The National Catholic Review

It didn’t happen in France, when the question recently was what to do about chaos in Côte d’Ivoire. It didn’t happen in the European Union in the 1990’s, when the questions were genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. But it did happen in the United States: for well over a year now, both in government and in the public arena, the question of what to do about Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi regime’s weapons of mass destruction has been debated in terms explicitly drawn from the just war tradition.

Many American religious leaders and religious intellectuals have found the Bush administration’s just war case for the war wanting. I have a different view; I believe that a compelling case can be made for using proportionate and discriminate armed force to disarm Iraq. Because the recent debate has focused on four key war-decision (ad bellum) issues, let me address these here, recognizing that the debate over the war’s actual conduct in bello will continue during and after the campaignand that the prior ad bellum issues will be revisited if the critics’ case against the administration proves to have been based on false readings of the tradition and the contingencies.

A last preliminary note. The just war tradition does not begin, theologically, with a presumption against war. Rather, classic just war thinking begins with moral obligations: the obligation of rightly constituted public authorities to defend the security of those for whom they have assumed responsibility, and the obligation to defend the peace of order in world affairs. That is one reason why St. Thomas Aquinas put his discussion of just war within the Summa Theologiae’s treatise on charity: public authorities are morally obliged to defend the good of concordiathe peace of orderagainst the threat of chaos. That is why Paul Ramsey described just war thinking as a specification of the second great commandment of love of neighboreven as he insisted that the same commandment put limits on what can be done in defense of security, order and peace. In the classic just war tradition, armed force is not intrinsically suspect from a moral point of view. It depends on who is using it, why, for what ends and how. All of this bears directly on the case at hand.

Just Cause

In classic just war thinking, just cause meant response to an aggression underway, recovery of something wrongfully taken or punishment for evil. Contemporary just war thinking tends to limit the meaning of just cause to response to an aggression underway (although calls for humanitarian intervention to prevent or halt genocides may resurrect the classic idea of punishment for evil). So the question is, when do we know that aggression is underway?

This is neither 1776 nor 1812; aggression underway is not a matter of waiting for the redcoats to crest the hill at dawn. Modern weapons technologies, the character of a regime, and the hard lessons of 9/11 must be factored into today’s moral analysis of just cause and into our ideas of imminent danger. Which brings us to Iraq.

When a regime driven by an aggressive fascist ideology has flouted international law for decades, invaded two of its neighbors and used weapons of mass destruction against its foreign and domestic enemies; when that regime routinely uses grotesque forms of torture to maintain its power, diverts money from feeding children to enlarging its military and rigorously controls all political activity so that effective internal resistance to the dictator is impossible; when that kind of a regime expands its stores of chemical and biological weapons and works feverishly to obtain nuclear weapons (defying international legal requirements for its disarmament), tries to gain advanced ballistic missile capability (again in defiance of U.N. demands) and has longstanding links to terrorist organizations (to whom it could transfer weapons of mass destruction)when all of that has gone on, is going on and shows no signs of abating, then it seems plausible to me to assert that aggression is underway, from a just war point of view.

A historical analogy may help. Given the character of the Nazi regime and its extra-legal rearmament, would it not have been plausible to assert that aggression was underway when Germany militarily reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, in defiance of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations? The withdrawal of Unscom weapon inspectors from Iraq in 1998 was this generation’s 1936. Another 1938, a new Munich, is morally intolerable: the world cannot be faced with a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein and an Iraqi regime that had successfully defied all international legal and political attempts to disarm it.

Just cause is satisfied by recognizing that the present Iraqi regime, armed as it is and as it seeks to be, is an aggression underway. The United Nations recognized that in 1991 when it demanded Iraq’s disarmament. To disarm Iraq now, by using proportionate and discriminate armed force if necessary, is to support the minimum conditions of world order and to defend the ideal of a law-governed international community. Thus military intervention to disarm Iraq is not pre-emptive war, nor is it preventive war, nor is it aggression. The war has been underway for 12 years.

