Early on Friday morning Iraqi time, a U. S. drone strike at the Baghdad airport killed Iran’s top military leader, Qasem Soleimani. For decades, Soleimani has been the mastermind behind Iran’s involvement in armed conflicts and acts of terror across the Middle East, from supplying the terrorist organization Hezbollah, to attacking Saudi oil fields and international shipping, to targeting U. S. forces in the region. In fact, the Pentagon lays the deaths of over 600 U. S. military personnel directly at Soleimani’s feet.
At the time of his death, Soleimani was just 15 miles away from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, which, last week, was stormed by militants thanks to Soleimani.
Writing in the New York Times, the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran asserts, “Taking out the architect of the Islamic Republic’s decades-long active campaign of violence against the United States and its allies, especially Israel, represents a tectonic shift in Middle Eastern politics.”
And, despite not knowing what those tectonic shifts might bring, Doran concludes, “The world to which we wake up today, rid of its most accomplished and deadly terrorist, is a better place.”
Of course, the U. S. attack on Soleimani raises a whole host of questions. How will Iran respond? Will it expand its “proxy war” through Shi’ite militias? Will it dare take on the U. S. military directly? Will it unleash terrorist cells in the Middle East and even here in America? Is this a decisive step toward a wider, bloodier war in the Middle East and maybe even beyond?
It is impossible to see the future, especially in such a volatile region that features such volatile actors. But we can evaluate whether this decision, and any decision leading to hostile action, is justified according to what is called “Just War Theory.” Over the centuries, Christian thinkers from Augustine to Aquinas to the Reformers—seeking to reconcile Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life with the Christian responsibility to love our neighbors by protecting them from evil—have proposed a set of conditions by which a violent act can be considered justified. These conditions deal with both whether war ought to be waged, as well as how war should be waged.
First, the cause for going to war and the intention behind it must be just. Second, the war must be waged by a legitimate authority. Third, force must be used as a last resort. Fourth, force used in war must be proportionate to the threat. Fifth, force must not target non-combatants, and finally, there must be a reasonable chance of success.