When is War Justifiable?

By Richard N. Haasspresident, Council on Foreign Relations Should the United States attack Iran if we learn it has begun … Continued

By Richard N. Haass
president, Council on Foreign Relations

Should the United States attack Iran if we learn it has begun to enrich uranium to the level required for a nuclear bomb? What about attacking North Korea if it appears too close to producing a nuclear warhead small enough to place inside a missile? Or sending troops into Pakistan if the government loses what little control it has over its western regions and terrorists take hold?

No decision is more fateful than the decision of a government to employ military force. Except in the most clear-cut cases, such decisions are also difficult. As a result, just war theory has for centuries provided useful guidance to policymakers, clergy, citizens, and soldiers alike. But just war theory is too subjective and confining for today’s real-world threats.

A more useful concept is that of justifiable war.

Just war theory today is a composite that has evolved from ideas developed by various religious figures. In the 5th century, St. Augustine discussed in City of God the circumstances under which killing could be justified and empires legitimately expanded. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas laid out a more elaborate just war doctrine in his Summa Theologica. He wrote that three conditions were necessary to make a war just: it must be ordered by a competent authority; the cause must be just; and the combatants must have “a right intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.”

Modern just war guidance involves both the decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) and how to fight one (jus in bello). This latter set of criteria focuses on proportionality (how much force is used), targeting (avoiding non-combatants), and means (avoiding certain classes of weapons).

Most of the debate, however, reflects the more basic decision of when to go to war. Building on the writings of both Augustine and Aquinas, there must be a just cause as well as a decision by a competent authority sanctioning the undertaking. War must be a last resort. There must be a good chance of success. And projected benefits must outweigh projected costs. The theory also holds that all the criteria need to be present before a war can be deemed just and hence undertaken.

One problem with just war theory is that it is too subjective. What constitutes a just cause is in the eyes of the beholder, as are the probability of success and any estimate of likely costs and benefits.

Just war theory is also too confining. Is the United Nations Security Council the only competent authority, or was NATO’s approval enough to make the Kosovo war just? Waging war only as a last resort means risking the lives of many while other policies are tried and found wanting.

That’s why justifiable war is a more useful concept. Justifiable wars undoubtedly include wars of necessity, that is, wars in which the most vital interests of a country are threatened and where there are no promising alternatives to using force. World War Two and the first Iraq war of 1990-1991 following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait would qualify, as would wars of self-defense

The question is whether wars of choice can also be justifiable. By definition, wars of choice tend to involve less than vital interests and the existence of alternative policies. Vietnam, Kosovo and Bosnia were all wars of choice. So, too, was the second Iraq war begun in 2003.

Are wars of choice ever justifiable? The answer is “yes” when using force is the best available policy option. The argument that the goal is worthy and that war is the best option for pursuing it should be strong enough to garner considerable domestic and international support. More important, the case should be persuasive that using military force will accomplish more good for more people at a lower cost than diplomacy, sanctions, or inaction.

By this standard, the second Iraq war was not justifiable, as the United States could have done more to contain Saddam though strengthening sanctions. There was a decided lack of international support. And even before the war it was argued and could have been known that the likely costs would be great and the accomplishments modest.

But what about the future? The concept of justifiable war is not simply one for history. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan -all are potential theaters for new or intensified U.S. military action. The question is not whether they would constitute just wars. That is too impractical a standard. The question in the real world is whether they would be justifiable–to Congress, to the American people, to the world. It is a question President Obama will have to answer.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.” Read an excerpt.

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  • mono1

    if u s can get rid of its own paranoia and stop being the sole judge of the world,

  • derrickcrowe

    As much as I appreciate the recent skepticism Mr. Haas recently voiced about the Afghanistan escalation (and I do very much appreciate it), I’d disagree with the direction in which he’s going in this piece. I do not subscribe to “Christian” just war theory either, but if we are to dismantle it, we should be heading in *more* restrictive directions, rather than loosening its constraints. Haas is correct that just war theory is meant to be “confining.” That’s the point. He is incorrect in an underlying assumption: that people can be helped by the unpredictable violence unleashed in wartime. On the other hand, he’s only making explicit what has been the dirty little secret of “Christian” war deliberations in the U.S….that we don’t use just war theory, and that when we claim to do so we’re actually just talking about whether we feel justified in making war.We should jettison just war theory not because it’s too restrictive (is it Haas’ case that it’s too hard these days to go to war? I’m confused…) but because it isn’t restrictive enough. Violence is not a legitimate means of participating in conflict.

  • ghp60

    An excellent succinct article by Mr Haass. The NT account of Jesus’ teachings do not address for the most part how nations should behave, only individuals. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and a myriad of others took up the issue with varying points of view and results. In my view Nations cannot act like individuals — they cannot and should not “turn the other cheek”. On the other hand they can, when asked to walk one mile, walk two instead. George W Bush and Dick Cheney were so far from acceptable Christian thinking (not to mention human thinking) on Iraq2 that it is both incredible as well as unforgivable. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed in our name for doing something they had nothing to do with. Who would blame them for not forgiving u.s.? The Japanese have forgiven u.s. for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that act, while wrong in my retrospective view, was clouded by the circumstances of the times. Iraq2 was clouded by circumstances of kindergarden behavior.

  • ZZim

    You know, the only reason I can think of for you to reject the just war theory is because it didn’t give you the answer that YOU wanted to get. Then you made up a new theory that DID give you the answer you wanted. Then you started making up reasons why the method that you made up to get the answer you wanted was better than the 2,000 year old method that didn’t.This is one of the best examples of the process of intellectual dishonesty I have ever seen. And the best part is you have no idea how this looks to someone who doesn’t already agree with you from the get-go.My understanding is that the sanctions you wanted to tighten were killing 50,000 Iraqi children per year. The war killed 150,000 Iraqis. On that one tiny teensy bit of data, your elaborate exercise in intellectual dishonesty fails. The war was worth the cost. The world is a better place. Only dishonest leftist pseudo-intellectuals dare argue otherwise. Honest leftists just keep their mouths shut, look the other way, pretend it didn’t happen, and change the subject quickly. The way President Obama does. You would do well to follow his lead. I have no problem with that. It’s tough when you are wrong. It’s tough to realize you wanted an evil regime to survive rather than have a domestic political foe get well-deserved credit for doing the right thing.

  • crete

    According to Thomas Aquinas’ rules and the authors “justifiable war” theory the attack on the world trade center could be rationalized. The Justifiable War theory then also raised the concept of the unjustifiable peace, not intervening in African civil wars, not intervening in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As a historical fact and theological reality the criteria for judging a war is whether you win or lose.

  • semidouble

    Unfortunately our frontal lobes did not evolve as fast as our technology. That’s why we have nuclear capabilities and still believe in gods and talking snakes; we walked on the Moon 40 years ago but we kill each other for invisible cloud men. Since our conscience and superstition creates a US vs. THEM attitude, we don’t have a hope in hell to peacefully co-operate for a common good and war can always be justified.

  • rbaldwin2

    You’re now trying to justify a war based on fairy tales? Are you delusional?? What kind of insane diatribe are you spewing??This is the most useless kind of talk I ever seen in a ‘reasonable’ public news forum and you’re trying to justify a war???Time for you to go back to the KoolAide truck; shut up for about, humm say 1000 years, and when you do wake up – don’t ever come back here !!!

  • WmarkW

    Any war is just if: a) it frees a population from tyranny; and b) civilians don’t suffer more in and after the war than beforehand.The more difficult question is whether we’re willing to commit to the latter.

  • katem1

    Hopefully, some time in the future, Americans will quit calling the invasion of Iraq a war. Republican counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke stated unequivicably that his warnings of Al Qaeda were ignored before 9/11, and after he was ignored because he didnot support the basis of support for the Iraq Invasion, that Sadaam had helped the 9/11 hijackers, and that Sadaam had fooled all of the world’s inspectors and was developing nuclear weapons. Clarke found it incredulous that no matter what he said about Al Qaeda, and Afghanistan being the biggest threat, the Bush administration ignored him and continued on with their Iraq plans, based on lies, twisted inaccurate intelligence, and hearing what they wanted to hear. It was an invasion, and now over 4500 service people are dead because the US invaded another country that was no threat. The one paragraph that addresses Iraq in this column is ridiculous in it’s simplistic and unrealistic view of the Iraq invasion.

  • apspa1

    Hass would have us believe the words inevitable and just have the same meaning.All wars are the result of, if I may, the pursuit of wealth and power. A study of events leading to a war will always show a war became inevitable. The same study will show a war, any war, was preventable if the leaders had put aside their quest for riches and/or power.World War II, the Fools Gold example of a “just war,” became inevitable when the leaders refused to intervene in the growth of fascism after Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and Germany’s intervention in Spain on the side of the fascist General Franco.WWII was the result of a desire by the major countries of France , Great Britain, and the USA to appease and manipulate the Fascist Axis to go to war against the Soviet Union thereby removing the existence of an economic alternative to capitalism.Germany built up its military in direct violation of the Versaille Treaty that forbade it doing so as a result of Germany’s role in WWI. Both Germany and Italy could have been easily prevented from becoming military powers.Labeling WWII, and the horrors that took place, a “just war” is the ramblings of a madman of the same ilk as Dick Chaney.

