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Friday, December 11, 2009

Closer reading of Nobel speech: Obama redefined "just war" and justified Iraq intervention

Many columns and blog posts about President Obama's Nobel speech have mistaken this statement as his operating definition of "just war":
The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
In fact, the President considers that definition obsolete and used it as a jumping-off reference point to redefine "just war" for the 9/11 generation to include American-led liberal military interventions:
And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace. . . . So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.
Some pundits have also tried to find a rebuke of the Iraq intervention in the speech. However, in defining “just war” for the 9/11 generation, Obama actually raised all the justifications for the Iraq intervention, though conspicuously without citing Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The President’s message was plain: when non-military means fail to achieve the “imperatives of a just peace” - which is what happened for Saddam’s Iraq - then the “instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace”. Compare the justifications for military intervention against Saddam's Iraq in President Clinton's 16DEC98 speech and President Bush's 07OCT02 speech, Public Law 107-243 (the 2002 AUMF), and UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) to President Obama's following criteria for "just" military intervention excerpted from his Nobel speech:
To begin with, I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.
Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.
And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.
I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.
America's commitment to global security will never waver.
First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.
One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons ...
But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.
For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict.
It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.
"[S]top a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region" and the last excerpted paragraph about "development rarely takes root without security" match our post-war efforts, most notably the COIN "Surge", to build the peace in Iraq after regime change - the jus post bellum of "just war" as distinct from jus ad bellum. I posted comments about Obama's speech and OIF on The Strategist blog (archived), which belongs to an anti-OIF poli sci guy from New Zealand.

Add: Compare President Obama's redefinition of "just war" with the law and policy, fact basis of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which I explain here.

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