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A Catholic case for intervention?

In an op-ed in today's New York Times, "The End of Intervention," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright laments another bit of collateral damage from the Iraq debacle--namely, the further erosion of momentum for humanitarian intervention under the principle of the "responsibility to protect." Albright--whose post-Foggy Bottom writings have regretted her past lack of attention to faith in the practice of statecraft--did not cite Benedict XVI's appeal at the U.N. in April regarding thisprinciple. Too bad. Over at my blogspace on Beliefnet (which is changing the blog from a papal-trip-specific site to a broader orientation--more TK) I look at the pope's words, a similar appeal from theFrench foreign minister, and an amplification from America magazine. The hook is that it is not too late to at least make the case in principle--Benedict is meeting Bush in a very chummy Vatican Garden meeting (payback for the Rose Garden extravaganza Bushthrew for the pope in April) on Friday. He could make the case, and make up for some lost opportunities fromthe past.

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It took me a while to find this:"I personally felt the war was justified on the basis of Saddam's decade-long refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on WMD. But the administration's claim that Saddam posed an imminent threat was poorly supported, as was its claim of his alleged connections to al Qaeda. . . . The concerns raised by European critics of the war were neither trivial nor unanswerable."It goes on.That's what Madeleine Albright said here: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20030901faessay82501-p20/madeleine-k-albri... just goes to show that there are all kinds of consequences to being wrong. Albright should be grateful that it's only her legacy rather than her life that is in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, we can't wish away the effects of Western colonialism. Those effects serve as a prima facie bar to intervention by Western states. Of course, prima facie bars are not definitive bars. But they do have to be dealt with. Regrettably, the U N is not a sufficiently robust institution that it can overcome all the legacy of Western colonialism. Part of the reason it is not sufficiently robust is the treatment it has gotten from the U. S. There is a standing need for some effective international agency to authorize and manage humanitarian interventions. We all ought to do what we can to bring such an agency into being. For my part, I'd hope that the U N would be strengthened to make it strong enough. But for the foreseeable future, intervention will be morally and politically dicey.

I doubt if a quorum of nations will ever approve "ground rules" for humanitarian intervention. There are too many that could quickly find themselves candidates. No, as in many other things, the sui generis intervention that is validated by hindsight is the only policy that will ever be possible. But once someone overreaches (or just abuses the doctrine altogether) and undertakes an intervention that is not validated by hindsight (that would be the U.S. in Iraq) it will take much more persuasion for any country to come to the aid of threatened populations.

The White House love fest between Benedict and Bush has given a great dose of whitewash to America's torture-master. Bush can claim the mantle of papal righteousness as Reagan did in his sickening relationship with John Paul II. What do you expect from the person who has done most to strip the Christian message of its dimension of eschatological hope for justice and peace (getting us to discuss Limbo ad nauseam instead)?

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.