  • chucky-el

    “War must be a last resort” is the most important of the Just War Theory requirements. This disqualifies essentially all “wars of choice” and the loosey goosey “Justifiable War” concept.The Vietnam and Iraq wars of choice did not and Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan potential wars of choice never will be just. Making the choice to kill, maim, and destroy is, quite frankly, evil.

  • crawfam

    The “just” war exists only in history.

  • ZZim

    “The Vietnam and Iraq wars of choice did not and Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan potential wars of choice never will be just. Making the choice to kill, maim, and destroy is, quite frankly, evil.”Absolutely not. It’s okay to kill maim and destroy evil-doers. For example, if Bill Clinton had sent US troops to Rwanda to kill, maim and destroy the genocidal gangs slaughtering their neighbors, that would have been a good thing.Timing matters. Sometimes there isn’t time to implement solutions other than kill, maim, and destroy. By withholding our soldiers, we intentionally increased the killing, maiming and destroying.You are a moral coward.

  • doctort

    Hi-

  • eastlander

    ZZIM said “My understanding is that the sanctions you wanted to tighten were killing 50,000 Iraqi children per year. The war killed 150,000 Iraqis. On that one tiny teensy bit of data, your elaborate exercise in intellectual dishonesty fails. The war was worth the cost. The world is a better place. Only dishonest leftist pseudo-intellectuals dare argue otherwise. Honest leftists just keep their mouths shut, look the other way, pretend it didn’t happen, and change the subject quickly. The way President Obama does. You would do well to follow his lead. I have no problem with that. It’s tough when you are wrong. It’s tough to realize you wanted an evil regime to survive rather than have a domestic political foe get well-deserved credit for doing the right thing.”You know I was with you there for a moment until you subscribed to hypocrisy. Firstly the war wasn’t worth the cost, but then again we could go back and forth contradicting each other ad infinitum since this boils down to your subjective view on things vs my subjective view on things. Then you go on to say the world is a more better place. Says who? You? Who are you and why is your opinion right an the one who contradicts your opinion wrong. Your opinion is in the minority – not only in the U.S. but the entire planet. And why is it that everyone who disagrees with a warmonger automatically categorized as a dishonest lefty. What’s with the namecalling? What? You can’t make a convincing argument? You have to just resort to making subjective statements and then name calling anyone who disagrees with your subjective statement which in essence says:”if I can kill only 10 people to your 20 my killing is justified whereas yours isn’t”, without ever having a good reason for killing anyone in the first place. You are just spewing nonsense.

  • MHughes976

    Mr. Haass condemns Just War theory for being too subjective and then recommends for his justifiable wars a purely subjective test: do Congress, the American people and the world approve? How contradictory can you get?

  • marcedward1

    How was the first Iraq war justifiable? We were protecting one dictatorship from another dictatorship? Our only interest in the war was the price of oil, not the ‘freedom’ of Kuwait. We could have negotiated our way out of that war, but Bush41 had to ‘prove his manhood’

  • marcedward1

    ZZim u write ‘Absolutely not. It’s okay to kill maim and destroy evil-doers.’You also write ‘For example, if Bill Clinton had sent US troops to Rwanda to kill, maim and destroy the genocidal gangs slaughtering their neighbors, that would have been a good thing.’

  • ZZim

    Eastlander says:“Then you go on to say the world is a more better place. Says who? You? Who are you and why is your opinion right an the one who contradicts your opinion wrong. Your opinion is in the minority – not only in the U.S. but the entire planet.”Sanctions fail. Not sometimes, every time.

  • WmarkW

    Posted by: marcedward1We were defending Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to keep the world safe for monarchy.

  • kengelhart

    “it must be ordered by a competent authority; the cause must be just; and the combatants must have “a right intention””Baloney! This is no longer adequate in a civilized world. Our existence is so fragile there is no justification for destruction. Threats of any kind must be addressed with preservation of life and well-being in mind. Those who see this as soft are the dwindling number of throwbacks to a previous age.

  • ZZim

    Markedwards:ZZim u write ‘Absolutely not. It’s okay to kill maim and destroy evil-doers.’O-o-okay, let’s call them “genocidal militias”, it’s s-o-o-o much cooler than “evil-doers”. After all, we’re ALL evil, lol. – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – You also write ‘For example, if Bill Clinton had sent US troops to Rwanda to kill, maim and destroy the genocidal gangs slaughtering their neighbors, that would have been a good thing.’You are actually 100% correct. I never said it was practical or easy, I just said it was the right thing to do. I personally do not see a large connection between “easy” and “right”.Saving 900,000 innocent civilians would have been difficult and expensive. It would still have been the right thing to do.Also, I agree that saving those 900,000 people wasn’t in our selfish best interest. Seriously, they meant nothing to us. They benefitted us in no material way whatsoever. And Bill was indeed too weak politically to save them. He simply didn’t have the power to do so. He couldn’t do the right thing and invade Iraq, either. Al Gore promised to do it during his campaign, but I don’t know if he would have been able to pull it off either. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, a substantial percentage of their base is composed of committed pacifists, which cripples them when they need to confront foreign dictators effectives.

  • bob2davis

    Hmm, the president of the council on foreign relations — whose members control most of the world’s money — thinks that some wars are justified! What a mind-blowing surprise!!! Like big Dick Haass, my favorite wars are the war to take over oil supplies, the war to take over mineral-rich land, and the war to annihilate all the annoying peasants. It is a shame those ignorant suicide bombers don’t know which groups need to be justly eliminated.

  • EnjoyEverySandwich

    I take it that the fans of this “justifiable war” principle understand that it isn’t a one-way street? I hope you are prepared to have others apply this standard when deciding to war on us.

  • bevjims1

    Well, in America, according to the Constitution, war IS suppose to be justifiable since it is only Congress that can declare war. By giving up much of that power and handing it to the president, the reason to justify a war has been softened. Congress, if it wants to prevent a president from doing anything he wants, like torture or break laws to protect this nation, must renew its Constitutional duty and require a vote of Congress to declare a war, or withhold funding from the president. War should be justified and those who agree should agree with their votes, not their inaction.

  • ZZim

    How was the first Iraq war justifiable? We were protecting one dictatorship from another dictatorship? Our only interest in the war was the price of oil, not the ‘freedom’ of Kuwait. We could have negotiated our way out of that war, but Bush41 had to ‘prove his manhood’I recall reading once that, before the industrial revolution, an ordinary suit of clothing cost the average person 6 months wages. Do you want to want to go back to that era? Even a tiny bit? I won’t suffer much and you won’t suffer much, but millions of poor people WILL suffer. Desert Storm is about as clear-cut a case of Just War as has ever presented itself.

  • ZZim

    Well, in America, according to the Constitution, war IS suppose to be justifiable since it is only Congress that can declare war. By giving up much of that power and handing it to the president, the reason to justify a war has been softened. Congress, if it wants to prevent a president from doing anything he wants, like torture or break laws to protect this nation, must renew its Constitutional duty and require a vote of Congress to declare a war, or withhold funding from the president. War should be justified and those who agree should agree with their votes, not their inaction.Posted by: bevjims1

  • marcedward1

    Zzim the basis of your argument is that Saddam owning Kuwait would mean the price of oil would become and remain much higher, and I don’t see why it would. Undercutting your argument is the fact that Kuwait has never given us ‘cheap’ oil as a reward for their ‘liberation’. If Saddam had promiced cheap oil I wouldn’t have given a rat’s rear end if he took the whole Saudi area. It’s not like the Saudis and the Kuwatis have done us any favors what so ever when it comes to the price of oil. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are too wealthy and lazy to protect themselves – it’s not our job to save their worthless butts, nor was it in the US interest (hint – it lead to the 9/11 attacks – great strategy!!)

  • usapdx

    THE RELIGIOUS CRUSADES AS WELL AS BUSH JR. TWO CRUSADES ARE WRONG. WHO ARE WE TO CALL ALL THE SHOTS IN THE WORLD? OUR TROOPS MUST COME HOME FROM BUSH JR. TWO CRUSADES WHICH WILL FAIL.WHAT ARE OUR TROOPS DIEING FOR? BUSH SR. HAD IRAQ SEWED UP. AFGANASTAN WE ATTACTED JUSTLY BUT WHY MUST THE USA START A NEW GOVERMENT IN AFGANASTAN THAT WILL FAIL ONCE WE LEAVE? JUST ASK RUSSIA. OUR SOUTHERN BORDER NEEDS MILTARY CONTROL FOR IT BEEN OUT OF CONTROL TO LONG WITH ILLEGALS, DRUGS, AND NOW MEXICAN FLU. WHY NOT CALL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND SPEAK OUT? NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. WAR IS RIGHT IF THE AMERICAN GOVERMENT MEETS OUR LAW WITH TOTAL HONESTY. HELLO GORGE JR.

