It dominated the world's attention in 2003. How it will end has yet to be determined. U.S. President George W. Bush urged the invasion and liberation of Iraq as a necessary war — against the opposition of Pope John Paul II, nearly all bishops, most theologians and the leading nations of the world. British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined him with great willpower despite grave political damage at home.

The two leaders warned of weapons of mass destruction; where have these weapons gone? Did we attack too late or too early? They warned about al-Qaida; so far strong ties have not been established. Much has gone well in Iraq — there are new liberties, new opportunities, the brutal tyrant Saddam Hussein was thrown down from his throne and some bishops report life is easier for the Church in Iraq now.

To commemorate Jan. 1, when the Pope delivers his World Day of Peace message, the Register asked several experts to look at the decision to go to war and answer a few questions with the benefit of hindsight: Was it just? Was it prudent? Was it necessary? Did it help secure the peace or end it?

Edited by John Zmirak

A Clear and Present Conjecture

In leading the United States into war in Iraq, I do not believe our government lied — about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein's supposed link to al-Qaida or anything else. Nevertheless, our top people — starting with the president — wanted a war to overthrow Saddam so badly that they put much more weight on the evidence than it could bear.

In some ways I don't blame them. Although I opposed the war, I also took for granted the existence of the weapons of mass destruction. But I reasoned that weapons of mass destruction were Saddam's version of a deterrent and, as such, not a threat unless he was attacked. That made them an argument against war.

Administration officials now defend their decision on the basis of what Saddam might have done at some point in the future if we hadn't moved against him. That way of arguing is much too conjectural when the question is the morality of a war.

Nation A isn't entitled to attack Nation B on the basis of what A thinks B might possibly do somewhere down the line. A “just war” requires a clear, demonstrable, proximate threat. There was none in Iraq. Church people who strenuously defended the morality of going to war should be voicing regrets at having been so self-confidently wrong on that crucial point.

Of course, the war had other objectives, too: overthrowing an evil tyrant and thereby setting the stage for a peaceful, democratic Middle East.

These were and are desirable outcomes. But neither is of the kind recognized in classical just-war theory, although someone might plausibly argue that they ought to be. And a stable, democratic Middle East is nowhere now in sight. Will it arise? Come back in a decade. By then we might know if the war helped or hurt.

Because we were mistaken to go into Iraq, it doesn't follow that we ought to get out. Cutting and running would do immense harm, not least to Iraqis who've chosen to cooperate with us. The United States is morally obliged to try to set things right. How long that will take and at how great a cost in lives and treasure are anybody's guess.

Russell Shaw is a writer and journalist in Washington, D.C.

Augustine and Aquinas Supported Preventative War

The war against terrorism is not solely a philosophical issue for me. My son-in-law, a young man I admire greatly, is a Marine lieutenant who spent several months in Iraq this year and is likely to do so again next year. So like many Americans today, I also have some personal interest in what transpires in the Middle East.

Yet for all the daily risks and continuing debates about going to war, I still believe President Bush made the right decision. Our inability to find weapons of mass destruction to date is troubling. But Iraq seems so systematically cleansed of these devices, which a year ago everyone — including the French, German and other opponents of the war — agreed Saddam Hussein had in large numbers, that for me the failure of the search is like the dog that didn't bark. Something is very fishy, even if the Bush administration might have misused intelligence to make its case.

Saddam was willing to face war, which has led to the demise of thousands of ordinary Iraqis, his two sons, many coalition forces and his very regime. I find it hard to believe he deliberately played with U.N. inspectors for no reason. Someday we might know what those reasons were and where the weapons went.

Just a few weeks ago Tariq Aziz, that good Catholic boy who lied for Saddam in various high posts, revealed to interrogators that Saddam told him to go ahead with developing long-range missiles. Perhaps lying again now to protect himself, Aziz claims he warned Saddam that U.N. sanctions did not permit it. Saddam, he now says, overruled him, arguing that long-range missiles were fine as long as they didn't carry weapons of mass destruction. Oh, and Aziz says, Saddam had been assured by scientists that chemical and biological programs could be quickly reconstituted.

It might be a sad fact that feints and jabs like these led to war, but in the terror climate in which we now exist, we should be clear where the responsibility lies.

