Clark: Iraq War Legal, Not Legitimate

Clark: Iraq War Legal, Not Legitimate

Photo by JESSICA CHOU/daily bruin

Retired General Wesley K. Clark, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, explains to a packed Law School auditorium that the United States has "squandered its mantle of legitimacy in this conflict."

Can't the most powerful nation in the world deign to speak to an aspiring regional power?

From virtually every angle of Just War theory, as articulated over centuries by Western theologians and philosophers, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegitimate, Gen. Wesley K. Clark (ret.) argued before an audience of about 170 people at the UCLA School of Law on Jan. 22, 2007. About 30 others listened to Clark from an overflow room at the law school. The talk was co-sponsored by the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, where Clark is a senior fellow.

Nevertheless, Clark held that the invasion had been technically legal under both U.S. and international law, given the October 2002 congressional authorization of force and United Nations resolutions on Iraq. During the question period, Clark was challenged on the war's legality by one audience member, UCLA Professor of Political Science Michael Intriligator, who said that UN Charter signatories could undertake hostile actions only in self-defense.

Clark recalled that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had made precisely the reverse claims about the 1999 bombing in Kosovo by NATO, an operation led by Clark. Annan had said that the Kosovo operation was illegal under the UN Charter but nevertheless legitimate. In his discussion of that conflict on Monday, Clark stressed that the principles of Just War had governed the NATO approach.

U.S. foreign policy is now at an "inflection point," according to Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. On the one hand, Congress may for the first time move to restrain President Bush, by limiting funding for an escalation of the war in Iraq. On the other, Bush and his neoconservative political allies have sharply increased military and rhetorical pressure on Iran, raising the prospect of a "straight run" of neoconservative policies, Clark said. In response to a question from a UCLA political science major, he urged the administration to engage Iran with diplomacy.

"Can't the most powerful nation in the world deign to speak to an aspiring regional power?" Clark said to applause.

The war in Iraq has failed various tests of legitimacy under Just War theory, Clark said. He said that U.S. actions and statements made clear that the invasion was not truly a "last resort" and that the military was not sufficiently concerned with protecting Iraqi civilians. The changing rationales for the war, invoked when weapons of mass destruction did not materialize, showed that it did not have a clear justification, he said, and the revelations of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison further undercut its legitimacy. Finally, an ineffectively prosecuted war inevitably has adverse consequences for the affected population and is "manifestly unjust" under the theory, Clark said.

[See more coverage of Clark's speech in The Daily Bruin.]

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007