Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"A regard for every person starts the dialogue"

I am working very hard to avoid politics, apologetics, confrontations over the course of this holy season. Nonetheless, the world marches on and, alas, I am still me. So, with a deep diaconal bow to my dear friend Sharon, I want to draw attention to something written by Giorgio Vittadini, whom I admire very much. In addition to bringing Vittadini's remarks to my attention on Cahiers Péguy, Sharon also translated them into English from Italian. Her translation of Giorgio's piece appears in its entirety on the English page of the on-line publication Il Sussidiario, which is a site I urge you look at every day. In the interest of full disclosure and by way of a "plug", from time-to-time the editors of Il Sussidiario pick-up items from this blog and occasionally I write exclusive pieces. My most recent piece was on Egypt.

Getting to the point, here's an excerpt of what Vittadini wrote about the incoherence of the politics of armed intervention over the past two decades. With Vittadini, I ask, is this the best response?

"The excuse is always a humanitarian intervention or the defense of peace in jeopardy. It began with Serbia in the 90s. With the justification of humanitarian intervention, Belgrade and Serbia were indiscriminately bombed, leading to the overthrow of Milosevic.

"Arrested and tried for crimes against humanity at The Hague, he put attorney Carla del Ponte in a corner by demonstrating, in the light of international principles, that the reasons given for the action against his government had no legal basis. At that point, he died mysteriously in prison. Milosevic's was not an exemplary government with regard to the rights of his people, but he was democratically elected and his was not worse than other regimes (such as China) to which countries like France have bowed. Then it came to Saddam Hussein and the two Bush wars: the first for the invasion of Kuwait, the second for alleged possession of nuclear weapons. It turned out that Saddam did not possess any weapons of mass destruction. Only John Paul II and a few others, in fact, were against the war."
Pres. Obama seems to positively embrace incoherence, looking straight into the cameras yesterday in Santiago, Chilé and saying with a straight face that while it is his administration's determination that Col. Qaddafi must relinquish power, getting him to let go of power is not an objective of our military intervention. So, again, what are the implications of our involvement and our determination to get rid Qaddafi, do these decisions, as seemingly incogruent as they are with each other, take into consideration, as Vittadini insists they must, "all the factors at play"?

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis


  1. Probably not. I'll even admit that George W. Bush probably didn't consider all of the factors. But, Saddam made at least one threat to the U.S. and needed to create the perception that he had WMD's so Iran thought he had them and was capable of using them. There were many countries around the world that thought Saddam had WMD's. I'd rather be safe than sorry. What if Bush hadn't taken Saddam's threat seriously and then Saddam did bomb us to smithereens? Then it is a great possibility that many Americans could be dead right now. Plus, Saddam had murdered thousands and thousands of his own people. The U.N. and world community should have stopped him many years ago.

  2. A good book for disabusing people of a lot of cherished yet erroneous perceptions about Iraq pre-invasion is Hans Blix's book Disarming Iraq. The world coummunity did effectively put an end to Iraq' WMD program in the years after the first Gulf War. As Secretary of Defense Gates said recently in a speech at West Point, "any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should," here he quotes Gen. MacArthur, "have his head examined".

    It is also important to note that the Holy See manifestly rejected the Bush Administration's moral argument about pre-emption and Just War. As it turned out, even their basis for acting pre-emptively, like Colin Powell's shameful performance at the U.N., proved to be false.

  3. Pope John Paul II was not speaking for the Catholic Church but for himself personally and yes, we should take his prudential judgement into account but his statement on Iraq was not an infallible Church declaration. We must not treat priests even the Pope as idols for Jesus even spoke out against idolatry. We have an obligation to listen to them when it comes to Faith and morals and those statements are made infallibly - for the Church as a whole- but otherwise statements are considered prudential judgments.

    Hans Blix is the one who royally screwed up the investigations of Saddam so trusting his book is misguided and like trusting a sexual predator to investigate sexual assaults. Gates is just a puppet, he will say whatever Obama or Bush wants. He is a political hack who will say anything for political purposes.

