There is a just war question Bishops should, but probably won’t address in their forthcoming statement on political responsibility of American voters. Three successive columns by conservative writer George Will serve to illustrate the point that the Bishops will likely miss.
In his November 11th column on LA Times writer Bob Drogan’s book on intelligence source code named “Curveball”, Will relates how misleading information from an Iraqi émigré led us into the Iraq war:
…Curveball did not cause the war; rather, he greased the slide to war by nourishing the certitudes of people whose confidence made them blind to his implausibility.The Bush administration (and every major political candidate with the exception of Ron Paul and the possible exception of Mitt Romney), has indicated that will it consider a preemptive attack against Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the abstract, a preemptive attack is likely to fail to meet several criteria of just war teachings.
Drogin probably overstates his indictment of U.S. officials when he says that the CIA, having failed to "connect the dots" prior to 9/11, "made up the dots" regarding Iraq's WMDs. In the next paragraph his assessment is less sinister -- but more alarming. More alarming because his formulation suggests that the problem was human nature, and there is always a lot of that in government. Calling Curveball a fabricator, Drogin writes, "implied that U.S. intelligence had fallen for a clever hoax. The truth was more disturbing. The defector didn't con the spies so much as they conned themselves."
Drogin's book arrives, serendipitously, as some Washington voices, many of them familiar, are reprising a familiar theme -- Iran's nuclear program is near a fruition that justifies preventive military action….
Just war advocates might, with considerable effort, devise conditions under which a preemptive attack can be reconciled with the just war criteria of last resort. With more effort, they may be able to discern how Presidential authorization of a pre-emptive attack is compatible with the just war criteria that a war cannot be started without legitimate authority. In our system of government, James Madison sought to restrict this authority to the Congress, reasoning that Presidents should have less military power than kings.
Will indirectly addresses the legitimate authority question his November 4th column on the Constitutional War Powers Resolution introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC):
Jones' measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the Founders insisted it be, a "collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or American troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution, and permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.The constitutional issues are complex. Will doesn’t even touch on the just war issues of last resort, legitimate authority, just cause and probability of success. A thorough congressional debate would improve the odds of a correct Presidential assessment on the last two criteria. It would also improve the odds of a sound strategy and victory. (See my 1991 article in Army here.) When the Bishops do discuss their document on faithful citizenship the will properly debate pro-life issues, especially abortion and stem cell research. They will, I predict, make some pro-forma statements on just war and sparing non-combatants. They should also encourage a challenge to political candidates on the just war criteria of last resort and legitimate authority as they might relate to a pre-emptive attack on Iran.
This will be unfortunate. The Bishops might have some influence by cautioning candidates about a preemptive attack. Their impact on abortion, at least as a result of presidential election, will be minimal. As Will wrote on October 28th:
So, the overturning of Roe might not result from a Republican president's alteration of the court's balance. But suppose it did.
Again, so what? Many, perhaps most, Americans, foggy about the workings of their government, think that overturning Roe would make abortion, one of the nation's most common surgical procedures, illegal everywhere. All it actually would do is restore abortion as a practice subject to state regulation. But because Californians are content with current abortion law, their legislature probably would adopt it in state law.
It is not irrational for voters to care deeply about a candidate's stance regarding abortion because that stance is accurately considered an important signifier of the candidate's sensibilities and sympathies, and of his or her notion of sound constitutional reasoning. But regarding abortion itself, what a candidate thinks about abortion rights is not especially important.
Public figures on the Christian right and left are likely to overlook the need to challenge presidential candidates on the issues of last resort and legitimate authority. The candidates will not mention the issues, for fear of sounding soft on terrorism.
In honor of veteran's day, we should pause, give thanks and consider the moral obligation this country owes to its future veterans. The best way to do this is to insist that our elected representatives fully consider the just war criteria before starting a war. Protesting to stop a war is a much lesser, sometimes harmful, service.
Col. Patrick Lang's article in the Jesuit weekly America is a tribute and a reminder of what we owe these brave men and women before the war starts.