"Just War" Theory And The US Attack On Syria

Authored by David Gordon via The Mises Institute,

On April 13, the United States launched a missile attack on Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack using chlorine gas by the Syrian government on the town of Douma.

Was this attack justified?

One way to answer this question appeals to the “just war” tradition, developed by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and further refined by Vitoria, Suarez, Hugo Grotius, and other thinkers.  The criteria for a just war are stringent, and the missile attack violates a number of them. So stringent are the criteria that one authority, Charles Journet, said "if the definition of just war provided by Saint Thomas Aquinas . . . is taken seriously, one probably can count the number of actual and completely just wars on one's fingers."

Probably the central one of these criteria is that act of war must right a wrong. Nations generally go to war because it is in their interest to do so, where “interest” is understood as an effort to increase one’s power and influence; but this is not the way the just war tradition views the matter. Here the wrong would be the chemical attack; but this raises a problem. What is the evidence that there was such an attack? A Russian team of experts found no evidence that an attack had taken place; and, even if one were to dismiss their account as propaganda and accept that there had been an attack, evidence would still be required that Syrian government forces had perpetrated it The CIA assured us of it, but given the record of that agency, one can hardly accept its word as conclusive. Surely, if a chemical attack was supposed to justify launching the missiles, a full inquiry ought to have taken place first to establish the facts of the case.

Suppose, though, contrary to fact, such an inquiry had established the responsibility of Assad’s regime for a chemical attack. Would the American missile assault then be acceptable? No, it would not. As the Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan points out in The Just War Revisited (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) Popes Pius XII and John XXIII held that under modern conditions,  when a confrontation between states can easily escalate to a nuclear war with its indiscriminate horrors, only defensive wars qualified as just: "Pius XII condemned ‘aggressive wars’ (using that term in a technical sense, to mean wars of reparation or punishment), and John XXIII condemned wars of reparation: ‘It is hard to imagine that in the atomic era war could be a fit means to restore violated rights.’" (O’Donovan rejects this opinion, on what seem to me flimsy grounds) Syria in no way threatens the United States, so on this understanding the purported chemical attack would not justify an American response.

What happens, though, if this understanding of the “righting a wrong” condition is rejected? In that case, the wrong would be that the Syrian government launched a direct attack on civilians, using a chemical weapon forbidden to it by the Chemical Weapons Convention. (To reiterate, we are here assuming, manifestly contrary to fact, that the guilt of the Syrian government had been established.) Would the missile response then be justifiable?

No, it would not. Righting the wrong must be the actual motive of the intervention. In the present case, the United States wishes to block Iran and Russia from gaining influence in Syria, and hence wishes to interdict a complete victory for Assad’s regime. Acting to promote power political interests does not meet the criterion, even if the missile attack is defended as a humanitarian gesture.

But suppose, again contrary to fact, that writing the wrong was the principal motive behind American intervention. Would this suffice to justify intervention? Once again, it would not. The attack would fail another requirement, the criterion of last resort. Jean Bethke Elshtain in her Just War Against Terror, (Basic Books, 2003) states the criterion in this way: "Properly understood, last resort is a resort to armed force taken after deliberation rather than as an immediate reaction. The criterion of last resort does not compel a government to try everything else in actual fact but rather to explore other options before concluding that none seems appropriate or viable in light of the nature of the threat." (I have cited her because she cannot possibly be accused of anti-interventionist bias.) It is clear that the United States made no efforts to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the issue with the Syrian government, but instead acted as judge, jury, and executioner.

There is yet another criterion of just war by which America’s action may be “weighed in the balance and found wanting,” and this is one of the most important. The armed attack must have a good prospect of averting the evil it is directed against, without bringing worse consequences with it.

Once again it is evident that the missile strike fails to meet the required standard. The attack opens the door an indefinite number of further attacks. It is a recipe for continual war, because rights violations among the nations of the world unfortunately are no rare occurrence. The use of a humanitarian cloak to justify an aggressive foreign policy will result, as Charles Beard put it, in “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”


Crazy Or Not Not Too Important Wed, 04/25/2018 - 19:49 Permalink

I'm not sure what's next but with what's on the way one ought to be concerned:

The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) has capacity for 85 planes of choice, and is accompanied by guided-missile "Most Tomahawks shot by a US Navy Cruiser" USS Normandy (CG 60), with guided-missile ageing Sub hunter "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" Mediterranean longhorn USS Farragut (DDG 99), The more recent Vertical Launch System Tomahawk (and defensive missile) equipped USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), ditto equipped + torpedos USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), with MK 41 VLS -again - Tomahawk +same USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51). And USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) Mk-41 VLS for Standard missiles/ Tomahawk+same. Together make a formidable fighting force. Nearly all of the above are equipped with modern anti-Sub and anti-Air defences to make any encounter with foreign forces among the best that US can currently offer.

