“The tasks of the critic, thus armored, are…to question relentlessly the platitudes and myths of his society”—Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics
“We justify our conduct; we judge the conduct of others.”—Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars
In November, NYU School of Law hosted a conference entitled “The Enduring Legacy of Just and Unjust Wars—35 Years Later”. The conference wasn’t open to the public; but the occasion of the anniversary of Michael Walzer’s celebrated book gave me further opportunity to reflect on the shadow Walzer has cast over our intellectual life. I first became acquainted with Walzer’s writing as an undergraduate when, during a session of a course on Modern Jewish Philosophy, the class discussion shifted from Emmanuel Levinas to a thinker with somewhat more tangible ideas. Everyone in the class agreed on the stature of Michael Walzer as a public intellectual. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, or its content, but I do remember something the professor said in an offhand way. He said that Walzer was “the kind of liberal who likes to reason his way to a good conscience”.
This quote has stuck with me as I have gone on to explore Walzer’s writing. Since that time, Walzer has commented frequently— mostly in his familiar outlets of The New Republic and Dissent—on the two wars Israel has embarked on, first in Lebanon in 2006 and then Gaza in 2008, as well as the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Understandably, the views of the author of the seminal Just and Unjust Wars would be sought after, if only to bestow on each of these wars the moral seal of “just” or “unjust”. Readers may have been relatively surprised, as I once was, to find that Walzer “supported” three of these four wars. The exception, predictably, was the war in Iraq; even here, however, Walzer was careful to square his opposition to the war with what he termed, in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, a “decent left” position. An article written in The New York Review of Books on the eve of the 2003 invasion was called “The Right Way”. The “rightness” in question was not the invasion, or its execution, or the likely consequences for American soldiers and Iraqis; rather, Walzer was advising liberals to adopt his perfectly measured way of opposing the attack on Iraq—suggesting that the Left should never fail to emphasize the brutality of Saddam (as if that was in question), and even go so far as to concede the menacing nature of the Iraqi regime to its neighbors. Whatever one thinks of Wazler’s formula, it was obviously not conceived by Walzer to galvanize liberals, or to have any significant effect in arresting the drive to war.
Michael Walzer’s lasting authority on the subject of war clearly derives from his work Just and Unjust Wars. This book has, by all accounts, achieved something like canonical status, both within and outside the academy. It is easy to see why, though I will only posit a few reasons, from the perspective of a lay reader. It is written in clear and accessible prose, peppered with philosophical and literary allusions, all the more inviting because of the complex just war tradition Walzer navigates— rooted in Catholic moral theology, but historically involving thinkers as diverse as Maimonides, Aquinas and Hugo Grotious. Secondly, Walzer eschews a narrow legal positivism in favor of a broader moral perspective. Of course, law and morality inform each other throughout the work; they are not, however, indistinguishable in Walzer’s account of war. Lastly, there is Walzer’s determined stance as a citizen. Although it is not entirely clear from the book itself, Walzer has admitted elsewhere that the guiding idea behind Just and Unjust Wars was his support for the Six-Day War in Israel, as opposed to the American war in Vietnam, which he protested against. Thus Walzer, by his own account, set out to give his intuitive responses to war a theoretical framework for which to justify those responses, ex post facto. One can perhaps state that Walzer, in addition to much else, succeeds in vindicating his a priori positions. I would add, however, that later editions do not take account of the rich historical record that the Six-Day war has produced, especially as interpreted by Israel’s “New Historians” when the Israeli archives opened in the 1980s.. As some of these historians have shown, blame for the war falls, perhaps unevenly, on both sides.
More importantly, there is the issue of how the raison d’etre of Just and Unjust Wars has affected Walzer’s future stances on war. I would argue, indeed, that the qualities one notices in Just and Unjust Wars—Walzer’s unwillingness to defer to the framework of international law, his clear support for Israel’s resort to force, the ability to shape the argument to suit the war—have led him to badly misjudge later conflicts. At the very least, it must be quite ironic that given his moral authority, as well as his protestations about the “hellishness” of war, Michael Walzer has—with remarkably few exceptions—supported the many military adventures the United States and Israel have undertaken since Vietnam. True, as we shall see, Walzer has sometimes equivocated, mostly to inveigh against the predictable consequences that naturally follow from war. In the cases where he has opposed war, moreover, Walzer has basically done to the antiwar position what the Israelis did to the Road Map: entered enough caveats and qualifications as to make it essentially untenable.
