The ‘Obama Doctrine’ and ‘just war’ theory

Apr 18, 2011

The following principles are usually included in any discussion of just war theory: (1) A war must have a just cause; (2) a war must be declared by a proper authority; (3) a war must possess a right intention; (4) in a war there must be a reasonable chance of success; (5) the goal of a war must be proportional to the means used; (6) war must be a last resort and all non-violent means must have been exhausted; (7) a “just” war can only be conducted to redress a wrong suffered (e.g., being attacked and then self defense); (8) the ultimate goal of a war is to re-establish peace; and (9) weapons used in a war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.

The heart of the “Obama Doctrine” lies in the first principle: having a just cause. The president’s rationale for our military action in Libya is that we will prevent the slaughter of innocent lives. The president did not use the word “war” in describing this military action, but few would argue that what we are doing in Libya is not warfare.

In this instance of Libya, I agree with the president’s justification for war, but this moral position raises all kinds of issues.

First of all, where do we draw the line? Rwanda still haunts us; and President Clinton in particular, who regrets to this day not taking action to stop the slaughter.

His regret may be influencing our present policy in Libya. Moreover, what about other countries, such as Syria, where innocent civilians are being slaughtered by their own government?

One might argue that America cannot be everywhere, and that we must make choices. Libya might be an instance where principle No. 4 applies: “having a reasonable chance of success.” I doubt this principle would hold true for military action in Syria.

From the standpoint of Christianity, all wars are evil. There are just wars, however, even as we acknowledge that evil will occur, such as the death of innocent people. In my view, the saving of innocent lives in Libya makes our military action a just cause.

To sum up, all the principles of “just war” theory must be applied to each situation, and it may be determined by our government that even some just causes do not justify military action.

One final warning: most wars in history have been fought for land and natural resources. Governments have often used religion to justify such actions. Those religious justifications sometimes even blind us to the real cause of a war. Thus, the “Obama Doctrine” may be used in the future as a smokescreen and a justification for wars whose cause is really a desire for land and natural resources.

I am haunted by something about our engagement in Libya. Would we be there if Libya had no oil?

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune Religion Columnist

Comments

Yaright

probably wouldnt have gone to libya if there was not oil...whats the greater evil? a "just war or doctrine" you dont agree with or being so haunted by the idea we may be there due to oil and then going and filling up your car?

Estreet

I'm surprised that after establishing (9) principles, you were able to come to conclusion of "justified" while only considering principles (1) and (4). Maybe I can help with a few more. Lets start with (2) - was war declared by a proper authority, No - Pres. Obama did not and has still not asked Congress to authorize use of force (an Impeachable act). (6) was all non-violent means exhausted - No since Pres. Obama never went to Congress, no other solutions were ever even discussed. (7) was a wrong suffered (e.g., being attacked and then self defense), No - Pres. Obama hoping to hide behind "The War Powers Act" for not getting the consent of Congress has still not explained what "immediate & imminent" danger Libya posed to the US. This is because they didn't pose any danger. Besides the "just war" thing, doesn't it bother you to see an "Oath Taker" so eagerly trample the constitution like he has so many times?

W. Smith

Estreet,

Though you raise some interesting points, you disregard the prevailing norms within international relations that have been consistently growing since 1945. The Constitution of the United States was written in an era when conventional warfare was the overwhelming form of war and conflict. With the rise of communication technology and the free flow of goods, services, and ideas across international borders the "rules" of engagement are drastically different from even those in 1945 let alone in 1789 when the U.S Consitution was written. The aforementioned conditions, or globalization, have greatly empowered transnational actors and consequently, fostered situations of conflict that do not fit any understanding of conventional war. Rather, the international system has entered into a period of intrastate conflict, meaning the conflict is between non-state actors instead of between two states--asymmetrical/unconventional/limited warfare. The situation in Libya in no way, shape, or form falls under any understanding of conventional warfare. The preconditions regarding Congress that you alluded to were established to deal with a very different global climate, and in many ways a very different defense structure in the United States. In the late 1940s, with the demands of the impending Cold War with the U.S.S.R understood, the defense bureaucracy in the United States was transformed by the National Security Act of 1947. It was clear that the new dynamics post World War II demanded a standing U.S military that would be ready at any time to defend the country from a "hot" war with the Soviets. Before 1947, the United States utilized a Department of War that was only active upon a formal declaration of war from Congress. With the establishment of the Department of Defense this was no longer the case. The United States would then operate with a constantly ready military force, thus enabling it to meet the shifting challenges of the Cold War era and giving the President increased powers over the use of the military in its entirety. Unfortunately, the role of Congress within the new system has yet to be adequately defined in such a way that provides the two houses the needed checks and balances on executive power that you argue have been abused by President Obama.

ghjhs

Justified war, slaming Obama, A democrat. well let's back up the buss a bit, 1 Let's start with Bush senior Republican ,big time backed by the (christion collision ),and Irac and the action taken. no act of war was declaired! we spent billions, never seen a drop of oil.
2. The action taken by G Bush junior Republican another big time born again christion ,who invaded Irac basied on lies to the American public promoted by false informattion given to Bush and C Powel from Dick chainey about W M P S that were never found, and oyea spent 1.5 trillion, again no act of war, and never seen a drop of oil .
And ya slam Obama for supporting the UN in aid in a joint effort in Libia,Wake up America what are we really talking about and who were the reall villions, I say this is about Democary,most of the people want fredom from dictatorships that take every thing . Democary is spreding across the middle East isn;t what we want.
3. Another wake up call, our oil prices,who do ya think is filling theri pockets with our money,wall street brokers and big oil co,s their is no oil shortage we all know that. Humm same thing happend back ib 2008 just before the 2009 election hummm wonder if the politisions are geting kick backs to look the other way, the 2012 election in comming up hummm takes a lot of money for the menure spreding contest comming up . time to contact you rep in Washington.

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