'Just and Unjust Wars' Author Critical on Iraq

Steve Inskeep talks with author Michael Walzer about his book, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. Walzer applies the theory of just wars to inform U.S. decisions about how to proceed in Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

During this month, we've been listening to arguments for and against the United States remaining in Iraq. This morning, we have one more view. It comes from the author of an influential book that has become a standard text on the morality of war. It's called "Just and Unjust Wars" and its author is Michael Walzer.

Mr. MICHAEL WALZER (Author, "Just and Unjust Wars"): The basic doctrine of a just war reflects the domestic paradigm of self-defense. If somebody attacks me in the street and I respond forcefully, that's a miniature version of a just war. If some bystander rushes to help me, that's also a miniature version of a just war. And then we have extended the notion beyond the realm of these kinds of attacks across personal or state boundaries to include the notion of a humanitarian intervention. If somebody had gone into Rwanda to stop the massacre, that would have been a just war.

INSKEEP: Well, just to understand this, you argue that it would have been just to intervene in Rwanda because the people were being massacred in a genocide. You have argued that going into Iraq was unjust, although that was clearly a despotic government and many, many people were being killed there as well.

Mr. WALZER: Right. If you're going to use military force in somebody else's country, I think there has to be a cause of some urgency, a massacre in progress. A massacre in memory--that's not a just cause.

INSKEEP: So there was an extensive argument over whether to go to war in Iraq. You came down on the side of feeling that it was not justified then. Now...

Mr. WALZER: That's right. I did defend the use of force against Saddam's regime, the embargo system, involves the no-fly zones, involve bombing anti-aircraft facilities and radar installations. I thought that was a justified use of force.

INSKEEP: Wouldn't there be an argument for putting an end to what someone thought of as a terrible government in Iraq?

Mr. WALZER: Well, there are a lot of terrible governments, and we try to restrict the use of force across international boundaries for the sake of some notion of global stability, but also because as we've learned when you unloose the dogs of war, you get a lot more violence and a lot more deaths than you anticipated in the scenarios you sketched out when you were planning the attack.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the situation now. The United States is now in Iraq. There have been some calls to withdraw. The president has said it's necessary to stay. What are the questions that we should consider as we decide what's right and what's wrong?

Mr. WALZER: Well, we went in. We launched this attack. We created what we didn't expect to create--that is, an unending internal civil war. It doesn't seem to me right to argue that we can just walk away from this. We have to contrive as best we can to create a safer environment for the Iraqi people.

INSKEEP: Why?

Mr. WALZER: Well, because we have created the current unsafe environment. In 2003, Iraq had a brutal government but it was not at war. So we have to think about how to act justly in this environment that we have created.

INSKEEP: Can a good outcome, a good ending justify what you see as an unjust war?

Mr. WALZER: Well, that's--those are very hard questions. If we succeed in leaving behind a better Iraq, that will be what philosophers call moral luck and more moral luck is a good thing. It would probably mean in the history books hundreds of years from now the war will be regarded as a good war.

INSKEEP: Mr. Walzer, I want to ask about future wars. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently wrote an op-ed article. It was published in The Washington Post. And one of the things that she said was this. `The greatest threats to our security are defined more by the dynamics within weak and failing states than by the borders between strong and aggressive ones.' In other words, she's saying that our national security concerns are inevitably going to take us into failing countries and troubled countries where we might have to intervene again.

Mr. WALZER: Well, weak states are a problem in the world not only for us. I can imagine weak states becoming havens for terrorist organizations...

INSKEEP: As Afghanistan did.

Mr. WALZER: ...as Afghanistan did. In fact, Afghanistan was more than a haven. The al-Qaeda were partners with the Taliban and were receiving from the Taliban government the crucial benefits of sovereignty, and that's why I thought at the time that the war in Afghanistan was a justified response to the attacks of 9/11.

INSKEEP: Is it always necessary to wait to be attacked before you send your military in to a country where you perceive a threat?

Mr. WALZER: I think the old distinction which is made by just-war theorists between pre-emptive and preventive wars is relevant here. And I'm told that distinction doesn't exist in other languages, but it's very clear in English. A pre-emptive attack is in anticipation of an attack that you know is coming. A preventive war is a war against a much more distant threat which is always in part a speculative threat and one that you might address short of war, and short of war is a big difference.

INSKEEP: Mr. Walzer, thanks very much.

Mr. WALZER: OK. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Michael Walzer is author of "Just and Unjust Wars." He's one of many voices we're hearing about what to do in Iraq.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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