Robert Royal on the Use of Force Against Iraq

Shrugs Off Fears of U.S. Becoming a «Rogue Superpower»

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WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 26, 2002 ( As part of its coverage on the debate over possible military action against Iraq, ZENIT turned to Robert Royal, president of the Faith & Reason Institute, for his perspective on the crisis.

ZENIT: The United States has been criticized for its go-it-alone attitude regarding international issues — for example, its refusal to join the International Criminal Court and its lack of cooperation in U.N. programs. Is there a danger of the United States becoming some kind of «rogue superpower» as some maintain?

Royal: These fears have little or no basis in reality. For one thing, the American people would never stand for a president or Congress who abused the massive power the United States now possesses. They do, however, often take a different view of action needed than do peoples and governments in other parts of the world.

Throughout history, Americans have shown themselves to be, individually and as a body, in theory and in practice, suspicious of all power. But on balance they trust their own leaders and institutions far more than they do international bodies, which they believe have not been very effective in the small conflicts around the world in the past decade, are not very accountable to the world’s peoples, and are clearly susceptible to all kinds of political manipulation that may damage crucial American and even world interests.

In Europe and elsewhere, all this appears to be a refusal to play by established international rules. But does anyone really think America is about to engage in an unrestrained and unprincipled series of military adventures against innocent nations or any country that crosses American policy?

You may disagree with America about the nature and urgency of certain threats; but since when does carefully spelled out disagreement mean that one side is turning into a «rogue» nation?

Q: Many cite a lack of concrete proofs linking Iraq to terrorism, or evidence showing any recent changes in its arms policy. Why would military action be justifiable now, more than 10 years after the conclusion of combat against Iraq?

Royal: On the one hand, it’s true that a direct link between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorism has not been established. On the other hand, there are reasons why Saddam Hussein has been amassing nerve gas and biological weapons, and has been seeking to develop nuclear weapons and more long-range delivery systems.

In the wake of 9/11, all this presents new dangers. So while there has been no change in his weapons policy, that is hardly reason for complacency. We can say to a high degree of moral certainty that Saddam does not need such weapons merely for defense against his Muslim neighbors or Israel. He is clearly on an aggressive course that already threatens many lives in the Middle East, and may soon threaten Europe and more distant targets, without even resorting to terrorism.

So a choice has been placed in front of the nations of the world: Shall we take steps now to prevent future blackmail, aggression or the transfer of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam’s friends among the terrorists, or do we wait until the threat is more immediate?

You may hope that in the interim some means may be found to negotiate a lessening of tensions, but negotiations and sanctions against tyrannical regimes like Cuba, Sudan and Iraq are never effective because the tyrants and their followers are not much interested in what the rest of the world understands as justice or peace.

Iraq’s regime will have to change for the good of the world. And those who want to wait may have a greater moral case to make than those who foresee an easier, more discriminating intervention by acting now.

Q: Judging the advisability of military action, not just the Iraq case, involves not only morality, but also a weighing of military and political factors. When religious leaders intervene in such debates they are often accused of interfering in matters outside their expertise. Where can we draw the line between church and state in this field?

Royal: There is some kind of frontier between church and state on such issues, but it does not have a sharp borderline.

The Church as a whole and religious leaders such as the Pope and the bishops have rightly tried to raise the barriers to going to war as high as possible. Modern weapons are so destructive and the potential for civilian casualties so great that the modern decision to resort to force presents grave responsibilities. So even if religious leaders go beyond their strict competence — and function as a steady voice for nonviolent resolution — they are mostly, I believe, within their rights.

But ultimately, political and military leaders, who have the greatest amount of concrete information and bear the responsibility if their judgments are incorrect, must make the final decision. Wars of conquest and mere retaliation are clearly outside of the just-war tradition.

I have been struck over the last two decades by how seriously military and political leaders in America think about just-war criteria. Just before the Gulf War, for example, the White House called several of us who have written about the subject to go over one more time the difficult principles such as discrimination of combatants from noncombatants, collateral damage, what constituted success.

At the time, I was less ambivalent about the effort to free Kuwait than whether that alone would justify the use of force. Leaving Saddam Hussein in power seemed then and now, in and of itself, to be shortsighted and an invitation to further bloodshed.

Q: Growing sensibility to civilian casualties in war, and to the destructiveness of war in general, leads many to reject military action as a legitimate option in today’s world. How can Christians reconcile an aversion to violence, without falling into some kind of unconditional pacifism?

Royal: The short answer is: simply by not becoming pacifists.

We all need to struggle to keep our consciences from becoming deadened in a culture of death that has inured us to millions of innocents being killed yearly.

But there is all the difference in the world between the use of violence to murder and the use of force to prevent murders and massacres. We know this is true when a policeman shoots an aggressor. Many who oppose the use of force nevertheless think we should sometimes intervene to separate belligerents.

But there is less recognition by Christians that sometimes regimes or rulers are evil or, at least, willing to use evil means for their aims that a civilized world cannot tolerate. That’s one of the unhappy results of living in a fallen world, but we should not let our proper reluctance to use force, except when necessary, make us any less certain that there are times when only a just use of force will fulfill our Christian responsibilities.

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