In the Iraq War, do Americans have to choose between God and country?
With the exception of some Southern Baptist leaders and mega-church pastors, nearly all U.S. churches are opposing war with Iraq. This has forced many Americans to wonder if loyalty to God and country are now in conflict. Must they choose between the military adventures of their president and the moral voice of their religious leaders?
None but the most naïve opponents of war make any defense of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Most are convinced, as are we, that he is a bloody tyrant who cannot be trusted. The course of the latest U.N. inspections only confirms his duplicity. But the question is not whether Saddam must be disarmed. Rather, the question is, must he be disarmed by war and must he be disarmed now?
The administration and its defenders argue that means short of war have been tried and failed. These alternatives have not fully succeeded, that is sure, and Saddam persists in resisting them when he can; but they have hardly failed. After the Persian Gulf war, U.N. inspectors destroyed all but two of Iraq’s medium-range Scud missiles, all its existing nuclear capacity and significant quantities of its chemical and biological weapons supplies. The U.N. sanctions, which no doubt aggravated the suffering of Iraq’s people enormously, still prevented Saddam’s rearmament and the reactivation of his nuclear program. The U.S. and British no-fly zones have defended the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south from further attack by the Iraqi government. Strengthening the U.N. inspection system and developing a more robust containment strategy can deal with the threat Iraq presents now and for the mid-term future.
The administration’s case has also been greatly undercut by its overall foreign policy. From the beginning, it has rejected the web of existing nonproliferation and arms control regimes. The recently ratified Moscow Treaty on nuclear arms reduction is a shell that fails to reduce the nuclear threat over the next 10 years in any significant way. The White House’s proclamation of a policy of pre-emption and world dominance in its National Security Strategy, its assertion of the right to unilateral action and its affront to the United Nations from the beginning of this crisis all create conditions for greater instability and suspicion of the United States in the world arena. Long-time major alliances are unraveling, while the government seeks a fig-leaf of legitimacy through intimidation of weak nations and checkbook diplomacy with midsized powers like Turkey.
Most of all, the Bush administration has decided to make “a war of choice” against Iraq when far greater threats continue to grow. So far, it has found no way to engage North Korea over the reactivation of its nuclear weapons program, and it has put no public pressure on Pakistan. The latter, to be sure, is an ally in “the war against terror,” but it is also the world’s most dangerous nuclear proliferator. Both North Korea and Iran have received major assistance in their nuclear weapons programs from Pakistan. It is reported that Pakistani intelligence continues to maintain ties with al Qaeda, and with their help Pakistani nuclear scientists have had extended meetings with the terrorist enemy.
In short, war against Iraq would be arrogant, unnecessary and foolish. Arrogant, because the administration has been disdainful of world opinion, discounted the effectiveness and potential of alternative approaches to containment and from the beginning proclaimed its intention to act unilaterally in world affairs. Unnecessary, because containment has worked and can be made to work more effectively. Foolish, because the government either ignores much greater threats from North Korea and Pakistan or, it would seem, has positioned itself for a succession of pre-emptive wars against “the axis of evil.” It is a policy that will take us blindly into a far, far more dangerous world.
Pope John Paul II is to be applauded for the prophetic role he has taken in opposing this war. He is to be thanked for taking diplomatic initiatives to encourage Iraqi disarmament and to forestall the American government’s resort to war. A war with Iraq at this time under these conditions, as the U.S. bishops have said, would be unnecessary and unjust.
But Catholics, other Christians and people of other faiths opposed to the war are not confronted with a choice between God and country. War against Iraq will be a defeat for U.S. security. It will promote, rather than curb, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It has led already to the fraying of alliances. It will intensify anti-Americanism abroad and with it the terrorist threat. It will undermine U.S. leadership in the world for generations to come. Opposing the war is choosing both God and country.