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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Making War on Iraq: What can we do in Principle

Tony Adragna
I'm glad you pointed to Charles Austin, Will, because a recent entry responding to critics of war gives me an excellent starting point for my own thoughts. Charles wrote, "I've read in many places recently that the liberation of Iraq will not be a 'just war' because Iraq is not an imminent threat to the US", then goes on to express frustration over the inability against an "asymetrical" threat to detect when an act is "imminent".

I'll assume, though I haven't read such an argument, that there is such an argument as "the liberation of Iraq will not be a 'just war' because Iraq is not an imminent threat to the US." The argument is false — there are situations where a third party not directly threatened may justifiably intervene to liberate another nation. There are two circumstances that come directly to mind where a state may acquire "[s]econdary title" to go to war
first, from the request of another state in peril (or of a people who happen themselves to be in possession of the right);

secondly, from the fact of the oppression of the innocent, whose unjust suffering is proportionate to the gravity of war and whom it is impossible to rescue in any other way; in this latter case the innocent have the right to resist, charity calls for assistance, and the intervening state may justly assume the communication of the right of the innocent to exercise extreme coercion in their behalf.1
These are, however, exceptional circumstances. Generally, principles of international law limits the "[r]ight of nations against the infractors of the law of nations" in such a way that the "right of nations over the conduct of any sovereign state is only commensurate to the object of that society which exists between [nations]." What this means is that the critics of liberating Iraq are in a perverse way correct: if there is "any other way" than "extreme coercion" to liberate Iraq, then the only justification for intervention is if the situation in Iraq also presents an "imminent threat" to us[or, to the community of nations, but I'm not comfortable with what I've seen from the body that is supposed make prudential judgements for the "community"]

I'm of the opinion that "[no] other way" presents itself to liberate Iraq from Saddam's regime. Modern conventional warfare is proportionately less grave than the unjust suffering of the Iraqi people. I see a case where the "exercise [of] extreme coercion in [the] behalf [of innocents]" is justified. No "imminent threat" of aggression against us is required. If an imminent threat does exist, then we've "primary title" to the right to go to war in self-defense irrespective of whether there's "any other way" to liberate Iraq.

I think we've also strong case in principle for "resort to forcible means for the purpose of repressing any one particular nation who openly violates the laws of the society which Nature has established between [nations]" regardless of any imminent act of aggression. Saddam's Iraq clearly manifests those conditions where the "[r]ight of all nations against a mischievous people" allows resort to force
If, then, there is anywhere a nation of a restless and mischievous disposition, ever ready to injure others, to traverse their designs and to excite domestic disturbances in their dominions, - it is not to be doubted that all the others have a right to form a coalition in order to repress and chastise that nation, and to put it for ever after out of her power to injure them. [§53]
Problem here is that we run up against a misunderstanding of our obligations under "conventional" international law where the UN Charter reserves to that body's Security Council the right to evaluate conditions and make prudential judgements. Such conventional law can't mean anything unless it's understood in light of underlying principles. Those principles enumerated at Article II of the Charter are not substantially different from those found in Vattel's treatise2, so that we've not a new set of principles superceding some older principles. Rather, the Charter attempts a perfection of relations between States. But, in pursuit of that purpose the Charter does not, nor can it, operate in such a way that the traditional rights of sovereign nations cannot be exercised without the approbation of the United Nations.

To wit: Though the UN exists as a form of "super-coalition", there is nothing in principle, nor in the Charter itself, that makes illegitimate the formation of some other coalition, nor is there any requirement that such coalitions present their cases to the UN. The Charter itself merely obliges Members to not act in ways "inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." Where action is taken consistent with those purposes there is no injury to the Charter.

Moreover, the charter imposes obligations not just on sovereign nations, but on the whole community. To the extent that the community fails at fullfiling the purposes of the Charter, then the Charter is null. If membership does involve some transmission of sovereign rights by members of the community to the Security Council vis a vis security, it also obliges the Council to provide security. Insofar as the Coucil has failed to meet its obligations — whether in bad faith, or due to inability — then members' obligations under the Charter are void. Nations are then free to exercise their traditional rights consistent with long established principles governing conduct between nations.

What about "imminent threat"? Customary usage of the term has been to signify an act that has been committed to beyond the point of recision, and is about to happen. What's normally justified is an interception of the threat. Vattel comments on the principle that allows preemption
It is safest to prevent the evil when it can be prevented. A nation has a right to resist an injurious attempt, and to make use of force and every honourable expedient against whosoever is actually engaged in opposition to her, and even to anticipate his machinations, observing, however, not to attack him upon vague and uncertain suspicions, lest she should incur the imputation of becoming herself an unjust aggressor.[§50]
That appears to allow a broader application of preemption than what has become the custom. We would not need wait 'til an attack is about to happen, but could "prevent" the threat from progressing to the point of being imminent attack. This application of principle would be a valuable tool in combatting the "asymetric" attack that is so difficult to anticipate. Still, I would, observing Vattel's caveat, limit preemption to its customary usage, especially since, in my opinion, the arguments for "liberation" & "repressing violations" are much clearer and not so prone to abuse.

