A better argument

A better argument

Contrary to the Cardinal Stafford’s comments on a possible war with Iraq that I mentioned on Monday, Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia addresses the issue the way it should be done. It’s not that he gives an endorsement to war—he has some reservations—but he treats it with erudition and seriousness.

    Many of the persecuted Christian minority in the pagan Roman Empire were pacifists, an easier position when pagan armies defended the borders and maintained internal order. The Christian position then was like that of those Australians today who are invariably anti-American, while benefiting from the American peace achieved over the past 60 years. A world without the American superpower would be much more expensive and dangerous for Australians.

Thank you to Archbishop Pell for acknowledging that. Of course, I hope the analogy with the Romans isn’t extended too far—we’re not quite pagan yet and we’re not persecuting Christians. Perhaps that’s what he means. Anti-US Aussies don’t have the excuse that early Christians did in opposing the status quo while benefiting from some of its protections.

The Archbishop also notes that the criteria for just war given in the Catechism may be insufficient.

    In 1994, the Catholic Catechism limited the legitimate use of military force to defence against aggression. This did not deal with the possibility of military intervention against ethnic cleansing, terrorism and guerilla warfare. A significant prudential challenge now comes from the necessity of impeding terrorist networks’ access to weapons of mass destruction produced by rogue states.

In other words, the old criteria were formulated mainly to deal with traditional wars between nation-states, not wars by proxy with rogue states providing support to invisible terrorist networks. In the past, guerilla groups could be treated like criminals, but now even a small band of combatants have access to the most deadly weapons in WMDs.

Now Pell doesn’t say that there is enough evidence yet to put aside the Catechism’s just war criteria in Iraq’s case, but he does say that he expects President Bush to provide it. He also discusses the idea of pre-emption and that it’s a double-edged sword, but here he falls into a common trap. An attack on Iraq would not be a new venture. It’s a continuation of the Gulf War. At the end of the war we had a cessation of hostilities contingent upon Saddam’s unconditional surrender and that he abide by certain requirements. He has not done so, and in fact has aggressively acted against those. In fact, we never stopped the war—US and British planes have been bombing air defense sites in Iraq for the past decade. So a resumption of the war now is just that—a continuation, not a new war.

One thing Pell does that some other cardinals have not done a good job of is paint Saddam for what he really is.

    Hussein is a tyrant to his own people,  an oppressor of the Kurdish minority who has used weapons of mass destruction against Iran and the Kurds. He has defied for 12 years the 1991 UN peace condition that he disarm. It is claimed Hussein pays financial subsidies to Palestinian suicide bombers, and until recently subsidised the Abu Nidal terrorist group. A branch of al-Qaida is fighting a guerilla war against Hussein’s enemies, the Kurds, in northern Iraq. Experts insist there is much more evidence. Enough of this should be made available.

At this point Archbishop Pell says something I disagree with. He states that just war demands a legitimate moral authority and while acknowledging that the UN is imperfect and has all the problems I’ve mentioned before, it is all we have as a means of international due process. I disagree. I think that the US, as an aggrieved party that Iraq has threatened and attacked (during the Gulf War, our fighter planes ever since, and perhaps covertly other ways). I just don’t understand this absolute reliance on an institution that’s only been around for 50-odd years yet has proven to be ineffective at best and the tool of tyrants at worst.

But in the end, I think Archbishop Pell’s statement is the best yet by a Catholic bishop on the possibility of war.

    Even people of good will who agree on the just war criteria will differ sometimes in their practical conclusions. Governments decide, but citizens should debate the morality of their decisions.

Well said, your eminence. I couldn’t agree more.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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