Just Intervention: Libya and Iraq Compared

March 23, 2011, 4:25 pm | Posted by

As the U.S. takes military action in a third Arab country, it’s important to evaluate the moral considerations of our engagement in Libya. Just War Theory, a centuries-old tradition rooted in Catholic social teaching, can help guide our ethical analysis. As outlined below, just war theory lays out the following key criterion for intervention: just cause, proper authority, right intention, reasonable hope for success, proportionality and last resort. Over at U.S. Catholic magazine, managing editor Bryan Cones is skeptical:

Less than a week into this operation, I worry that what we have is another intervention by Western colonial powers to secure the natural resources of a weaker nation. Muammar Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussein before him, may be a bad man who does cruel things and oppresses his people. But the world is filled with those kinds of people, and we aren’t bombing them.

Other critics, including Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, have made stark comparisons between Bush-era unilateralism and the Obama administration’s rationale for intervention. However, as we evaluate this conflict through a moral lens, we should acknowledge its complexity and pay attention to careful nuance. Using just war theory, it’s helpful to put Libya side-by-side with the Iraq War.

VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
The Architects of Intervention

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; NSC Senior Director for Human Rights, Democracy, and Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power; US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice
Weapons of Mass Destruction, Global War on Terrorism, 9/11, Iraq’s history of hostility toward the US, especially in the first Gulf War, and Saddam Hussein’s repression of civilians
Just Cause

Preventing attacks on innocent civilians and potential genocide; Removing dictator Muammar Gaddafi
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the war as illegal, saying in a September 2004 interview that it was “not in conformity with the Security Council.” In lieu of UN Security Council authorization, Bush claimed authority from a “coalition of the willing,” which included troops from the UK, Australia, and Poland.
Proper Authority

UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing “all necessary measures” to enforce no-fly zone and protect civilians – called for by the Arab League, France, and the UK; full support of UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon
Highly debatable: Cheney and Co., all part of the Project for the New American Century, called for increasing the U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and specifically for invading Iraq as early as 1998. Blighted track record on supporting human rights and unilateral march to war against the will of the UN.
Right Intention

Consistent and proven over time: Samantha Power, the world’s leading expert on genocide and Founding Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard; Susan Rice, Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide, has vowed not to see that tragedy repeated and Hillary Clinton (whose husband called not intervening in Rwanda the greatest regret of his Presidency) all have strong track records of supporting human rights.
Defeating the Iraqi Army was easy for the US, but invasion led to occupation, which led to nation-building, which has had mixed results. US still in the country 8 years later.
Reasonable Hope for Success

Enforcing a No-Fly Zone has been successful; preventing genocide seems to be initially successful; pro-Gaddafi forces have stopped their advance on Benghazi.
Shock-and-Awe, full-scale invasion, followed by 8 years and counting of occupation.

Surgical strikes to disable Libya’s air defenses to allow the French and Qatari planes to patrol the No-Fly Zone and the protection of civilians; the mission is limited to enforcing the UN Resolution, which explicitly rules out direct ground intervention that could lead to occupation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was responsible for inspecting Iraq for WMDs, wanted more time. President Bush did give Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country, and only then used force to remove him.
Last Resort

Pro-Gaddafi forces were closing in on rebel stronghold in Benghazi, meaning it was no-fly zone or a very good chance of Gaddafi taking back the entire country and having “no mercy;” continuing the apparent genocide he already started.

On CNN, President Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya may look similar to President Bush’s march to war in Iraq, but a closer examination reveals important differences.

add a comment »

Defending the Global Common Good

February 22, 2011, 10:33 pm | Posted by

We’ve been tracking the myriad ways that federal budget proposals would eviscerate domestic programs that offer vital safety nets for the poor and make life harder for working families. Self-described deficit hawks are also positioning to make deep cuts to international humanitarian aid that are similarly cruel and misguided.

