Friday, May 2, 2014

The War with Iraq: Unjustified Endeavor

On March 19, 2003 the United States entered into war with the nation of Iraq.  A few months later on May 1, 2003 President George W. Bush declared that the United States and its allies had prevailed and that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.[1]  As with almost all wars there was controversy regarding its legitimacy as a moral enterprise.  Christian theologians and pastoral leaders entered into this debate on both sides.[2]  This paper will seek to critically probe the rationales given for entering the war with Iraq and seek to assess their validity by a common set of just war criteria.  Utilizing these criteria it will be argued that the entrance into war with Iraq in 2003 was not morally justified and that the decision-making process violated key components of the just war tradition.
The “just war” tradition seeks to delineate the criteria by which entrance into war and the conduct of war should be ethically assessed.   These criteria are usually divided into two categories: jus ad bellum and jus in bello.  The jus ad bellum criteria refer to those conditions which must be met in order to declare a war a just endeavor.  The jus in bello criteria speak to those ethical principles which must be adhered to within the actual fighting of the war.[3]  Given the scope and limitations of this paper the focus will be almost exclusively on the jus ad bellum criteria as a benchmark by which to measure the justice of entering into war with Iraq in 2003.  Although there are differences of presentation and numbering of the criteria the following is a fairly standard listing of the jus ad bellum criteria.[4]
1.     Just cause.  War is seen as legitimate if it is waged in self-defense, to protect the innocent, in defense of human rights, or in response to acts of aggression.

2.     Competent authority and public declaration.  The use of force is permissible if a legitimate authority engages in due process and publically declares its intention to go to war.

3.     Comparative justice.  Meeting the just cause requirement does not grant carte blanche rights to any state; its objectives in war must be limited.  No party to war has absolute justice on its side.

4.     Right intention.  The only just motives for waging war are those prescribed by the just cause principle.  Ulterior motives (revenge, geopolitical power plays, seizing natural resources, and so on) cannot be rationalized within the just war tradition.

5.     Last resort.  This principle requires that all reasonable peaceful alternatives to war must be fully exhausted before going to war.

6.     Probability of success.  A war cannot be considered just if it will have no positive influence on the situation.  The intent is to prevent futile attempts to change a situation when one side has a substantial advantage or when engaging in conflict is the equivalent of mass suicide.

7.     Proportionality (or macroproportionality).  The good expected to result from engaging in war must be worth it.  The benefits that result from defeating the aggressor must be proportionally better than the inherent evils of war.

It is these criteria that will be used to evaluate the entrance into the war with Iraq in March of 2003.
            In order to assess the justice of the war it is important to examine the rationales given by the Bush administration for the war.  It is precisely here, however, that difficulty arises.  First, a number of different rationales were given for the war by the administration.  Devon Largio conducted an exhaustive search of statements to determine the rationales for the war.  Her thesis title is descriptive of its contents: “Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq: The Words of the Bush Administration, Congress, and the Media from September 12, 2001 to October 11, 2002.”[5]  Largio summarizes her findings in this way:
The results showed that twenty-seven rationales for the war on Iraq were used at one time or another, twenty-three of which can be attributed to the administration.  Five rationales were prominent in all three phases: the war on terror, the desire to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the lack of inspections, the desire to remove the Hussein regime, and the fact that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator.  One rationale surfaced initially and gained favor over time: the interest in liberating the people of Iraq.  One other rationale emerged later and became very important to official sources and the media: the imminent threat that Iraq posed, … The other twenty rationales can be classified as secondary and remaining rationales.[6]