    The U.N. is irrelevant and needs to be disbanded. The U.N. is not by any means peaceful, think oil for food scandal. The U.N. was in bed with Saddam.
    The Holy Father set a high bar, maybe impossible bar to meet, for his qualifications for a just war (not the Church's) because of what he experienced during WWII but for him to not take into account the thousands and thousands of Iraqi civilians that Saddam murdered and could have continued to murder more civilians, and have his army rape and terrorize civilians is mind-boggling.

  4. I rather prefer the eastern understanding that there is no just war. The just war doctrine in eastern thought really makes no sense at all.
    We live in a fallen world. While it is true that we cannot do evil so that good will come of it, there is a tension in which doing nothing is also sometimes material cooperation in evil.

    I admit, this subject is "above my pay grade". However, I think that when it comes to war, weapons of mass destruction (nukes) there simply is no choice in which something can be considered just. I think the just war doctrine is just a way to sugar coat that fact.

    That being said, I am not a pacifist, nor am I a hawk either. To me, there is just no good answer.

    We decide to take military action when it suits our purpose, but then turn a blind eye to atrocities such as Darfour. Only the Lord, in his coming, will be able to straighten out the mess that humanity seems to always put itself into.

  5. JPII, when he publicly spoke against invading Iraq and even condemned it as being unjust was speaking as the pope and in the name of the Church, not as some well-informed guy sharing his opinion who also happened to be the Bishop of Rome. Let's not forget Lumen Gentium:

    "religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking." (par. 25)

    Pope Benedict has repeated the criticisms of JPII with regard to Iraq and any supposed moral justification for pre-emptive a military offensive, but steadfastly insisted, as did JPII, that after the invasion and, in accordance with Just War theory, the U.S. has the responsibility to in effect nation-build in Iraq. A responsibility that the U.S. has not shirked, I might add. You would be hard-pressed to discover a more steadfast supporter of the U.N. than the Holy See.

    Blix screwed nothing up. It was the impatience and intransigence of the Bush Administration that did not allow his team to finish their work, especially once a large concentration of troops deployed to Kuwait, which deployment Blix concedes facilitated the cooperation of the Iraqi gov't on some outstanding issues. Let's not forget that the U.N. had a very effective inspection regime from 1991-99, which accounted for virtually all Iraqi WMDs and delivery means. So, the work Blix needed to accomplish in 2003 was minimal.

    It is important not to let our preconceptions, especially political preconceptions, get in the way of the truth.

    Dan, while Just War theory certainly has its limitations, as do all moral theories, it is a useful criteria for judging when the application of military power might be justified. JPII stated and then reiterated that war is always the result of sin and human failure. It is exactly the incoherence about when the use of force can be morally justified that Vittadini criticizes. Without an objective criteria, like Just War theory, incoherence becomes the name of the game. Besides, the Orthodox Churches are much more passive when it comes to their governments. This is one aspect of Eastern Orthodoxy that I find very troublesome. I mean, look at the Russian Church as an institution during the era of the Soviet Union and even now. I like the Church as a strong, independent institution that is in no way subordinated to the state. This is one of the great strengths of the Catholic Church, which certainly did a lot to free the Russians from communist oppression, especially once JPII became pope and scrapped Paul VI's and Cardinal Casroli's much lauded, but wholly ineffective ostpolitik.

  6. Not having read the book by Blix, I am at a bit of a disadvantage ion what he wrote. Perhaps he clarified much of what events took place. I take no issue with the passage you cited from Lumen Gentium. But I think that the situation is a little more complex. Undoubtedly, the Holy See did not have the intelligence that the administration did. We now know that some of that intelligence was bad, and so JPII was certainly right. However, in 2002 and 2003 no one knew that. 9I’m not being an apologist for the administration, just trying to look at it then without knowing what we now know).

