Let’s look at Obama’s call to arms against ISIS and “the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force” which the Catechism says must exist “at one and the same time” in a just war.
“The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.”
This one is surely true in the fight against ISIS.
As Pope Francis put it, “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.” He added: “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”
But surely we have lasting, grave, certain damage to content with in Iraq now.
“All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.”
When the enemy is beheading journalists and posting the videos on YouTube, then, yes, nonviolent means look like a nonstarter.
“The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
This one sure seemed to weigh against the post-9/11 Iraq war. But now that the country has descended into a chaos that is being filled by megalomaniac jihadists, things have changed.
So it’s so far so good as to the justice of our cause, but there is one more condition that may get us in trouble:
“There must be serious prospects of success.”
Certainly America could target ISIS in a way that had “serious prospects of success.” But Obama’s strategy doesn’t look like that way.
Brian York ran down “Five things that could go horribly wrong with Obama’s actions in Iraq“ which point to a flawed strategy that might make this action a losing proposition, and thus unjust despite itself:
1: Obama’s depends on a functional Iraqi government that is friendly to the West, says York, quoting the President’s remarks. That may be expecting too much.
2: Obama took ground war off the table. The political (and human) reasons for that are obvious; the strategic reasons less so.
3: The war could entangle us with the bad guys once again — in effect making us “the Shiite Air Force” in York’s memorable phrase.
4: Our limited, qualified commitment to the effort might make allies reluctant to commit at all, or to commit in any effective way.
5: The new action opens a can of worms regarding our troops’ status in Iraq that might have no easy resolution.
So, despite the tentative green light from Pope Francis himself, this war might end up falling afoul of just war doctrine simply because of the way it is being prosecuted.
That would be a shame. There is an unjust aggressor that should be stopped.