Thursday, July 27, 2006


Distinctions, abstractions, justice, war

As I've said in comments, I think Marc Mulholland makes some good points in response to Norman Geras' challenge to those condemning Israel's ongoing assault.

I think there's another problem with what Norm says though. The problem is this: he not only abstracts the question of whether Israel's cause is just from Israel's conduct of its war (i.e. jus ad bellum from jus in bello) - an abstraction I agree needs to be made in any given war, though it is, forgive the expression, a moral and conceptual minefield - but he also seperates the question of whether there is, in the abstract, a "just cause" from whether that cause is what the war is actually "about" - whether those prosecuting the war are motivated in their decidion to wage war exclusively, or nearly exclusively, by that cause.

Now, I think there's a case for making that abstraction as well, since any just war will probably be fought with some mixed motives on the part of those who decide to fight it. One of Churchill's (and others') reasons for fighting Nazi Germany was the defence of the British Empire. For a war to be just it is not necessary that all the intentions and motivations of those who decide to fight it be just.

Norm says that "Israel does have just cause" - objectively, as it were. No examination, then, of whether the war is being fought (even in part) because an inexperienced Israeli prime minister with no military background wants to prove his tough-guy credentials, or because the Israeli government wants to assert its regional dominance, or because it wants to pre-emptively intimidate anyone out of resisting the imposition of an unjust "solution" in the West Bank, or because it generally wants free reign in its dealings there and in Gaza.

No examination either as to whether official statements to the effect that Israel's goal was to inflict pain, to "set Lebanon back twenty years" might lend weight to the judgment of some observers that "the Israeli strategy at first hand appears to be...: to impose an abysmally high blood tax on the Lebanese in general, and Shiites in particular, so Hezbollah will not again think of kidnapping its soldiers or bombarding its territory"; and whether such a strategy, to the extent it exists, might be made possible by currents of opinion or emotion that exist in Israeli society (such as prejudice against, hatred of or contempt for Arabs, or desire for vengeance) which exist independently of the objectively just cause (which I agree exists).

As I say, I think this is fair enough, at least potentially. But it strikes me that one can make a case that Hizbullah also had just cause - that is to say, there existed good reason to wage war against Israel - namely its continued occupation of the West Bank and the violence it was committing in Gaza before (and after) Hizbullah first attacked. (I don't see that it would be a priori illegitimate for Lebanese groups to help Palestinians in this regard.)

Remember - we are maintaining a conceptual seperation between jus ad bellum and jus in bello so Hezbollah's methods are irrelevant in deciding whether it had just cause. Similarly, we are only talking about whether there exists, objectively or abstractly, a just cause for attacking Israel, not whether that just cause is really why Hizbullah attacked - which may also have to do with, say, hatred of Israelis, or Jews in general, a desire to destroy the Israeli state, a desire to influence Lebanese politics (all on the part of both Hizbullah and its non-Lebanese backers).

But while making no comment either way about what Israeli intentions and motivations might be - only stating that there is a just cause (which, again, I do agree with) - Norm not only ignores the question as to whether there was a jus ad bellum case to be made for Hizbullah's attack, he also seems to claim that the political context of the attack on Israel - to wit, Hizbullah and Iran's declared desire to see the destruction of Israel - makes Israel's cause "especially" just. But if we are to rule out the question as to what Israel's war in Lebanon is "really about" - as opposed to what can justify it in jus ad bellum terms - then surely Hizbullah's attack on Israel deserves the same treatment.

There is a confusion here. At least part of it might well reside in my own thinking. Perhaps it can only be dissipated by turning to Michael Walzer's "four wars" idea).

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