With the anniversary of 9–11 still vividly in mind, the arrest of alleged terrorists in Pakistan and Buffalo came as good news.
We needed this news. Americans have a great many strengths as a people, but one of our weaknesses is impatience. We want results. We like clear problems with clear solutions. We prefer action to talk. But unless our bias for action is informed by prudence, it can lead us into even deeper problems than the ones we seek to solve.
When the “war on terrorism” began last fall, President Bush very wisely cautioned the nation that the effort would take time. So it has, and so it will. The nature of terrorism doesn't lend itself to quick battles. It's a long struggle, shaped by issues of economic and social justice as well as armed conflict.
Nonetheless, American resources, applied carefully and persistently, have begun to pay off. The people who planned the murder of 3,000 innocent men, women and children last year once seemed invulnerable. They no longer are. Our leaders deserve our gratitude for that. They've earned our support for the burdens they bear on our behalf.
Along with our support, though, our leaders also deserve our common sense. And common sense should make all of us very uneasy about any war with Iraq.
Obviously, no one can justify the actions of the current Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein has tortured and killed many of his own people, caused conflict throughout the Persian Gulf and pursued the development of weapons of mass destruction. Nor has he paid much attention to the displeasure of the international community. He has very shrewdly surfed a wave of Arab resentment of the West, evaded embargoes and weapons inspectors, and exploited divisions between the United States and its allies.
And yet, does Iraq really fit logically into our current struggle against terrorism? I don't believe it does. Can we morally justify war against Saddam? I don't believe we can. Until we have compelling new evidence of Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 tragedy or imminent Iraqi aggression of a grave nature, we need to be guided by the same prudence that has served us so well over the past year.
American power has its limits. So does our moral credibility. We diminish both when we spread our power too thinly or exercise it in a way that seems arbitrary to the nations with whom we share the world.
Rightly or wrongly, some see the current U.S. focus on Iraq as a case of unfinished business and personal resentment. These would be dangerous pillars for any foreign policy.
Given the suffering and loss of life that come with every war, and the chaotic nature of any war's aftermath, we need far stronger reasons to justify an invasion of Iraq.
President Bush has wisely brought the case against Saddam to the United Nations. That assembly has not always distinguished itself for character or moral courage, and some of the nations who listened so politely to the president's recent address have themselves supported terrorist violence. Nonetheless, for our own sake, the sake of the Iraqi people and the sake of world peace, we need to involve the international community in any action against Saddam Hussein. We cannot act alone. Too much is at stake. This is a moment for restraint.
Starting a war is easy. Bringing it to a just and successful conclusion is a much more difficult matter. We need to remember that in the weeks ahead.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., is the archbishop of Denver.