Bring the Troops Home

On the Feast of the Annunciation in 2003, Military Archbishop Edwin O’Brien wrote: “Long after the [Iraq] hostilities cease, the debate likely will continue as to the moral justification for the armed force recently initiated by the United States and its allies. It is to be hoped that all factors which have led to our intervention will eventually be made public . . . .”
The public now possesses compelling grounds for judgment. The war’s supporters promised a cakewalk that would prevent a nonexistent “looming threat.” Now Iraq is a “nightmare with no end in sight,” and the president’s strategy is one of “desperation,” according to Ricardo Sanchez, the former commanding general in Iraq.
The invasion’s advocates have been proven wrong, and emphatically so. They have changed their stated aims repeatedly. In lieu of arguments, they chant an appealing mantra: “Support the troops.”
Archbishop O’Brien undoubtedly supports the troops. In 2003, he deemed it appropriate for Catholic soldiers “to assume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments.” But now, five years later, the “full picture” that he so ardently desired tells a different story.
As a Notre Dame ROTC student in the late 1960s, I defended the Viet Nam War in countless debates. Years later, I asked Sen. Eugene McCarthy why he had so strongly opposed that war. “Nobody would tell me the truth,” he replied. Well, I believed Lyndon Johnson then, even though, as we now know, he was lying through his teeth. Mea culpa.
Today, three fundamental reasons suggest withdrawal from Iraq. First, the war is immoral, justified by a kaleidoscope of private agendas, misinformation, deliberate deception, contradictions, and fear-mongering.
Second, it is unjust: I winced as my Catholic friends twisted beyond recognition the time-honored principles of the Christian Just War theory to contrive support for “preventive” war. Some argue that “9/11 changed everything” — nonsense. Did it change human nature? Truth? The Resurrection?
Third, the war is unconstitutional. That both major parties ignore the Constitution is just one more testimony to their bipartisan corruption.
As Americans have increasingly turned against the war, President Bush has reacted by shifting his gaze to future, more (alledgedly) intelligent generations who will vindicate him and secure his legacy. This thinly veiled contempt for “We the People” of today’s America is sheer evolutionary ideology, closer to Marx than it is to the Founders. Meanwhile, the war has torn the nation apart. Friendships have crumbled. The conservative and pro-life movements are shattered, and the two major parties are increasingly indistinguishable.
Where is Christian prudence and charity among Catholic Republicans? Why have they not echoed Pope Benedict XVI’s pleas for our Christian brethren in Iraq whom the war has killed, whose families it has destroyed? Why are they silent about the dispensationalist evangelicals, ardently longing for Armageddon, who support an ever-widening war so they can reign with Christ for 1,000 years? Is this rational?
And why have so many Catholics demeaned the entreaties of Pope John Paul II and Benedict against the war? Luke 4:1-13 and I John 2:16 warn us against temptations not only to material gain, but to power and superbia vitae, the “pride of life.” Did some Catholic Republican leaders lose their moral bearings when they heard the siren song of access, influence, and profit?
“If we leave Iraq, things will get even worse, so we must stay.” This mantra not only defies logic, it represents situational ethics at its worst. Instead of perpetuating the desperate nightmare, America must return to rational principles.
Consider: Is ours a self-indulgent, degenerate, materialist nation in decline? Or are we the West’s last bastion of Christendom? America must decide. Radical Islam hates both; it might defeat the former, but never the latter.
Then America must act. As Lenin asks, “What is to be done?”
Our wounded, divided nation can be healed only by a prayerful return to the Constitution. There the war’s supporters will find an alternative to their “nightmare without end.” First, for what, or whom, are we fighting? The United States has no security treaty with Israel or Iraq. Let them be drawn up, ratified, publicly and extensively debated, and passed by the Senate. No secrets. Full disclosure.
Second, against whom, or what, are we fighting? Let the president immediately ask the Congress for a Declaration of War. That requires naming the enemy, of course, and that will be progress. Let him declare an emergency two-month congressional recess so all the facts can be fully revealed and debated by our elected officials in their home states and districts. The military-industrial-lobbyist-media complex need not apply. To paraphrase Archbishop O’Brien, “All factors which have led to our intervention should be made public.” Tell the truth. Discuss. Debate.
And vote. If the president wins, then the war receives the imprimatur of the virtuous people of Federalist 57 (while still unjust and immoral, it would at least be legal). If the declaration fails, the war will too, and should then end immediately. If he follows the Constitution, the president will bequeath to his successor a legitimized policy as well as a stronger, united country. If the president fears giving the decision to the people and ignores the Constitution — as he has for five years — the country will continue to be ravaged by division and deceit.
We should swallow hard, wake up from this nightmare, and bring the troops home. Now, oremus.


Christopher Manion


Christopher Manion served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College, and is the director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum Foundation. He is a Knight of Malta.

  • t. shipe

    What the Realpolitick and Neo-Con defenders seem to forget is a basic principle of Christianity that ties into a most essential Commandment from our Lord Jesus Christ. You overcome evil with good- so assuming that our own leadership intentions are clean, and not thoroughly sullied by their desire for resource and political controls, we should proceed with winning as many friends, with as many folks of goodwill, as is possible. You don’t win the hearts and minds of foreign peoples in foreign lands by bringing in massive numbers of soldiers. If Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had been a mightly nation with a military to rival our own, and if Hussein had attacked our country- then there would have been the opening grounds for sending in the troops in genuine self-defense. Iraq was no such threat and Hussein was not responsible for 9-11 or in cahoots with Bin Laden’s “Base”. So we are tearing up any semblence of following international laws safeguarding the basic integrity of all nations’ right to sovereignity. With the U.S. jettisoning international law we can hardly wonder why anyone would doubt that the rubric the world is operating under is once again- “Might makes Right”.