  • Impeachbush99

    Well, this is the faith page, and we know that American Christianity has become all about hate, intolerance and War for profits.Sure, let’s go to war, who has some stuff we want??

  • BennyFactor

    Either the battle IS the Lord’s – or it is not. We need to stop advocating for war in the holy name of the Prince of Peace. You can justify war – you just can’t justify it wrapped in a Christian cloak. That belies real faith in God and betrays the real worldliness of war-wagers.

  • ZZim

    Reliable Markedwards wrote:Zzim the basis of your argument is that Saddam owning Kuwait would mean the price of oil would become and remain much higher, and I don’t see why it would.You are truly fortunate that wiser heads run our government.

  • infoshop

    Just do it. Who need to ask for permission? We are the world super power. We can and will do anything we want.

  • chucky-el

    “The Vietnam and Iraq wars of choice did not and Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan potential wars of choice never will be just. Making the choice to kill, maim, and destroy is, quite frankly, evil.”Absolutely not. It’s okay to kill maim and destroy evil-doers. For example, if Bill Clinton had sent US troops to Rwanda to kill, maim and destroy the genocidal gangs slaughtering their neighbors, that would have been a good thing.

  • INGENUITY321

    ENGAGING IN A PREMPTIVE WAR WITH EITHER NORTH KOREA OR IRAN WOULD ONLY SERVE TO DESTABILIZE BOTH SIDES OF THE CONFLICT TO BREAKING POINT. HOWEVER, TO ALLOW A MALICIOUS GROUP OF RAGTAG FUNDAMENTALISTS TO SEIZE CONTROL OF A NUCLEAR STATE IS ENTIRELY UNACCEPTABLE. THE UNITED STATES SHOULD TAKE ALL NECESSARY MEASURES TO PREVENT THIS THIS FROM OCCURING. THIS IS A SIGNIFIGANT THREAT THAT COULD ENVELOPE THE ENTIRE REGION IF NOT THE ENTIRE WORLD.

  • apspa1

    Some here believe killing evil-doers to make the world a better place is just.Would this apply to the Bush administration for all the evil and pain they have brought to the world?

  • MajorMelFunkshion

    Mr. Haas, You forgot to quote the one person that makes a difference on the “On Faith” page. That would be Jesus Christ. Or is he too much of a whimp for your war mongering ideals. The Washington Post should just change it’s name to the Warmongering Pest and the Torture Times. That would be truth in advertising.

  • marcedward1

    ZZim, first we had a sizeable force on the Kuwait/Saudi border, so the chances of Saddam attacking Saudi Arabia was nil. Secondly, you’re assuming that Saddam was some sort of madman who couldn’t be dealt with, which is just silly. Saddam was a ‘bad’ guy, but he wasn’t insane. We had dealt with him before. Your argument falls apart when you see how well the Saudis have treated us when it comes to oil prices. You lose again!

  • ZZim

    ZZim my friend, I’d like to be there on Judgement Day when you explain to God why, “It’s okay to kill maim and destroy evil-doers.” Or maybe you just don’t know war. Remember, in the Vietnam and Iraq wars, as in all wars, the majority of those who are maimed or die are innocent woman or children. Perhaps you can then explain to God why you stood idly by while evil-doers ran about unopposed raping and killing and maiming. Sins of omission are just as deadly as sins of commission.Or maybe you don’t know sanctions. Perhaps the 50,000 Iraqi children you killed every year with your sanctions rest easy on your conscience.

  • woops81

    Hi,

  • apspa1

    Some here believe killing evil-doers to make the world a better place is just.Would this apply to the Bush administration for all the evil and pain they have brought to the world?

  • ZZim

    ZZim, first we had a sizeable force on the Kuwait/Saudi border, so the chances of Saddam attacking Saudi Arabia was nil. Secondly, you’re assuming that Saddam was some sort of madman who couldn’t be dealt with, which is just silly. Saddam was a ‘bad’ guy, but he wasn’t insane. We had dealt with him before. Your argument falls apart when you see how well the Saudis have treated us when it comes to oil prices. You lose again!

  • ThishowIseeit

    Reading MARCEDWARD1 (May 5, 12:20 pm, ‘Bush41 had to prove his manhood’) reminds me of an explanation I read years ago: Bush41 went to war to prevent from being labeled a whimp for the rest of his life; he had to do something in retaliation to a) attempt to his father’s life by an agent of Iraquis regime, b) 9/11. Bush middle initial is W as in whimp. Many in his shoes would have went to war too but with a much better preparation.

  • marcedward1

    zzim writes

  • bevjims1

    ZZim wrote: “Perhaps you can then explain to God why you stood idly by while evil-doers ran about unopposed raping and killing and maiming. Sins of omission are just as deadly as sins of commission.”Really? Where did God say that? Was it that brother’s keeper thing? Is it the position of christians to save the world from evil doers? Is that America’s Godly task? If so you probably should ask those of your own faith and other faiths before assuming this is the job of America. America’s principles are secular after all and I don’t remember anything in the Constitution discussing the vanquishing of evil doers around the world nor feeding the world. What we do we do out of self interest and by consensus, but not be acclamation of some sort.And its not whether to do something, its how we should do it as well. Saddam was weak, very week. With a little careful CIA planning and some help he could have been overthrown by his own Baath party. But Bush decided it was to be war, based on lies, oh, I mean misinformation. Iraq was under sanctions, two no-fly-zones and the UN had inspectors on the ground, yet somehow Bush convinced everyone Saddam was a threat concealing WMD and the inspectors, who had found nothing, were stupid. Sort of embarassing when you think about it. Saddam should have been delt with differently. Its not just whether to do something, its how too. Just because a president acts does not make any action he chooses correct, no matter the cause behind it.

  • ZZim

    ‘First, garrisoning Saudi Arabia was not a realistic long-term scenario for a whole host of reasons’Saddam was probably not clinically insane. What he was, was aggressive and unpredictable. He made a few insanely aggressive moves that ended very badly for him. The Saudis actually pump a lot more oil than they should. Certainly more than American oil companies would pump if we owned those same fields. Overpumping has caused a lot of problems with the premature aging of their oil fields.Princess, lol.

  • alstl

    When is was justifiable? There were people in WWII who were opposed to the war and didn’t think Hitler was doing anything wrong. If Hitler had confined his activities to simply murdering millions of jews, gypsies etc we would never have intervened. Likewise we had no problem with the millions of civilians murdered by the Japanese in places like China and later the Philippines until they attacked us on Dec 7, 1941. Therein lies the problem for the pacifists. Simply hoping for the brutal murders of millions to leave you alone is not an option.

  • marcedward1

    alstl how is it in the US interest to intervene in genocide inside another country? If Hitler had never invaded Poland (avoiding war with France and England) we would have done nothing about the Holocaust, and I don’t see why it would have been our business. By your standards GB and France ought to have invaded the USA when we started the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans. BTW, if bother to read a little history, America was intervening on the behalf of the Chinese, but not because we liked the Chinese, but because they were a potential market and we had business interests there. Humanitarian interests are no reason to go to war.

  • squier13

    The answer to all three hypothetical questions is “No.” On all three counts the answer is to wait until the supposed enemy does something first, THEN we formulate an appropriate response and carry it out. On Iran and North Korea: those countries are all talk and no show. They are not, and never will be, existential threats to the USA. All of their provocative talk and saber rattling is designed to goad the US into attacking them, it is what they want more than anything. It would be a huge mistake to play into their hands. In the extremely unlikely event of either state hitting the USA with one missile, it will not topple our grand republic, and they will be crushed by US retaliation.On Pakistan: death by a thousand paper cuts. Becoming entrenched in yet another lawless failed state is not winnable, and is of no value to our interests anyway.

  • halifar59

    Well, by American governmental standards, war is justifiable whenever the corporate ownership thinks it might be profitable. There is a whole bunch of marketing that must be considered in the equation, but most of that is taken care of by elementary educational brain-washing. You know, America is the best nation in the world, (ignore slavery, the Trail of Tears, Hiroshima, and general destruction of the land…) democracy and capitalism is da bomb, because we all have our own TV and commode, fast food and trash pick-up… The rest is just a matter of getting people to absorb the crap they put out on the boob-tube, which most Americans do willfully. When is it really justifiable? When governments help industries get rich by polluting the only air and water available to my family. And when the Iranians get enriched uranium, how will we know it? Like politicians tell the truth sometimes? How can one tell?

  • halifar59

    So is this the beginning of another of those war marketing campaigns? War is over, if you want it. Do you want it MR Haass, or are you comfortable in your war marketing job?

  • francinelast

    People that justify war, are those that create war. America has been at war more than most countries have in their thousand year existence. America thrives on war. How else can the military industrial complex justify spending billions and billions of taxpayers money, if not to invent enemies and reasons to go and drop bombs on other countries?

