The National Catholic Review
'In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.' -- John McCain

In my last column I wrote an open letter to Senator Barack Obama. It seemed to serve as a Rorschach test for readers—ranging from people who thought I was promoting Obama to those who thought I was fixated on abortion. Among readers who sympathized with my quandary, one correspondent recommended that I write such a letter to you. Here it is.

“A lot of Democrats will vote for McCain.” So goes an advertisement on your behalf featuring a disillusioned Hillary Clinton voter. But there are also many other Democrats who would like to vote for you but are still on the fence—not because they were for Senator Clinton, but because they have other worries.

As I noted in my letter to Obama, Catholics are not a lock-step army of voters. Some are die-hard Democrats, some die-hard Republicans. Others, like me, grew up in families committed to one party but have also voted for both Republican and Democratic presidential nominees or have voted independent or by write-in. Many of us who are committed to the intrinsic value of human life have profound problems with Obama’s position on abortion, but also have profound problems with one of your positions. It is not an abortion problem—although you may want to rethink your conflicting statements that human rights begin “at conception,” and that embryonic stem cell research should be approved and funded.

Your problem is a war problem. One may hold the position that there are just wars, but this must be evidenced and argued. You still maintain that the invasion of Iraq was right and just and have intimated that you would invade Iran. You may say it was humor, when in April of 2007, you sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann.” You may tell us to “lighten up.” But war is nothing to lighten up about. This is especially true at a time when The Jerusalem Post’s online edition of Sept. 1 runs the headline, “U.S. to Strike Iran in Coming Weeks,” based on Dutch intelligence calling off its infiltration and sabotage operations in Iran.

How can we “lighten up,” when we consider the Iraq invasion and what it has brought about: the death of more than 4,000 American combatants, with the accompanying devastation to their families, parents and children; 30,000 wounded, many of them fated to a lifetime of rehabilitation, the countless thousands with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the 150,000 Iraqis who are now refugees; the 43,000 to one million Iraqi lives lost. (The range of the death estimate is so wide and wild because we do not know how to count or catalogue them, whether we consult the Iraqi Health Ministry report to the United Nations, the Opinion Research Business poll or the Lancet Study of June 2006. Even the Iraq Body Count figure of 80,000 civilian deaths due to coalition or insurgency military action, sectarian violence and criminal acts warns us that “many deaths will likely go unreported.”) The war brought all this on.

Pope John Paul II was prophetic when in his January 2003 address to Vatican diplomats, he called the war a “defeat for humanity,” especially in light of the “consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.”

Was the war one of “last resort” or one of “choice”? Was the war justified by solid evidence or by cooked intelligence? Was there disproportionate suffering inflicted on the innocent? Can you answer these questions? And are you able to refute Russia’s appeal to our invasion of Iraq as a justification for their invasion of Georgia? Your scolding words “In the 21st century, nations do not invade nations” are belied by the Iraq invasion. And now you are ready to bomb Iran?

There are many Catholics who have these questions, despite their admiration for you as a man of honor, your courage as a prisoner of war, your sense of decency and your admission of failure. Moreover, they appreciate your compassionate stance on illegal immigrants, your once high moral stand on torture, your willingness to collaborate with the opposing party—some of the very reasons many Republicans opposed your nomination.

Seven months ago, I wrote that I could vote for either you or Obama; and it is still that way. The situation is unchanged, except for the fact that you both are now the nominees of the major parties. Just as I would vote for Obama if he showed any curiosity and questioning of his abortion policies, so I would vote for you if you showed any reservations about your willingness to fight wars of choice.

In the matters of human life and death, you and your opponent have the shared opportunity to pose a profound question for yourselves and for the nation you would lead. It is a question that could rise from our shared humanity, but Christians might put it this way: How are we to treat the least of our brothers and sisters, whether they are unborn, undocumented or citizens of a country we are set to invade? A Roman Catholic bishop has strikingly stated that Catholics who vote for abortion-rights politicians will have to explain themselves to aborted fetuses in the afterlife. He also reportedly applied the image to the victims of war and torture. Will we be able to face the refugee, the imprisoned, the maimed, and the dead of war and say, “Yes, it was worth it. I willed and wanted it”?

