What Iraq taught us about Just War

POOL REUTERS Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, attend a casing of the colors ceremony at Camp Adder, … Continued



Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, attend a casing of the colors ceremony at Camp Adder, now known as Imam Ali Base near Nasiriyah, Iraq, December 17, 2011. Around 500 troops from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division ended their presence on Camp Adder, the last remaining American base, and departed in the final American military convoy out of Iraq, arriving into Kuwait in the early morning hours of December 18, 2011. All U.S. troops were scheduled to have departed Iraq by December 31st, 2011.

If, as common sense tells us, we should learn from our mistakes, Americans have many lessons to draw from our nine-year military engagement in Iraq. Here are three.

Beware politicians employing intelligence to persuade. A long-time, senior CIA official once told me that he never knew an administration to use intelligence to illuminate public discussion of an issue, but only to bend audiences to policies they had already decided on other grounds. The intelligence used to promote the invasion of Iraq, above all Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN, was fundamentally flawed.

Even those who have no formal acquaintance with the Just War tradition understand the legitimacy of a conflict depends on having a just cause. In the case of Iraq, serious consideration of the justice of the cause was impaired by erroneous intelligence and tactics of deception.

In the future, the public needs to be far more skeptical of official justifications for going to war.

Furthermore, after Judith Miller’s erroneous reporting in the New York Times, Americans must also be skeptical of major media outlets when armed conflict is in prospect They should test alleged evidence against alternative news sites and foreign sources. As the prospect of conflict grows, the mainstream media ought also to be more attentive to alternative sources, and experts outside government ought to work much harder to get a hearing with major outlets.

Those who employ the Just War need to have the courage of their convictions and condemn a war as unjust when that is where their thinking leads them. The Just War is too often used as an academic tool with no practical or pastoral force. In 1983, the U.S. Catholic bishops urged the public to “say ‘No’ to nuclear war.” In 2003, they warned President Bush that “resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.” Yet, once war came, they never condemned the war as unjust. As a political and pastoral tool, public use of the Just War tradition must move from analysis to judgment.

With the Iraq War a new category has entered the Just War vocabulary: ius post bellum (post-war justice). Victors are obligated to return the territory to conditions of peace and to make the victims of war whole again.

One outstanding post-bellum issue of the Iraq War, as of many contemporary conflicts, is the rights of refugees. In the case of Iraq, finding a homeland for Christian refugees who were driven from their homes is a major unfulfilled obligation. So far, the U.S. has failed to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees to safe asylum in the U.S. or third countries. Their re-settlement remains an unpaid cost of the war.

Drew Christiansen, S. J. is editor in chief of America, the U.S. Jesuit weekly. For 14 years, he advised the U. S. Catholic bishops on Mideast policy.

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  • oldostritch

    The Iraq war taught me nothing. It did give me a front row seat to the spectacle of war mongers and manipulated media stooges abasing themselves with myriad rationalizations for torture and mass murder. They have yet to apologize, admit their errors or even stop campaigning for future wars. Our inability and unwillingness to prosecute these traitors shows the entrenched paradigm of decay that will inexorably lead to our cultural, economic and technological collapse.

  • qedlin

    What pathetic drivel. Where was Drew when they were gassing the Kurds, raping women, stealing $billions of food and medicine money, invading neighboring countries, lobbing missles at israel, and financing terrorism? Who will stop them? The Catholic church? Pacifists? Liberal Cowards and Capitulators? A traitorous media?

    The just war is to deliver the oppressed, only those with might and resolve need apply, the rest are Europeans and liberals. This nation has failed to understand why it was allowed to be birthed and failed to live by its highest ideals: the greatest gift a free nation with the power to right wrongs can do is to deliver freedom. Our freedom must not mean so much if we are not willing to help the helpless attain it, as if freedom ever has been free.

    The only thing worse than waging war is to allow millions to suffer oppression and slavery because we are too lazy, or too self centered to stop it when we have the might to do what is right.

    Our failing is to think that an oppressed muslim society like Iraq will change while the mohammadists remain in dominance: only democracy or a bnevolent dictatorship will work, neither of which the mohammadists understand or will allow, and which only a Christian/Judeo principled society can establish. But this takes decades,if not generations to establish, and we live in asound bite, microwave, fast food generation that demands instant gratification.

    As long as idiots like Drew drive the narrative, the Iraq war was unjust and a giant mistake. who cares about the millions murdered or tortured, they have no voWashington Post credentials, they are dead or obscure. Who cares about them? Not Drew.

