Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Flower power-1

Dear Dr. Hays,

I read with some interest your recent article on ‘War, not sex, is the issue.’ You open your article by saying that ‘Christians in the United States should stop fighting one another about issues of sexuality so that we can focus on the deepest moral crisis of our time: our responsibility for the destruction our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.’

To begin with, I don’t know of any Christians who are fighting one another over sex. All I’ve heard of is a battle between nominal believers and outright unbelievers, on the one hand, who are trying to impose their immorality on the church, and Bible-believing Christians, on the other hand, who are fighting back.

I also don’t know by what criteria you judge the Iraq war to be the deepest moral crisis of our time. Certainly there are other candidates for that distinction. Some would say that abortion is the great moral issue of our time. Some would say the persecution of the faithful around the world. Some would say the need to defeat gobal jihad. Some would say the attack on traditional family values.

However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Iraq war is the great moral issue of our time. How does that justify your characterization of the conflict: ‘our responsibility for the destruction our national has inflicted upon the people of Iraq’?

Before we toppled Saddam, the people of Iraq were living under the most oppressive despot in the Mideast. And we are now rebuilding a country whose infrastructure had deteriorated under decades of tyranny.

In fairness, though, you offer some supporting arguments for your allegation. You begin by saying that the US ignored just-war criteria.

That is a very debatable contention. Roman Catholic scholars such as Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak have argued at some length that the Iraq war had satisfied just-war criteria.

Richard John Neuhaus, 'War in a New Era.'

Neuhaus, 'Just war is an obligation of charity.'

'Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on the Iraq Crisis.'

Michael Novak, 'Asymmetrical Warfare & Just War.'

So, to be taken seriously, you would need to make a case for your contention. For example, it seems rather obvious that in some cases, at least, preemption is a logical extension of national self-defense, viz., the Six Day War, or when Israel took out Iraq's nuclear reactor.

Your accusation also assumes, without benefit of argument, that just-war criteria should dictate our defense posture. But since you are a Methodist rather than a Thomist, it is unclear to me why you resort to medieval moral theology as your point of reference.

I wonder, do you extend this line of reasoning to what Aquinas would have to say about the ordination of homosexuals?

Thus far, your article consists in a string of assertions instead of arguments. However, you go on to cite some statistics, the purpose of which is, I gather, to bolster your case. You say that at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, along with more that 900 American soldiers, and that ‘thousands more have been wounded and maimed on both sides of the conflict.’

'Both sides'? The last sentence is fascinating for what it reveals about your ethical center of gravity. Are you insinuating some sort of moral equivalence between American soldiers and suicide bombers?

On the one hand, we have American soldiers are risking their lives to defend the civilian populace; on the other hand, we have a terrorist network that is targeting the civilian populace.

The death of American soldiers is tragic, but that is really beside the point. In any war, soldiers are killed. Even just-war criteria war take that much for granted.

In addition, Catholic moral theology operates with the double-effect principle. Collateral damage may be an inevitable and licit side-effect of a just war. If you don’t agree with this, don’t invoke just-war theory in the first place.

You then say that ‘justifications proposed by the president and other leaders have proven false: no weapons of mass destruction, no involvement by Iraq in the 9-11 attacks or in sponsoring al-Qaida.’

But there are numerous errors in this summary:

i) When or where did the president or any of his war cabinet ever propose an Iraq/9-11 link as a justification for the war? Can you produce a single hyperlink to any speech or interview or press conference in which the war was predicated on such a connection?

You seem to be parroting a popular urban legend about the causus belli. Maybe you need to go back and check your sources.

ii) I’d add that if you read the Congressional war resolution, the causus belli is broader than WMD or al-Qaida. So, on the one hand, you’ve oversimplified the official causus belli while, on the other hand, you’ve intruded a gratuitous justification (an Iraq/9-11) link which was no part of the official causus belli.

I have to wonder if this is the quality of scholarship you bring to your NT writings. It is your habit not to consult primary source data before you go to press?

iii) We need to draw an elementary distinction between being right and being in the right or having the right. We must often make important decisions based on insufficient evidence. Life confronts us with forced options, as Williams James has said. But the moral warrant for a particular action does not depend on our being right.

I see a man breaking into a house. I call the cops. It turns out that the man was not a house-burglar, but the homeowner, who had locked himself out of his own home. Was I right to call the cops? No. Was I in the right to call the cops? Yes.

A suspect brandishes a toy gun and points it at a policeman. From a distance, the toy gun looks like the real deal. The policeman shoots him dead. Was the policeman right? No. Was the policeman in the right? Yes.

The most that we can expect of a president is not that he be right, but that he be reasonable, acting on the best evidence at hand, and opting for the most likely rather than least likely interpretation of the evidence.

The salient question is not whether Bush was right, but whether he had the right to act on what he thought he knew. What was the state of prewar intel? Just off the top-of-my head, I'm able to come up with the following:

a) In his biography (American Soldier), Tommy Franks says he was told by both King Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak that Saddam had WMD. So that was the state of Arab intel.

b) Bob Woodward, in his new book (Plan of Attack), quotes George Tenant as assuring Bush that Saddam had WMD. So that was the state of CIA intel.

c) Lord Bulter’s report reaffirms the finding of MI-6 that Saddam was trying to acquire yellowcake from Africa. So that was the state of British intel.

d) Putin warned Bush of planned Iraqi attacks on the mainland. So that was the state of KGB intel.

e) Former UNSCOM inspectors like David Kay and Richard Butler, in various prewar interviews, assured the public that Iraq had WMD. So that was the state of UN intel.

