Is it Just to Attack Iraq?

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

January 9, 2003

Happy New Year! Alas, as the years spin by the world seems to get no happier, but “we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Rom. VIII, 28). So a soul of good will can use even today’s darkening scene as a stepping-stone towards God. However, let us attempt to cast His light upon a major element of darkness today – the impending attack to be led by the United States on Iraq.

For months now the media in the Western nations have been presenting this attack as being just and inevitable, yet it seems that both the US military and the US people still have grave reservations. The time to think about the justice and wisdom of such an attack is certainly now, before it starts. Once war begins, truth is liable to be one of the first casualties, smothered beneath “My country, right or wrong”. But God is with truth, not with untruths, however “patriotic” they are made to seem. My own country, England, was ruined by Catholics at the Reformation putting in front of God their “patriotic” King or Queen.

Now when it comes to judging of the justice of a war, the Catholic Church has clear principles, which are basically common sense, at least of a sane mind. Then for the application of those principles to a particular situation, she has further guidelines of prudence, which are also common sense. Often, the confusion of our godless times will make unclear the rightness or wrongness of a particular war, but the wrongness of the attack on Iraq seems to be so clear that apparently not even the Pope and American bishops are confused!

Let us begin with the principles of a just war in general. Classically (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae”, IIa-IIae q.40 art. 1), three conditions must be met for a war to be just: it must be declared and waged, firstly, by the lawful authority of a sovereign entity; secondly, for an objectively just cause; and thirdly, with a subjectively right intention (even if the cause is just, I may not fight for it out of greed, cruelty, etc.).

The first condition needs no explanation – the State alone has the right to make war. As to the second condition, there are three motives for a war that make it just: either defence against an unjust attack, or recovery of something unjustly taken, or punishment of an unjust aggression. As to the third condition, since all men are bound to intend to do good and to shun evil, then war may only be waged with the intention of arriving at a just peace, which is the tranquillity of a just order of things – to each his own, to each nation it’s due.

Then if all three conditions are fulfilled for a particular war, the Church teaches that I must consider the war in the light of practical prudence, according to four guidelines, or circumstances, which are still common sense: firstly, the good to be gained by restoring justice must more than outweigh the evils that will come with war (especially modern war!); secondly, it must be as certain as can be that there really was an injustice committed; thirdly, this injustice must have harmed major and not just minor interests of the State injured; and fourthly, war must be the sole means available of re-establishing justice.

Now let us apply these principles and guidelines to the impending attack on Iraq.

First condition: is it the lawful civil authority of the State which is declaring and planning to wage the war? Here in the USA, it would seem so. By the US Constitution, Congress alone has authority to approve a US declaration of war, and it seems that President Bush has obtained that Congressional approval for war upon Iraq. Congressmen may have been under undue pressure, like Pontius Pilate, but like him they made their authoritative decision.

Second condition: is the cause for which the attack on Iraq has been approved either defence against an unjust Iraqi attack, or recovery of something Iraq unjustly took, or punishment of unjust Iraqi aggression? As to the first motive, Iraq has attacked nobody since its attack on Kuwait (green-lighted beforehand by the US ambassador in Baghdad) in 1990. As to the second motive, Iraq has taken nothing since it took Kuwait, which it was forced to restore in the Gulf War of 1991. As to the third motive, there has been no Iraqi aggression since it invaded Kuwait, for which it has been punished by UN sanctions and US and UK bombing ever since. Surely none of the three motives supply just cause for a fresh attack now on Iraq.

Of course things are not always what they appear to be, so what can look like aggression may in fact be self-defence, as when I shoot a criminal just before I know he will shoot me. A classic example is provided by Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of Russia. All our history books say Hitler was the aggressor, but historians are now discovering the evidence that Stalin had amassed on the German-Russian frontier a huge army to invade Europe, only “Barbarossa” beat Stalin to the punch by two weeks. Thus what looked like aggression on Hitler’s part was – at least in this case – self-defence. Similarly it is now being argued that a “pre-emptive strike” against Iraq may look like aggression, but is in fact self-defence, thus fulfilling the second condition of a just war.