    We know that the war in Iraq was conducted as an enforcement of UN resolution 1441, which was unanimously adopted and stated that Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations stated in UN resolution 687. At that time, the UN required Saddam Hussein to account for known weapons of mass destruction that the UN had knowledge of. The regime in Iraq gave no accounting of these. There were numerous times in which Hans Blix and his inspection team were not allowed access to certain sites. Blix and his team were finally expelled from the country in 1999 by Iraq, further instigating the problem and inability for Blix's team to continue their inspections, which were not complete.

    While many look back and believe that the UN resolution was only a thinly veiled sham orchestrated by the United States in the UN to invade, it still remains that the invasion was sanctioned by the UN based on the evidence of the time to disarm Iraq from the supposed wmd’s that it possessed.

    Now, looking back at it, these wmd’s never materialized. If Blix does contend that he believes that they were all destroyed, then it makes no sense as to why UN 1441 was unanimously adopted since Blix would have testified to the UN that it was his opinion that they no longer existed.

    I’m not trying to take sides here, or justify the acts of the administration in getting this country into a protracted war without a clear exit strategy and plan to re-build the nation. But there are still many issues that remain unanswered in the UN’s action.

    I don’t deny the authority of the Pope to make a moral decision as to the justness of the invasion of Iraq and that his decision takes on great weight to the faithful. However, I do think that there was a lot of information that the Pope did not know at the time that may have made things a little different. We will never know. He turned out to be right. But was it because he knew all of the details so as to make an informed moral decision, or was it because of other factors? I realize that it is not really popular to say this, but I wonder if the Pope was right, but for the wrong reasons, that’s all. That being said, Blix may address some of this in his book, so I realize that I am speaking from not knowing what he wrote.

    I don't think i necissarily disagree with you, Scott. To me, there are still a lot of things that don’t add up. But it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is.

  7. Whatever “intelligence” the Bush Administration claimed to have, again, Powell’s long since discredited performance at the U.N. in the Spring of ’03 and George Tenet’s politically motivated “slam dunk”, has no bearing on JPII’s judgment. Virtually nobody thinks our invasion of Iraq was justified on the basis of evidence for WMDs. JPII’s point was that a pre-emptive strike of the kind proposed by the Bush Administration, even should proof of WMDs be produced, is not justifiable. Even prior to the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein did not pose a direct threat to the United States, as he never possessed ICBMs. Further, there is no indication that Saddam had any serious involvement with Islamist terrorist groups, which was a connection Dick Cheney sought to make early on and backed away from very quickly. Because he had so boxed in the wake of the first Gulf War, Saddam was in no position to pose much of a threat even to his neighbors. In other words, he had been pretty effectively isolated and neutralized.

    At the end of the first Gulf War, Iraq did not have a nuclear capability, as their program was left shambles after the Israeli’s destroyed their French-built reactor at Osiraq in 1981. Blix’s team did manage to get the Iraqis to turn over what documents they had about a nuclear program, which indicated there was certainly no threat. So, they set about to close out the open items leftover from previous inspections. There were known stockpiles of chemical weapons that the Iraqis claimed to have destroyed, but did not document. According to U.N. weapons’ inspectors, this was not unusual. To just give an example of thoroughness of the 1991-99 inspections, all SCUD motors, excepting one, were accounted for by factory stock number. As to your assertion about U.N. Resolution 1441, it makes no sense. Blix was unable to complete his work. He mentioned that when the U.S. build-up began, this gave his team leverage and resulted in improved Iraqi cooperation. Therefore, he was unable to report back to the Security Council, giving them the information they needed to proceed. The Bush Administration had no better source of information on Iraqi capabilities than Blix’s team.

