Expert Dr. James Turner Johnson explains the formation and historical evolution of just war theory, from St. Augustine in the fourth century to the present. He explains its principles and the reasons why the theory no longer applies to jihad. Christopher Hitchens speaks on the justice and injustice we have witnessed in recent wars, particularly in relation to the debates surrounding intervention in the Iraq War. The discussion applies just war principles to contemporary issues.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: James Turner Johnson is a renowned expert on just war theory. Among his many books on moral traditions related to war and peace is The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, published in 1997 by Penn State Press. He is a professor of religion at Rutgers University and a member of the graduate department of political science there.
DR. JAMES TURNER JOHNSON: For the last year or so 1 have spoken a lot on the idea of jihad, and I know a great deal about it, but that’s really not the topic in which I consider myself an expert. The main focus of my work has been just war tradition. I have been working on the idea of just war for about thirty years. About fifteen years ago I got into the subject of jihad because there was nobody doing for the jihad tradition of Islam the kind of work that I’d been doing for the just war tradition in Western culture, which is to attempt to understand its origins and longitudinal development and contemporary uses. I have learned a fair amount about jihad over these fifteen years. But I’m not an Arabist; I’m not an Islamic-studies specialist. With that disclaimer, let me begin. I will talk about the just war idea and then relate that to the idea of jihad, using just war categories.
It is conventional to say that the just war idea begins with Augustine in the fourth and early fifth century. This is both saying too much and saying too little. It actually goes back much earlier, into the Hebrew Scriptures, into Roman tradition, and to some degree into the; Greek tradition as well. Augustine and his mentor Ambrose said some things that were later pooled together I and made into the core of the just war idea in the West. But if you took everything that Augustine said on just war and put it in twelve-point type on a sheet of standard typing paper, you’d have about two pages’ worth. Augustine was not a just war theorist in the way that he was a theorist of, for example, sexuality in marriage; he wrote two treatises on that subject. And what he wrote on just war — or what he wrote that later thinkers came to understand as being on just war — is in fact scattered throughout all through his works. A fair amount of it is in the Contra Faustum, but there’s also material in various other places, so a systematic, coherent idea of just war does not exist until much later.
It started to come together in the middle of the twelfth century, when the famous canonist Gratian wrote his Decretum and for the first time ever assembled in one place all the things Augustine had said. After that, Augustine’s importance as a just war theorist increased greatly. After Gratian, two generations of canonical successors — the Decretists and the Decretalists — were much more responsible than anybody after them for defining the whole idea of jus ad bellum, the requirements for moral resort to war, and some elements at least of the jus in bello, the requirements for moral conduct in war, specifically the idea of non-combatant immunity.
At the end of this period of intense canonical development came the rise of Scholastic theology. And in the late thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, who was much 1 more important after the Reformation and Counter Reformation than he was in his own time, gave us a nice window on how the doctrine was developing in the: church. Aquinas says that for a war to be just, three things are necessary: (1) sovereign authority, (2) just cause, and (3) right intention. As you look more closely at what he said, you discover that right intention for him has two aspects: the avoidance of wrong intention, in the sense of having wrong motivations for fighting, and right intention in the positive sense, which is that the use of force ought to aid the establishment of peace. It’s conventional today to list peace as a separate end. I think we could stretch Aquinas just a little bit and say that he already recognized this back in the thirteenth century.
“We talk as if we had a great deal more power to resolve problems than we really do. All the just war theories seem to make the assumption that war or not-war depends on the exercise not just of our moral faculties but of our will — as if, after review of the moral question, we may decide prudently and judiciously whether or not to embark on a particular course of action. It seems to me that such a choice is very seldom available.”
After the synthesis provided by Aquinas, the doctrine underwent another couple of centuries of development in which there was a great deal of input not from 1 the religious side but from the secular side. The code of chivalry fed into this. So did the recovered study of the jus gentium (law of nations) by the secular lawyers. This was the effort to understand Roman practice and the customs of the nations that Rome interacted with. Another important component derived from reflection on the practice of warfare and the practice of statecraft.
By the end of the Middle Ages, essentially by the end of the Hundred Years’ War, a tradition that was roughly three hundred years old was in a coherent form. As formulated then, it has important religious elements, but is not a specifically religious tradition. It is a cultural tradition. It deals with the use of force, not in terms of religious authorization or religious purpose, but rather in accordance with the idea that the person holding sovereign authority has certain moral responsibilities. These responsibilities are established in the practice of states and also in the natural law. The right to use force comes from the sovereign’s responsibility to serve the common good by keeping an order that is at once just and peaceful. The whole conception of the use of force is simply that force is one of the tools available to someone in sovereign authority to help him fulfill the responsibilities of his office.
After the Middle Ages, the tradition was reshaped. Grotius — and before him, Francisco de Vitoria and other Spaniards — along with successors Pufendorf and Vattel reworked this inherited tradition, turning it into a theory of international law and international relations. And so the modern development was done by the philosophers of this new science of the “law of nations.” The tradition is the same one that existed in the medieval period, but with some important changes. One is that the idea of sovereignty gets reshaped, first theoretically by Grotius and then, in terms of international relations, by the Peace of Westphalia. What comes out of that is a conception of sovereignty that’s really a more de facto kind of thing. The sovereign is simply the person (or persons) who exercises rule over a particular people within a particular territory. Sovereignty gets more closely concerned with protection of the territory than with the moral responsibility of the sovereign to serve the common good within that territory.
The implication of this for the just war tradition as it’s developing during this period is that the jus ad bellum side declines in importance and becomes more and more pro forma. The idea of authority to make war gets reshaped as competence de guerre, the right to make war. As for the idea of just cause, it moves away from medieval notions that included punishment of evil and recovery of that which was wrongly taken, as well as defense of the commonweal against overt attack. In the modern period the focus increasingly is narrowed to the idea of defense against an armed attack. And certainly by the time the twentieth century rolls around, this is about all that’s left of it in international law. Positive international law as shaped by the Pact of Paris in 1928 and by the U.N. Charter in 1945 recognizes armed attack as the only reason why a state itself may take up arms. Although the U.N. Security Council may authorize arms in responding to threats to international peace and security, individual states don’t have the right in principle to decide to use force for any reason other than that they’re being attacked or threatened with attack.
This state of affairs is in the midst of change. It’s my contention that in the debates over humanitarian intervention in the 1990s we began to undercut the Westphalian idea of sovereignty in a very significant way, and that, in the notion of holding sovereign authorities to account for crimes against humanity, there is an effort to move back into that older, pre-modern conception of what a sovereign should be. This, it seems to me, is still in the process of development.
Let me say a word about the area that has been most important in the modern period: limitations on the practice of war. This becomes much more important after Vitoria and Grotius, both of whom recognized that there could be, at least ostensibly, justice on both sides in a war. This meant that you couldn’t say with absolute certainty who was the just party and who was the unjust party, and so both of these thinkers put much more emphasis upon the restrictions, the limits that ought to be observed in fighting justly. That really has been the main concern of the idea of just war as it developed in the modern period — more and more emphasis upon defining the rules of war and finding ways to enforce them. This is what has given us the law of armed conflict in international law, which in many ways is a reissuing of ideas that were around at the beginning of the modern period about the definition of non-combatants and the definition of weapons and tactics that ought not to be used.
I’ve been looking at the sources of the just war tradition. Now let’s turn to its content. What is this tradition all about? Historically and as it has been applied, it is about providing guidance on three levels. First, it is intended to be a guide for the sovereign himself, a guide to the practice of statecraft. Secondly, it is intended to be a guide for the commanders. And finally, it is intended to be guide to the consciences of individuals. This third function was historically not so big a part of its purpose as it has now become. In the twentieth-century recovery of the just war idea, more than anything else there has been a focus on this tradition as a guide to the consciences of individuals, a way of talking about whether they ought to participate in a war that is being carried on by their own political community. One aspect of this is the question of selective conscientious objection.
Let me go back to the list of criteria. Thomas Aquinas said that jus ad bellum criteria, those necessary for a resort to military force, were (1) sovereign authority, (2) just cause, (3) right intention. Here I focus specifically on the negative aspect of right intention: avoidance of wrong intentions, such as hatred of the enemy, implacable animosity, lust for vengeance, and desire to dominate. All these are terms that originated in Augustine, and Aquinas defined the idea of right intention with a quote from Augustine. But then, as I suggested earlier, I read right intention to include a specific naming of (4) the aim of peace as the purpose of the use of force. These deontological requirements are historically the most important issues.
