A Just War Retospective on the Invasion of Iraq

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has “serious concerns” about President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. [1] Mr. McCain’s concerns arise out of views that Mr. Hagel expressed when he was a senator himself regarding the Iraq War. Mr. Hagel grew to oppose the war, while Mr. McCain remained an ardent supporter of the war and the policy behind it. At his confirmation hearing on January 31st, Mr. Hagel said that the Iraq war was the “most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.” [2]

Prior to the American invasion of Iraq, Pope John Paul II expressed views on the anticipated attack which were more in line with the opinion subsequently embraced by Mr. Hagel. [3] The Pope spoke from the standpoint of the Catholic Church, which has in its body of teachings the Just War Doctrine, which holds that the use of military force is legitimate only if the following four conditions are met:

“- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.” [4]

Applying the Just War Doctrine to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is to be remembered that there was no justifiable reason for believing that Saddam Hussein’s regime presented a threat of lasting, grave, and certain damage on either the United States or the community of nations. This is not said simply with the benefit of hindsight. The truth is that, immediately prior to the invasion, there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that Iraq presented such a danger.

On November 8, 2002, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, giving Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” following from the 1991 war that ensued from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and setting up “an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established” by previous Security Council resolutions. [5] Although Resolution 1441 arose out of Iraq’s previous noncompliance with inspections, Iraq’s cooperation with inspections was forthcoming shortly after the resolution went into effect.

By the time of the invasion the results of the inspections by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) were inconclusive, and UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix reported on March 7th that he needed more time. “Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude, induced by continued outside pressure, it would still take some time to verify sites and items, analyse documents, interview relevant persons, and draw conclusions,” he said. “It would not take years, nor weeks, but months.” [6] On the same day Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that he had found no evidence of a continuing Iraqi nuclear program. [7] On March 19th, the day before the invasion, Mr. Blix expressed his “sadness that three and a half months of work carried out in Iraq have not brought the assurances needed about the absence of weapons of mass destruction or other proscribed items in Iraq, that no more time is available for our inspections and that armed action now seems imminent.”

Because there was no certainty about the threat posed by Iraq at the time of the invasion, the commencement of the war was contrary to the first element of the Just War Doctrine. Since all elements of the doctrine must be satisfied in order to legitimize military force, the invasion of Iraq did not satisfy the doctrine’s requirements. But it is also clear that the second element of the doctrine was not satisfied because other means of resolving concerns about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities had not been “shown to be impractical or ineffective…,” in that Hans Blix was clear in stating that his agency had not been given adequate time to achieve success.

The position consistent with Catholic social teaching about the Iraq War was opposition to its commencement. A Secretary of Defense who can clearly see that it was an error to invade Iraq is a step in the right direction.

Jack Quirk