    Where once we (and the Israelis and Brits) supported Islamic jihadists around the Middle East, to undermine the rise of Arab/Persian secular nationalists- see Dreyfuss’ book – Devil’s Game and Kinzer’s -All the Shah’s Men- now the same elite forces in the West want to ignore recent history and declare that this is all about the Crusades – which the pathetic Arab Muslims have never stopped fighting. And so the “Clash of Civilizations” with Islam, conveniently replaces the Soviet Menace, and we will need to forget about the Church’s cries for reductions in military budgets, and more transparent development assistance in the poorer regions, with a more globally-connected community of nations motivated by the Love of Neighbor, not Superpower “interests”. In this war and occupation and strategy for Iraq and the Middle East- I find little to nothing for a believing Catholic to support or defend. Until we get serious about having a foreign policy that is actually in keeping with Christ’s commands, we will just continue to follow the way of all the world’s empires previous to our day in the sun. With 2 mil. Iraqi refugees, countless thousands of dead and wounded civilians- haven’t we brought enough misery over there already? If your child had lived in Iraq- would you have cheered on the military invasion?

  • Jeannine

    Lyndon Johnson lied about the Vietnam War; therefore, George W. Bush lied about the Iraq War. Non sequitur. What was the lie? “Bush lied, people died” is a slogan, not an argument.

    The crux of the debate is the statement that the war is immoral and unjust; that is precisely where reasonable Catholics can and do disagree. I don’t think it’s necessary to say that those who support the war “twisted beyond recognition the time-honored principles of the Christian Just War theory.” Their judgment of the application of those principles was indeed different from that of Mr. Manion, but we do not need to assume bad faith. Reasonable people who look at complex situations may indeed interpret them differently.

  • Donato Infante III

    “If we leave Iraq, things will get even worse, so we must stay.”

    We, the United States of America, made this mess. Part of the temporal punishment for our sin is making sure the mess stays as small as possible. That may mean staying and protecting the Iraqi people.”If we leave Iraq, things will get even worse, so we must stay.”

    We, the United States of America, made this mess. Part of the temporal punishment for our sin is making sure the mess stays as small as possible.

  • Charlotte

    It’s amazing how quick we can be to say that those who disagree with us are not only wrong, but wicked. This allows us to substitute slogans for arguments and invective for reason. There are serious reasons that opponents of the war can use to make their case. (Just there are serious reasons available for supporters of the war.) Christopher cites none of them. He assumes that his passionate certainty about the injustice, immorality, and illegality of the war means that no honest, thoughtful, informed person can fail to share his certainty. Once he has convinced himself that anyone who disagrees is blind to the truth, or even willfully distorting it, he is absolved of all responsibility for granting any assumtion of good faith or engaging in respectful argument.

  • Al Sledge

    None of the mantras hold water. “They will follow us home.” “We broke it, we must fix it.” First and formost “they” really can not attack us. “They” have no navy, air force, or army. “They” can’t make atom bombs. Fairy tales about dirty bombs and bio-weapons are just that. The fact that 9-11 “changed everything” is also bogus. The fact is 9-11 was a huge failure of government. People here should have been fired or jailed for their failure to do their jobs. Instead we attack a second rate nation who was not involved. The whole concept makes me sick. We need a government who does not “search for monsters to destroy” and a Constitutional government. Sadly only one candidate fits that description: Ron Paul

  • Mark

    Sorry, but there are no more grounds for “reasonable disagreement” on this issue than there are grounds for “reasonable disagreement” as to whether abortion is immoral. Too bad so many Catholics have lost their moral compass.

  • Marshall

    Third, the war is unconstitutional. That both major parties ignore the Constitution is just one more testimony to their bipartisan corruption.

    There’s only one candidate talking about the war in these terms and the rest laugh at him(Ron Paul). It’s an illegal war. All those who sanctioned it in Congress and the Oval Office should have no credibility.

    Good article!

  • John

    In a world of WMD, it’s a tough call as to when a preemptive strike is “withstanding a blow”.
    So, we can set Aquinas aside for the moment, for there was no WMD in Iraq when we struck, and there was no evidence of it in Iraq’s future either.

    The Bush Administration lied us into this war. In this war we have misused time, talent and treasury, while the putative mastermind of the “change of everything” event remains untried for the crime.

    Sayed Qutb, the reported genesis of the discontent of modern Muslims, left the “pagan” west in disgust and concentrated his theories and violent means in his homeland, Egypt. He didn’t care much for or about the United States, except for the importation of its culture by Arab governments. He blamed the Arab governments, and directed his wrath at them, not us.

    If we just practiced a non interventionist free trade policy with all governments of the world, none of this violence need blowback on us. Let them decide what being a Muslim really means. We have enough problems with “Christian”, for several centuries now.

  • George Hartman

    The American war upon Iraq demonstrates another failure of the Catholic Church and every other Church to uphold their core principles. All the discussion regarding Iraq focuses on the viewpoint of the American Government not upon the suffering of the Iraqi people. This war and its prior embargo have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children. It has destroyed the Iraqi economy and made homeless millions more.

    The Iraqi government may or may not have been a threat to the United States. The Iraqi people who have suffered and died were never a threat. Yet, the Military Archbishop felt that it was within his authority to bless the destruction of these people and let history decide the righteousness of his action. What will those in the military who have killed Iraqi men, women, and children say at their Judgment? I was blessed by the Archbishop, I was only following orders, I did not believe killing other children of God was wrong, or I did not have time to use the Reason given to me by the Creator?

    The last one hundred years has had more wars and death than any other. And yet what has been learned? More importantly, where was the combined raised voice of the Church against any of these wars? The answer, sordidly, is that they cheered them on.

  • Samuel F. Dominguez

    I’m not sure we will ever know the true reasons we attacked a country and people who never attacked us and were (are) completely incapable of it now. Thousands of innocent people have died or been displaced by our actions. Are we simply to ignore our Supreme Pontiffs when they have spoken out against this immorality? Are we to assume they simply don’t know what they are talking about? I truly hope Catholics take their words to heart and stop rationalizing a tragic, unjust, immoral act of aggression on the part of our U.S. government.

  • Robert L.

    Who is “us” and who is “them”? How many “Radical Islamists” have the armies of the West really killed in Iraq, and even if killing them were justified, how is anyone to be certain that it is only killing “them”? Are mass warfare, ruthless occupation, and extermination (and essentially, what else IS “chess” against “Radical Islam,” in this context?) really the proper tools with which Christians should deal with their fellow human beings?

    I’m a “lapsed Catholic” myself, not among the believers anymore, and found this essay from the link in Christopher Manion’s opposing essay here, itself linked from external site I’m surprised by this piece. Even though I no longer subscribe to much of the Church’s metaphysics, I still recognize arguments that don’t stand up when examined in light of the history of the Church’s thought.

