JUST WAR IN IRAQ?

In his (2003) State of the Union address, President Bush pledged that any US war against Iraq will be a "just war fought justly" -- a clear reference to the traditional Christian teaching regarding both the ethical right to engage in war and the moral limitations on how that war can be fought. However, even a quick glance at that traditional teaching, which can be summarized under five points found in the latest (2000) edition of the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (see article 2309), presents problems. First of all, any "just war" has to be strictly defensive, with the damage inflicted by the aggressor being "lasting, grave, and certain." At present, the evidence that Saddam Hussein intends any such attack on the USA, or is linked to al-Qaeda terrorists (who up to now have had Saddam on their own list of targets) is not yet seen as all that convincing. Despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's masterfull presentation at the UN on February 5th. and the latest call to arms by Osama bin Ladin, many remain unconvinced -- especially after the latter, while calling on Muslims to defend their homeland from the "Crusaders", goes to some length to distance his movement from the "infidel" regime of Saddam Hussein. Second, all other means, especially diplomatic measures, must have been exhausted. Again, most of our allies do not feel we have yet reached such a point. In fact, considering the US government's reassurances that the nuclear charged standoff with North Korea can be settled through diplomacy, most of the world cannot see why the same can't be accomplished with Iraq as well. Third, there must be a serious prospect of success. While no one doubts that the USA can easily crush Saddam's regime, most forward-thinking analysts predict that such a heavy-handed military action -- much like Israel's tactics against the Palestinians -- will greatly de-stabilize the whole Middle East and result in even more terrorism against the USA and its European allies, just as Osama bin Ladin's latest message makes clear. Fourth, the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. Here, the results of the first Gulf War against Iraq are instructive. The use of "smart bombs" and other forms of advanced weapons may have kept the combatant and civilian death toll relatively low, but the deliberate destruction of much of Iraq's physical infrastructure (power plants, water filtration and sewage facilities, etc.) plus the cumulative effect of a decade of sanctions and radioactive debris (from the use of depleted uranium in armor piercing shells) have, by all accounts, resulted in more deaths than the brief period of actual fighting. Can all this be avoided in a new war? Finally, there is the question of competent authority. Who has the right and/or the responsibility to declare war? The UN Charter (Article 31) recognizes the right of individual nations to defend themselves, even to take "preemptive action" when the threat of an attack would be "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means or no moment for deliberation." However, the question is, especially in light of the third condition listed above, whether an action taken by the US without full UN approval would not result in far more danger for the future of our country, as well as the rest of the world, than an Iraq hemmed in or contained by a long-drawn-out continuation of UN inspections. Clearly, the decisions that must be made in the days to come will weigh heavily on President Bush and the other world leaders. But whatever those decisions may be, the burden of proof that this would be a "just war justly fought" still needs to be established.

R.W.Kropf 1/29/03 -- revised 2/12/03 Iraq (Just War in).doc 03-01-29.html