On 12 February, 2010, near a small village in southeast Afghanistan, Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin, a high ranking member of the Afghan police intelligence service, was celebrating the naming of his newborn son. There were twenty-four guests and three musicians at the party. At about 3.30 a.m. voices were heard outside the compound. Assuming they were Taliban fighters and wanting to assess the threat, Daoud stepped into the courtyard. After an initial burst of gunfire his 15-year-old son was dead, and he was dying. Within minutes four more people were dead and another dying.
Within hours of the assault, Canadian brigadier general Eric Tremblay, speaking for the International Security Assistance Force, confirmed that a Taliban attack had occurred outside the village. A patrol of the International Security Assistance Force had stumbled upon the Taliban assault. The international patrol had killed several Taliban insurgents and had taken eight men into custody, and had detained several other women and children while calling in medical support for the wounded. Tremblay noted that the ‘ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.’ The reference to civilians was especially to the point since among the seven dead were three women, two of them pregnant, who were found inside the house bound, gagged, and mutilated, apparently executed with knives. A senior U.S. military official informed CNN that the women were probably victims of a traditional honour killing and that their own family members might have been the murderers. To make matters worse Daoud and the eighteen-year-old female victim who did not die immediately could both have been saved if the international patrol had chanced upon the scene earlier than in fact it did.
But there is a problem with this narrative. The attackers were not the Taliban and no international patrol had come to the rescue. Members of the elite Joint Special Operations Command had poured sniper fire into the compound that night. They had killed seven innocent people by mistake – they thought that the guests included a suicide bomber. The women were mutilated because the American soldiers who had killed them decided to dig the bullets out of their bodies, in front of the family and guests, so that their weapons could not later be identified. Within two days a UN investigation – never publicly released despite weeks in which conveniently adjusted versions of the original story continued to be pushed in the media – stated that the survivors of the raid ‘suffered from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by being physically assaulted by US and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand bare feet for several hours outside in the cold’. The report further noted that witnesses alleged that while suffering under this intimidation the family begged for hours to be allowed to drive the injured to hospital while their two loved ones slowly bled to death before their eyes. The repeatedly promised helicopter arrived much too late to save them.
Mohammed Sabir and six other men were hooded and shackled that night and taken into custody for three days of rough questioning. Mohammed missed the burial of his wife. ‘I wanted to wear a suicide jacket and blow myself up among the Americans,’ he would later say. Echoing his rage, the family patriarch would tell journalists that Americans were the real terrorists in his country. This reaction is not unusual. Journalists and soldiers repeatedly claim that Western interventionism in Muslim countries recruits far more warriors for Islamic extremism that it manages to kill. If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind.
Of course, standing alone this story doesn’t prove anything. But it does illustrate something, namely, the way in which we all engage in some form of rudimentary just war thinking. We find this story especially distressing. Had Taliban fighters been responsible for the attack and had seven of them been killed by a NATO force interrupting the massacre, we might have been angered in a sort of philosophical way about the violence but not disgusted and ashamed, not horrified. We might even have been grateful that young soldiers had been willing to put themselves in harms way that innocent lives might be spared humiliating or even horrific deaths. This is because not all killing is the same even if we think that all killing is wrong.
But on what grounds do we make the distinction between the regrettable, the criminal, and the criminally barbaric? Why do we think the word ‘atrocity’ is a useful word? Why is horrified too small a word to suggest how we feel about a Jordanian pilot who has been taken captive as a prisoner of war, is unarmed and harmless, and is then filmed as he burns alive in public?
These distinctions are grounded in the fact that while the sword may be outside the perfection of Christ, the sword is not outside the providence of God, as St. Paul makes clear in Romans 13. Its use is not therefore indiscriminate. The sword puts to death the wicked and guards and protects the good, to borrow language from the Schleitheim Confession. If, on the contrary, the sword is used to protect the wicked and to punish and put to death the good – as it often is – it has itself become the evil that ought to be restrained, punished, or put to death. This distinction between the right and the wrong use of the sword is a part of the Christian witness to the secular magistrate. The purpose of this lecture is to identify one approach that a society, and churches more especially, might find helpful in thinking about the distinction.