Competent Authority

This classic war-decision criterion reflects the tradition’s basic distinction between bellum and duellum. Duellum, dueling, is armed force used for private ends by private individuals. Bellum, war, is armed force used for public ends by public authorities who have a moral obligation to defend security and order. Competent authority once helped moral analysts distinguish between legitimate princes and marauding brigands. For the past several hundred years, competent authority has resided in the nation-state. Over the past year, a new claim has entered the debate: that only the United Nations (which in effect means the Security Council, which in effect means the five veto-holding members of the Security Council) possesses competent authority to authorize the use of armed force.

This claim actually outstrips anything the United Nations claims for itself. The U.N. Charter explicitly recognizes an inalienable right of national self-defense; if you are attacked, you do not need the permission of veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council like France, China or Russia before you can defend yourself. A further, interesting question is raised by the claim that only the Security Council possesses the moral authority to authorize the use of force: How is moral authority (as distinguished from political throw-weight) derived from the acquiescence of states like China, Russia and France, whose foreign policies are conducted on entirely amoral (i.e., Realpolitik) grounds? Here is something for the masters of casuistry to think about.

In the case of Iraq, the debate these past two months came down to one question: How many more final Security Council resolutions were required to satisfy the war-decision criterion of competent authority? When Resolution 1441 was meticulously negotiated last November, everyone understood that the serious consequences to follow Iraq’s material breach of the demand for its disarmament and its active cooperation in that disarmament meant intervention through armed force to enforce disarmament. Is it obtuse to suggest that the unanimous acceptance of 1441, by a Security Council which obviously understood what serious consequences meant, satisfies the criterion of competent authorityand precisely on the grounds advocated by those who argue for the superior competence of the United Nations? No. Absent another final Security Council resolution, would the use of armed force to compel Iraqi disarmament mean that brute force had displaced the rule of law in world affairs? No. It would mean that a coalition of states had decided, on just war grounds, that they had a moral obligation to take measures that the United Nations, as presently configured, found it impossible to takeeven though those measures advance the United Nations’s goals.

Willing ends without concurrently willing the means necessary to achieve them is not morally serious. Functional pacifism cannot help us traverse the hard, stony path from today’s worldin which homicidal ideologies are married to unimaginably lethal weaponsto the world envisioned by John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris: a law-governed international political community.

Finally, the criterion of competent authority involves the location of moral judgment in matters of war and peace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit: the evaluation of these [just war] conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good [No. 2309]. Responsible public authorities make the call. Religious leaders and religious intellectuals must teach the relevant moral principles, insist that they inform public and governmental debate and bring their best prudential judgments to bear in those debates. But the call is made by others.

Proportionality

The most intellectually respectable arguments against military intervention in Iraq have involved weighing desirable outcomes (Saddam’s disarmament) against undesirable possibilities: the Arab street in chaos, further deterioration in the prospects for peace in the Holy Land, terrorists emboldened, a new and dangerous rift in Christian-Muslim relations. These are very serious concerns. Yet scholars and analysts with entirely respectable track records have argued that these things will not happen. The Arab street did not rise up as predicted in 1991; the first Persian Gulf war actually advanced the cause of Middle East peace by leading to the Madrid peace conference; terrorists struck the United States most viciously when Osama bin Laden had convinced himself that Americans were feckless. As for the future of relations between the West and the Arab Islamic world, the brilliant Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shiite, has argued that for all its dangers, the disarming of Iraq, ridding the Iraqi people of a vicious dictatorship and helping to build a new, democratic Iraq could have a galvanizing effect throughout the Middle East by breaking the patterns of corruption and repression we now mistakenly call stability and by challenging what Ajami calls the culture of bellicose self-pity in the Arab Islamic world.

This is, as always in the just war tradition, a judgment call. Reasonable people could differ on it. What should not have been in dispute is that the gravest damage would be done to the cause of world order and international law if Saddam Hussein were permitted to defy demands for his regime’s disarmament. That fact must weigh heavily in any calculus of proportionality.