Richard Miller organizes these various rationales under the headings of self-defense, law enforcement, and rescue.  It is important to recognize the diverse nature of these rationales since the “debate about the Iraq war has been muddied by the notion that these rationales stand on the same footing.”[7]  Furthermore, Miller argues, “reasons for war are not interchangeable, not controvertible to the same currency.  That fact, I will argue, ought to frustrate those who wish to substitute one rationale for another in the effort to provide a retrospective justification for the Iraq war.”[8]  In light of this, the second point to be stressed is that differing rationales may require different levels of justification.  It is here that the multiplication of rationales for going to war by the Bush administration is fraught with danger.  The sheer number and diversity of rationales can lead one to think that this was a war in search of a justification that was not altogether apparent.  A brief examination of some of the main rationales given will be given so as test their legitimacy as grounding the war as just.
            The first rationale given revolved around the claim that the war was justified in light of the threat that Iraq posed as a terrorist state.  Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 President Bush declared a “war on terror” and the primary focus was directed at the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden.  This focus soon changed.  During his January 2002 State of the Union Address President Bush mentioned an “axis of evil” comprised of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  By April of 2002 President Bush began to mention more about Saddam Hussein than he did about Osama bin Laden.[9]  There was never a link established with Iraq to the attacks on September 11, 2001 although a poll conducted released in September 2003 showed that seventy percent of Americans believed Iraq was involved with these attacks.[10]  Some of this misinformation must be laid at the foot of the Bush administration for they consistently linked Iraq with al-Qaeda.[11]  Does this linkage of Iraq with al Qaeda as part of a terrorist network hold up?  Pre-war intelligence paints a different story.  Former directors for counterterrorism with the National Security Council, Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, provide a full assessment of the threat of Islamic terrorism in their book The Age of Sacred Terror.  Regarding Iraq they write: “There are very good reasons to end Saddam Hussein’s brutal reign over Iraq, but terrorism is not one of them.  There is little or no history of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda.”[12]  Of even more significance are the thoughts of Kenneth Pollack in his massive book in which he seeks to make the case for invading Iraq.  Although Pollack argues for invasion and war with Iraq he recognizes it is not because of the threat of terrorism.
Iraq is now, and has been throughout Saddam’s reign, a state sponsor of terrorism.  However, terrorism is the least of the threats posed by Iraq to the interests of the United States.  If the only problem the United States had with Saddam Hussein’s regime were its involvement in terrorism, our problems would be relatively mild.  On the grand list of state sponsors of terrorism, Iraq is pretty far down—well below Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and others.[13]

It thus appears, in light of evidence available at the time, that this rationale did not justify entry into war.  The “just cause” criteria is not upheld with this rationale.
            A second rationale that was appealed to was the threat of imminent danger that Iraq posed in light of its possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  As is well known no such WMD were discovered after the invasion.  Many at the time thought that Iraq had WMD as is evident from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report of October 2002.[14]  This report was used to justify the use of force against Iraq.  It is here, however, that the issue of the level of certainty needs to be addressed.  How reliable was this NIE report?  Were the statements contained in it justified in light of the current levels of knowledge?  This raises the issue of epistemology and its relationship to decision-making.  Subsequent investigation has shown that the intelligence being offered in 2002 was inadequate.  A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report issued in July 2004 criticized the October 2002 NIE report, concluding, in part:
            Conclusion 1. Most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community's
October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq's Continuing Programs for
Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence.

Conclusion 2. The Intelligence Community did not accurately or adequately explain to
policymakers the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National
Intelligence Estimate.

Conclusion 3. The Intelligence Community (IC) suffered from a collective
presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
program. This "group think" dynamic led Intelligence Community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD
program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and
expanding weapons of mass destruction programs. This presumption was so strong that
formalized IC mechanisms established to challenge assumptions and group think were not utilized.[15]

Another report known as the “Duelfer investigation” came to similar conclusions, “Indeed, the Duelfer report contradicts virtually every prewar claim by Washington about the danger that Saddam posed to the United States.”[16]  Richard Miller draws the following implication from these reports:
We should be clear about how these facts bear upon moral judgment.  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report and the Duelfer report are not saying that invading Iraq was justified in March 2003 but is not justified now.  Nor are they saying that Bush administration was a victim of bad luck.  Rather, these two reports strongly suggest that the Bush administration suppressed and manipulated data to support its case.[17]

The breach of proper intelligence gathering is especially blameworthy when one considers that the decision to go to war has such weighty consequences.  There is an expectation on the part of the citizenry that its elected officials will properly weigh the evidence and not cherry-pick the data to confirm biases.[18] 
            In terms of two of the major rationales given by the Bush administration—Iraq as a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda and the imminent threat of WMD use by Iraq—there was a failure to establish credible evidence.  This is all the more important when one considers the nature of the entrance into the war.  Historically the just war tradition has focused on the matter of responsive self-defense as the prime example of a just cause for entering into war.  What of the initiation of force when there has not been an attack but seems to loom imminent?  It is here that an important distinction between preemptive war and preventive war needs to be understood.  Colin Gray, professor of International Politics and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading, England, outlines the distinctions in his monograph The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration:
            Preemptive War
Preemption refers to the first use of military force when an enemy attack already is underway or, at the least, is very credibly imminent.[19]

Preemption is all about self-defense.  Indeed, if we define preemption properly, which is to say as the desperate option of last resort prior to receiving an attack that one is absolutely certain is on its way or all but so, it is not really controversial.[20]

