What’s in the water?

What’s in the water?

I’m beginning to wonder what they’re drinking in the water at the Vatican when it comes to Iraq. Today, Cardinal James Stafford of the Pontifical Council for the Laity weighs in. (paid subscription required, free trial available)

If the cardinals of the Vatican had real questions and arguments to make I’d be fine with that. I have no problem with someone asking whether a war with Iraq would be just. I think the Church has a very important role to play in helping us to make sure our actions are moral. But in this case, their statements are the European-intellectual equivalent of “no blood for oil.” It seems Cardinal Stafford is swallowing the straw-man arguments of the Euro-elites completely.

For example, he spends a lot of time criticizing the idea of a “preventive” war, but I can’t recall the Bush administration ever using that term. It’s something that the press has come up with. Bush has consistently said that any use of force would be a reaction to imminent aggression. Does anyone doubt that as soon as Saddam has a nuke he will use on the US or Israel? Legitimate self-defense can include a form of pre-emption. Stafford even admits that if danger is imminent, you can attack. So what’s the difference? And can we not say that the fact that he has already committed genocide against his own people (Kurds and Shiites) means he has already committed an aggressive act against innocents demanding action to prevent further murders?

As for Stafford’s complaint that there is a lack of evidence of Iraqi aggression against the US, we don’t know what evidence there is, because the president has not chosen to share it with us yet. I’m hoping that will be the case on Wednesday. If Bush doesn’t come up with evidence before he orders an attack that’s one thing, but I suspect that he will. You can’t judge whether such a war would be just when you don’t have all the facts before you.

And Stafford’s other point that many countries in the world don’t agree with us … Well, a lot of those countries are brutal dictatorships run without the slightest hint of concern for human dignity or compassion. And the French. But I repeat myself. I don’t understand the current Vatican fetish for the United Nations as the most important human institution. It isn’t a guarantor of international peace; it’s a stage where every tinhorn dictator can dictate terms to the First World nations. How can you take seriously an organization that puts Iraq in charge of the non-proliferation committee and Libya in charge of the human rights committee?

All this pandering to the Euro-elite view of the Iraq situation suggests to me either that the Vatican is trying to get on the good side of the Euroweenies (because of the controversy over the EU constitution potentially excluding any mention of Christianity?) or that many in the curia have the same pseudo-intellectual, ingrained anti-American bias as the elites. I’m not encouraged by either possibility.

A friend mentioned to me that he’s “still at a loss to reconcile the Vatican rhetoric with the Pope’s remark, not many years ago, that the European countries should ‘disarm the aggressor’—meaning Serbia—in the Balkans. How do you propose to ‘disarm’ an aggressive, criminal regime without the use of force?”

One reason for the sympathetic nod toward Saddam may be that the only Catholic churches free from Islamic domination in the Middle East exist in Iraq and Syria, two fiercely secular regimes. What are they willing to sacrifice in order to get unreliable assurances from evil men that Catholics will be free to worship… for now?

The worst part of Stafford’s commentary is that it reads like an essay written by a high school student trying to impress his teacher with references to Hobbes, Kafka, and Camus, but he gets the connections all slightly wrong. For example he says:

    But with the wars in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, in the Middle East, in New York and Washington in 2001, in Afghanistan in 2002 and elsewhere the use of violent power seems on the ascendancy. These wars carry strong echoes from the opening line of Virgil’s Aeneid, “I sing of arms and of the hero…..” The song is becoming familiar and unsettling.

Is he trying to say that war is becoming more popular in the 21st century? Had somebody managed to abolish war in recent years and I didn’t know about it?

And as my friend points out, the translation of Virgil is simply wrong: “Arma virumque cano.” He tells me that someone with a basic grasp of Latin would translate it as: “Of arms and the man I sing.” To use “hero” is to distort the picture for the sake of a cheap effect. And my friend adds: “And I suppose it’s too much to ask whether we should now consider Virgil a bad influence on our children, since he exalts the warrior virtues…”

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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