    Colonel Sharp is indulging in all sorts of poisoned, dare I say “heretical” thinking in this piece. Just who does he mean when he says “Radical Islam” here? It is a collectivist term. Collectivism is, bottom line, very anti-Christian — it is arbitrarily assigning various individuals to arbitrarily invented groups and then deciding to treat these individuals according to criteria which vary according to one’s view of their assigned group. Does that sound very Christ-like to anyone?

    The most disturbing thing about Colonel Sharp’s essay is its historical deafness and its blindness to the intellectual pedegree of the ideas it is propounding. He isn’t just drawing erroneous conclusions from proper premises; he has whole-heartedly endorsed premises which are not only alien, like Gnosticism, but have been recognized as philosophically erroneous by Catholic and other thinkers for centuries: the idea that the Libido Dominandi, (…dern_times) against which Augustine’s City of God ( inveighs, is really a proper lens through which Christians ought to regard the world and their fellow man.

    I notice that one comment above, whose subject line is “Anyone heard of overcoming evil with good?” almost begins to take the colonel to task on these grounds but really, how is it that thinking so patently contrary to Church teaching is given any creedence at all on this website as “a Catholic viewpoint”?

  • John Lowell

    An accurate appraisal of the war and the problem confronting Catholics because of it. The wholesale reduction of the faith to ideology by those claimimg to speak for orthodoxy – the Neuhauses, Novaks and Weigels – and their megaphones on the web – the Blossers, Akins and Peterses – offer us more the vision of ReichsChurch than Church. The subtle encouragement given by them to a kind of “national Catholicism” and to the casual discussion of no less worthy subjects than the so-called “ticking bomb scenario” and torture leaves little doubt as to the extent of the contamination. You are right as well to point to the disintegration of the pro-life movement and for the very same reasons. When as influential a voice as is Neuhaus’s can’t be raised against the Bush stem-cell compromise of 2001, we need a consultation with Martin Neimoller.

    John Lowell

  • David Shatto

    I think this is an illegal war as someone who has fought in it. Furthermore, while I understand the idea that we made the mess we need to clean it up, this is unthinkable because of the American lives that are being lost due to this theory. Innocent lives who wanted to defend this country, not fight preemptive illegal wars. If you believe we need to stay to help clean up the mess we made, please request that the senators and presidents who sent us their in the first place go in the shoes of our young men and woman fighting and dying in the big sand box.

  • Observer

    To “Situation Ethics”, “If we leave Iraq, things will get even worse, so we must stay.”??? That’s not just a sophomoric argument, it’s absolute stupidity! Intelligent people know when to quit and cut their losses, only an idiot continues to waste time and money (and in this case, human lives) polishing a damn turd!
    And to “Reasonable disagreement”. Nice try, yet only another sophomoric argument, sidestepping the real issue. Why is it, ALL of my Viet Nam and Gulf vet friends see 9/11 and the entire unfolding of sequential events as a blatantly obvious scam, yet my fellow Americans seem to quietly remain in their living rooms, removed from the real situation and comfortable in their media generated opinions?
    To quote one of my Viet Nam vet friends; “With all due respect, if you weren’t there, you don’t know, SHUTUP!”
    We are American sheep, we have no clue as to how our perspectives are being manipulated.

  • Paul B

    I have a hard time understanding how any practicing Catholic can support this war. There is no question it is immoral—hundreds of thousands of people (should I have to say innocent people) have died. War opens up all of the immoral behavior that comprises our Ten Commandments. I believe that some people, if they could, would vote for a change to “Thou shalt not kill unless wearing a soldiers uniform”.

    This war violates every principle of “Just War Theory”. Twist and turn the facts all you want, it doesn’t make it true. If you believe that this war is just, then you must not be listening to the moral leaders of our church, but a false teacher. Read their writings, even though they are not infallible in these particular teachings, they are morally correct.

    There is no question that it is unconstitutional.

    This country makes it hard to live a Catholic life, simply because the Protestant ideas of Scripture Alone and Faith Alone predominate. If you can twist God’s words to mean anything you want them to mean, then you certainly can twist a Constitution, a statutory law, just war theory and any news event. If all you have to do is believe in something and not have to practice it, then you can make any organization, including the U.S. Government your shepherd.

    I hope that Catholics will stop following the teachings of man and start following the teachings of the Church and stop pledging allegiance to the flag and start pledging allegiance to Christ.

  • ShawnG


    What Mr. Manion winced at was not the twisting application of just war to the Iraq war in particular, but to “PRE-EMPTIVE WAR” in general, which is the gift of modern America to the world. How do you justify this concept under Just War?

  • Christopher Manion

    [This is the first part of the response]

    Thank you for your comments and criticisms. I appreciate them.

    As far as the

  • Christopher Manion

    (continued from previous post)


  • Virgil Banowetz

    The current Iraqi war was justified by bogus intelligence but it did have an element of moral justification. When I read the 19th chapter of Deuteronomy I get a sense that a murderer should not be allowed to get away with the crime by hiding behind the autonomy of a nation. Saddam Hussein certainly did that. However I do not believe the evils of Hussein were sufficient justification for a war based on time-honored principles of the Christian Just War theory.

    So how can the allies make the best of the situation. Colonel Sharp and the dominant Republican US presidential prospects seem to have a one-dimensional view of how to proceed: Resolve to win and stay there indefinitely or give up and lose. I believe the correct approach must be a flexible strategy managed by someone with broad capabilities. Saints Paul and Barnabas did not resolve to beat a dead horse to perform their mission. Their repertoire included

  • Virgil Banowetz

    Among the US Republican presidential candidates, only Ron Paul has a wide perspective approach to governing driven by a combination of morality, constitutional law, and common sense. That view showed most clearly in his analysis of the American civil war. His attitude is not fed by a passion to feel good about the deeds of our forefathers; It is based on fundamental decency. After all, where does it say in any good book that it

  • Steve

    But how do you know things won’t get worse? How do we know staying the course is the conservative thing to do and best under uncertainty. It seems that it is just as likely that by staying we will fan the flames and cause more war in the long run than that we will somehow pull out a win.

