Whose war is a ‘just war’?


The toxicity of Obama’s war rhetoric lies not in that it is a reincarnation of the infamous Bush doctrine – a doctrine that candidate Obama rejected as dangerous- – but in that his stylishly lethal oratory leaves many troubling questions unanswered, comments Tariq Shah.

President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, 2009 was a far cry from the presidential-candidate Obama’s exceedingly heady speeches that boasted – -‘yes we can’- – change. While speaking in Los Angeles on January 31, 2008, as a candidate for presidential nominee, Obama promised a change in America’s war-mongering mindset in these words: “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place”. Roughly a year after that speech he sailed into the White House, promising a lot more substance than just the style for which he had become well known by then.  Early – – and troubling- – indications are that America’s new president is rich only in style, but perilously poor in substance in the arena of international relations. Perhaps, and very sadly, the day is not far when we will highly likely hear him reinvent George Bush’s “you are with us or against us” dichotomy.

During his Oslo speech, Obama pitched for a “just war” that America must and will fight at any cost to maintain its dominion as a sole super power in a dangerously unipolar world. To be sure, the word ‘war’ found 35 mentions in his speech and the word ‘peace’ was only close second – – at 29.

Obama is like any other US president, motivated by real and perceived national self-interest. There, therefore, was no surprise in his utterances if it were not for the lightening speed, at which this metamorphosis has occurred, and the venue and the context in which his newfound wisdom was delivered.

 In his indubitable style, President Obama has argued in favour of a “just war” stating that “the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it… [And]… war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings… [Some nations will find the] use of force not only necessary but morally justified … [in view of] the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Can we ask this?: If the limits of reason and imperfections of man constitute enough reason for war, and if war is an expression of human feelings, whose limited reason, imperfections or feelings are we talking about in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the India-Kashmir conflict, the Russia- Chechnya- conflict, and Iraq-America conflict? Are we talking about the limited reason, imperfections and feelings of the men in uniform of the occupying forces launching the war or the limited reason, imperfections and the feelings of the brutalized men, women, and children who are the victims of the war imposed on them? There are humans and human feelings involved on both sides of the divide. Whose war is morally justified in these conflicts—the perpetrator’s or the victims’?

The Ohio Democrat- – Rep. Dennis Kucinich- – has so succinctly put it: “once we believe in the inevitability of war, war becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once we are committed to war’s instrumentality in pursuit of peace, we begin the Orwellian journey to the semantic netherworld where War IS Peace, where the momentum of war overwhelms hopes for peace. And once we wrap doctrines perpetuating war in the arms of justice, we can easily legitimate the wholesale slaughter of innocents. The war against Iraq was based on lies. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are based on flawed doctrines of counter-insurgency. War is often not just; sometimes it is just war. And our ability to rethink the terms of our existence, to explore the possibility of peace without war, may well determine whether we end war, or war ends us."

Borne out of real politick of what he calls “enlightened self-interest”, Barack Obama has found it impossible to resist the American establishment’s penchant for war. In a latest book, Empire of Sacrifice, American author John Pahl, has highlighted the American propensity to resort to religiously and culturally motivated use of force, and camouflage it in and justify it with blissfully theological logic. Pahl demonstrates how, out of their national obsession with ‘innocent domination’, Americans will always find an alibi for justifying some of their very brutal attitudes and behaviors- -both in violent actions at home, and in brutal wars abroad.

Political Scientist John Muller recently opined in the Foreign Affairs magazine that much like George W. Bush led America into war in Iraq on the pretext of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Obama “is perpetuating the war in Afghanistan with comparably dubious arguments about the danger posed by the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

While one can argue that America was pushed into the war in Afghanistan by the tragic and despicable events of 9/11, how on earth can one justify that America’s war in Iraq as a “just war”? The Iraq war was fought on the false and fabricated intelligence reports that the Iraqis possessed the WMD. The then US secretary of State, venerable Collin Powell, has conceded that “without the WMD case there was no justification for the war” in Iraq.

Other than UK’s Tony Blair and a few others, the leaders of some of the industrialized nations including Germany, France, Canada and New Zealand argued against the war in view of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission’s unequivocal declaration that there was no evidence of WMD in Iraq.

