Volume 40, 2008
Philosophy of Law
Rodney G. Peffer
The U.S. War in Iraq, Just War Theory and Neoconservatism
Given certain well-known empirical facts–including the Bush II administration’s motivations and its actions initiating the war – the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (and its continuing war of occupation) is not just (i.e., is not morally justified), on any standard interpretation of Just War Theory criteria for jus ad bellum. Since there was no imminent threat of attack by Iraq against the U.S., the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a Preventative or Merely Precautionary War (which is not
recognized by either Just War Theory or international law as a legitimate basis for initiating a war) rather than a Preemptive War (which may sometimes be justified, if there is a real threat of imminent attack) or a Reactive War (responding to an unjustified attack from an aggressor, which is always justified). Moreover, the neo-conservative program for perpetual U.S. world domination by the weakening of other nations and the invasions of weaker nations for purposes of U.S. economic and geopolitical advantage (behind the facade of “spreading democracy and freedom”) is not morally justified. However, the moral status of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is much less clear. Many argue that is was morally justified according to both Just War Theory and international law, given certain well-established empirical facts; particularly, al-Qaeda’s involvement with the events of 9-11 and the Taliban government’s protection of al-Qaeda and its terrorist infrastructure within Afghanistan. On this analysis, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was justified as both a Reactive War (responding to an unjustified attack against primarily civilian targets) and a Preemptive War (to try to make sure that al-Qaeda did not have the opportunity to use its infrastructure in Afghanistan to arrange other attacks on civilian targets in the U.S. or other nations). But the cogency of this analysis depends on whether there were any realistic alternatives for
disrupting al-Qaeda and bringing its leaders to justice; and some argue that such alternatives did exist. Moreover, even if U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was morally justified it is arguable that the amount and type of force used – e.g. intensive, wide-spread bombing campaigns that killed many civilians – were not justified.