Steven Lee, “Was the (Second) Iraq War a Just War?” in Larry May, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Prentice Hall, 2011, 5th ed., pp. 280-290.
Steven Lee discusses the 2nd Gulf War in light of criteria for a just war. He reviews criteria or principles for the decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) and principles for engagement while in a war (jus in bello).
The principles that he considers in regard to the decision to go to war are just cause, proportionality, and last resort. The rules of engagement while in a war that Lee considers are discrimination and proportionality. He proposes that these criteria or rules are not imposed on the military from the outside; rather, they are principles found within military manuals and are part of the substance of the international laws of war. [These principles have been incorporated into the Geneva Conventions].
He considers the war from the perspective of everyone affected by the decision—the U.S., Iraq, and the victims of the war—and concludes that the U.S. acted irresponsibly both in the decision to invade Iraq and in regard to the rules of engagement while in the war. He weighs various issues and concludes that the United States government did not act responsibly in the decision to invade Iraq.
Some have claimed that the traditional criteria for a just war are obsolete and do not apply in the present era. One argument in support of this contention is that the U.S., as a leading world power, is exercising hegemony (single leadership) and need not consider some of the traditional criteria for a just war. The role of the U.S., according to this argument, is that of a hegemon–a nation that aims to protect the people of countries that it occupies and to police those countries.
Lee raises the question of whether hegemony is possible in today’s world. He suggests that it probably is not, since the real power is economic, not military. He finds that the U.S. is not a hegemon, if “hegemony” is taken to mean that the leading nation looks out for the welfare of subordinate nations in a paternalistic fashion and acts as a policeman to those nations. Lee observes that the U.S. is not a hegemon by these standards: the U.S. throws its weight around, but it does not purport to police the world. A hegemon, Lee notes, acts responsibly and in a paternalistic fashion. Lee concludes that the U.S. did not act responsibly nor in a benevolent paternalistic fashion in its invasion of Iraq in 2003.