The Iraq Debate: Russell Shaw’s Closing Statement

This is the fourth of a four-part debate between Robert R. Reilly and Russell Shaw on the question, “Was the Iraq War just?”


Five quick comments:
1. My thanks to Bob Reilly for making my point: UN weapons inspectors were back in Iraq months before the U.S.-led invasion. That Saddam Hussein wasn’t happy is neither surprising nor relevant.
2. Even I, no expert in such matters, can see something slightly, shall we say, fishy about anti-Saddam revelations by a defecting brother-in-law. In any case, this inventory of Saddam’s WMD arsenal goes back eight years before the war. I share Reilly’s wonderment at the disappearance of such a formidable force — supposing it ever existed, that is.
3. It’s beside the point that President Clinton in 1998 signed a measure declaring it American policy to “support efforts” to overturn Saddam Hussein. Lending unspecified support to others — in this case, presumably, disaffected Iraqis — and launching a war of one’s own to effect regime change are two very different things.
4. By no stretch of the imagination can Pope John Paul II’s encouragement of Iraqi democracy after the war be read as endorsement of U.S. policy before the war. Have we forgotten so soon that the Holy Father vigorously opposed this war?
5. I’m glad to amend what I said about U.S. unilateralism and make it practical unilateralism instead. It appears that many, if not most, of the countries in the Coalition of the Willing signed on in the expectation of being rewarded by the Bush administration. With the exception of the British and a few others, most sent token troop contingents. The number of coalition nations still in Iraq is down to 26. Sixteen have 100 or fewer soldiers there, many with non-combat roles. Even the British will cut their presence in half by next spring
In concluding, let me say I hope the pacification of Iraq succeeds. I hope General Petraeus is Time‘s Man of the Year. I hope a peaceful, stable Iraq will become the fulcrum of a peaceful, stable Middle East. But even if all that happens — and I wouldn’t bet a lot on it — this will remain an unjust, ill-considered war.
However, instead of ending my part in this exchange with a friend I’m sorry to disagree with by making a closing statement covering the waterfront of my concerns, I want to return to a single aspect of this unjust war that ought to have special poignancy for American Catholics. I mean the harm done to Iraqi Christians.
Before the war there were 1.2 million Christians in Iraq. In the wake of war and a rash of anti-Christian threats and violence by Islamists, more than half have fled. The Iraqi government, to its credit, has offered free transportation and $800 to any family willing to return. So far 4,700 families have done that, and another 8,500 are on a waiting list. By my estimate, that adds up to about one Christian in ten of those who’ve packed up and left.
“They love their country, but at the same time it is impossible for them to go back to this situation,” says Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, who struggles to provide pastoral services for 60,000 Iraqi Catholic refugees.
“It may be the end of Christianity in Iraq.”
No one claims the United States had this tragedy in mind in 2003. But by recklessly intervening in a country we didn’t understand, we unquestionably helped bring it about.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.

  • Bill

    Shaw makes a good point about the impact of the Iraq War on the Christian community — how was it that they evidently were protected under Hussein’s regime but were left unprotected after his downfall? Part of just war theory is to have in mind the practical outcomes of war. In this case, was the impact on Christian communities ever considered? Was there any plan in place to protect them from Muslim backlash? I don’t know.

  • Tim Shipe

    This is where the history of the region comes into more relevance. We simply didn’t have the credibility in the eyes of the majority of people in the region- look at the polls. I spent time with Palestinians more than a decade ago, and they were already completely disillusioned with the U.S., not because of our Christianity, but because we just continued to play the “Great Game” as described in so much detail in Fromkin’s _ A Peace to End all Peace- The British, our chief ally, have even less credibility to go in and occupy an Arab (or Persian) nation based on the past hundred plus years. The borders of the Middle East were drawn up by the Western powers, Kings and Dictators were established and supported by Western powers, with oil and strategic considerations totally ruling over the principles of human dignity and the universal common good. And it is the Christian communities of the Middle East who have been left to face the consequences of our neo-colonial pursuits. We need to take this plank out of our own eye, so that we can begin the process of actually winning friends in the Middle East, not just bribing a dictator here, a small ruling clique there. We should take a fresh look at the Vatican diplomacy efforts like the Vatican-PLO Accord of 2000, with the question of Jerusalem given a serious Catholic worldview treatment. Like Dr. Hahn has said in the past- the best gift we can give America is our Catholic faith- we should take our foreign policy cues from the Holy See- they have prudential judgments that see things more clearly than our political elites.

  • Gil Garza

    Using Mr. Shaw’s logic, the DC police department should immediately pull out of DC because their presence has angered and stirred up all the criminals making it one of the most dangerous cities in the US.

    Mr. Shaw should awaken to the notion that Islamic radicals are responsible for the exodus of Christians in Iraq. Our soldiers are liberators and protectors for everyone seeking liberty in Iraq.

  • TMLutas

    I’m doing this in order so my point 1 debunks Shaw’s point 1, etc.

    1. Iran had, up to 2003, a nuclear weapons program, a program which it seems to have suspended (assuming the 2007 NIE is better than the 2005 one). Had Saddam convinced the inspectors and a peace treaty been signed, ending sanctions, he still would have had Iran on his borders building a bomb. It takes no strategic ability to predict the restarting of his own program. And we end up back at square one with less chance of fixing things before a nuclear war breaks out. I would not be proud of advocating that.

    2. The 1995 revelations were followed up with inspections and discoveries of real weapons programs. The question was always how much did the defectors know about, not whether they were telling the truth. All these programs were compartmentalized. Were there some that were still undiscovered?

    3. This point entirely sidesteps the moral status of bombing campaigns like Desert Fox. We were dropping real ordnance on real people with the goal of regime change. There should be no moral difference between President Clinton’s incompetent approach and President Bush’s effective one.

    4. This is the one true bit in the whole post. The problem is that Pope John Paul II has a well established record of promoting democracy in E. Europe that neither of you has addressed. This Pope vis a vis democracy promotion is not a simple figure.

    5. France, Germany, and Russia have been documented as being flat out bought by Saddam. Doesn’t oil for food ring *any* bells? Delegitimizing US allies as being bought when Saddam’s purchased protectors go unmentioned is simply unfair.

    The plight of Iraqi christians breaks my heart, but it cannot be determinative of the morality of the war. Yes Saddam protected christians to a certain extent but Tariq Aziz bought that protection with his loyalty to an evil regime. We cannot morally endorse his actions. Now Iraq’s christians must struggle without Aziz’s protection and there is increased pressure against them. But it’s a less compromised position and one which they may profit from in the long term.