But what has happened in the twentieth-century recovery of the just war idea is that three additional prudential criteria of (5) proportionality, (6) last resort, and (7) reasonable hope of success have been held up to be the most important things. And so, for example, Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in his September 2002 letter to President Bush, emphasizes proportionality and effectively paints a worst-case scenario to bolster his argument that the use of force against Iraq would be immoral because it would cause disproportionate harm. In the debates over the Gulf War of 1990-91, there was a lot of emphasis upon the use of other methods prior to the use of force — that is, the criterion of last resort. Those of us whose , memories go back that far will remember that sanctions were routinely put forward as the better way to deal with Iraq, morally preferable because they were not a use of armed force. As for reasonable hope of success, I confess to a certain skepticism as to whether the one hundred Christian ethicists who signed a statement against the use of force against Iraq last October , or Bishop Gregory, or the leaders of the mainline Protestant denominations, are very good at figuring out whether there is a reasonable hope of success. That’s really not their field. But in any case, my argument is that these are subordinate categories, categories to be used, ideally, by those who exercise the function of authority and have the responsibilities of authority.
I’ve used the term “recovery” of the just war tradition several times, because as a religious/moral tradition this effectively got lost in the modern period. The international lawyers and the jurists, the philosophers of international law, were using the tradition as their own, and the military commanders were developing the tradition in their own particular way. But the people doing moral philosophy and moral theology weren’t paying much attention to it. This began to change at the end of World War Two when Father John C. Ford wrote an article on strategic bombing — bombing a country’s infrastructure — that appeared in the Jesuit journal Theological Studies. Ford criticized the practice of strategic bombing from a just war standpoint.
And then in the early 1960s Paul Ramsey, my old mentor from Princeton, wrote War and the Christian Conscience, in which he went back to Augustine and made an argument that was fundamentally about the importance of non-combatant immunity (i.e. discrimination) and proportionality of means. The principles of discrimination and proportionality as Ramsey defined them in this book and applied them in his 1968 work. The Just War, came into the contemporary discussion as the things that really matter morally in war. A lot of development of just war theory in the latter part of the twentieth century continued to depend so heavily upon Ramsey and these two jus in bello principles that the jus ad bellum side declined. The emphasis was on whether you could expect to satisfy the criteria of discrimination and proportionality. Ramsey himself was bothered by this, though he had opened the door to it. He didn’t like what he called a bellum contra bellum justum — that is, a war against the very idea of just war. He himself never thought that the whole idea of just war was reducible entirely to these I two jus in bello principles. But he put so much emphasis there that many people, building on Ramsey, have made I proportionality and discrimination the only principles worth looking at.
In 1983 the Catholic bishops took the position that the Catholic just war tradition is rooted in a “presumption against war,” and that the purpose of the tradition is to find rules for the exceptional case where this presumption is to be overridden. This is where Bishop Gregory’s letter of last October began, and it’s where the various statements at the time of the Gulf War began. It’s an idea that was not to be found anywhere in the tradition prior to 1983. The French and German bishops who were writing about just war at about the same time appeared not to know anything about it. As I far as I’ve been able to tell, the only people who have held to it consistently since 1983 have been the American bishops.
Historically this was an idea that was introduced around 1982, during the writing of what became the pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, as a way of finding a meeting place between the pacifist faction and the just war faction of the American Catholic bishops. The idea was that this was something all sides could agree on: both pacifists and just war theorists could agree that there is a general presumption against war, and then they could go on from there. But it’s an idea that really reshapes the purpose of the tradition. Instead of thinking of the use of force as something that has the potential of serving justice or not, depending on how and why it’s used, the idea that there’s a presumption against it means that it’s inherently problematical, and that finding a limited justification for using force requires some serious arm-twisting and gyrations. In other words, it seems to me that in introducing the idea of a presumption against war, the Catholic bishops moved very significantly in the direction of pacifism, a position that force is always bad and that any use of it can at best be a lesser evil.
Let me turn now to the subject of jihad. The notion of jihad, from a verb meaning “to strive,” goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet. Jihad in the sense of warfare is not something we find in the Koran, though in the Hadith literature (i.e., the Prophet’s deeds and words as [ recounted by his companions) there’s plenty of use of the idea of jihad of the sword. But the formal tradition doesn’t begin then. Rather, it begins with the jurists during the period from the latter part of the eighth century C.E. up to the tenth century, when there are efforts to describe the relations between the Dar al-Islam, the “house of Islam,” and the Dar al-Harb, the “house of war.” The jurists saw the rest of the world as the “house of war” because, as they looked out there, they not only saw a threat against the Dar al-Islam but also saw elements of the Dar al-Harb fighting continually among themselves. To them it looked like a realm of chaos in contrast to the realm of Islam, which they conceived as one of peace and order and justice. So the formal tradition goes back to the ninth and tenth centuries.
Then there was a period of development of this concept. One of the features of the classical idea of jihad was that it had to be authorized for the community by the person who was the designated heir to the responsibility of the Prophet Muhammad. For the Shiites, this person was the imam. A crisis occurs for what are called the Twelver Shiites when the last imam goes into hiding and there is no longer an imam. Thus for contemporary Shiism, there is no person who possesses the authority to call the Islamic community to jihad against the Dar al-Harb. For what became the Sunni tradition, the designated heir of the Prophet was the caliph, and the crisis occurs when there is no longer a caliph. As to when this occurred, there are three dates to choose from. You can say the caliphate ended in the twelfth century, when the Mongols conquered Baghdad and overthrew the Abbasid caliphate. (The Abbasid family was descended from Abbas, the uncle of Muhammad.) Or you can say it was in the sixteenth century, when the Turks conquered Egypt and overthrew the last surviving line of the Abbasid caliphate. The third date to choose is 1924, when the Young Turks overthrew the Ottoman Empire.
In any case, in the contemporary period there is no longer a caliphate, and so the possibility of just warfare in the jihad sense, collective warfare by the community, evaporates. What’s left is something that traces back to the early juristic theory of jihad but was intended there only as a kind of exception to the general rule. This is the idea of individual jihad, or the jihad of emergency. Let’s put this idea in context. Here you are out on the frontier, living with your family. Along comes an army marching into the Dar al-Islam from the Dar al-Harb. What are you supposed to do? Do you just put your youngest child on your fastest donkey and send him off to Baghdad to ask the caliph to raise an army and come out to fight? Well, yes, you do that. But in the meantime your individual responsibility — and that of everybody in your family, including your prepubescent kids, your father who is on his sick bed, your wife and daughters — is to oppose the invaders. Now all these people that I’ve just mentioned are traditionally understood in Islam to be non-combatants. They would not normally take part in war. But in this case, all the internal rules that limit participation in war disappear, because this is an emergency.
This is the idea that gets picked up by radical Islam, beginning in the fight against colonialism in North Africa in the nineteenth century and continued — in different and ever more intensive ways — in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Now Muslim radicals claim that not only a military invasion but also Western influence amounts to aggression against the Dar al-Islam, and that any territory that once belonged to the Dar al-Islam always belongs to the Dar al-Islam. So in any such territory, any kind of government that is not Islamic is an aggression against Islam. And anyone who is involved in that government or presence is by definition a part of the invading army and may be attacked. By whom? Any Muslim and all Muslims. As the fatwa of the World Islamic Front (Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and several leaders of national “jihad” groups) put it in 1998, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilian and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it….”
A lot more could be said, but I will leave it at this point and let Christopher have his say. We can come back to some of these matters later on.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Jim. Christopher Hitchens has been very much involved in the debates over Iraq. He is currently the I. F. Stone Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley. Formerly a columnist for The Nation, he is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the author of several books, most recently Why Orwell Matters.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I was thinking of beginning by telling you about my trip to the Kennedy School at Harvard to debate Father Brian Hehir, the Catholic bishops’ point man on war and peace. I wanted to hear his exposition of the Augustinian position. I was as lenient with him as I could be because I think it’s tough being a Catholic priest in Boston these days! But what really struck me about his work was the seeming anachronism of it in the age of things like the intercontinental ballistic missile, whose capability for rapid response gravely curtails the time available for deliberation. If you look back at, say, the period between the Munich Agreement and the Hitler-Stalin Pact and then the onset of the Second World War, you are amazed by the slow motion; everyone has what seems like an embarrassing amount of time. Now, the most salient experience of our own generation would probably be the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was the introduction many of us had to how fast things could go. Suddenly from nowhere there was a crisis that became critical almost at once and could have become a global catastrophe at any I moment. There wasn’t really very much time to debate the justice of our actions.