As already noted, the usual way to do this is by reference to the just war tradition. Nicholas Rengger, the head of the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, however, has recently argued that whereas traditionally the theory was used to limit the scope of justification for, and to put restraints upon, the use of coercive force, in the modern period this tradition has been used to broaden the justifying scope of the grounds for supposedly legitimate force, (Just War and International Politics: the Uncivil Tradition in World Politics). We are the mercy of experts who assure us that any given proposal for war meets the relevant criteria: our intentions are good, coercive force is the only option, we will prevail, and the world will be safe for democracy.
What I propose to do tonight is to make some suggestions about how we might use the theory to deepen the public debate about the use of coercive force by employing the just war tradition in its restraining rather than in its justifying modality. How shall we use it as a drag on our willingness to go to war rather than as a justificatory spur, for as a spur it seems irrelevant, giving us warrant to do what we already knew we were going to do without the frustration of prolonged deliberation? For our purposes tonight, I propose to use a reformulation of the concept, namely, that the just war tradition in its Christian expression pertains to the restraint of force in the use of force in restraint of evil. The key word is ‘restraint’, which appears twice in my formulation and the formulation itself comprises three elements. I propose a reading of each of the three elements assisted by three different strands in the political theology of St. Augustine’s great work The City of God read in conjunction with some contemporary thinkers. Thus we will, first, apply a dose of Augustinian skepticism to the general concept of ‘the use of force’ in human society. Secondly, we will examine the meaning of the ‘restraint of evil’ from the perspective of Augustinian realism. Thirdly, we will examine the meaning of the ‘restraint of force’ from the perspective of Augustinian idealism.
The Restraint of Force = III. Augustinian Idealism
in the Use of Force = I. Augustinian skepticism
in Restraint of Evil = II. Augustinian Realism
I. Augustinian Skepticism and the Use of Force
Augustine believes that the governing authorities must use the sword in restraining evil and protecting the innocent. But he is preoccupied almost to the point of distraction with the abuse to which the use of this power is put. This Augustinian hermeneutic of suspicion comes so close to outright cynicism and is at times so bitterly sarcastic that it is difficult to see how it could ever lead to anything other than a withdrawal from the responsibilities of leadership. Perhaps this explains why it is so often ignored. Nonetheless, it has a theo-political usefulness and we need to explore it.
‘[T]his is characteristic of the earthly city (he writes): to worship a god or gods with whose help it might reign in victory and earthly peace, not from love of caring for others but rather from lust to exercise dominion over others’ (The City of God, XV.7). This is one of Augustine’s most famous expressions of political suspicion. But there are plenty of others. ‘Remove justice, then, and what are kingdoms but large gangs of robbers,’ he asks and goes on to relate a famous story about Alexander the Great. When the king demanded of a captured pirate what he meant by infesting the sea, the man defiantly replied that he meant no more than the king himself in infesting the world. If you own a small ship, you are a robber; if a great fleet, you are an emperor, the pirate declared.
Augustine thought this reply both ‘witty’ and ‘true’. Augustine’s point is that we must not equate any political entity or form of government with the Kingdom of God, not even where those governments call themselves Christian. Rome, even converted Rome, is Rome nonetheless and its rulers, even its Christian rulers, operate in the opaque world of tragic necessity.
Showing us just how tragic the necessity was, Augustine takes us on an exhaustive tour of the Roman wars. He laments the slaughter and futility of war, its brutality, stupidity, ineffectiveness, and its obscene glorification. He details atrocity after atrocity committed against women, unarmed soldiers, and whole city populations. War, he says, is a great crime. Take almost any page of The City of God and you come across passages like these: ‘Why are the words “honor” and “victory” held out to me as an excuse? Pull aside the veil of crazed opinion. Let the evil actions be examined in their naked reality, let them be weighed in their naked reality, and be judged in their naked reality.’ The lust for domination ‘roils and consumes the human race with great evils’, he says. ‘Let the covering of deceit and the whitewash of deception be stripped away, then, so that these things can be given an honest examination’ (III.14). Why boast of empire when it requires that ‘the spilling of blood’ and ‘dark shadow of fear’ become a never-ending reality? ‘It will be easier,’ he writes, ‘to reach a decision on this point if we are not carried away by empty bombast and do not let the sharp edge of our inquiry be blunted by high-sounding terms when we hear of “peoples,” “kingdoms,” and “provinces.”