    The analogy is nice but it doesn’t add up logically. I would prefer some rational on why this or that is likely to happen because you can’t argue from uncertainty that any strategy is preferable.

  • Virgil Banowetz

    I believe the US is more likely to succeed in Iraq if we prepare for failure. We need to ask the Iraqis to decide whether our presence is productive. Bush has already done this implicitly by having an election, but this needs to be more explicit. The Iraqis need to ask themselves whether they deserve good government when they give in to fear or fail to vote or take actions to save their country from falling under tribal control.

    They need to have the responsibly of sending us home when the time is right. This can be viewed as mainly a win-win for the US. We get to help and are appreciated for what we’re doing, or we get to go home and save our money and necks. The only bad side for the US is, if they send us home too soon and the place degenerates into chaos, the price of oil will rise and impact the economies of we non-OPEC countries. This is a risk but a price we should be willing to pay. I believe that placing more responsibility for success on the Iraqis will reduce the risk of failure. They need to look at failure straight in the eye and see if it is acceptable.

    Would the prospect of US troops leaving be seen as a bluff? If so, the Iraqis may call this bluff with one of their own. Many think the US is in there for the oil. The Iraqis who think that may just pretend like they want us to leave so they can complain about their victimhood after we refuse to leave. We understand. We have plenty of people who behave like that in this country. But the Iraqis just might wish us out too soon whether by their stupid bluff, miscalculation, or whatever reason. And since we have a legitimate Iraqi government in place, we will have no choice to comply with an Iraqi resolution that we leave. Even if we believe that Iraq will degenerate into chaos, we must let it happen.

    If we are prepared for the economic damage of Mideast chaos, the damage becomes, not only mitigated, but also less likely since the reason for bluffing goes away on both sides. We need to make the prospect of US troops leaving Iraqi credible to highlight the prospect of failure. This will force the Iraqis to (1) suck in their bitterness about victimhood, (2) resist the warlord/tribal dominance and (3) do what is necessary to make their country work.

    Leaving Iraq too soon and in chaos may be seen as a victory for Al-Qaeda whose strategy was to make the US look bad by creating chaos through playing Iraqis against each other. If the Iraqis fall for this and the chaos becomes rampant as we leave, Al-Qaeda may spin this as a victory. However, it is hard to imagine any benefits or growth for any Muslim organization that succeeds in making gullible Muslims kill each other. More likely, the terrorists will be seen as the villains and the dammed fools that they are. When that sinks in and Iraqis no longer have foreign occupiers to blame for their problems, there has to be a damping effect on their warlord centered lifestyles. If Al-Qaeda considers this a win, God help them when they lose.

  • Virgil Banowetz

    So how can the allies make the best of the Iraq situation? Robert Sharp and the dominant Republican US presidential prospects seem to have a one-dimensional view of how to proceed: Resolve to win and stay there indefinitely or give up and lose. I believe the correct approach must be a flexible strategy managed by someone with broad capabilities. The steadfast mindset does not always work. The Christian evangelists Paul and Barnabas did not resolve to beat a dead horse to perform their mission. Their repertoire included “brushing the dust off their feet” [and leaving] where their mission was not appreciated. The folly of stubborn, dumb determination is what passes today as the current majority “strategy”. There are practical alternatives.

    Suppose the US President would authorize the allied generals in Iraq to act like Paul and Barnabas? They would have to demand political progress with the threat of a “dust shaking” departure on a hair trigger. The current lack of incentive among the Iraqis to support political progress and the central government is a recipe for a life of chaos when the allies are gone. Pushing for political progress without that hair trigger guarantees both failure and dependency.

    A situation comes to mind when my 5 and 7 year old boys were playing. Suddenly an angry dispute arose about a toy and it was clear they were depending on me to resolve it. My response was to immediately send them to a room and to tell them to stay there until the issue was resolved. They never got to the room; the conflict vaporized when they realized they could not use anger to avoid responsibility for their own conflict resolution.

    Leave the Iraqi created problems to the Iraqis and they just might decide they no longer have the luxury of a comfortable warlord centered lifestyle. They just might solve those political problems by themselves if the cost of not solving them is seen as unacceptable.

    Among the US Republican presidential candidates, only Ron Paul has a wide perspective approach to governing driven by a combination of morality, constitutional law, and common sense. That view showed most clearly in his analysis of the American civil war. His attitude is not fed by a passion to feel good about the deeds of our forefathers; it is based on fundamental decency. After all, where does it say in any good book that it’s ok to kill your brothers if you disagree about where the boundaries of you country should be. Why must we feel good about being the only country failing to end slavery without resorting to a major civil war. A president who thinks like this could be good for our country and the world. We need a smart way out of Iraq and Ron Paul is the only one showing signs of wisdom.

  • The Doctor

    Robert Sharp’s essay is a well argued piece from a person well qualified to comment on such matters. The situation in Iraq is finely balanced and Bin Laden’s recent broadcasts show that he is anxious about the developments and as ever is appealing for unity in Muslim ranks. We do have to stay the course here and I speak from a British view as well as a US one.

  • Bob Stone, CM

    I tend to side with those who see our Iraq 2003 attack as immoral, and I think that we should withdraw safely and honorably, all the while doing what we can to preserve the security of the Iraqi people. Two facts of interest: 1) Pope John Paul II, in the lead-up to the first Iraqi war (from the point of view of classic just-war theory a more defensible conflict) was much louder in asking the coalition of forces not to invade; 2) for whatever reason, we seem paralyzed when someone brings up the possibility of “regime-change.” or “conversion of minds and hearts,” as if the quicker, more violent solution is better than a slower, from-the-inside, from-the-bottom-up transformation that normal Christian witness proposes.

  • leyla

    HOW we got there is irrelevant now. We’re over there NOW so what do we do? I say we either fight to WIN or get out now. The concept of winning is anathema to this administration so let’s not sacrifice any more lives to political correctness.

  • R.C.

    I ask those who are of either opinion to consider Leyla’s observation that “How we got there is irrelevant now.”

    People tend to want to throw bad money after good; to try to “rescue” bad investments and the like. But this neglects what economists call “sunk cost”; the important thing at any point in time is to consider which course will produce the best outcome from that point in time forward, without regard to what went before.

