I hope to lay out sometime this week the basic process of formulating an ethical decision. The general contours of such decisions, it seems to me, involves something like the following:
1. We get a sense of the general moral principles involved and their relative places in the hierarchy of values. For Christians, love of God and neighbor stand at the top of the list.
2. We get a sense of the potential consequences of various courses of actions. These play into the way we prioritize our values.
3. We check our motivations.
4. We decide on a course of action in the interplay of these elements.
So using the current Allied action in Libya, here are some thoughts.
1. The love principle makes us want to help those who are being oppressed. The love principle recognizes Gaddafi himself as an unambiguous force for evil in his country and, at least previously, in the world.
Another set of principles have to do with the sovereignty of nations. In this instance, Gaddafi does not seem to have the consent of the governed, he is in the act of squashing his people, and there is broad international support to act to protect his people.
Some Christians of course do not believe that war can ever be justified. Most Christians, however, believe that war is sometimes a necessary evil or sometimes can be justified as "just."
2. It is usually impossible to foresee consequences with clarity, but here are some thoughts. Sometimes when you cast a demon out, 7 more that are worse can come in. Also, what if we help the revolution and Gaddafi still wins? He would then be worse than ever.
The tricky consequences of invading a sovereign nation to dethrone a ruler have become fairly clear, again, after invading Iraq (not that they weren't clear before the invasion of Iraq). Economically, they are a major factor in our current debt crisis. Humanly, the war resulted in thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.
One potential consequence is the continued movement, just maybe, toward democracy in the Middle East. It is not clear, again, that Libya would necessarily move in that direction, but certainly helping out the revolution might result in a replacement government that was more friendly with the West than Gaddafi. Gaddafi's sons are looking to be another 50 years of the same.
There are also potentially bad unintended consequences. Can nations maintain these sorts of ethical standards once war has started? Can ethical caution be maintained uniformly from the highest levels down to the level of the individual soldier? I think history would teach us that all out war always involves atrocity on all sides.
Is there some future tyrant among the mercenaries of Gaddafi's army? Is there someone like bin Laden who fought with Afghanistan against the Russians?
3. False motivations could easily become involved. Since I've recently driven to Florida, that $3.50 a gallon price tag has me wanting to stabilize Libya's oil. Gaddafi is of course accusing the West of wanting his oil.
4. The current action, in my mind, seems justified. The main goal is to ground Gaddafi's air forces and stop the oppression of his people. Since we are not committing ground troops, it is possible that there will be no loss of life to Allied troops. Since we are mainly bombing air bases, the loss of life on their side will not be great either. The justification is to prevent atrocity on Gaddafi's part. Stabilizing oil, making friends are nice consequences, but they are not the primary motivation.
Because we are not invading, the rebels continue to be fighting for their own freedom rather than us fighting for them. Meanwhile, Gaddafi's soldiers tend not to be Libyans anyway, so we are not promoting one side in a civil war but discouraging a mercenary army. And we have broad international support. Indeed, the US did not lead this charge in the UN.
I think the current action can be justified in the light of the moral calculus above. Limited engagement, mostly to destroy equipment, with the goal of ending atrocity and enabling the removal of an evil dictator, with the support of the people and, as far as we can foresee, strongly beneficial consequences.