Iraq, just war & the bishops’ critics.
Peter Steinfels’s “Beliefs” column on Saturday offered a preview of Commonweal‘s April 20 editorial, which will be available on our Web site this afternoon (I’ll bump it here):
For over four years, George Weigel, staunch supporter of President Bush and biographer of Pope John Paul II, has never ceased to insist that the war in Iraq meets all the traditional moral criteria for a just war. And most leaders and thinkers among Mr. Weigel’s fellow Roman Catholics, along with many non-Catholic proponents of just-war thinking, have never ceased to disagree.
Now there is a fresh surge in this debate, with combat concentrated not only on how to apply these venerable moral principles to this particular war but also on how the principles should be understood in the first place.
Mr. Weigel’s elucidation of this moral tradition has been notable for two emphases. For years, he has scolded the Catholic bishops and other just-war proponents for claiming that the teaching begins with “a presumption against war.” On the contrary, Mr. Weigel has argued, the “classic” doctrine treated war not as a moral anomaly that had to run a gantlet of moral tests before it could be justified but as “a moral category,” a neutral instrument of statecraft that could be used for good or ill. The tradition should never be removed from the obligation of nations (like the United States in Iraq) to assure security, justice and freedom.
Second, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Weigel insisted that religious leaders should exercise “political modesty” in the public debate, recognizing that government officials “are more fully informed about the relevant facts.” Employing the term “charism,” usually associated with saints who founded religious orders, he proposed that government officials enjoyed a “charism of political discernment” that was “not shared by bishops, stated clerks, rabbis, imams, or ecumenical and interreligious agencies.”
The thrust of these emphases was of course to undercut the moral objections of many religious leaders about the potential human and political costs of invading Iraq.
In his latest essay, Mr. Weigel grapples with the fact that those costs have become painfully evident, and the larger concerns of security, justice and freedom increasingly elusory. Now his case for war scarcely mentions the earlier suspicion of weapons of mass destruction but stresses a need to defeat jihadi terrorism and establish responsible government and peace throughout the Middle East.
He laments “mistakes made by analysts and U.S. policy makers,” who remain unidentified except for the “convenient scapegoat,” Donald H. Rumsfeld. Finally, he defends the administration’s latest strategy against an alternative that he defines simply as “we’re out.”
In all this, he merely alludes to his earlier critique of the “presumption against war” and makes no mention of the “charism of political discernment.” But his animus toward antiwar religious leaders is unabated.
Which is what struck the editors of Commonweal, who have consistently opposed the war. In contrast to the second thoughts of many liberals originally convinced of the Iraq war’s necessity, the editors note, “no such admissions of error, or even regret, have been issued by outspoken Catholic neoconservatives.” Does Mr. Weigel’s long list of American miscalculations, they wonder, “cast doubt on his claim” about the government’s “charism of political discernment”? Reviewing the prudential warnings and moral qualms issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “it is hard not to conclude,” the editors write, “that the bishops’ charism, rather than the president’s, has better served the nation.”
Read the rest of Peter’s column right here. And be sure to check back later to read the full editorial.