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Noam Chomsky: A just war? Hardly

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    Noam Chomsky: A just war? Hardly 9 May 2006 http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp? section=opinion&xfile=data/opinion/2006/may/opinion_may34.xml
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7, 2006
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      Noam Chomsky: A just war? Hardly
      9 May 2006
      http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?
      section=opinion&xfile=data/opinion/2006/may/opinion_may34.xml


      SPURRED by these times of invasions and evasions, discussion
      of "just war" has had a renaissance among scholars and even among
      policy-makers.

      Concepts aside, actions in the real world all too often reinforce
      the maxim of Thucydides that "The strong do as they can, while the
      weak suffer what they must" — which is not only indisputably unjust,
      but at the present stage of human civilisation, a literal threat to
      the survival of the species.

      In his highly praised reflections on just war, Michael Walzer
      describes the invasion of Afghanistan as "a triumph of just war
      theory," standing alongside Kosovo as a "just war." Unfortunately,
      in these two cases, as throughout, his arguments rely crucially on
      premises like "seems to me entirely justified," or "I believe"
      or "no doubt."

      Facts are ignored, even the most obvious ones. Consider Afghanistan.
      As the bombing began in October 2001, President Bush warned Afghans
      that it would continue until they handed over people that the US
      suspected of terrorism.

      The word "suspected" is important. Eight months later, FBI head
      Robert S. Mueller III told editors at The Washington Post that after
      what must have been the most intense manhunt in history, "We think
      the masterminds of (the Sept. 11 attacks) were in Afghanistan, high
      in the al-Qaida leadership. Plotters and others — the principals —
      came together in Germany and perhaps elsewhere."

      What was still unclear in June 2002 could not have been known
      definitively the preceding October, though few doubted at once that
      it was true. Nor did I, for what it's worth, but surmise and
      evidence are two different things. At least it seems fair to say
      that the circumstances raise a question about whether bombing
      Afghans was a transparent example of "just war."

      Walzer's arguments are directed to unnamed targets — for example,
      campus opponents who are "pacifists." He adds that their "pacifism"
      is a "bad argument," because he thinks violence is sometimes
      legitimate. We may well agree that violence is sometimes legitimate
      (I do), but "I think" is hardly an overwhelming argument in the real-
      world cases that he discusses.

      By "just war," counterterrorism or some other rationale, the US
      exempts itself from the fundamental principles of world order that
      it played the primary role in formulating and enacting.

      After World War II, a new regime of international law was
      instituted. Its provisions on laws of war are codified in the UN
      Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg principles,
      adopted by the General Assembly. The Charter bars the threat or use
      of force unless authorized by the Security Council or, under Article
      51, in self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council
      acts.

      In 2004, a high level UN panel, including, among others, former
      National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, concluded that "Article
      51 needs neither extension nor restriction of its long-understood
      scope ... In a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk
      to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it
      continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of
      unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed
      action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all."

      The National Security Strategy of September 2002, just largely
      reiterated in March, grants the US the right to carry out what it
      calls "pre-emptive war," which means not pre-emptive,
      but "preventive war." That's the right to commit aggression, plain
      and simple.

      In the wording of the Nuremberg Tribunal, aggression is "the supreme
      international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it
      contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole" — all the
      evil in the tortured land of Iraq that flowed from the US-UK
      invasion, for example.

      The concept of aggression was defined clearly enough by US Supreme
      Court Justice Robert Jackson, who was chief prosecutor for the
      United States at Nuremberg. The concept was restated in an
      authoritative General Assembly resolution. An "aggressor," Jackson
      proposed to the tribunal, is a state that is the first to commit
      such actions as "invasion of its armed forces, with or without a
      declaration of war, of the territory of another State."

      That applies to the invasion of Iraq. Also relevant are Justice
      Jackson's eloquent words at Nuremberg: "If certain acts of violation
      of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States
      does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to
      lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would
      not be willing to have invoked against us." And elsewhere: "We must
      never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is
      the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these
      defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well."

      For the political leadership, the threat of adherence to these
      principles — and to the rule of law in general — is serious indeed.
      Or it would be, if anyone dared to defy "the single ruthless
      superpower whose leadership intends to shape the world according to
      its own forceful world view," as Reuven Pedatzur wrote in Haaretz
      last May.

      Let me state a couple of simple truths. The first is that actions
      are evaluated in terms of the range of likely consequences. A second
      is the principle of universality; we apply to ourselves the same
      standards we apply to others, if not more stringent ones.

      Apart from being the merest truisms, these principles are also the
      foundation of just war theory, at least any version of it that
      deserves to be taken seriously.


      Noam Chomsky, the eminent intellectual and author, most recently, of
      Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, is a
      professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

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