At the beginning of the debate at Harvard we took a vote on the proposition of “war against Iraq.” I said that I would rather say, “intervention against Saddam Hussein”; one wants to get the categories clear at the outset. We voted, and I didn’t have all that many supporters; Father Hehir had a mighty number; and there were a fair number of undecided people. I then said I’d like to take one more vote before beginning, and asked, “Who in this room would vote to lift the no-fly zones in Iraq?” No hands went up; everyone seemed to feel that they were fine. So I said, “Who here knows whether those no-fly zones are authorized by the U.N.?” Again, no hands went up. “They’re not authorized by the U.N.,” I said, “and Iraq would be perfectly within its rights under international law to fly there. So I think I could stop talking now, because I think I’ve just carried the motion. We are evidently at war, and you seem not to want to call it off’” At the end of the debate, I had not changed very many minds. There were a lot more undecided; but whether Father Hehir drove them there or I did, we don’t really know.
War privileges situational ethics. We talk as if we had a great deal more power to resolve problems than we really do. All the just war theories seem to make the assumption that war or not-war depends on the exercise not just of our moral faculties but of our will — as if, after review of the moral question, we may decide prudently and judiciously whether or not to embark on a particular course of action. It seems to me that such a choice is very seldom available.
In his book The Threatening Storm, Kenneth Pollack makes the case for a full-scale intervention — still what I prefer, by the way — in Iraq, a case that is extremely well argued and presented. At every stage, he looks at the options, interrogates them, eliminates some, and concludes that, because of a long train of previous blunders, betrayals, and miscalculations, the United States is now forced to invade. In other words, we’re not deciding to do it; we’re being forced to do it because, to use Pollack’s phrase, it’s “the least worst option.” But a rational person might find it equally justifiable to say, “Well, having got everything about Iraq wrong so far, by what right does the United States now propose to do anything about it at all?” Those repeated demonstrations of unfitness to fulfill that right seem to me to be the strongest argument available against using military force.
There was no intention to end the last Gulf War with no-fly zones. Only when the decision had already been made to stop at the emancipation of Kuwait, not to take the war any further, did it become evident that the war I would end with the Kurdish people being massacred on the frozen hillsides of their own lands or in neighboring Turkey. We couldn’t let the war end like that, obviously; public opinion wouldn’t stand for it. So we had to improvise an ending. Once again there wasn’t much time for speculation on how just this would be; it was a pragmatic, short-term solution that actually has had the happy unintended consequence of creating the embryo, not just of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, but possibly of a wider Kurdish self-determination.
So most commonly we find ourselves arguing about whether to intervene in a war that is already under way. The justifications may only become available to us afterwards. The American Civil War — the “late unpleasantness,” as it’s known not many miles from here — did, in fact, abolish cartel slavery in America, but that was not a declared war aim, at least not until after the Emancipation Proclamation, which was only adopted as a war measure. At the close of the Second World War, it became known that the Nazi imperial regime had committed a series of mass murders and genocides, but that was not known to most people combating the Nazi regime during the war. Even on the Allied I side, those few who did know about these things kept quiet about them. People did not have the opportunity to say that they were combating the German imperialist regime or National Socialism or the Fascist axis because it promoted genocide, nice though it would have been to have that justification available.
That war was finally brought to an end, in Asia, by the employment of weapons of mass destruction. To take some of the just war criteria: the idea that the destruction of Nagasaki was “proportionate” seems difficult to argue. To say that it was a “last resort” also seems difficult to argue in the case of a country that is already being militarily defeated and can’t really argue about the terms of surrender. As for “reasonable hope of success” — that seems a rather banal criterion by which to judge the detonation of a nuclear weapon. It will go off, all right; it will do what you want it to do; it will certainly succeed. The nuclear dimension seems to me to have changed everything. It can be argued — though I think I probably wouldn’t want to argue — that the use of such weapons could in no case be justified, because if they were used on the scale that we contemplate and have prepared for, they would threaten to end the life of our entire species, Such a use probably would also have the power to destroy the biosphere. It would in fact sentence to death again everyone who ever lived in the world, because there would be no one to remember and to enjoy any of the achievements of civilization. In the case of a war that threatened to eventuate in a nuclear exchange, it would clearly be far better pragmatically to surrender to the most despotic foe, because there would at least be a chance of surviving.
Like many others of my generation, I shall never forget exactly where I was and what I was doing on that extraordinary day when President Kennedy nearly killed me. I was thirteen and was at some terrible English boarding school during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was never made clear to me why the President of the United States thought it was worth destroying my country as well as his over a quarrel with Fidel Castro. I’ve never had it explained to me since. I think it was quite wrong even to risk a nuclear war of the worlds with Cuba. Unpardonable levity was shown by the President throughout. And an unpardonable and servile thanks has been offered to him ever since for his grace and dignity in saving us from a crisis that was in fact entirely of his own making.
I’m a former activist in the anti-war movement, and not particularly ashamed of what I did in that period. The Defense Department learned a great deal from what was said about its tactics in Vietnam. At least now people say “collateral damage” when they used to say “body count.” That atrocious period when they actually showed pictures of the laying out of the civilian corpses is behind us. A great deal of effort has been expended on designing weapons that are, so far as is possible, selective.
Another lesson was learned from the destruction of the water and sewage systems and the power grid in : Baghdad in the last Gulf War. The attitude now is: “That’s ridiculous; we know that the Iraqi army has its own generators, so losing the power grid isn’t going to hurt them. We’ve got to get weapons that are much better than that.” Well, this is honorable, and I think it also shows the rule of pragmatism. Once a war has begun, if for a while it should go badly, then it’s highly unlikely that the military leaders would say, “Well, we’re not going to hit the power I grid this time.” Whatever the resolutions to conduct a just war had been, the argument would shift, and those in charge would say, “This may be a horrible thing to do, I but it will be a war-shortening thing to do.” And once again, one is involved, as the jihadists are, in one’s own tautologies. It seems to me that those are inescapable.
Vietnam, I think, could have been predicted to be disastrous from every point of view because it originated as a secret intervention concealed from the public, from Congress, indeed from much of the political establishment. It was a surreptitious undertaking designed to rescue a moribund French colonialism — in other words, not a very noble cause and not a very plausible one. Its originators at least flattered us by lying about it. In the end — and Henry Kissinger actually says this; he tries to make a joke of it, but what he’s saying is true — they were bombing the North Vietnamese so as to make them accede to the concessions they had already made, in order that (a) the South Vietnamese could be reassured that pressure was being visibly brought to bear on Hanoi and (b) reciprocal concessions could be asked of the South Vietnamese. Anyway, everyone was being betrayed. This bombing of the North was also intended to conceal from the South Vietnamese the fact that the United States had already decided to abandon them. In other words, it was an immoral use of bombardment. And it was entirely calamitous, drawing in the neighboring countries, Cambodia and Laos, to catastrophic effect.
I think the Vietnam War added a really important new I criterion for a just war in the information age: how much debate did you have about this war when you got into it? How well informed was the public? How much disclosure to Congress was made? How honest was the government in presenting its case? How much secrecy was there? In other words, how democratic are we being about it, not just in the aims of war but in our conduct of the ongoing conflict? And we can add to this the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” that the government is expected to demonstrate now in elaborating its case for intervention before the international committee, in particular before the forum of the United Nations.
I think another case where a just war could be proposed is when there has been an appeal for help by a properly constituted government that has a just cause and can, in some sense, prove it. I think that, for example, the appeal of the government of Bosnia for international help was a decently constituted international appeal. The Bosnian government was defending certain principles of democracy against ethnic cleansing, against genocidal tactics. Really, the shame of this is that it took so long for the United States to make the decisive intervention. In regard to the case for war in Iraq, an appeal has been made by the Iraqi people for help. The alternative — not going to war — doesn’t seem to be available; Saddam Hussein has shown us repeatedly that if we don’t fight him now, we’ll have to fight him later but on terms of his own choosing and under conditions that might not so favorable. I think the discussion that American society has been having to resolve to do this, and to enlarge and refine the criteria by which we consider not only war but also justice, is very impressive.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Christopher. Jim, would you like to say anything further before we open the discussion to everyone else?
DR. JOHNSON: I’d just like to point out a few differences that I think Christopher and I have on this subject. I don’t think that thinking morally in terms of certain rules for decision-making is anachronistic in the time of abbreviated warning. This is in effect Brian Hehir’s position. In writing a review of my book where I criticized the “presumption against war,” Father Hehir said something like this: “Yes, of course, it’s not in the tradition anywhere, but in this day and age we really need to have such a presumption because war is so destructive and comes on us so quickly.” I think we have to be very careful about that whole way of thinking.