The US Navy ships are also joined by German Sachsen-class frigate FGS Hessen (F 221) as part of the strike group to start the deployment. Its equipped with a very similar NATO 32-cell Mk 41 Mod 10 vertical launching system, equipped with twenty-four SM-2Block IIIA missiles and thirty-two Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles. Cruise missile defense is by a pair of 21-round Rolling Airframe Missile launchers. The ship is also equipped with two four-cell RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

This is a formidable array of force, greater than any active theatre deployment in some time. Rear Adm. Gene Black has commented after Atlantic group live fire trainings: “..by integrating these assets as a carrier strike group, our power projection capability is unmatched.”

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) are slated to deploy and rejoin the strike group at a later date. Probably (my guess)  a missile top-up reload?

Anyhow, all the above matched with support as necessary from Units at Incirlik, Saudi, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus or other European theater gives the potential for a very complete meaning to Truman’s motto “Give ‘em Hell”
What Russia has planned as a reception to such firepower, one can only guess. Indications are that serious resupply and reinforcements are well underway:


Further Russia’s policy appears according to Scowcroft Center the neocon think tank argues that Russia has adopted a policy of "escalate to de-escalate" lowering the bar for nuclear weapons use. They estimate Russia would respond to a large-scale conventional military attack by employing a limited nuclear response in order to deter further aggression against itself. Acording to @ACScowcroft (most recently on Twitter).

 .@kroenig: "Russia is more comfortable using and threatening nuclear weapons than Western leaders are...We've been de-emphasizing nuclear weapons while they've been going in the other direction." #USNuclearStrategy pic.twitter.com/XFSN64bPcs

Aside from this there are some (as yet) unconfirmed reports of Chinese heavy lift aircraft resupplying Syria, if true it remains to be seen what they are delivering? The Y-20 military transport is the largest heavy lift aircraft in produced in the world. Range of 4,500 km with max payload; 7,800 km with 40 tons on board. 4,500 is easy distance from Western China.


We can only hope that sense prevails before any further escalation, but all parties appear from recent actions to be dialing up.

In reply to by Not Too Important

MoreSun strannick Wed, 04/25/2018 - 21:50 Permalink

Rather it's jew supremacist warmongering against a Nation or an individual- it's still the eternal jew supremacist warmongering in action. 

The jew supremacists don't care about laws, they just want your guns, your kids, your money, your freedom of speech, and your soul.

They work very hard everyday toward complete domination.

Your Eternal Enemies: Aipac, Aclu, Adl, Splc, Zoa, Cfr, Jdl, Jwc, & Trilateral Commission, to name but a few jew supremacist foreign agent organizations that work incessantly to strip every American citizen of their Constitutional & Bill of Rights freedoms & protections. 

A Very Brave Woman "Monika Schaefer" has been imprisoned by the rabid jew supremacists for simply making a video Titled" 

"Sorry Mom, I was wrong about the Holocaust" and posting it on youtube.

She has been imprisoned for exercising her free speech.(used to be free speech) The jew supremacists are coming for everyones free speech. They effectively have taken free speech away in 22 countries and in the States they are working day & night to take yours also.

Here is Monika Schaefer in prison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpwuHJYLYkU

In reply to by strannick

Quantify 44magnum Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:22 Permalink

Clausewitz got it right.

“The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose”
Carl von Clausewitz

"The aggressor is always peace-loving (as Bonaparte always claimed to be); he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”
Carl von Clausewitz

“War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”
Carl von Clausewitz

In reply to by 44magnum

BorraChoom Winston Churchill Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:39 Permalink

Where is BritBob?

Did Evil Russian Hackers bust his bot??

Did the Dastardly Duo, Vlad and Bashar Barrel Bomb Bob??

Unconfirmed rumors:

Somali Pirates Hijacked Bucktooth's Vessel and Bob was sold as a Toy Boy to a Saudi Prince.....

Nigerian Intelligence reported Buccaneer Bob fell victim to a faulty gas canister aboard his Burka class sub en-route to Dhoma..............