The world wants to see the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly in the hands of states with track records of using them, such as Saddam's Iraq. For all the Catholic talk of last resort and the “presumption against war” in recent decades, a fuller reading of the just-war tradition shows that figures such as Augustine, Aquinas and Vitoria allowed for bellum offensivum (offensive war) and preventive action — in limited conditions — to punish, deter and sometimes prevent known malefactors. In fact, they argued such wars might be the sovereign's duty as protector of innocent life.

The Middle East might be for the moment more unstable, but the “stability” of recent decades was rotten and needed strong measures beyond the dialogue and diplomacy that have failed to produce any lasting results in the past.

Dictators around the world now know there could be a sharp price for flouting international agreements, not merely years of windy U.N. Security Council debates over what threatening powers might or might not possess in the way of weapons of mass destruction and what measures might be taken. Developing prohibited weapons now puts you in the crosshairs.

We might wish the global situation were different, and we might wish we had other means available for dealing with it. No good alternatives existed before we liberated Iraq and none have emerged since. The road ahead is still hard and we might fail. But we have tried to produce change on a scale that at least has a chance of meeting the threat.

Robert Royal is president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C.

Ignoring Just-War Teaching

I was a (tentative) supporter of the war in Iraq, because I feared Saddam Hussein might give weapons of mass destruction to a terrorist organization for use on an American city.

These fears were stoked by statements from Vice President Dick Cheney: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” See also former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”

I accepted the administration's absolute certitude that the weapons were there. In a nuclear age, this meant to my mind that the war met the following crucial criterion of just-war teaching: The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain.

But the weapons the administration assured us were there have never been found. And now, weirdly, defenders of the war indignantly deny the administration ever portrayed the threat in Iraq as imminent. Yet these defenders seem to overlook the fact that in deflecting the “imminence” claim, they effectively insist the threat we faced was neither grave nor certain.

Another dictum of just-war teaching: All other means of putting an end to the danger must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. The New York Times reported on Nov. 6 that Iraq tried to cut a deal with the United States before the war to admit all arms inspectors and prove to the United States that no such weapons were present. We ignored the offer. So much for war as last resort.

“Yes,” war supporters say, “but Saddam did violate U.N. Resolution 1441.”

To which I reply: The United Nations itself wanted inspections, not war, to deal with Saddam. If we're invoking the United Nations as the “competent authority” and granting its judgments the force of law, then by what logic do we flout its authority ourselves? And if we can do that, why can't Iraq?

Finally, just-war doctrine says the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. Of course, we can't know the future. But given that most of the Islamic world sees man's relationship with God as that of master and slave — and, unsurprisingly, gives birth to fanatics and despots from Iran to Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to Algeria — the postwar Iraqi chaos is at least as likely to breed a new Islamic theocracy as a constitutional republic.

So I find that for many war supporters just-war criteria don't seem to matter. No, the threat was not grave or certain, as war supporters themselves now insist. Nor was war the last resort. Nor are appeals to the United Nations coherent when they simultaneously invoke and despise its authority.

No, what matters is that we won. We removed a tyrant — and the end justifies the means.

Doesn't it?

What happens when China decides Taiwan is an “imminent threat,” or North Korea decrees that South Koreans must be “liberated?” With international law and just-war principles thrown away, we'll have nothing to answer these situations but naked force. I fear we have cut down all the laws to get at the devil — and we will soon have to face him.

Mark Shea (www.markshea.blogspot.com) is senior content editor for CatholicExchange.com.

Grandiose Goals Gone Sour

“Even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new peace nearer to the heart's desire. … It is not that they love peace less, but that they love their kind of peace more. ….. When [men] go to war, what they want is to impose on their enemies the victor's will and call it peace” (St. Augustine, The City of God).

The Bush administration's foreign-policy team invaded Iraq to impose their “kind of peace” upon the Middle East. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, they expected to accomplish great things: 1) create a model Arab democracy in Iraq its neighbors would emulate; 2) deter any hostile regime from acquiring atomic weapons; 3) ease Israel's terrorism problem by overthrowing a dangerous enemy; and 4) guarantee the United States and its allies a reliable oil supply, allowing us to end our dependence on unstable Saudi Arabia.

Alas, none of these grandiose goals appear near to accomplishment. Baghdad in 2003 is a far cry from Philadelphia in 1787.