Last Resort

Last resort is also a matter of prudential judgment, not algebraic certitude. I judge that last resort was reached in the first months of 2003 for at least three reasons:

First, the experience of the late 1990’s demonstrated that containment cannot work in Iraq, given the weaknesses of the U.N. system and the cravenness of those Security Council members who dismantled Unscom for commercial advantage. A prudent statesman could not assume that effective containment could be rebuilt. Moreover, a robust containment regime would have to include economic sanctions; the primary victims of those sanctions, thanks to Saddam’s manipulations and internal control, would be Iraq’s ill, elderly and children. This would have been a morally superior policy option?

Second, the post-Resolution 1441 inspections process seemed almost certainly incapable of succeeding in its task, to compel the disarmament of Iraq. It could not succeed because the regime cooperation necessary to rid Iraq completely of weapons of mass destruction was manifestly not forthcomingand never would be.

Third, last resort was reached because deterrence was not an option after containment’s failure. When Saddam Hussein got control of nuclear weaponsand prudent statecraft understood that, absent disarmament and regime change, the question was when, not ifthe only forces that would be deterred would be the United Nations and the United States. The Iraqi people would then be condemned to more torture, repression, starvation and disease. Our capacity to protect the Kurds and Shiites would be lost. Moreover, no prudent statesman could bet on the long-term likelihood of deterring a man who, at many crucial junctures in the past, had made the wrong decision, with vast suffering as a result.

I took no pleasure in reaching this conclusion. People of decency and good will kept saying, But surely there must be another way? The hard fact of the matter, though, is that the other ways had all been tried and had all failed. It was true that we had been brought to this point both by Saddam’s relentless pursuit of power and by failed Western policies in the past. But the failures of the past could not be excuses for further failures of wit and nerve now. Last resort was upon us in early 2003. A binary choice had been posed: appeasement or military intervention to enforce disarmament. And the appeasement of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime was, in my judgment, both morally loathsome and a profound threat to peace.

From War to Peace

The just war case for the war against the Iraqi regime must conclude with a viable concept of the peace that can be achieved after Saddam Hussein, his government and the Baathist regime are deposed and Iraq’s disarmament of weapons of mass destruction is achieved. As President Bush and his senior counselors made clear, armed intervention in Iraq would not be a matter of butcher and bolt (as Britain used to describe some of its 19th-century third world adventures). Disarmament and regime change must, and will, be followed by a concerted effort to rebuild Iraqto empower its educated and hard-working people to regain control of their own lives and to facilitate the emergence of a modern, post-Baathist Iraq that is good for Iraqis, good for the region and good for the world. In that way, the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force against the Saddam Hussein regimenot against the Iraqi people but against the regime that has brutalized and enslaved them for decadescan contribute to building the peace of order, justice and freedom in a long-suffering country. And in doing so, it can set an example for the entire Middle East.

As Pope John Paul II has said, war is always a defeat for humanity, a defeat for the forces of reason. Permitting Saddam Hussein to realize his ambitions to hegemony in the most volatile region of the world would also be a defeat for humanity and its quest for the peace of order that is composed of freedom and justice. The defeat for humanity that the last resort of armed intervention to enforce Iraq disarmament will represent can be redeemed by the emergence of a new, free and stable Iraqa living refutation of the debilitating notion that Arabs and Muslims are incapable of self-government and unsafe for the world. Thus last resort can and, I pray, will create an opening to new and welcome possibilities for the pursuit of peace, security and freedom.

George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Comments

Robert E. McNulty | 4/26/2003 - 11:30pm
Mr. Dobie is in error in stating that the Bush administration has/had no authority to proceed aginst Saddam Hussein. In accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the War Powers resolution giving the authority was debated in Congress in October 2002. It passed overwhelmingly. Hussein was given five months to recant but refused.

For whatever it's worth, in 1998 President Clinton said that we could not wait and let Hussein acquire weapons of mass destruction. In response, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation act which made regime change there on national policy. Since we did not take the required action then, Hssein assumed we never would.

Bill Walsh | 4/8/2003 - 5:24pm
Thank you, George Weigel, for making the case for using proportionate and discriminate force in Iraq. And, thank you, America, for printing the picture of Cardinal Pio Laghi, Pope John Paul's special envoy shaking hands with President Bush above Weigel's article, "The Just War Case for the War." (America: 3-31-03)

I thought immediately of "Witness to Hope" -- Weigel's authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II. Anyone who has read the biography knows that few men have demonstrated that they know the Holy Father and his thinking as well as Weigel.