Read Douglas W. Kmiecs response to Father Kavanaughs open letter to Barack Obama.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

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Leonard Villa | 9/12/2008 - 12:04pm
The flaw in Fr. Kanvanaugh analysis of the Iraq war, as a question to Senator McCain, is its lack of its main context: the terrorist attack on our country on 9/11. Just like Pearl Harbor produced a sea change in the United States vis a vis the Japanese/Nazi threat so 9/11 produced a similar sea change vis a vis the Islamic threat and their host countries. The U.S. invaded Afaghanastan as well as Iraq because the former country was a host nation to terrorists threatening the U.S. Iraq was invaded because of the generally accepted notion that the dictator Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. This invasion came after futility in enforcing UN resolutions about the same subject. There were other reasons. Hussein was also supporting suicide bombers and paying their families. Abu Masab Al Zarqawi and his associates were operating openly in Baathist Iraq for months before the U.S. invasion in March 2003. According to testimony of Colin Powell: "Zarqawi's activities are not confined to this small corner of northeast Iraq. He traveled to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day. During this stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there. These al Qaeda affiliates, based in Baghdad, now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months." There is then the Iraq-al Quaeda connection. Fr. Kavanaugh does not consider that we are in an era of asymmetric warfare,which I believe, includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent ideological network. Russia's claim that the invasion of Iraq was similar to their invasion of Georgia is ridiculous given the fact that Georgia posed no immediate threat to Russia and was never attacked by that country or by terrorists with a base of operations in that country.
James Naisley | 9/12/2008 - 11:06am
Father,I believe that the war in Iraq meets all the requirements of a just war. We should start a discussion of the war with the thought of innocent people jumping from the World Trade Center. Some say that to invade Iraq was a mistake because there was no a sufficient link to Al Quieda but the war is not with AlQuida, it is with Radical Islam.Saying that the war is with a single segment of Radical Islam is like saying that WWII was with the Nazi storm troopers rather than with Nazi Germany. The principal reason that we have not had a second 9/11, in my judgment, is that we are taking the war to Radical Islam over there rather than waiting here to be attacked. We cannot give Radical Islam a place to organize and plan. My son served with the Marines in Camp Fallujah. He says that the Iraquis are just like us. They want peace;they want their families safe; and they want their children educated. We are helping them do that. Pope John II's role is to lament war. But what would he do if he were responsible for protecting people who are subject to being attacked by terrorists? I have such respect for him that I believe he wouild pick up a club and defend innocent people who are being attacked by a terrorist. I was with the Marines in Korea. No one wants war but the only way to react to a war is to defeat the enemy.John McCain, of all people, abhors war. But what do you do when the safety of Americans is threatened?
Douglas Johnson | 9/12/2008 - 9:22am
Obama is not going to change his abortion policies. Instead, he opens to blur the hard edges with talk about "respect" for opposing viewpoints and a desire for "abortion reduction." But there is ample evidence that Obama is firmly committed to an array of policies that will, if implemented, predictably and substantially increase the number of abortions performed in the U.S. Consider: one current policy that both sides agree actually has substantially reduced the number of abortions performed in the United States was the cutoff of Medicaid funding for abortion on demand. There are various empirical studies that demonstrate that many children have been born, who would otherwise have been aborted, because Medicaid funding of abortion has been denied by the federal Hyde Amendment, and by the comparable policies in effect in the majority of states. By the most conservative estimates, the federal Hyde Amendment alone has saved well over one million lives since it was first enacted in 1976. So then, here is a proven "abortion reduction" policy, so is Obama for it? No, he advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Moreover, in 2007 Obama gave a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in which he promised abortion would be covered in his national health care plan, which means that everybody would be required to pay for elective abortion through taxes, mandatory premiums, or both. I am sure he means it. In addition, Obama is a cosponsor of the "Freedom of Choice Act," and bill that would invalidate virtually all state and federal limitations on abortion. In addition, this bill would make partial-birth abortion legal again, and require tax-funded abortion on demand in both state and federal health programs. The "Freedom of Choice Act" provides that "A government may not . . . discriminate against" abortion "in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.” That doesn't sound like a formula for "abortion reduction," does it? In 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing I'd do." In the Illinois state Senate in 2001-2003, Obama even opposed and ultimately killed legislation to provide protection for babies who are born alive during abortions -- and he has been making demonstrably false claims about the bill ever since, which have been throughly rebutted in an extensively documented White Paper released by National Right to Life on August 28, 2008, which can be read or downloaded here: The bill that Obama killed was virtually identical to a bill that passed Congress without a single dissenting vote in 2002. When we released recently uncovered documents to prove that this was so, Obama himself said that we were "lying." After an investigation, Annenberg's independent concluded: "Obama's claim is wrong . . . The documents from NRLC support the group's claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the 2003 Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act]." Douglas Johnson Legislative Director National Right to Life Committee Washington, D.C. Legfederal - at -


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