The National Catholic Review

During his surprising appearance on “Meet the Press” on Feb. 8, President Bush outlined what most observers believe will be the basic argument of his campaign for re-election in November 2004. The dominant theme of that campaign was probably captured in the president’s assertion to Tim Russert that he was a “war president,” suggesting that his continued leadership in a time of grave international danger was necessary for the security of the United States.

 

The question of how wisely Mr. Bush has discharged his responsibilities as a “war president” will be a legitimate issue in the forthcoming presidential election campaign, but it is an issue that will require careful handling by both Republicans and Democrats. Criticism of the commander in chief in a time of war is never intended as a lack of support for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq, and it should not be so characterized. An honest debate about national policy is actually a way of honoring the sacrifices made by U.S. military personnel.

At the same time, the stakes in this debate are too important for it to become trivialized by personal attacks. I, for one, am not interested in exploring George W. Bush’s record in the Texas National Guard over 30 years ago nor in the fact that John Kerry participated in an anti-Vietnam War rally at which Jane Fonda was also present. The important question is not how either man behaved over 30 years ago, at a different time in a different struggle.

Instead, the more critical and more difficult question in this presidential year will be whether the Republican or the Democratic candidate inspires more confidence in his understanding of the dangers we confront. Which candidate will be more likely to make wise decisions on how the United States can use its moral power and diplomatic skills, as well as its military force, to confront these dangers?

The voters will need to consider, for example, whether the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq was the necessary next step in the “war on terrorism,” or actually a distraction from what must be a continuing campaign against international terrorism in many parts of the world. The argument that Saddam Hussein was giving active support to Al Quaeda has never been confirmed. No weapons of mass destruction have been found and no pre-war conspiracy with Al Qaeda established.

Given the shifting rationales that various spokespersons for the Bush administration have advanced to justify the invasion, as well as the recent admissions of failures in U.S. intelligence, do the American people accept President Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein represented a “grave and gathering danger” to the United States? Or was Saddam Hussein only the most notorious of the various tyrants who continue to violate the rights of their own peoples in various parts of the world?

While the goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world is both noble and in the best interests of the United States, when, if ever, is the unilateral use of military force a wise instrument to achieve that goal? Do not the post-invasion conflicts demonstrate the need for a more multilateral foreign policy?

What does it mean to say that “9/11 changed everything,” as administration spokesmen have so often claimed? Did the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center invalidate the policies of containment and economic sanctions that had been used with some success toward rogue nations like Libya and Iraq? Or does the repeated invocation of 9/11 suggest that the powerful emotions aroused by those terrorist attacks have been exploited to promote an ideological goal identified long before those attacks?

It is not easy being a “war president” in an age of international terrorism. It is not a “war” that will end in a treaty or surrender. The enemy is not an identified state with recognized national interests. Suicide bombers cannot be addressed by conventional military strategy. Difficult decisions by national leaders must be made on the basis of fallible intelligence reports. Asking the right question is always the best way to find the right answer, both after Sep. 11, 2001, and in November 2004.

Joseph A. O'Hare, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

M.Keelan | 2/25/2004 - 9:49pm
Though Father O'Hare's conclusion to the dilemma of decision-making for the next presidential election sounds good-- "Asking the right question is always the way to find the right answer, both after September 11,2001, and in November 2004," it makes assumptions that with some examination contribute to the cause of the problems we face: some persons assuming they know the right questions and answers and basically asking and answering themselves, almost to the point of triteness. What are the "right questions" and who decides? Why are many intelligent, good-willed persons unable, unwilling, or uninterested in asking those questions? Until those of us who would be very comfortable with a conversation with Father O'Hare on the issues he raises, and share profoundly in his point of view, learn to speak the language of those who are not, enter into their imaginative framework -- how they see the world and others-- we will not change anything.

Tom Carpenter | 4/8/2004 - 12:12am
In the olden days, the crowning glory of a Jesuit education was the two diadem tiara of Principles of Ethics and Social (Applied) Ethics in one’s senior year. I must have slept through some of those classes if present day spokesmen for the Church are stating a true application of the Word to issues dealing with the use of force in the real world of evil. Throughout my life, I have been constantly torn between my obligations in charity and my obligations in justice. I understood and believed that that was the reality of morality in the world. There are no simple, one rule fits all situations, solutions. Today, in reading almost any article on politics and dealing with the anarchists of the world, emanating from a Catholic source, it is clear that the assumption is that under all circumstances a Christian turns the cheek. I understand that as to my own personal life, I can be heroic - I can be a martyr. But, as a father, as a neighbor, as an elected official – with duties in justice to protect those for whom I have an obligation – my obligations in justice take precedence to any one-on-one charitable disposition I might otherwise show the aggressor threatening those to whom I have an obligation to protect. I suppose, in the abstract, this distinction is not that difficult to recognize. As ever, the real challenge for a Christian is not to stand around mouthing pious sentiments, but rather throw himself headlong into the melee. When I quit high school to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1951, it was with a sincere conviction that I personally had a duty to go fight international Communism to stop it in its tracks before it reached our shores. Even at that tender age, I knew of the folly of Chamberlain appeasement. Three years later, after a fourteen month tour of duty with the 11th Marines in Korea, I was even more convinced of a man’s duty to stop the bully, the terrorist, the anarchist, on the other side of the street, not in your own living room. One of my son's twenty years as a street cop has confirmed the practicality and justice of stopping anarchy in its tracks. Seven years of Jesuit training gave me the philosophical foundation for my understanding of the need to always be assessing the morale demands of particular situations and to apply reasoned judgment to obtain real world moral results. Christ is not a pacifist, nor is He a hawk. I so wish that He had lived long enough that we would have more examples (the driving out of the temple of the money changers) of him taking action, using force, in protecting rights of others. In the meantime, I am weary of the chronic pusillanimity of so many otherwise respected voices of the Church. Tom Carpenter Loyola, Chicago; Arts ’58; Law ’61