There is one final quality of Just and Unjust Wars, in light of Walzer’s recent commentary, that bears mentioning. This is encapsulated by the subtitle of the book: “A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations”. Walzer understands, or has in the past, that moral positions are nothing if they are not grounded in real events; that is, the way wars are actually, not ideally, fought. Thus every argument made by Just and Unjust Wars is illuminated by historical example. In Walzer’s later stances on particular wars, however, he has neglected or distorted the factual record. The factual record, in this sense, refers to historical context—obviously crucial to understanding—as well as verifiable information about how a war has been fought. In no instance has the conduct of a given war, even when it has manifestly included atrocities, affected Walzer’s initial judgment of that war. In other words, while his notion of just war has been applied quite loosely, Walzer’s judgments of war, once established, have been seemingly resistant to reinterpretation. In the case of Israel’s most recent wars, Walzer might be contrasted to prominent and likeminded Israeli liberals, many of whom at least called for a cease-fire in these conflicts as civilian casualties mounted on the other side.
In May 2009, Walzer co-authored (with the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit) an article entitled “Israel: Civilians and Combatants” in the The New York Review of Books. Readers of the New York Review understand their longstanding journalistic practice of recruiting Jewish intellectuals, preferably Israelis, to criticize Israeli policy—probably to protect the respective journal from charges of anti-Semitism or similar ad-hominem attack. Anyway, it would be hard to exaggerate the combined leverage—one senior member of the American Jewish left, another a senior member of the Israeli left—of these two authors, at least to those who care about Israeli politics. This came, of course, at a time when liberal opposition to (certain) Israeli policies was growing within the United States, as the emergence of the lobby J Street has shown.
Far from a forceful denunciation of the actual war in Gaza, however, the article is essentially a speculation of what Israeli policy should entail, in the future. This is perhaps unsurprising, as Walzer apparently supported the Gaza War with, as always, a few caveats. In this case, Walzer and Margalit were responding to an article by two Israeli academics called “Assassination and Preventive Killing” which appeared in an American journal in 2005. Readers might wonder as to why Walzer and Margalit would scrutinize an article that appeared more than three years earlier. Walzer and Margalit, indeed, could not state definitively that the ideas expressed in the article governed IDF conduct in Gaza. So why now, in May 2009? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to consider the implications of this article, or others like it, before Israel engaged in two major wars? Or are we to believe that these two Princeton colleagues, both seasoned in debates surrounding Israel, were unaware of both the article and the ideas contained in it before May 2009, months after the Gaza fighting ended? Even if they only belatedly encountered the article, ideas surrounding policy rarely appear in a vacuum.
Apart from the dubious sense of timing, there is the nature of the article itself. As I said, Walzer and Margalit’s essay is not a retrospective consideration of the actual wars Israel has engaged in, whether in Gaza 2008 or Lebanon 2006. In fact, Walzer and Margalit are careful to remove their ideas from the realm of actual history. They hone in not on the issue of targeted assassination (which they purposely choose not to comment on), but on the question of the immunity and safety of non-combatants. They take issue with the idea, as put forward by the two Israeli academics, that given the confused nature of fighting terrorists, who readily recruit from and mingle with civilians, that Israeli soldiers might be absolved from the responsibility of risking their own safety to protect the lives of civilians on the other side. To Walzer and Margalit, Israeli soldiers are responsible for the lives of civilians—both their own, and the enemies. To blur the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, we are to understand, even in a war on terrorism—this would be a fateful blow to the concept of jus in bello. Walzer and Margalit end with the coy suggestion that Israeli soldiers should have no problem understanding the idea of treating theother side’s civilians as if they were your own; after all, aren’t Jews everywhere guided by the “counterfactual” notion that they were all present at Egypt?
