Friday, August 3, 2007

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

Strategy Page argues that the Taliban's own tactics are working against them in Afghanistan:

Kidnapping the 23 South Koreans eleven days ago is turning out to be a public relations disaster for the Taliban. First, the Koreans were there to help with reconstruction, to do good works. In that role, they are supposed to be treated as guests, and guarding the safety of guests is a big deal in Afghan culture. But worst of all, 18 of the 23 are women, and most Afghans see it as shameful to threaten women in this fashion....One Korean, who was apparently ill, has already been killed by the Taliban. Two Germans were also kidnapped by the Taliban, and one killed, as the Taliban demanded the release of some Taliban from jail.

If the government does not give in, which is apparently the strategy, the Taliban will have suffered yet another defeat. This, coupled with the war going on back in their Pakistani base areas, the continued NATO military pressure on strongholds in Afghanistan, leaves the Taliban looking like losers. This is not a good image to have in this part of the world.

In yet another catastrophe for the Taliban, Pakistan announced that it would close all Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan by 2009, sending some two million Afghans back to Afghanistan. Most of the camps are in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, and have long been used as Taliban bases, and centers of Islamic radical activity.

If the Taliban thinks these are catastrophic developments, wait until Barack Obama is elected president and the U.S. invades Waziristan province in Pakistan.


Comeuppance Therapy

Another thug receives some much-needed counselling from a kindly shop-owner.

There's not much doubt in my mind that the therapy this punk underwent on the video will be far more beneficial to him in the long run than all the programs put together to which the courts would have remanded him.


Just War

I recently sat down with Darrell Cole's book on Just War theory, When God Says War Is Right: The Christian Perspective on When and How to Fight. It's a good primer on the concept, introducing the reader to the views of some of the key figures in the development of the just war tradition, people like Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and especially John Calvin. The book also addresses a couple of pacifist objections to the resort to war, and concludes that a war that meets the proper criteria must be seen not just as a legitimate option but as a moral obligation.

Cole considers, for example, the argument of pacifist writer John Howard Yoder that the early Christians were themselves pacifists. The author insists, persuasively, that the data simply don't support Yoder's claim.

A just war, Cole maintains, is an act of both justice and love. One might be tempted to laugh at the thought of war being an act of love, but I think he's right. To refuse to defend one's neighbors and family when they are under threat is an abrogation of our duty to defend those who rely on our protection. To fight to protect them against those who threaten them is an act of love and is eminently just.

Chapter four of the book addresses the concept of jus ad bellum, the justness of going to war, and chapter five takes up the matter of jus in bello, the question of how a war, once entered into, should be justly fought.

Each of these is defined by several criteria. For a nation to be just in going to war (jus ad bellum) the war must be declared by a legitimate authority, for a just cause, with right intention, when it is the only way or best way to right a wrong, and when there is reasonable hope for success.

For a war to be properly fought (jus in bello) non-combatants must not be deliberately targeted, and the force used against the enemy must not be disproportionate to the need (Nuclear weapons would have been a disproportionate application of force in the war against, say, Grenada).

The most interesting chapter, and also his most problematic, is chapter six where Cole seeks to bring the criteria of both jus ad bellum and jus in bello to bear in evaluating the justness of WWII, Vietnam, and the First Persian Gulf War.

He concludes that WWII was a just war fought in a largely unjust fashion. I agree with his conclusion although I think some of his arguments are a little weak. In my view, the deliberate targeting of civilians in both Japan and Germany was morally indefensible.

Vietnam he believes was an unjust war because South Vietnam was not the sort of state we should have gone to war to aid. This is highly problematic. Even more problematic is his use of the My Lai massacre as a synecdoche for American tactics throughout the war. He seems to conclude, though he never comes out and says it, that Vietnam fails the jus in bello standard because of the My Lai massacre. This, of course, is unconvincing. If My Lai was typical then Cole is correct but he offers no evidence that My Lai and the soldiers who perpetrated it were anything but an aberration.

Cole is at his fuzziest, however, in discussing the Gulf War. He first says that whether we were justified in going to war is ambiguous (or at least he's ambiguous about it), and then he says with regard to in bello criteria that it was one of the "most cleanly fought" of all modern wars. The strafing of fleeing enemy troops was troubling, he asserts, "but such incidents were isolated, and this makes all the difference. No inherently unjust tactics were carried out as a matter of routine practice during the Gulf War."

But why does he not give the Vietnam war the same pass. If he has information which suggests that atrocities were routine during Vietnam he certainly doesn't adduce it.

Other readers will perhaps find lots in this chapter to argue with and to agree with, but the book as a whole is well worth the time of anyone who wants a better understanding of the traditional Christian understanding of when it is right to fight.

It can be ordered from Byron's great bookstore, Hearts and Minds.