As to whether the contemporary situation privileges situational ethics: there may be a sense in which that is so, but I’m not sure that situational ethics is ever a good thing to depend on completely, and I’m not sure it necessarily leads to the decision that we are forced to go to war. If you think about the spectrum of possibilities in every situation where some people claim you’re forced to react, you’re going to find people saying, “No, we’re not forced to react at all.” Or, “We’re forced to react only by using diplomatic means.” Or, “We’re forced to react only by lobbing a few cruise missiles in.” There is a whole range of positions out there. Think about the difference between the Bush administration, the Clinton administration, Bishop Gregory, and somebody like Stanley Hauerwas, who says we must never, never use force. In fact, the argument about being forced to resort to armed force is really one way of talking about the whole question of whether there are justifications or not. It seems to me, really, just to be an argument over the language.
A great deal of what has been going on in the recovery of the just war way of thinking about armed force is an effort to avoid fighting another war the way World War Two was fought. Back in the early eighties I was one of the people opposing the U.S. bishops and others who were arguing against developing better targeting mechanisms on the grounds that this made war more likely. They were dead set against what they called war fighting efforts. And I was arguing, on the other hand, that at times you find yourself needing justifiably to go to war, and that at that point you’d better have weapons that enable you to fight the war justly and well. So I have been very happy with the development of PGMs — precision guided munitions. We can actually hit what we aim at using a smaller warhead that destroys the target with much less collateral damage. This strikes me as a very important moral development and certainly one I was arguing for back in the early eighties.
The U.S. military is one of the places where the just war tradition is taken most seriously today. When you take the course in ethics at West Point or at Annapolis or, at the Air Force Academy, you’re given a serious collection of readings by people who write on just war. The war colleges have very knowledgeable people on their staffs who teach courses about this. They want to get professional military officers to think about these issues and figure out what they’re going to do before they get into a situation that requires action. It’s to socialize them in advance so that they don’t have to make it up as they go along and perhaps make bad decisions because they’re under great stress.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Jim and Christopher. Now we invite everyone else to join the discussion.
E. J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: I want to ask Christopher a question and Professor Johnson a question. Christopher, it’s my impression from reading you that your argument for this war with Iraq rests in the end much more on humanitarian and democracy — building grounds than on the whole question of the weapons of mass destruction Saddam possesses and the threat he poses. In particular you stress our obligation to the Kurds. I’m curious to know whether your view of this whole thing would be different absent the humanitarian and democracy-building aspects.
Then a question for Professor Johnson: Brian Hehir argues very convincingly that the “presumption against war” is a new criterion added onto traditional just war theory, but it does seem to me (and I think to him) to be a logical extension of that theory, partly because of new factors such as the threat of nuclear war and the capacity first seen in World War Two to inflict massive damage by strategic bombing.
MR. CROMARTIE: Christopher first, then Jim.
MR. HITCHENS: You’re right, E. J., in thinking that I came to this position largely as a friend of the Kurds and Iraqis who would favor regime change. But I think their views have been taken with some seriousness by the Bush administration, which also has a case of its own to make about the weapons of mass destruction. That case seems persuasive to me. It’s quite obvious that the Saddam Hussein regime has staked its whole future on the acquisition of weapons of genocide. Also, there’s his foolhardy gesture of setting Kuwaiti oil wells on fire on his way out of Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War. He’d been told by James Baker before the war started that if he tried to destroy the Kuwaiti oil fields, the United States would reserve the right to — I forget what the euphemism was, but it was the same warning he was given that if he used chemical weapons on American troops, he might be obliterated. Yet he burned the oil fields anyway. I don’t think this was a rational act, and so I don’t want him in a position where he could do that to the Saudi oil fields as well.
I think that’s a fairly strong case. Then there’s the matter of Iraq’s involvement with international gangsters. Some of the stuff that has come out about Iraq’s connection with Al Qaeda is very persuasive, some less so. I know for a certainty that Iraq sheltered the Abu Nidal Organization, whose job it was to go around the world shooting democratic Palestinians. I think there’s no doubt that the Iraqi Mukhabarat involves itself in that underworld of asymmetric horror that we now have to take so seriously.
Then, yes, crimes against humanity are war crimes. Invading Iraq could also take place under the Genocide Convention, which mandates states to take action to “prevent and punish” any attempt to destroy an ethnic or religious group, which Saddam Hussein indisputably tried to do to the Kurds. So there are several strong factors supporting the case for regime change in Iraq. Each can be used as a change of subject from the others, but I think that overall they are all part of the case and belong together.
DR. JOHNSON: Just to piggyback briefly on this. The early Administration justification for the possible use of force against Iraq was entirely in terms of preemption. President Bush, it seems to me, changed the debate significantly at the U.N. when he introduced the violation of the U.N. resolutions and thus the restoration of the state of war that ended at the truce in 1991, and when he introduced the whole subject of the crimes against humanity. It seems to me that we need to take seriously all three of those lines of thinking in talking about this.
“The nuclear dimension seems to have changed everything. It can be argued that the use of such weapons could in no case be justified, because if they were used on the scale that we contemplate and have prepared for, they would threaten to end the life of our entire species. It would sentence to death everyone who ever lived in the world, because there would be no one to remember and to enjoy any of the achievements of civilization. In the case of a war that threatened to eventuate in a nuclear exchange, it would clearly be far better pragmatically to surrender to the most despotic foe, because there would at least be a chance of surviving.”
On the matter of the presumption against war: sure, E. J., when this idea was introduced back in the early eighties in the context of the Reagan administration’s nuclear buildup, the U.S. bishops were attempting to rule out any possibility of the use of nuclear force. And while they overstretched themselves in saying that this was a part of Catholic tradition from the beginning, one may certainly applaud the intention, at least, of inserting an extra firewall in there against what they thought might be an almost casual use of nuclear weapons. I think they were wrong about that, but anyway that was their intention, it seems to me.
Then once that idea got in play, it took on a life of its own. Now it’s used in connection with the prudential criteria to paint a worst-case scenario and to suggest that the use of force is never justified. It seems to me that what has happened in the development of American Catholic doctrine on this subject is seriously wrong, and I wish the bishops would find some way to get out from under it gracefully.
MR. DIONNE: Is there not within just war theory a presumption that war is an evil to be avoided whenever possible?
MR. JOHNSON: No. Augustine says that what is evil in war is not the deaths of some who will soon die anyway. What is evil in war is — and then he lists all those wrong intentions, such as hatred of the enemy and the desire for vengeance. The point is that war is to be one of the tools that the person or persons in authority have to serve the common good.
CARL CANNON, National Journal: I want to jump in where E. J.’s going because I don’t quite understand the objection to the presumption against war. I’m not Catholic, and I don’t care whether it’s part of the tradition or not. I don’t care if they made it up. It just seems so self-evidently true. The horrors of the Civil War in this country with its frightening loss of life, young men marching across familiar fields into musket fire; the horrors of World War One with its trench warfare, and the death of ten or twenty million combatants; the horrors of World War Two — I think that by 1983 it’s indeed an established tenet of Western thought that war is evil and should be avoided. If you start with that, then if you want to make the case for war as Christopher Hitchens just did for war in Iraq, it’s a presumption you have to move beyond.
DR. JOHNSON: In a historical sense, sure. And if you think about war in terms of the Battle of Gettysburg or the trenches of World War One or the fire bombing of Dresden or the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, then there is good reason to be very, very dubious about it. This vision of war is used as a way of saying that force needs to be taken out of the basket of possibilities for the exercise of statecraft, because all war today is inherently going to be like that; all war today is going to produce an immense number of casualties. What you often get in the debate is really a kind of dishonesty. After the fact, even if the war didn’t turn out to produce as bad a situation as they expected, people make up data to prove that it was as bad as they’d predicted. So you have Bishop Gumbleton in San Francisco back in the fall talking about ten thousand civilian deaths caused by the air strikes in Afghanistan. This is the kind of argument I get into all the time with people on the other side of this issue. I don’t challenge at all what you’re saying about war in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m simply saying that when this way of thinking about war is projected onto all future wars, then the real intention is to say the state can never use force for any purpose.
MR. DIONNE: Bishop Gumbleton is a pacifist, not a subscriber to the just war tradition. The bishops actually supported the war in Afghanistan, as I recall, and they’re not saying, “Take war out of the basket of possibilities.” It seems to me that they’re saying, “Put it way in the bottom of the basket and don’t get to it unless you have to.” Is that fair?
