We don't know what we're doing

David Warren

David Warren

Photograph by: The Ottawa Citizen, The Ottawa Citizen

Does anyone remember the Powell doctrine? A relic of Colin Powell's days in the Pentagon, this held that any U.S. military incursion into a foreign country must meet three criteria of success. It must enjoy broad international support, employ overwhelming force, and deploy a clear exit strategy.

Really this was a relic of the Vietnam War, and America's horrible national experience of bleeding to no purpose. Powell was never the president, however, and his doctrine was never official policy. It merely looked like a policy, in the absence of any articulate contradiction.

Had it been in force, the U.S. could never have entered the First World War, the Second World War, or Korea. It would also have obviated the American Revolution. It was about right for the Kuwait intervention in 1991, however.

This Powell doctrine was a curious echo of the shopping list that came down to us, from the Middle Ages, as "bellum iustum," or "just war theory." According to the Catholic Church, whose reasoning still underpins much of the West's default public thinking, we may go to war when the enemy is not only an aggressor, but doing grave and lasting damage on an ambitious scale. Every alternative to war must be shown to have failed, or have no chance of success. A realistic prospect of victory must also be established. And it must be achievable without imposing disproportionate evils in turn. In particular, a postwar order must be foreseen that is an improvement on the pre-war disorder.

Of course, nobody's perfect; and our information isn't always reliable, either. Conditions may otherwise change so mysteriously, in the course of the conflict, that what looked good in prospect comes to look pretty bad in retrospect. Luck might even come into this.

Prudence, in the higher moral sense, cannot be reduced to a formula, yet the attempt by such great minds as those of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to think through the requirements of prudence in war cast much light on our quandaries. Into sin we may fall, but we must try to live justly.

In a way almost touching, the Bush administration tried to meet all the criteria of a just war, when invading Afghanistan, then Iraq. They tried to meet the Powell maxims, too. They went to elaborate and exhausting lengths to leave "democratic" and constitutional regimes, in a most unfavourable region. For this, especially, they endured the contempt of the world's most aggressively self-righteous people.

Who, in turn, seem to be rallying behind the Security Council resolution of Thursday night, which "authorizes" the enforcement not only of no-fly zones over Libya, but any other uses to which military forces may be put, short of a decisive ground invasion.

The very fact that Russia and China failed to veto this resolution, speaks against it. That it fails not on one, but on every single criterion of a just war, should be noted. That it fails the Powell test is a matter of course.

The resolution was brought as temporary common ground between an American administration that is internally "divided"the most flattering way to describe a president, and secretaries of state and defence who contradict each other when not contradicting themselves -and several but not all of the European Union states (Germany notably excepted); and a few members of the Arab League who will be seeking favours.

As Britain and France (remember Suez?) have not the ability to project serious military force into the theatre at short notice, the resolution depends for action upon their least willing partner. The U.S. is as ever expected to carry the ball most of the way to an unspecified end zone; after Robert Gates and arguably Barack Obama have gone on record opposing any such scheme.

Sarkozy's France has, without consulting her European allies, already recognized the rebels in apparent control of Benghazi as an alternative government. No one else knows whom they are supporting, and in point of fact, the most promising internal opponents of Gadhafi's regime are thuggish tribal chiefs and Islamist ideologues we have no reason to prefer to the monster with whom we are overfamiliar.

And as we have already seen, both the strength and ruthlessness of Gadhafi's Libyan regime, after more than four decades in power, have been underestimated. We cannot foresee, even to the degree we could over Serbia in 1999, the likely results of our "experimental bombing."

We don't know what we are doing. We only know that we have moral support for it on paper, from an international organization that is utterly corrupt, wherein members who do not wish us well are pleased to grant us permission to blunder.

Into this murk the Harper government is sending, modestly, six Canadian jets. That is what is called a gesture. Forget "too little too late." The war party here has yet to explain how this could possibly end well.

David Warren's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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Score: 0


12:11 PM on March 19, 2011

Why don't you get off you butt you useless paper pusher and join the military?

We've got no stake in Libya and if they want to have a civil war they can have it.

There's nothing worse than cowards sending good Canadian men to their death.

Score: 0


10:37 AM on March 19, 2011

"Does anyone remember the Powell doctrine?"

I do apologize for my outburst below. Now that I read the first sentence more carefully, you were obviously asking for help remembering it!! Well, see my first comment below for some references.

Score: 0


9:57 AM on March 19, 2011

As usual, all it takes is a quick hop over to Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powell_Doctrine - to discover that Warren has grossly twisted the facts to suit his fiction. There are in fact 8 criteria in what is called the Powell Doctrine, not 3. They are most certainly not in the order presented by the novelist writing above, the first one Warren presents is apparently #8 in the real thing, and "overwhelming force" is not mentioned at all. As I read the 8, I contemplated how Bush in "a way almost touching" tried to adhere to them - LOL!! Given the inaccuracies in the first paragraph, can the rest of his tripe really be worth the read? It's the usual: if there is any good in the situation/world/etc, it's because the Church of Child Rape made it so.

Children: take heed, the above is a symptom is what happens when you sit around taking too much acid instead of getting yourself a proper college education!!