for the war in Afghanistan was to end terrorism.  This is again an argument of self-defense.  The thinking goes: we are attacked by terrorists, like the September, 11th attacks, so we must destroy these terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who harbor them.  On the surface this seems like justifiable self-defense.  The U.S. must be able to show that terrorist organizations pose an imminent threat to the U.S. The U.S. used the September 11th attacks as evidence; thus, the U.S. could show that terrorist organizations, namely al-Qaeda posed an eminent threat.  However, this terrorist organization is not a country; it is an organization that the U.S. believed was harbored by the state, the Taliban.  Let us assume the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda; again, normally a heavy burden of proof would be on the U.S. to produce evidence both that al-Qaeda conducted the September 11th attacks and the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda, a topic we will return to later.  The U.S. then demanded that the Taliban hand over the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.  The Taliban said it would comply if the U.S. would give them evidence linking bin Laden with the September 11th attacks.  The U.S. rejected the offer.  Then the Taliban offered to try bin Laden under Islamic law; again, the Bush administration rejected the offer stating, “There will be no negotiations” (Gannon).  The U.S. flatly rejected a judicial and diplomatic possible solution in Iraq.  The U.S. subsequently invaded Iraq with aims of destroying al-Qaeda and the Taliban and capturing bin Laden.  The U.S. violated the clause in Just War Theory of Last resort, which states force may only be used after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.  The U.S. also violated the moderate Muslim perspective that if the enemy seeks peace, than so should Muslims (El Fadl).  This behavior also violates the Hindu tradition stated in the Nitivakyamrita that “war begins when other means of conquering the enemy are exhausted.”  Also, the Confucian ideas of the conduct of war are violated (Bell) and so are ancient Japanese concepts of warfare (Friday).  While the threat of terrorism is very real and there are grounds to justify war by way of the self-defense clause, the fact that the U.S. did not exhaust, or even attempt peaceful methods of decreasing this threat first means that the U.S. is not justified by the Just War Theory or many Eastern traditions.

High Probability of Success

For a war to be ethical in the Just War Theory and some eastern traditions there must be a high probability of success.  There was hardly a doubt that U.S. military forces could topple the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, there was considerable doubt about the war’s ability to end or even reduce terrorism.  This is a stated cause of war, so accordingly it must have a high probability of success to be just.  As these wars have continued it has become quite clear that they have not ended or reduced terrorism.  In fact, as predicted since the development of these wars the world, and the U.S. has seen considerably more terrorism than before these wars (Glasser).  Many top U.S. officials believe that these wars cause the increase in terrorism the world is experiencing (Wadhams).  Most U.S. troops think we should leave Iraq, 72%, according to a Zogby International poll (“U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006”).  Many terrorists themselves list grievances caused by the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the reason they conducted terrorist activity.  One recent example is Najibullah Zazi, a member of al-Qaeda, who recently pleaded guilty to plotting to blow up a subway system.  Zazi confessed that he planned this attack to “sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the United States military was doing to civilian[s] in Afghanistan by sacrificing my soul for the sake of saving other souls” (“Najibullah Zazi reveals chilling details on Al Qaeda training and terrorist plot to blow up subways”).  According to a Rand study, most U.S. analysts on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan believe that terrorism is increasing because of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and they support a U.S. withdrawal (Wadhams).  According to polls 45% of the population of Iraq now views terrorism against the U.S. favorably (Temko).  This shows that the probability of success, in reducing or eliminating terrorism, is not only extremely low, but most probably negative.  This is a violation of the Just War theory clause that wars must have a high probability of success.  These criteria also would forbid warfare in the Hindu tradition that honors prudence.

The defense intelligence agency and the CIA concluded that Sadam Hussein did not support al-Qaeda.  The CIA in January 2003 concluded that Hussein “viewed Islamic extremists operating inside Iraq as a threat” (Froomkin).  In February 2002 the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that “Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful [chemical and biological weapons] knowledge or assistance” (Weisman).  A year later bush said: “Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training” (“ – Transcripts”).  This calls into question Iraq’s alleged connection to al-Qaeda, one of the causes given for the invasion.  Under international law and Just War Theory the burden of proof was upon the Bush administration to provide convincing evidence that Iraq posed a danger to the U.S. by supporting terrorism against the U.S., as the Bush administration claimed.  This convincing evidence was and remains virtually nonexistent, in the face of much counterevidence.  Pex Tomb, chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI, informs us that the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to the September 11th attacks (Haas); a premise the Bush administration relied on to invade Iraq.  The burden of a clear and eminent threat of attack was and remains unsupported by the evidence.  This is a violation of International law and Just War Theory.  It also undermines the entire premise of self-defense as a cause for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Therefore, the wars fail to be justified by self-defense in the Eastern traditions that support the self-defense cause of war.

Shortly after it was clear that Iraq did not have and WMDs, President Bush and his administration started to state that our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan was to bring democracy to these countries.  The spread of democracy was supported by the Bush administration as a way to liberate the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from the tyrannical rule they were subject to.  The timing of this shift in political rhetoric should bring the administrations motives into question.  The people of Iraq were indeed suspicious of their motives.  A Gallup poll conducted in October 2003 asked the people of Bagdad why they thought the U.S. invaded Iraq; 1% felt the goal was to bring democracy and 5% thought the goal was to assist the Iraqi people.  The large majority thought that the U.S. sought to rob Iraq of its oil (Burkholder).

To spread democracy by liberating a people from tyrannical rule can been seen as an act of humanitarian intervention, which is supported by the Just War Theory.  However, the U.S. is not consistent in its support for democracy abroad.  Thomas Carothers, director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment, reviewed the U.S. record of democracy promotion since the Cold War.  Carothers found “where democracy appears to fit in well with US security and economic interests, the United States promotes democracy.  Where democracy clashes with other significant interests, it is downplayed or even ignored” (Carothers).

The U.S. did not want democratic elections to take place in Iraq, probably because the Iraqi people wanted the U.S. out of Iraq.  Dr. Alan Richards, UC Santa Cruz professor and Middle East scholar, points out that the U.S. “initially opposed early elections in Iraq, after Ayatollah Sistani turned huge numbers of his followers out in the streets to demand such elections, Washington had little choice but to agree” (Richards).  They also made sure there was no freedom of press before the elections by bombing Al-Jazeera a television network that was distinctly anti-American (Michaels).

Early Chinese traditions refer to humanitarian interventions to free a people from tyrannical rule as punitive expeditions.  Punitive expeditions were accepted as a justifiable cause of warfare by Confucianism and the Lu Shi Chun Qui philosophy (Lewis).  Saddam and the Taliban may satisfy the condition of tyrannical rulers.  However, the punitive expedition, for Confucianism, must have the continued support of the invading country’s people, the people of the invaded country, and the support of the rest of world (Bell).  None of these three groups of people have had continued support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The support of the U.S. people has wavered, as many public polls indicate.  The support of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan is virtually non-existent.  A Zogby International poll found that 82% of Sunnis and 69% of Shiites “favor U.S. forces withdrawing either immediately or after an elected government is in place.” (Peck).  The rest of the world generally is sharply opposed to both the invasion and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan (“World Opposed to Bush and Iraq War, BBC Poll Says”).  So the criteria of a punitive expedition for Confucianism and Lu Shi Chun Qui do not justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have so far examined criteria of the Just War Theory, and similar Eastern ethics of warfare, on the cause of war (jus ad bellum) including just cause, last resort, and high probability of success.  In each case we have found that the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fail to meet any of these criteria.  Next week we will finish our discussion of criteria for the cause of war (jus ad bellum) and move to discuss the criteria of the conduct of war (jus in bello).


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