Waging war morally

Refraining from war against evil is truly immoral.

southern Afghanistan bomb 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
southern Afghanistan bomb 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The ravages of the Afghanistan war were displayed for all to see. Tens of thousands of documents, most of them descriptions made by lower-ranking servicemen of specific incidents that took place between January 2004 and December 2009, detailed the day-today realities confronted by the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
There was the duplicity of Pakistan, suspected of receiving aid from the US and other coalition countries, while at the same time providing Taliban forces with vital support. There was the widespread corruption of Afghanistan’s officials and police, which prevented funds earmarked for orphanages, hospitals and other humanitarian needs from reaching their destination.
But what received the most Israeli media coverage – because of the pertinence to Israel’s battles against Hamas and Hizbullah – were the extensive reports of civilian deaths caused by coalition forces.
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, who this week made public the 91,000 secret, sensitive US military documents on the war in Afghanistan, said at a press conference on Sunday, “It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is, in the end, a crime. That said, on the face of it, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material.”
Assange did not seem too concerned about the possible criminality of his own decision to leak documents that could endanger coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.
WERE JUDGE Richard Goldstone to look into the incidents of civilian deaths detailed in the paperwork, he would probably agree with Assange. Judging from Goldstone’s verdict on Israel during Operation Cast Lead, as detailed in his UN report, he would all but ignore the Taliban’s use of Afghanistan’s civilians as human shields, while incriminating the US, Britain and the other coalition forces for perpetrating war crimes such as disproportionate collateral damage.
In fact, applying Goldstone’s ethical standards would effectively rule out the possibility of warfare of any kind against foes like the Taliban.
“When you send a lot of soldiers to a place like Afghanistan inevitably there will be some civilian casualties,” Prof. Asa Kasher, an internationally renowned expert on military ethics and author of the IDF’s moral code, noted in response to the Wikileaks material. In other words, it is impossible to launch a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, or for that matter, against Hamas in Gaza, without committing what Goldstone and other human rights activists would consider to be “war crimes.”
According to Kasher, Israel’s rules of engagement are utterly ethical and essentially the same as those of all other western countries, including the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and other coalition countries fighting in Afghanistan. Professionalism, another important factor in maintaining a high ethical standard, is also equivalent.
So if Israel’s actions in Gaza were judged to be illegal, so would the coalition’s in Afghanistan.
THE IMPLICATIONS of Goldstone’s thinking are farreaching – and not just for Israel – as the leaked documents underline.
Were his parameters accepted, they would mean that Israel, unable to engage in warfare with Hamas without causing civilian casualties, would have to refrain from defending itself altogether. Instead, it would have to rely on diplomacy with an organization that refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist. Doing nothing to protect residents of Sderot and other settlements near Gaza from the constant barrage of Kassam missiles is, apparently, not immoral.
Meanwhile, the US, Britain and the other coalition forces would have to give up their war against the Taliban and Al-Qaida, launched after 9/11. Religious extremism would be free to run rampant, murderously settling scores against those who cooperated with the coalition forces in the hope of ushering in a freer society – women who removed the burqa, politicians who pushed for democracy and freedom, and educators who hoped to supplement the Koran with math, science and literature.
But morality does not demand submission to terrorists and violent religious extremists. Terrible things happen in war, including the unavoidable deaths of civilians.
But refraining from waging war against evil, or defending what is good, is a betrayal of the human obligation to champion freedom.
That would be truly immoral.