I generally agree with the comments so far emphasizing Israel’s right to defend itself, the necessity of using force against evil men, and the danger of applying “turn-the-other-cheek” logic to affairs of state. (As Robert T. Miller rightly points out, governments are not human beings called to holiness, but agencies responsible for defending the innocent cheeks of their citizens.) And I’m inclined to concur that the various Vatican statements on the current crisis in Lebanon have left something to be desired, hinting at a moral equivalence and a too-strong presumption against the use of military force.
Yet it’s also true that there are moral obligations involved in war making besides the obligation to only make war in a righteous cause¯and one of the most pressing, with apologies to Lionel Trilling, is the moral obligation to be intelligent. And this is where I sense¯based on reports like this one and this one , from sources with no anti-Zionist axes to grind¯that Israel has gone dramatically astray in this campaign. It’s not that they don’t have the right to pursue Hezbollah into Lebanon, to attack the terrorist group’s infrastructure and impose a cost on those who harbor terrorists, even if the pursuit of these objectives puts innocents at risk. But they also have the duty, when the stakes are so high and so many lives hang in the balance, to avoid taking large-scale military action unless they have a high degree of confidence in the operation’s ultimate success. And thus far I’ve seen very little to justify such confidence.
This is how I feel, increasingly, about the moral calculus surrounding the Iraq War as well¯that an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein probably met just-war criteria in the abstract (for reasons that have been amply discussed in the pages of First Things ), but that both in conception and execution our actions have failed miserably to live up to the moral obligation not to take foolish risks in dangerous situations. Our cause in Iraq¯like the Israelis’ cause in Lebanon¯may be entirely just, but justice is rarely served by folly.
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