The National Catholic Review
The Editors

The United States went to war in Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction and depose Saddam Hussein. No weapons have been found; Saddam is under arrest. The time has come to declare “mission accomplished” and announce a deadline for bringing the troops home. The administration has made a mess of its Iraq campaign, and it will be difficult and costly to disengage, but disengage we must. The nation must not be allowed to sink any deeper into the military and moral quagmire that is Iraq. There are no longer any good options available. An orderly exit is the least costly alternative for both the United States and Iraq.

 

The administration is beginning to understand it must prepare for an end to its effort. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other G-8 foreign ministers belonging to the coalition announced on May 14 their governments’ willingness to withdraw if the temporary Iraqi government scheduled to take office June 30 requests it. In and outside government, withdrawal is now openly discussed. Even many commentators on the right are now declaring the war a mistake. George Will wrote, “This administration cannot be trusted to govern, if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.” David Brooks concluded succinctly, “For us to win, we must lose.”

With the help of the international community, everything should be done to institute an elected Iraqi government and to strengthen it so it can reduce chaos and secure the peace. To do so, as the administration has begun to recognize, more U.S. troops will be needed for the short term. But to regain the support of moderate Iraqis and the cooperation of the international community, the inevitable end of U.S. dominance must be apparent to all. A clear exit strategy must be formulated, including inclusion of a U.S. troop contingent under U.N. command and naming a firm date for U.S. withdrawal.

Military authorities themselves say that we are winning tactically but losing strategically. Our troops were never properly trained to occupy, police or carry on nation-building in a hostile environment. The very idea of nation-building was ridiculed by the neoconservatives who are now attempting it.

Meanwhile, the prisoner-abuse scandal continues to expand. It has widened to include other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, a secret C.I.A. prison system, covert kidnapings, “renditions” (handing prisoners over to cooperative third-country intelligence officials) and secret prisons outside the military chain of command. Suspicion has inevitably reached up the chain of command to touch General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez.

Neither courts-martial nor resignations can restore faith in America’s good intentions. Only an orderly and timely withdrawal can rescue any hope of establishing a stable, self-governing Iraq, preventing an endless, ever worsening war and limiting the spread of Islamist terrorism. The world, especially Iraq, is less safe now than it was before the war. An Iraqi government will have a difficult time holding down the forces the war has unchained. Without the provocative U.S. military presence, however, Iraqi officials will have a better chance of checking Islamic militancy and terrorism. Neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqi people ought to be made to pay any more for the tragic mistakes of this administration.

Others may contend that withdrawal is irresponsible. We, however, propose withdrawal in the spirit of responsibility. A force capable of maintaining order until an Iraqi government can provide security is clearly necessary, and the United States, having brought about this chaotic situation, is under obligation to provide financial and logistical support for such an international effort. But the United States does not possess the capacity to bring about orderly change unilaterally by military force. As much as we may want to think the U.S. military presence is indispensable to establishing stability for Iraq, that very presence has become an obstacle to peace. Without the capacity to establish stable order in Iraq, the responsible course for the United States is to withdraw and to assist others to make the peace that eludes us.

 

At some point, there must be a reckoning. The errors made in the justification, planning and execution of the Iraq war are of horrendous proportions. The men and women responsible for this delusional “war of choice” must be held accountable. In time the nation, including members of both parties in Congress who supported the administration’s war, must recognize its responsibility for this unjust war. No more blood should be shed to preserve face for a neoconservative ideology that has exploited the emotions evoked by Sept. 11 in order to pursue a prior ideological goal. Unable to impose a peace of our design, there is no honorable course but to withdraw with all due speed.

Comments

Henry Littleton | 6/17/2004 - 1:58pm
Dear Fr. Lorenzoni,

We are all God’s children, and what we do for the least of them we do for God. I do not believe that logic trumps virtue, morality, and the Holy Scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/17/2004 - 12:28pm
Henry Littleton quotes the catechism correctly. Logically, its the people of Iraq who would have been morally justified to use military force against the army of Saddam Ussain.

