Months after Liberation Day in Baghdad, as Robert Royal points out on the opposite page, it is entirely appropriate to revisit the decision to go to war with Iraq.
Before the war, faithful Catholics felt torn between the Pope's position on Iraq and the president's. The Vatican maintained that Iraq had not yet been shown to be an imminent threat, and that we had not exhausted all other means of addressing its weapons of mass destruction. The president assured us that Iraq was an imminent threat, and that war was a last resort.
Catholics took comfort in the fact that what was at stake was a prudential decision, and that the ones responsible for making the decision were the public authorities, not the Vatican. Most Catholics were willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt, in the hope that the administration had access to intelligence that it was unable to share at that time.
Many hoped that subsequent events would vindicate that trust. Our current feeling, however, is not one of trust vindicated.
Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, was a big proponent of war in Iraq. He is surprised that the weapons of mass destruction haven't materialized. “I hope they are found, but I'm very skeptical,” he said on Fox News on June 8. “We have interrogated a lot of people and we haven't found a single person who said he participated in disposing, destroying the stock of weapons of mass destruction. Or in hiding them.”
Kristol added that he still believes that Operation Iraqi Freedom was just and prudent, “But it is fair to say that if we don't find serious weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the case for urgency … is going to be undercut.”
But just-war principles demand that the case be urgent.
How much of an imminent threat to the United States were Iraq's weapons programs? Were they really worth a war? Shouldn't our failure to turn up weapons of mass destruction at least alert us that we didn't exhaust all other means of putting an end to the threat?
Leaving weapons of mass destruction aside, what about the war on Iraq as part of the war on terror? Again, our current feeling is not one of trust vindicated.
All the answers aren't in yet, but even after Baghdad fell, the big victories against Al Qaeda continue to happen in Pakistan, not Iraq. And there is still no evidence of an Iraqi connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In fact, the threat of terrorism, if you go by Homeland Security Alerts, has been made worse by the war decision. It is instructive to remember that our show of force in the first Gulf War did nothing to slow terrorism. The first World Trade Center bombing came shortly after the first Gulf War, and after that, Al Qaeda activity skyrocketed.
American Catholics should learn from the Iraq war that we can trust in the Holy Father's wisdom on war questions. He knows from experience about totalitarian regimes and how to oppose them.
The United States helped free his native Poland from the Nazis, and then we left. Decades of misery followed under the communists, until John Paul helped rescued his own homeland — using peaceful means. Now, the United States has freed Iraq, and we will leave. Who will rule Iraq then?
If we want to bring democracy to Iraq, there's only one way: Iraq first needs the prerequisites for democracy, the belief that God has gifted men with rights, and the knowledge that the natural law is part of God's law.
These are the ideas that the Pope patiently planted in Poland under the eyes of the communists; ideas whose consequences he could reap later.
We can't do that by military force or any other shortcut. Force is likely to raise defenses against these ideas.
In the new Iraq, violence is driving out the only Christians there. The new situation could put an effective end to one of the world's most ancient Christian communities, the very people who could have helped get the real job done.
When the next such decision comes, will we listen to the Pope?
- June 22-28, 2003