Scorcha Faal reports renowned Military Masturbator of Falklands Fame has taken residence in Tel Aviv with Ex PM "Yats" Ratsenyuk to manage a Tungsten Consortium

Fleeing Felon, "Rami Abdul Rahman" CEO and sole employee of The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) affectionately reported:

"Humanitarian BritBob" was Martyred by Assad's Barrel Bomb while saving children in Dhoma.
Our Beloved Bob was transported to Tayyip's daughter, Sümeyye's Secret military hospital and Organ Chop Shop in Sanliurfa, where he passed away from the loss of 2 kidneys and a liver...............

The Kyiv Post reports The Brit awarded the highest national honor "Hero of Ukraine" was lost in Donbass while on a humanitarian mission to save the children and procure "medical gas" for dental technicians in Syria.
The Brit was last seen fleeing a group of "Little Green Men" being led by a Shirtless Commander riding a bear.......

I am sure Bob will be baaack.



In reply to by Winston Churchill

Boris Alatovkrap Quantify Wed, 04/25/2018 - 21:17 Permalink

There is two path for pipeline, one is through Iraq (surprise, surprise, surprise) and other is through Syria. Iraq pipeline is either traverse Turkey or Syria. Syria actually is more moderate secular state than is Turkey… and of course, is now clear of building and structure that is hinder pipeline right-of-way.


In reply to by Quantify

HRClinton Not Too Important Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:00 Permalink

Never mind Hegel.  He was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar, who could think you under the table.

David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel, and Wittgenstein was a beery swine, who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya 'bout the raising of the wrist, Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill. Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whiskey every day.

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle, And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, "I drink, therefore I am."

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed, a lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.


I guess Augustine and Aquinas didn't read anything by Jesus either.

Wish I could start a religion, that was based on writings, that were based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay, based on hearsay...

I guess you'd need the power of an entire State to back that up year after year, generation after generation. Kinda like the Romans.



In reply to by Not Too Important

WTFUD Cold War Kid Wed, 04/25/2018 - 21:12 Permalink


If Syria's/Russia's military airbases were hit (fortunately thwarted) then you & i might not be posting on this platform tonight as the ante would have been upped to warp factor 9.

We remain on High Alert and it's not much of a comfort to know that 'one word' from John Bolton in Grasshopper Mind Trump's shell-like could set up the point of no return. 

In reply to by Cold War Kid

zpinch Wed, 04/25/2018 - 19:55 Permalink

beard's best work; An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States argues that the structure of the Constitution of the United States was motivated primarily by the personal financial interests of the Founding Fathers;


Beard contends that the authors of The Federalist Papers represented an interest group themselves.


More specifically, Beard contends that the Constitutional Convention was attended by, and the Constitution was therefore written by, a "cohesive" elite seeking to protect its personal property (especially federal bonds) and economic standing.


it is really a good read; he wrote it in 1913, and in the book he lists the actual assets of the men at the philadelphia convention vs people like revolutionary war captain and farmer daniel shays


he was the original Elite theorist and paved the way for my hero C W mills




he also worked with his wife who was an autodidact and a scholar in her own right, especially at that time. 

" Mary Beard's research interests lay in feminism and the labor union movement (Woman as a Force in History, 1946). They collaborated on many textbooks"

both were radical.


turkey george palmer Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:08 Permalink

Meh.... Trump isn't Hillary so there is that . BTW you can't live on tuna packets, they are good for a quick bite but even the ones with sald dressing aren't that high in calories per oz.  What you need to do is make yourself some quinoa and butter

Moribundus Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:27 Permalink

Empire Collapse: Russian Missile Tech Renders America's Trillion Dollar Navy Obsolete. 

For the past 500 years European nations - Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, France and, briefly, Germany - were able to plunder much of the planet by projecting their naval power overseas. Since much of the world's population lives along the coasts, and much of it trades over water, armed ships that arrived suddenly out of nowhere were able to put local populations at their mercy.

New missile technology has made a naval empire cheap to defeat. Previously, to fight a naval battle, one had to have ships that outmatched those of the enemy in their speed and artillery power. The Spanish Armada was sunk by the British armada. More recently, this meant that only those countries whose industrial might matched that of the United States could ever dream of opposing it militarily. But this has now changed: Russia's new missiles can be launched from thousands of kilometers away, are unstoppable, and it takes just one to sink a destroyer and just two to sink an aircraft carrier. The American armada can now be sunk without having an armada of one's own. The relative sizes of American and Russian economies or defense budgets are irrelevant: the Russians can build more hypersonic missiles much more quickly and cheaply than the Americans would be able to build more aircraft carriers


zpinch Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:34 Permalink

mises "institute"  is a Koch ALEC front; and beard wouldnt like beaing used, but that aside,


Gore Vidal's Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace:


“The FBI slaughter of the innocents at Waco was a model Jacobin enterprise.”


