New Rules of Engagement

Last week we saw a series of diplomatic maneuvers and disputes that threaten to alter America's relationship to NATO permanently. Germany, France, and Belgium vetoed a proposal to defend Turkey in the case of an Iraqi attack. The actions of our erstwhile allies prompted a Washington Post editorial called "Standing with Saddam." In it, the Post concluded that German and French efforts were designed to check American actions, not Saddam Hussein's. These efforts, the Post said, "could poison international relations for years to come." We need to understand what is driving this serious dispute and why President Bush appears to be so insistent on pushing a confrontation with Iraq, even if it means war and a breakdown of our relations with Germany and France. In last year's State of the Union address, the president pointedly referred to what he called the "Axis of Evil": Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. While such a moral description sounds alien in this postmodern age, it conveys the essence of the Bush doctrine for fighting terrorism. We live in a world where the greatest danger does not come from nation-states like Russia that can be deterred by the risk of nuclear annihilation. Instead, the risk comes from groups like al-Qaeda that transcend national borders. But these groups, you see, can only exist because they are harbored and aided by rogue states like Iraq. The terrorists need their weapons. We could try to stop the terrorists one cell at a time, but that is almost impossible. Some will get through, and many civilians will die needlessly. What you do instead is follow a well established military doctrine: Go for the source of their supply. That means confronting Iraq directly, and then others in the Axis of Evil. Stop the weapons, and you cripple the terrorists. The "Axis of Evil" was not just a clever speechwriter's phrase. It was a deliberate signal of a new policy to keep the world safe. Nations like France and Germany are living in the pre-September 11 past. They think diplomacy and sanctions will contain rogue states, but they do not, as Iraq's continued defiance of the UN shows. The Bush policy raises serious new questions for us: Can this kind of preemptive action against rogue states that feed the terrorists be reconciled with the just war doctrine? George Weigel, a theologian and expert on just war, says, "Yes." As he wrote in First Things, just war starts with the "moral judgment" that our leaders are "under a strict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom [they have] assumed responsibility." Fulfilling this responsibility requires enforcing "minimal international norms of order." According to Weigel, just war not only permits preemptive action, but it also demands it. To say otherwise would be to render the doctrine irrelevant in today's world and leave us with two amoral alternatives: cynical self-interest or what Weigel calls a "free-fire zone." So it is a time for a conversation to be led by Christians on how the just war tradition should apply to this new and unique set of circumstances because today the alternative to just war isn't peace; it is something too awful to contemplate. For further reading and information: "Standing with Saddam," editorial, Washington Post, 11 February 2003, A20. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020304, "Axis of Evil: Or, as CNN's Graphic Put It, 'The Axes of Evil.'" George Weigel, "Moral Clarity in a Time of War," First Things, January 2003. Claudia Rosett, "'Please Send Help': A message from northern Iraq," Wall Street Journal, 19 February 2003. Richard W. Stevenson, "Antiwar Protests Fail to Sway Bush on Plans for Iraq," New York Times, 19 February 2003 (free registration required). Brad Knickerbocker, "Pre-war action already underway," Christian Science Monitor, 19 February 2003. Dr. Robert George, "Can Preemptive Military Action in Iraq Be Justified?", BreakPoint WorldView, November 2002. Roberto Rivera, "A Better Country: Reflections on Just War," BreakPoint Online, 5 February 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020306, "Loving Your Neighbor: Just War and Charity." "Security in Dangerous Times" -- In this interview with "BreakPoint" Managing Editor Jim Tonkowich, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III brings his experience and faith in Christ to bear on issues of terrorism today. This CD also includes a speech, "Just War Tradition and the New War on Terrorism," by Wilberforce Forum board of reference member Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain. "A Fact Sheet on Just War Theory," BreakPoint Online, 3 December 2001.


Chuck Colson


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