Neoconservatism vs Just War


There really is a conflict, it seems to me, between those of us who have come to see conservatism and nonviolence as intertwined and those who see war as itself as a tool of raw power; between those of us who cling to just war theory as a model for preserving civilization even in times of necessary conflict, and those who have never had much time for just war theory at all. There is a long way from Aquinas to Machiavelli. So the Israeli model of "mowing the lawn" by using superior arms and technology to constantly wage war on neighbors who refuse to accept its legitimacy has left just war theory in the desert sands. Daniel Larison gives us an excellent example of the distinction:

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the requirement of proportionality in just war theory is that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” By any reckoning, the current operation in Gaza has already done this, and the harm will be compounded if the Israeli government decides to launch a ground invasion. The fact that it is not yet as disproportionate as Operation Cast Lead or the second Lebanon war doesn’t make it all right. There are several other tests required in just war theory that Mead simply ignores, including whether there are “serious prospects of success,” which assumes that a given military operation has definable, obtainable objectives. Those objectives seem somewhat unclear in this case, so it’s difficult to argue that there are serious prospects of reaching them.

Between Hamas's evil targeting of civilians to Israel's massively disproportionate power over a crowded refugee ghetto, it's a bleak moral scene – and getting bleaker. And one cannot help but think that the Israeli view of counter-terrorism – an abandonment of just war theory in favor of pre-emptive war against eternal foes – came, in the Bush-Cheney administration, to infect America.

(Photo: An Israeli woman wears a trinket in the shape of an M16 rifle as she sits in a cafe on November 20, 2012 close to Israel's border with the Gaza Strip near Ashkelon, Israel. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)