Our Sunday Visitor: A just pre-emptive attack? Morality of U.S. strike option on Iran debated
HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Our Sunday Visitor) – Four years ago, in the aftermath of the American-led invasion of Afghanistan, voices increasingly were raised – in government, the media and the think tanks – calling for similar action against Iraq. The United States and its allies attacked Iraq in March 2003.
Support now appears to be growing in some of those same places for a U.S. air assault on Iran. The bitterly anti-Western, anti-American leaders of that country are said to be bent on developing nuclear weapons.
In its April 24 issue, the neoconservative journal The Weekly Standard featured an article ("To Bomb or Not To Bomb?") by former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht, who now works for a Washington think tank, and a shorter piece ("Target: Iran") by a retired Air Force general urging preparations for a major bombing campaign.
According to Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, former Air Force assistant vice chief of staff, an effective air campaign would involve 60 stealth aircraft, more than 400 non-stealth aircraft and 500 cruise missiles. The aim would be to put Iranian nuclear development and production facilities out of operation for "at least five years" and otherwise destroy or severely damage Iranian military capabilities.
In an accompanying editorial, William Kristol, The Weekly Standard publisher who championed war in Iraq, called for "serious preparation for possible military action" in Iran. "Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world," he quoted President George W. Bush.
Around the same time, The New Republic, a liberal weekly, published a cover story by a German political scientist, Matthias Kuntzel, detailing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supposed admiration for self-inflicted "martyrdom" as Islamic fundamentalists understand it. "We must expect monstrosities from the current Iranian regime," Kuntzel wrote. No support for war
Others oppose military action. Writing in The New York Times, former National Security Council officials Richard Clarke and Steven Simon said a bombing campaign would lead to "a multi-move, escalatory process" of retaliation and counter-retaliation, with unpredictable results. How attacking Iran would serve American interests is a question that has been studied for more than a decade without a "persuasive answer," they said.
On April 26, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, anticipating a U.N. report critical of his country's nuclear program, said that if the United States took military action, "Iran will retaliate by damaging U.S. interests worldwide twice as much."
President Bush and administration spokesmen insist the United States is concentrating on diplomatic efforts to dissuade the Iranian government from seeking nuclear weapons. According to the Iranians, the country is interested only in peaceful uses of nuclear power.
Pope Benedict XVI referred to the growing crisis in Iran – and also to a parallel situation in North Korea, which is said to be producing nuclear bombs – in his Easter Urbi et Orbi ("To the City and the World") message. The pope expressed hope that "an honorable solution [may] be found for all parties through serious and honest negotiations."
So far, the Catholic community in the United States has been surprisingly quiet about the pros and cons of a military attack on Iran. This is in contrast with four years ago, during the run-up to the war in Iraq, when a number of Catholics were outspoken on both sides of the debate.
Catholic sentiment ranged from the opposition of peace groups, like the Catholic Worker and Pax Christi, and of paleoconservatives, like journalists Patrick Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, to strong support from Catholic neoconservative think-tank residents, like Michael Novak and George Weigel.
'Just war' thinking
From the perspective of traditional Catholic "just war" thinking, the possibility of a U.S. strike against Iran raises moral questions similar to those raised in the case of Iraq.
One focuses on the morality of a pre-emptive military strike. Just-war theory envisages military action by the victim of an aggressor's attack. But advocates of pre-emption argue that letting the other side strike the first blow makes no sense when the first blow is likely to involve the use of nuclear weapons.
That points to questions like how imminent an attack must be before pre-emptive action would be justified and, in the case of a nation thought to possess weapons of mass destruction, how much evidence is required that the weapons really exist. The nuclear, chemical and biological weapons whose possession by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was said to justify the U.S. attack in 2003 have never been found.
Unilateralism also is an issue. Would the United States be justified in going it alone, or nearly alone, in Iran, or would a U.N. authorization be necessary in order to legitimize an attack? Lack of U.N. authorization was one of the objections against the Iraq war raised by Vatican officials, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Any use of nuclear weapons by the United States in a pre-emptive attack almost certainly would be universally condemned. American already bears the onus of being the only nation to use nukes in war – twice, against Japan, near the end of World War II in 1945.
Weighing against an American attack on Iran is the administration's reduced credibility, a casualty of growing public disenchantment with events in Iraq. But the bellicosity of the Iranians could change that, especially if coupled with clear evidence that the country's Islamic fundamentalist rulers were close to acquiring nuclear weapons.
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Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.
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Republished with permission by Catholic Online from the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper (www.osv.com) in Huntington, Ind., a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.
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