    I don’t see adequate discussion in the Catholic blogosphere — or, really, the blogosphere in general — about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of different options now. There is plenty of “oh, it’s obvious we shouldn’t have gone in to begin with,” and some “uh, it’s obvious now; have you forgotten what you thought then,” and some “is it so obvious now? …what would have happened is hard to say, but given Saddam’s usual barbarism and the imminent collapse of the inspections…” and so on and so on, et cetera, et alia, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

    Fine, fine. But what about now?, Leyla says (and I second the motion).

    Things are undoubtedly many orders of magnitude better than they were prior to the “surge”: So much so that there were noises of the Obama administration starting to claim that they’d won, had achieved victory…before collective sniggers from all parties pretty much snuffed out that line of spin.

    Okay, so they’re better. They are still a dog’s breakfast compared to, say, Pooler, GA, but are perhaps a bit better than Detroit, MI.

    Now what?

    Well, that depends on what would happen if we stay awhile longer, and what would happen if we went.

    Anybody have any sure foresight on either?

    So far as I know, staying awhile longer will be more expensive in the long run than going now. (Because we’re not staying forever, and thus the cost of going is going to be paid, no matter what; the difference between the two options is the cost per month of remaining for an additional X months.)

    We may end up asking exactly two questions…

    1. Who suddenly dies or gets oppressed or whatever if we go now rather than later? (Call the answer to this question CIW, for “consequence of immediate withdrawal.”)

    2. How many more months do we need to stay to make sure those deaths/oppressions don’t occur when we do, eventually, go…and how much does do those extra months cost us? (Call the answer to that question PTS, for “price to stay.”)

    …and then boiling those answers down to ask the final question: “Is it worth it, to us, to spend PTS dollars to prevent CIW from happening?”

    Perhaps CIW is pretty mild and PTS is pretty expensive: A hundred people killed over the next ten years versus ten billion dollars to prevent it.

    Or perhaps CIW is pretty nasty and PTS is pretty cheap: A few thousand people killed over the next ten years, the probable fall of democratic and rule-of-law structures, and the final extermination of all Iraqi Christians…versus a few hundred million dollars to prevent it.

    I know, I know, I wasn’t trying for particularly plausible figures, but for extremes. I was just trying to make the point: This is the kind of analysis required, to answer the question now.

    It is not that analyzing our motives and errors in 2003 is useless: When we see that we erred, we can resolve not to make similar mistakes in the future. That’s all to the good.

    But it does not bear on the current decision in the least. That’s all sunk cost.

    So please disregard sunk cost issues, in addressing the topic at hand. It’ll keep our thoughts on this topic far more relevant.

  • Joe H

    America was neo-conned into the Iraq war.

    1. There were no WMDs – when even Bush and the architects of the war admit this, it really doesn’t do you much good to go searching for news articles about the finding of some obscure weapons cache that probably dates back to the years during which America was helping Saddam acquire chemical weapons in the war against Iran.

    Not only did Bush admit it, he JOKED ABOUT IT:

    2. There was no connection with 9/11 – again admitted by Bush & co, well-after and conveniently after they had let American citizens and especially American soldiers go on believing that Iraq had something to do with it.

    3. America and Western Europe played Iran and Iraq off against one another, helped Saddam acquire chemical and biological weapons, and lead Saddam to believe that America would take no position on an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

    4. Ba’athism, which is secular, has nothing to do with radical Islam, and in fact their proponents hate one another.

    Bring them home! And never listen to the neo-cons again.

    This isn’t about left v. right, this is about what is good for America and what is moral. The last two Popes opposed this war, good conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul opposed this war, people who understand that our soldiers shouldn’t be asked to die to fulfill some fantasy agenda cooked up by a bunch of Starussian intellectuals opposed this war.

    That’s all. Argue away. I won’t be back to check on it.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    The idea that the Iraq war was an immoral war has always struck me as completely bizarre. Since the Gulf War Saddam had never honored the terms of the truce that ended the war. He only remained in check because the US maintained large forces in the Gulf to keep him in check. He remained a danger to the region and a murderous dictator to his people. He funded terrorist groups throughout the region and in 1993 attempted to assasinate former President George H. Bush. He refused to comply with the UN inspection regime as to weapons of WMDs. Is it seriously maintained that we did not have a casus belli against this murderous thug and his despicable regime? Iraq and the world are better places with his regime destroyed and him in his grave.

  • LV

    This being a reprint (and one where most of the comments below the article are from its original posting) it’s probably worth noting that the situation “on the ground” has changed rather substantially in the last two years. In terms of CIW vs. PTS, as RC puts it, I would be more willing to countenance a US withdrawal from Iraq now than I would have been when this point/counterpoint was first published.

    That was not what most of the debate was about the first time around, though, and it has to be admitted that little has changed in that regard…nor should it have. The question of America’s moral responsibility to the Iraqi people–and the question of how best to fulfill that responsibility–is inextricably entwined with the question of the moral value of the decision to invade in the first place.

    If the invasion was just, then the reconstruction is a laudable effort to mitigate the negative effects of a necessary evil, and it should be continued for as long as effective. If the invasion was unjust, though, then we never should have been there in the first place–and the moral imperative to withdraw becomes almost overpowering.

    Unfortunately, though, this is a debate that was thoroughly political in nature. It was seized upon by one political party to undermine a sitting president, at any cost…and, as such, it was conducted in as bad a faith as I can recall seeing in my lifetime, with a degree of malice and reckless disregard for the truth matched only by the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement. (As an aside, I do not find it even remotely coincidental that the same party–and, in many cases, the exact same people–were the driving force in both of those cases.)

    To cite just two prominent examples:

    -The question of whether we actually found WMDs in Iraq, from the perspective of the war’s moral justification, is irrelevant. Going in, we believed they were there; more to the point, that’s what Saddam Hussein wanted us to believe. He was running a bluff, one directed as much at his neighbors as at us.

    (It also should be noted that, regardless of the state of its actual stockpiles, Iraq retained both the knowledge base and the production capacity to resume its WMD programs at any time…and if you think that they would not have done so the very moment that sanctions collapsed, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.)

    If you’re arguing against the war, you have to assume that Saddam did indeed have a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction–and then claim that invading Iraq in that case still was not justified. While I disagree with that position, it’s certainly possible to make a case for it…but few opponents of the war have ever seemed interested in doing so.