Example is piled upon heart breaking example and denunciation upon scathing denunciation. It is the sheer volume of his unrelenting invective that, I suspect, leads many readers to give up on any attempt at a close reading of the opening books of the great work. It is like attempting a careful reading of the more than one thousand pages of Jeremy Scahill’s fearless chronicling of the American Empire’s mercenary armies, dirty wars, and what he considers to be a counter-productive foreign policy or like a close reading of the sorrowful trilogy on the dying of the American Republic by the former CIA consultant, Chalmers Johnson.
But why do I drag into the conversation a comparison with a contemporary investigative journalist and a repentant cold warrior? The answer is that I believe that any Christian infected with even a bit of Augustinian skepticism ought to be at least moderately interested in the goals of whistle blowers, good investigative journalism, and radical scholarship. Augustine, as he chronicles a great Republic devolving into Empire and inevitable decline, becomes ever more suspicious of its propaganda. This Augustinian skepticism has not gone unnoticed. Noam Chomsky opens his book Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World, with St. Augustine’s recounting of the emperor-pirate story. St. Augustine’s tale, he argues, illuminates the meaning of the concept of terrorism as it is used today in the West. The story, he says, ‘reaches to the heart of the frenzy over selected incidents of terrorism currently being orchestrated, with supreme cynicism, as a cover for Western violence’ (vii).
Chomsky’s perspective is, of course, almost too well known and too radical to be credible with large parts of the reading public. Not many people, however, will be as familiar with John Grenier, a serving officer in the United States Air Force, who has written a revisionist history entitled The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier. His purpose is to understand the evolution of a way of making war in early American history that condoned and centred upon the use of extravagant lethal violence against Indian villages, crops, and, especially, against women and children (ix, 1). Failing to see the American Indians as sovereign peoples, and treating them as heretics, rebels, and infidels, the English colonists established a pattern of vicious extirpation or total war that the Indians eventually decided to copy. This pattern of murdering noncombatants, Grenier says, has always shadowed the American military and justifies D.H. Lawrence’s verdict, offered in 1930, that the essential American soul is a killer (222). This is not how Americans see themselves; nor is it how Canadians want to be seen, although, if Ralph Nader’s recent open letter to the Prime Minister is accurate, ‘the times, they are a changin’.
My point is that Augustine’s skepticism about the claims of empire should make us see ourselves in a rather different light than we normally do. Christian thinking about war ought to start with a healthy dose of this self-skepticism. Those who wield the sword should recall, as those under its power are painfully aware, that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’. Power is the narcotic of choice among would-be imperialists but the narcotic of power is laced with terror, that is, the unrestrained use of force in the pursuit of goals that often exceed the mere restraint of evil. So let us turn to the restraint of evil and Augustinian realism.
II. Augustinian Realism and the Restraint of Evil
St. Augustine, as we know, did not advocate a withdrawal from society. The claims of human society impose a duty upon us it is unthinkable to ignore, he argues. The tragic necessity of leadership in the city of man is just that: tragic and necessary.
Now whether we think of this leadership as something the Christian ought to take up, as Augustine argues, or as something the Christian is permitted to take up, as Pilgram Marpeck – the early Anabaptist leader in whose honour this building is named – appears to have taught, it is in any event something to which the Christian needs to have paid careful attention. As James Reimer has argued, Marpeck calls for ‘a critical participation in civil authority’, (126, quoting Stephen Boyd).
‘Participation’ obviously requires of us something more than a disengaged cynicism. But equally obviously, if an Augustinian skepticism is the place from which we set out, then that participation cannot be anything but critical.
What does ‘critical’ mean? I am suggesting that it means taking a good look at Augustinian realism with respect to the restraint of evil, for to have named the purpose of the use of coercive force in human society as the restraint of evil is already to have settled upon a narrow interpretation of the just war tradition. The goal of the use of force is not the spread of freedom, equality, and fraternity nor has it anything to do with capitalism nor with any other value system. The use of force is for the restraint of evil and nothing more idealistic than that. The Augustinian realist can understand why a Muslim would send a postcard to a friend in the United States that reads: Beware of Americans – they may bring democracy to your country.