The article, itself, is a clear and brilliant moral justification of President Bush's position.

Weigel demonstrates that he knows the post 9-11 real world. He recognizes the dangers that the nexus of weapons of mass destruction possessed by rogue states or terrorists represent.

Paul Gifford | 3/27/2003 - 9:13pm
I found your article most interesting but it didn't answer my concerns for modern situations. The "Just War" theories were developed when nations went to war for very selfish reasons. At the end of the 20th century we saw the rise of ethnic wars, and nations who do not treat their populations with justice. Most people agree Iraq is a dangerous nation. It is ruled by a group who care little for the well being of their citizens, have gone to war with their neighbors, have used chemical and biological weapons on their neighbors and their own citizens, and if left alone would again threaten the peace of their neighbors. The question is how do we deal with this type of nation short of war. And there are many other such nations, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, to name a few. Arguing whether nor not the war is just is like the Pharasees criticizing Jesus for healing on the saboth, and not doing anything is counter to Jesus' exhoratation to help your neighbor. If we are to deal with these countries without war we need to deal with them before they become trecherous. Unfortunately, we are more often like the Priest and Levite in the story of the "Good Samaritan" we walk by and make believe we don't see the problem. If we are to avoid war we need to develop methods and institutions that target unjust governments and bring international pressure to bear on them. The French have been an embarassment. They did nothing for 12 years, then want to let diplomacy work. If we don't deal with these countries using non-violent pressure, then we must step back and let the military solve the diplomatic problem. Thanks for listening and God bless you,

David Philippart | 3/25/2003 - 3:43pm
Hogwash!

Deacon Robert Killoren | 3/23/2003 - 6:53pm
Was there ever any doubt that George Bush was going to lead the U.S. into war with Iraq? Was there any doubt that his diplomatic efforts were anything but a ploy to recruit a broader coalition and not a serious attempt to reach a peaceful solution? Was there any doubt that George Weigel would develop a just war theory to support the favorite son of the right wing?

George Weigel's tortuous logic has all the elegance of a second year philosphy student who is given a conclusion and then has to reverse engineer a rationale for it. It is and has been clear that he simply supports Bush's policy on a war with Iraq and will come up with a justification, no matter how many times it takes.

At first he tried to develop a theory that he proclaimed on NPR to justify a pre-emptive action. Then, when that one failed to hold water, he comes up with this new idea that a war with Iraq is just a continuation of the last Gulf War, which of course was justified.

Is this surprising? No. But what is surprising is that such JP-II devotees as George Weigel would have the gumption to goes against the philosophical and moral objections of our Holy Father? It seems clear that he feels a little more affinity to his President than to his Pope.

Rev. Steven Dunn | 4/1/2003 - 2:14am
I find George Weigel's case for the war in Iraq thoroughly unconvincing. Clearly, the snubbing of the United Nations and the international community--including some of our best allies--has not only aggravated anti-American sentiment, but more tragically, has destroyed a more sensible mechanism to promote change in Iraq without the needless destruction of innocent life.

While no thinking person would support or defend the regieme of Saddam Hussein, diplomatic means, with broad international support, should have been given further support, with war as a last resort and only with international support. In addition to costing many American and Iraqi lives, my fear is that the unilateral actions of the Bush administration will only exacerbate terrorism and divisions in the world.

I find it ironic that a man who so strongly supports the current pope can so easily dismiss his strong anti-war stance on this issue. While civil authorities "make the call," should not the interpretation of the Just War theory by truly competent ecclesial and theological authorities receive higher regard than politically motivated actions?