BTW, I even heard Hans Blix, on Hardball, express his surprise that we didn’t find WMD in Iraq. He also admitted that inspectors could never have done their job as long as Saddam was calling the shots.

f) Iraqi defectors, such as a nuclear scientist, gave many prewar interviews affirming a WDM program. So that was the state of Iraqi intel.

Even assuming that all this turns out to have been false, would it not have been recklessly irresponsible of Bush to disregard all this information? Is it your position that a commander-in-chief, after escalating attacks on American interests abroad under his predecessor, and culminating in the attack under his own watch on 9/11, should disregard the information he was being fed by his own DCI, by MI-6, by the KGB, by Arab leaders, as well as former UNSCOM inspectors and Iraqi defectors?

It is better to be right than wrong, but as I say, we often have no choice in life but to act on the basis of inadequate information, for both action and inaction carry potential and unforeseeable consequences.

Relative risk assessments are made all the time in various walks of life, by drug companies, insurance companies, by gov't when issuing a mandatory evacuation orders in case of a tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption, wildfire, &c., or when it quarantines a carrier or infected population group to prevent an epidemic or pandemic; when the military decides to vaccinate its servicemen, when it devises a battle plan, &c.

I'd add that the Iraq war is not all of a piece. It is possible to support regime-change, but oppose nation-building; to support disarmament, but oppose democratization.

And I have been assuming, for the sake of argument, that Bush was mistaken. But on what basis do you claim that Bush has been ‘proven’ wrong? How has the postwar situation falsified the evidence of an Iraq/al-Qaeda connection, or even WMD?

When Colin Powell gave his UN address, most of it consisted, not in the claim that Saddam had WMD, but that Saddam had had WMD, and that the onus was on Saddam to document that he no longer had WMD, given the status quo ante.

Again, Bush, in his prewar Cincinnati speech, didn't’ say that Saddam had a nuclear weapons program. Rather, he said that we didn’t know the state of his nuclear weapons program, and that was precisely the problem.

Now maybe you’d disagree with the burden of proof, but that is how the administration framed its case for going to war.

In addition, there are many postwar books and articles and other findings that reaffirm everything you deny, and a good deal more. Off-the-cuff, the following items come to mind:

i) Laurie Mylroi, 'Iraq's Complicity in Terrorism,'

ii) The 'Feith Memo'

iii) Evan Kohlmann's website:

iv) September 11 Commission report (p. 66)
In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis.

September 11 Commission report (p. 66)
Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 92, p. 345)
The Central Intelligence Agency's examination of contacts, training, safehaven and operational cooperation as indicators of a possible Iraq-al Qaida relationship was a reasonable and objective approach to the question.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 94, p. 346)
The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably and objectively assessed in Iraqi Support for Terrorism that the most problematic area of contact between Iraq and al-Qaida were the reports of training in the use of non-conventional weapons, specifically chemical and biological weapons.

Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report (Conclusion 95, p. 347)
The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment on safehaven--that al-Qaida or associated operatives were present in Baghdad and in northeastern Iraq in an area under Kurdish control--was reasonable.

For more citations, cf. S. F. Hayes, 'No Terrorism in Iraq Before the War?'

v) The David Kay Report:
Best of the Web Today - October 3, 2003

David Kay's preliminary report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is out. Here are some highlights (with a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan ):

*** QUOTE ***

We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld and through physical evidence of equipment and activities that ISG [Iraq Survey Group] has discovered that should have been declared to the UN. . . .

Let me just give you a few examples of these concealment efforts . . .:
-A clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring and suitable for continuing CBW [chemical and biological weapons] research.

-A prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of BW agents, that Iraqi officials working to prepare for UN inspections were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN.
-Reference strains of biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, one of which can be used to produce biological weapons.

-New research on BW-applicable agents, Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin were not declared to the UN.

-Documents and equipment, hidden in scientists' homes, that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS).

-A line of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] not fully declared at an undeclared production facility and an admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to a range of 500 km, 350 km beyond the permissible limit.

-Continuing covert capability to manufacture fuel propellant useful only for prohibited SCUD variant missiles, a capability that was maintained at least until the end of 2001 and that cooperating Iraqi scientists have said they were told to conceal from the UN.

-Plans and advanced design work for new long-range missiles with ranges up to at least 1000 km--well beyond the 150 km range limit imposed by the UN. Missiles of a 1000 km range would have allowed Iraq to threaten targets through out the Middle East, including Ankara, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi.

-Clandestine attempts between late-1999 and 2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to 1,300 km range ballistic missiles--probably the No Dong--300 km range anti-ship cruise missiles, and other prohibited military equipment.

*** END QUOTE ***

'In addition to the discovery of extensive concealment efforts,' Kay continues, 'we have been faced with a systematic sanitization of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories, and companies suspected of WMD work. The pattern of these efforts to erase evidence--hard drives destroyed, specific files burned, equipment cleaned of all traces of use--are ones of deliberate, rather than random, acts.'

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