  • catfish5437

    The question of whether the “Just War” theory is sustainable over time is one of extreme importance. Now that most of the supposed reasons for our immoral, illegal and unjust invasion and occupation of Iraq are known to be lies, anyone who refuses to recognize the tragic consequences of America’s trashing of the “just War” doctrine either can’t read, can’t hear, is dead, or is profiting from the war. Terrific pressure is being put on the President and Congress to investigate and punish those who are guilty of instigating the unnecessary war, and of later making foolish and criminal decisions as to conduct of the war. That is probably not going to happen. Too many Democratic congressmen were just as guilty as the republican majority of voting to renege on their oath of office by giving sole authority to George W. Bush to decide to invade or not invade Iraq. We don’t hear the word “neocon” much these days, but it is now clear that George W. Bush was not only in full agreement with the neocons, but apparently was acting under the control of the daddy neocon, Dick Cheney. The neocon ideologues (Cheney and Wolfowitz, et. al.)introduced the “preemptive war” doctrine ten years before Bush pronounced it to be U.S. policy in 2002. Congress, the media, and every literate person in America was aware that the “just war” doctrine had just been thrown in the trash. America had better realize that the neocons are still among us, and, as happened following the ouster of George H.W. Bush, are now just hiding out and biding their time until the next time someone like George W. Bush or John McCain manages to take over the White House again. Their continuing presence is clear in the comments to this article. One person, for instance, made the untrue statement that 150,000 Iraqis were killed in the war. Not so. According to the Johns Hopkins Univeristy study, over 1,000,000 Iraqis had been killed by 2007. If that many died, how many were severely injured? The sad fact is that the true situation in Iraq is never told. No one ever mentions the millions of homeless victims, some still in Iraq and some scattered around Europe and other countries in the Middle East. We are kept up to date on the lessening of terrorists attacks, but how long has it been since you saw a picture or video of the physical devastation in any part of Iraq? Think about it. Never, right? We need a thorough investigation of the total neocon planning and execution of the “preemptive war” that culminated in the massive war crimes carried out under the misleading banner of “War on Terror”. Only after all the dirty secrets have been brought to light should a decision be made as to how to guarantee for the future that America will stand by the “Just War” doctrine that has served us so well in the past.

  • patrick3

    Banana Republican Lexicon, “just war theory”:Just so long as they’re smaller than us and can’t defend themselves attack at will on any pretense. Otherwise it’s just not a good idea.See also “Banana Republican Paradox: if we attack Iran first will the Iranians have the right to defend themselves under the ‘just war theory’?”

  • ejs2

    The “justifiable war” theory seems to be a smokescreen to justify the wars of unprovoked aggression favored by the neoconservative nitwits. Additional reasons why the second Iraq war was not justified: The Administration lied about and stretched the actual intelligence way beyond the breaking point; Iraq posed no immediate threat to its immediate neighbors, much less the United States; Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction; Iraq did not support al-Qaeda, in fact, Saddam Hussein feared and hated them; Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

  • michael4

    This entire “essay” is based on so many assumptions and viewpoints that it is insane. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Who decides what is “just”? Defense is the only rational reason for “going to war”.

  • BillSamuel

    “Just war theory is also too confining.” This is key to Haass’ argument. If we actually followed the just war criteria, we couldn’t go around killing all those people in Iraq, Afghanistan or whatever place the U.S. wants to play its heavy hand.Martin Luther King, Jr. rightly stated that “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” It still is, and it has been getting worse.We need to stop looking for new ways to justify American atrocities, and instead repent and turn from our evil ways. Haass’ piece well illustrates the bankruptcy in moral compass of the American establishment.What if we started spending billions on building the institutions of peace, instead of squandering our resources on perpetual war? I still believe that America can do better, but to do so we must reject the Haas’s, Bushes, Obamas, etc., and instead listen to moral leaders.

  • chatard

    The first comment is approximately correct – this article is so verbose and ethereal and circuitous and disjointed as to be insane. But it does have a purpose – to provide cover for one Barack Hussein Obama. I read this on the same day I watched Richard Holbrooke say you can’t have a specific timetable for withdrawal or they will wait you out….Excuse me, haven’t we just done that? And wasn’t that the argumentof the military justa few short years ago? We are in lala land and we have unstable leadership. The Council on Foreign Relations is not doing the country any favors.

  • rodhagen

    There are no “just wars”, though sometimes one side or the other, almost invariably the country or people who are attacked, may be “justified” in fighting.But as far as “justifiable war” goes, in a world full of professional spin doctors any conflict can be made to look “justifiable” to one side or the other, or both, at least for long enough to get the thing running. By that time it is too late. Any subsequent decision about its “justifiability” will depend on who comes out on top. History is written by the victors.

  • epespinoza43

    My take on war is that justness is based on from what side you are looking at it. Most of the time it is justifiable when one is the defender.

  • crossroadsteam

    For any declaration of war by the United States, the ‘competent authority’ is the Congress, according to the Constitution. And Congress needs all the facts, not just cherry picked intelligence.

  • poGhoh3K

    “Are wars of choice ever justifiable? The answer is “yes” when using force is the best available policy option. The argument that the goal is worthy and that war is the best option for pursuing it should be strong enough to garner considerable domestic and international support.”So if, say, the US, UK, Australia, Germany, and Italy join in a war of aggression, then it’s okay? It’s despicable how the Washington establishment (here represented by its distinguished member Mr. Haass) selectively justifies the use of mass violence whenever it’s in their interest. Despicable, but not surprising.”My country right or wrong”? Well, wrong, mostly.

  • wardropper

    War means killing.

  • BrettPaatsch1

    Set aside the rule of law and the requirements of reason, allow torture and aggressive invasion occasioning mass murder to be carried out in the name of one’s country by one’s representatives, do all that, and I guess one man’s just war becomes another man’s jihad.

  • teplicky101

    Show me something that you say is not justifiable and I’ll bring you the opposite opinion. Just a matter of twisting the moral values. Slavery? Genocide? Torture? Inquisition? Crucifixion? Use of a nuclear weapon? Political murder? Starving a nation? Abortion?Only put your curved glasses and you can find a good reason for anything.

  • specialk11282

    I suppose the only real promising thing about this article is the conclusion that the Iraq war was not justifiable. Yet again, nothing is said about the immorality of taking innocent lives, the destruction of infrastructures, and so on. This article reads more like how to win a game of chess, then anything that has to do with the good of humanity. The detachment from the reality of destruction should be harshly condemned, but probably won’t be by anyone that has any power.

  • dancewater

    This is just sickening. This type of “reasoning” is the reason that I will not publicly state that I am a Christian, even though I go to a Christian church.Christians follow the example of Jesus….. which this certainly does not follow.

  • onofrio

    There is no ‘Just War’, just war.

  • OldDoc

    “On all three counts the answer is to wait until the supposed enemy does something first, THEN we formulate an appropriate response and carry it out.”If the commenter above had knowledge that there were a 50% chance New York and Washington simultaneously would be blown up and a million people killed two days or two months from now, by a small a-bomb in a truck in each city, would he wait until the supposed enemy does that before acting to stop the catastrophe? If not, suppose the chance were 99% or 2%. How would he handle the responsibility? Make it personal. It is fine to sacrifice yourself, but what about all the people you could be responsible for saving or not saving? The great problem of mankind!

  • onofrio

    I keep seeing and hearing about this ‘War on Terror’ franchise.Will someone please correct the typo; the ‘n’ should be an ‘f’.

  • hdc77494

    Most of you appear to have began your history lessons with the viet nam war. There is a clear lack of awareness of the context of past wars, and the delusional belief that the normal nature of nations and man is peace, therefore talk always works, and spending money preparing to defend the country is somehow in poor form. Do you carry insurance on your home in case of burglery? Do you install dead bolts on your doors? How about an alarm system? If you see someone break down your neighbor’s door and run inside, do you simply lament their misfortune, or do you do something? If your neighbor is beating his wife and kids, do you stop him, or are you just sad there are evil people in the world? Sometimes you have to act. Sometimes you over react. In WWII, the government didn’t enter the war in Europe for three years. Not because they didn’t see the need, but because the public wouldn’t back a war. The world would be better without the US policing it? Would your neighborhood or town be beter off without police? Pacifism is not a moral decision, it is a cowardly decision. Some are so afraid they’ll make a mistake, they make no decision. As a result, more die or are enslaved. If OPEC decided to turn off the taps tomorrow, and the US suddenly had 1/4 the fuel needed to keep the electricity on and the trucks and cars on the road. Would you adjust to life in the 20s, or would you demand your government get them to open the taps? I can just see all those California libs with no lights, internet, or microwave saying leave them alone, we’ll get by, for more than a month. It’s no different than people that eat chicken sandwiches and decry the killing of chickens. With freedom comes responsibility, and in some cases, that means the will to be ruthless to protect life. If the Balkan wars were simply ones of “choice” for the west, does that mean we had no moral authority or responsibility to stop genocide? Millions starve in Africa due to corrupt governments, but people believe it is immoral to assassinate the corrupt leaders. I have no problem killing one to save thousands. Why are so many of us willing to let fellow humans die or live as slaves rather than get blood on our hands?

  • patrick3

    This way to the slippery slope to neofascism.

