(An Internet Exclusive, March 19, 2003)

by Joe Sobran

     At this writing war on Iraq appears to be 
hours away. It may be over by the time you read 

     The Bush administration has been remarkably 
optimistic not only about victory, but about the 
results of victory. Given the incredible military 
might of the United States, victory seems a 
foregone conclusion. The results are another 

     The administration has predicted a whole 
series of benefits to issue from this war. Civilian 
casualties will be few; the Iraqi people will cheer 
and welcome the American conquerors; democracy will 
quickly take root in Iraq, and will spread 
contagiously throughout the region; the 
Palestinians will get their own state; the cost of 
occupation will be modest and at any rate will be 
paid for by conquered Iraqi oil resources; and the 
negative impact on the U.S. economy will be 
minimal. In addition, though this isn't being said 
out loud, George W. Bush will be reelected in 2004.

     In short, everything is bound to go right. It 
had better. Until now the administration has been 
notably maladroit in handling events. It has 
alienated not only friendly governments, but most 
of civilized mankind, with its combination of 
military and diplomatic bullying. NEWSWEEK has just 
run a cover story titled "Why America Scares the 
World." As Fareed Zakaria writes, "While the United 
States has the backing of a dozen or so 
governments, it has the support of a majority of 
the people in only one country in the world, 
Israel. If that is not isolation, the word has no 
meaning." It's easier to buy off a few rulers than 
to bribe the conscience of humanity.

     Not so long ago this was the most admired 
country on earth, in spite of the shrill invective 
of Communist tyrants and Middle Eastern fanatics. 
Today ordinary people around the globe regard the 
United States with fear and loathing. They receive 
Bush's moralistic arguments for war with moral 

     The war has gone so badly before it began that 
it's hard to see how it can produce Bush's rosy 
scenario after it ends. He seems to think that a 
quick victory will quiet all qualms. But nobody 
opposes the war because the United States may lose 
it. Everyone knows the United States is invincible. 
That's the trouble. What it does to Iraq it could 
do to almost any other country, and this may be 
only one of many wars to come.

     A poignant detail: desperate pregnant women in 
Baghdad have been asking doctors for Caesarean 
deliveries, fearing that they may lose their babies 
if they go into labor when the American bombing 
starts. Other pregnant women will be killed, and 
their babies with them.

     Perhaps Catholic hawks, instead of trying to 
change the Pope's mind, should think of war as, 
among other things, a form of abortion. The old 
Pole has seen war first-hand, unlike most of the 
people who are trying to persuade him that blasting 
Iraq meets the criteria of just warfare.

     Bishop John Michael Botean, of the Romanian 
Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio, has just laid it 
on the line. In a carefully reasoned pastoral 
letter sent to all Romanian Catholic churches in 
the United States, he warns that "any direct 
participation and support of this war against the 
people of Iraq is an objectively grave evil, a 
matter of mortal sin." This war, he adds, "does not 
meet even the minimal standards of Catholic just 
war theory." It is "intrinsically and gravely evil 
and therefore absolutely forbidden." There is a 
true Catholic shepherd speaking.

     Modern warfare is like an earthquake. It kills 
indiscriminately. Nobody denies this; at most, the 
advocates of war assure us that civilian casualties 
will be "minimal," without estimating how many that 
might mean. Those who start such a war against 
another country can never be in conformity with the 
principles of just war; but those who defend their 
country against attack may well be fighting justly, 
no matter how doomed their efforts may be.

     Of course the aggressor will usually win, 
because he only starts the war when he calculates 
that the victim is too weak to defeat him. This is 
probably why Bush is so much more eager to attack 
Iraq than, say, North Korea. Even his sycophants 
don't uphold him as an exemplar of Christian 

     Opponents of this war may hope for one small 
consolation. Unlike the first Gulf War, this one 
will probably be well covered by the press, at 
least the international press. In the previous war, 
Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, kept 
American reporters under tight control; not that 
they weren't disposed to cooperate anyway. But this 
time the foreign press will very likely resist 
American censorship and show the civilian carnage 
incident to the U.S. "liberation" of Iraq.

     For all their faults, the news media today 
make it very difficult to sanitize war. A single 
photograph can refute mountains of propaganda. If a 
war is just, why would anyone want to conceal its 
effects anyway? If this is a war for freedom, why 
not allow a free press to cover it? If the United 
States is a democracy, as Bush proudly insists, 
shouldn't the people see just what their government 
is doing in their name?

     This is a war of the powerful, by the 
powerful, for the powerful. It's being waged for 
power (whether or not that power takes the specific 
form of controlling the world's oil supplies) by 
men like Cheney, who believe in power and little 
else. Have these men ever done anything to promote 
democracy in their spare time? I daresay it has 
never been a notable personal passion of theirs.

     Powerful men, as Shakespeare observed, will 
always have their flatterers. As soon as Bush 
declared "war on terror," he suddenly became a 
Great Wartime President, and the neoconservative 
press celebrated him for qualities nobody had ever 
suspected in him before. In a flash he became an 
amalgamation of Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt 
(meant as a compliment, of course).

     Yet during the 2000 campaign his mediocrity 
was treated as a given. He owed his political 
career to the simple fact that he was a president's 
son; and he was considered more "electable" than 
other candidates. Even the neoconservatives who now 
fawn on him preferred the rabidly pro-Israel John 

     Bush's verbal clumsiness is easy to ridicule. 
After watching a recent interview with the 
impressive Jacques Chirac, I reflected that France 
has one thing the U.S. doesn't have: a president 
who speaks fluent English. But it's more serious 
than it may seem. A man who lacks competence in his 
own language is apt to lack any real sense of 
history and tradition.

     Bush is not only devoid of these things, but 
unaware that they are important. He is the sort of 
"practical" politician who wants to make history 
without knowing any. His mind is a tissue of 
cliche. His vaunted "moral clarity" is nothing more 
than shallow propaganda, thin and repetitious. 
(Propaganda is always marked by specious "moral 

     At first Bush seemed to offer relief from the 
moral shabbiness of the Clinton years. But now he 
is reminding us that there is more than one way of 
being a disastrous president.


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