The Donald Trump we see in office, seems a far cry from the non-interventionist version we saw during the American Presidential Elections, and that’s good news for world peace and respect for international law.
The use of the “Mother Of All Bombs” (Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb) against a complex of tunnels used by Daesh in Afghanistan, was a clear demonstration that as he begins to confront the realities of office, and the responsibilities of America’s role in defending world order, Trump is not afraid to deploy its military might directly to target its enemies, and the enemies of freedom and world peace, overseas.
The massive bomb, weighing in at almost 10,000 Kgs, destroyed the tunnel complex used by Daesh for planning its military strategy, storing armaments and torturing and killing prisoners; and it killed an estimated 36 militant fighters.
Importantly, the deployment of the bomb, and the joint operation between Afghan and American Special Forces was welcomed by the Afghan authorities who had struggled to regain control of the area after the extremists, believed to be from Pakistan, moved in and began suppressing the local community.
Similarly, Trump’s authorisation of military action to take out Syrian government facilities believed to have been used to launch chemical attacks on civilians was an effective, targeted and powerful demonstration of a nation that is not shirking, as it so often did under President Obama, its duties to enforce international law and resist barbarism. Those who have argued, like the almost irrelevant Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, that America was right to act, but wrong to act unilaterally is simply shilly-shallying, seeking to have his cake and eat it.
There are two important issues at play here, which Mr Farron and his fellow faint-hearts should consider. First, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is what we are talking about when President Assad uses his chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilian groups of particular faiths or ethnicities, not only permits its signatories, including both the United Kingdom and the United States, to act to prevent genocide, but also requires them to do so.
The Convention does not preclude recourse to the United Nations itself to seek to build an international consensus and coalition, indeed is specifically permits such an approach, but it does not in any way prevent or prohibit unilateral action, or joint operations, without the prior sanction of the United Nations. On that point, Mr Farron is simply talking tosh.
On the wider ethical issue, we need to consider whether military action to prevent genocide is acceptable, in short whether it would fall within the principles of a “just war”. Mr Farron would do well to read up on the principles of a just war that have been widely debated over millennia and, whilst there is a spectrum of views, and differences of perspectives, have settled on six basic tests against which a proposed military action might be assessed prior to going to war, known in the ethical literature as jus ad bellum.
Those considering going to war should first consider whether they have just cause, whether the action is an attempt to avert the right kind of injury. Clearly, avoiding the genocide perpetrated against civilians by Daesh and President Assad would readily fall into this category.
Do those going to war have a legitimate authority to take such military action? In this case, such authority is that of a national state, backed up specifically by the authorities and obligations under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Those going to war must also have the right intention and must not be using the military action as a means to achieve some other end other than the achievement of justice for the minority against whom the genocide is being perpetrated. On that basis, we might usefully consider that fundamental difference between the intervention of the United States in Syria (to uphold international law and protect the innocent) and those of Russia (to prop up the government of a genocidal tyrant in their own regional political and military interests).
There needs to be, for obvious practical reasons, some reasonable prospects of success. Whatever the long-term outcome of the various military interventions in the Middle East, it is clear that the dropping of the mega-bomb in Afghanistan and the action to reduce the threat of further chemical attacks by President Assad against civilians have achieved their aims. We can clearly see this with hindsight, and the prospect of success would have been well-researched and carefully considered in advance.
Inevitably, with all military action, there is a risk of collateral damage to innocent parties and property. It is therefore vital that the proportionality of the intervention is considered, whether the demonstrable welcome and good effects outweigh the inevitable ethically bad outcomes, of which the killing even of genocidal maniacs, may be considered one. Ethics was definitely on the side of the President of the United States when he considered whether to authorise these military actions.
Finally, consideration needed to be given as to whether the action was necessary, whether there was any other way of achieving the desired outcome. It has been clear for years now, that dialogue and discussion with either Daesh or President Assad is pointless. Daesh are intrinsically and self-professedly genocidal, a cult of death. Assad is a ruthless tyrant, a genocidal fiend, who is determined to cling on to power no matter how much innocent blood is spent.
When the President of the United States considered the cards in his hand before committing to these military actions, he absolutely had ethics on his side in trumps!
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 21st April 2017.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KCSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).