DR. JOHNSON: Well, there’s also the whole question of how the criteria are used. Theoretically, I’m sure that what they’re trying to say is, Yes, put it in the bottom of the basket. That’s what the “presumption” with the possibility of overriding language is all about. But in fact, the way it is used is: Here are these hoops that any use of force has to jump through, because force is inherently evil; don’t worry whether the end of justice can be served by a particular use of force, because force always produces injustice. And you can make these hoops narrow enough and high enough off the ground that it’s almost impossible ever to get through them. You end up with functional pacifism.
JAY TOLSON, U.S. News & World Report: I would like to relate what we’ve been talking about to President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which has been named the “preemption” doctrine. That word, unfortunately, is used twice in the document in slightly differing ways. But I think the document itself, taken as a whole, is the most significant statement of U.S. foreign policy since the containment doctrine of George Kennan. It says that for centuries we’ve had the notion of preemption as a valid concept. We can attack a nation or a power if it threatens to attack us. But what’s really different now is that we must adapt the concept of imminent threat to current capabilities and objectives. What it says is that we can no longer rely on this notion of imminent threat, because both rogue states and terrorists have the capacity to acquire these weapons and use them without our having any sense of when the blow is coming.
And so the doctrine is saying that the greater the threat, the greater the risk, and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. I actually think that what this doctrine is doing is asking us to do what you say we need to do, which is to democratize the discussion of the morality of war. I think it’s inviting not just the American public but the larger community of Western nations to debate this issue. What do you think of this sort of new wrinkle in our doctrine of just war?
DR. JOHNSON: First of all, I don’t think it’s very new. I think that the United States and other states as well have always claimed the right to preempt when there’s a clear danger. The test has always been: clear and present danger. Think about Israel’s preemptive strike against the Egyptian and Syrian air forces back in 1967 — those planes were actually on the tarmac being fueled and loaded up, ready to take off, when they were hit. This is the kind of model that the classic twentieth-century discussions of preemption have always had in mind. If there’s a new theme here, it’s that the kind of threat posed by weapons of mass destruction requires us to redefine the meaning of “present danger,” to look more seriously at the matter of intention, to look more seriously at whether deterrents will actually work in a particular case. It seems to me that there’s not any inherent problem with this from the kind of moral perspective I’m working out of. But I do agree that there needs to be a very serious public, democratized debate about this. The dangers of bad judgment are great.
DAVID FRUM, National Post: I’m going to make a very poor recompense for the exhaustive job that James Turner Johnson and Christopher Hitchens have done on the subject by saying something quite rude. I’ve been following these just war arguments since the first bishops’ statement in 1983, and I simply cannot shake my overwhelming sense of the pointlessness and futility of this intellectual effort. I have been trying to figure out why I find it so pointless and futile, and I can think of four or five reasons. Of the two that strike me as most salient, the first is this: that to enter this intellectual game is to enter into a discussion of war under rules that are fixed. That you are signing onto an exercise where the judges are in fact participants. That when you play the just war intellectual game, what you are ultimately doing is saying, “We are going to allow the institutional structure of American Catholicism to have a lot to do with whether or not the United States allows itself to use force, because after all it’s their theory. They’re the ones who can tell us whether we’re doing it right or wrong.”
But in fact that institution has been captured. It has been captured by people with a strong pacifist bias. People with that bias also run the schools of theology and other academic institutions, all of which are going to be largely hostile to American power and to American purpose in the world. The game is fixed, Professor Johnson. I know that over the years you’ve made many, many valiant efforts to win, but you’re not going to win. It’s not a fair game.
DR. JOHNSON: There are indeed a lot more of them than there are of me.
MR. FRUM: And the second of my two most salient reasons for finding the effort futile this is that I completely agree with Christopher in his point about the anachronism of all of this. These rules were drawn up at a time in which the field for war was Europe, and Europe was divided among sovereign states. Just war theory requires us to subscribe to a fiction of sovereignty. It just does not describe the world that we are moving into. There’s not really a sovereign state in Africa. In the Arab world or in Central Asia, state sovereignty is dissolving before our eyes. As for the European states, many have abjured much of their own sovereignty. And so we are moving into a world where the circumstances are so radically different from those envisioned by the people who drew up just war theory and brought it to this baroque splendor in the seventeenth century that we’ve left the theory behind. So those are my rude remarks.
DR. JOHNSON: Well, they’re not terribly rude, and you deliver them in a very civil way! Let me try to respond. The Catholic bishops have done their best to capture this tradition and to label it something that belongs to them in particular, but it doesn’t. It’s a tradition that’s out there in Western culture very generally. It takes all kinds of forms — military forms, legal forms, philosophical forms. Michael Walzer, who is probably the most influential just war theorist active today, is not a Catholic and doesn’t come at it from the framework of Augustine or Aquinas.
MR. FRUM: Walzer’s part of the fixed jury.
DR. JOHNSON: Okay. But the point I would make is that this way of thinking was broadly invented in Western culture. What I try to do, really, is to say, Hey, let’s think about it in more systematic terms. Let’s try to really understand where the values we bring to the whole business of the use of force come from and how they interrelate. I’m not going to convince you after twenty years of your own thinking about this; it’s not going to happen. And as for the issue of sovereignty, I agree with everything you said about the majority of nations in the world. They don’t have the right to use force because they are not in fact exercising sovereignty in any meaningful sense of the term, which creates serious problems for those states that do. But I’m an American, and I’m concerned about the use of force by the sovereign authority of the United States. That’s why I do this stuff.
MR. CROMARTIE: I’d like to lob a question back to David Frum. Without just war theory, what’s to keep a check on warfare? What do you see as an alternative?
MR. FRUM: I think many U. S. decisions about the use of force in the future are going to be based on thinking that is more like that of a policeman than that of a soldier. When U.S. troops shoot and fight, what they’re going to be doing much of the time is intervening in other people’s quarrels, going in and collaring somebody. The argument is going to be, not about the morality of the use of force, but about whether the United States has enough self-interest in this area to take on the role of the policeman. Because U.S. power is so overwhelming and is going to get more and more so, I suspect there will be fewer and fewer occasions on which the United States is called on to use force to defend itself. The issues will be less about the use of force between states and more about the use of force within a state. They’re going to be thinking like a cop.
DR. JOHNSON: Yes. And if I may say so, this is one reason why the medieval conception of all this is far less anachronistic than you may think. In the medieval term jus ad bellum, bellum simply referred to the use of force by a sovereign authority. That could be domestic, or it could be international. What it could not be was private — the private use of force could never be justified. A lot of regimes in the world are in fact private tyrannies. In the quest for proper language, there needs to be some recognition that what this stuff is all about is the use of force for the common good, domestically and internationally.
WENDY KAMINER, Freelance Writer: I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I actually agree with David Frum — or at least I had a very similar reaction as I was listening to Professor Johnson’s presentation. I was trying to imagine the scene at the White House or at the Pentagon where people are having this discussion. It just seems ludicrously academic. If we leave the White House and the Pentagon and go into the public square, what is it that is supposed to guide citizens?
I’d like to focus for a moment on the obligations and the challenges of citizens in trying to participate in this process of deliberation. People can get what seem like completely different sets of facts from advocates on different sides, or the same facts put in such different perspectives that you don’t know which version to accept. It’s extremely difficult even to know how democratic the process is. People can’t know if they’re being told everything that they ought to be told. And so they tend to defer to the authorities they trust. They get to the point where they feel as if they have to take certain opinions on faith, and so they do take them on faith.
That leads me to Christopher’s suggestion that we are being forced into this war at least partly by our own history of blunders in the region. It seems to me, then, that the pressing question is, Well, since you screwed up so royally in the past, why should we think you’re not going to screw up again? Why should we believe that you’re making the right decision, that you’re going to conduct this war intelligently, that you’re going to conduct the aftermath intelligently? I don’t know what the answer is for citizens. I don’t even know whom I should trust. And I probably spend a lot more time thinking about this stuff than somebody who has to work fifty hours a week at a job and has all kinds of other obligations and barely has time to read the newspaper. So what are citizens supposed to do?
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, Wendy, I would have thought you’d be encouraged to hear that the military actually pays attention to just war theory. A friend of mine who teaches at the Naval War College in Rhode Island said we’d be surprised to learn just how much military leaders are steeped in this tradition. They are forced to understand that you don’t go to war until you are convinced that the cause is just.