As a tool for thinking about the war on terror, I am suggesting that we at least listen to the wisdom of those Augustinian realists who argue against expanding the justificatory scope of the tradition. While writers on the radical left like Chomsky and Scahill can give us insight into the full theo-political range and relevance of Augustine’s skepticism, there is a group of Christian realists thinkers, some of them quite conservative, some of them American Republicans with military credentials, who can help us to understand Augustine’s realism. They are skeptical of what we might call armed humanitarians, do-gooders with drones, and neo-conservatives hot in pursuit of an evangelical, revolutionary empire. Their argument that the American republic, since the end of the Second World War, has turned into a security state, and has, since the fall of the Soviet Union, become an aggressive and overextended empire, maps fairly directly, in my view, onto Augustine’s argument that Rome’s decline began with the fall of Carthage. Augustine notes that there was at least one unusually sagacious Roman leader who thought, from a balance of power perspective, that it was in Rome’s best interests to let Carthage survive. He may have thought, and Augustine may have thought, that a bipolar system of power sharing was more stable than the alternatives. But with it’s traditional North African enemy out of the way, Rome entered upon a brutal quest for dominion through continuous war, wars carried out at the expense of the smaller kingdoms that Augustine believed were much better positioned to pursue true human flourishing than empire could ever hope to be. Empires have the bad habit, he postulates, of ‘provoking, by deliberate aggression, peaceful neighbours who are doing them no harm, for the sole purpose of extending their dominion’ (IV, 15). These continuous imperial wars were also at the expense of ‘equitable and moderate’ laws inside the Empire and led to ‘the double burden of taxation and military service’ (II, 18, quoting Sallust). In the absence of a credible external threat, Augustine believes, the great hegemon, drunk on its own seeming prosperity, began to tear itself apart. He would have been appalled to hear a senior Bush administration official astound a journalist with the hubristic remark: ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality’ (Bacevich 2008, 120). To a surprising degree this Augustinian realism tracks closely with the arguments of American thinkers like Andrew Bacevich, Alberto Coll, Chalmers Johnson, and Caleb Carr who share an alarm at the growth of the American security state, its history of meddling in the affairs of foreign powers, its overextension, expense, and what they consider to be its neo-liberal and neo-conservative crusading spirit.
Yet the realist thinkers I have in mind take Augustine’s argument a stage further (although even here I expect there may be Augustinian echoes). Whereas empires used to be thought of as inherently conservative realities interested in a stable balance of power, America, as even the only moderately critical Charles Mathewes has argued in his book The Republic of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts for Dark Times, is a destabilizing hegemon with a messiah complex and an insatiable need to be loved, making it a dangerous friend and an unpredictable enemy. America, and perhaps Canada at this point, can no longer appreciate the realist philosophy that led Lord Salisbury, a nineteenth century British prime minister of the old school, to say that, ‘whatever happens will be for the worse and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible.’ This comports uneasily with the revolutionary, utopian stance of the American colossus. But this utopianism, with its attendant rhetoric of American or Western or Canadian exceptionalism is anathema to Augustinian realists. They scorn the idealistic rhetoric of humanitarian war, regime change, and the spread of democracy. War simply is not, and cannot be, humanitarian; at best it can only ever be necessary and tragic and it should never be entered upon until it has become the absolutely last resort. Furthermore, whatever it spreads, it is very unlikely to be the democracy that its very militarism begins to undermine at home. The Federation of American Scientists has compiled a list of more than two hundred American overseas military interventions between the end of World War II and the year 2000. Chalmers Johnson records their claim that in ‘no instance did democratic governments come about as a direct result of any of these military activities’ (56).
