Some discussions of the efforts of the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010 used a distinction between wars of choice and wars of necessity. Wise policymakers know the difference; further, they restrict commitment of military and related resources only to the latter, in which fundamental interests are at stake. As well, wise policymakers understand that those engaged in conflicts of necessity cannot avoid the problem of dirty hands, since the means necessary for the defeat of an enemy may involve violations of established norms. For those who make such arguments, the just war idea seems too restrictive to serve as a guide to statecraft. In this, the choice/necessity distinction echoes themes common to realism, whether in its classic or contemporary forms. And yet just war thinkers through the ages sought to provide guidance for political practice. In particular, the criteria of ius ad bellum and ius in bello aim to guide policymakers in answering the question, In the situation before us, is military force an apt means by which to attain our goals? In this article, my goal is to demonstrate that a concern for wisdom in political practice provides a connection between various types of realism and just war thinking, and thus to develop an account in which these approaches are complementary rather than opposed to one another.

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