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That international law is considered weak, merely aspirational, a “grand experiment,” and indeed, not even really law19 (or mere policy20), is not new, although the critiques have proliferated as of late.21 The reasons are rife, ranging from the preponderance of power politics to the deficiency of enforcement mechanisms.22 But in the story told by Dillon and Brooks, one glimpses something of a paradox: the exclusion of those very narratives that would rescue international law from its status, among the more generous epithets, as “idealistic,” would also challenge its status as law sensu stricto. That is, those narratives— religion, ideology, morality, those individuating investments in particular values— are generally placed within the private domain, the forum conscientia. What is law is public, rational, universal, and dispassionate.


This article's point of departure is the US's war against Iraq, which was begun in 2003 under various rationales - political, legal, and moral. As the legal and political justifications fell away or were cast into question, the moral became the primary reason for going to war. The justifications were, however, construed in religious language. For many, this "return" of religion within US foreign policy seemed particular to the Bush Administration. Others have argued that the turn to religion in time of war is nothing new. Nevertheless, the war and its justifications made me wonder about the nature of public discourse at both the national and international levels, and why religious language stands out, especially when it is resorted either to escape or, as in the recent war, to repudiate the legal or political authority.