Mr. Carter's criteria for a just war

Almost a year ago, on the eve of Iraq ’s invasion by the US , Jimmy Carter wrote an article which saw wide publication domestically and overseas. An imploration, a last call, to political and moral reasoning that needed to be made then, and begs revisiting now. Its title: “Just war --- or a just war?”

Americans and their elected politicians, for the most part and in a bipartisan way, threw away such advice in the proverbial trash can. The former president, respected worldwide for his wisdom, integrity and morality, seemed to get no more respect in his own country than the self-deprecating comedian, Rodney Dangerfield.

In his opposition to the war in March 2003, President Carter saw an irreversible decision being made by the Bush administration to launch a war, even if it violated the very principles of the foreign policy that America had always championed. He wrote the article “As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by international crises.”

There are five principles which govern, according to President Carter, whether a war is a just war. In his opinion, these principles were not being met in the then-looming war, with American troops at the Iraqi borders waiting for the sound of the starting gun.

First: “The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options exhausted.” It was obvious then that nonviolent options were still open to the Security Council. It continues to be obvious now, after a year has gone by. The urgency was limited only to Bush and a cadre of neo-conservatives that had long planned this action with total disregard for the truth, or even the future security of this nation. Let us not forget that it was precisely “security” the mantle under which war was waged.

Second: “The war’s weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.” Although the American mainstream media has successfully masked or minimized collateral damage resulting from the war, either under governmental influence or “patriotic” self-censure, the American public is not naïve. It is unfortunate, however, that there continues to be unequal treatment in people minds when assigning value to human life (…”one of ours is worth ten of theirs.”) Obviously, this is a problem of conscience to which we prefer to remain blind. For all the talk of “love thy neighbor” mankind is just as callous today as it has been for millennia. Well… almost!

Third: “Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered.” Here, the connection between the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was a denounced fabrication then, and nothing has been uncovered since to give credibility to any such possible link. As far as proportionality, that is not even an issue. Violence was directed by the United States against a government which had no part in inflicting injury to us. Whether or not that regime is odious to us should have no relevancy.

Fourth: “The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent.” Since the US was not about to receive authority from the UN on US’ unilateral terms, much less to accomplish the true goals of regime change and hegemony in the region, Bush auto-sanctioned the legitimacy of being there via a puppetry show referred to by American PR genius as “the coalition of the willing.” After all, we were not attackers but liberators.

And, fifth: “The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists.” As bad as things have gone, there are many chapters yet to be written. If we are out to convince the people of the world that the US went to war in Iraq to establish democracy, we have an insurmountable job in front of us. Our gun-barrel democracy with other nations (and we have been at it for over a century) has an almost perfect record… for failure. Peace remains elusive in Iraq … ask the Iraqis.

Do our political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have the guts to retrieve from the trash can the message that President Carter put in their hands a year ago as to what a just war is?