war on Iraq appears to be hours
away. It may be over by the time you read this.
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 isnt 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. Its 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 Bushs moralistic arguments for war with moral contempt.
The war has gone so
badly before it began that its hard to see how it can produce
Bushs 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.
Thats 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 Popes 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
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
dont uphold him as an exemplar of Christian knighthood.
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 werent
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, shouldnt 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. Its being waged for
power (whether or not that power takes the specific form of controlling
the worlds 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
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,
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 presidents son; and he was
considered more electable than other candidates. Even the
neoconservatives who now fawn on him preferred the rabidly pro-Israel
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.
doesnt have: a president who speaks fluent English. But its
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 cliché. 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