March 15, 2003

SWING AWAY (via Paul Cella):

INTERVIEW: Father Richard Neuhaus on the Iraqi Crisis: Editor in Chief of First Things Points to Disarmament as a Just Cause (Father Richard Neuhaus ,MARCH 10, 2003,
Father Neuhaus: [...] As St. Thomas Aquinas and other teachers of the just war tradition make clear, war may sometimes be a moral duty in order to overturn injustice and protect the innocent. The just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq, a cause consistently affirmed by the Holy Father and reinforced by 17 resolutions of the Security Council.

Whether that cause can be vindicated without resort to military force, and whether it would be wiser to wait and see what Iraq might do over a period of months or years, are matters of prudential judgment beyond the competence of religious authority.

In just war doctrine, the Church sets forth the principles which it is the responsibility of government leaders to apply to specific cases -- see Catechism No. 2309.

Saddam Hussein has for 11 years successfully defied international authority. He has used and, it appears, presently possesses and is set upon further developing weapons of mass destruction, and he has publicly stated his support for the Sept. 11 attack and other terrorist actions.

In the judgment of the U.S. and many other countries, he poses a grave and imminent threat to America, world peace and the lives of innumerable innocents. If that judgment is correct, the use of military force to remove that threat, in the absence of plausible alternatives, is both justified and necessary.

Heads of government who are convinced of the correctness of that judgment would be criminally negligent and in violation of their solemn oath to protect their people if they did not act to remove such a threat.

As a theologian and moralist, I have no special competence to assess the threat posed by Iraq. On the basis of available evidence and my considered confidence in those responsible for making the pertinent decisions, I am inclined to believe and I earnestly pray that they will do the right thing.

Q: Strong objections have been raised to the concept of preventive or pre-emptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Is the use of pre-emptive force justified according to just war principles?

Father Neuhaus: Frequent reference to preventive or pre-emptive use of military force, and even to "wars of choice," have only confused the present discussion.

War, if it is just, is not an option chosen but a duty imposed. In the present circumstance, military action against Iraq by a coalition of the willing is in response to Iraq's aggression; first against Kuwait, then in defiance of the terms of surrender demanding its disarmament, then in support of, if not direct participation in, acts of terrorism.

This is joined to its brutal aggression against its own citizens, and its possession of weapons of mass destruction which it can use or permit others to use for further aggression.

To wait until the worst happens is to wait too long, and leaders guilty of such negligence would rightly be held morally accountable.

In the Catholic tradition there is, in fact, a considerable literature relevant to these questions. Augustine, Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez, for example, all wrote on prudential action in the face of aggressive threats. The absence of reference to such recognized authorities in the current discussion among Catholics is striking.

This last strikes us as the far greater problem for advocates of war than the question of whether toppling Saddam is just. Having recognized that we have some duty, even just as fellow human beings, to free Iraq, how then do we justify to ourselves leaving so many other of our fellow men in bondage, from N. Korea to Cuba to Libya? American military actions have almost always (always?) been just, but have been so desultory as to call into question their worth. We've an unfortunate tendency to fight far too limited wars, thereby leaving in place tyrannies equally as vicious as the ones we remove. There seems little point in this instance to removing Saddam but leaving Assad, Qaddafi, Arafat, and the rest of their ilk in power. Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2003 8:02 AM

I've been ruminating on doing a long post on the Church's posture towards war, and its inconsistency with traditional teaching. But most disturbing is how the Church no longer makes reference to its own tradition, or to the Bible, but instead phrases its argument entirely in secular terms, arguing that the consequences of war would be, on balance, bad. This verges on a betrayal of episcopal responsibility.

Father Neuhaus gives a poised, disciplined, careful rebuke to the Vatican in this interview. A fine job. I expect the interview was conducted by email.

Posted by: pj at March 15, 2003 10:38 AM

Mr. Judd;

Certainly one can make the argument that while there is a duty to free other peoples suffering under tyranny, there is also a duty to the maintenance and contiuation of the one nation that is willing to fight for such things. Clearly such a nation has no suh claim if it never
fights on behalf of those who cannot free themselves, but it is not for the good for such a nation to exhaust itself on an endless series of such actions.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 15, 2003 10:32 PM