Analyzing An Endless War
The U.S., in its 14-year-old war in Afghanistan, jettisoned the principles of a just war long ago. So, it should come as no surprise that when Barack Obama, that shinning example of “hope” and “change,” decided to continue to keep just under 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016, that the nonexistent peace movement and the political left hardly missed a step or simply yawned. After all, isn’t the war in Afghanistan an example of a just cause, or is it a just war?
First, some statistics on that war: Ernesto Londono reports in The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/study-iraq-afghan-war-costs-to-top-4-trillion/2013/03/28/b82a5dce-97ed-11e2-814b-063623d80a60_story.html on March 28, 2013, that the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq will cost taxpayers between $4 and $6 trillion. A fairly substantial amount. And a pretty curious figure as readers may want to reflect upon the fact that about one in five children in the U.S. live in poverty, or that there will be no cost of living increase in Social Security this year. It’s all about priorities, of course, with the far right viewing the only sustainable role of government as military enterprises and waging war.
Next, examine the number of dead from the war in Afghanistan. Again, The Washington Post: Using data from the Costs of War project at Brown University, Adam Taylor writes that 26,270 civilians had been killed by 2014 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/06/03/149000-people-have-died-in-war-in-afghanistan-and-pakistan-since-2001-report-says/. And that does not count the number of military dead on both sides of the war.
Finally, the late historian Howard Zinn does an especially admirable job dissecting how the coalition response to the terror attack by Bin Laden on the U.S. failed to meet the criteria for a just war. By comparison, World War II did meet the criteria as a just cause to defeat global fascism. Unfortunately, what appeared to be a just cause, that is, apprehending and punishing Bin Laden and his cohorts soon turned to a war in which civilian deaths predominated http://progressive.org/news/2007/07/5084/just-cause-not-just-war.
What are the principles of a just war and do they stand up to the results of the current war in Afghanistan? First, war can only be waged as a last resort. Readers could go either way on this principle, but many would accept the fact that something had to be done in response to the attacks against the U.S. Perhaps a police action against Bin Laden would have sufficed, but that course of action soon was caught up in the fear generated from a blatant attack against primarily civilians in the U.S.?
Next, a war must be waged by a legitimate authority. Well, the U.S. war pretty much fits that description and principle.
Third, a war must be fought to redress a wrong suffered. Like the second principle, the war passes the test of a just war on this account, also.
Now, the issue becomes murky. A war can only be fought if there is a reasonable chance of success. Both the Soviet Union and now the U.S./ coalition have been at war for well over two decades, since the 1980s, in fact, and that cannot be construed in any way as a reasonable chance for success.
The next principle of war, that of reestablishing peace also falls apart after more than 14 years of war. Afghanistan is an endless warfare.
The violence of the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. The numbers of civilian dead make this principle of war impossible to condone.
And finally, weapons used in the war must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Again, the number of civilians killed in this war makes this principle impossible to achieve https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pol116/justwar.htm.
Almost no voices against the continued presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan were raised (or at least voices that anyone pays attention to), when the president announced that the U.S. war would continue there. How Orwellian!
Since the 1800s, the principles of what constitutes a just war have been codified into international and national law. These laws have had only a small impact on the conduct of war.