    Cutting to the chase, anybody who still believes that the Iraqis possessed, or even that credible intelligence suggested that they possessed, a credible WMD threat, let alone were capable of posing an imminent threat to the U.S., and sees in that claim a justification to launch an attack, just hasn’t paid attention. JPII possessed all the knowledge he needed to authoritatively condemn the pre-emptive strike against Iraq as being inconsistent with Just War theory, which is why he went public with his judgment. Making his judgment public is why the faithful are bound respect it in accordance with what is set forth in Lumen Gentium. It also bears noting that no group has suffered more as a result of our action than our Christian sisters and brothers, who, frankly, as they do to this day in Syria, had it relatively good in Saddam’s Iraq, as did the ancient Jewish community, which is now virtually extinct.

    JPII and Pope Benedict have been adamant that the U.S. has a responsibility that arises from Just War principles, to stay engaged in Iraq. We can be justly proud that we have not shirked this responsibility, even though it has cost us dearly. Despite the fact that his judgment against the war in Iraq was unequivocal, it is important to note that JPII did not morally condemn those who argued for its justification.

    What the apostolic vicar for Tripoli, Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, said in an interview with Vatican Radio two days ago is interesting: “It is not bombs that can bring us peace". Speaking more forthrightly in a newspaper interview yesterday, went on to say, "Those who say that the military intervention in Libya is for humanitarian ends make me laugh."

  8. I don’t place a lot of rules and stipulations on comments. I am certainly fine with and, in fact, relish the opportunity to engage in conversation and even argument. However, I insist that commentators not post entire articles. If you feel somebody else has captured your POV so perfectly that you can add nothing to it, please just provide a link. Besides, making your own argument forces you to engage in dialogue and to respond to the specific points made by the person(s) with whom you are conversing/arguing. In order to do this it is more than okay to summarize what somebody else wrote, or synthesize several different sources, to bolster your own point(s).

    I find myself wondering who took the time to follow the link I provided in the post and actually read Vittadini’s short article criticizing the U.S. and E.U. for militarily involving ourselves in Libya. I used to run a monthly book at our parish. I stopped because I don’t have enough time, but I used to marvel at the number of people who would show up to discuss the book and readily admit they had not read it. The point I brought up was why are we intervening in Libya, what is the objective we are trying to achieve, with or without military force? If we set forth criteria to determine whether or not to intervene, do we apply it consistently, that is, in all cases and is it justifiable on moral grounds? As a Christian, this means asking, Is it consistent with the Gospel, that is, with revelation, which has two modes of transmission, Scripture and Tradition?

    WMD is a term that gets tossed about quite carelessly. WMD typically refers to biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. There are many countries that have WMD, such as Libya, which possesses chemical weapons. Very few countries possess or even have the means to pursue nuclear weapons. Of course, Iran is persistently and defiantly pursuing nuclear weapons, as is North Korea. We also know that these two countries cooperate with each other; North Korea being good at missile technology and Iran leading the way on enriching uranium in an effort to produce weapons grade material. In addition to possessing such weapons, however, a country also has to have a means of employing them against another country, such as missiles, bomber aircraft, or a blue water navy that projects force. For a country to present an imminent threat, a clear and present danger, as it were, to the U.S. that country would have to both possess such weapons and have a means of using them against us.

    The final report of the Iraq Survey Group held that the country had long since abandoned all WMD programs. However, it also insisted that Saddam planned to restart these programs if and when U.N. sanctions that were put in place after the first Gulf War (undertaken and limited to liberating Kuwait) were lifted. It is notable that Pres. Bush himself, in an interview with ABC News, stated that what he called "the intelligence failure" in Iraq was the biggest regret of his presidency. The Senate Intelligence Committee had a different take on the matter and found in its 2008 report that the Bush Administration had "misrepresented the intelligence and the threat from Iraq" to Congress in making the case for the Joint Resolution to use force. Remember, in 2008 the Republicans still held sway in both Houses of Congress. So, the report cannot be dismissed as a partisan finding. For the sake of charity and in the spirit of this holy season, comments for this post are now closed.

  9. Tereas writes:

    So.... anyways....

    "First, Saddam had used WMD — against Iran in the mid-1980s, and he later used them against his own people, killing more than 5,000 civilians in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988.

