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Just War?!? Military Action in Syria?

Once again, it appears Obama is going to war without authorization, if reports are accurate he is amassing our military to strike Syria.  What is the justification?  Well, we really don’t know do we? There was no solid justification for waging war in Libya, or for his fomenting violence in Egypt, or for his assisting Israel’s enemies.

Justifications, like constitutional principles, are Obama’s play things.  Apparently it is a matter of ego.  One year ago he warned Assad if he used chemical weapons, he would cross a red line, and the U.S. would be forced to act.  After numerous red line crossings, Obama is now forced to save face.

If dire threats were justifications, why hasn’t Obama attacked Iran?

Just for the record, let’s take a look at the justifications for war generally agreed upon by civilized nations.

Principles of Just War:

• A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

• A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.

• A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient – see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.

• A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.

• The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

• The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

• The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

By these measures there is no justification for Obama’s war on Syria, especially in light of news he has been arming Islamic radicals fighting the Assad regime. Of course, Assad’s use of Saddam’s chemical weapons is a violation of all human decency, but it does not present a direct threat to the U.S.  Had there been a clear threat it would have been established years ago, and that would have been the time to prevent the slaughter of 100,000 civilians.  Obama-too-late is playing games with the lives of our military personnel only to save face, it would appear.

Waging war on Syria is not a matter of American self-defense, therefore, and fails the test of just war.  Further, there is no reasonable chance of success to restore peace.  Bring down Assad and what remains?  Jihadists moving in to establish Sharia, not exactly the path to peace or regional stability.  Obama’s “victory” in Syria will only mean an expanded role for Hezbollah and Iran in the region.

And then there is the concern for civilians, heretofore not top of Obama’s list.  The use of American missiles in Syria to dethrone Assad will likely take many civilian lives.  Killing civilians to save civilians is a strategy?

Many will liken Syria to Iraq noting Assad’s affinity with Saddam, birds of a feather, if you will.  However, few can draw the comparison between the two, asserting both warrant armed response.  In the first place, both the U.N. and the Congress urged and approved action against Saddam, for many years.  Most of the people in Obama’s inner circle called Saddam a terrorist worthy of confrontation.  Obama joined a handful of people opposed to the 2003 invasion, yet today he mounts an offensive against a much lesser threat, another of his many inconsistencies.

Obviously, Obama’s dithering and backing down in the face of Assad’s murderous quest to retain power has resulted in this horrendous situation.  Rather than address this early on with strong diplomacy, coordinating with Putin, this President has instead stood by impotently, doing nothing, while mass murder painted him into a corner.  Obama helped spark an Arab Spring that blew up in his face, and 100,000 Syrians have paid the price for his “leadership”.

Leadership matters.  Obama does not.  The Arab League has condemned Syria.  Let the Arab League deal with Assad.

Image: St.Thomas Aquinas (key developer of “Just War Theory”) in Roccasecca, Italy; source: photos/gerryscappaticci/1422399633; author: photo by gerry.scappaticci; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Allan Erickson

Allan Erickson---Christian, husband, father, journalist, businessman, screenwriter, and author of The Cross & the Constitution in the Age of Incoherence, Tate Publishing, 2012.