Realists of course are accused of isolationism, but when confronted with the idealist alternative, we can see why that particular temptation is tempting. Perhaps I can most easily convey a sense of the realist’s fears by referencing an article in The London Review of Books by Jackson Lears, an intellectual historian at Rutgers, who has taken a dim view of Hilary Clinton’s version of American exceptionalism in her book Hard Choices. Clinton wrote her book she says, ‘for anyone anywhere who wonders whether the US still has what it takes to lead’; the US, Clinton insists, remains ‘the indispensable nation’. Clinton and her followers believe that ‘America’s values are the greatest source of strength and security’ for the world. According to Lears, they find it hard to believe that other actors in the international arena might have their own legitimate interests and different values that, realistically, have to be respected. Rather, for both neo-liberal and neo-conservative idealists progress toward democracy is inevitable and the West has a mission to nudge it along. Clinton wants to be on what she calls ‘the right side of history’ but this a providentialist teleology that realists think is just so much nonsense. What Clinton calls ‘a global economy of free and fair, open and transparent trade and investment, with clear rules of the road that would benefit everyone’, sounds to the realist like wishful thinking and it inclines Lears to note that ‘Clinton’s utopian faith depends on fantasies of a reified technology, unmoored from class and power relations and operating autonomously as a global force for good.’ Who benefits? Everyone does, according to Clinton. In her irrepressible forward-looking way Clinton avers that ‘violent extremism is bound up with nearly all of today’s complex global problems… That is an argument for America to be engaged in the hardest places with the toughest challenges around the world.’ Or not! As Lears opines: ‘the pursuit of “violent extremism” provides an open-ended excuse for global military intervention.’
Over against this neo-liberal or idealist creed of Western exceptionalism, we should recall these words of George Kennan, the conservative-minded Cold War diplomat, a Presbyterian with a firm grasp on Augustinian principles:
I should make it clear that I’m wholly and emphatically rejecting any and all messianic concepts of America’s role in the world, rejecting that is, an image of ourselves as teachers and redeemers to the rest of humanity … the prattle about Manifest Destiny or the American Century…. We are, for the love of God, only human beings … the bearers … of all the usual human frailties.
There has been no divine hand upon America he went on to say. Any qualities setting America off from the rest of the world should have been ‘the virtues of modesty and humility; and of these we have never exhibited any exceptional abundance’ (Coll, 2008 34).
The Augustinian realist is skeptical, in other words, whether listening to the democrat, Woodrow Wilson, insisting that America must ‘show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty’ or listening to George Bush the republican contending that a ‘great liberating tradition’ requires a devotion to ‘ending tyranny in our world’. These high blown phrases merely mean, to the realist, that the imperial ambitions of America require a matching ideology to justify the waging of war when and where it sees fit. We might recall that it was the above-mentioned Woodrow Wilson who also said that state power was to be used to create ‘the world as a market’. And then went on to say: ‘the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down … even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process’ (Chomsky, 2014 68).
Well, the unwilling nations are indeed outraged. Before the Iraq War began, realists were arguing that inadvertently laying the groundwork for a culture war between Islam and the West would be disastrous for the West. They argued that the historical complexities of ancient non-Western cultures and their resistance to modernization should be respected. These are formidable realities that will persist in the face of superior western military power.
My point in this second section of the talk has been that when it comes to making a decision to go to war, jus ad bellum, Christians ought at least to listen to those Augustinian realists who remind us that self-righteousness in international affairs is a dangerous trait and that Augustine’s analysis of the decline of empire is something to which we ought to pay careful attention. As Emerson put it: ‘Manifest Destiny, Freedom, Democracy, fine names for an ugly thing.’ Flying them under the banner of a global war on terror makes them no less ugly and only increases the terror, or so some realists want to argue and in so arguing, whether we agree with them or not, they do seem to sound a lot like the ancient bishop. But, it is time to ask, what about the idealist Augustine and the restraint of force?
III. Augustinian Idealism and the Restraint of Force
Noam Chomsky has written an essay on Reinhold Niebuhr, America’s most influential Christian political realist, entitled ‘The Divine License to Kill’. From a cynic’s perspective it might seem that you are a realist if you claim that killing is necessary, a Christian if you claim that it is also tragic. The trouble with some realists is that, while it may be difficult to get them to go to war, it is sometimes difficult to control their fury once they do. This tendency is exacerbated in democracies where elected governments secure popular support for counter-terrorism campaigns by demonizing the enemy. Terrorism after all is designed to elicit emotional over reactions. Consequently, realists in a democracy may collude with a war-reluctant population in turning war deterrents into war accelerators when terror strikes. They must be stopped, we say, and moral restraints upon our actions must be abjured. We must fight terror with terror.
Christian idealists, on the other hand, argue that we are morally obliged to place restraints upon our use of force in the restraint of evil. What is right in war, jus in bello, matters as much as whether it is right to go to war, jus ad bellum. Traditionally, the two moral criteria at play here are called discrimination and proportion. They prohibit the fighting of terror with terror. But I don’t propose to look directly at those principles in this lecture.