Robert J. Dobie | 3/31/2003 - 12:19pm
On reading George Weigel's article, "The Just Case for War," I could not hold back my astonishment when I read these words,
"When a regime driven by an aggressive fascist ideology has flouted international law for decades, invaded two of its neighbors and used weapons of mass destruction against its foreign... enemies; when that regimne routinely uses grotesque forms of torture to maintain its power, diverts money from feeding children to enlarging its military and rigorously controls all political activity so that effective internal resistance to the dictator is impossible, when THAT kind of regime expands its stores of chemical and biological weapons... when all of THAT has gone on, is going on and shows no signs of abating, then its seems plausible to me to assert that aggression is underway, from a just war point of view."
Weigel will forgive me, I'm sure, if I happened to think that the regime he was describing was not Saddam Hussein's but that of Bush (only the US has a much longer history of invading countries for its own interests). He has furnished an admirable argument for just war - but one against the Bush "regime" in the United States.

The fact is that the Bush administration has no legitimate authority, moral or otherwise to wage this war. What the Weigel's casuistry is in effect arguing for is the proposition that might makes right: the Bush adminstration's right to wage a "preventive war" derives solely from his power to do so, and not from any demonstrable threat or the reckless gamble of potentially postive consequences (unlikely in any case) that may come from it.

What Weigel does not understand, but Simone Weil did in her essay, "The Iliad, Poem of Force," is that force by its very nature makes into a dumb thing not just its victim but its bearer even more so. From the standpoint of the Gospel, the strength of God is revealed in our weakness and suffering, not in our strength or power. And by the standard of the Gospel, it is literally impossible for the US to weild its unprecedented power with either wisdom or justice.

Mark Mossa, S.J. | 3/27/2003 - 10:52pm
I have read with interest many of George Weigel's recent defenses of the current war with Iraq, including the most recent in America magazine. While articulate and reasoned, I believe his reasoning suffers from several significant handicaps. The first is the confusion of conservative politics and moral reasoning. One can't help but suspect that Weigel first makes his conclusions on political grounds, and only then turns to Church teaching for support.

Secondly, Weigel's argument fails to sufficiently take into account recent Catholic social teaching (especially that of John Paul II whose mind he purportedly knows so well), where there is indeed a stronger presumption against violence precisely because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, I believe that, while I wish it were true, Weigel is somewhat naive in presuming the good intentions of our government and in claiming for it a certain moral high ground which makes war not only acceptable, but our duty. Pope John Paul II is no slouch when it comes to just war reasoning, and is less affected by American political agendas. We should listen to him.

Richard Rood | 3/22/2003 - 2:52pm
Had the Bush administration's presentations been as logical and compelling as this writers, there might have been no dissensions and arguments among the "allies" over the United States present actions in Iraq.

Robert E. McNulty | 4/26/2003 - 11:30pm
Mr. Dobie is in error in stating that the Bush administration has/had no authority to proceed aginst Saddam Hussein. In accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the War Powers resolution giving the authority was debated in Congress in October 2002. It passed overwhelmingly. Hussein was given five months to recant but refused.

For whatever it's worth, in 1998 President Clinton said that we could not wait and let Hussein acquire weapons of mass destruction. In response, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation act which made regime change there on national policy. Since we did not take the required action then, Hssein assumed we never would.

Bill Walsh | 4/8/2003 - 5:24pm
Thank you, George Weigel, for making the case for using proportionate and discriminate force in Iraq. And, thank you, America, for printing the picture of Cardinal Pio Laghi, Pope John Paul's special envoy shaking hands with President Bush above Weigel's article, "The Just War Case for the War." (America: 3-31-03)

I thought immediately of "Witness to Hope" -- Weigel's authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II. Anyone who has read the biography knows that few men have demonstrated that they know the Holy Father and his thinking as well as Weigel.

The article, itself, is a clear and brilliant moral justification of President Bush's position.

Weigel demonstrates that he knows the post 9-11 real world. He recognizes the dangers that the nexus of weapons of mass destruction possessed by rogue states or terrorists represent.

