These two books expose the bogus justifications of the pro-war lobby, says John Laughland Neo-Conned: Just War Principles – A Condemnation of the War in Iraq; Neo-Conned Again: Hypocrisy, Lawlessness and the Rape of Iraq edited by D L O’Huallachain and J. Forrest Sharpe, Light in the Darkness Publications, £15 each In the run-up to the Iraq war, Catholic prelates were among the most vociferous opponents of military action. Some of their statements were astoundingly strong. The head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Renate Martino, said: “War is a crime against peace which cries out for vengeance before God,” while Bishop John Michael Botean in the United States was even more outspoken. In his Lenten pastoral letter in 2003, the bishop invoked the full authority of his mitre when he solemnly stated: “I must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin.” Catholics felt able to make these unambiguous statements because there is a long and vigorous tradition on the concept of “just war”.
This doctrine had been effectively banned from the lexicon of international relations following the end of the Second World War and the creation of the United Nations, when an international system was set up based on the notion of state sovereignty. War was proclaimed illegal except in a tiny number of cases. However, since Kosovo in 1999 and the Iraq war in 2003, the concept has been resurrected by people who argued in favour of those conflicts. The merit of these two volumes is that they conclusively show how these moralistic prowar arguments are bogus.
The traditional Catholic view, as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, is that a war is just only if it satisfies three conditions: it must be declared by a legitimate authority; the cause must be just; and the intentions of those declaring the war must be moral. Later thinkers added in other conditions about the manner in which a war is waged: they stipulated that the means employed to achieve the end had to be proportionate, and that certain acts were to be absolutely forbidden. These are what we now call “the laws of war”, and many of these rules have been expressed in the form of international treaties.
The Iraq war seems to satisfy none of these conditions. The United States and the United Kingdom did not have the authority to act on behalf of the United Nations Security Council whose members were against the war. The cause was not just, since the war was justified in the name of two false allegations about weapons of mass destruction and about links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.
Moreover, it seems that the intentions of those who conceived the war were not moral either, since (as many of the contributors to these volumes argue) the war was in fact prosecuted for ulterior motives, in particular to strengthen the hand of the Likud government in Israel and to maintain America’s control of the world’s oil reserves.
Most of the leading antiwar commentators in America are on show in these two volumes. A large number of them are Catholics and conservatives – like Pat Buchanan, the politician, journalist and broadcaster, Joe Sobran the columnist, and Thomas Fleming the editor of Chronicles – while others are libertarians such as Justin Raimondo, the editor of www.antiwar.com, or old scions of the anti-American Left like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn. They all agree that US foreign policy has been hijacked by a cabal of ideologues known as neoconservatives.
Of particular note in this regard is Pat Buchanan’s essay “Whose War?”, a magisterial J’accuse which details the rise to power and methods of the neocons. Professor Claes Ryn’s essay on “the ideology of American empire” is also very important, since he rehearses his argument that the neo-conservative ideology is, in fact, akin to the anti-Christian revolutionary philosophy of the French Jacobins. William Engdahl interestingly argues that the United States needed to attack Iraq because, in 2002, Saddam Hussein had started to sell Iraqi oil in euros; the American economy, however, cannot function unless all world oil is sold in dollars, for only then will the world demand for the American currency remain buoyant. Should demand for it fall off, then Americans would not be able to use greenbacks to finance their constant trade deficit.
These books also reproduce some documents from the past, of which the most striking is Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani’s 1947 essay, “Modern War is to be Absolutely Forbidden”. In a wonderful phrase, written in the wake of the Second World War, this great theologian says that one of the worst things about war is that it occasions “a lowering of moral standards” and “a shipwreck of the faith of so many souls.” Far from being just, as Tony Blair and others claim, the Iraq war is a textbook example of an unjust war.