In the present context where the Islamic State, for example, is making it so horrifyingly easy for us to demonize them, I want to suggest that we should resist a military overreaction based on vilification and fear. Even as we remain open to using the most severely punitive measures we can manage in an effort to contain terror organisations, we have to remember that terrorism is a tactic with several possible strategic objectives. Terrorists may intend to provoke a state into a self-defeating external overreaction, polarize a population by forcing the state into repressive internal measures, or mobilize and inspire their own supporters. Each of these objectives is rational; each intends to leverage a small use of force into large adjustments in the behaviour of their enemy. An Augustinian idealism can help us think about this theologically in such a way that we prepare ourselves for a variety of responses to terrorism matching the variety of its purposes.
There were periods of peace in Roman history, Augustine records, but that doesn’t mean there was an absence of provocations to ‘meet arms with force of arms’. Rather, he argues,
whatever means she used to pacify her enemies without defeating them in battle or terrifying them with threats of war are means she might always have put to use, and so Rome might always have reigned in peace and kept the gates of Janus closed (III, 10).
In other words, Augustine does not believe that the militarization of counterterrorism is always the best policy. Provoking a military overreaction is one of the terrorist’s goals and should not therefore be one of ours. It is often counterproductive as it ignores the necessity for a multiplicity of long-term approaches to terrorism designed to capitalize on its inherently repulsive nature. Wise governments can find ways to work with the grain of the moral, rational universe in nudging terrorists groups along the path toward their eventual collapse, for a terrorist organization tends to have a relatively short life span. ‘The good news’, writes Audrey Cronin in her book How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns, ‘is that terrorism virtually always fails, as long as policymakers are wise enough to avoid ceding power to this treacherous use of force.’
So what means of pacification are available? To help answer this question I want to bring Jonathan Powell into the conversation we are having with the ancient bishop. Powell was Tony Blair’s chief of staff and principal British negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process. An optimistic idealist if there ever was one, Powell oddly warns us that we have to ‘escape the prison of the idealised Augustinian universe and to describe things as they [are] rather than as we wish them to be’ (New Statesman October 2010). But Powell shares more with Augustine than he may think. As we speak, Powell is bogged down in a terrorist crisis in Libya, next door to the Algeria where Augustine had his own terrorists to deal with, and it will almost certainly make Powell, as it made Augustine, more realistic about violent extremism. Powell is now warning that the political chaos in Libya could easily spread to Europe and even Britain and that there may not be time for the kind of negotiations he is so passionate about.
Still, Powell’s book, Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts, has something to teach us about the way Augustinian idealism bears upon the restraint of force tradition. Powell appeals to the US Army Marine Corps Manual on Counter-Insurgency to make his case that insurgents, while they cannot be brought to the negotiating table without coercive force, can never be defeated by coercive force alone. Furthermore, he believes that measured coercive force can indeed bring them to the table because they are inherently rational actors. Powell points to several studies that show that terrorists in the main are not psychopathic; they are neither insane nor simply and uniformly amoral. Rather they have a rational set of objectives, and we need to know what those objectives are, either to deny them those objectives on the battlefield or to discuss them at the table. If, however, we create the impression that we view the enemy as nothing but purely evil and psychotic, and if we convince them that we will never talk, we have removed any incentive for a change in behaviour and any grounds for discussion. Powell argues that there are moderates and hardliners in any organisation. That ought to encourage us to think that the Islamic State is not all one thing, and to think that once operating as a state they will probably begin to modify some of their apocalyptic thinking in a more realistic direction. There is nothing like the burden of office to apply the pressure of reality against irrational ideology, as, for example, the case of Oliver Cromwell suggests. It doesn’t always work but neither does it always fail. Therefore, while as realists never allowing ourselves to underestimate the evil we confront, we require a morally restrained use of force such that the terrorist’s supporting constituency can see that the terrorist’s target, in this case, the West, is in some manner or degree principled. Then the use of force has a chance of being harshly punitive in military terms toward the doctrinaire without closing the door of peace in the face of moderates and their civilian supporters. That is to say that we should wish that moderates, and civilian populations, would see the West as predictable alike in its willingness to use lethal force with speed and determination and in its unwillingness to forgo moral constraints on the use of force. Democracies cannot be predictably ruthless and remain democratic, and being unpredictable only means that we do not have what the brilliant General Giap demonstrated that the North Vietnamese had: a working politico-military doctrine.