    Second, Saddam had possessed WMD, as he acknowledged to the United Nations after his ouster from Kuwait in February 1991. Moreover, until at least the early 1990s, U.S., British, French, German and Israeli intelligence agencies had underestimated his biological and nuclear programs. And all of them — along with the Clinton administration, the U.N. and both supporters and opponents of last year's war — assumed Saddam still had substantial quantities of WMD.

    Third, Saddam had maintained the capability to produce WMD. In 1991, the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) discovered that Iraq possessed a workable design for an implosion-type nuclear weapon though not yet the necessary fissile material. If the material could be obtained elsewhere — from Russia, Pakistan or North Korea — Iraq was believed able to produce a bomb within a year. Iraq retained facilities as well as teams of scientists and engineers. And during the past year, the Iraq Survey Group, the U.S. inspection team, discovered a program to develop long-range missiles. The overall evidence led the team's head, David Kay, to say "Iraq was in clear violation" of a U.N. resolution demanding full accounting of WMD."

    Continued here http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2004-03-17-oppose_x.htm

    End post
    David Kay resigned from the Iraqi Survey Group on 23 January 2004. He stated that Iraq did not have WMD saying, "I think there were stockpiles at the end of the first Gulf War and a combination of U.N. inspectors and unilateral Iraqi action got rid of them". This is exactly what I have been asserting. He testified before Congress on 28 January 2004 and said "[i]t turns out that we were all wrong" and stating "I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed, militarized chemical weapons there." Despite admitting the Iraqis posed no WMD threat to anybody, Kay continued to insist that they posed a danger, to whom and by what means he could not say. Like Bush, he pointed his finger at what he claimed to be inaccurate intelligence about Iraqi WMD prior to the war.

    So, on the basis of admissions by Kay, Bush, and investigatory work of the Iraqi Survey Group and the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think we can safely conclude Iraq did not pose a WMD threat to the U.S. Hence, a war could not be justified on that basis.

    For fun, let's look quickly at the assertions in the editorial

    The horrific gassing of Kurd at Halabja took place in 1988. Several years before the first Gulf War. I am guessing the weapons used were from those stockpiles that existed before the first Gulf War that, as Kay stated, were destroyed either unilaterally by the Iraqis or by U.N. inspectors after that war from 1991-99.

    Blix admits the Iraqis violated 1441 by playing cat and mouse games with regard to allowing his team the access they needed to complete their work. Further, he stated that the forward deployment of U.S. troops led to greater Iraqi cooperation that likely would have resulted in finishing his work, but the Bush Administration got impatient and pulled the trigger without a U.N. resolution by misleading Congress about the threat.

    No fissile material means no nukes and no capability to make a nuke. It is not difficult to obtain schematics for building a nuclear weapon. It is difficult to acquire weapons grade material and probably more difficult to turn even weapons grade material into a warhead.

  10. "Since you so rudely closed the comments and are afraid of having a debate ... Hindsight is 20/20 and there was absolutely NO evidence before we went into Iraq that WMD's were not present in Iraq. Saddam gave the impression to the world that he had WMD's. Gee... I guess all those Iraqis who died under Saddam are so grateful that you side with peace when peace didn't kill them, and peace didn't help to save other Iraqis. We should have entered Iraq sooner and taken out Saddam sooner."

    Well, closing comments was not an act of rudeness, but an attempt at mercy and desire not to be overly contentious. Obviously, I am not afraid of having a debate as I have posted and responded to all previous posts, excepting the two part article you posted in its entirety.

    In any case, if you insist on continuing, it is a fundamental principle of Catholic moral theology that one may never do evil that good may come of it. We don't judge what is moral by a utilitarian calculus. The level of violence in Iraq over the past eight years greatly exceeds, by orders of magnitude, the misery under Saddam. Nobody, least of all me, would argue that Saddam was benevolent, just as I do not argue that Qaddafi is benevolent. Oddly, this brings us full circle back to what I posted, which is a proposal to take seriously the demands of faith in the face of reality... this cannot happen as long as ideology is privileged over faith.

