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