Politics & Policy

Good Intentions Not Enough

Carter should not undermine his sitting successor.

Jimmy Carter has weighed in again against President Bush’s plans to take military action against Iraq. Writing in Sunday’s New York Times he claims that the proposed action fails in five ways to meet the tests of a just war in Christian doctrine and thus must not go forward.

There is no doubt that his article will be well received abroad. He has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, essentially for his opposition to action against Iraq. (The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee admitted that the award was motivated as much by a desire to criticize our sitting president as it was a recognition of President Carter’s past achievements.) It is also likely that Carter’s article will be seen in Baghdad as one more bit of encouragement to Saddam to stick to his present course, a course that is leading to war.

The tenets of the just-war doctrine that Carter mentions begin with the statement that war can only be waged as a last resort. That is hardly controversial. Of course, he goes on to claim that clear alternatives exist. They are so clear to him that he doesn’t outline them except to refer to those measures brought forth (principally by France) in the UN Security Council last week. We all know what they are: more time, more inspectors. However, it is blindingly obvious to everyone — or those whose beliefs or interests don’t prevent them from seeing clearly — that no amount of inspectors will find everything that Saddam wishes to hide. Those who disagree should remember that Hans Blix as chairman of the IAEA totally failed to discover Iraq’s well-developed nuclear weapons program in the 1990s.

It is equally clear where failure to take military action will lead, absent an unlikely change of heart (or change of ruler) in Baghdad: eventual withdrawal of the inspectors, weakening of sanctions, and a renewed and redoubled Iraqi weapons program.

Carter next mentions the need for weapons to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants and suggests that ours won’t. He writes this despite the enormous and well-known efforts that our forces make to keep noncombatants out of harms way. He goes on to cite the requirement that the violence of a war must be proportional to the injury we have suffered. He is on his most solid ground here; but that part of the doctrine has to be adapted to a world where weapons of mass destruction exist, and are likely to be used by an enemy with a well-established pattern of reckless military behavior.

Remarkably, Carter next quotes the tenet that the attackers must have legitimate authority and implies that such authority can only come from the United Nations. The prospect of leaving America’s security and vital national interests in the hands of a body that has failed to enforce any of its resolutions against Iraq for more than a decade should frighten us all.

The final point Carter makes is that the peace that follows war must be a clear improvement over what exists. While we will doubtless face enormous challenges in a post-Saddam Iraq, it is a weak argument indeed to suggest that removing him and his weapons might not be an improvement.

Everyone should respect President Carter’s intentions and the kindness of his heart. But we should never forget that when he was president another nation was able to hold our diplomats in prison with impunity. In dangerous times more is required of our leaders than good intentions and past presidents should not attempt to undermine the position of their sitting successor at a critical moment in international affairs.

Tappen Soper is a writer and political analyst in Lyme, Connecticut.


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