MS. KAMINER: The military is not really making the initial decision about going to war. That is a political decision. Presidents are not steeped in the just war tradition. Members of their administration are not steeped in this tradition. I would hope that just as human beings they would instinctively incorporate some of the principles. To put enormous numbers of human beings of whatever nationality at risk of being killed is an endeavor that you certainly take extremely seriously. People accept that as part of the obligation and responsibility of office. I’m just agreeing with Christopher that the theory is anachronistic. It seems irrelevant to the way decisions are actually made. If our political and military leaders have internalized some of these principles, fine. But I just don’t see them as active guides to what’s going on in the political process. And I don’t see them as very helpful to the ordinary citizen.
DR. JOHNSON: Read the National Security Strategy. It’s on the White House website. People should I debate it.
JOHN JUDIS, The New Republic: Before I get to my comment, I want to second what Jay said about the Bush strategy. International relations experts go crazy when you use the term “preemptive” to describe this strategy. It’s not the same as the Israelis in 1967. It’s not even the same as blowing up the nuclear reactors, because Israel was still the underdog, a characteristic we do not have when we proclaim this strategy. I think it’s a novel doctrine that poses a lot of moral problems.
But what I want to talk about is I something slightly different, though related. There are two different kinds of wars that I myself have had to grapple with. I’m not old enough to have had to worry about Pearl Harbor, but the other one like that is September 11, where it’s simply a reaction on our part that going to war is a defensive and just act. The other kinds of wars have been completely different: from Korea through Bosnia and Kosovo, the United States wasn’t directly threatened. What bothers me is the difference between the kind of moral dilemma we found ourselves in when we pondered going to war in Vietnam, and what I feel that a lot of Americans (including some of my fellow media people) experience when they deliberate the war in Iraq. In Vietnam, the two things that were really important were, first, the draft, and second, the fact that we were by no means invincible. People were going to get killed. So when you thought about that war, you thought both about those who were going to get killed and about the fact that you were going to kill people. Many people said retrospectively, “The Vietnam War protesters were just worried about themselves.” But it’s not true. A lot of us were the generation that was raised on World War Two — the just “war of all wars” — and it was horrible to think that we were going to go kill Vietnamese who didn’t deserve to die at our hand. It was an intense moral process.
A couple of points in conclusion. First, I think the “hoops” are very important. The more hoops the better, given this situation. The U.N. is very important. It’s very important to constrain the United States. We need to have to go through this process of reasoning. And I think we need to be restrained internationally; that’s why things like the Bush administration’s sly dismissal of the International Criminal Court worry me.
Second, in an odd way I think that the terrorist tactics Bin Laden and others have used are a rational response to a situation in which they see themselves completely outnumbered in the world, unable to wage a guerrilla war or anything like that; and they see that a relatively omnipotent country can go to war without the casualties and therefore without the kind of usual revolt that heavy casualties prompt within its citizenry. So what’s the response to that? It’s to send suicide bombers. I fear that we’re entering a new era where we’re going to have this kind of diplomacy and this kind of international politics on the part of the United States, and as a counterpart a continuation of apocalyptic terrorism and suicide bombing, directed not at Israel but at the United States.
RUTH MARCUS, The Washington Post: I have a few comments and then a question. It’s very nice and healthy that people at the war colleges debate just war theory, but 1 think that ultimately they are going to do what their commander-in-chief says they’re going to do, just war theory or not. They’re not going to make the decision about whether to go to war, or when to stop the war, or whether it would be more just to continue the war.
A second point: It seems to me that as the question of prevention/preemption becomes much more important in the age of weapons of mass destruction, we don’t have exactly what we need to be able to debate the justice of prevention. We’re caught in a circular situation. Our government can’t give us the information we need in order to decide whether or not it would be just to intervene on grounds of prevention. This leads me to my question: Professor Johnson, can you talk a little more about how just war theory applies in the world we’re living in? Many of our wars are not against people who play by the same rules. How does the theory apply where we’re in a war against terrorists rather than sovereign nations? And how does the threat of weapons of mass destruction play into this?
DR. JOHNSON: Let me back up to your withering comment that it’s nice that the people at the war colleges talk about this stuff but the military don’t really have a hand in policy. I think that’s simplistic and wrong. The official way the military have a hand in policy is through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. There may also be another channel when you have a military person as the National Security Council adviser.
MS. MARCUS: But that’s by accident.
DR. JOHNSON: No, it’s not. It’s not accidental at all, because the generals come from the war colleges. By now, enough of this stuff has been in play at the war colleges for long enough that the general officers and the flag officers in the Navy are very conversant with it. They’re used to thinking in just war language. And they know people more expert in it with whom they will talk about these issues, not in the context of making an actual decision but in more general terms. The same thing is more broadly true of the influence that think tanks have on policy people both inside and outside the government. So I would not diminish in any way the importance for the whole public policy debate of the fact that the Army war colleges and the service academies for fifteen years or so have had curricula that dealt very seriously with the idea of just war.
To think about just war theory only in terms of war between states is wrong. What this has to do with is the responsibility of the good state — and I’m willing to admit that there may be quite a few of those in the world — to seek to serve the good of its own populace and also the good of the international order. I think it was very healthy when, as a result of the development of human-rights law, we began to talk again, in a way that we hadn’t for quite a while, about the responsibilities of states when they are confronted with issues of genocide, of massive human-rights repression within societies. We need to think about the use of force as something that can serve the cause of justice and peace, something that may be a responsibility of a person in sovereign authority.
As for the matter of how we use it, again, the kinds of capabilities that the U.S. military now has and is further developing are very important, because the actual application of force can now be much more focused, much more limited, and therefore much more just. The United States has been roundly criticized for not working harder to get coalitions of nations in on the use of military force. But a reason for not doing this is that other military forces don’t have the capabilities of discrimination that the U.S. military does — of intentionally discriminating in an airstrike, for instance, between a military or justified political target and the civilians who happen to be in the area around it. And of course terrorists, in contrast, directly target non-combatants to get at the governmental structures of the country.
MR. HITCHENS: People seem to want to discuss how well informed people should be, and how you know when you have enough information to make the decision. When do you decide that enough people know enough? Take the case of Afghanistan. Many people could be forgiven for not knowing very much about it. What did we need to know beyond the fact that it was harboring the Al Qaeda network and had instituted a regime of medieval despotism? Here’s what we knew in advance: You will be able to evict the Taliban. You will be able to shut out if not destroy Al Qaeda. But you might have to kill ten thousand Afghan civilians to get this done. (We now think it has been fewer than three thousand because of the PGMs, but we can’t be sure.) How could that calculation have been made? The best we can do is make sure that the officer corps is trained to think about it, that weaponry is designed to minimize noncombatant casualties, and that the fighting forces are adequately trained to use that weaponry.
In Chile earlier this year I was with a good friend who is part of a very important human-rights movement there. He told me he’s invited twice a year to Fort Benning to do a course in human rights. A video is shown to Army officers about what happened at My Lai. The whole story is laid out, including the part about the soldiers who had to point their guns at their fellow Americans to say, “You hold it right there.” Everyone has to watch this. I was impressed. (But then you read, as I did last week, that five guys working for the U.S. Army who had expertise in Arabic languages and Muslim culture — particularly involved in interpreting, translating, and the like — were fired by the armed forces because they were homosexual, and that really makes you despair.)
MS. KAMINER: You say about Afghanistan: “Well, what more do you need to know? There’s this despotic regime there; what more do you need to know?” You might want to know j something about how that war is being conducted and what is happening there right now. I don’t take it on faith that the Administration has been doing all that it should in Afghanistan since it first started bombing. I don’t feel competent to make that judgment myself. It is not enough to know that there is a despotic regime there. There are despotic regimes in lots of places in the world.
MR. HITCHENS: No, no. “Despotic” alone wouldn’t do it. A despotic regime that’s part of the Al Qaeda network, yes….
MS. KAMINER: But you also still have to know, was this successful in disrupting Al Qaeda? Was the disruption worth the war? It’s just not enough to say that there was a good initial reason. You need to know how well the war was conducted and what the consequences have been.
DR. JOHNSON: I’m surprised to hear that comment coming from somebody sitting at this table. What you do to find out more is listen to people like Jeffrey Goldberg or Michael Ignatieff or other respected analysts who, with the investigative abilities that they have, go into the war zone and tell us what they’ve seen.