Paul Gifford | 3/27/2003 - 9:13pm
I found your article most interesting but it didn't answer my concerns for modern situations. The "Just War" theories were developed when nations went to war for very selfish reasons. At the end of the 20th century we saw the rise of ethnic wars, and nations who do not treat their populations with justice. Most people agree Iraq is a dangerous nation. It is ruled by a group who care little for the well being of their citizens, have gone to war with their neighbors, have used chemical and biological weapons on their neighbors and their own citizens, and if left alone would again threaten the peace of their neighbors. The question is how do we deal with this type of nation short of war. And there are many other such nations, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, to name a few. Arguing whether nor not the war is just is like the Pharasees criticizing Jesus for healing on the saboth, and not doing anything is counter to Jesus' exhoratation to help your neighbor. If we are to deal with these countries without war we need to deal with them before they become trecherous. Unfortunately, we are more often like the Priest and Levite in the story of the "Good Samaritan" we walk by and make believe we don't see the problem. If we are to avoid war we need to develop methods and institutions that target unjust governments and bring international pressure to bear on them. The French have been an embarassment. They did nothing for 12 years, then want to let diplomacy work. If we don't deal with these countries using non-violent pressure, then we must step back and let the military solve the diplomatic problem. Thanks for listening and God bless you,

David Philippart | 3/25/2003 - 3:43pm
Hogwash!

Deacon Robert Killoren | 3/23/2003 - 6:53pm
Was there ever any doubt that George Bush was going to lead the U.S. into war with Iraq? Was there any doubt that his diplomatic efforts were anything but a ploy to recruit a broader coalition and not a serious attempt to reach a peaceful solution? Was there any doubt that George Weigel would develop a just war theory to support the favorite son of the right wing?

George Weigel's tortuous logic has all the elegance of a second year philosphy student who is given a conclusion and then has to reverse engineer a rationale for it. It is and has been clear that he simply supports Bush's policy on a war with Iraq and will come up with a justification, no matter how many times it takes.

At first he tried to develop a theory that he proclaimed on NPR to justify a pre-emptive action. Then, when that one failed to hold water, he comes up with this new idea that a war with Iraq is just a continuation of the last Gulf War, which of course was justified.

Is this surprising? No. But what is surprising is that such JP-II devotees as George Weigel would have the gumption to goes against the philosophical and moral objections of our Holy Father? It seems clear that he feels a little more affinity to his President than to his Pope.

Rev. Steven Dunn | 4/1/2003 - 2:14am
I find George Weigel's case for the war in Iraq thoroughly unconvincing. Clearly, the snubbing of the United Nations and the international community--including some of our best allies--has not only aggravated anti-American sentiment, but more tragically, has destroyed a more sensible mechanism to promote change in Iraq without the needless destruction of innocent life.

While no thinking person would support or defend the regieme of Saddam Hussein, diplomatic means, with broad international support, should have been given further support, with war as a last resort and only with international support. In addition to costing many American and Iraqi lives, my fear is that the unilateral actions of the Bush administration will only exacerbate terrorism and divisions in the world.

I find it ironic that a man who so strongly supports the current pope can so easily dismiss his strong anti-war stance on this issue. While civil authorities "make the call," should not the interpretation of the Just War theory by truly competent ecclesial and theological authorities receive higher regard than politically motivated actions?

Robert J. Dobie | 3/31/2003 - 12:19pm
On reading George Weigel's article, "The Just Case for War," I could not hold back my astonishment when I read these words,
"When a regime driven by an aggressive fascist ideology has flouted international law for decades, invaded two of its neighbors and used weapons of mass destruction against its foreign... enemies; when that regimne routinely uses grotesque forms of torture to maintain its power, diverts money from feeding children to enlarging its military and rigorously controls all political activity so that effective internal resistance to the dictator is impossible, when THAT kind of regime expands its stores of chemical and biological weapons... when all of THAT has gone on, is going on and shows no signs of abating, then its seems plausible to me to assert that aggression is underway, from a just war point of view."
Weigel will forgive me, I'm sure, if I happened to think that the regime he was describing was not Saddam Hussein's but that of Bush (only the US has a much longer history of invading countries for its own interests). He has furnished an admirable argument for just war - but one against the Bush "regime" in the United States.

The fact is that the Bush administration has no legitimate authority, moral or otherwise to wage this war. What the Weigel's casuistry is in effect arguing for is the proposition that might makes right: the Bush adminstration's right to wage a "preventive war" derives solely from his power to do so, and not from any demonstrable threat or the reckless gamble of potentially postive consequences (unlikely in any case) that may come from it.

