Iraq & Just-war Thinking

The presumption against the use of force

The Washington view about war with Iraq has moved precipitously from "a rumor of war" to "foregone conclusion." Although prominent policy makers, including Republicans, have questioned the wisdom of the Bush administration’s call for regime change, many end their remarks with, "the president has yet to make the case"-anticipating, of course, that he will.

No one can pretend that just-war principles have ever governed U.S. foreign policy. But in recent years, debates about the use of force-in the Persian Gulf, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and in response to September 11-have been informed, at least partially, by the ethical criteria of the just-war tradition. But a focus on these criteria was visibly lacking at the Senate Foreign Relations committee hearings on Iraq in July and August. And National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice observed recently that removing Saddam Hussein from power might be the moral obligation of the United States, without specifying the moral grounds. Does the just-war tradition have any relevance to the decision to go to war with Iraq?

American culture generally-and decision makers in particular-rarely accept what some just-war thinkers consider a foundation stone: there is a "presumption against the use of force," and who regard the just-war criteria as impediments to which exceptions might be made in a specific case. Yet others understand the just-war tradition as permitting the...

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About the Author

George A. Lopez is director of policy studies and senior fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.