MS. KAMINER: I understand that. But most people are getting their information from the cable news outlets. They’re listening to people who don’t really know what they’re talking about, who are often just making political statements, who are spewing propaganda. They don’t have time to read books. They’re not even reading a lot of New Yorker articles.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, The New Yorker: There’s something slightly broader going on at this table that’s very interesting, and it’s a reflection of what has happened in the mainstream media. We have a vast amount of information about Iraq, about its intentions, about its history, about what weapons it possesses, about its sponsorship of terrorism. It’s all out there. Yet many of our colleagues seem to be practicing an intentional incuriosity about exactly what we know about Iraq, in order to avoid making the kind of decisions we’re talking about. We know exactly what chemical weapons still exist, exactly the nature of the genocide against the Kurds — which was proven beyond any doubt — exactly the nature of Saddam’s sponsorship of terrorism. The information is all out there. And the fact that people are busy and don’t have time to read The New Yorker is not a reason not to go kill our enemies before they come killing us.
MS. KAMINER: I’m not suggesting that.
MR. DIONNE: To go back to David Frum’s point about the futility of the intellectual effort: people over many centuries realize that you need constraints on human behavior, including the behavior of democratic regimes. And the just war tradition does not create a fixed jury; within the tradition you have people like James Turner Johnson arguing with people like Brian Hehir. What it does is force people to confront certain questions on a very difficult topic. In a democratic society there’ll always be a mix of people who choose to jump into the debate deeply and people who don’t. But the just war tradition provides criteria that, if this tradition didn’t exist, we’d have to invent all over again.
DR. JOHNSON: I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a reporter at the Houston Post who was very frustrated because she wasn’t able to get any of the clergy in town to talk about Iraq. They would all say, Oh, we’re concerned with the family, or we’re concerned with education, or we’re concerned with something else; we don’t know anything about war. The reporter initially was asking me to tell her some things about just war principles, but as we talked her real request was for something that she could use to get the clergy to talk about these matters. So I gave her some suggestions, such as, for Catholics, Bishop Gregory’s letter, and for the Southern Baptists, the statement issued by the Southern Baptist Convention in October. I share your frustration, Wendy, that there is not a broader, more vivid public entrance into debate over this stuff. But I don’t know how you get it unless you have people like this Houston Post reporter who was willing to go out and bait the local priests and ministers to give her something to talk about.
CARYLE MURPHY, The Washington Post: I’d like to ask both speakers to comment on the moral and or pragmatic repercussions a state has to think about regarding two issues: first whether to go in and change a regime unilaterally or go to the U.N., and secondly, the justification of that objective at all. A lot of people talk about how the United States has to set a good example for the rest of the world, and if we do this, maybe other countries will follow suit and go to war on their own to change a regime they don’t like.
MR. HITCHENS: A lot of the better regime changes have occurred as unintended or unannounced consequences of war. For example, the United States certainly didn’t go into Afghanistan with any mandate to change its government. But the Afghan government ran away, and no one misses it. I used to know Julius Nyerere, the prime minister of Tanganyika Tanzania; he was a great man. After a long trail of abuses in his country by Idi Amin’s Ugandan marauders, Nyerere made expeditions to stop this constant subversion and aggression from Uganda. He said they were in self-defense, which they were. But in the course of this operation, Idi Amin’s regime fell, and he fled to Saudi Arabia. Nyerere basically said, “We’re not sorry that Idi Amin is gone, but we don’t claim any right to have deposed him. We were just defending ourselves.” You can’t go to the U.N. and call for regime change. The U.N. can’t be in that business. All it can do is ask the member state to cease and desist from doing something, or take the consequences.
It might be better not to announce regime change as policy. I would be sad about this, though, because it would mean you would make less of things like human-rights violations. When you design a case against a bad guy, you have to stress war matters like self-defense and threat, less things like Kurdish rights. As I said before, though, I think an exception here can be made from the Genocide Convention. I believe citizens are mandated to act on the news of confirmation of “genocide.” They are to act to prevent it and to punish it, which is why the Clinton administration wouldn’t call Rwanda a “genocide” — it was a trigger word for a legally mandated intervention.
DR. JOHNSON: An American who was asked for an instance of regime change would say, “Panama. The United States went in against international law and removed Manuel Noriega.” We tend to think that we’re the only ones who would do anything like this. In fact, there is a history in Western culture as a whole — and since the nationalization of international law, in world culture — of regime change as at least the secondary effect of conflict. Probably in most cases, that’s how the conflict ends.
And we also need to realize, to, that there’s a difference between the positive international law — what some call the black-letter law — and the customary international law, which is what states actually do. : Within the customary international I law, states have always reserved the right to effect regime change when their own interests are being challenged. I don’t see that as being entirely different from saying that the sovereign has the right to punish evil even if it’s the guy next door and not his own folks.
It seems to me, though, that the rules of international law are changing. One of the changes is the Genocide Convention. There is a fairly high bar for what counts as genocide. But if you do have a case of genocide, then the signatories of that Convention are themselves obligated to do something about it. And this may involve regime change.
PETER STEINFELS, The New York Times: Several observations and a point. I consider myself an advocate of the just war doctrine, but on the grounds of something like Churchill’s statement about democracy, that it’s the least bad approach to thinking about what are terribly difficult matters to think about. And I would point out that it’s not a machine that grinds out an answer; it’s a set of criteria with which to approach a lot of empirical questions. Because of that, people who are really using it can disagree. The Catholic bishops did support Bosnia and Kosovo and Afghanistan, and I know a lot of other people within this tradition who went one way on one intervention and another way on others.
But I do want to return to something that Christopher said because I think — maybe Michael Walzer argues this — that we use a lot of historical paradigms for making these decisions. Between World War One and World War Two, August 1914 was a paradigm. The Spanish Civil War replaced it for some people as another paradigm. Vietnam became a paradigm. Such events become internalized as part of the framework we use when we think about the morality of something else. So I appreciate Christopher’s reference to various historical events, but I think that history can be integrated with just war theory.
My second point is about the presumption against war. This was actually introduced in 1980 by a non-Catholic, the Quaker academic Jim Childress at the University of Virginia. And I think he did it for the reason that was mentioned: to create a point of convergence or a bridge between pacifists and just war thinking. But one of the problems we face is that the pacifists have presented a very serious critique of the Christian tradition of just war. And I say that as someone who identifies with the just war tradition. People like John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas have argued that the whole natural law migration or transmutation of just war thinking absolutely left Christianity somewhere out of the picture. It seems to me that there has to be more of an engagement by the just war theorists with the powerful expressions of pacifism within Christianity.
I will agree that this notion of a presumption against war tends to be badly used. When you talk about war as a last resort, you can always theoretically think of one more thing to try. Let’s have diplomacy, let’s have negotiations, let’s have inspections, let’s have sanctions — one more resort before we get to war. But again and again we see that only by threatening war do you accomplish these things you would rather accomplish by some means other than going to war. Does anyone think that we would have the inspection regime or the U.N. commitment if there had not been a threat of using force and of the United States acting unilaterally?; Now, I’m happy that it went the way it did, but I have to ask myself: Isn’t there something a little illogical in that position? This is true about the use of nuclear weapons: Can you threaten to do something that you would consider immoral so that you will never really have to do it? I’m not sure that the just war theory has ever dealt sufficiently with this question of threat, which seems to me to be implicit in the international situation all the time.
I also have questions about the notion of proportionality. Ten thousand lives in Afghanistan or three thousand lives — how would you do the calculation? I think you can do it only in terms of huge numbers, orders of magnitude that seem totally out of whack. But I have another problem with proportionality: When does it come into your calculation? Suppose as Christopher said you have ten years of blunders behind you. Or you have done a lot of things that in terms of loss of life are disproportionate to the gains you want to make. But now you’re at a point where you could succeed at the things you want to accomplish if you could do just a little bit more. All those disproportionate things in the past — do they enter into the calculation or not? This is not just a theoretical problem.
Just one last point: After the Gulf War, Jean Elshtain did a piece that was very helpful on a lot of the points we have raised here. She said we ought to think of just war theory not only in terms of the criteria for making decisions when you face a particular international problem but as a way of thinking about problems of citizenship. What kind of a citizen does a commitment to this theory require? What kind of a polity does it suggest you have to have? It gets into these questions of democracy, openness, information, and so on. I think it’s interesting, then, to reflect on just war theory not only as a decision — making tool for a particular issue of global politics but also as a way of looking at our domestic political life.