(Rev.) G. F. Werner | 2/9/2007 - 10:25am
The opening pages of America’s issue of March 1 made for very bleak reading: the continuing questioning of the decision to move into Iraq (Of Many Things), then the ongoing debate over same-sex marriages (Editorial), then the report of accusations against 4,450 members of the Catholic clergy in the matter of molestation of some 11,000 children over a 50-year period of official church silence (Signs of the Times). And next, a Vatican report proposing to keep clerical abusers in the ministry but away from children, thus formulating a two-class priestly ministry: Class 1—safe with children, Class 2—not safe with children.

Then (all this in five pages), from the bleak to the absurd, when we learn that someone in Rome is still exercised over whether we should say, “And with your spirit” or “And also with you” at Mass. A great step forward for us all, the solution to that problem.

True: Father Greeley does offer us some ray of hope (“Religious Decline in Europe?”). His article would be even more consoling if one didn’t have the nagging doubt that it was reporting on poll numbers rather than on vibrant personal faith, on Christendom’s religion rather than on Christianity, on superficial markers of religion rather than on truly interiorized Gospel faith.

Perhaps the next issue of America should come in a plain brown wrapper marked: “not to be opened by the faint of heart (or faith).”

M.Keelan | 2/25/2004 - 9:49pm
Though Father O'Hare's conclusion to the dilemma of decision-making for the next presidential election sounds good-- "Asking the right question is always the way to find the right answer, both after September 11,2001, and in November 2004," it makes assumptions that with some examination contribute to the cause of the problems we face: some persons assuming they know the right questions and answers and basically asking and answering themselves, almost to the point of triteness. What are the "right questions" and who decides? Why are many intelligent, good-willed persons unable, unwilling, or uninterested in asking those questions? Until those of us who would be very comfortable with a conversation with Father O'Hare on the issues he raises, and share profoundly in his point of view, learn to speak the language of those who are not, enter into their imaginative framework -- how they see the world and others-- we will not change anything.

Tom Carpenter | 4/8/2004 - 12:12am
In the olden days, the crowning glory of a Jesuit education was the two diadem tiara of Principles of Ethics and Social (Applied) Ethics in one’s senior year. I must have slept through some of those classes if present day spokesmen for the Church are stating a true application of the Word to issues dealing with the use of force in the real world of evil. Throughout my life, I have been constantly torn between my obligations in charity and my obligations in justice. I understood and believed that that was the reality of morality in the world. There are no simple, one rule fits all situations, solutions. Today, in reading almost any article on politics and dealing with the anarchists of the world, emanating from a Catholic source, it is clear that the assumption is that under all circumstances a Christian turns the cheek. I understand that as to my own personal life, I can be heroic - I can be a martyr. But, as a father, as a neighbor, as an elected official – with duties in justice to protect those for whom I have an obligation – my obligations in justice take precedence to any one-on-one charitable disposition I might otherwise show the aggressor threatening those to whom I have an obligation to protect. I suppose, in the abstract, this distinction is not that difficult to recognize. As ever, the real challenge for a Christian is not to stand around mouthing pious sentiments, but rather throw himself headlong into the melee. When I quit high school to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1951, it was with a sincere conviction that I personally had a duty to go fight international Communism to stop it in its tracks before it reached our shores. Even at that tender age, I knew of the folly of Chamberlain appeasement. Three years later, after a fourteen month tour of duty with the 11th Marines in Korea, I was even more convinced of a man’s duty to stop the bully, the terrorist, the anarchist, on the other side of the street, not in your own living room. One of my son's twenty years as a street cop has confirmed the practicality and justice of stopping anarchy in its tracks. Seven years of Jesuit training gave me the philosophical foundation for my understanding of the need to always be assessing the morale demands of particular situations and to apply reasoned judgment to obtain real world moral results. Christ is not a pacifist, nor is He a hawk. I so wish that He had lived long enough that we would have more examples (the driving out of the temple of the money changers) of him taking action, using force, in protecting rights of others. In the meantime, I am weary of the chronic pusillanimity of so many otherwise respected voices of the Church. Tom Carpenter Loyola, Chicago; Arts ’58; Law ’61

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