Preventive War

The most essential distinction between preemption and prevention is that the former option, uniquely, is exercised in or for a war that is certain, the timing of which has not been chosen by the preemptor.  In every case, by definition, the option of preventive war, or of a preventive strike, must express a guess that war, or at least a major negative power shift, is probable in the future.  The preventor has a choice….Obviously, temporally the more distant the danger, the greater has to be the uncertainty.[21]

A preventive war is a war that a state chooses to launch in order to prevent some future danger from happening.  Because the future is by definition unknown and unknowable, preventive action has to entail striking on the basis of guesswork about more or less distant threats.[22]

Many Just War theorists allow for preemption but not for preventive wars.[23]  For example, Daniel Heimbach argues, “Augustinian interpretation permits preemptive war responding to material threats actually offered, but can never allow stretching the just cause principle to justify wars of prevention.”[24]  J. Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy argue that preventive wars violate a number of the just war criteria:
Also, within jus ad bellum requirements, preventive war fails to meet the criterion of just cause in that it assumes a certain future breach of justice that has not yet occurred.  Further, it may also fail on limited aims depending on how far-reaching or global the threat is considered to be.[25]

Other criteria are compromised as well.  Richard Miller argues that, “Preventive war doctrine wrecks havoc with the just war criteria of last resort.”[26]
            The distinctions between preemptive wars and preventive wars are important in assessing the Bush administration’s views as outlined in “The National Security Strategy” which was released in September 2002.  What became popularly known as the “Bush Doctrine” is detailed in chapter V of this National Security Strategy.  The language of “preemptive actions” and “anticipatory action” is used thus showing that the Bush administration was seeking to link its current strategy with other historically recognized conceptions of “preemption.”  The crucial question is whether the “Bush Doctrine” is an example of preemption or prevention.  Jeffrey Record writes, in regards to the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002:
But the question does arise as to whether preemption best characterizes the new policy.  The Pentagon’s official definition of preemption is “an attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent.”  In contrast, preventive war is “ a war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk.”[27]

            From the above it seems justified to consider the war with Iraq a war of prevention.  Although there was language used by the administration which attempted to portray the pre-war situation as one of “imminent threat” this does not seem justified.[28]  When all the factors are considered it is justifiable to conclude that the entrance into war with Iraq was a preventive war based on faulty intelligence.  In light of this the war ought not to be seen as a just war in that preventive wars violate crucial just war criteria. 
            When other Bush administration rationales are considered this only complicates the matter and, perhaps, entails that other just war criteria are violated.  Consider just one example.  It is sometimes argued that Iraq’s failure to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions was a just cause for the war with Iraq.  In the words of theologian Wayne Grudem, “With respect to Iraq, another just cause was that Saddam had never complied with the terms of surrender in the First Gulf War in 1993, because he was continuing to prevent site visits to verify that he had no nuclear weapons.”[29]  Richard Miller responds to this type of reasoning arguing that the criteria of proportionality has been violated:
“Once we focus on the relevant legal details, we see that the principal problem is Saddam’s expulsion of weapons inspectors in 1998… In my mind the fundamental question is whether embarking on war in 2003 was a proportionate response to the expulsion of weapon’s inspectors five years earlier.  I do not believe it was.”[30]

Furthermore, if Grudem’s argument is accepted then another criteria—competent authority—is called into question.  Franklin Wester effectively argues:
If the reason for going to war was based on violations of UN sanctions by Iraq, then the United Nations would be the legitimating authority.  If the war was based on international humanitarian concern for the victims of the Hussein regime in Iraq, then some international body, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the UN, would be the legitimating authority.  To act on the authority of a “coalition of the willing” relies on vague ethical criteria.[31]

Thus, it is seen that the mere multiplication of rationales does not necessarily deepen the justification for going to war.  On the other hand, it seems to be the case that as more rationales given by the Bush administration are considered it is, paradoxically, the case that the justification for war with Iraq grows weaker.
            Utilizing a common core of just war criteria it is thus seen that the war with Iraq in 2003 was not a just war.  Rationales for the war were multiplied by the Bush administration but none of them, either individually or combined, warrant a positive verdict in justifying going to war.  The principle rationales of Iraq being a terrorist state and Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction have been seen to be weak.  Furthermore, the Bush administration engaged in a war of prevention, rather than a war of preemption.  This allowed for a number of the just war criteria to be violated.  As Christians reflect on the war with Iraq of 2003 they ought to see the entrance into this war as morally suspect.  This war was not ethically justified.