PATRICIA COHEN, The New York Times: Just a couple of thoughts that probably reflect my own confusion about this whole topic more than anything else. On the one hand, everyone else here is very glad to have such moral considerations — wherever they come from-influence decisions on the highest level of policy-making. But I think that when push comes to shove, decisions are usually made on much narrower strategic grounds than what we see as self-interest. I’m glad that human-rights considerations have really come to the fore in our thinking in the last twenty-five years or so, but I’ve been struck by how much they’re applied kind ofex post facto. I was thinking about this in regard to the evolution of the justification for going to war against Iraq. Clearly, we didn’t care about genocide or chemical weapons or mass murders in Iraq when we saw Saddam as our strategic alley. At first Bush made his case for going to war against Iraq in terms of regime change and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It was only after the fact that he bolstered the case by saying it would be legitimate to take Saddam out because of the genocide and his other crimes against humanity. Similarly, in regard to Bosnia, some people argued that the strategic reasons were brought in to justify this human-rights intervention. I actually think it was the reverse, that it was the strategic concerns that got the United States and Western Europe in, and that the human rights were brought in to sell the intervention to the public.
My second point is this: I’m very glad that the United States came around and managed to get U.N. support, and I think it would be a mistake to go ahead without that, for all kinds of pragmatic reasons. But it seems to me that we should distinguish between (a) the case for taking out Saddam Hussein because we think it’s morally justifiable and (b) what is really a procedural question as to whether the U.N. backs it or not. Because even if the U.N. didn’t back it, that morally justifiable case would still exist. Or is the backing of the international community itself part of the moral justification? Those were just a couple of thoughts; I don’t need any responses.
DAVID BROOKS, The Weekly Standard: I’m a little disturbed that passing the just war hurdles is automatically associated with also winning the support of the international community. Going to the U.N. means going to the Security Council, which essentially means going to France, China, Russia, and Syria to get their approval.
MS. COHEN: No, 1 wasn’t equating the two. I was just saying that for pragmatic reasons, I think we need the support of the international community.
DAVOD VAN BIEMA, Time: I’d like to address a comment to David Frum: I can’t figure out why you’re so irritated at the bishops. I can understand that one might feel they’re wrong. But you seem to think they have some sort of deficiency in ethical expertise on issues regarding foreign policy. It seems to me that what the bishops are — what the New Yorker might also like to be — is a sort of a conduit that enables a certain number of Americans to engage issues that they might otherwise be reluctant to engage. And although you can argue that the bishops are leading people in a wrong direction, it still seems to me that they perform a valuable function.
MR. FRUM: I think the American public does ethically engage. There’s a very interesting article by the political scientist Walter Russell Mead called “The Jacksonian Persuasion,” which outlines the ethical theory of the American public. It basically boils down to this: Somebody pokes you with a stick, you hit him with a club; somebody hits you with a club, you spray him with a machine gun; and so on. Always you take action second and respond massively. That’s a sort of folk tradition, which by the way I think has a lot to recommend it. The other thing about this American folk tradition is that the violence switch is either on or off. That’s why you can’t get people to read foreign news, because when the violence switch is off, they’re not interested, and when the violence switch is on, they want to say…
MR. VAN BIEMA: Don’t you think this is condescending?
MR. FRUM: Not at all. In fact, I find it quite a good description of my own feelings about morality and foreign policy. But about the bishops: they’re not just a group of men. The bishops are an institution with a bureaucratic hierarchy, and that hierarchy is one of the institutions that were most successfully captured by the ideology of the 1960s and 1970s. And so, when we go through the mental exercise of deciding when a real war is justified — which of course we should do — the fact that we are going to put this through the conduit of just war theory means we’re going to let the bureaucracy of the Catholic bishops be the umpire. We might as well just let the faculty at Harvard do it. We are submitting our foreign policy to the moral judgment of a group of people who are by and large out of sympathy with the foreign policy of the United States.
MR. CROMARTIE: I want to give our two speakers the opportunity to make a few wrap-up comments. First Jim Johnson.
DR. JOHNSON: On the bishops: One of the points I have repeatedly tried to make is that they’re not in fact legitimate umpires; they’re participants in the debate. But I’m not as opposed to them on principle as David Frum is. I think that, for example, the United Presbyterian Church is probably worse on the whole subject than the Catholic bishops are.
On the national interest: I think , this is an important moral consideration. So don’t think you’re slipping off the moral hook when you use that term. Earlier they called it the common good; now we call it the national interest.
On the matter of dirty hands: Suppose I live in a row house, and I hear my neighbor come home drunk one I night and beat up his wife and kids. I’m distressed about it but don’t say or do anything. The next night he comes home and does the same thing, and this goes on for a week. I’m really getting upset, and I’m seeing the consequences of his actions. What do I do, finally? Do I say, Well, I let this go on for a week, so now I can’t do anything? No, I call the cops. It seems to me that a history of not doing anything about bad actions by tyrannical rulers is not a justification for not doing anything in the present.
One word on Jim Childress, who is a friend of mine and who, as Peter said, is a Quaker. That article was published in the Jesuit journal Theological Studies, so it had a lot of influence on the Catholics. But what Childress was saying was, Let’s look at the whole idea of just war, making it up from scratch, from the logic of prima facie duties. Let’s begin with a principle that we can all agree on, the principle of non-malevolence — don’t do bad to anybody. And that’s where the presumption against war comes in. It’s a big jump, it seems to me, to that from what the tradition is talking about. There’s a difference between what a Quaker talking about the logic of prima facie duties creates as a private construct, and what the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church adopt as their own reading of Catholic doctrine. Let me finish by saying that I’m really happy to have taken part in this discussion. I talk about these matters with a lot of people, but I’ve never been together with this many journalists at one time. It’s been fun.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you. Now Christopher.
MR. HITCHENS: I think I do know how David feels about the bishops, and I actually feel this way about a number of religious leaders. Society considers that on ethical matters it’s important to consult some rabbi or priest or minister, because it will be more their job to know what to say about such things. I just don’t share that assumption. I remember after September 11 Billy Graham at the National Cathedral saying that the victims are all in heaven and wouldn’t come back if they could, which meant they must all have died in the state of grace, which is not the New York I know.
“Where is the knowledge we lost in information?” asks T. S. Eliot in “The Rock.” I’ve been brooding on Wendy Kaminer’s point, but the fact is that many of the people who are most opposed to Iraq are the best informed. So it’s not that I think that if more people knew more about it, they’d agree with me. One learns through discussion as well. It’s not just a matter of becoming informed, it’s a matter of becoming educated. I must say that I’m impressed by the number of places where I’ve had the chance to discuss these matters. I don’t remember the use of force ever being discussed this long at this level of information and intensity, and I’m rather proud to have taken a small part in it.
To Peter’s point about whether, if you’re not willing to do this possibly horrible thing, it is morally right to threaten to do it: I would say that yes, it probably is. You’re undoubtedly right that this unilateral threat to resort to force is what created the multilateral resolution to do something about disarming Iraq. But a threat to use nuclear weapons is a different case. It would always be wrong to use nuclear weapons, because to use them wouldn’t just be genocide — it would be ethnicide. If it’s wrong to do that, it’s probably wrong to get ready to do it, to possess the weapons themselves. I think they should not be possessed. I’m a nuclear absolutist though by no means a pacifist.
As for the strategic and regime-change alternatives: I think they’re not as distinct as you see them. In the case of Bosnia, there wasn’t a strategic interest, exactly, but there was a general interest in preventing the idea of ethnic cleansing from taking hold in Europe. That would have been bad for everybody. It would certainly have spread into the new countries of Eastern Europe, where there was quite a lot of ethnic tension already. For that to become a possible model would be extremely destabilizing, and that was understood quite clearly from the beginning. And then in the case of Kosovo, the mass expulsion of the population into Albania and Macedonia would really have destabilized and endangered those two neighboring societies, as well as being, of course, a hideous crime in itself. It was actually at that moment, I think, that a regime change would become imperative. Milosevic had totally outlived his usefulness. After Bosnia, he was invited to Dayton to proffer peace. After Kosovo, they threw him out. “You are clearly a force of destabilization and aggression and crime in the area,” they told him, “so you’ve got to go.” The convergence between the moral case and the strategic self-interest was actually pretty good. I just wish it had been arrived at a bit sooner, a bit more decisively. As for multilateralism: I’m fed up with it! I never want to hear the word again. I would go to Britain for a conference and someone would say, “Well, if the Americans could get an international coalition, we’d support them.” Meanwhile they’re voting against what they want to do because they don’t have enough supporters. That seemed to be the attitude of about five countries and innumerable American anti-war protestors — “We’d be in favor of this war if more people were in favor of it.”
There. I think I said at the beginning that the discussion of just war theory is freighted with the permanent danger of either casuistry or tautology. There you have it, perfectly done, and I feel I’m unilaterally entitled to point it out!