Henry Littleton | 6/15/2004 - 2:50pm
One of the conditions our catechism lists for legitimate defense by military force is, “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” I believe it a fact that the damage inflicted on the citizens of Iraq by the army of Saddam Hussein was indeed lasting, grave and certain. So the moral question countries of good will must answer is: do we allow the evils to continue, or do we take up arms and risk our lives for the lives and well being of our brethren.

Many years down the road, I believe, theologians will look back on the wars of our generations and equate many of them with the evils of slavery. In turn, there will be those wars where countries gave of themselves with the sole intention of creating an environment where virtue could prosper. And for those countries that stood by and professed concern, but refused to make the ultimate sacrifice, will in time find they too lack the environment for virtue to prosper.

virginia thomas | 5/30/2004 - 5:42pm
In regard to the editorial, "End Game," I can't help but wonder if the editor thinks the USA involvement and consequent capture of Sadam, giving the Sheites some power over their lives, was worse than living in constant fear of an immoral tyrant who thought nothing of torture, murder and the abuse of women and children. We have been accused of many of the same actions but have not excused them or feel righteous about having men and women who are responsible for them. I pray for a lasting peace, however, in the middle-east that may not be possible for years. Having lived in a world where stoning, consequences of "bringing shame" to family will bring beheading and the admiration of strength or cunning is an every day event, it will take years of reminding the moslem world of the words of their bible, the Koran, and the joy of living in peace. Could your column have been written because you were allowed years of running a boy's school in Bahgdad?

Jack Kernan | 5/29/2004 - 2:16am
Wow, where have you been? This editorial should have been written long ago.

Much of it's content has been known for some time. Most of the press, for fear of appearing "unpariotic," has been silent far too long.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/18/2004 - 12:33pm
Your heart is in the right place, Harry, and you words reflect beautifully the Christian ideal that informs your thinking. We do need more people like you on our troubled planet.

But while we live here on earth, with all the problems (health, poverty, homelessness, etc.) which beset every nation on earth (including ours!), it ill behooves our government to go out ALONE, declare war, even if morally justifiable (without the consent and help of the UN...) against every evil dictator that oppresses his people in Africa, in Asia, in South America...

Communist Vietnam was evil, but everyone now agrees (after 50,000+ dead Americans and 3,000,000+ dead Vietnamese...) that that foreign adventure of ours, well-intentioned though it might have been, was ill-advised...

I admire your sentiments and your ideals, Harry. Keep me in your prayers.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/17/2004 - 6:07pm
Long overdue, your frank editorial echoes the more diplomatically worded but unmistakable Vatican line.

I've just returned from Europe. Twenty minutes with Cardinal Pio Laghi last May were sufficient to convince me that he will read your editorial with approval. Every one of Laghi's dire predictions to our president during their private meeting at the request of Pope John Paul II one month before his ill-advised rush to war is being proved to have been correct: no doubt, America's formidable war machines would make quick work of Hussein's inferior defenses, but unmanageable human problems would quickly follow, with no foreseeable solutions.

I've been a priest now fifty-five years, with four years at the Vatican, and easy as it may be to be judged "Cicero pro domo sua", I do wish someone had impressed our president with the generally admitted fact that the Vatican is the world's greatest listening post: the Papal Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates throughout the world, their national and local networks of bishops and parishes reporting through them to Rome, enable the Vatican to keep a firm hand on the world's pulse with better and far more realiable intelligence, and in the language of each region, than many of our highly paid intelligence agencies whose information has been repeatedly proven embarrassingly wrong and misleading.

Diplomats do not often share the content of their private conversations with heads of state, but Cardinal Laghi recounted in detail his meeting March 2003 with President Bush and other White House officials in a talk October 4 at a conference on "God and the Meeting of Civilizations" at the central Italian monastery of Camaldoli (Arezzo).

Three weeks before the United States launched its offensive against Iraq, Pope John Paul II had sent Laghi to Washington to plead with Bush and his aides the case against the war, but the cardinal said he did not think his arguments were given much weight: "I had the impression that they had already made their decision," he said.

When the president began expounding the reasons for war, the cardinal interrupted him: "I did not come here only to listen, Mr. President, but also to ask you to listen," said Laghi. The president acted almost as if he were divinely inspired, and seemed to truly believe in a war of good against evil. They spoke at length about the consequences of a war quickly won: "Do you realize, Mr. President, what you will unleash inside Iraq by occupying it? The difficulty of the language, the disorder, the conflicts between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds?"