What Weigel does not understand, but Simone Weil did in her essay, "The Iliad, Poem of Force," is that force by its very nature makes into a dumb thing not just its victim but its bearer even more so. From the standpoint of the Gospel, the strength of God is revealed in our weakness and suffering, not in our strength or power. And by the standard of the Gospel, it is literally impossible for the US to weild its unprecedented power with either wisdom or justice.

Mark Mossa, S.J. | 3/27/2003 - 10:52pm
I have read with interest many of George Weigel's recent defenses of the current war with Iraq, including the most recent in America magazine. While articulate and reasoned, I believe his reasoning suffers from several significant handicaps. The first is the confusion of conservative politics and moral reasoning. One can't help but suspect that Weigel first makes his conclusions on political grounds, and only then turns to Church teaching for support.

Secondly, Weigel's argument fails to sufficiently take into account recent Catholic social teaching (especially that of John Paul II whose mind he purportedly knows so well), where there is indeed a stronger presumption against violence precisely because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, I believe that, while I wish it were true, Weigel is somewhat naive in presuming the good intentions of our government and in claiming for it a certain moral high ground which makes war not only acceptable, but our duty. Pope John Paul II is no slouch when it comes to just war reasoning, and is less affected by American political agendas. We should listen to him.

Richard Rood | 3/22/2003 - 2:52pm
Had the Bush administration's presentations been as logical and compelling as this writers, there might have been no dissensions and arguments among the "allies" over the United States present actions in Iraq.

Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A. | 2/7/2007 - 9:06am
A recent article by George Weigel (3/31) that seeks to “make a case” for military action in Iraq is indeed “wanting,” both in its initial premise and in its portrayal of the Christian tradition.

To assert that the “just war tradition does not ‘begin,’ theologically, with a ‘presumption against war’” appears to take the position of Cicero, whose concern was with an appropriate governmental authority: only a state may wage war. However, even that Roman philosopher sought more to contain the bellicose tendencies of his time than to justify them. To do otherwise today can hardly be praised—or justified. Also, the “use” of St. Thomas Aquinas to justify war, making the good of concordia the presupposition of such an effort, is a distortion of the Christian meaning of charity.

St. Augustine writes: “When Christians deem it necessary to respond with appropriate force to an attack on their country, they should do so with the utmost concern to provide benevolent correction to the wrongdoer and to promote justice and charity in the widest possible political and social contexts” (Augustine, Letter 138, 13-14).

Thomas’s thoughts on what might make a given war “just” depended significantly on Augustine. For both of them, war was a last resort—but not merely from the point of view of “prudential judgment.” That shift of attention from a Christian perspective to mere human judgment may be the most distinctive weakness of the Weigel article. Last resort suggests rather that the overall process is one of seeking peace; thus, every available means was to be used in view of a common good.

When the Vatican issued its statement on March 13—“The one who decides that the peaceful means that International Law makes available have been exhausted, accepts a serious responsibility before God, his own conscience and history”—the papal spokesperson explained that this unusually strong statement was made “because of President Bush’s ‘claim’ that he could ‘decide’ without the United Nations and his assertion of a ‘moral duty’ that concerned his responsibility to his own people.” The common good cannot be the good of only one nation. By placing full attention on the good of one nation the United States has rendered the common good of humanity secondary. Pope John Paul II could hardly let such use of authority pass without challenge.

If the rationale for approving this war is a “judgment call,” the notable absence of any concern for the common good of humanity in this article may also be the most telling reason for the rush to war that we have watched aghast. The judgment that the inspections process “seemed almost certainly incapable of succeeding in its task” would be a remarkably tentative basis for the massive display of force that we are witnessing. While the laudable goal of disarming a dictator may be something all could share, elementary philosophy—as well as human experience—has always taught that the end cannot justify the means. Since “the other way” to attain disarmament had barely been tried and its “failure” remains, at best, a matter of conjecture, not fact, the either/or proposition that stymied every other possible avenue can hardly be praiseworthy.