The Washington Post reports that House Republicans would reduce food aid programs by up to 50 percent, State Department funding for refugees by more than 40 percent and dramatically slash one of the main U.S. foreign food aid programs. Development officials predict these cuts would reduce or eliminate food for about 15 million people in places such as Ethiopia, Haiti and Sudan at a time when food prices are soaring. Catholic Relief Services warns lawmakers in a recent letter to Congress why this is a mistake:

Foreign assistance is not simply an optional commitment; it is a moral responsibility to assist “the least of these.” These priority programs support a wide range of life-saving and dignity-preserving activities, including: agricultural assistance to poor farmers; drugs for people living with HIV and tuberculosis; cost-effective vaccines for preventable diseases; assistance to orphans and vulnerable children; mosquito nets to prevent malaria; food aid for famines, emergencies, and development; emergency health care, shelter, and reconstruction in disaster-devastated places like Haiti; peacekeepers to protect innocent civilians such as in Sudan and the Congo; assistance to migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or persecution; and debt relief for poor nations. Cuts at the level being considered will result in the loss of innocent lives.

If you think that defending the global common good is only for bleeding heart liberals, conservative columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson makes a compelling case for why Republicans’ efforts to target international aid make little sense politically and substantively.

These reductions were intended to be symbolic, but what do they symbolize? Fiscal responsibility? Hardly. No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation. Claiming courage or credit for irrelevant cuts in foreign assistance is a net subtraction from public seriousness on the deficit. So, do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding.

Whither compassionate conservatism?

add a comment »

Nuance in Egypt

February 2, 2011, 10:42 am | Posted by

Egypt_protests.jpgThe recent protests in Egypt have provoked some confusion amongst Westerners unfamiliar with Egyptian culture and politics. In particular, misunderstanding of the complicated Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptians diverse views on wanting religious involvement with politics has led to warnings from Religious Right figures like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum that the protests could lead to a “radical Islamist regime.”

Religious scholar Reza Aslan has a great piece up at The Washington Post this week explaining the nuance of the situation and why these fears are unfounded:

The fact is that democracy cannot take root in large parts of the Middle East without the participation of religious factions who are willing to put down their weapons and pick up ballots instead. That is precisely what the Muslim Brotherhood has done over the last few decades, as it has diligently transformed itself into a legitimate political party and a force for democratic change in Egypt. In 2006, when members of the Brotherhood were first given the opportunity to run for elected office, they proved themselves perfectly capable of responsible governance. Far from trying to transform Egypt into a theocracy, as Arab rulers and western ideologues predicted they would, the Brotherhood fully embraced the principles of democracy by creating political alliances with liberal intellectuals and secular democrats in the Egyptian to lobby for greater political freedoms, including freedom of religion, assembly and speech. Their actions convinced even their staunchest critics that, given the opportunity, they could become a legitimate political force in Egyptian politics, which is why Mubarak turned so violently against them, rounding up their democratically elected members, jailing, torturing and murdering them inside his dank, sadistic prison cells.

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

add a comment »

Putting things in perspective

September 8, 2010, 11:30 am | Posted by

This Venn diagram by Mark Schmidt made the rounds last week as a great illustration of how many people we’re talking about when we discuss Muslims, Muslim-Americans and al-Qaida.

With the Qur’an burning Florida church in the news lately, I thought it would be useful to update it:

Thumbnail image for MuslimPopulationChart.JPG

Credit to Technipol for the to-scale diagram.

Update: We updated the graph to include a more accurate estimate of the Muslim-American population. See the Pew Forum report, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population” for more information.

Update II: Added credit for the original image.

add a comment »

Words of enduring wisdom

August 20, 2010, 3:05 pm | Posted by

Stories this week about the demagoguery surrounding the Cordoba House Islamic Center and the widespread, mistaken belief that President Obama is a Muslim reminded of Colin Powell’s forceful words about then-Senator Obama, anti-Muslim bigotry, and Muslim Americans shortly before the 2008 election in an appearance on Meet the Press:

And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards-Purple Heart, Bronze Star-showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.

His words are as poignant and relevant today as they were two years ago.

add a comment »