- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Two of the sharpest critics of possible military action against Iraq have been the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope John Paul II has made clear his opposition to a military strike against Iraq, and the head of the U.S. conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory, says his organization "continues to question the moral legitimacy of any pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq." Bishop Gregory adds that "we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force."
According to the catechism of the Catholic Church, war can only be justified under a limited set of circumstances. The catechism states that: "The damage inflicted by the aggressor" must "be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."
Someprominent Catholic lay leaders believe, and we agree, that a war to liberate the Iraqi people from a cruel and vicious dictator like Saddam Hussein is in the best spirit of the catechism. Attempts to get him to change his behavior using economic sanctions, no-fly zones and inspections under pressure from international bodies have proven to be abject failures. And waiting for Saddam to launch a "first strike" (overtly or covertly) against U.S. interests with chemical and/or biological weapons would itself, we submit, "produce evils and disorders graver" than any which would result from a U.S.-led and -initiated military campaign to wipe out his weapons of mass destruction before he has the chance to hit us.
One noted theologian who has been urging the Vatican to rethink its premise that U.S.-led military action against Iraq would be wrong is Michael Novak of the America Enterprise Institute. Mr. Novak says that, were the U.S. to take military action, it would be covered under the traditional Catholic doctrine of self-defense. He notes that Saddam is "an unusually cruel leader who has murdered and tortured his own citizens." Once the Iraqi people are liberated and begin to describe the full extent of his atrocities, Mr. Novak believes, the world will be "stricken" by the fact that the West waited so long to act. "Those who judge the risk is low, and therefore allow Saddam Hussein to remain in power, will bear a horrific responsibility if they guess wrong and acts of destruction do occur," he adds.
According to Mr. Novak, while people can disagree about the threat which Saddam poses, in the end, Catholic moral teaching leaves the decision for responsible public authorities to make: In this case, he says, it's the Bush administration "those closest to the facts, who have access to highly restricted intelligence" who should be making the final call on whether to go to war.
One who takes a similar position is George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Mr. Weigel, who has written a biography of the pope, is an internationally recognized scholar on matters involving the Catholic Church. Pursuant to traditional "just war" theory, Mr. Weigel writes of Iraq that "when a vicious regime … that has no concept of the rule of law and that flagrantly violates its international obligations, works feverishly to obtain and deploy further weapons of mass destruction, a compelling moral case can be made that this is a matter of an 'aggression under way.'" He adds that "there may be instances when it is not only right to 'go first,' but 'going first' may be morally obligatory. Iraq may well pose one of those instances."
And Mr. Weigel cogently argues that there is nothing morally wrong with the United States and its allies forging ahead with action if the Security Council is incapable of acting on its own. Such a step, he says, "promotes the cause of the peace of world order over the long haul."
While we have great respect for the pope and his teachings, we believe that Messrs. Weigel and Novak make a much more cogent and compelling case that U.S.-led international action to disarm Saddam Hussein would constitute a just war in every way.

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