Although their land was “the cradle of civilization” 6,000 years ago, post-invasion Iraqis seem little interested in dialoguing about democratic institutions. While genuinely relieved to be rid of Saddam's regime, Iraqis are not gratefully accepting moral and constitutional instruction from us. They respect our firepower but not our way of life.

Iraqi conventional military resistance collapsed in late April 2003. However, the American “victor's will” has not yet brought a better peace. Guerrilla war waged since President Bush officially announced victory May 1 has accounted for more than two-thirds of American troop casualties, now totaling more than 9,000 dead, wounded and medically evacuated. There are enough American troops in Iraq to form a large target for attack but not enough to impose order.

A year ago, Bush's advisers assured him confidently that Iraqis would welcome American and allied troops as liberators. Military victory would “transform the Middle East” by overawing its neighbors with American firepower. Victory over Iraq would make our way of life irresistible to the Arabs. They would then abandon their “backward” Muslim traditions and habits. Our zealous democratic imperialists shrugged off Pope John Paul II's fervent warning that an Iraqi invasion might trigger a war of civilizations between Islamic and Western peoples.

Although our Iraq conquest turned sour, we can thank God that no general war between Islam and the West has yet broken out. Bush's advisers urge him to deepen and widen the war. Democratic opponents and hostile European allies demand he do public penance for sinfully invading Iraq.

Bush should ignore those zealous alternatives and adopt an Augustinian approach. First, recognize that military power by itself cannot transform a country. Second, announce that American troops will withdraw by a fixed date. Third, allow an Iraqi provisional regime under U.N. auspices to assume power. This policy will allow us to salvage “a better peace” for both Iraq and America.

Yes, we removed a dangerous dictator. But Saddam's capture will not render the Iraqi resistance any less lethal or determined. It's time to hand over authority to a U.N. command and pull out.

Christopher M. Gray is a contributing editor of ORBIS, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

The Fruit Is Liberation

Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a “just war”? The vast majority of 25 million liberated Iraqis would say Yes.

Speaking at the United Nations on Dec. 17, Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said: “The United Nations … failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure.”

The Chaldean Catholic bishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, said in November “the fruit [of the war] is, in fact, liberation.”

This war was morally justified for many of the same reasons that compelled President George H.W. Bush to liberate Kuwait in 1991. If that war was morally justifiable, so too was the effort to enforce the terms of its cessation.

For 12 years, the United States and the United Nations waited for Iraq to comply with the cease-fire it had accepted to end the Gulf War in 1991. Without Iraq's compliance, the war was not really over, nor could real stability be achieved — witness the continued brutality toward the people of Iraq, threats to neighboring countries and constant attacks on coalition aircraft.

Iraq was in breach of 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to keep it from becoming a threat. Iraq remained a state sponsor of terrorism (even attempting to assassinate a former U.S. president) and a murderous totalitarian regime.

Last year, President George W. Bush said the United Nations’ viability and credibility were at stake if it failed to enforce the resolutions Saddam Hussein routinely flouted. The moral force of the international community — a vital principle of international order — was at risk. Surely this is a “just cause” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations [is] lasting, grave and certain.”

Opponents to the war assert that Iraq did not present an imminent danger to America. Just-war teaching, however, does not demand that one be in imminent danger before taking action.

The horrible slaughter of Sept. 11, 2001, shows that to wait for a threat to become imminent is to wait too long. Bush made clear that our purpose was to prevent the development of an imminent threat from Iraq.

One might legitimately undertake a whole host of actions, including military ones, to ensure that one's existence is not, in fact, threatened. It is highly irresponsible and immoral to allow conditions to degenerate to the point where one's very survival is imperiled and to take action only then — when it might be too late.

This necessary and just war will prevent the wars that would most likely have resulted from our failure to act — wars spurred on by the perception of our enemies and their terrorist allies that neither the United Nations nor the United States was willing to enforce a morally legitimate international order.

The war addressed a great evil that could not be removed by any other means. The force used was proportionate. The speed and precision with which this war was fought undoubtedly saved countless lives on both sides. The professionalism, courage and compassion of our forces exemplified the conduct of a just war.

With more than 260 mass graves found so far, how could one look an Iraqi in the face and tell him it was “immoral” for the United States and coalition forces to remove Saddam?

Robert R. Reilly served as senior adviser to the Ministry of Information in Iraq and is a former director of the Voice of America.