The war in Iraq

In Defense of the American People

On the eve of the outbreak of the war, a conversation about peace and war with David Forte, a law professor at Cleveland State University and a scholar who is greatly heeded by the Bush administration


Some have said that it is “unjust and illegal” to go to war against Saddam Hussein. Do you think they are correct?The first thing we must understand is that the United States is already at war, and has been for a year and a half. Since September 11, 2001, the United States has, through the President and Congress, declared war against international terrorism and those who harbor or support it. The issue was not whether the United States should “go to war,” for we are already at war. The issue is whether we should open another front in this war, or wait until Saddam Hussein opens it against us.
The question becomes one of prudence. Was it wise for the allies to open a front in Italy before invading France? Should the United States have tried to stop the Japanese build up at Guadalcanal before they built a sufficient base to attack further south toward Australia? Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction whose primary use would be against civilians. He has developed them contrary to international law and in violation of his own agreements. He has used them on civilians. He hates the United States. In the midst of a war, is it wise for the United States to wait until an attack sponsored by Saddam against thousands of civilians occurs, or do we disarm him before he can strike?

Even if the question is whether to open a front in an already existing war, would such an act still be just?
The only thing worse than a just war is an unjust peace. Saddam Hussein is responsible for the deaths of nearly two million people, most of them Muslims. He murders those, even of his family, who oppose him. He tortures opponents, and reports say that he enjoys watching the torture. He fancies himself a second Joseph Stalin. A solution that would allow even the possibility of Saddam to wreak ever more horror upon innocent people would be the greatest injustice.
The whole world now realizes that the failure to take forceful action doomed hundreds of thousands of Africans to be slaughtered in Rwanda. Rwanda was an example of an unjust peace. It took force to prevent a further slaughter in Kosovo. Do we wish to doom others by allowing Saddam an escape route?
St Thomas Aquinas counsels that if the sovereign’s sin would do “more harm to the multitude, either spiritually or temporally,” than leaving him alone, then the sovereign should be punished. Saddam Hussein will harm a great multitude. He already has. It is he who is a scandal to the world, in the spiritual sense of the term. He flouts international law, he invades neighbors, he slaughters his own people. Tolerating a man like that when there is the opportunity to remove him from power him would itself be the real scandal.

President Bush continues to declare Saddam Hussein evil. Is that an appropriate way to view the situation?
In the early 1980s, President Reagan embarrassed the entire secular establishment when he termed the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” The secularists were embarrassed because, in their relativism, they had lost any standard by which to term anything as “evil.” But in Eastern Europe, and in Russia, the people knew that the Communist system was evil. And those people had suffered and resisted for decades in their fight against an intolerable evil. Their triumph was a triumph of the human spirit.
Those who cannot see evil cannot see sin, and it is the reality of sin that makes sense out of Christ’s sacrifice, and informs our duty to combat evil. The reason why the American bishops so mishandled the sexual abuse problem is that they treated it as a psychological failing, and not as sin. For sin destroys all that is good. Only when we see sin as sin, and evil as evil, can we have the courage to confront it and defeat it.
That is why President Bush’s stand is spiritually sound. He seeks to disable the evil that would destroy the innocent. Elie Wiesel, who opposes war in almost all circumstances, has declared, “We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq.”

Does Saddam Hussein constitute a threat to the United States?
There can be no doubt about that. He tried to assassinate the first President Bush. He has developed weapons that, if delivered, would destroy tens of thousands of lives. He has invaded two of his neighbors. He revels in the deaths of his enemies. Again, as St Thomas has taught, the first duty of a ruler is to protect the people in their lives and in their religion. Today, we would add that the first duty includes protecting the people’s liberties, for there is no meaningful life, no meaningful faith, without freedom. George W Bush is thoroughly and honestly convinced of the direct threat that Saddam Hussein poses to the people of the United States and to our liberties. It is his moral duty to protect this people. If, because of international opinion, he failed to do so, he would fail in the primary obligation that God has placed upon him. His insistence to protect his people in the face of opposition is an act of moral courage.
It goes further. The President is concerned about the long-term war against regimes that support, foster, or create conditions for the evil of terrorism to grow. He is looking toward the good of the Iraqi people as well as the safety of the American people. He wants them to have an opportunity for safety and for freedom. He wishes to share with them the gift given to us. Let us recall the priest and Levite who passed by the injured man on the road to Jericho. They were obeying the “law” that forbade them to touch what looked like a dead person. But the Samaritan, the non-Jew, the despised heretic, sought only to do good to him who suffered. And, undoubtedly, the Samaritan continued to be despised by those who saw only the “law,” and not the obligations of justice.

Speaking of the law, is American intervention in Iraq legal under international law?
Without question. It is legal because we are already in a war and Saddam Hussein is an ally of our enemies. Beyond that, it is also legal under any number of headings. First, to prevent the allies from continuing the first Gulf War and displacing his regime, Saddam agreed to stringent requirements. He has broken all those promises, and the resumption of the war is now entirely legal under the terms of the armistice. Second, international law provides for self-defense, and an act of self-defense does not need to wait until the enemy strikes first, if we know of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities. Third, the developing rules of humanitarian intervention, especially since the 1990s, allow for one state to intervene with force in another to prevent genocide or other crimes against humanity. Saddam’s armaments have only one object and that object is the mass destruction of innocents.
In addition, some critics of United States policy continue to think of the world as the product of the Westphalian system, invented less than four centuries ago. That system views states as entire sovereigns, with rigid territorial lines, and total control within that territory. The Westphalian system crashed with the Twin Towers. The threats to peace are both above and below the nation state. Under the Westphalian system, sovereignty meant legitimate power over a territory. But that notion of sovereignty is contrary to the Church’s tradition. We have always seen sovereignty as a morally legitimate authority, one that is gained from God, and maintained according to whether it cares for the welfare of its people. George Bush understands the Catholic view of sovereignty much more than many Western diplomats. Saddam Hussein, by his actions, no longer has a rightful claim to be sovereign.

What do you think of the opposition to the war?
The opposition has many faces, much of it a simple and unworthy hatred of America. Others oppose it in good faith, though mistakenly, I believe.
I must say I have no respect for the French and German objections. Their positions are entirely unprincipled. Germany first voiced opposition because Chancellor Schroeder, about to go down in a crushing electoral defeat for his gross mishandling of Germany’s economy, opportunistically seized upon the issue to drum up support from a strong pacifistic strain in the modern German people. French support is even more cynical. Jacques Chirac has long had a personal and financial relationship with Saddam Hussein. In addition, France has nursed its failure to be a great power ever since World War II. Even Charles de Gaulle could not change that fact. It now sees an opportunity to detach the United States from Europe and gain stronger diplomatic leverage in a new Europe. And to do that, it disregards the thousands of Americans who died and are still buried in its soil, Americans who came to save France. And by its actions, France disregards the safety of an ally who has protected it for five decades.
For the others, I think it is a question of memory. There is now a very popular country music song by Darryl Worley called “Have You Forgotten.” He sings about the Twin Towers. But the forgetfulness in the West goes deeper. Has France forgotten what its failure to move into the Rhineland condemned Europe to? Has Germany forgotten what a brutal dictator with poison gas can do? Has the United Nations forgotten what happened to the League of Nations when it refused to confront Japanese aggression in Manchuria?
The United States has not forgotten.

(Interview conducted on March 15th)