    After all, screaming “BUSHITLER!” at the top of their lungs is so much easier.

    -9/11. If you claim that war supporters believed at any point that Saddam (or a reasonably menacing comic book facsimile thereof) was behind the attacks, you get a complimentary tinfoil hat, and automatically forfeit any credibility you might otherwise have had.

    The chain from 9/11 to Iraq had more to do with the changes the attacks wrought in the US mindset–in particular, how utterly stupid it was to leave an unsettled pot like Iraq, in the most unstable part of the world, to sit and boil for ten years–than with anything on the Iraqi side of matters.

    (For whatever it’s worth, it also has to be pointed out that of Osama bin Laden’s three professed excuses for attacking the United States, two–the sanctions regime and the American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia–were explicitly about Iraq. (The other was about Israel.) )

    The great irony in all this is that if President Bush had followed the amoral American SOP of decades past (knock off the unfriendly dictator, set up a friendlier dictator, and get out) we probably wouldn’t be having this debate. It was his insistence on nation-building instead (in direct contradiction to the stance candidate Bush took–a change which I believe can be directly attributed to 9/11) that drew things out, inflamed the opposition, and led to the situation we have today.

    He won’t get any credit for that–nor should he, given how thoroughly he botched the job–but still, there it is.

  • Austin

    Colonel Sharp wants us to “hold the wolf by the ears.” But for how long? One year? Ten years? One hundred years? We cannot stay forever, and we cannot keep getting involved in more and more countries, morality aside, our armed forces are stretched to the breaking point.

    The Sunnis and Shiites have been killing each other for centuries. It was foolish to think that we can stop it. Perhaps if they could only be “good Christian gentlemen” this madness would stop?

    Another example of not knowing your enemy. And another example of not knowing your objectives. I am old enough to remember Vietnam and it seems that we learn nothing from our mistakes.

  • Paul May

    I know my brain is shallow in comparison to that of Mr. Manion’s. He is correct in reminding us that what we do in Iraq and Afghanistan is unconstitutional, but we have long since approved our politicians in their disregard for the only document that made us a great nation.
    Before sending our boys into harm’s way in another part of the world, we must have a congressional declaration of war.
    However, his cries against violence carry as much logic as the cry “Support our troops”.
    May I submit, that the evils of the tyrant Saddam Hussein should, in themselves, have been sufficient reason to remove him from power, if done constitutionally.
    Both arguements are weak.

  • Austin

    I disagree with the idea that we should remove “evil” foreign rulers. Only if our own national security is threatened, should we go abroad in search of “monsters to destroy.”

    Pre-emptive war is not a good idea. It is a slippery slope that will result in constant war, often under dubious premises.

    We are engaged in Iraq for who knows how long with 100,000 troops. We are ramping up in Afghanistan, with forces approacing 100,000 troops with much combat ahead of us. Now, we hear the neo-cons beating the war drums to attack Iran. Two major wars are not enough? You can never have too many wars I suppose according to their logic.

    The interventionists seem to assume that invasion and occupation is always prefereable to anything else, that it is better to do something, even if it is a gross mistake, than it is to do nothing. They are wrong.

    The invasion and occupation of Iraq has only helped the Iranians. I would hardly call that a “success.”

  • John O’Neill

    The major point of this discussion should included the question of why the US has troops all over the world . The supposed justification is “to make the world safe for democracy” this absurd utterance was made many years ago by Woodrow Wilson a president of low moral qualities. Why do we still have troops in Europe sixty five years after WWII is over; why do we have troops in Korea fifty years after the Korean war? Why do we continue to have troops in Japan after fifty years. These countries can defend themselves and if they don’t want to; then that is tough. We will never establish democracy in Islamic countries no matter how many troops or politicians try. We should get over the WMD controversey and look around now; there is no reason to be in Afghanistan or Iraq. We should have defensive force only; if Iran lauches nuclear missiles at us we should be able to level Tehran in a few minutes.

  • Leyla

    John’s rationale is clear and concise. My father was in WWII on the beaches of Normandy at 17 and then in Korea. He loathed the politics of war that made it impossible to WIN in Korea and I know he would say, as John says—-bring them home. I LOVE this country and the Constitution and our Military and it breakes my heart to say that I would not send any of my four kids to fight what are now laughingly called ‘wars’ because our leadership at the top and in Congress has lost their way.

  • Mark


    WW I = 116,516
    WW II = 405,399

    Korean War = 36,516
    Vietnam War = 58,209
    Cold War = 0
    Gulf War = 358
    Iraq War = 4,382
    Afghanistan War = 933

    So, from 1917 to 1945 (28 years) we suffered 521,915 casualties while following the lead of the rest of the world. From 1950 to the present (60 years) we have suffered 100,398 casualties leading more than following.

    – As of 2008, Japan had the second largest economy in the world behind the U.S. This is only possible because of our presence. China would have swallowed Japan decades ago if we hadn’t been there.

    – South Korea is approx. the 15th largest economy in the world. Without America, there would be no South Korea

    – North Korea’s economy is somewhere near that of Yemen and Ethiopia.

    – Without U.S. presence in Germany, the Berlin Wall would only have fallen for the communists to swallow West Germany.

    America would probably not have won the Cold War (you know, the one with no casualties) without our presence in Germany.

  • John Van Horn

    In the Johnson Administration, there was a dinner in Washington, and the Ambassador from France was invited to give a toast. This was during the Vietnam war, and France was not at all friendly to the USA. Ambassador Andre Malraux (I think) raised his glass and said: “I raise my glass to the only nation that has waged war without loving it, achieved greatness without seeking it, and held in its arms the most powerful weapon without longing to use it.”

  • Austin

    So are you saying that the Vietnam war was a success due to the US suffering “only” 58K KIA vs 400K for WWII? This sounds like something that former Secretary of Defense Robert S MacNamara would say. This was the man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. A bloodless numbers geek who had no concept of what war truly was.

    Also, you are incorrect. The numbers cited above are Killed in Action or died from other causes. Fatalities. Casualities are fatalities and wounded and also POW’s. So our “casualities” in Vietnam were actually in the hundreds of thousands. I can see that you were never even in the military and your knowledge of war and the military is derived from movies and TV. You really don’t know what you are talking about.

