Responding to my doubts about the prudence of recent war making (the United States in Iraq, Israel in Lebanon), Jody points out ¯ quite rightly¯that nobody can know to a precise degree of certainty whether a war will be successful before it is waged, and that blunders in the course of a struggle can’t “reflect back on the original justice of going to war.” I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise; the standard I meant to raise was precisely the one that Jody allows for, in which revelations that a government was “culpably ignorant” (about either the chances for victory or the means necessary to secure it) can cast doubt on the original justice of a decision to make war. It’s too early to make that kind of judgment about the current Israeli operation in Lebanon, and perhaps it’s too soon to make it about Iraq either. For now, though, much of what we’ve learned about the Bush administration’s decision-making before, during, and after the invasion of Iraq suggests an ignorance of what they were getting themselves (and us) into that at the very least borders on the culpable.
Of course, sometimes you have no choice but to make war in ignorance of your chances of winning (because of all those “unknown unknowns” Donald Rumsfeld always talks about), and sometimes you have to fight a war even when your chances of winning it are slim. But the lower your chances of victory, or the greater your ignorance about the situation, the more carefully a state should weigh the necessity of war, and the more cautious it should be about making war in preemption rather than self-defense. Jody points out that the North nearly lost the Civil War, but that nobody would doubt that conflict’s justice even if Chamberlain’s men had broken at Little Round Top. But the Civil War was a war for immediate national survival in a way that the Iraq War simply wasn’t, no matter how many WMDs Saddam Hussein turned out to have squirreled away. Which means, in turn, that prudential questions like “Do we have a plan to win?” and “How likely is this plan to succeed?” and “How much do we know about our ability to democratize the Middle East?” should have taken on much, much greater weight. History will judge, but at this point it’s not clear to me that the architects of the Iraq invasion (and those who supported them at the time, myself included) gave sufficient thought to these questions¯and their/our willful ignorance does, I think, cast doubt on the justice of the original decision to invade.
(The same goes, one might argue, for our war in Vietnam¯a struggle that would meet nearly every just-war standard had it not been waged, throughout the 1960s, in culpable ignorance of what we had gotten ourselves into, and what it would take to win it.)
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