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International Law, the U.S. and the Holy See

8/23/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Paolo Carozza on the Lessons of Iraq, and Other Topics

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, AUG. 23, 2004 (Zenit) - Despite some high-visibility conflicts, the United States generally agrees with John Paul II's call for an effective international rule of law, says a scholar.

Paolo Carozza, a faculty member of the Notre Dame Law School and the Center for Civil and Human Rights and an expert on international law, shared with Catholic Online why the United States is in accord with the Holy See as one of the most active and insistent promoters of international agreements and international legality, but diverges from the wishes of the Vatican on other issues.

Q: From your perspective, what are the major points of convergence and points of divergence between the Holy See and the United States in international affairs? How would you evaluate the relationship overall?

Carozza: One has to be very careful in generalizing about the views of "the Holy See" or "the United States," because in all such complex and sophisticated entities there are often subtle but significant divergences internally.

We could see important differences, for example, in the way that various representatives of the Holy See responded to the U.S.-led war in Iraq; some were much more nuanced than others in expressing the grounds and scope of opposition.

Similarly, in the government of United States, there are various attitudes and positions with respect to the value of international law and its limitations.

That said, nevertheless, I think that the relationship in general is a strong one, although of course it has suffered from the sharp differences over the war in Iraq.

United States foreign policy overall often tends toward a moral reading of the world -- that is, the American people and their elected leaders often view international affairs as part of a much larger struggle to advance good in the world.

This is a contrast to many other states in the international community, who appear to regard the international order as an essentially anarchic or amoral arena of self-interest and power. This moral reading of international order is in broad terms quite consonant with the approach of the Holy See, which affirms the Catholic tradition of understanding politics and law to be in the service of the common good.

At the same time, however, this common point of departure also leads to a significant difference between the United States and the Holy See. In the United States, a moral reading of the world can often become moralistic, reducing politics to an overly simplistic dualism that demonizes the other: us vs. them; good vs. bad; the vindicators of justice vs. the evil and corrupt.

The Catholic tradition is a more adequately realist one, fully aware of the failings and limitations of man, and thus more conscious of the capacity for evil present in the heart of every one of us.

It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II, in particular, constantly calls us to beg for mercy, to remember that our desire for a just and peaceful world will not be realized merely through our own efforts but through the event of the mystery of Christ entering into the world. This leads to a greater sensitivity to the dangers of grand, ideological projects for the world.

The American approach, by contrast, can sometimes tend toward an excessive and misplaced confidence in our ability to remake the world through the projection of American ideals.

Q: The Vatican and the U.S. administration had differed on the necessity of the Iraq war. What lessons has the United States learned over the past year in regard to the Holy Father's initial warnings?

Carozza: The divergent judgments of the Holy Father and of President Bush regarding the war in Iraq exemplify lucidly the differences that I have already described.

I would like to be able to say that the United States has learned a lesson from the experience of postwar Iraq, including a greater appreciation of the way that any war, even one that might appear to many to be necessary and just, is a failure of humanity that inflicts tremendous costs on all people.

Unfortunately, I really I don't know that any lesson has in fact been learned. We tend to have a persistent amnesia about even the recent past, and when we do learn "lessons" from history, they are often the wrong ones.

But this is not true only of the United States. Most political societies suffer from the same lapses.

For example, many of the European states have important lessons to learn from their failure regarding Iraq, too -- lessons about the sterility and utopianism of a "pacifism" that is in large part little more than an unreflective anti-Americanism. Yet, I don't see many signs that they are re-examining their mistakes, any more than ...

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