One probably shouldn’t dwell on this clever idea; Walzer and Margalit do not seriously believe an idea repeated in the Passover haggadah would guide the actions of Israeli soldiers during war. Yet it does point to something real, and, I think, quite important about Walzer and Margalit’s article, which is its extreme presumptuousness. Here we have two professors at Princeton, both far removed from the realities of war, essentially telling soldiers in another country how to behave. They even, in fact, go so far in their article as to literally tell both sides what they should say to their soldiers. This might seem mundane, given how often intellectuals pontificate on issues of war and peace (and everything else), but it is noteworthy in Walzer and Margalit’s case because of their total unconcern for reality. Is there a chance in hell, to put it bluntly, that Israelis are going to take risks to their own safety, as Walzer claims they should, to protect the lives of those widely perceived to be the enemy? Walzer seems to think so, because the chief impediment to the immunity of noncombatants, in his eyes, is a matter of policy. Policy, of course, can be dictated and reversed (though nowhere, as I have said, does Walzer flatly state that Israel has purposely attacked civilians), perhaps with the necessary convincing from liberal intellectuals in the The New York Review of Books, which Israeli generals surely peruse on their breaks. But the chief impediment to the immunity or noncombatants is not simply, in the case of Israel and the United States, a matter of policy. It is equally a matter of two other things, namely the methods of modern warfare as well as the ideology of soldiers and their leaders. In other words, even were the United States and Israel to flatly rule out attacking civilians in war (which these countries, in practice, do not), other important issues would confound the nature of policy. If one wishes to seriously address the issue of civilian immunity, therefore, we must deal with these complicating factors. Yet Walzer virtually ignores these problems, instead focusing on academic questions that do not account for any sort of contingency in warfare. For this reason, we must seriously question his ability to grapple with war today, at least war as practiced by Israel and the United States.
Let us return to the issue of noncombatant immunity in the wars of Israel. Noncombatant immunity, as any reader of Just and Unjust Wars knows, is a crucial component of just war theory. It is also, as mentioned, the ostensible topic of Walzer’s article in the New York Review of Books, co-authored with Avishai Margalit. In the article on the Gaza war, however, no historical background to the conflict is given, and there is no mention whatsoever of Israel’s actual prosecution of the war. Instead, Walzer and Margalit frame their approach to the subject as a response to that article written in 2005. Of course, by mid-2009—and I would suggest that this was the real impetus for Walzer’s article—very serious allegations were being made about Israel’s conduct during the war in Gaza, allegations that would eventually culminate in the Goldstone report. But the authors never engage any of these allegations. Their criticism is entirely hypothetical and prescriptive; they simply admonish the Israeli army to respect noncombatant immunity in future engagements. Of course, as the authors themselves know, what they tell the Israeli military to do will have no bearing whatsoever on what it actually does. What Walzer and Margalit would be capable of achieving, however, are reasoned conclusions about Israel’s behavior in Gaza. Yet this element—namely, reality—is curiously missing from their article. Instead, the reader is treated to a lengthy discussion of a scenario concocted by the authors, revolving around an imaginary kibbutz captured in northern Israel—something like the liberal equivalent of a Pentagon “war game”. One might conclude that the actual Gaza invasion, with its evident destruction and alleged atrocities, isn’t sufficiently relevant in hindsight to the issue of just war theory and Israel.
To be fair, Walzer has also responded to Israel’s recent wars in a more timely manner, at least while they were ongoing. His article, “The Gaza War and Proportionality”, dated January 8, 2009, objects to the widespread notion that Israel’s attacks were “disproportionate” simply because they amounted to greater civilian casualties on the other side. As Walzer points out, correctly, issues of proportionality in war don’t amount to a simple one-for-one equation. Wars have aims; they are not simply a series of reprisals, and are thus governed by different rules than (to use his example) a family feud. Rocket attacks from Gaza, moreover, despite the failure to inflict large casualties, have obviously been designed with that intention. Is Israel, therefore, obligated to wait until Hamas has more sophisticated rockets? In that case, Walzer asks, “how many civilian casualties are ‘not disproportionate to’ the rocketing of Tel Aviv?”. Put this way, Walzer suggests, one is likely to justify the use of too much force. Yet it would be the logical conclusion of those insisting that Israel’s attack had been, up to that point, “disproportionate”.
