One crucial criterion for being able to justly engage in a war is the reason, that is, the cause for doing so. Self-defense, or defense of the “vulnerable other” as Augustine wrote, gives a nation just cause. Iraq did not attack us, so the Iraq war was not in “self-defense.” The Bush administration put forward the idea of “preventive war” or “pre-emptive war” as a substitute.
Gerard Powers, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote, in a joint monograph we did for the United States Institute of Peace asking whether an attack on Iraq would fulfill the criteria of Just War and found that the concept of “preventive” war is not inherently just. “Preventive war,” he argued, is at most to be used to defend against an imminent threat. Instead, the Bush administration used it to try to justify “merely potential or gathering dangers… Justifying preventive war in this way would represent a sharp departure from Just War norms.” Indeed, Cardinal Ratzinger, who then became Pope Benedict, said that “unilateral attack on Iraq” was not justified.
The leaked Justice Department White Paper on the drone program makes almost the same error in justifying killing individuals with drones as did the Bush administration to justify attacking Iraq. The “White Paper” makes reference to Just War criteria, and argues it is acceptable to kill individuals with drone strikes who pose an “imminent threat.” The problem is, the memo doesn’t limit the legality argument to what would be commonly understood as “imminent threat” and thus the justification of “self-defense,” but in fact so expands “imminent” as to redefine it completely and undercut the notion that the targeted killing is in self-defense.
The “White Paper” states, “First, the definition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
The “immediate future” is the very definition of “imminent.” How can it mean anything else? But this twisting of definitions to fit expediency is now a familiar refrain in justification for the use of lethal violence by the U.S. abroad in the last decade. We saw it in the redefinitions of “imminent” threat in the Bush administration’s justification for the attack on Iraq.
There were no weapons of mass destruction.
It has become increasingly clear President Bush and others in his administration knew Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. “On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers,” wrote Sidney Blumenthal for Salon in 2007.
The “WMD” were a pretext, in my view, as merely saying ‘we want to reshape the Middle East’ would not have been a sufficient reason to convince Americans to attack a country that had not attacked us.