War as the failure of politics

Bob Schieffer’s comment about the Iraq war during a recent Face the Nation made my ears perk up. War is not the extension of politics. War is the failure of politics.

This sentiment poked at me. Did not someone else say nearly the same thing? Tony Benn, a member of the British Parliament, in a speech in the House of Commons on February 28, 1991 said nearly the same thing during discussions about the First Gulf War: All war represents a failure of diplomacy.

This got me thinking about what it means to say that war is a failure—not a specific war a failure, but war in general. As a failure, does this mean that no war is justified? That no war is just? Is it a moral judgment about war in general? Or just the Iraq war? Or a judgment about wars that have no moral basis? (Though having a moral basis is in the eye of the beholder.) War is the brutish side of human nature. The giving up on civilization. On might making right. Of being the strongest homo sapiens on the savanna.

But once hostilities have started, does war as a response still represent the failure of politics? In those cases, such as Assad killing his own people for years, is war justified after politics and diplomacy to stop the killing have failed? Does it become a moral imperative to prevent the slaughter of others? Or in these cases is stating that war is a failure of politics just stating a fact without making a moral judgment: diplomacy was tried and exhausted. Nothing else is left in the arsenal to counter aggression except aggression itself.

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