Does the present U.S. course in Iraq constitute a just war?
The Christian ethic of just war theory is a time-honored method for determining whether a nation should go to war. According to this ethical method, some wars are just and some are unjust. Just wars must pass all seven rules.
One of these rules is a reasonable hope of success, what scholars call the probability of success.
“Its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force … when the outcome … will clearly be disproportionate or futile,” according to a pastoral letter on war and peace from the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Seminary professor Glen Stassen, a Baptist, writes, “It is wrong to enter into a war that will kill many people, depriving them of the right to life, liberty and community, in order to achieve a more important goal, if we will quite surely lose and not achieve that goal.”
Ron Sider, a Mennonite scholar, contends: “If there is not a reasonable chance of success, then it is wrong to fight no matter how just one’s cause. Nor does this simply mean that one must think one can win.”
Like the other seven rules, reasonable hope of success is a demanding rule needed to safeguard a nation from going to war for the wrong reasons. Additionally, this rule guards the nation from folly in war.
President Bush claims the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq. He expresses absolute confidence in the outcome. Probability is not part of his definition of success.
“We are winning,” Bush said in his State of the Union last week. “I am confident in our plan for victory.”
He told the nation that he had “a clear plan for victory.”
The next day in Nashville, Tenn., the president said, “I believe we will be victorious in Iraq.”
But just claiming that the U.S. is winning the war does not mean that the U.S. is in fact winning the war. Hoping for victory is not the same as holding a reasonable hope for victory.
Evidence actually suggests that the U.S. has little reasonable hope for victory. Consider but a few measurements of war:
The number of deaths of U.S. forces in Iraq totaled 846 in 2005, compared to 848 in 2004, hardly a trend line that demonstrates that America is on the road to victory.
Iraqi civilian casualties totaled 593 in January 2006, compared to 344 in December 2005.
The Brookings Institute “Iraqi Index” estimated that the number of Iraqis’ held in American prisons was 14,000 in January 2006, compared to 7,837 in January 2005. Increasing the prison population has not decreased insurgency intensity.
The same index reported that the estimated strength of the insurgency was 15,000-20,000 in December 2005, compared to 3,000-5,000 in January 2004.
The U.S. army has become a “thin green line” and cannot maintain its pattern of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to defeat the insurgents, according to a study conducted by a retired Army officer under contract with the Pentagon, Associated Press reported. The army is “in a race against time.”
More than 60 percent of the water and sanitation projects have been cancelled due to insurgency attacks, according to an Associated Press story on the audit of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction. Some $5.6 billion of the $18.4 billion in U.S. aid was diverted to security, while funding for infrastructure was cut. The government audit said the goal of infrastructure reconstruction will not be reached.
Iraqi’s finance minister told the New York Times that insurgents get 40 percent to 50 percent of the oil-smuggling profits. The Bush administration told the American public before the invasion that Iraq’s vast oil reserves would pay for the war. Indeed oil is paying for the war—war against Americans.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that insurgency attacks and electrical shortages result in Iraq’s 13 state-owned cement plants producing at 25 percent capacity, if at all, in a nation undergoing a construction boom with $20 billions in reconstruction funds.
Before the war the average hours of electricity per day was between 16-24 hours, in January 2006 is number was 9.9 hours, according to the Brookings Institute.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. is spending $100,000 per minute in Iraq or $4.5 billion a month. No one thinks the insurgents are spending more than a tiny fraction of that amount. Yet the U.S. military has not completed its mission and Iraq titters toward ethnic civil war.
In a few weeks, the U.S. will begin its fourth year in Iraq without a reasonable hope of success.
Staying the course in Iraq moves us down the road of folly and a long way from a just war.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.