“President Roosevelt provoked Japan to attack us at Pearl Harbor.”


“Post Tuesday (9/11/2001), SWAT teams can now be used to go after suspect Arab Americans or, indeed, anyone who might be guilty of terrorism, a word without legal definition by suspending habeas corpus since in the post-Oklahoma City trauma, Clinton said that those who did not support his draconian legislation were terrorist co-conspirators who wanted to turn “America into a safe house for terrorists.”

“When Kennedy got his highest rating after the debacle of the Bay of Pigs, he observed, characteristically, “It would seem that the worse you fuck up in this job the more popular you get.


“Incidentally, those who were shocked by Bush the Younger’s shout that we are now “at war” with Osama should have quickly put on their collective thinking caps. Since a nation can only be at war with another nation-state, why did our smoldering if not yet burning bush come up with such a war cry? Think hard.


"Missiles are blunt weapons. Those terrorists are smart enough to make others bear the price for what they have done, and to exploit the results. "(4GW)


"the physical damage Osama and friends can do us—terrible as it has been thus far—is as nothing as to what he is doing to our liberties. Once alienated, an “unalienable right” is apt to be forever lost, in which case we are no longer even remotely the last best hope of earth but merely a seedy imperial state whose citizens are kept in line by SWAT teams and whose way of death, not life, is universally imitated."


rip gore nuff said..


“One of the problems of a society as tightly controlled as ours is that we get so little information about what those of our fellow citizens whom we will never know or see are actually thinking and feeling. This seems a paradox when most politics today involves minute-by-minute poll taking on what looks to be every conceivable subject, but, as politicians and pollsters know, it’s how the question is asked that determines the response. Also, there are vast areas, like rural America, that are an unmapped ultima Thule to those who own the corporations that own the media that spend billions of dollars to take polls in order to elect their lawyers to high office.”



zpinch zpinch Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:37 Permalink

As for McVeigh, does he bear witness to rage in the heartland? Is there a reason for the surge of militias?

Has the destruction of the family farm anything to do with it?

Have the trouncing of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments,

the carte blanche given to the ATF/FBI/DEA/IRS to step on those rights,

the abominations of Waco and Ruby Ridge,

followed by the government’s smug refusal to accept any culpability, at the very least boomeranged on their proclaimed intent?"



RIP Gore Vidal - he was a flaming fag btw (I still love respect and revere him as a person and a pure thinker)..for all you zh/abc media "libertarians" ready to jump on!

he was fearless



In reply to by zpinch

galant Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:35 Permalink

In US foreign policy, war is just a synonym for terrorism.

This will never change till the US abandons its insane Wolfowitz doctrine.

This aims at establishing the United States as a sole super-power regardless of the level of terrorism required to destroy any sovereign state that stands in its way.

It is the classic Thucydides Trap.

sunny Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:37 Permalink

For any one into anime, there is an anime movie "Sky Crawlers" which deals with the concept of perpetual war for perpetual peace.  Excellent story, well done movie, not a kid's anime.

WTFUD Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:54 Permalink

There's no getting away from it, TRUMP committed an Act Of War AND yet, seemingly, remains oblivious to the fact that the USA is in breach of every UN Convention by its illegal presence in the Sovereign State of Syria.


Consuelo Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:55 Permalink

A big fat slob with a machine gun and unlimited amount of ammunition, kept that way by an unlimited amount of Fed-conjured $dollars, vs. a lean, budget-conscious rifleman who knows the importance of (1) well-placed shot.



Cockoo Wed, 04/25/2018 - 23:32 Permalink

What happens next is more important than US missile strike on a sovereign country. As long as, US has ships in the Mediterranean all it will take is sinking a ship, not if but when WW3 begins with either Syria, Iran, or Russia. Best thing to do get rid of them ships send them somewhere else. Someone from the evil axis will sink one and I bet both Trump, Putin knows that another Gulf of Tonkin, USS Maine, or Pearl Harbor. If chosenites feel threatened by war, they may call it off.