A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Votre Sante, John Paul II

My good friend the Anchoress put up a post a few days ago about the Pope's illness. In it she had this to say:

Somehow, I don't think I was the only one who, seeing the wonderful, almost eerie pictures of the dove who would not leave John Paul alone, considered that it might be a sign that this transparently holy man would be soon called to heaven....For all that "the Vatican" (which has its own palsy-walsy relationship with many UN faithful) denounced the war.... the press likes to present JPII through a filter, as they present everyone else. In reading his statements, I do not see the "condemnation of Bush" that the media put out there.

Without prejudice to the media one way or the other, I put the following words into Google News: pope john paul Iraq war. What I found was very interesting, so, to celebrate the Pope's improving health, I thought I'd probe the controversy a little deeper.

It revolved around the "just war" doctrine in reference to #2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which specifies the conditions necessary for legitimate defense. The most prominent Catholic assertion that the Iraqi conflict was a "just war" in self-defense, and not a "preventive war" was made by American theologian Michael Novak. In order not to "filter" him, we can let him speak for himself, just like the Italian press report did on February 11, 2003:

Speaking on "The Doctrine of the Just War and Iraq," Novak said that "a possible U.S. attack against Iraq has nothing to do with a preventive war...The United States is afraid that the arms of mass destruction, chemical and bacteriological -- mustard gas, sarin, botulin, anthrax -- that Saddam Hussein has at his disposal and that he has yet to demonstrate that he has destroyed, can be used by fundamentalist terrorists.....We have seen what is was possible to do with a spoonful of anthrax. Saddam has at his disposal 5,000 liters of anthrax and we know they can be used by terrorist cells around the world....We cannot allow other massacres, such as the one of Sept. 11, to take place. This is why we ask Saddam to destroy his arsenals -- a commitment to disarmament that Saddam assumed in 1991 and that he has still not respected," said Novak, who fielded questions from the audience. In regard to armed intervention, Novak referred to the doctrine of just war, explaining that this war would be a "defensive intervention against a sure threat."

There was no "sure threat". The evidence of a "sure threat", either in the form of Saddam Hussein's involvement with the attacks of 9/11 or his possession of Weapons Of Mass simply wasn't there. It so wasn't there that we have officially stopped even looking for it, and the CIA is in the process of rewriting the record.

If we have not found it yet, it wasn't there when Michael Novak made his groundless assertions. I also went to Michael Novak's site to see whether there was any acknowledgment of this fact and, while he has changed his ground and his guard somewhat, he continues to defend these notions. You can read it at your leisure.

Moreover, Mr. Novak's own words quoted above were a blatant distortion of any sensible meaning of the words "preventive war". Saddam Hussein had not used Weapons of Mass Destruction at the time. He couldn't because he didn't have any, and he self-evidently didn't because such use would have killed people and no one was dead.

Saddam Hussein also had not given Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorists and there was no credible evidence, even then, that he had done so, otherwise the United States would not have been "fearful" that he might. We made war to prevent him from doing so, if that is not "preventive war" then the word "preventive" has no intelligible meaning. If it is preventive war then by the Catechistical standard it is not "just", as Novak himself admits in the quotation above.

Finally, the demand, of either the United States or Michael Novak that the Iraqi government "prove" that they had no WMD's was a demand that was logically impossible for anyone to meet. No one can prove the absence of something. The United Nations inspected, the United Nations found nothing, and no one has found anything since. That is, logically, as good as it gets. That was as good as it gets at the time. The unmeetable and logically impossible demand was a mere excuse for "preventive war". Period.

The most direct refutation of this spurious argument that Iraq was a "just war", did come from one of those "palsy-walsy" Cardinals in the Vatican, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger--who at the time was slated to head the committee starting to revise the Catechism--on on May 2, 2003, immediately after the war officially "ended". Again, so as not to filter him, let's quote him:

There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'

Now the Cardinal was not "condemning Bush", and nobody that I can see in the real controversy was doing so either. He was addressing the issue of "just" verses "preventive" war.

What did His Holiness actually have to say about war at the time? Let's quote him:


War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons and of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity....

War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations....

It will always be possible for a leader who acts in accordance with his convictions to reject situations of injustice or of institutional corruption, or to put an end to them. It is precisely in this, I believe, that we rediscover what is today commonly called "good governance". The material and spiritual well-being of humanity, the protection of the freedom and rights of the human person, selfless public service, closeness to concrete conditions: all of these take precedence over every political project and constitute a moral necessity which in itself is the best guarantee of peace within nations and peace between States.

Now, certainly, there is no direct "condemnation of Bush" here either. I wouldn't expect him to do so, particularly in so politic a forum as addressing his own diplomats. But the Pope does set a standard for leadership that I, and others, think George W. Bush has failed to meet, particularly, "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," as well that business about "closeness to concrete conditions".

So here's to your good health and long life, Your Holiness. May it last at least as long as you can still call the World to account for failure to live up to such principles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would have preferred that Saddam Hussein had remained in power ?

5:47 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

My "preferences" are immaterial to the matter. Which you would see if you were capable of actually following an argument.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Okay, La Shawn. You have your scalp. Wear it proudly. A man’s career destroyed over an offhand remark. "

an offhand remark?!?

Mr. Jordan has a history of this sort of commentary. His admission that he did not report on Saddam Hussein's atrocities so that CNN could maintain a Baghdad bureau should have been sufficient grounds for firing.

With all due respect your (condescention?) is misplaced

10:38 AM  
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2:07 AM  

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