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Discerning Truth

Iraq War and How Moral Ideas Affect Policy Published in Prolific Reporter (Seattle University)

Last Friday morning, Dr. George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, gave a lecture entitled “Morality, Just War Doctrine, and Iraq” before the Discovery Institute, here in Seattle. The presentation was as fascinating as it was timely.

Weigel began by quickly dispensing with the idea that moral and theological ideas should not receive consideration in policy decisions that concern war and international conflict. He proceeded with a brief discussion of the origins of Just War Theory, a set of principles that provides a framework or calculus for ascertaining whether the use of armed force is justified in a given context. Weigel elaborated upon the often neglected but clearly discernable difference between bellum and duellum. Bellum involves the use of military force by a legitimate governing authority to effectuate the public good and protect those whom it is entrusted to serve, all the while taking into account the prudence of the undertaking and its proportionality to the threat posed. Duellum, in contrast, involves the use of military force by a private force or illegitimate governing authority to achieve private benefits, disregarding prudence and proportionality.

One noteworthy item in Weigel’s lecture was his reference to the fact that many of the adherents to Just War Theory have all but collapsed its correct and historic calculus into a line of thinking that begins with the conclusion that war is presumptively wrong. Weigel asserts that a legitimate governing authority has a moral obligation to protect the lives and well-being of its citizenry and that the presumption distorts the Just War Theory. Another interesting point that was mentioned by Weigel is that whereas Just War Theory has received a great deal of attention at our nation’s military academies and within the top ranks of the Bush administration, it has been neglected our nation’s seminaries. While Weigel notes that the practical application and execution of public policy rests in the hands of the statesmen, he nevertheless called upon the theologians and moral philosophers to do their duty in providing the general public with a clearer and more rigorously developed understanding of the principles involved in Just War.

Weigel concluded that a strong case can be made for military action by the United States against Iraq. He stressed that in the world of international politics the underlying nature of the nation-state involved in a given conflict is often overlooked. Rather, under the banner of sovereign immunity, each nation is treated as morally, socially, or politically equivalent. Weigel urged that the underlying nature of Iraq’s regime be taken into account in determining the justness of a potential military action by the United States. The past two decades of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq have clearly demonstrated that it is not a legitimate regime. Hussein’s regime allows for no internal controls over its actions, which have included wars with neighboring states, genocide of people living within its own borders, and the development of weapons of mass destruction. Weigel correctly notes that Iraq’s quest to develop nuclear weapons poses a threat to the public good of the United States, and that it would be imprudent to wait until Iraq’s nuclear capabilities are fully realized before taking action.