President Bush tried to end the meeting on a positive note: although they disagreed about many points, at least they held common positions on the defense of human life and opposition to human cloning. The cardinal replied that those issues were not the purpose of his mission to Washington.

In deference to the cardinal's diplomatic privacy, all my comments and quotes in this letter refer to matters already in the public domain: I did refrain from citing personal thoughts and opinions not yet publicly shared by the cardinal either in written or in spoken form.

Grace Potts | 6/3/2004 - 5:52pm
AMEN my brother!

I am actually quite a conservative in many ways, but have enjoyed for some time the genuinely "fair and balanced", genuinely Catholic perspective 'America' magazine has to offer on a broad range of issues.

This is the only place that I've read direct, clear, and accurate criticism of the current adminstration that didn't boil down to Republican bashing. There are some very legitimate concerns with this administration; and it is hard to acknowledge or address those concerns when it is clear that the critic has an alternate political agenda.

I expect, and look forward to, 'America's' honest criticism of whatever administration follows the current one. Thank you.

Fr. William Moisant | 6/1/2004 - 1:39am
Thank you for your timely editorial. I support it completely. The struggle of ending this horrible war reminds me of the Vietman war. In the 1970's the country was fixated on body count. We seemed to be waiting until we thought that enough of our soldiers had died. When the American dead reached 50,000+, we abruptly pulled out in complete defeat. I pray that we not wait that long in Iraq. As far as I am concerned, the death of one American son or daughter was not worth the defeat of Saddam Hussein as long as other options remained which they did. Now that over 800 of our children have given their lives in this grisly campaign, I cry enough, enough. I propose the following bumper stucker for every car in America: I SAY "NO!" TO 1,000 AMERICAN DEAD IN IRAQ!
Henry Littleton | 6/17/2004 - 1:58pm
Dear Fr. Lorenzoni,

We are all God’s children, and what we do for the least of them we do for God. I do not believe that logic trumps virtue, morality, and the Holy Scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/17/2004 - 12:28pm
Henry Littleton quotes the catechism correctly. Logically, its the people of Iraq who would have been morally justified to use military force against the army of Saddam Ussain.

Henry Littleton | 6/15/2004 - 2:50pm
One of the conditions our catechism lists for legitimate defense by military force is, “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” I believe it a fact that the damage inflicted on the citizens of Iraq by the army of Saddam Hussein was indeed lasting, grave and certain. So the moral question countries of good will must answer is: do we allow the evils to continue, or do we take up arms and risk our lives for the lives and well being of our brethren.

Many years down the road, I believe, theologians will look back on the wars of our generations and equate many of them with the evils of slavery. In turn, there will be those wars where countries gave of themselves with the sole intention of creating an environment where virtue could prosper. And for those countries that stood by and professed concern, but refused to make the ultimate sacrifice, will in time find they too lack the environment for virtue to prosper.

virginia thomas | 5/30/2004 - 5:42pm
In regard to the editorial, "End Game," I can't help but wonder if the editor thinks the USA involvement and consequent capture of Sadam, giving the Sheites some power over their lives, was worse than living in constant fear of an immoral tyrant who thought nothing of torture, murder and the abuse of women and children. We have been accused of many of the same actions but have not excused them or feel righteous about having men and women who are responsible for them. I pray for a lasting peace, however, in the middle-east that may not be possible for years. Having lived in a world where stoning, consequences of "bringing shame" to family will bring beheading and the admiration of strength or cunning is an every day event, it will take years of reminding the moslem world of the words of their bible, the Koran, and the joy of living in peace. Could your column have been written because you were allowed years of running a boy's school in Bahgdad?

Jack Kernan | 5/29/2004 - 2:16am
Wow, where have you been? This editorial should have been written long ago.

Much of it's content has been known for some time. Most of the press, for fear of appearing "unpariotic," has been silent far too long.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/18/2004 - 12:33pm
Your heart is in the right place, Harry, and you words reflect beautifully the Christian ideal that informs your thinking. We do need more people like you on our troubled planet.

