Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, William Miller and other Catholic Workers often ascribed to pacifism or near total pacifism face with the near impossibility of every untangling the moral consequences of violence from the ends desired in undertaking it. But St. Augustine, faced with a world where Christians were starting to replace pagans as political leaders and Christians we soldiers in obedience to the leaders tried to come up with criteria by which war could be measured.
Augustine knew that the Gospel question on it was complex. One the one hand Jesus told people to turn the other cheek and also told Peter to put away his sword and not defend him hen he was arrested. On the other hand he treated the Roman Centurion as a man of faith and morals. So for Augustine first of all the individual soldier had limited accountability for the actions of war. He could obey all lawful orders.(What orders of course are lawful?) And he gave political leaders a criteria called the Just War Theory.
Just War has three essential components First, that the war is necessary. It's easier to establish that in defending your country or overthrowing a tyrant than in a war by treaty obligation or a war inspired by opposition to the evil of your enemy. Second that the means are just, that is not worse than the conditions of not going to war. Using poison gas for instance, or shooting prisoners is unjust. Third that the war is winnable.
In the case of Libya man have called on us to take action based on the evils of our enemy, while others,. both conservatives and progressives, have reservations. Former Senator Hart has raised two sets of objections. The first is that post the cold war we have not developed criteria for when to go to war and when to refrain, particularly in this "brush war" situations, which is to say we have no lens by which to see the first criteria or to evaluate data for the second and third criteria. Second he has raised questions about the particulars of the situation in Libya --that there are tribal conflicts involved and there may be terrorist linked elements on the rebel side.
On the other hand people supporting the war have raised the desire to defend people being slaughtered, end the rule of an old enemy, preserve our influence in the area and support the potential of democracy. The second and third motives of course are less than pure and the fourth is speculative.
So first, does a humanitarian obligation become an equivalent of defending your country or it's allies by treaty, or is it not and if so when? Second, are we sure that we are not bombing civilians in Libyia when we bomb there air force? Third, can the population of Libya prevail against Khadaffi--if not we do them no favor, if so the third criteria is fulfilled.
Overthrowing the dictatorship might be a good cause for the people. But we have no principles or analysis by which to apply criteria as to which wars we should or should not be involved in and have had none since the end of the cold war. While I felt the cold war was flawed, at least it gave us some standards. Also you can't convince anyone to set up a democracy. It's not a democracy if they don't choose it. In Libya we have to discern, is this really coming from the people, or is this just a fight between leaders of rival tribes?