An Unnecessary War

How will it be conducted?

Now it has begun. We are at war with Saddam Hussein—without UN authorization, with a fragmented alliance, and with a "coalition of the willing" whose principal role may be rhetorical. There is no reasonable doubt that the U.S. military will prevail against Iraq. There are doubts about the cost- human and economic-the war will impose. There is even more uncertainty about the meaning and the possibility of winning the peace after we have won the war.

So we have begun. With a combination of professional skill and good luck the conflict will be brief. Still, there is a duty—political and moral—to review how the U.S. government decided to resort to war, and another duty to assess how the war will be prosecuted.

From the thousands of words I have read about the road to war, two articles stand out. The most precise definition of how we went to war comes from an ardent supporter of the Bush administration, the columnist George F. Will. He described this as an "optional war" (Washington Post, January 23, 2003), the exact opposite of going to war in 1941 against Japan, in 1950 against North Korea, or in 1991 in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. These were not optional wars but necessary ones, either because our national security was directly threatened or because international order was violated by clear-cut acts of aggression. This war is optional—a war of choice, not imposed on us but pursued by the United States as a conscious policy.


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About the Author

The Reverend J. Bryan Hehir is president of Catholic Charities USA and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and International Affairs at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.