Here, I think, Walzer effectively dismantles a superficial objection to the Gaza War; “proportionality” is not simply a matter of tallying casualties, remarkably lopsided though they were in Gaza. Yet it is crucial to note the issue of “proportionality”, however wrongly interpreted it was by both media pundits and heads of state, was hardly the main problem with Israel’s war. For as Walzer must know, the decision to go to war was itself the real crime, given that a cease-fire had been in place six months prior to the invasion, during which time Hamas rockets came to a standstill. Israel, in fact, did not live up to its obligations under the cease-fire (which required an ease of the blockade), then refused to renew Hamas’ offer to renew the cease-fire, just as Israel has always dismissed similar Hamas offers for long-term truces. This is all plain to those who follow the Israeli press—Israel’s decision to go to war in December 2008 was just that: a decision, hardly the only available option at Israel’s disposal. As was similarly revealed to Americans on 9/11, Israel’s war on Gaza showed the entire world that whatever their obvious enmity toward the Palestinians, the safety of Israel’s citizens is hardly the priority of the Israeli government. This is scandalous; but it is the only conclusion one can draw from the fact that the Israeli government has done everything in its power to avoid limited truces with Hamas in the future, while violating those cease-fires that have reigned between Hamas and Israel.
The fact that Walzer was able to ignore this issue—that given the precedent of a non-violent solution, the war itself simply need never happened—may seem quite remarkable. Indeed, one might think that a preeminent just war theorist, in his capacity as public intellectual, could be relied upon to point to an clear instance of a government going to war as an alternative to peaceful resolution, of which the Gaza War was a paradigmatic example. Such an expectation is akin to supposing that a preeminent mathematician, when examining an apparently complicated proof, could point to mere errors of addition. Such logical (and moral) clarity is seemingly beyond Walzer.
Walzer’s widely disseminated response to the Lebanon war in 2006 is also worth considering. Published in The New Republic, “War Fair” perfectly encapsulates all the shortcomings of Walzer’s perspective. Again, there is the confused and belated timing: Walzer counsels Israel that “there cannot be any direct attack on civilian targets…this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure”. Yet a few lines down, he readily acknowledges that this principle has already been violated by “Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon”. Walzer’s objection to “reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low”, furthermore, “is prudential, as well as moral”. Walzer appreciates the complex reality that people do not like to witness their livelihood being destroyed, and are likely to react aggressively against those who preside over that destruction. In reality, Walzer barely conceals that the tactic he is discussing is what is often referred to as “collective punishment”. Of course, Walzer objects to this, both on principled and pragmatic grounds, for the Palestinians and Lebanese are invariably going to hold Israel responsible for their punishment (even if, unbelievably, Israel is in fact responsible). Indeed, what Walzer refers to in 2006 as “reducing the quality of life in Gaza” soon culminated in the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza. Walzer, in Just and Unjust Wars, calls siege “the oldest form of total war”; in the same book, Walzer also points to the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping as a reason for Israel to claim the right to launch a preemptive strike on Egypt in 1967. Of course, if this is convincing, then the far graver strangulations placed on the Gazans today would thus be considered a more serious military provocation; and we might therefore realize that one crucial reason the Palestinians are not allowed to have a military is to remove the one instrument they could use to assert the same rights for themselves that Israel has claimed in the past. In any event, readers might look to future editions of Just and Unjust Wars to account for the criminality of the siege in Gaza, perhaps as a fitting bookend to Walzer’s historical discussion of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Needless to say, its devastation on Palestinian society has been chronicled and documented by virtually every human rights group—sources arguably more thorough and reliable than Josephus.
Walzer, like the Israeli government, clearly believes that the capture of three Israelis soldiers and the firing of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza compelled the Israelis to act in the summer of 2006. Let us begin with the capture of the Israeli soldiers. Walzer acknowledges that a military response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers was not strictly “necessary”, since these acts have often, in the past, been a transparent attempt to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Yet this time, since Hamas and Hezbollah “describe the captures as legitimate military operations”, a military response was warranted. Furthermore, and crucially, “Israel’s goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.”
