Richard Haass at the Council on Foreign Relations recently voiced reservations about the Afghanistan war, pointing out that it was rapidly evolving into a ‘war of choice.’ It’s a good read, and I commend him for giving the interview.
However, I take issue with his more recent piece on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” feature, “When is War Justifiable?” The kernel of the piece lies in these two sentences:
But just war theory is too subjective and confining for today’s real-world threats.
A more useful concept is that of justifiable war.
In one way, Haass is right: modern conflicts have pulled the thin veneer of usability off of just war theory and exposed it not as a restraint on actions in conflict, but as a gateway drug. We use it to get in, and it does not help us get out. And, if our slippery-slope behavior in World War II is any guide, it doesn’t particularly bother us to jettison it once we get angry or frustrated enough during the conflict. (See Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, etc.) But to say that just war theory has somehow made it too hard to get into wars ignores the last couple of centuries’ worth of wars and “police actions.”
I posted this brief reply to Haass in the comments section (and yes, I misspelled his name consistently throughout):