    Vietnam ended up being united under the Communists [who were really Vietnamese nationalists} anyway, so those 58K dead Americans and estimated 2 million dead Vietnamese might disagree with you regarding the Vietnam war being such a great idea.

    For someone at this late date to be parroting the lies of the Johnson administration actually seems rather quaint in a weird sort of way. If you want to talk about Vietnam, just remember you were not there, I was.

  • Mark

    Austin, I started out researching casualties but decided that it can be a little ambiguous and switched to killed. Sorry about that. You should remember, however, that I do know the difference from my comment to you about a month ago:

    “- Approx. 400,000 Americans were killed during WWII and 4000 in Iraq. That’s 1% of the loss in Europe to remove Saddam. I find it more than a little ironic that a man who constantly rants about the loss of lives in Iraq seems to be just fine with 100 times that number lost in Europe” Feb 8

    Why did you ignore the info I provided regarding Korea, Japan and Germany and attack the straw man of Vietnam? While I agree with you that Vietnam was probably a mistake, two things should be kept in mind:

    – We could have easily won that war if our leaders had the will and the courage. I could be wrong, but I’ve heard that the U.S. did not lose any battles during that war.

    – The rule of unintended consequences reared its ugly head when the “bring the troops back home now” crowd got its way only to see Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge kill over one million innocent people. That’s right, the blood of over a million innocent human beings is on the hands of the peaceniks … how ironic… how unreported.

    Now, I have extended the courtesy of answering you, so I hope you will do the same. On Feb 8th I asked you a question twice and you ignored it both times:

    – “Austin, why do you believe that the Korean War was a good idea?” Feb 8, 2:53 pm

    – “Not to be tedious, but I really would like to know why you believe that the Korean War was a good idea.z” Feb 8, 8:12 pm

    The reason I ask is because you have spoken in the past about America only going to war when we face an imminent threat, but then stated on Feb 8, 6:34 am

    “I tend to agree with WWII and Korea, but I disagree with Vietnam and Iraq” – Austin

    What exactly was the “imminent threat” that America faced from Korea in 1950?

  • Austin

    At the end of WWII, the Soviets attacked Japan in Manchuria and Korea going as far south as the 38th parallel. Everything North of the 38th parallel became Communist North Korea under Kim Il Sung. Everything south became the Republic of Korea, supported by the United States. In late June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, capturing the Capital of Seoul and driving the US and South Korean Forces down the the Pusan Perimeter. The US already had troops in Korea and they were driven back and defeated by the North Koreans. Truman had a choice: he could abandon our forces in Korea and the South Koreans to North Korean aggression, or he could send additional US forces to Korea to drive back the North Koreans. He chose the later.

    The United States landed the 1st Marine Division at Inchon and started the process of driving the North Korans out of South Korea. The war raged for 3 years and ended up in a statemate of sorts with both sides facing off along the 38th parallel, where they started.

    The Korean War as necessary to preserve the Republic of Korea from North Korean, and subsequent Chinese Communist aggression.
    Yes, the Republic of Korea has been a success story.

    There are some similarities between Korea and Vietnam, but Vietnam was a French possession, whereby Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh defeated the French in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu winning the indepence of the North. South Vietnam, was set up as a separate country, but required considerable propping up by the United States. North Vietnam and the South Vietnamese Communists tried to take over the South via Viet Cong Guerillas in the Saigon area and Mekong and North Vietnamese regulars who infiltrated into the South up in I Corps, or the Northern area of South Vietnam.

    You are corrct in stating that the NVA/VC never won a major victor in the field, but they did not have to. The South Vietnamese government was corrupt, incompetent and not supported by the people. The Communists did not have to defeat us, just hang on long enough and we would leave. We cannot stay forever. This was true then and it is still true. We have a window of opportunity to establish a local government capable of defending itself and if we fail, then we will not prevail.

    Lyndon Johnson did everything wrong in Vietnam. He allowed the NVA/VC sanctuaries in Camboida, Laos and North Vietnam, and he send us troops there piecemeal rather than as units.

    Yes, the Pathet Lao, our boy Pol Pot, murdered over a million people, his own countrymen. Guess who defeated the Pathet Lao in Cambodia and ended their carnage? The Vietnamese. The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and put and end to the butchery of the Pathet Lao.

    I am no supporter of the North Vietnamese, having actually fought them, but the truth is the truth and all the “dime store patiotism” I see from nitwits and moral imbeciles like Sarah Palin and George W Bush makes me gag.

    The United Stats should never have commited combat troops to Vietnam. We were lied to, again and again by another faux macho Texan.

    One thing that I have noticed about neo-cons is that they typically never served. Cheney, Wolfowicz, John Poderholtz, etc. Armchair commandos all.

    You speak of “only” 4,000 Americans Killed in Iraq, but much of this is due to our excellent medical people. We have many Iraq veterans who have lost arms, legs, brain function, etc. We are probably talking 25,000 maimed in one form or another. Do they count?

    Iraq was a mistake. Vietnam was a mistake. Iran would be a mistake. Enough mistakes. Enough dime store patiotism.

  • Jeff

    What IS the “Iraq War”?

    I think people mis-analyze the war for a number of reasons but two stand out:

    1. The Iraq War did not begin with George W. Bush. It began with his father.

    We “went to war” to help protect a friend from unjustified aggression. That war did not end with a peace treaty. Hostilities ceased with a sort of truce. A truce with conditions.

    Iraq violated those conditions over and over again. And as a result of that, we were engaged in a low level military conflict ever since. We patrolled “No Fly Zones” over the country, were shot at nearly every day, and shot back.

    For a variety of reason, we decided that the truce was not going to work. It was deteriorating over the passage of time and the longer we waited to fix it, the worse it was going to become.

    The standards for notching up a continuing conflict or calling off a truce which has been violated by the enemy are much lower than those for initiating a war. They must be. Or no one would ever sign a truce or pause during a conflict to try to find peace.

    2. The justice of the original invasion is not the calculus you use for the justice of the later stages of the war.

    For argument’s sake, let’s say that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was wrong. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean that Saddam retained a seat at the UN or open embassies while he was in prison. The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein in fact collapsed and was replaced by a legitimate elected government.

