Of all her academic heresies, however, none was more upsetting to [Jean Bethke] Elshtain’s colleagues than her support for aggressive military action against terrorist organizations and, a decade ago, her defense of the war in Iraq. Having written about the politics and morality of war since the beginning of her career in the 1970s, Elshtain insisted that America’s conflict with al Qaeda was not a matter of international law enforcement, as some insisted. It was a war.
Terrorists, and states that support them, are not merely engaged in criminal activities; they are our enemies””in the same way that Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were our enemies in World War II. As she wrote in her 2003 book, “Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World”: “With our great power comes an even greater responsibility. One of our ongoing responsibilities is to respond to the cries of the aggrieved. Victims of genocide, for example, have a reasonable expectation that powerful nations devoted to human rights will attempt to stay the hand of the murderers.”
That did not mean that force is always justified or that no rules apply. Elshtain was a believer in, and a leading interpreter of, the tradition known as “just war theory.” This tradition does not propose pacifism””the view that the use of force is inherently unjustifiable. On the contrary, just-war theory says that in the face of unjust aggression, nations sometimes have a duty to use military force. They are also obligated to fight with all legitimate means to win””to defeat the enemy and halt its aggression.