Late Edition: A Long Time Coming

Barring a miracle, by the time you read this, the military campaign to relieve the world of Saddam Hussein may already be under way. If so, it’s not a moment too soon; if not, the opening volleys cannot be many days away.

But it was a long time getting to go—twelve years and 17 United Nations resolutions, to be precise, which is hardly a “rush to war.” You would not know that from listening to France, Germany, and diverse lesser epigones of the UN “peace process.” Nor would you know from headlines decrying American “unilateralism” that the great bulk of Europe is with us, along with a respectable portion of the rest of the world (more than 40 countries in all, including a number of Arab regimes).

Reflexive anti-Americanism has marked much of the world’s political rhetoric for a long time. Such is the inevitable consequence of being top dog, and there’s not much we can do other than to suffer it while trying to do the right thing. A decent respect for the opinion of other nations is essential to prudent diplomacy, but it cannot define America’s sense of duty. Whether or not others acknowledge the fact, the United States is the only force on earth standing between half the world and the descent into barbarism or tyranny. Many of the same Europeans who have urged us in recent months to temporize over Iraq temporized endlessly in the 1990s while 250,000 people were slaughtered on their doorstep in the Balkans, and but for the United States, they’d be dying still.

The next time you hear the Germans and the French nattering about the evils of war, ask Kosovars or Bosnians or Kuwaitis or Afganis (not to mention the many millions of others who suffered under Communist rule) what they think about the moral implications of U.S. military power. War is indeed a terrible thing, but it is not the worst evil.

A pacifist, of course, would dis-agree, but pacifism has never been the doctrinal instruction of the Church. We must work tirelessly to preserve peace, but tirelessly doesn’t mean fecklessly, nor does moral rectitude require us to sit back prayerfully while our enemies prepare for slaughter. The causus belli in the present circumstance has not been American lust for empire or oil, or any of the other malicious motivations attributed to us by the loony left; the causus belli is Saddam Hussein’s aggressive malevolence and contemptuous deceit.

That is the common sense of the matter, which forms the factual predicate essential to moral justification. But common sense seems to have abandoned the minds of various churchmen, no doubt well meant, who have sounded less like teachers of morality than clerical adjuncts of the Elysee Palace. This was particularly true of the intemperate anti-American screed that appeared in a recent issue of La Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit newspaper that is said to enjoy the unofficial sanction of the Vatican. Milder versions of the same disposition have been echoed by a number of fairly senior Vatican officials, giving rise to the supposition that they carried the specific approval of the Holy Father.

Vatican intrigue of this sort is legendary and marked at every turn by layers of plausible deniability that a battalion of Hercule Poirots would find impenetrable. But when it comes to war, winks and nods of this sort simply won’t do. The Holy Father, whose diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in the present instance have been unusually energetic, is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. His own statements, in traditional papal fashion, have enjoined all parties to seek peace and to heed the moral law, which is no respecter of persons or nations. But even as he works and prays for peace, surely the man whose unflinching moral vision and hardheaded diplomacy helped to bring down the Iron Curtain harbors no delusions about the malevolent intentions of Saddam Hussein.

And as this great and holy man prays, perhaps he will recall the ceremony honoring Ronald Reagan in Gdansk in September 1990. As Peter Schweizer records the occasion, the crowd shouted “Thank you! Thank you!” in between verses of “Sto Lat,” the Polish anthem to heroes. When the crowd quieted, a local parish priest came forward to present a sword to Reagan, saying, “I am giving you the saber for helping us to chop off the head of communism.” By all means, let us pray for peace, but let us also pray that the long-suffering Iraqi people may enjoy such a moment as well.


  • Michael M. Uhlmann

    Michael Martin Uhlmann (1939-2019) served as professor of government in the department of politics and policy at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont McKenna College. Prior to teaching at Claremont, Dr. Uhlmann was a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Vice President for Public Policy Research at the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and taught at the George Mason University Law School.

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