Reflections on Iraq VII: Who determines the Justice of the War?

Now, let’s look at the conditions for Just War from the Catechism, paragraph 2309 (emphasis added):

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
This is why a “preventive war” is unjust: the damage must be “certain.”  It also implies that not every defensive war is just, since the damage must be “lasting” and “grave.”  So, while Hussein cheering 9/11 was “damaging,” it was not “lasting” or “grave” in an international sense.

– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
This gets phrased different ways, but of course the definitive phrasing of the Church is the best.  If this condition is phrased as “exhaust all peaceful means,” I cry, “Neville Chamberlain!”  However, that’s not what the Church says: “all other means . . . must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective”.  This doesn’t seem to insist that they be *tried*, just that they sbe shown impractical.

– there must be serious prospects of success;
So, if it’s a potential quagmire, don’t do it.

– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
So if they kill 3000 people, you don’t go killing tens of thousands in revenge.  One could also include spiritual evils in this sense, such as the popular animosity condemend by George Washington.  It also shows that the intentions and means of war can negate its justice, even if its cause is just.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Now here’s the lynch pin, right here.  In one sense, in a representative democracy, every citizen is responsible for the common good.  But, in practice, that’s not the case.  I have little access to CIA intelligence or the inner workings of diplomacy. 

I can make armchair pronouncements, but I don’t have access to all the information the President and Congress should have had access to when they decided to invade Iraq. 

So do I really have the right to make any definitive statements on the war? 

It depends upon how much I know.  Prima facie, the conditions listed by the Church were not met, based upon what we’ve explored these past several days.  But some of these are still things that, for the civilian, are 20/20 hindsight.

Like, I did not have, in 2003, the ability to foressee what a quagmire Iraq would become.  Bush should have understood this before going to war.  He had a moral obligation to seek out as much information as possible.

Of course, “success” in this 6 year old war happened very quickly: Saddam Hussein was overthrown in less than a month.  The problem came in with the desire to “stabilize” the Iraqi government.

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