But are terrorists rational? Powell thinks so on empirical grounds. Augustine thinks so on theological grounds. All human beings seek peace, he argues. ‘Even robbers’, he points out, ‘in order to assault the peace of others both more ferociously and more safely, want to have peace with their own comrades’ (XIX, 11). Nothing, he says, is desired more intensely, nothing evokes more gratitude. Those who make war, make war for the sake of some sort of peace. As the drumbeat of war in the West invites us to divide the world into good and evil – ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’, was George Bush’s Manichean slogan – Augustine offers counsel to the contrary. Certainly there are those who love an unjust peace. Yet, he says, ‘No one’s vice is so completely contrary to nature that it destroys even the last vestige of nature’ (XIX, 12). No matter how perverted all things participate to some degree in the essential order of things, otherwise they could not exist at all. And therefore no one’s vice is so great that it destroys utterly the nature in which it subsists. God created nothing evil. War then, not by its own nature but by the nature of those who wage it, is oriented toward some conception of peace and order, Augustine argues. Those who make war have their reasons.
On the basis of this ontological view, Augustine was able to preach a sermon in which he pointed out that it is love that enables a terrorist to withstand torture rather than give up his associates. Not the supreme good to be sure, but it is some good that the terrorist seeks. This explains, as Oliver O’Donovan has written, ‘how manifestly vicious communities can function as organized societies, and apparently function well’ (2004 64). This gives us a reason to take terrorists seriously as political communities and to seek rational political communication with them even when waging war against them. The Islamic State, for example, can pave the roads and collect the garbage, it can even collect taxes; that is to say, it can ward off the debilitating chaos of anarchy. This does not entail any moral relativism. Augustine teaches that the better the objects of its love, the better the people, and the worse the objects of its love, the worse the people. But in the case of both the better and the worse, there are common objects of love and around this love ‘there remains some sort of assembled multitude of rational creatures’ (XIX, 25).
Perhaps the Bishop might have found some humour in an unusual confirmation of his views. Gerry Adams once asked 10 Downing Street to help him draft a speech in reply to one given by the Prime Minister; they considered him to be a terrorist, but the Sinn Féin leader knew that Tony Blair’s advisers surely understood him and had come to see him as a ‘rational creature’, else why would he have thought they could have written his speech? Quoting Seneca in one of his letters, Augustine wrote, ‘He who hates bad men hates all men’. They are to be loved, he said, just so that they not continue to be bad.
This is a tall order. But if we have learned a skeptical honesty about our own complicity in creating the threats we presently face, if we are determined to confine our goals in war to the restraint of evil and not to the remaking of the Islamic world in our own image, then perhaps we shall have come to a place where we understand that moral and prudential restraint in the use of force is a key element in effective long term, multi-faceted approaches to the containment of terrorism.
In conclusion though, let us give the final word neither to Augustine the idealist nor to Augustine the skeptic, but to the pessimistic realist who at the end of his life witnessed the complete collapse of order in his beloved North Africa and died in a city under siege. There is a prophetic passage leading to the famous story about the pirate and emperor that Chomsky should use in his next book. It begins with Augustine’s distinctive ontological optimism, ‘The gang, too … is bound together by a pact of association, and its loot is divided according to an agreed law’, but continues on a more somber note:
If, by constantly adding desperate men, this scourge grows to such an extent that it acquires territory, establishes a home base, occupies cities, and subjugates peoples, it more openly assumes the name of kingdom, a name now publicly conferred on it due not to any reduction in greed but rather to the addition of impunity (IV.4).
And that seems to be more or less where we have come to; we face a terrorist gang aspiring to be an apocalyptic state. Perhaps this is the new context in which we have to practice restraint in the use of force in the restraint of evil. Perhaps we don’t need an argument against the war on terror. The war on terror may already be over, at least as conceived in its ideological form under the Bush administration and continued under Obama’s. And we may have lost it. The lack of restraint in the story with which I began this talk may help explain why. We sowed the wind. Now we reap the whirlwind. The CIA calls it blowback.