Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraq: A Practicing Catholic's Perspective

A lot has been said about Iraq lately, and I think it's time for me to share my views on how I (as a practicing Catholic) see things. First of all, whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that President George W. Bush was right about one thing. The Iraqi people have embraced freedom. Before the invasion in 2003, he told us the Iraqi people would eagerly embrace freedom once it was offered to them, and sure enough, they have. I applaud him for this. In a time when it seems like he's been wrong about so many other things, it's nice to know he got this one right, and I think the world will be better off because of it.

Second, from his purely historical perspective, in spite of all the problems with insurgents, the Iraq War has been a striking success. In just a matter of weeks, the regime of the dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled, and American troops took charge of the country. Then within three years after their liberation, the Iraqi people have voted on in interim government, ratified their own constitution, and now elected their own representatives under that constitution. That is virtually unprecedented in world history. Not even we Americans could make the transition so fast. It took us over ten years to draft our own constitution after our own liberation from the British Empire. It took another few years to ratify it and elect new representative under it.

Another forgotten fact of history is that the American Revolutionary War was extremely unpopular -- especially among Americans! During the course of the Revolution, less than 40% of the American population agreed with the founding fathers. Over 60% of Americans thought the colonies should remain under the English crown, and nearly just as many thought our nation's founding fathers were traitors! It wasn't until after the War had ended (in 1783) that public opinion changed dramatically. The men once viewed as traitors by most of their countrymen were then suddenly hailed as heroes. If history teaches us anything, it is that public opinion is no indicator of the success or failure of war. Had public opinion prevailed during the American Revolution, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have been hung, and the East Coast of America would still be a British commonwealth. While the rest of America would still be divided up between France and Mexico. What a different world it would be if public opinion actually ruled the course of American history.

Third, regardless of what you might think of the man, one thing is certain. History will smile on President George W. Bush. Why? Because history will only remember him for one thing. He will be remembered as the man who against all odds, brought liberation to the Iraqi people, and introduced the whole middle east to the concept of freedom. You can love him for this, or you can hate him for it. But one thing is certain, history will treat him kindly because of it.

Fourth, as practicing Catholics, we are required to object to war unless it is a "just war" as defined by the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Catholic Church has simplified this matter for us by outlining the specific conditions of a "just war." The point of contention over the Iraq War was whether those conditions had been met. Many Christian theologians, including some Catholic ones, believed they had been met in the case for removing Saddam Hussein. However, the late Pope, John Paul the Great, disagreed. The Vatican's position was not that a "just war" wasn't possible with Saddam Hussein, but that more time was needed to insure that all the conditions of a "just war" were met. Therefore, the late pope took issue with the Bush administration over its policy in Iraq, stating that more time was needed, and American forces were prompted to invade too soon. To be clear, the Vatican position was never dogmatic. Practicing Catholics were never expected to agree with the Vatican on this issue, but as good Catholics we should have taken the pope's views seriously into consideration.

Since the war ended, however, the Vatican has put the issue behind it. Normal diplomatic relations have been restored between the Vatican and the Whitehouse, and the pope has made it clear to Catholics that our primary concern should no longer be the conditions of the war and how it started, but rather making sure the Iraqi people enjoy the full blessings of peace, liberty and freedom now that it's ending. This is the point of my post here. According to our pope, we as Catholics have no legitimate reason to be divided on this issue anymore. It no longer matters whether the war was just or not, because it's over. While philosophers and theologians can debate this issue for decades to come, we as lay Catholics should no longer let it get in the way of our Catholic duty to support peace, liberty and freedom for the Iraqi people. There has been a lot of talk about our policy in Iraq lately, and many politicians in both parties, have used the situation over there to capitalize on votes. Make no mistake it; playing politics with war is dangerous business, and one that is certain to backfire on those who do it. Right now there is much debate on how long our American troops should stay in Iraq. As Catholics our moral responsibility is to say that they should remain there until the job is done and the Iraqi people can fully defend themselves from terrorism. That is our duty as Catholics, and it's our responsibility as Americans. We can debate the start of the war all we want, but when it comes to its finish we must all be united in our moral responsibility to complete the job for the sake of freedom for the Iraqi people, as well as for the safety of Americans at home.