  11. Applying the principles of moral theology to specific circumstances is very difficult for many people. We know that the teaching of the Magesterium of the Church is to take a seat of precedence in discerning the morality of an act. I don't question that at all. However, what I see here, is a challenge to all people, namely, forming one's conscience to a specific circumstance; in this instance here, the morality of the US invading Iraq.

    The question becomes, how does one wade through some of the seeming contradictions that one may feel is present.

    We know that:
    One cannot do evil so that good may come of it (as you said)
    Doing violence to another in armed comabt is grave matter
    Sitting by and doing nothing while a dictator murders his own countrymen can, in certain cases, be seen as material cooperation in evil (especially considering that the UN denounced these actions).

    I see a challenge, as one who is involved in catechesis. If we are to make the case that the actions taken by the United States and the UN coalition were orders of magnitude greater than the misery under Saddam Hussein, I think that it is important to make the case for this. For some, they may not agree with your statement. For example, there are people who have spoken out against the silence of this country to the genocides and mass killings around the world. America does nothing while thousands are murdered, such as Darfour. If America has such military might, shouldn't we be using this to protect the innocent, they say?

    As Catholics, we are constantly to be forming our conscience. I never heard my parish priests give a homily on this. People want this and need this, in my opinion.

    This is not to pick on the clergy or you, Scott. It is just an observation that I have in my own adult ministry. People are looking for compelling reasons and explanations from the Church to form their conscience in many moral issues, just name it.

    The Church does a good job of helping us know what is right and wrong. it needs to help with the "why" better so that people can own that teaching, rather than just accepting it because the Church says so. Society has moved beyond that.
    Just my 2 cents, for what it's worth.

  12. Much of my personal ministry consists of adult formation. I frequently teach on the basics of Catholic morality. In our age the most difficult thing for people to grasp is that Catholic morality is objective. By stating this we do not mean that there is no role for the acting subject. After all, the church does not seek to form us into Vulcans, but human beings fully alive.

    You are absolutely correct, Dan, it is always a challenge, even a provocation, to form our consciences in the concrete circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is up to us, not “the Church” in some fuzzy sense. I can conceive of no greater clericalism than saying this is the responsibility of the clergy. The whys are always there, but it requires time and effort to read and think about them and the humility to ask questions. True humility does not turn us into shrinking violets, but aids the authentic development of our humanity. Again, who took the time read Vittadini's short piece and made an effort to understand what he was trying say?

    Could the clergy do more to facilitate conscience formation? Absolutely. I hope this is something I accomplish to some extent with my blog. It requires a lot of time and energy to deal with the resistance that arises, even among those who are quick to identify themselves as orthodox Catholics and who are often very judgmental about aspects of Church teaching with which they whole-heartedly agree, but who are also quick to carve exemptions for themselves when it comes to aspects with which they struggle, be it matters of war, the death penalty, or the Church's teaching on the rights of workers, as the discussion prompted by this short post amply demonstrates. This shows when the response to a public statement issued by the pope is met with the response that I do not owe "religious submission of mind and will" in that instance. N.B.: Thus far, Pope Benedict, has issued no public statement on the U.S./E.U. military intervention in Libya.

    I don’t think we can place blame, thus excusing ourselves from the responsibility each one of us has to form our consciences correctly. It is difficult because we may not possess the moral competency, that is, the education necessary to do this, which is a function of catechesis. More than that, it means letting go of our lazy preconceptions and moving beyond ideology, allowing ourselves to be shaped and formed by the Gospel, not by Fox News, Green Peace, or Mother's Against Drunk Driving. Opening ourselves in this way requires ascesis, which is what this holy season is about, allowing ourselves to be transformed, to be made more like Christ. It is a spiritual work before it is an intellectual work.

    Morality, as Giussani rightly insists, is precisely where the heart, our affectivity, comes into play. This does not, however, replace our use of reason- “truth is the correspondence between reality and consciousness.”


God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...