    In the later stages of the conflict, we were present and fighting in Iraq at the invitation of the legitimate elected government of Iraq. We are still there because the Iraqi government wants us there. But we are leaving! Yay!

    There are lots of other important points, like obligations to innocents to whom we have given our promise of protection, in the first place the Iraqi Kurds.

    But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was PERFECTLY legitimate under Just War theory as was our continued presence in Iraq afterward to fight al-Qaeda and Shiite radicals.

    In fact, it was a good and noble deed.

  • Austin

    If it was a “good and noble deed” why has it turned out so very badly? The Sunni and Shiites will continue to kill each other as they have done for centuries, and we cannot stop them. Iraq is a majority Shiite country, with a dominant Sunni minority. It is a creation of the First World War Peace treaties, whereby, old Mesopatamia was broken out of the defunct Ottoman Empire. So far, so good, but…the Sunni/Shiite problem has not gone away, nor will it. It’s kind of like Northern Ireland, except without the Guiness, in fact, without any decent beer or stout.

    The Neo-Cons wanted a US base in the Persian Gulf and Iraq was perfect. Hey, just invade, topple Saddam and his Baathist buddies and install a puppet government and we are home free. THe only problem, the Sunnis and Shiites still hate each other.
    Curious how we get these things wrong. Perhaps macho Texans don’t bother learning about our enemy, as Clauswitz, Lao Tzu, Machavelli, etc. always advised.

    It’s time to dismantle the Empire and come home. Build up our own nation, our own economy, take care of ourselves. Isolationist? You betcha, as Caribou Barbie would say.

  • Mark

    I have a hard time understanding the claim that Bush lied. Under the previous president the intelligence claim
    that Hussein was trying to develop nuke was never
    questioned; his saber rattling was welcomed, if not unquestioned by the country and his supporters. Much in the same way the Balkans bombing campaign intelligence, and airwar is unquestioned to this day.
    This situation did indeed change with 9/11; ignoring the Islamic threat as Clinton had done was no longer acceptable. European intelligence agencies placed at least one of the 9/11 hijackers in Europe, meeting with Iraqi diplomats who are also intel agents for Iraq. Hussein had been attempting to develop nukes before. It is a good thing he is finally gone.
    The Iraqi people have there freedom from American and
    British sacrificing their lives for them. I can only conclude they are worth it. I hope we make the right decision and help them stay as free as God intended them to be. By the way, there are many who are no doubt happy that Bush took out Sadaam.

  • Christopher Manion

    I was quite surprised to see this article republished after two years, but I haven’t changed my mind. I now appears that our government, whichever party is in power, wants to maintain a strong military presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and will spend hundreds of billions more to do it. Alas, all the Iraq war accomplished was to remove Iran’s immediate and sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein. Now the countries are on friendly terms.

    Was it worth it?

    And now Afghanistan. Each American servicemember there costs taxpayers about $1 million a year to maintain. There are twelve million Afghans. Obama wants to have 100,000 troops there this year.

    Do the math. How far would that $100 billion a year go? We could give every Afghan $8,000 a year — an astronomical sum in that poorest of the poor countries — to keep the peace. We could probably give ever member of the Taliban a cool million each to lay down their arms. Why does the USG insist on occupying the country? **Both** parties owe us some straight answers.

    The only comment I disagree with is from Paul May: “I know my brain is shallow in comparison to that of Mr. Manion’s.” I must disagree.

    I’ve got a lot to learn, Mr. May. So does our country. No president knows enough to run the world — I sure don’t. I just want to protect our country in the most successful way known to man — the Constitution. I advocate a humble, strong, forthright, moral, and constitutional foreign policy to achieve that end.

  • I am not Spartacus

    1. The Iraq War did not begin with George W. Bush. It began with his father.

    And his Father, and Dick Cheney, both publicly stated it would have been a serious error to go to Baghdad and remove Saddam because then there’d be no end in sight for our involvement.

    We “went to war” to help protect a friend from unjustified aggression. That war did not end with a peace treaty. Hostilities ceased with a sort of truce. A truce with conditions.

    Bush came to office determined to invade Iraq. 911 was just a convenient excuse to misapply to Iraq to try and convince others he was justified to do so.

    We patrolled “No Fly Zones” over the country, were shot at nearly every day, and shot back.

    We, and the Brits, established those no fly zones as an act of will (and war. (Can Cuba establish a no-fly zone over Miami-Dade County in Florida?) There was no UN mandate to do so and it was against Intl Law

    For a variety of reason, we decided that the truce was not going to work. It was deteriorating over the passage of time and the longer we waited to fix it, the worse it was going to become.

    We had no authority to “fix it”

    2. The justice of the original invasion is not the calculus you use for the justice of the later stages of the war.

    The first gulf war was also a joke. The first Bush lied about a Iraqi build-up on the shared border with Kuwait and we started the invasion not long after Amb April Glaspie told Saddam we, the US, took no position vis a vis the Iraq-Kuwait disputed ownership of the oil fields

    There are lots of other important points, like obligations to innocents to whom we have given our promise of protection, in the first place the Iraqi Kurds.

    Call me Spiritually Parochial, but I am more interested in protecting the Christians the war caused to flee their homeland

    But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was PERFECTLY legitimate under Just War theory as was our continued presence in Iraq afterward to fight al-Qaeda and Shiite radicals.

    No justification existed then nor does it exist now, especially given the easily-knowable facts

    In fact, it was a good and noble deed.

    Good Lord…

  • I am not Spartacus

    Copied form “Chronicles”

    Dr, Wilson,

    The above comment reminded me of something the former Senator David Boren, a Rhodes Scholar,and the longest-serving chair of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee wrote some years ago. He is a former Governor of Oklahoma, and has served as President of the University of Oklahoma for the past fourteen years,

  • Mark O

    “The Korean War as necessary to preserve the Republic of Korea from North Korean, and subsequent Chinese Communist aggression” – Austin

    I thought we weren’t the “policemen of the world”

    This seems inconsistent with the point you often make about America bringing its troops home and only going to war when we are directly faced with an imminent threat. North Korea posed no threat to us directly at all… especially 60 years ago when the weapons were comparably primitive.

    Thank you for responding this time, however.