Walzer is clearly right, again, that “proportionality” was not the crucial issue. Yet what would happen if the Lebanese and the Gazans were to apply Walzer’s reasoning to their own position? This is a fair question unless we believe that Israel is uniquely entitled to certain prerogatives in war that others are not. Walzer has never explicitly claimed this on behalf of Israel. Should we therefore bear in mind the many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have been abducted over the years, being held without charge and lingering unaccountably in Israeli prisons? Surely the abduction of civilians is a graver crime than the abduction of a uniformed soldier on duty, such as Gilad Shalit. Does the “other side” therefore have the right—in fact, a greater right— to mobilize on their behalf? Walzer, of course, simply doesn’t entertain the possibility.
“The crucial argument”, Walzer tells us, “is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields”, a tactic of pressing interest because it “tests the philosophers’ dialectical skills”. Putting aside all of the evidence suggesting that the IDF has itself engaged in such a tactic, the bombardment of Lebanese civilians—not the alleged use of “human shields”—was undoubtedly the most serious issue of the Second Lebanon War. The bombardment, as Walzer surely knows, followed from the Israel’s initial unwillingness to send a ground invasion of forces well into Lebanon. Whatever one feels about the merits of this approach militarily, it flatly violates a principle that Walzer made explicit in an essay on the war in Kosovo in his book Arguing About War: that one, in his words, “can’t kill unless [they] are prepared to die” (emphasis in original). Walzer attached much importance to this principle in terms of the Kosovo intervention (which he nonetheless supported) in 1999. In this instance, Walzer was troubled by the modern state fighting wars exclusively from the air, in a way that completely exposes the enemy while totally shielding itself from attack. This is obviously the strategic advantage of aerial bombardment; it is also, for Walzer, the source of its immorality.
So what about Lebanon, and, indeed, Gaza? As Walzer says in the same essay on Kosovo, “political leaders cannot launch a campaign aimed to kill Serbian soldiers, and sure to kill others too, unless they are prepared to risk the lives of their own soldiers…they cannot claim, we cannot accept, that those lives are expendable, and these not”. It is perhaps worth repeating that Walzer’s critique of aerial warfare, however useful, did not lead him to reconsider his endorsement of the Kosovo intervention. Logically, however, and if his misgivings are to be in any way taken seriously, Walzer would at least have to apply them to future conflicts. Yet they never emerge again in Walzer’s commentary. Could this be because the United States and Israel do not presently engage in what Michael Ignatieff has dubbed, in the context of Kosovo, “virtual war”? Nothing could be further from the truth. It would take a separate essay to discuss this issue in full; to take only one example, however, with regard to the U.S. war in Iraq, it was well understood that the American people would not tolerate a protracted armed confrontation with Iraqi forces. The military thus applied the doctrine of “Shock and Awe”, which meant to effectively overwhelm and destroy the enemy from the air before any actual fighting began. In the Second Lebanon War, the emerging resistance of Hezbollah led to the widespread bombardment of South Lebanon, only after which did Israel pursue a ground invasion. Predictably, the death of many Lebanese civilians resulted from the bombing campaign, as well as the near devastation of Lebanon’s infrastructure. In 2008, Israel’s continued embrace of “virtual war” reached its climax in Gaza. Norman Finkelstein, in his book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, cites evidence of how Operation Cast Lead was “largely conducted by remote control”. As one soldier, part of Israel’s “Breaking the Silence” collective, observed after the war, “It was like a playstation computer game”. To another it felt “like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants”.
In the end, what has Michael Walzer really said about warfare today? If anything, Walzer has critically evaded or obfuscated the most important questions about war; and his ethical framework is, at best, hardly more illuminating than most people’s intuitive responses. Walzer’s analysis has always hinged on the implicit idea that atrocities, when our side commits them, can nonetheless be compartmentalized; behavior need not affect our essential judgment of war. In some cases in history, of course, such as the Allied bombing of Dresden, this attitude might be warranted. Today, however, when U.S and Israeli wars are transparently more lethal than those attacks credited—often wrongly— with precipitating those wars, it becomes nothing but intellectual sophistry to maintain, as Walzer has, that one can support or defend a given war, but not the bombing of civilians, the use of cluster bombs, white phosphorous, etc. As everyone can see, the former necessarily contains and engenders the latter. Equally regrettable is Walzer’s willingness to essentially wipe the slate clean before every war, as if the past actions of the US and Israel cannot fairly predict their further conduct in war. Most people, though perhaps not just war theorists, wouldn’t be so unassuming.