However, again common sense says that the danger of being attacked must be real and imminent to turn aggression into self-defence, otherwise I would have to shoot anybody I saw merely carrying a gun! But where is the evidence today that Iraq is about to attack anyone? Mere possession of weapons does not prove imminent intent to use them. Israel possesses a huge store of ABC (atomic, biological, chemical) weapons, and they are a threat to all Arab states. Yet who talks of a “pre-emptive strike” against Israel, or against North Korea, known to possess such weapons? Why then against Iraq?

We come to the third condition for a just war, namely that it must be waged with an upright intention. Alas, everybody knows that the United States and Great Britain in particular are far from disinterested where Iraq’s oil is concerned, from the Bush family and Vice-President Cheney downwards. Oil in the Caspian basin – a large part of our reason for invading Afghanistan – is apparently proving neither so plentiful nor so easy of access as was at first thought, so it is back to the Persian Gulf for our needs, where Iraq’s underground supply is second only to Saudi Arabia’s. After decades and decades of US and GB intervention in the Persian Gulf, let us just say that the uprightness of their intentions in the project of this latest attack in the area is somewhat less than clear.

To sum up, the attack on Iraq meets in the USA the first condition for a just war, but not the second, and very doubtfully the third. This conclusion is only confirmed when we review in addition the four prudential guidelines or circumstances.

Firstly, is it clear that starting a war in the Middle East today will do more good than harm? Nothing is less clear! Attacking Iraq could stir the whole Arab world to fury, and easily start a process leading to World War III. At the least, Arabs now present in the USA could be provoked into acts of that very terrorism which the attack on Iraq is supposed to be preventing!

Second circumstantial consideration: is it certain that Iraq has committed an injustice? As for the Sept. 11 attack on the USA, even assuming that Al-Qaeda was responsible, no evidence has been given us for any connection between that terrorist group and Iraq. As for possessing weapons of mass destruction, why should that be any more of an injustice on Iraq’s part than it is on Israel’s or North Korea’s?

Third circumstance: is it major and not just minor interests of the United States or its allies that have been unjustly harmed or threatened? Certainly the Arabs would take out Israel altogether if they could, which is a major interest for Israel, but is that altogether unjust on the Arabs’ part, when we know how Israel treats Palestinians and how it plans to treat all Iraqis, Iranians and Syrians occupying land marked out for “Greater Israel”? And is Israel’s survival a major interest for the United States? What has Israel done for the United States in the Middle East besides make it more and more hated by all Arabs?

Fourth circumstance: is an attack on Iraq the only means of re-establishing justice? Clearly not! Even assuming – an astonishing assumption when one comes to think of it – that Iraq has no right to possess weapons of which Israel has an abundance, Iraq has so far submitted to a good deal of UN inspection on this point. The alternatives to war are not yet exhausted.

So neither the conditions nor the circumstances of a just war seem to be present. Then why the fervor and the fever and the escalating preparations for war?

An old saying runs, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. The Western nations are going mad, because they have for centuries now turned away from the true God, and from the one true Church which He instituted for their salvation (Mt XXVIII, 18).

By a just punishment of God, it is virtually impossible to name the main human agents of the confusion amongst, for instance, the US people and the US military, because the nations have said to God, “We are more enlightened than You are, so Your enemies are no longer our enemies”. That the ensuing disorientation is indeed deep-down religious is shown by its crusading character. Abandoning God  has left a vacuum in the Western nations’ lives which cries out to be turned into a crusade against any enemy of Liberalism, Iraq being merely the present one.

Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. Throughout the New Year, God will remain perfectly in control. It will be a grace of His if events drive us to trust more and more entirely in Him. Mother of God, pray for us!