     [1] For the text of this speech on May 1, 2003 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln see:
     [2] Many pacifists and Just War theorists came together to speak out against the legitimacy of the war (see “100 Christian Ethicists Challenge Claim that Pre-emptive War on Iraq Would Be Morally Justified” originally in Chronicle of Higher Education, web daily, 23 September 2002; online:  Evangelical leaders Richard Land, Charles Colson, Bill Bright, James Kennedy, and Carl Herbster wrote to President Bush claiming the just war tradition warranted war with Iraq (letter available online:
     [3] Within the last two decades ethicists have begun to speak of a third category: jus post bellum.  This category refers to the principles of justice that must be heeded in the post-war situation.  See the following for discussion of jus post bellum issues: Brian Orend, “Justice After War” Ethics and International Affairs 16 (2002): 43-56; Mark J. Allman and Tobias L. Winright.  After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Peace (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2010).
     [4] This list and articulation is from Allman and Winright, After the Smoke Clears, 16-17. 
     [5] Devon M. Largio, “Uncovering the Rationales for the War in Iraq: The Words of the Bush Administration, Congress, and the Media from September 12, 2001 to October 11, 2002” Thesis for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: 2004).  Online:
     [6] Largio, “Uncovering the Rationales for the War in Iraq”, ii.
     [7] Richard B. Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” Ethics and International Affairs 22 (2008), 44.
     [8] Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” 44.
     [9] Largio, “Uncovering the Rationales for the War in Iraq”, 10.
     [10] Bob Kemper, “Bush: No Iraqi link to Sept 11” Chicago Tribune, September 18, 2003.  Online:
     [11] A sampling of this rhetoric: “There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties.” (President Bush); Vice President Cheney referred to Iraq as “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” Kemper, “Bush: No Iraqi link to Sept 11.”
     [12] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), 385.  Benjamin and Simon recognize “very good reasons to end Saddam Hussein’s brutal reign” but this is not necessarily to endorse waging war against Iraq.  The important point to be noted is that these experts in world-wide terrorism saw no significant linkage of Iraq with terrorism that was associated with al-Qaeda.
     [13] Kenneth M. Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (New York: Random House, 2002), 153.
     [14] Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” 46.
     [15] “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence,” by Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence United States Senate 14, 16, 18.  Online:
     [16] Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” 47.
     [17] Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” 47.
     [18] This charge of “cherry-picking” seems warranted in light of the Deputy Inspector General for Intelligence Report entitled “Review of the Pre-Iraqi War Activities of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense Policy” (February 9, 2007).  Online:   In part, this reports concludes:
The office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers.  While such actions were not illegal or unauthorized, the actions were, in our opinion, inappropriate given that the intelligence assessments were intelligence products and did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.  This condition occurred because of an expanded role and mission of the OUSD(P) from policy formulation to alternative intelligence analysis and dissemination.  As a result, OUSD(P) did not provide “the most accurate analysis of intelligence” to senior Defense decision makers. (pp. 15-16)
     [19] Colin S. Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration (Carlisle, Penn.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2007), 8.
     [20] Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines,  9.
     [21] Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines, 13.
     [22] Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines, 17.
     [23] J. Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy, War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 217.  They also mention Just War ethicists Paul Ramsey and James Turner Johnson as being opposed to preventive wars.  They mention famed Just War ethicist Michael Walzer as speaking of preventive war as “inherently more problematic.”
     [24] Daniel Heimbach, “In Justifying Regime Change Are We Missing Augustine’s Rejection of War to Reduce Fear?” Presentation at the Evangelical Theological Society (November 17, 2005), 10. Online:
     [25] Charles and Demy, War, Peace, and Christianity, 218.
     [26] Miller, “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined,” 51.
     [27] Jeffrey Record, Dark Victory: America’s Second War Against Iraq (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004), 34.
     [28] Devon Largio writes, “Though President Bush and his advisors may not have said that the threat was imminent, they did not dispel the myth and they certainly did not make remarks to the contrary; rather, they made comments about a ‘grave and gathering danger,’ the need to stop the gun from firing, and the impossibility of knowing the true magnitude of the Iraqi threat.” Largio, “Uncovering the Rationales for the War in Iraq”, 158.
     [29] Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 415.
     [30] Miller “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined”), 56.
     [31] Franklin Eric Wester. “Preemption and Just War: Considering the Case of Iraq” Parameters (Winter, 2004-05), 29.