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Defining “War of Necessity” Down

Richard Cohen doesn’t know the meaning of the word necessity:

Wars can change over time. The one in Syria certainly has. It has gone from a war of choice to a war of necessity that President Obama did not choose to fight.

What distinguishes the two kinds of wars is whether or not a state must fight in order to preserve its security and/or independence. Any war that is not forced on a state is by definition a war that the government of that state has chosen to wage. A war of choice is one that a government could afford not to fight without risking anything important, but it is a war that it still decides to fight in spite of this. We all know this distinction because advocates of wars of choice go out of their way to describe these wars as conflicts that the other party has “forced” our government to fight (sometimes by refusing an excessive ultimatum designed to trigger war). Intervening in the Syrian conflict has not become a necessity for the United States, because the U.S. still has nothing at stake in the conflict. It hasn’t even become a necessity for Turkey, and it’s hard to imagine how any war in Syria could be more necessary for America than it is for Turkey. Cohen has been agitating for military action in Syria for over a year, so it’s not surprising that his definition of what is “necessary” in Syria has absolutely nothing to do with American or allied security. If we used this definition to determine where and how often the U.S. goes to war, it truly would be war without end.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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