  • ccnl1

    Some elements of our War on Terror and Aggression:-–

    -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed as of 8/10/2010 mostly due the Shiite and Sunni suicide bombers.

    – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

    – Saddam, his sons and major henchmen have been deleted. Saddam’s bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

    – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

    – Libya has become almost civil. Recently Libya agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the victims of their terrorist activities. Apparently this new reality from an Islamic country has upset OBL and his “crazies” as they have threatened Libya. OBL sure is a disgrace to the world especially the Moslem world!!! Or is he???

    – North Korea is still uncivil but is contained.

    – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

    – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “square one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

    – Bin Laden has been cornered under a rock in Western Pakistan since 9/11.

    – Fanatical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    – Timothy McVeigh was executed. .

    – Eric Rudolph is spending three life terms in prison with no parole.

    – Ji

  • amelia45

    The Iraq war was a huge mistake. We were manipulated into it by Bush/Cheney and then we spent our own military in fighting what is essentially a civil war that the Iraqi’s need to fight for themselves. We wasted billions on infrastructure that has since been blown up, fallen into disrepair, or abandoned.

    We need to stop trying to be “nation builders.” We seem to learn nothing from Vietnam and I can only hope we will learn something from this horror. The model for our future involvement in “regime change” is Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunasia – but it is not what we did in Iraq.


    There is no “Just” war – there is just war.

  • usapdx

    Did Bush jr. lie to congress? Bush sr. had Iraq sewed up. Iraq will soon have a civil war. What did the troops die for?

  • twmatthews

    No Qedlin, what we should have learned is that the final choice of going to war was actually the Bush administration’s first and only choice. The idea that an evil dictator makes money is no different than any other dictator in the region and certainly is a long way from the “imminent threat” proclaimed by the Bush administration.

    You believe we bestowed a gift onto the Iraqi people yet they asked for no such gift and to the 150,000+ Iraqis that died while receiving this “gift”, America remains an enemy and not a friend.

    The Iraq war was and remains an enormous mistake, compounded by the ineptness with which the Bush administration executed the war. You sound to me like all those old time war mongers who claim we should have stayed in Vietnam and sacrificed another 50,000 lives for nothing.

    Until people like you realize that Iraq posed no threat to us, that we can’t correct all of the world’s problems and the country we are helping needs to want democracy more than we do, America is destined to repeat these mistakes. And one other point.

    It shows no great patriotism to call for war and hang a “support our troops” magnet on your car. America is better served by people questioning any administration claiming divine justice before we send off our young men and women into harm’s way.

  • twmatthews

    ScottinVA, you sound just like a Muslim who believes that only their way is the righteous way. I’m suspicious of anyone who thinks that conquering someone is the best way to teach them how to live peacefully.

    If you were to replace the word Iraq and Afghanistan with America from your post above, your proposed actions would be indistinguishable from what is taught in the most violent Madrasah.

  • twmatthews

    ScottinVA, you sound just like a Muslim who believes that only their way is the righteous way. I’m suspicious of anyone who thinks that conquering someone is the best way to teach them how to live peacefully.

    If you were to replace the word Iraq and Afghanistan with America from your post above, your proposed actions would be indistinguishable from what is taught in the most violent Madrasah.

  • allinthistogether

    Qedlin and ScottinVA:
    Your analysis conveniently ignores much of the reality. There are some wars that are impossible to win. Our invasion in Irag probably cost us success in Afghanistan because we diverted money and services away from building the infrastructure, schools, etc. in Afghanistan that may have made the difference.

    In any case, even if we had all the resources we wanted, we could not win in Iraq or win a purely military battle in Afghanistan, due to the fact that, unlike Japan, there are no enforcable borders to keep enemy troops out of the country. As was demonstrated in Vietnam, and now in Irag and Afghanistan, even the mighty US military cannot win when the enemy outnumbers us and can come and go, or wait, as they please. There was no way to “win” in Iraq, and the only way to win in Afghanistan was by supporting the people in building a nation. We failed them at that when we took our resources to Iraq.

  • ccnl1

    What did the troops die for? For one, the freedom to say the following:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added “angels” and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni “Wannabees” of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The global Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

  • usapdx

    Bush Sr. had Iraq sewed up. Now that we have left Iraq, they shall now have their civil war soon. Afghanistan will also have a civil war after we leave there . Did Bush jr. lie to congress? WHAT A WASTE! What did the troops die for?