  • jpenergy

    The CFR is aware that war is an extension of policy, they and their pals profit greatly from war and fear of war/ terror. But war is terrorism, the object of war is to terrorize the opposition until they are subjugated to will/policy or other of the victor. The CFR hears the sound of money not children crying, War is a racket.

  • onofrio

    America could be great, if only it would stop fighting abstractions, and casting itself as the hero of an epic dualist duel.While America has traipsed off wastefully after Euphratean mirages – at the cost of too many IED-shredded, high-fiving, galumphing sons-in-fatigues, and a whole universe of collaterally shattered Mesopotamians – the persistent Pashtun fanatics (whom once it armed when they were anti-Red) are on the cusp of controlling a slew of nukes. Saddam’s spectral weapons, and the single wannabe Persian bomb have taken absorbed all that oil-craving martial energy, while a bunch AK-wielding tribesmen in flat hats sets up checkmate.America = Barad-Dur, toppled by Pashtun hobbits. Or the Death Star chain-reacted to cataclysm by tin-can rebels…How can a nation reared on such cinema so utterly miss its popcorn lessons?By all means, America, fight wars, if fight you must. But do it smart.

  • James10

    “The question in the real world is whether they would be justifiable–to Congress, to the American people, to the world. It is a question President Obama will have to answer.”Frankly, there was never a solid rationale for invading Iraq. All the “evidence” that Iraq had WMD was shown to be false BEFORE the US engaged Iraq. What did we learn from that? We learned that those in power, regardless of their competence, can scare the begeebess out of the American public and Congress and go to war. And after the fact when the justification is shown to be false, the powers say … “So what, we’re here now.”So the real question is can POTUS scare the begeebees out of the American people and the Congress [who really cares about the world] and start a war. The answer is sure POTUS can, he has and he/she will again. We just don’t know who and when. So lean back and relax, you’ll get your war and all the death and destruction that goes with it; just be patient.

  • ebundagen1

    This article is filled with the absolute worst kind of sophistry, “just war is highly subjective” to paraphrase, and “justifiable war” is not? This is akin to having another go at vomit that was already twice ingested. The former attempted to universalize the test, and in so doing remove subjectivity as much as possible. Mr Haas’s proposal removes all of the universality and leaves it all to the subjective, and then he turns around and says the exact opposite. Talk about being lost in your own web!

  • onofrio

    Teddy Roosevelt said “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”Though it has the biggest stick of all time, America has not been walking softly. Rather, it has trumpeted and galumphed like a rat-maddened (GOP) elephant.Beware, America. How long can you afford to project the kind of overwhelming force you’re used to. You’re already in hock to China. Time to wise up. Nietzsche was right:

  • TalkingHead1

    I’m just wondering without really wondering why the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq, for 7 years, on the wrong pretext that the latter had WMD, while its neighbor, Pakistan, was making 60 nuclear bombs (WMD) and selling its nuke know-how to North Korea and Iran – as a U.S. ally.

  • prezobama

    Dear Mr Haass,The answer to this question is very simple, yet you seem to have missed it.Ask yourself: When would it be justifiable for others to attack the US? Answer that, and you will have an answer to the general question.

  • RobertLeeHotchkisss

    I have been coming to the conclusion that we should dump the whole concept of morality in war. When I heard the Israeli’s gloat over wiping out the class of police cadets, I had religious type awakening. Israel was waging war on civilians. Not only were the police officers almost certainly civilians under any reasonable understanding of the rules of war.But more importantly the Israelis where explicitly trying to terrorize the civilian population. It is impossible to think of things like Shock and Awe as anything but terrorism.It is meant to terrorize the population it results in many more civilian casualties than what we classify as terrorism. It is the moral equivalent of closing your eyes and swinging your fist like a windmill and saying you were just swinging your hands when you hit your sister.In fact in a democratic world, it may not even make sense to exempt civilians from conflict. They are after all the final deciders.Israel by blockading the Gaza residents for voting for Hamas where clearly waging war on the civilian population for their vote.I just couldn’t possibly blame the Palestinians for responding by attacking Israeli civilians for electing a government that rejects a two state solution.The reality is that calling terrorism evil doesn’t deter terrorism and in fact probably encourages terrorism because it isolates one of the combatants and discourages negotiation.If we remove the moral considerations from military actions we will actually be strengthening the hand of states against non state entities.And by removing the concept of justified military action, we may actually encourage actors to be more restrained, because no military action will be seen to be free from being judged.The whole war crime concept rivals the war on drugs for useless counterproductive use of morality.

  • BrettPaatsch1

    Richard Hass president of the Council on Foreign Relations, when all of the laws that men and nations have previously established in their treaties against torture and against aggressive invasion are broken by a single people that represents less than five percent of humanity, when there is no uncompromisd authority left on earth because an existing UN Security Council permanent member cannot be evicted for manifest bad faith and dishonor, then, war is justified. Then it is justified against those people that were the corrupters of the rule of law prohibiting torture and aggressive invasion and who are the enduring impediments to the restablishment of a rule of law applying to all. War is justified in those circumstances because in those circumstances it is the lesser evil. In those circumstances it is in the greatest interest of humankind to have the common basic human right not to be tortured and not to be murdered by illegally invading armies which always occasion mass murder re-established.Forget religious silliness. Forget patriotism. War against the people of the United States has been morally justified by the people of planet earth since the re-election of George W Bush in 2004. It just hasn’t happened yet.It hasn’t happened despite the invasion of Iraq, it hasn’t happened despite the tortures, it hasn’t happened despite the failure of the US Congress to impeach President Bush for the high crimes of war crimes. Sir, you ask, when is war justified? Sir, its justified now and its overdue and you and your people are enjoying a period of utterly undeserved grace. Quite probably because the people of the world are generally as ignorant and parochial and divided and irrational as the people of the United States. But they will not stay that way. Its your own constitution that makes ratified treaties such as the UN Charter part of domestic as well as international supreme law. But laws are not self enforcing. One persons rights have to be also other persons responsibilities or they don’t effectively exist. Social contracts require the enforcement of socially acting agents. When society breaks down so far, when civics understanding gets so low that, five percent of humanity is okay with using torture and aggressive invasion against the rest of humanity then war has again become justifiable as a form of civics education.

  • onofrio

    Richard Haass:No. The question in the *real world* is whether America can afford – financially and strategically – to keep warring. Not justifiability, but sustainability – there’s the rub. In conventional military terms, failure in Afghanistan is inevitable without a truly epic investment of resources. No quick blitzkrieg or half-a**sed surge will work there. How much loss of men and materiel are the American people willing to sustain in a hard, protracted war? How much further into debt is an economically battered America willing to go in the name of some elusive *security*? The only ones who will win in this *big war*? Those who manage to stay out of it. Perversely, it’s fanning the very fire – militant Islamist extremism – that it’s supposed to be putting out, and weakening America in every way.

  • team_ster

    Hahahaha. That this post was made under the banner of a “Faith” discussion is absurd. More neocons and their foolish word games. Meanwhile people die. This guy Haass is just like his buddies Yoo and Bybee and Addington. A torturer. Responsible for hundreds of thousands of death because he and his “Council” decided to go along with Bush and invade a country that posed NO THREAT WHATSOEVER to our United States. Despicable. His argument makes about as much sense as that of the Gitmo general who proclaimed that the Gitmo prisoners (many of whom were innocent after being plucked from their homes in Afghanistan for no reason) were conducting “asymmetric” warfare by committing suicide. This article goes to show that the neocons are still out there, sitting pretty, and still looking to turn our nation into the evil empire. Who’s gonna stop ‘em?

  • onofrio

    Go back to your Protocols, Monte.

  • KT11

    Mr. Haas is obviously trying to lay the groundwork for a potential invasion of Iran (either by the US or by Israel with US consent/backing). If you can’t make it a just invasion, then make it sound like a justifiable one, at least. What better reasons of justification than religious ones? So, let’s bury this piece in the “On Faith” section. The dopey American public will surely fall for it.

  • spidermean2

    Wars will continue for as long as there are left-wing liberal evolutionist gay marrying individuals in America. They are prophesied to be doomed and it’s not possible that future wars won’t happen.There’s a very high probability that a war with Iran would be next. Stupidity and destruction always go hand in hand. That’s the law of nature.Whoever predicted Bin Ladin would crash those jets in New York? One possible question would be coming: Whoever thought Obama would be at the helm in the coming future war? Bush never thought he would be.

  • nallcando

    All ways leave it to a Christian to justify War!

  • CCNL

    Part 3 -A Large Expenditure and A Constant Irritation for/to the Taxpayers of the USA- 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. Unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “square one”. And this conflict of significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of Judaism and Islam!!! How tragic and sad!!!

  • tmaffolter

    Richard Haass is a serious person, and the article is somewhat thoughtful. But seriously, if we are going to be precise on terms, there is no such thing as a “just” war or, perhaps, even “justifiable.” I am not a pacifist, and agree that under certain circumstances war may be necessary. But if we are going to survive as a species, we need to quickly move toward a society that shuns war as a political mechanism. I do not purport to even have a start to describe how that can be achieved.

