Just wars and rumors of wars.

Author:Biles, Dan
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the editor

Once we have taken a position on a moral issue, we are inclined to defend it to the last. Such is one way of looking at George Weigel's "Just War and Iraq Wars" (April). In his 2003 "Moral Clarity in a Time of War," he based his defense of the war on the position that a country's right to defend itself against attack extends to preemptive measures. That position has been characterized as "opening a Pandora's box" of just-war issues. "There might be a point here," as Peter Sills notes in Your Kingdom Come, "if the evidence of imminent attack was clear and undisputed, but that was not the case at the time, and Weigel's argument sounds like an attempt to give moral justification to a decision already taken on other grounds."

In this latest article, Weigel continues to defend the justness of the war by a series of "What if ..." scenarios had we not gone to war in 2003. As they say in Vegas, "You always win in retrospect." Like all arguments from silence, we will never know. My own opinion at the time was that, though our invasion would certainly be successful militarily, our actions would involve us in a much more difficult situation--creating a new government in Iraq--and would create more terrorists than it would eliminate.

There was a distinct lack of imagination and creative thinking in how to deal with the problem of Saddam and Iraq; I do not believe that the war was the course of last resort or that all other alternatives had been exhausted. Driven by post-September 11 anxieties, our government was committed to war in Iraq at least a year in advance, unable to see issues or solutions in any other terms than black-and-white, either/or thinking.

I am not of the cut-and-run crowd. Weigel is surely right: We cannot simply pull out. That would create a new Cambodia, a bloodbath that would throw the region into chaos. And so we are stuck in the most unenviable of situations--refereeing an Iraqi civil war we helped create.

I came of age at a time when a president from Texas arrogantly and on a pretext took us into a costly foreign war that was badly managed, drained our resources, put our military into a terrible situation, divided the nation, and then left the White House and retired to his ranch in Texas in despair. Now, as I enter my later years, another president from Texas has followed the same course. I regret that I ever trusted the man. Our prayer must be that somehow our nation can persevere to a solution that will create a future of hope for the long-suffering people of Iraq and secure a durable peace in the region.

Pastor Dan Biles

St. Paul Lutheran Church

Spring Grove, Pennsylvania

Much as I admire George Weigel, I found his "Just War and the Iraq Wars" a tad implausible. I suspect that the Iraq War is best understood as an outcome of an intuition: If we can only change some of the players in the region, then democracy and peace might have a chance--an intuition, perhaps even a hope, which I shared. It is difficult, however, to justify this war using any robust ethical criteria.

To his credit, Weigel has made his task harder. By endorsing a ius post bellum third leg, Weigel does concede that the allies are responsible for subsequent events since the invasion. Although the allies are not directly responsible for the sectarian violence, we are responsible for the context that allowed such violence to flourish.

Given all this, I am puzzled how the criteria can be used to justify the war in Iraq as opposed to other potential conflicts. If we toppled the Baathist regime because it was deeply unpleasant, then there are plenty of other unpleasant regimes that we ought to topple. If we toppled the regime because of its potential to acquire nuclear weapons, then the other members of the axis of evil--North Korea and Iran--need attention. If, as Weigel focuses on, we toppled the regime because the allies were enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations, then what about other nations in the world who are in violation of such resolutions? Consistency is the problem. Taken in isolation, one can perhaps find just cause in any particular war.

In addition, given the obligation for a just peace to be realized, the subsequent deterioration--a result, as Weigel admits, of mistakes by the allies--has implications for the ethics of the action. It was the Dominican Eberhard Welty who stressed "the prospect of success" as a criterion for a just war. If we accept that the "prospect of success" includes the creation of a just peace, then we are failing to meet this criterion.

There is a tacit recognition that continued efforts to succeed in the face of overwhelming death and mayhem would be inappropriate. Weigel concedes this when he admits that the allies might move from central Iraq to defend the Kurds (which itself has complex geopolitical implications). Is this really so different from those who argue that, given that we are not succeeding, we should then withdraw? Surely a relocation is to all intents and purposes a withdrawal?

Ian S. Markham

Hartford Seminary

Hartford, Connecticut

George Weigel presumes too much. Beginning with the basics, he dismisses the argument that America's first strike against Iraq was a "war of choice." He repeatedly justifies the war as one "of necessity" to stabilize world order, democracy, and liberty. But from whence derives the authority that designates the United States as supreme arbiter of global order (and "order" by whose definition)? It would seem that the United States has mantled itself with the unabridged right to decide which national governments deserve to exist and which must fall; Weigel and those who agree with him don't acknowledge how and why this assumption of imperial power is dubious if not indefensible.

The sole world superpower that mounts war against another nation halfway around the world on the basis of thin "evidence" (later proved false) diminishes rather than enhances its ability to influence world affairs toward the goal Weigel champions "to create peace." Iraq was not a colluding partner in the September 11 attacks, although American officials implied a connection. Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs. He said so, but the United States called him a liar. The fact is, the ruthless dictator spoke truth and the superpower didn't. Doesn't that matter?

The United States was determined to conquer and occupy a country not an immediate or predominant threat. President Bush and his advisers rushed to invade a second country in the volatile Middle East, even though significant troop strength had already been deployed to occupy Afghanistan. Secretary Rumsfeld may have correctly assessed that a smaller troop contingent than the military recommended could depose Saddam, but, beyond that short-term goal, he and the administration and their supporters did...

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