In a recent piece in The New York Times, David Brooks described Obama’s speeches in Oslo as “thoroughly theological” informed as it is by Obama’s “Christian Realism.” Brooks argued: “… [When] you act to combat evil, you wouldn’t want to get carried away by your own righteousness or be seduced by the belief that you are innocent. Even fighting evil can be corrupting”.

All breeds of the Holy Warriors perceive their wars as ‘ just’ wars. Osama Bin Laden believes that his war is a “just war”. The toxicity of Obama’s (or for the same reason Osama’s) war rhetoric lies not in that it is a reincarnation of the infamous Bush doctrine- – a doctrine that candidate Obama rejected as dangerous- – but in that his stylishly lethal oratory leaves many a troubling questions unanswered.

Who is to decide who is on the wrong side of a “just war”? How is Obama’s “just war” different from Osama ‘jihad’?  George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden willy- nilly facilitated, reinforced and actualized each other’s war doctrines. We fear that Obama may soon fall in the same league as that of George W. Bush; and along with Bin Laden will, slowly but most assuredly, speed up the hands of the doomsday clock toward the precipice.

Political philosopher, Harold Laswell has described politics as an art and science of ‘Who gets what, when, and how’. This implies that if a powerful international player, such as USA, desires to achieve some politically, diplomatically or militarily strategic goals in realization of  self –interest, it will resort to all means including those as foul as a ‘just war’. It will find a cause and synthesize a reason, as dubious- – and may be even more devious- – as the one proffered by George W. Bush in Iraq.

Let us explore this by stating some obvious questions:  Who is fighting a just war in the Israel- Palestinian conflict – – the Israelis or the Palestinians? One side tells us that they are fighting God’s (‘just’) war to establish a Jewish entity on the God-given land, and the other side is seeking to reestablish their hold on the land of their ancestors. The Israeli  belief that Jews have a right to their God- given land of Judea, at the cost of Palestinian’s  lawful ownership, does not obliterate the historical and internationally accepted fact that the real owners of the land  were forcibly uprooted from their  homes  by the soldiers of the “just war”. What else will America’s vetoing of UN censure of Israeli massacre of Palestinian children convey other than its arbitrariness, and the illegitimacy of its interventions – no matter how couched?

How have Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet Afghan “freedom fighters” (‘just’ warriors) been rechristened as terrorists? Speaking before a sub-committee of the US House Appropriations Committee, the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, admitted in April 2009: ‘‘We can [unjustly] point fingers at the Pakistanis… [But] …we have to take responsibility for… having contributed to … the problems we face now [in Afghanistan]…the people we are fighting today  we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.”

Candid  and honest acknowledgements, like these, of the American contribution to Pakistan’s- – and the world’s – – ongoing problems, and avoiding the repetition of such follies, would go a long way to end the mindset that got US into the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan in the first place.

For a war to be ‘just’ there are some more profound conditions- – in addition to those Obama has alluded to in his speech- – that must be met. The most fundamental conditions are that the war must have a just cause and must not be waged in pursuit of self-interest; and  the war must be waged in accordance with the international law or through an unambiguous international agreement. Both these conditions were flagrantly violated during the second invasion of Iraq. There was no just cause, and the assault on Iraq was unilateral without UN’s concurrence.

The most troubling question is this: What if the US intelligence agencies set off another similar false alarm in the corridors of Pentagon or the White House, and the world’s newest merchant of ‘ just war’- – US Commander- in –Chief and  the Peace Nobel Laureate Barack Obama,  is mislead into  issuing marching orders to  the US men and  women in uniform? Who will be responsible for the death of those innocent men, women and children who will die in the hands of the American soldiers, or for the death of those American soldiers- -young men and women who will meaninglessly lose their lives in the process of killing their imaginary adversaries?

The Nobel peace prize is the recognition of its recipient’s contribution to peace and puts him (or her) on the pedestal of grace. With his foray into the “just war” rhetoric, Mr. Obama has fallen from grace in the Norwegian capital- – the home town for the Nobel peace prize- – a prize he self-doubtedly says he is “almost convinced’ he deserved.

(The author is a US-based citizen writer who occasionally writes for Greater Kashmir. Feedback   at tshahgm@gmail.com)