  • jleemoore

    This column by Haas appears to be well-argued on the surface. But his “justifiable” war is, in actuality, no different from Saint Augustine’s other than the rephrasing of how the root word “just) is to be applied. In both cases one has to make value judgments as to when declaring war is the right step for a nation to take. The column adds little to the debate over the second war in Iraq. It only underscores what most Americans now accept–the second war in Iraq was the wrong step for our nation to take, for it was based on a multitude of lies that the decision makers wanted to believe were true. Unfortunately, sadly, there were able to persuade the American people to go along.

  • jimarush

    I wonder if we would be having this conversation if we were North Korean or Iranian. Bullies are always going to find eloquent ways to express and justify their bullyism. Hitler felt justified to start WWII. President Truman felt justified to interject the United States into the Vietnam War. Bush and his cronies justified the wars in Iran and Iraq.The result of all of these justifiable aggressions was the loss of millions of lives, billions of dollars in property loss and never ending chaos. The other realism of justifiable warfare is the fact that the people who feel that wars are justifiable and their families never fight in these justifiable wars.When will ordinary people wake up and realize that we are being led by cowards who feel that war is justifiable as long as they and their own families do not have to participate in the actual fighting and that they live in America and not Iran or North Korea.

  • James10

    Posted by: spidermean2 | May 6, 2009 1:41 AMWhoever predicted Bin Ladin would crash those jets in New York?————-The typical response? —- “Yeah, we’ve heard that before. We’ll worry about it when it happens.”

  • cdlumpkin

    When we as a people strayed from the standard of “Just War” we our national soul. The standard of “Just War” is an excellent one. “Justifiable War” theory got us in this trouble because it left the decision points to human standards rather than to divine standards like, “Do Not Kill”, “Do Not Fear” and “Love all your sisters and brothers.” Just War allows for the rare times when it is best for peace to engage in war. Justifiable war allows for fear, blood lusting, coveting, bully behaviors and hatred. When it comes down to the phrases “Christian War” or “Islamic War” the standards of all religions have been ignored and compromised.

  • blackmask

    If you cannot see a clear justification for a just war, don’t have one, idiot.

  • 419legalorgrishi

    Are we just talking about the traditional kind of war here? Because there are different types of war that a particular economy can wage against another economy.

  • expat2MEX

    “Just” or “justifiable” war: they are each oxymorons, and certainly not acceptable in the eyes of God. And yet, many others, like myself, continue to support the “military-industrial complex” as Eisenhower asserted, simply by working for it.I suppose future generations may discover a way out of this morass that we call the national defense. It seems far too self destructive as we have been proceeding in abiding by it.

  • James10

    A more useful concept is that of justifiable war. – Richard N. Haass—————-More “useful” in the sense that it lowers the bar and enables rationalization. You’re a bit late on that one. That was really the basis for the Iraq War. [Which BTW you thought was a mistake.] The prior Administration used your principle quite effectively. List a bunch of rationale: WMD, non-compliance with the UN resolution; flying UAVs held together with duct tape attacking the US; Israel; terrorists; evil dictator [Who we were quite pleased with when Exxon and Chevron had contracts there]; he tried to kill my Daddy … It worked didn’t it? And it will work again.

  • rjacobs1

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to have members of a council whose primary purpose is to justify US imperialism giving us his thoughts on theology. The problem with any type of rationale that justifies war based on the requirements of just one country is that such a rationale denies the innate humanity of those living in the countries being considered for attack. If one considers the humanity of all those who might be affected by a war, than there is no justifiable war. Mr. Haas would do better to keep his thoughts regarding what he thinks his god thinks about imperial wars to himself. The Post surely shouldn’t be giving him a forum in its Faith section.

  • mac7

    Possibly what is unjustifiable is the way the US has decided to” war but not war.” Either call up all to go to war or forget it.Is the deaths of 911 and being attacked on American soil a good cause and reason to go to war? Are the Taliban and AlQuida dangerous enough to go to war for? Do other countries support this effort and reason? If there is yes to all these questions then war, like it or not, it must be and not just a few of Americans but draft to war and get it done and over with instead the way we are doing it by volunteer or only the poor kids of our country or exhausting the career military people. And for crying out loud have restrictions as all wars have. Take the young and single first and no college exemptions. Get some organization and rules in place instead of this haphazard methods we engage in that is totally unfair and unjust to Americans.

  • cosmicfeelings

    To Kill? Or not To-Kill? Or Be-Killed? That is the question!It does’nt take a smart or ignorant person to say or think, “Better THEM than US”But if there are Anti-Humanity Elements (Groups, Gangs, Secular or Religious or Agnostic etc..) that want US, the modern world, to go backwards (Them) instead of forwards then, “Houston Yo all got a problemo.”So, Please Think before you act! And becarefull not only what you wish fore, but what you pray for as well.Enjoy the Day while you can.

  • tplocki

    It is hard to justify any war,but at least the theory of just war gives us a basis to guide us. It is unfortunate that the American Bishops did not follow the lead of the pope in labeling the Iraqui war unjust.

  • AMviennaVA

    This article “When is War Justifiable?” by Richard N. Haass is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. When is war justifiable? When you are attacked. You then have the right to defend yourself. There is no other time when war is either justified or justifiable.What the article tries to produce is an excuse for any tyrant (dictator or democratically elected) to spread mayhem and destruction. An example of course is Bush/Cheney and Iraq. We killed, or caused the deaths of, hundreds of thousands and created 5 million refugees! On top of that we have killed a good 30000 civilians in Afghanistan, as retaliation for 9/11. There is enough blood by now, even though we never actually went after those who launched the 9/11 attacks. So, neither fear nor incompetence in waging war are an excuse for going to war.

  • mhoust

    A “just” war is what you have when you are attacked by another country or group of countries. A “justifiable” war is what you have when you attack another country.All wars are justifiable. That is, there is a set of reasons for going to war. The justification, the rationale, is done by those who order their militaries to engage in operations; whether it is the nation’s dictator, president, king, or emperor; or whether it is by decree of a ruling body such as parliment or congress.Those reasons given are based on the values held by those who make the decision. It could be altruistic, “we’re going free the slaves”; humanitarian, “we’re going to eliminate this government so we can get releif supplies to the nation’s people”; defensively pre-emptive, “we have actual intel that an order has been issued for country X’s air force to commence bombing Seattle”; or revenge, “we are going to war to get that country’s smug leader because he disses us at every chance”; or self-serving, “if we invade this country it will stimulate our economy, and incidently make stockholders of company’s A, B, and C wealthy beyond all dreams.” Only the last two reasons fail to be “just” reasons for war, but they certainly are justifications for it.

  • AMviennaVA

    ZZim @ May 5, 2009 10:28 AM posted “My understanding is that the sanctions you wanted to tighten were killing 50,000 Iraqi children per year. The war killed 150,000 Iraqis.” The former part is why the sanctions should have been revoked. They oppressed the wrong group if you will. The sanctions certainly did not justify going to war and creating millions of refugees.

  • mharwick

    …the second Iraq war was not justifiable, as the United States could have done more to contain Saddam though strengthening sanctions…”

  • kwires

    Lets see, if we used the just war theory, then the second Iraq war would have been wrong. That is correct Mr. Haas, the second Iraq war was wrong. The Just war theory was an abstraction that was devised to allow followers of Christ to become soldiers of Christ. It is a pretty basic principal. It rules out things like aggressive invasion of another country because you feel you have military superiority. It also rules out going to war because you want to control the other country’s natural resources. You also are not allowed to go to war with a country to use them as staging area for your next conquest (see Iran regime change). Since you participated in the formulation and furtherance of the Iraq war policy, it makes sense that you somehow try to come to terms with a war that had no precipitating event. We did not invade because they attacked us or an ally (that was Iraq I). They had committed some acts of ethnic cleansing, but that was when they were our ally and we were providing them with material and logistics support. There was no justification for the invasion and following war and occupation. It was part of your administrations foreign policy plan. It is not justifiable to go to war with people that you think at some point in the far away future may become a threat to you. That seems to be the simplified version of what justifiable war would be. I think the fact that you are arguing the moral case for your position shows that you have problems with your own justification for the war and all of the horrific acts that followed the invasion.

  • Nemo5

    The fact that two of the most influential thinkers in the history of Christian theology wrote volumes on the concept of “just war” demonstrates just how misguided religious faith is as a concept.”As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”Oscar Wilde

  • Figaro1

    Mr. Haas could not have been more wrong; and I can guarantee you if he lived or were a citizen of a Third World country–the ones most likely to suffer the consequences of the kind of imperial wars for which he is trying to find excuses– he would not have made such an argument. I guess now leaders (dictators or non-dictators) of countries can go find “justifiable” reasons for waging wars, and they will have Mr. Haas’ nonsense article to quote. I did not expect this from you, Mr. Haas.