What then, in reality, has been Walzer’s purpose in commenting on war? Once one looks past the common trope about “human shields”, or the moral truisms about not killing innocent people, one sees that Walzer has basically stuck to reiterating Israel’s declared aims, and tailoring his arguments accordingly. Rather unbelievably, Walzer has even seen fit to invoke the crudest examples of Israeli hasbara—for example, asking us, in the context of a discussion about rocket attacks from Gaza in 2006, to “imagine the U.S. response if a similar number [of rockets] were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man’s land”. Of course, if Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, can be justly compared to a “no-man’s land”, then it would indeed make little sense to condemn virtually any response to such attacks, no matter how brutal or excessive. At other times Walzer has waxed philosophical (“dialectical limits”), or he has created some hypothetical scenario to carefully analyze (as in the article co-authored with Margalit), but he has shed no light on how these conundrums translate into reality. With regard to the U.S., he has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition. As for the cruel and cynical ways that the U.S. and Israel fight wars today, with use of power far beyond the means of their opponents, Walzer has only scratched the surface.
Then there is international law. It has long been Walzer’s aim to polarize issues surrounding the legality of war from his own “moral” judgments about war, the latter of which is really deserving of our attention. In “The Crime of Aggressive War”, a 2007 essay in Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Walzer claims that “there are good reasons why the development of just war theory preceded the development of the international laws of war. Legal texts may only imperfectly and incompletely embody our moral ideas, but without moral ideas, we would not be able to write legal texts.” Such reasoning, as far as I can tell, is perfectly sensible, and appears to add to—rather than detract from—our understanding of international law. Yet this is not Walzer’s true goal. As Walzer says in the same essay, “all states that are members of the U.N. have the same legal value. They do not, however, have the same moral value”. Furthermore, “the judgments we make (or should make) when a particular state is attacked or invaded have more to do with the moral value of the state then with the brute fact of attack or invasion”. Of course, this is the rationale offered by virtually every aggressor throughout history—surely no one attacks a state with brute force if that state is perceived to have a great deal of “moral value”. And even if one were to accept Walzer’s reasoning, moreover, it is nonetheless quite disturbing that our preeminent just war theorist apparently believes that the “value” of any state—however one determines it—should take precedence over the lives of ordinary citizens, who are war’s victims (weapons don’t disfigure the moral qualities of a state). Indeed, if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have had loved ones killed in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003, you learn from Walzer that the American invasion “does not fit the moral meaning of aggression” because “there was no common life under Saddam Hussein” which Iraqis at large were willing to defend. This is pure (and deeply offensive) nonsense; as anyone who reads Nir Rosen’s superb reporting knows, Iraqis not only shared a high standard of living prior to the devastation wrought by sanctions in the nineties (which Walzer supported); but it was also the occupation forces who fomented the sectarianism leading to civil war and sought to capitalize on the highly fractious nature of the state they invaded. In any event, we are often reminded that for every two Israelis there are three opinions; perhaps Hamas can thus invoke the deep polarizations within Israeli society as a pretext for attacking the Israeli people—or Iran can launch an attack on Washington, citing “red state” and “blue state” antagonisms as evidence that Americans share little “common life” worth defending.
A month after the symposium held to honor Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, the world noted an anniversary of a different sort—the two-year mark of the Israeli massacre in Gaza. The utter lack of restraint Israel exhibited in that war, should, I think, finally compel us to rethink the merits of just war theory, and not only in terms of how it has been postulated and exploited by Walzer. For it is obvious that far from placing clearly defined limits on war, just war theory has become an endlessly malleable paradigm which can be readily invoked by the most powerful states, though never their enemies or victims—which is precisely why Obama relied on it in his Nobel speech. It is also obvious that just war theory is no reasonable alternative to strict adherence to international law, and that Walzer’s distinction between “illegal but morally necessary wars” is an ideological recipe for wars that are neither legal nor moral. Yet one quality just war theory undoubtedly has, and that international law admittedly lacks, is that it allows intellectuals to rationalize the actions of a favorite state, and, in turn, assuage the tribulations of their conscience.