Of course, what we can do in principle still needs examination of whether we ought do those things. In the instant case we've two alternatives: War, or continued containment. Much argument has gone to the case that a proper exercise of prudential judgement contraindicates war. How many people have applied a similar exercise to the case for containment instead of war? My own opinion is that
"sanctions are immoral for the very reason that the people they attempt to target -- the political leadership -- aren't hurt, yet the general population suffers through the intransigence of their political leadership. I'd rather make war [always prefering peace, though] than impose sanctions."
Walter Russell Mead makes the case, more eloquently than I can, on today's WaPo op-ed page that sanctions are "Deadlier Than War"
Those who still oppose war in Iraq think containment is an alternative -- a middle way between all-out war and letting Saddam Hussein out of his box.

They are wrong.

Sanctions are inevitably the cornerstone of containment, and in Iraq, sanctions kill.

In this case, containment is not an alternative to war. Containment is war: a slow, grinding war in which the only certainty is that hundreds of thousands of civilians will die.

Morally, politically, financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked -- made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little less futile -- but the basic equations don't change. Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror -- with no end in sight.

This is disaster, not policy.

It is time for a change.
Those who make legalistic reference to the UN Security Council's prerogatives in arguing that a war against Iraq would be "illegitimate", or who argue that containment would be more "prudent" considering the moral implications of war, need to come up with better arguments.

1. There have been some developments in Catholic "just war" doctrine since the end of WWII. John Paul II has made some statements recently that I've seen other Catholics refer to as "prudential judgement", but I think they miss the significance of those statements. Rather, JPII has been instructing us on moral theology, looking to the catechism and encyclicals from his predecessors, and telling us what the Church's teaching means. This needs a whole post of its own.

2. Why rely on such an old treatise? Several reasons. First, it's not encumbered by modern notions of "international law" that attempt to codify the principles as if they're some kind of statutes. Second, there's no mention of the UN. Third, it's online. Finally, it there's not a single mention of the UN.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Welcome Back, Will!

Tony Adragna
I have been keeping up with your writing for the Political State Report, but your input here has been sorely missed — my ranting have begun to become tiresome even to myself.

I think I'll engage in Hinkle's exercise, but of embarassment I might not post the result. Those things I've urged have either happened in a way that mocks their happening, or in such a way that mocks my urging not happened. Can't win...

Working on an item on principled — rather than legalistic — justification for war against Iraq. I'll have it up this evening. Also gonna write something on how Catholic "just war" doctrine has changed since the end of WWII, extending remarks in explanation of how the Vatican didn't just pull opposition out of thin air in an attempt to restrain the U.S. per se[though, that's the practical effect]

'Til later...

Against the Wind

Will Vehrs
Tony, you have to check out A. Barton Hinkle's column in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Hinkle reviews the status of all the recommendations and suggestions he's made over the years. I just love his conclusion, after the recitation of all that he's advocated:

It almost goes without saying that these positions were backed up with arguments of such depth and profundity they would leave Immanuel Kant whistling in admiration; that they were buttressed by enough research to make the entire faculty of Harvard look like a bunch of slackers; and that they were cast in prose so eloquent as to leave the literary giants of the age chucking their quills and word processors into the nearest dumpster in despair. Who in his right mind could possibly fail to be persuaded?

Only one word could describe such types: everyone.
We bloggers might do well to engage in a Hinkle-like exercise; if we're honest, we'd probably come to a similar conclusion.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Blog Lunch Report

Will Vehrs
On Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Charles Austin for lunch. Charles, of course, writes the excellent Sine Qua Non Pundit blog, with its notorious "The Scourge of Richard Cohen" series, now at volume LXXX. He's also a feisty competitor in the Caption Contest.

It was an enjoyable afternoon. Charles is a stand-up guy with a great sense of humor and an open mind. He's involved in a tough project at work, away from home, so he's not been posting as much as he'd like. That's the blogosphere's loss. He'll be in the area a while longer, so I hope we get the chance to meet again.

Dodd Harris will be happy to know that the two of us considered a nefarious plot to submit identical Caption Contest entries, but rejected it as an unethical scheme. The Contest means too much to us to risk sullying its reputation, although we would have in a heartbeat if the picture this week was a little more compelling ....

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Getting a Rise Out of Rice

Will Vehrs
Punditwatch has been posted, noting the possible sighting of a previously uncharted phenomena: Condi Rice on the verge of losing her cool. There's also a verdict on Helen Thomas and the first ever comparison of Bob Novak to Bill Clinton. All that and Howard Dean, too ....