  • ZZim

    ZZim @ May 5, 2009 10:28 AM posted “My understanding is that the sanctions you wanted to tighten were killing 50,000 Iraqi children per year. The war killed 150,000 Iraqis.” The former part is why the sanctions should have been revoked. They oppressed the wrong group if you will. The sanctions certainly did not justify going to war and creating millions of refugees.AM, I’m glad you have no power and influence in the world. But then, you never will because you can’t or won’t understand the issues.

  • advent3

    Arguing about when war is justified seems somewhat of an idle pursuit. However it appears to have had an ulterior motive. Thus, people pursuing study of meaning of “justifiable war”, after any of their cohorts proclaims a “theory of justifiable war”, this would have a practical use, namely in helping start a war !!! This is because then by simply saying “justifiable war”, it is supposed to help convince people that most any war would be more justified than it would be without using this phrase, as in some specious argument. As such, it amounts to a rhetorical device useful for any demagogue(s) who serve the purposes of any warmongering groups that seek influence upon say, the U.S. government. It may already have helped President Bush and any groups who wanted a war with Iraq, to gain more ‘credibility’ with a reluctant but overly believing populace.The founding fathers, in their wisdom, tried to prevent any such demagogues, as acting presidents, from initiating wrongful or unwise wars, by including explicitly in the Constitution, phrasings that make mandatory that only Congress can declare a war. Sadly, presidents in recent American history have been able somehow to circumvent this.Why not then for Congress to pass a law making it illegal to fund any war that is (accidentally or otherwise) started which was not specifically declared by Congress within say a few days before the war would begin? Then such a political device as passing a Resolution (as that of October 2002, preceding March 2003 restart of the war in Iraq), could not be used to make such a war technically ‘legal’ !

  • scottshot

    The only just war is one launched when we are attacked, period. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s adage? “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” The proof that this worked is when the Soviets realized that to launch a missile our way was to guarantee mutual self-destruction. That deterrent held until their government eventually imploded.We don’t have to bomb a crazy like Kim Jong Il to protect ourselves; he just has to know for a fact that it will result in turning his whole country into an asphalt parking lot if he launches a rocket our way, or at Japan which we have pledged to defend. The same goes for Iran, or any other mob like the Taliban.Spend our money to maintain such overwhelming force that no one person or country would tempt fate by fiddling with us. If they should, then that would be cause for a just war; but, don’t go at it half way, then turn to a softer target as foolish W. Bush did when going after Iraq.

  • staterighter

    A very difficult decussion. War is very bad and in particular because innocents are killed and suffer greatly. But the decision to be made is which group of innocents it is: Yours or theirs. There are many things worthy of defending with force, family, existance of your Nation, friends, etc. But just as a fist fight, there are consequences. The real problem is finding leaders that understand this, have a vested interest, and have the common sense necessary to lead and make such decisions. That is why most Americans really don’t think about who they are electing president and to their Congress. We just elect the guy or gal that is going to make sure we get our piece of the great Federal hog trough.

  • staterighter

    Yes there is justifiable war. Preserving our Nation, defending the lives of our citizens (first Constitutional requirement of the Federal government), protecting our very way of life.

  • anno2

    As the past years have shown, everything is justifiable if you are allowed to stack DoJ with lawyers willing to write you the memos you want or pressure our intelligence agencies until they give you the assessments you told them you want. What Richard Haass really means when he calls the “just war” criterion impractical is that there are not many cases that pass this test. His conclusion is that consequently, there must be something wrong with the test. My conclusion is there must be something wrong with the myriad of “justifiable”, but not just, interventions we wage, which beget other interventions, which draw us into a moral garbage dump where we, the Land of the Free, torture people without making the world one iota safer.Nice try, but, no thanks.Anno Hermanns

  • skeptonomist

    What don’t you understand about “Resist not evil”? The teachings of Christ provide no justification whatsoever for war. St. Augustine and other church fathers were apologists (like Hess) for ignoring this teaching.As for modern secular rules, they were clearly violated in the Iraq invasion. In practice, Christians make war, kill and torture people when it suits their own purposes regardless of religious doctrine.

  • gdurnin

    sophistry at its most dangerous worst.

  • camasca

    A problem with just war theory or any other theory is that it is too cerebral, although I would say most of us make decisions on emotions, which is dangerous as well, and then use we our brains to try to rationalize a feeling based decision like “fear” for going to war.Because that’s what just war is, justifying that you whack somebody because you’re afraid, or because you’re greedy, or because you’re angry.Certainly anyone can defend themselves against naked aggression. The “preemptive” stuff is extremely dangerous. Hence, you need heavy duty rationalization to justify the action.I think we can do better than war doctrines that are centuries old. We can use our human gifts to come to better decision making.

  • kellerhalsmd

    War is not justifiable by any standard. It is a simple lesson the world just can not bring itself to understand. The United States acted against Afghanistan and the Taliban regime when the government, however it came to power, failed to turn over al-Qaida terrorists following the terrorist attacks in 2001. The country was invaded and the Taliban was dispatched along with al-Qaida. Unfortunately they were driven into the Hindu Kush mountain range and the conditions for more war were set in motion. Nothing was accomplished, the Taliban are fighting to regain control of the country and al-Qaida’s leadership continues to survive and function. The United States is still there fighting an endless war, pouring resources and lives into a vast black hole. The goals that have been repeatedly altered to suit the circumstances have been without merit and are proving completely unattainable. Iraq is another clear example of a war based on a mindset driven entirely by the quaint notion of American Exceptionalism.War will continue because the human race has failed to learn anything from history. The United States could lead by example, but it lacks the morality and the political will.

  • Chaotician

    The only acceptable war is one of liberation and opposition to oppression! By those oppressed and those seeking liberation from the yoke of tyranny! Everything else is hubris and criminal exploitation! The only other excuse for military actions is a world action to “police” unacceptable activities by despotic leaders! Period! There is NO acceptable national excuse for military actions, none! The American example of the last 60 years is one of bungling failure after failure for limited short term expediencies by well-meaning perhaps, but largely ignorant leaders trying to pretend to some mythical moral right to meddle in everyone else’s lives. The only common factor in these endless adventures is the economic exploitation by Americas Military-Industrial complex of Fascist corporations and their leaders! Having religions speak about morality is beyond contempt as is Think tank dependents floating “trial balloons” of lunacy and justification for murder and genocide!

  • Springmag

    Some of the readers’ unhappiness with Pr. Haas stems from a lack of understanding of his intellectual origins. Pr. Haas is one of the original, very small—mainly rejected—group of “theoretical” political scientists, who ascribe to the belief that all of international politics can be explained by broad theories. They propose, implausibly, that political science can be transformed into a “hard” science. Their belief is partially the result of their lack of understanding of the hard sciences that they so highly regard, and partially of the muddle of philosophical confusion that is Christianity’s hopelessly conflicted attitudes toward killing and death. It is not merely a coincidence that he starts by addressing the notion of a “just” war, because this is really the origin of his movement to provide a scientific (or, at the time, legal) “structure” to international relations. At the time these Christian philosophers were mulling over the notion of a just and legal war, international relations really amounted to not much more than whether two nations were either at war or not. The theory of a “just” war was simply an early attempt to provide international relations with a theoretical underpinning. The notion that there is some sort of a pseudo-scientific checklist that will allow us to determine “objectively” whether or not a war is “justifiable” is hardly any less ludicrous. Pr. Haas is actually engaged in an intellectually fraudulent effort to justify when it is in a nation’s best interest to use ‘military force’ to achieve its goals. Strip off the fake veneer of “scientific rigor” that the theoretical political scientists to themselves and you are left with nothing more than the very practical, non-scientific, down-to-earth Powell Doctrine. I have always disliked this horribly obnoxious habit of the politic theorists, to take other people’s ideas, coat them in the sham of academic obfuscation and then take credit for having had an original thought. I prefer to take my doses of reality unadulterated by sham academic pretentiousness.

  • hariknaidu

    Just Wars – like all other Wars must be illegal under international law. Scriptures don’t allow you to kill in name of your God or that fellow called Bush!Hass – old Dutch name – shld be a bit more careful how he defines *just war*. By any definition, there must not be a recourse to war, as long as possibility remains to seek/find alternative solution to a deined conflict.In American jingoism, IslamicFascism is equal to Hass definition of *just war*.So, wake up Hass & CFA, and recall this earth was inherited not by the Sheriff from West Texas…but all of humanity irrespective of caste, color or faith.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Firstly, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI recently issued a robust statement Worse, lastly, at its heart the article is obscene: America, the world’s richest country, spends four times–Disgusting and offensive. Words fail me.

  • steveandjanereed1

    I actually agree with Mr. Haas about the concept of a justifiable war. My problem is with the possible practical import it could have in relaxing moral strictures against going to war.

