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.

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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.

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