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Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Headshot

Iraq: Why Unjust Wars Don't End

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The Iraq War was not a Just War and unjust wars, unjustly conducted, do not create the conditions for a Just Peace that can endure.

The flawed thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place, however, is now being applied to the spiral of violence in that country. This must be rejected.

First, President Obama didn't "lose" Iraq. Iraq was never "ours."

The idea that Iraq is "ours," as conservatives seem to believe, exposes the fundamental moral flaw in the decision to attack a country that had not attacked us. The rest of the world is not ours to do with as we wish.

Second, it is crucial to realize that how we conducted the war, especially in destroying Iraqi infrastructure and not rebuilding it, created a literally explosive situation. The attitude that Iraq is 'ours' may very well have led to the massive failure of Iraq reconstruction, including the failure to adequately train the Iraqi troops.

This is equally critical to understand about Iraq today.

Despite the $60 billion the United States spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, a 2013 report reveals huge fraud and waste and a failure to rebuild the country adequately. "The level of fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq was appalling," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. She said she had urged the White House to make careful loans to Iraq for reconstruction, but Bush had insisted on a "no strings attached" approach instead.

This report also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag -- especially in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army -- the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

The attack on Iraq was unjust to begin with, massive human rights violations occurred such as the torture at Abu Ghraib, important parts of the country's infrastructure were destroyed and not rebuilt, and the army and police not adequately trained.

This is the very definition of an unjust war: the failure to comply with any of the tenets of Just War theory.

Just War theory has three parts: whether it is just to get into a war, how to conduct a war, and how to get out. While Just War theory is often honored more rhetorically than in actual fact, it is important to recognize that Just War theory is at least an international framework for thinking about war. It is also crucial to recognize that 'how you get into a war' and 'what you leave behind' are connected.

The current descent of Iraq into chaos was entirely foreseeable for those who cared to look even before we attacked Iraq. In 2003, four ethicists and theologians, myself included, worked with the United States Institute of Peace and produced a document, "Would an Invasion of Iraq be a 'Just War'?" cited above. Gerard Powers, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made this point:

The burden of proof is on those who would justify war to make a convincing case that it would not result in the unintended and untoward consequences that so often accompany modern war and that could well be the result of war against Iraq.

The "unintended consequences" are now upon us.

Unjust wars can also lead to retributive violence, the "eye for an eye" type of revenge that fuels so much conflict, and seems to be part of the recent mass killings by Iraqi militants.

The conditions for a lasting Just Peace have never been created in Iraq. Instead, the massive failure and outright fraud of our so-called reconstruction have created the conditions where the third section of Just War theory has also been absent: Just Post Bello i.e. justice after war. Responsible reconstruction of the country and adequate training of Iraqi security forces could have prevented, or mitigated, the spiral into violence we are currently witnessing in Iraq today.

Why didn't this happen? Ask the military contractors like KBR, once known as Kellogg Brown and Root. This controversial former subsidiary of Halliburton, which was once run by Dick Cheney, vice-president to George W. Bush, was awarded at least $39.5 billion in federal contracts related to the Iraq war over a decade.

The Iraq war has been a failure on every level of Just War theory, and today's violent eruptions are the result.

Unjust wars never end.