An Iraq War Is Unwinnable, and Therefore Immoral

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Iraq Wars I and II were immoral for many reasons, and Iraq War III would be immoral for many reasons as well. One often-forgotten reason that Iraq War III would be immoral is because it is unwinnable. (Iraq Wars I and II were unwinnable and has already been lost. If Iraq War I had been won or winnable, a ten-year post-war starvation campaign against Iraq would not have been necessary.) But one central tenet of Just War theory is that war can only be justified if there is a reasonable chance of actual victory. That is, in order for war to be justified at all, there must be a clear wrong that needs righting, and the party proposing to solve the problem needs to have legitimate authority to do so.

Obviously, there is something wrong in Iraq, and some of that is thanks to the US government in the first place.  But the US government does not have legitimate authority to invade a country on the other side of the planet that is no threat to the US. But even if it did have legitimate authority in this case, any moderately well-informed person can see that any US intervention in the conflict is unwinnable.

Just War Theory contends that war is unjust if unwinnable because, of course, to undertake an unwinnable war is to do nothing less than kill people for no reason at all. Everyone who died in the Iraq War died for nothing, and completely in vain. A new war there would be equally unwinnable. An unwinnable war cannot be morally fought, and under Just War Theory, it is better to let an evil endure than to add additional evils by waging a futile war in the name of righting it.

(I should note that Just Way Theory is too pro-war for my tastes, but since I’m such a reasonable fellow, I’ll meet the war enthusiasts half-way on this one.)

John Zmirak, who has it out for libertarians, but often gets many things right, sums up the situation here:

said so at the time, and I wish to say so again. Leave aside the vanishing “weapons of mass destruction” that provided the pretext for war. The reason we waged that war was simple and strategic: We saw in Iraq an unpredictable enemy whom we could not control, and we wished to replace its government with a friend whom we could. Nor were we satisfied with replacing one secular Arab tyrant with another — a project that might have succeeded. No, the neoconservatives who provided the brains of the Bush administration considered such “realist” goals petty and uninspiring.

These thinkers dreamed big: They called on Americans to transform the entire Middle East in our own self-image, to change the course of a 1300-year-old political culture in the Muslim world, seeding it with one tolerant democracy after another, until we had removed every grievance that produced religious extremism and terrorism, so there would never again be another attack like the one on September 11, 2001. One might as well respond to the next mass shooting by a maniac in America by dumping Prozac into the water supply, and confiscating every gun in the country…

We literally cannot win, which means that we should not fight — or even take sides in this fight. We have no more stake in which intolerant Muslim faction prevails in Iraq than we do in the intra-party struggles in Communist China. Any war which we launched to meddle in the Middle East would fail at least one criterion for a just war: It would have no solid prospect of success. It would be as futile as Guy Fawkes’ bombing of Parliament, or a vigilante attack on an abortion clinic.Because it would be unjust, it would be sinful. And so Christians should oppose it — on principle.

10:28 am on June 19, 2014