Tom Irish, O.P. | 2/7/2007 - 9:05am
George Weigel in “The Just War Case for the War” (3/31), argues that the war against Iraq is justifiable in light of traditional just war thinking. While I find his reflections on the criteria of just cause, legitimate authority, proportionality and last resort both reasonable and in some places compelling, I am surprised that he says nothing whatever about the criterion of right intention. According to Aquinas (who follows Augustine), “It is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention” in order for a war to be just (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 40, a. 1). This was never an add-on to classic just war reflection, but an indispensable factor. I think Weigel’s case for the justice of the present war is significantly compromised by his decision to omit the question of intention.

It is no doubt true that this criterion is difficult to apply: intentions (as opposed to reasons or pretexts) often go unarticulated, and different people within the government and armed forces of a nation will have different objectives and different motives. Nevertheless, thanks to our democratic institutions and advanced forms of communication, we can know a great deal about what our leaders are thinking and what motivates their decisions. We know, for example, that a number of the prevailing voices in the current administration believe that the United States should exercise unfettered global hegemony in the 21st century. Does the White House’s “National Security Strategy” propose an ethically acceptable approach to international relations, or, like Athens at the close of the 5th century B.C., are we descending into a reckless and dangerous policy of aggrandizement?

Our intellectual culture urges us to be ever suspicious of the intentions of the powerful. When this attitude preempts serious thought and discussion, it departs from rather than contributes to a responsible moral debate. But the dogmatic rancor emanating from Noam Chomsky and others does not excuse someone in Weigel’s position—a theologian who is also a Washington insider—from making a critical assessment of what motivates his fellow neoconservatives, who presently dominate our government and are severely reorienting our relationship to the rest of the world. Without applying some kind of “hermeneutics of suspicion” to current U.S. foreign policy, our appeal to the just war tradition in debating the present conflict will not only be unconvincing, but tendentious and untraditional as well.

Bill Walsh | 2/5/2007 - 9:14am
Thanks to George Weigel for making the case for using proportionate and discriminate force in Iraq (3/31). And, thank you, America, for printing the picture of Cardinal Pio Laghi, Pope John Paul’s special envoy shown shaking hands with President Bush, above Weigel’s article, “The Just War Case for the War.”

I thought immediately of Witness to Hope—Weigel’s authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II. Anyone who has read the biography knows that few men have demonstrated that they know the pope and his thinking as well as Weigel.

The article itself is a clear and brilliant moral justification of President Bush’s position.

Weigel demonstrates that he knows the post-9/11 real world. He recognizes the dangers that the nexus of weapons of mass destruction possessed by rogue states or terrorists represent.

L. B. Hoge | 2/5/2007 - 9:12am
I have never before agreed with George Weigel on anything. I do agree with his rationalization for the current U.S. war in Iraq (3/31).

I have been against the United States entering the conflict with Iraq without more support from the U.N. Security Council, but I now understand there are substantial reasons for doing so. I question whether the Bush administration was as fully and straightforwardly prepared to justify its decision to do so.

Robert Fontana | 2/5/2007 - 9:11am
George Weigel challenges me to rethink my position on the war (3/31). I find myself caught between the logic of his position and that of the pope’s. The war in Iraq in my estimation is an “unwise war,” but I find it difficult to discern whether it is or is not a “just war.” And, as Mr. Weigel writes, is that not a judgment call for competent authorities to make? And is that not why the Vatican’s spokesman has said that one who makes the choice for war “assumes a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and history”?

Mark Mossa, S.J. | 1/31/2007 - 1:50pm
I have read with interest many of George Weigel’s recent defenses of the current war with Iraq, including the most recent in America (3/31). I believe his case, though articulate and reasoned, suffers from several significant handicaps. The first is the confusion of conservative politics and moral reasoning. I suspect that Weigel first makes his conclusions on political grounds, and only then turns to church teaching for support. Second, Weigel’s argument fails to take sufficiently into account recent Catholic social teaching (especially that of Pope John Paul II, whose mind he purportedly knows so well), where there is indeed a stronger presumption against violence precisely because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Finally, I believe that Weigel is somewhat naïve in presuming the good intentions of our government and in claiming for it a certain moral high ground that makes war not only acceptable, but our duty. Pope John Paul II is no slouch when it comes to just war reasoning, and is less affected by American political agendas. We should listen to him.