Politics & Policy

The Winning of a Just War

Europe and the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the sixth of a series first published in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. The first can be read here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth here.

Dear Carlo Rinaldo:

According to your recent e-mail, Rinaldo, still another of Italy’s best respected theologians has attacked the American effort in Iraq as being mostly motivated by an unquenchable thirst for oil. He also says there is no real threat against the U.S. posed by Saddam Hussein. He fears dreadful results in the region. He sees too many bombings of civilians, even though precision bombs are used. He especially resents the failure of the U.S. to obtain the support of the United Nations Security Council. For all these reasons, he thinks the American war is unjust, immoral, and illegal.

All these arguments seem so manifestly false to me that they force me to look for clues to his inability to see reality straight. What is the source of the bias that distorts his vision?

Of course, I know by experience that many in Europe think as he does. But why? Why do so many Europeans see the world in that unusual and plainly distorted way?

No doubt, Europeans could explain that to me better than I can understand it myself. But it seems to me that Europeans are living in a kind of welfare paradise, which they are not willing to give up. Since 1945, they have by and large been content for the people of the United States to pay the huge expenses of defending them from the Soviet Union and other threats. Meanwhile, they have concentrated on building a prosperous and comfortable life, at a level of popular wealth never known before in the history of Europe.

The Europeans do not wish to spend for military defense. Therefore, they have adopted a new philosophy of peace, reliance on the United Nations and the European Community, and comfort in their own military weakness. By these means, they hope to overcome the heritage of past wars within Europe.

This leaves the United States to deal with the forces of disorder and hatred being spewed out by the doctrine of Wahhabism, nurtured in the bosom of certain Islamic countries. This doctrine teaches terrorism and subversion, along with a national socialist philosophy of social organization. It has inspired the Baath party of Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ruling party in Sudan, the madrassas of Pakistan and above all Saudi Arabia, and others.

The United States of course is not alone in facing the dangers bred by this doctrine. It is working with a shifting ‘coalition of the willing,’ now including some 46 nations, including a majority of those in Europe.

In this respect, Europe and America seem to have exchanged philosophical positions. Europe used to be the Continent more attuned to the evils of history, more hardheaded, less ‘innocent’ in its outlook, more sophisticated and even cynical, whereas the United States appeared to be all too ‘innocent’ and inexperienced, too naive and hopeful.

Now it is the Europeans who seem carried away by illusions of peace and lawfulness and order, whereas the United States is newly disillusioned, hardheaded, clear-eyed, and determined to oppose the evil, disorder, and danger that keeps advancing against the civilized world.

Whatever the drifting apart of Europe from America, the charges against the war deserve to be met head on.

(1) The Coalition has already declared that the oil of Iraq will be placed in trust for the people of Iraq, preserved intact by the valor and quick action of their liberators. It will not be seized by the Americans or any other foreign power. (If the United States thirsted for Iraqi oil, it could have seized it in 1991 at the time of the first Iraq world. We are not that sort of power. European nations should know that from their own experience with Americans after 1945. We do not conduct ourselves as conquerors. We did request enough land to bury our dead.)

(2) The threat to the United States and Europe hidden in Iraq lies in small bottles and tiny vials of chemical and biological substances that, if released by a skillful terrorist in the right conditions, could bring about the horrible death of thousands — as in a subway train or a skyscraper or a hotel air conditioning system. The raid on the al Qaeda camp in northern Iraq at the end of March was bitterly contested, but ended with the capture of many boxes of files and computers and clear evidence of the creation of Ricin and other deadly chemical agents.

(3) As the people of Iraq lose their fear of Saddam and his death squads, they are more and more speaking up about the tortures they have endured for the last 25 years. Many of them cheer the arrival of Coalition forces. Arabs of the Middle East saw the tumultuous welcome given by the Afghans to their liberators, and they will watch developments in a free Iraq closely. The leading Shia Muslim clerics have warmly welcomed the Coalition troops, and extended help in identifying their former Baath-party oppressors.

(4) The Coalition has gone to unprecedented lengths to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. They have been uncommonly low, even if one accepts the preposterously inflated figures put out by the Iraqi information office. When hostilities have ended, a true accounting will be rendered. This will include evidence of the civilians killed through deliberate Iraqi actions. It will be seen that there were no civilian deaths ever deliberately committed by the Coalition, and that extraordinary care was taken to keep unintended deaths and injuries as low as humanly possible, even when Coalition forces were put at risk to do so.

(5) There have been scores of military actions since the founding of the United Nations. Only two or three have been submitted for approval by the Security Council. A threatened Russian veto blocked U.N. approval for the humanitarian intervention in Kosovo. The French did not seek such approval for their intervention in the Ivory Coast, nor did Russia for its war in Chechnya.

The massacre in Rwanda failed to move the Security Council. In short, the actions or inactions of the Security Council are no full measure of either morality or legality, and have never been so.

The United States has led a mighty coalition of nearly 50 nations in a just and morally necessary war, whose humanitarian role in liberating a great people from the barbarity of a cruel dictator will become ever clearer as more and more of Saddam’s victims are heard from in coming days.

Many who early opposed the war will come to see that it was, in fact, of great moral worth. It will come to be seen as extraordinarily important, too, for its good political effects in the future development of the Middle East, and in the increasing pressure put upon international terrorists, as they are driven from one base of operations after another.

— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.


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