This issue of Chronicles commemorates what I suppose is an anniversary, of sorts.  It has been nine years since the February 2003 issue questioning the legitimacy of the war in Iraq was published, an anniversary which also roughly corresponds to the planning leading up to and including the prosecution of the war.

Aside from the constant litany of the costs of the war, which a news junkie like myself is subjected to every night on cable television, two experiences are prominent in my memory in relation to the piece I wrote for that issue.  The first is prominent because of its dubitability and its annoyingly repetitious reinforcement.

Whenever I visit my mother’s people in Mobile and discussion turns to the war in Iraq, a cousin of mine—who is currently positioning himself to run as a conservative Republican for a national office—restates the claim that the imminent threat of the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction was the reason for war, but that the failure to discover these weapons did not invalidate the claims that the war in Iraq was just, because these weapons had been surreptitiously moved to Syria before the beginning of the war.  This is a claim that was widely disseminated in the media but has questionable support.

The second event occurred in June 2004.  A friend of mine who is a physicist and was a weapons designer at Los Alamos showed me an unclassified report from a private security firm that was a part of the subscription service for his laboratory.  Two principal reasons for the Iraq war were identified: the attempt to create a model Islamic democracy in the heart of the Middle East; and the intent to create a staging area for troops to be sent into “friendly” authoritarian Middle Eastern states, which the report predicted would be threatened by popular Islamic people’s movements in the coming years.  It seems that the so-called Arab Spring was already considered a possibility by some analysts as early as 2004, and that our military mission in Iraq was a backup plan, should those movements succeed and be dominated by an Islamist ideology.  By the way, in that report, little stock was put in the claim that weapons of mass destruction had been spirited across the Syrian border.  There, this possibility was characterized as a story likely concocted by Iraqi collaborators to curry favor and achieve position during the occupation.

To say that the accuracy of my original assessment gratifies me—pace cousin Bill—would be a gross mischaracterization of how I actually feel after looking back at the toll of the Iraq war in terms of lives, suffering, destruction of property, the waste of financial resources, and destabilization of the region.  Generally, one would prefer to be wrong about the evil ulterior motives of individuals, whether private or public, even when to be in error on such matters gets one branded as a cynic or even as unpatriotic.  However, in this case, I do not think that preference has been realized.  In retrospect, my original analysis of the war in Iraq as unjust according to the going-to-war (jus ad bellum) criteria seems to stand as being particularly prescient.  I think there has been sufficient support for me to feel vindicated for having defended it.

Having already argued for the injustice of the inception of the war nine years ago, I wish to reexamine the war in Iraq in its aftermath, by addressing the question of whether the war in Iraq was a just war in its execution—that is, according to jus in bello criteria.

Once a war has begun, two in-war (in bello) criteria are applied concomitantly to determine whether that war is prosecuted in a just manner: the just discrimination of combatants and noncombatants, and the favorable proportionality between values defended and losses incurred.  The U.S. Catholic bishops, in their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace (1983), make it clear that these two criteria cannot be treated in isolation but must mutually inform each other.

The first criterion is complicated further by the blurry lines between who is a combatant and who is not, and whether the action taken against the “enemy” population intentionally targets civilians, or whether action against noncombatants is unintentional even if the harm that might be done is predictable.  An unjust war in exercitu is one in which the harm done to noncombatants is intentional.  The second criterion presupposes the equally problematic application of a ratio between the good of the ends pursued versus the foreseen but unintentional costs.  In other words, if the unintended costs of pursuing the war outweigh the good ends that might be achieved, then the conflict is unjust.  In both cases, the instrumentality of actions is key.  The judgments of intentions and proportionality are connected to specific actions or tactics, the composites of which determine the justice or injustice of the war.

Practically, it is true, the justice or injustice of a war is the additive result of the justice or injustice of the series of actions resulting from tactics.  But more foundationally, the justice or injustice of a war is based on the theories behind the policies employed in prosecuting it.  The theories guide the policies that determine the tactics, so that if one can show that the theories or approaches behind the prosecution of the war are in violation of the in bello criteria, then individual actions, insofar as they follow these directives, will be unjust in their execution.  Space and the unavailability of information prohibit a full evaluation of the tactics employed to accomplish the ends of the Iraq war.  But this is not necessary.  To establish the injustice of the war, it is merely necessary to show that one of the two in bello criteria was consistently violated.

According to the criterion of intentionality, it is clear that in its treatment of the noncombatant population, the war in Iraq was prosecuted—at least initially—according to a theory that led to unjust actions.  I refer, of course to the strategy of “Shock and Awe.”  In 2003, when I first heard this phrase used as a description of how the war in Iraq was to be initiated, I was struck both by the incredible hubris of the term and by its resonance with the Nazi strategy known as Blitzkrieg.  Later, I discovered that the intuited similarity was not superficial: “Shock and Awe” was intentionally modeled on World War II strategy, designed to produce demoralizing psychological and physical effects akin to those of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the holocaust.  Though this strategy was to be focused on decapitating Saddam Hussein’s command-and-control structure, it was extended to Iraqi infrastructure, with the result that by some estimates 7,414 civilians were killed in the two months of the “Shock and Awe” campaign leading up to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003, despite the claims that smart weapons had minimized what could have been much greater carnage.  With the inherent disregard of civilian populations that “Shock and Awe” implied, the Bush administration went to war with the asymmetric equivalent of the weapons of the Al Qaeda homicide bombers.  In the interest of pursuing military objectives, noncombatants were viewed as having little value, until it became clear that “Shock and Awe” had not had its expected effect.