  • eastlander

    ZZim wrote:”You honestly and truly believe that the world was a better place with Saddam in it? Or do you honestly and truly believe that SANCTIONS would have rid the world of Saddam Hussein? Seriously? Let’s study the facts. Iran, Iraq and North Korea were all under similar sanctions in 2001. Now Iraq is a democracy and Iran and North Korea are still working on nuclear bombs, ballistic missiles with which to deliver them, and your all-powerful powerful sanctions and diplomatic initiatives continue to … do nothing. Are you aware that 2 MILLION North Koreans have starved to death since 2001? Meanwhile, the world pats itself on the back for using sanctions rather than fixing the problem.Sanctions fail. Not sometimes, every time.”Ahh first you give the false choice of:”You honestly and truly believe that the world was a better place with Saddam in it?” My answer to that question is: I don’t know – just like you don’t know. I know you think you know, but unless you’re the world’s most brilliant and undiscovered scientist who has figured out how to observe all the different causality loops in the time-space continuum or you are indeed the Lord GOD then you really don’t know. I don’t think the world is a better place and I don’t thing the world is NOT a better place – in other words ‘neither nor’. And the reason for that answer is that there could be any number of possible outcomes depending on what was done, and the strength of the efforts of the other possible methods that could have been employed to resolve the situation. I’m a realist however and so I would say in reality there were a handful of possible outcomes – most better, but a few worse than the outcome we are now faced with.And please stop with the ilk of arguments ‘do you really think the world is not a better place without saddam hussein?. Anyone with common sense or who watches courtroom shows like the people’s court knows that this is what someone asks when they cannot objectively prove a statement knowing that their nemesis cannot disprove said statement. And the burden of proof is on the maker of the statement to prove its validity, and not on the other side to disprove it. Then you go on to try to prove it by claiming Iraq is a democracy, but now it becomes subjective, for where you see a democracy I see a dictatorship in waiting currently under an illusion of a democracy and I submit to you that an illusion is not the same as the real thing. The illusion is being facilitated by the presence of American troops. The generals on the ground know this and that’s why they were advocating keeping troops in Iraq for years to come. Bush on the other hand was concerned for his legacy so he was willing to do anything to sustain the illusion for as long as he could. Unfortunately for Bush, McCain didn’t win, and so the illusions’ days are numbered as well as the ‘waiting’ part for the dictatorship in waiting. BTW sanctions worked against South Africa.

  • jimarush

    I wonder if we would be having this conversation if we were North Korean or Iranian. Bullies are always going to find eloquent ways to express and justify their bullyism. Hitler felt justified to start WWII. President Truman felt justified to interject the United States into the Vietnam War. Bush and his cronies justified the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.The result of all of these justifiable aggressions was the loss of millions of lives, billions of dollars in property loss and never ending chaos. The other realism of justifiable warfare is the fact that the people who feel that wars are justifiable and their families never fight in these justifiable wars.When will ordinary people wake up and realize that we are being led by cowards who feel that war is justifiable as long as they and their own families do not have to participate in the actual fighting and that they live in America and not Iran or North Korea.

  • usapdx

    ALL NATIONS HAVE BORDERS. ALL NATIONS MUST RESPECT OTHER NATIONS BORDERS. WHEN THE BORDER IS VIOLATED BY ANOTHER NATION, THAT NATION CAN HAVE A JUSTIFIABLE RECOURSE. BEAR IN MIND THAT THE VATICAN IS A NATION AND MUST MEET THE SAME REQUIREMENTS OF SPEAKING OUT TO ANOTHER NATION. WHEN IS A NATION JUSTIFIABLE AS A NATION?

  • ChrisFord1

    War is one of many unpleasant, but necessary things that are a part of human society. It would be “nice” if there was no more war, just as it would be “nice” if abortion and organized crime and failed businesses ensuing lost jobs ceased to exist.*****************1. War is about killing and maiming people without trial. Destroying property. Subjugating enemy people to your Will or to block the enemy from imposing theirs.2. There is no such thing as an “innocent civilian” in war if people claiming that establish a moral antipode. That any fit, brave civilian stepping up to fight for his people and his land magically becomes a “guilty soldier”. Whose life is also magically devalued to a level less than his fellow citizens who do not serve, even the “innocent enemy civilians” much crying is indulged in.

  • coloradodog

    just war is an oxymormon

  • volkmare

    The number of nations liberated by the US is many.The number conquered by the US is ZERO.Standing around waiting of the United Nations Security Council to make a competent decision is like pressing your nose against a brick wall and pushing. You get nowhere fast.Having seen the mass grave images my son brought back from Iraq justifies us liberating the nation regardless of why we originally went in.Mark

  • ZZim

    Ahh first you give the false choice of:”You honestly and truly believe that the world was a better place with Saddam in it?” My answer to that question is: I don’t know – just like you don’t know. Blah blah.. causality … space-time continuum … blah blah.BTW sanctions worked against South Africa.Fascinating. The ability of people to delude themselves. Eastlander really thinks that the Iraqis are not better off than they were in 2001.South Africa was a functioning democracy with a healthy and active opposition party. Neither Iran and North Korea do not. Saddam hanged people who were insufficiently loyal. It’s not a valid comparison.True story: A Baath party member got married and the following week took his new bride to an official party function. Saddam spotted her and took a fancy. The following day the man divorced his bride and Saddam married her. It would be terrifying to live under that kind a despotic power. It’s so scary that even Eastlander might notice.If anyone missed this guy’s entire post, I recommend you scroll down. Bizarre.He’s one of those guys that even the liberals won’t admit exist – he wants Obama to withdraw from Iraq on a time-table regardless of the consequences. I thought Rush Limbaugh invented guys like that in order to have a straw man to punch at. Wowsers.

  • Nemo5

    A “just war” is no less subjective than a “justifiable war.” In either instance, an opinion is needed.In reality, Mr. Haass is simply saying “I don’t like that definition – it’s too difficult to deal with. So I’m going to create my own definition – one I can handle more easily.”Such juvenile and purile thinking is troublesome to say the least. It’s this kind of attitude that led to the abuses perpetrated by the previous administration in Washington.

  • shark2

    What will happen after such a stupid just war? Can we win the hearts and minds of the people of the land? If the answer is no,then be prepared for more choas in the world and no peace.When a super power needs world resources then the war is anyway just war. I agree with the comments posted by mary cunningham.

  • mono1

    listen to moral leaders and moral institutions ,the congress as the right of the people by the people and for the people is not always right and is not always just.us or other than us will never win any war (just or not)unless you win in the battle field of ideology first ,the only way to win a war is to defeat your opponent ideologicaly and moralgicaly,you my beat the hell out of him/her physicaly but you will never win unless you defeat him/her ideologicaly and moralgicaly.take for example the russian expo in afghanistan ,take the american expo in iraq or even in vietnam?its time for us to establish some kind of moral authority befor dealing within and with the rest of the world .its time to reexamine the separation between the church and the state and morality and the state.its time to change the old rot ,the boss is not always right but he is always the boss.

  • ekim53

    If you contemplate this too long, you could get your butts blown up.

  • rwrollins

    1. Saddam was bad man and would have developed the atom bomb if he could, therefore the Iraq war is justifiable.2. Pakistan is the real hotbed of terrorism, therefore we should invade Pakistan.3. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a cesspool of death and corruption, therefore we should invade the Congo.4. Sudan is practicing genocide of Christians, therefore we should invade Sudan.5. Myanmar is a corrupt fascist state, therefore we should invade Myanmar.6. Indonesia is very likely the next center of Islamic terrorism, therefore we should invade Indonesia.7. North Korea, do I have to spell it out?8. Ceasar Chavez is obviously trying to unite South America against the US, therefore we should invade Venezuela.9. Haiti is a death trap, therefore we should invade Haiti.10. Cuba is the same as it always was, therefore we should invade before they get new missles.11. Mexico is about to collapse, therefore we should invade Mexico before the Chinese take over.12. Saudi Arabia is a theocratic state without liberty that finances much of world terrorism, therefore we should invade Saudi Arabia.13. Iran is trying to get the bomb, therefore we should invade Iran.14. China is not democratic, is murdering the Tibetans, wants to take over Asia and has an economic dagger at our throat, therefore we should invade China.15. Russia is a farce with a corrupt political system that controls so many natural resourses we should invade it before it becomes a dictatorship that will assuredly cause a world war, therefore we should invade Russia.16. Vietnam is unrepentant and still communist, therefore we should invade Vietnam before all the dominoes we propped up for so many years fall down.17. France is, well everybody knows about the French so we should invade France because after all the other justifiable fighting our troops will desperately need some RnR and Paris is a swell place.18. The United states systematically committed the genocide of the native population, stole their land and keeps their descendants in thrall. It invaded Central America and installed dictators for profit. It lied to the Philipinos and made them a puppet state for fifty years. It has violated its own constitution and invaded the Confederate South simply because they wanted to go their own way. It has broken the Geneva Convention, openly advocated torture and plans a holy war agains more than a hundred million moslems regardless of where they live. Therefore… oops!

  • onofrio

    RWROLLINS,That’s a post of genius! Many thanks.

  • Emmie22t

    Loosening the restrictions on waging a war is a slippery slope, and not one that is restricted just to the USA. If we decided to adopt “justifiable” war, that would lower the standards for all of the countries in the international community, even our enemies. Is that desirable? No.