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Mosul Foretold

In 2003, then Cardinal Ratzinger told to the editors of 30 Days that neither he nor the man to whom he reported believed that the American invasion of Iraq passed the just-war test. He emphasized the condition of proportionality, that is, the hoped-for good must outweigh the anticipated evils:

The Pope has very clearly expressed his thoughts, not only as the thoughts of an individual, but as the thoughts of a man of conscience occupying the highest functions in the Catholic Church. Of course, he has not imposed this position as a doctrine of the Church, but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by the faith. This judgment of the Holy Father is convincing from a rational point of view also: reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist. First of all it was clear from the very beginning that proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained.  [Emphasis added.]

Not a few prominent Catholic American politicians and writers disagreed. Rick Santorum would later say that his support of the Iraq War cost him his senate seat. As recently as last year George Weigel told the National Catholic Register that he still believes that it was “necessary to compel regime change in Iraq and that the invasion was the only way to do that.” His colleague, Michael Novak, added, “it would be inexcusable for an American President, knowing what was public knowledge [on Iraq’s WMD program], not to act in some degree.” In making an effort better to understand Mr. Novak’s justification, we would benefit from a little more detail: in 2003 the American public knew very little of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq beyond that the search for them was at that point inconclusive. In the years to follow, the 1400 man international team known as the Iraq Survey Group would find none.  

Mr. Novak did not hide his dissent from John Paul’s position, nor from that of his successor. When Pope Benedict XVI declared before giving his Easter 2007 Urbi et Orbi blessing that “nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees”, Novak responded in print that the Holy Father had hit a “low point.” (Mr. Novak’s parting company with papal thought is not out of practice: he differed with Paul VI on contraception and with John Paul II on economic justice.) 

Both Mr. Weigel and Mr. Novak are serious thinkers. In their own just-war calculus they doubtless acknowledge the principle of proportionality to which Cardinal Ratzinger turned in evaluating the merits, or lack thereof, of the invasion of Iraq. Yet they arrived at, and hold to, a conclusion opposite his, even as they admit that the American effort to establish Western-style representative government in the Islamic world has been a “failure.”

I’m left confused. Was toppling the regime of a thug dictator equal to so much carnage?  The question, or rather the answer to the question, is the elephant in the room right now as we stare in horror at the current agony of Chaldean Catholic victims of Islamic tyranny in Iraq: thefts, robberies, exiles, rapes, beheadings, and crucifixions.

Life under Ba’athist rule may not have been ideal for Chaldean Catholics, but Saddam Hussein suppressed anti-Christian activity in Iraq. His deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz was a Chaldean Catholic, and Hussein—back when the United States called him an ally (and sold him weapons)—made a gift of $200,000 to a Chaldean church in Detroit. The Motor City responded by giving him a key to the city.

Again, the Prefect’s words:

[I]t was clear from the very beginning that proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained

In light of the horrors of Mosul, we might be inclined to call Cardinal Ratzinger’s words “prophetic,” but he was content with “rational.” No small number of other observers anticipated a resurgence of Islam’s more militant strains when adherents to that faith found their homeland invaded by a foreign power. Imagine an armed invasion of the United States, a nominally Christian country. We would not be surprised to find former cafeteria Catholics reaching for their rosaries. 

Twenty-twenty hindsight? Again, the date on the Cardinal’s remark: 2003.

All this is by way of saying that in the current anguish over what to do in response to the terror endured by our Chaldean Catholic brethren, we can learn from the past and not aggravate an already terrible set of circumstances with more armed invasion.

 The moral response would be to acknowledge our culpability and look to make amends. For the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, what would this mean? At least some version of immediate aid and accelerated asylum, here or in other western republics.

Then, let’s have an honest look through the just-war lens at our policy with respect to Islam, bearing in mind the proportionality requirement. Our meddling in the affairs of the Arab world cannot in light of the chaos overtaking that region be called a success. What is our existing policy? Whack the beehive abroad while inviting the enemies of Jesus Christ to take up residence within our borders. I would favor an opposite plan.

Above all, Catholics should  bear in mind that the struggle with Islam in which we are engaged is a spiritual one. The Rosary, prayer and fasting are our weapons. Think of this: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament are now not available to our Iraqi brethren in an ancient land, home of one of the Apostolic Churches. The Mass is widely available to us, and we must not underestimate that good that we can do by availing ourselves of it as often as we can.

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