“Shock and Awe” quickly took a back seat to Iraqi pacification, because the Bush administration—with its expectations of celebrations in the streets—was unprepared for the IED, homicide, and suicide bombings carried out by the insurgents as a response to lumbering force, the record year being 2006, with 28,225 Iraqi war-related casualties estimated for that year.  Thus, though one might say that the overarching strategy of the war changed after the “Shock and Awe” campaign and became more just, certainly that was not true of the first phase.  Whether the deaths of Iraqis were the consequence of terrorist violence or of military action—as the vast majority were—the United States was still responsible for chaos unleashed not for immediate defensive purposes but for a long-range geopolitical advantage.

The justice of this war is also problematic on the grounds of the second criterion, proportionality.

What, exactly, were the just ends pursued in the war in Iraq, just ends to be weighed in proportion to the unintended effects?  The difficulty of establishing the proportion of goods gained versus losses in Iraq is related to the fact that the intended good—the prevention of the imminent use of weapons of mass destruction—was proved to be without cause.  At best, it was an honest mistake; at worst, a pretense.  Even if one grants that the real motives—regime change leading to democracy and a friendly nation-state from which defensive military operations could be staged—were good but esoteric and revealed only later, it is an open question whether these goods can be said to have been attained against the tangible evidence of all of the damage done.  This is especially true because the consequences of the war possess an indefinite temporal horizon.  Our historical position is still too close to the actions of the war to make an absolute determination whether the cost was proportional to those ends.  Though I am not sanguine about our ability to make this judgment from a position so proximate, the prospects of judging the war in Iraq to be proportionate do not seem to be promising.

First, there is the shamefully expedient behavior on the part of President Obama in the way he ended the war by withdrawing all U.S. military presence prematurely.  This act was immoral according to motive as well as by its foreseeable consequences.  By motive, it opportunistically serves his selfish desire for reelection without concern for the suffering of the Iraqi people.  Like it or not, President Obama inherited a moral responsibility to leave Iraq in an ordered and stable condition.  His precipitous abandonment of a peacekeeping presence means an abdication of responsibility for the chaos that has, to an extent, already returned, as well as the consequent scuttling of whatever order was restored.

Second, the war in Iraq has had an enormous political cost.  Disorder left in the wake of the war has already begun to manifest itself as sectarian violence between Shi’ites and Sunnis.  This was further exacerbated just days ago when Shi’ite president Jalal Talabani issued an arrest warrant for his Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.  This sectarian violence is symptomatic not only as a crisis in democratic rule but also of a realignment of Iraq—and its Shi’ite majority—as a satellite of Iran.  The war in Iraq has achieved just the opposite of what was intended; it has failed to establish a model democracy in the Middle East and succeeded in upsetting the balance of power in the region.

Third, there is the mind-boggling cost measurable in human lives and money but immeasurable in the cost of human suffering.  The Brookings Institution estimates that there were 113,616 Iraqi civilian war-related deaths by 2008, and there were perhaps as many as 129,213 by December 15, 2011, according to Iraqi Body Count (relying on WikiLeaks documents).  The count of the injured and the maimed Iraqi civilians runs in the millions.  There were 4,484 deaths of U.S. forces and 318 among other Coalition forces.  About 20,500 enemy combatants were killed over the duration of the war.  Documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that just under one in five soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has been “at least partially disabled,” which mean that from a total of 1.5 million involved in both conflicts, approximately 300,000 will seek disability services and pensions.  The projected total cost of the Iraq-war veterans who will be seeking healthcare and disability pensions runs between $422 and $722 billion.

The cost of the war in Iraq is at $799.9 billion and still rising; almost all of this is U.S. debt, with interest payments on that debt estimated at $2.7 trillion dollars over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  As of September 30, 2011, the total funding for Iraqi reconstruction is over $182 billion, and the city of Baghdad is currently suing the U.S. government for one billion dollars in reparations.  However, none of these numbers can function as a calculus to measure the tangible and present suffering this war has caused for American and Iraqi families.  One has only to open one’s eyes to see it.

I predict that, from a greater historical distance than we now have, the human cost, the financial cost, the political cost, and the cost in terms of human suffering to both the people of Iraq and the United States when weighed against the apparently limited and temporary successes of this latest military adventure will be clearly seen to be disproportionate and unjust.  Future moral theologians will view it as a case study of what characterizes an arrogant and unjust war.