Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Iraq and Just War

Last December, I predicted, "that the mess in Iraq will depart from American consciousness, overtaken by the media's fixation on Michael Jackson."

In the past week as we blissfully speed along toward civil war, Kurdish and Shiite leaders have publicly supported armed sectarian militias, which Sunnis rightly believe will be used against them. Making a political solution even less likely, the various factions are at an impasse over how many Sunni Arabs to include in the writing of a permanent constitution.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the media spoon feeds the masses prime portions of pabulum from the grand spectacle otherwise known as the State of California vs. Michael Jackson.

Let Freedom Ring!!

One of the disturbing elements of public discourse leading up to the war in Iraq was the dearth of serious writing by religious intellectuals seeking to apply Just War Theory to the pending conflict. Most discussion in First Things and other religious journals remained abstract, devoid of the necessary details explaining exactly how and why the looming intervention conformed to a traditional understanding of Just War Theory.

In an earlier essay, I discussed an open letter written by Richard Land and signed by numerous influential evangelical leaders that attempted to make the case that Iraq met the criteria of a just war. I would like to take a very quick look at two other essays I stumbled across that at least attempted to connect theory with the facts on the ground.

George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II and a renowned Catholic intellectual, wrote an essay called The Just War Case for War. Weigel describes Iraq in quite predictable terms:

When a regime driven by an aggressive fascist ideology has flouted international law for decades, invaded two of its neighbors and used weapons of mass destruction against its foreign and domestic enemies; when that regime routinely uses grotesque forms of torture to maintain its power, diverts money from feeding children to enlarging its military and rigorously controls all political activity so that effective internal resistance to the dictator is impossible; when that kind of a regime expands its stores of chemical and biological weapons and works feverishly to obtain nuclear weapons (defying international legal requirements for its disarmament), tries to gain advanced ballistic missile capability (again in defiance of U.N. demands) and has longstanding links to terrorist organizations (to whom it could transfer weapons of mass destruction)—when all of that has gone on, is going on and shows no signs of abating, then it seems plausible to me to assert that aggression is underway, from a just war point of view.

A historical analogy may help. Given the character of the Nazi regime and its extra-legal rearmament, would it not have been plausible to assert that aggression was underway when Germany militarily reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, in defiance of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations? The withdrawal of Unscom weapon inspectors from Iraq in 1998 was this generation’s 1936. Another 1938, a new Munich, is morally intolerable: the world cannot be faced with a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein and an Iraqi regime that had successfully defied all international legal and political attempts to disarm it.


The first paragraph consists of a series of assertions. It's the kind of paragraph that could be written about most countries if you are creative enough. In fact, I would argue that most of the assertions are half-truths at best, and outright fabrications at worst.

The remaining nonsense is typical of the neoconservative apologetic for warmongering, in fact, it's a specimen from central casting. If you have no argument to make, first accuse a regime of practicing fascism. In the current lexicon, neocons will frequently use the term "Islamo-Fascism." No need to define terms, simply inject the invective into the body politic as a means of thwarting debated.

Secondly, the neocons always resort to what I call the argumentum ad Hitlerum. WWII is about the only historical reference these jokers will yank out of the quiver. Once you've accused the "fascist" regime of being governed by a Hitlerian figure, you next call forth the specter of a new Munich and toss around words like appeasement. The simple fact that Iraq had virtually no functioning military and Germany had the most powerful military machine of the era is only one difference ignored in the "analysis" that Weigel provides here.

Weigel next addresses the question of competent authority. Here Weigel argues persuasively against the strange liberal notion that the UN has competent authority to authorize the use of arms. Weigel is correct as far as he goes, but then he writes:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit: “the evaluation of these [just war] conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” [No. 2309]. Responsible public authorities make the call. Religious leaders and religious intellectuals must teach the relevant moral principles, insist that they inform public and governmental debate and bring their best prudential judgments to bear in those debates. But the call is made by others.


