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Disturbing development (March 2, 2004)

Disturbing development (March 2, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Disturbing development

March 2, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0032}


An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**


Mr. David Kay, the person assigned by the U.S. government to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, has stated that he believes that such weapons did not exist when the United States and other nations invaded Iraq. This statement is a disturbing development in the on-going assessment of the mission and occupation of Iraq. It is cause for everyone to think more deeply about the doctrine of preemptive war as contained in "The National Security Strategy of The United States of America."

In this document the administration of President Bush concluded that "to forestall or prevent...hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." The administration justifies preemptive war as an option when it is believed that rogue states and terrorists are a threat to the United States. The doctrine of preemptive war goes beyond what "The National Security Strategy" describes as the traditional counsel of "legal scholars and international jurists" that "the legitimacy of preemption [is conditioned] on the existence of an imminent threat-most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing an attack." Instead, it states that "we must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries," namely, "rogue states and terrorists" who "rely on acts of terror, and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction."

By its own admission in "The National Security Strategy," the administration, in effect, acknowledges that its doctrine of preemptive war is a radical new strategy that is contrary to the traditional understanding of just war and the judgment of most "legal scholars and international jurists." Such a departure from established moral and legal norms must be demonstrated to have merit. Two of the traditional principles that are violated by this doctrine of preemption are that war should be a last resort and that there is too much danger of miscalculation in choosing to wage war preemptively.

The discovery that Iraq probably did not have weapons of mass destruction means that there was a gross miscalculation in the choice to invade and occupy Iraq. Even if some weapons are eventually discovered there would be a question of whether Iraq had been a threat grave enough to justify an invasion and occupation. Other reasons to justify an invasion, such as Saddam Hussein's past crimes of genocide, would be valid only if there had been "legitimate authority" according to just war theory, namely, the specific authorization by the United Nations to change regimes because of the injustice of the government, an authorization that had not yet been given by the United Nations.

War is the most important of all moral issues. Christians have a responsibility to reflect upon what might constitute genuine moral justification for action that results in death and destruction. The disturbing development that there is good evidence that a preemptive war was waged based upon a gross miscalculation deserves our prayerful reflection and dialogue in determining what should be the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in a dangerous world.


This commentary relates to World Issues/Christian Witness.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference.