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Obama's Mixed Policy and Message on "Just War"

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Message Adil Shamoo

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The President's iteration of the principles of a just war in his speech in Oslo, before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, includes a heartening declaration. Consistent with the theories of just war, Mr. Obama declared that war should only be waged as a last resort and in self-defense, with proportionality and the avoidance of harm to civilians whenever possible.

Stating, "Evil does exist in the world. Non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies," Mr. Obama used the Peace Prize forum to explain his reasons for continuing two wars. His just war doctrine is not a pacificist concept but rather a war concept. He reminded us that "this concept of just war" was "rarely observed". Mr. President, many voted for you for the exact purpose of changing the past evils of wars, in general, and specifically for changing the prevailing doctrine of the last administration by imposing our will on the world either by force or intimidation.

Does the President want a war not of a last resort, and not in self-defense? In the twenty-first century, this will be a serious backward step. Does the President want to violate the principle of proportionality? Does he want to continue the last administration's policy of disproportionality, where our enemy killed three thousand Americans and we will continue to kill ten times or a hundred times more of the enemy? What ratio of killings is enough? Is it vengeance or justice? Finally, does the President want to violate avoiding harm to civilians? This will be considered immoral, inhumane, and unacceptable by the civilized world.

The invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral by any account. The continuation of an unjust war is abhorrent. Iraq, since the invasion, has suffered several hundred thousand deaths and nearly one million wounded. In Iraq, we still have 120,000 combat troops and another 100,000 contractors. By next summer, we will withdraw 50,000 troops and at the end of 2012, all combat troops will be withdrawn. No mention has been made of the status of remaining non-combat troops and contractors. No mention has been made of the status of the many covert operations maintaining a puppet regime (or at least a compliant regime) for decades to come.

In Obama's speech at West Point, he emphasized exit strategy and stated "that America has no intention in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan" our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended". Following the President's speech at West Point, the White House dispatched two top war councilors, Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. Making the rounds in their Sunday talk show appearances, they emphasized staying in Afghanistan for decades. On Meet the Press, Gates declared, "We will have 100,000 troops [in Afghanistan]. And they are not leaving in July 2011." Clinton said: "We're not talking about exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline". These are mixed messages on issues of war or peace.

The presence of foreign troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, engender hatred to America. In the President's brilliant and far-reaching speech in Cairo, he declared that Iraq will not become "a patron." He said: "No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other." He continued that the "cycle of suspicion and discord must end". But, since the president's speech, there has been no change in policy.

If there are no fundamental changes in our foreign policy towards Arab and Muslim countries, we will continue to have terrorism, conflicts and wars with them for decades. Not only will the principles of "just war" be the casualty, but humanity as well.

Adil E. Shamoo, is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He writes on ethics and public policy. He can be reached: or at:

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Adil E. Shamoo is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, of the Institute for Policy Studies. Writing often in newspapers and websites on ethics and public policy, his opinion editorials have appeared frequently in major newspapers including (more...)
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Obama's Mixed Policy and Message on "Just War"

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