Rand Paul's War on Just War

Rand Paul's War on Just War
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Rand Paul should read Donald Rumsfeld's new book Rumsfeld's Rules. He might learn a thing or two.

Like when to say: "I don't know." Leaders who offer observations with absolute certainty, my old boss warns, "are setting [themselves] up to be proved wrong."

In a speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the junior Senator from Kentucky sure asked for it. Paul, a rumored Presidential hopeful, took the opportunity to address Ralph Reed's evangelicals about the plight of Middle East Christians and the dangers of "pre-emptive war."

The so-called Arab Spring has "become an Arab winter" for Christians. Worse, Paul says, by sending aid to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, "your government, or more correctly, you, the taxpayer, are funding" a "war on Christianity."

Perhaps Paul is on to something there. We ought to be extra cautious when sending aid to Syrian rebels, as many of them are jihadists and now, even Iranian Revolutionary Guards. But what is the alternative? Should the United States sit idly by as Syrian thug Bashar al-Assad gasses his own people? Tragically, it seems Paul might say yes.

"We must and should stand with our fellow Christians in the Middle East," but, Paul says, that doesn't "mean arming sides in every conflict."

Why not? Jesus wouldn't do it: "I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression," according to Paul. "I simply can't imagine Jesus at the head of any army of soldiers and I think as Christians we need to be wary of the doctrine of pre-emptive war."

Has Rand read Revelation? There's that whole part about The Word of God on a white horse whose "mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron" (19:11-16). Or in Ecclesiastes where there is a "time for war and a time for peace" (3:8).

Paul the Presbyterian might think an exercise like this of exchanging Bible verses is productive, but Christianity is better than that. It has a just war tradition. Should Paul know anything about Augustine or Aquinas, he would know that war is sometimes necessary and a moral obligation.

Aquinas quotes Augustine approvingly that a just war is "one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly." Even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 1993 statement, defined casus belli where force may be employed to "correct a grave, public evil."

Perhaps Paul should also read George Weigel's First Things primer on how pre-emption is simply another word for defense -- and defense, after all, fits perfectly within the just war tradition.

But that is all beside the point. Rumsfeld's "rule" isn't just about responding, "I don't know" to a question; it is a careful reminder about competency. Just as clerics have no business opining about specific economic policy, the just war tradition is plainly not within a Senator's breadth of expertise.

When it comes to Christianity and war, Senator Paul doesn't know what he's talking about and should have said so.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the editor of RealClearReligion. Follow him on Twitter @NGHahn3.

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