But while we live here on earth, with all the problems (health, poverty, homelessness, etc.) which beset every nation on earth (including ours!), it ill behooves our government to go out ALONE, declare war, even if morally justifiable (without the consent and help of the UN...) against every evil dictator that oppresses his people in Africa, in Asia, in South America...

Communist Vietnam was evil, but everyone now agrees (after 50,000+ dead Americans and 3,000,000+ dead Vietnamese...) that that foreign adventure of ours, well-intentioned though it might have been, was ill-advised...

I admire your sentiments and your ideals, Harry. Keep me in your prayers.

Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B. | 6/17/2004 - 6:07pm
Long overdue, your frank editorial echoes the more diplomatically worded but unmistakable Vatican line.

I've just returned from Europe. Twenty minutes with Cardinal Pio Laghi last May were sufficient to convince me that he will read your editorial with approval. Every one of Laghi's dire predictions to our president during their private meeting at the request of Pope John Paul II one month before his ill-advised rush to war is being proved to have been correct: no doubt, America's formidable war machines would make quick work of Hussein's inferior defenses, but unmanageable human problems would quickly follow, with no foreseeable solutions.

I've been a priest now fifty-five years, with four years at the Vatican, and easy as it may be to be judged "Cicero pro domo sua", I do wish someone had impressed our president with the generally admitted fact that the Vatican is the world's greatest listening post: the Papal Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates throughout the world, their national and local networks of bishops and parishes reporting through them to Rome, enable the Vatican to keep a firm hand on the world's pulse with better and far more realiable intelligence, and in the language of each region, than many of our highly paid intelligence agencies whose information has been repeatedly proven embarrassingly wrong and misleading.

Diplomats do not often share the content of their private conversations with heads of state, but Cardinal Laghi recounted in detail his meeting March 2003 with President Bush and other White House officials in a talk October 4 at a conference on "God and the Meeting of Civilizations" at the central Italian monastery of Camaldoli (Arezzo).

Three weeks before the United States launched its offensive against Iraq, Pope John Paul II had sent Laghi to Washington to plead with Bush and his aides the case against the war, but the cardinal said he did not think his arguments were given much weight: "I had the impression that they had already made their decision," he said.

When the president began expounding the reasons for war, the cardinal interrupted him: "I did not come here only to listen, Mr. President, but also to ask you to listen," said Laghi. The president acted almost as if he were divinely inspired, and seemed to truly believe in a war of good against evil. They spoke at length about the consequences of a war quickly won: "Do you realize, Mr. President, what you will unleash inside Iraq by occupying it? The difficulty of the language, the disorder, the conflicts between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds?"

President Bush tried to end the meeting on a positive note: although they disagreed about many points, at least they held common positions on the defense of human life and opposition to human cloning. The cardinal replied that those issues were not the purpose of his mission to Washington.

In deference to the cardinal's diplomatic privacy, all my comments and quotes in this letter refer to matters already in the public domain: I did refrain from citing personal thoughts and opinions not yet publicly shared by the cardinal either in written or in spoken form.

Grace Potts | 6/3/2004 - 5:52pm
AMEN my brother!

I am actually quite a conservative in many ways, but have enjoyed for some time the genuinely "fair and balanced", genuinely Catholic perspective 'America' magazine has to offer on a broad range of issues.

This is the only place that I've read direct, clear, and accurate criticism of the current adminstration that didn't boil down to Republican bashing. There are some very legitimate concerns with this administration; and it is hard to acknowledge or address those concerns when it is clear that the critic has an alternate political agenda.

I expect, and look forward to, 'America's' honest criticism of whatever administration follows the current one. Thank you.

Fr. William Moisant | 6/1/2004 - 1:39am
Thank you for your timely editorial. I support it completely. The struggle of ending this horrible war reminds me of the Vietman war. In the 1970's the country was fixated on body count. We seemed to be waiting until we thought that enough of our soldiers had died. When the American dead reached 50,000+, we abruptly pulled out in complete defeat. I pray that we not wait that long in Iraq. As far as I am concerned, the death of one American son or daughter was not worth the defeat of Saddam Hussein as long as other options remained which they did. Now that over 800 of our children have given their lives in this grisly campaign, I cry enough, enough. I propose the following bumper stucker for every car in America: I SAY "NO!" TO 1,000 AMERICAN DEAD IN IRAQ!

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