Syria And Just War

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard of Syria and the violence that have been on-going there.  And with the recent chemical attack, allegedly by the Syrian government on its own people, President Obama thinks that a strike is necessary in order respond to this heinous act.  There have been many debates on this Syria matter, and there has also been lots of ink spilled on the nature of the proposed strike within the just war framework.  If you are unfamiliar with just war theory, I will here give a very brief description of it.

The just war tradition has its provenance in Catholic philosophical thought.  It has two main criteria, which also holds within themselves other criteria.  The two main criteria are ius ad bellum (criteria for the right conditions in order to enter war) and ius in bello (criteria for the right conduct in war).  In order to satisfy the ius ad bellum, these need to be present:

  • There must be just cause
  • —The declaration of war must come from competent authority
  • —Right intention of establishing lasting peace in entering war
  • —War as a last resort
  • There is a good —probability of success
  • —The damages and costs of going to war–both temporal goods and spiritual health–must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. This is also known as the condition of proportionality.

In order to satisfy the ius in bello, these must be present:

  • —Principle of Proportionality — This means that the response to the aggression must not exceed the nature of the aggression.  Thus the question to answer here is what kind of force is justifiable?  Accordingly, no total war is permitted.  The Christian must also consider the virtyue of charity and mercy.
  • —Principle of Discrimination —  This means that the —response to aggression must be discriminate and directed against unjust aggressors.
    —Accordingly, non-combatants are immune from war as targets

If we subject the current Syria matter to the just war doctrine, we will find that it is unjust to carry out an attack.  A friend, former professor, and mentor, argues in his recent article for the Washington Post that it is morally impermissible according to the criteria of ius ad bellum for the United States to strike. :

The call for military intervention in Syria arises from the desire to “do something” when faced with evil, yet it is not clear what intervention will accomplish. The just war tradition insists that the war be fought with a right intention, meaning that it is fought in pursuit of clearly defined objectives that will facilitate the establishment of lasting peace when the conflict ends; it also insists that there be a reasonable chance of success that those objectives can be met through the use of force. It is revealing that in our public officials’ statements to date on the possibility of intervention, they seem more certain that we will resort to violence than on what the purpose of that violence will be, whether to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities through surgical strikes or to create a no-fly zone to weaken the Syrian military and provide a safe haven for the opposition. Violence is a solution in search of a rationale. Our faith in redemptive violence blinds us to those outcomes more likely than peace if we intervene: the widening of the war through the more aggressive intervention of other powers such as Russia or Iran, or the coming to power of an Islamist regime in part of or the whole of Syria if we successfully topple Assad. The low chances of accomplishing a peaceful outcome also make the inevitable civilian casualties of any military strike especially unjustifiable.

Elsewhere, we find R.R. Reno observing on his Firstthings daily piece that:

There are times when military force should be used, and now may be one of those times. But a just occasion does not automatically a just war make. One of the principles of just war-making is probability of success. Another is proportional use of force. Still another is last resort. These principles require clarity about the strategic goal of going to war. Success in achieving what? Proportional to achieving what? Last resort for achieving what? The Obama administration’s explanations of our need to bomb Syria make it impossible for me to formulate these questions in anything like a precise way, much less answer them. When do we know our credibility has been successfully preserved?

You are of course free to form your own conclusions on the matter, but I agree with Shadle and Reno in that our administration has been quite vague, at best, about what we hope to accomplish with a military strike.  And with this vagueness, they fail to justify a strike in the just war tradition.  In these times, we must remember that the power of prayers is unbelievably effective!  Pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria, my friends.

Have a blessed Monday.


Weighing In On Gay Marriage

With the recent movement in our country regarding gay marriage and now its constitutional debate, I just want to add some thoughts on the matter.  Let me be clear from the onset that nothing I say here is original in thought, but what I hope to highlight here adds to some of my readers’ thinking about homosexuality and marriage.

Aside from the normal superficial “all people should have have same rights” argument I hear all too often from advocates of the “gay rights” movement, it seems to me that the proponents of gay marriage can only rely on two arguments that are worth devoting some attention to.  The first argument is that “traditional marriage” is a union arbitrarily defined by the state and therefore unfair to those who fall outside of the category fitted to this definition.  Accordingly, the second argument suggests that, just as the state has been wrong before in its thinking about certain values and restrictions (slavery and segregation) therefore it seems that this is another instance where the state is incorrect and needs to re-evaluate its position on the legality of gay marriage.

In response to the first argument, I would like to direct the reader to this recent article at Ethika Politika.  In the article, the author argues that the definition of marriage that its proponents would like to champion is no less “arbitrary, taboo-ridden, and prejudicial—in fact, it is unfair” than the traditional definition of gay marriage that they would like to void.  The article lays out what seems to be a fundamental agreement for the definition of marriage between the two opposite camps in the marriage debate: that marriage ought to be between people who enter into it freely, lovingly, in an exclusive manner, and in a committed manner.  Indeed, it can be agreed that any marriage ought to have freedom, love, exclusivity, and commitment. (FLEC)

The author then looks at three different ways that we could restrict marriage.  The first being the traditional restriction in which FLEC relationships also have the baby-making component.  But as this is deemed to be unfair by gay rights advocates, the author then suggests that there can be a second option: restriction of FLEC relationships to those of pleasure-making.  This second restriction, however, leads to many absurdities as it allows for incest, beastiality, and a whole host of other perversions of the FLEC relationships.  Thus, the author observes that any Joe advocating for gay rights must look at a third option: the compromise.

The third option, in the author’s own words

Finally, the third way to restrict marriage, which has much popular appeal today, is a compromise between the first two. It isn’t limited to baby-making relationships, but it keeps some of the restrictions that are natural to baby-making relationships and smacks them down as rules (for no good reason) on pleasure-making relationships. Typically, a defender of this third view (let’s call him Joe) argues that marriage should be for non-dangerous pleasure-making FLEC relationships between heterosexual or homosexual couples. But Joe also claims that polygamous, inter-species, incestuous and underage FLEC relationships shouldn’t qualify as marriages.

Does this mean that the traditional view of marriage is equally arbitrary as Joe’s?  Here I think that studies of history and anthropology can give us some substantial arguments why restrictions of marriage to baby-making FLEC relationships are sensible. But who really wants to do all that research?  What really seems to matter is that we need “equal rights for all.”  But I think we need to remember this:

To restrict marriage fairly, then, we need to have reasons for our restrictions, and Joe doesn’t. The traditional view uses facts about baby-making behavior and its incumbent dangers to restrict marriage. The loose view uses facts about pleasure-making behavior to ease up on these restrictions. Joe tries to compromise by using some of the restrictions from the traditional view, but without the reasons behind them: he’s not restricting marriage to baby-making relationships. This isn’t a fair way to restrict marriage, and if we are looking for fairness and equality, we will have to throw it out and choose either the traditional or the loose restrictions.

I think this is a problem that gay-rights advocates must solve before they insist “equal rights for all.”

NB: For a detailed argument, I suggest that you visit the article linked above (or here).  I have not done it justice here by simply rehashing some major points.

The response to the second argument is forthcoming.