OK, swell, but who are the "responsible public authorities" within American constitutionalism? It is, of course, the Congress. Unfortunately, Congress never passed a formal declaration of war, or authorized any military action whatsoever. Even the sweeping Use of Force resolution approved by Congress three days after the attack on the World Trade Center falls short of authorizing military action against Iraq. The resolution, in part, reads:

That the president is authorized to use all necessary force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.


The obvious problem is that we know that Iraq was NOT involved in orchestrating and planning the attacks on New York and Washington and that the Iraqis did NOT harbor al-Qaeda members. But my question is why are Christians so willing to centralize authority in the executive branch, in contravention of the vision laid out by the founders, and quite frankly standing in opposition to a Christian understanding of original sin? Weigel doesn't provide an answer.

When discussing proportionality, Weigel concedes that, "The most intellectually respectable arguments against military intervention in Iraq have involved weighing desirable outcomes." He also says that here "reasonable people" may differ. Weigel writes:

As for the future of relations between the West and the Arab Islamic world, the brilliant Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shiite, has argued that for all its dangers, the disarming of Iraq, ridding the Iraqi people of a vicious dictatorship and helping to build a new, democratic Iraq could have a galvanizing effect throughout the Middle East by breaking the patterns of corruption and repression we now mistakenly call “stability” and by challenging what Ajami calls the culture of “bellicose self-pity” in the Arab Islamic world.


Again, this really isn't an argument at all. Yes, it would be nice to run the dictator out of town and establish a grand and glorious democracy. But once more, Weigel doesn't provide a historical framework that makes success appear likely. It simply won't do to say that this is desirable end and thus must be pursued, one must also demonstrate that it is plausible, and that other, less positive scenarios (civil war and a Shiite-dominated "democracy" come immediately to mind) are unlikely.

There is more that could be said about Weigel here, but I want to consider a Touchstone editorial from November of 2003. Writing for the editors, Leon Podles discusses the "fog of war" and says that intelligence is a treacherous and dirty business. He asks:

What, therefore, is an ordinary Christian to do? He does not have information that his government has, and even if he had it, how could he evaluate it? Does he have any choice but to believe what his government tells him?

In a democracy, Christians must form political opinions on moral matters and act on them. They can decide their government is in error and that a given war is unjust, but they must provide reasons for doing so. The presumption is that a democratically elected government is well-intentioned; it may certainly make mistakes, but it is not a tyranny.


The editorial goes on to say, quite outrageously that "the proper criticism must be that the government has misunderstood the situation, not that it has no right to defend its citizens (the Vatican's position), or that it is a tool of the Jews or of oil interests (the European and Arab argument), or that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the CIA to justify
an American takeover of the world (as 30 percent of Germans believe)."

The last portion is pure calumny that has absolutely no place in a serious publication. Also laughable is the bald assertion that "democratically" elected leaders are more moral than, for example, monarchs. Evidently, if Podles is to be believed, democracy is a holy system of government, which would explain why God instituted it among the Hebrews.

Podles goes on to argue that, "The presumption is that a democratically elected government is well-intentioned." Why must we assume good intentions? Is Mr. Podles familiar with original sin? On the eve of war, Pat Buchanan wrote a piece trying to glean the motives of various factions supporting the war. By Podles' standard, Buchanan's case would be rejected out of hand. But why is it out of bounds to assume that powerful actors and groups might have an agenda, and attempt to reasonably unmask what that agenda might be?

I guess Podles has forgotten, among MANY other things, the Maine, the Lusitania, the Gulf of Tonkin, Wilson's promise to stay out of European wars, or Roosevelt's solemn pledge to stay out of Europe even as he was trying to figure out how the US could intervene there, etc.

If this is the best that our Christian friends can come up with to defend White House warmongering, they better get back to the drawing board.

1 Comments:

Blogger izzy said...

Darrell: I've been reading Weigel's
The Cube and the Cathedral and have
been disappointed by how (to use
your word)predictable it is ...
odd how he glorifies military interventionism yet decries the secularism of post-Christian Europe. What part of Blessed are
the peacemakers doesn't he get?

12:31 AM  

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