- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

Three Christian ethicists yesterday opposed a "pre-emptive war on Iraq," echoing a statement signed by 100 Christian thinkers who wanted to heat up the Washington debate on "just war" approaches to the Iraqi threat.
"We see and hear no moral account" for the Bush administration's proposal to invade Iraq, the Rev. Shaun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary said at a news conference here.
More open discussion on the just-war tradition, which was formed over centuries of Christian thinking, would help "structure the public argument" over U.S. military actions, said Mr. Casey, who organized the signature drive.
The statement says: "As Christian ethicists, we share a common moral presumption against a pre-emptive war on Iraq by the United States."
Since Mr. Bush delivered his Iraq policy speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, leaders in the more liberal Protestant denominations have opposed an attack. The Catholic Church hierarchy said they found it "difficult to justify extending the war on terrorism to Iraq."
Conservative evangelicals and some Southern Baptist policy leaders have said an invasion is justified to abort the evil intentions of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is said to be near to securing nuclear weapons.
This week, the National Council of Churches mounted a "prayer and faxing" lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to oppose a military operation.
Meanwhile, the White House issued its global geopolitical strategy last Friday, saying the United States would keep world peace by a superior military force and by "acting pre-emptively" so that "freedom, democracy and free enterprise" and centrist Islamic states can prosper.
The new debate, the Christian ethicists said yesterday, is about pre-emptive war, or attacking before being attacked.
While agreeing that Saddam's demise is a moral good, they said a military invasion could produce even greater harm by sparking war in the Middle East or between India and Pakistan, which might copy the pre-emption doctrine.
"Our president is putting this in such simplistic terms: 'We want to get rid of those evil people,'" said the Rev. Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian ethics at Howard Divinity School. "The analysis of evil is very one-sided."
She likened the bombings of churches during the 1960s civil rights clashes to "terrorism" and said America was just as sinful as any other country, so it had no moral right to meddle abroad.
"The war against terrorism [on blacks] was won, but won with weapons of righteousness," she said, referring to civil rights demonstrations.
The Rev. John Langan, a scholar of Catholic social thought at Georgetown University, said a "mature" Christian ethic allows imperfect countries to wage a just war.
"I'm not totally opposed to the principle of pre-emptive war because it can be defensive in intent," he said. But the threat must be "imminent and grave" a threshold that the Iraq problem has not reached.
He said the 100 ethicists' statement was a "flashing yellow light" to the Bush administration, not a condemnation.
All the signers, he said, hope it spurs more reflection on the morality of American actions in a world changed by the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon last year.
Just-war theory is a product of Christian efforts to balance the ideals of love and justice with the need for violence in self-defense, the panelists said.
The theory says a war must have just reasons, such as self-defense or to prevent great destruction, and it must be a last resort with a prospect for success. A just war, moreover, must not produce greater evils than the evil eliminated.
To be just, the war must not kill innocents intentionally and must use a means of force proportional to the threat.
"Every war is debatable," Charles E. Rice, a law professor and Catholic philosopher at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in an interview. "The evaluation of the conditions for a just war is up to the prudential judgment of the public officials responsible for the common good."
In the past year, military and intelligence officials have said U.S. planning always tries to follow just-war criteria. But the war on terrorism could require breaks from those strictures, giving a moral ground for assassination, for example.
The moral rules may have to change in "asymmetrical war," in which a network of combatants attacks a nation-state, some have said. Catholic thinker George Weigel, for example, argues for "developing" just-war theory so it may include pre-emptive violence to stop terrorists or rogue nations.
Mr. Casey, the United Methodist ethicist, said the argument for attacking Iraq fails to be a just cause and a last resort and may produce more harm than it hopes to remedy.
Because the Iraqis "are not amassing on our border," he said, self-defense is not proven and pre-emptive aggression could put "the credibility of our military at stake."
As an alternative to a war, he said, the Iraqi regime could be curbed by weapons inspections, international pressure or a domestic revolt.
An attack on Iraq may produce the "devastating consequences" of an Arab-Israeli war or an Indian attack on Pakistan, making Saddam's tenure a lesser evil. Other political thinkers, however, suggest that Arab rulers quietly want the Iraqi leader's removal and that it would improve prospects for Middle East peace.
Father Langan added that a focus on Iraq will dilute the more just cause of the U.S. war on terrorism, which is more clearly an act of self-defense.
While a pre-emptive attack is not stated clearly in just-war theory, the panelists said, it always has been part of the moral equation.
It was mentioned by Hugo Grotius, a 16th-century Dutch statesman who influenced modern geopolitical law. In the early 1880s, American statesman Daniel Webster urged the United States to attack British troops on the Canadian border before they could invade.
The clearest moral argument of recent times, the panel said, arises from the Six Day War in 1967. In that case, Israel pre-emptively attacked and seized the Sinai Peninsula and West Bank once Egyptian tanks were headed toward Jerusalem.
In Senate testimony yesterday, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who often gives current events talks at his own Georgetown Presbyterian Church, said pre-emptive action has been part of American policy since World War II.
Because the United States has exchanged fire with Iraq consistently since 1990, the word pre-emptive is "close to meaningless," he said.
Ms. Sanders, the Christian ethicist, said that when human life and suffering are at stake, a strictly logical approach to seeing war as a balance sheet of best and worst outcomes can be trumped by an emotional rejection of violence.
"Maybe I'm speaking too much from feeling than from rationality," she said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide