Administration Plans Don't Meet Carter's Criteria for 'Just War'
Published on Tuesday, March 4, 2003 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Administration Plans Don't Meet Carter's Criteria for 'Just War'
by Sean Gonsalves

Dear Mr. Carter:

Let me begin with belated congratulations on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

As you noted in your book, "Negotiation: The Alternative to Hostility," it's important to understand that peace is impossible without justice. And justice is a two-way street, which means that the "war on terrorism" should not be about just us.

A study of the Just War Tradition reveals that, though the criteria for it varies slightly among scholars, there are seven basic requirements that must be met for a war to be considered just.

A just war must have: 1) a just cause; 2) be waged by a legitimate authority; 3) formally declared; 4) fought with peaceful intentions; 5) used as a last resort; 6) have a likelihood of success; and 7) the means used must be proportionate to the ends. I have room in this space to briefly address only three.

  • A "just war" must have a just cause. It's extremely difficult, especially with regards to Iraq, to show a clear cause. The idea that Saddam Hussein is solely to blame (though he bears major responsibility and must be held accountable) because he has violated international law is overly simplistic and in some aspects is downright dishonest.

    We have allies that are in violation of international law, including the unpleasant fact that Israel, with its nukes, is in violation of United Nations Resolution 687, which not only called for Iraq to disarm but for the Middle East to be a "weapons of mass destruction-free zone." While ignored in most analysis, the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim world, is acutely aware of this double standard.

  • A "just war" must be fought with a peaceful intention. If truth and justice are inextricably linked to peace, then it's hard to swallow the war-is-our-only-option view.

    For example, Saddam is repeatedly accused of "gassing his own people," a vague reference to the horrible atrocities committed against the Kurds in 1988. But, not only did U.S. policy-makers continue to send Saddam's regime bio-chemical agents until 1989, according to Patrick Tyler of The New York Times, our government provided intelligence and planning assistance in chemical weapons attacks against Iranians during the Iraq-Iran war in the '80s.

    And even a year after reports began to surface in 1983 that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iran, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hand-delivered a letter to Saddam from President Reagan re-establishing diplomatic relations with the "beast of Baghdad" in 1984.

    Anyone familiar with the violently fractious relationship between Saddam's regime and Iraq's Kurdish population knows that such phrases as "Saddam gassed his own people" is like saying Andrew Jackson committed genocide on his own people in his war against Native Americans.

    While there is a grain of truth to the charge, it's simply dishonest to accuse a government of killing its "own people" when those people are taking up arms to establish an autonomous region within the government's sovereign borders.

    If some black paramilitary outfit in America were engaged in guerrilla warfare to acquire territory in the United States, the government would mercilessly crush the revolt with broad public support. And if some foreign superpower were threatening to invade the United States, making the argument that the president killed "his own people," this misrepresentation of the fact would be held up for ridicule by any thinking American.

  • A just war must be a last resort. If democracy and the liberation of the Iraqi people were truly the intention for the "realist" hawks, why isn't Troy Davis' idea being discussed much more widely? Davis proposes that we support a Constitutional Convention inviting legitimate leaders of Iraqi opposition groups with real ties to the people inside Iraq to set up a government-in-exile and let that body decide on what a post-Saddam Iraq ought to be.

    Now, when the IRA was committing terrorist bombings in London, Western leaders weren't calling for the bombing of Belfast or Boston where the IRA got some of its financial support. And when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, no one was calling for the bombing of Idaho and Montana where militia groups have set up their "safe havens." What's up with that?

    I'm writing you to suggest a simple but extremely risky maneuver, Mr. Carter. I'd bet if you called up Pope John Paul II and perhaps Muhammad Ali and you all agreed to go to various parts of Iraq to serve as human shields, vowing not to leave until a peaceful settlement can be reached, it would throw a big monkey wrench in the war plans that the Bush administration seems intent on moving forward with.

    Me? I would go. But if I got blown to smithereens, besides my family and loved ones, no one would care. In fact, some readers of this column would undoubtedly cheer.

    Thank you for your prayerful consideration. Time is running out.

    Sean Gonsalves is a columnist with the Cape Cod Times. E-mail:

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