Iraq and just war, revisited

A year later, here’s the question posed to those who argued that it would be morally justifiable to use armed force to compel Iraq’s compliance with U.N. disarmament resolutions: if you knew then what you know now, would you have made the same call?

I would.

We know some things now that we also knew then. We know Saddam Hussein was in material breach of the “final” U.N. warning, Resolution 1441; his formal response to 1441 was a lie. We know he had the scientists, the laboratories, and the other necessary infrastructure for producing weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. We know he was seeking long-range ballistic missiles (again in defiance of the U.N.) to deliver biological, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons. We know now, in even more horrifying detail, that Saddam’s was a terror regime in which unimaginable brutality was normal state practice. We know, now as then, that Saddam’s regime provided safe haven for terrorists.

And we should know now, as we should have known then, that these four facts – Saddam’s pursuit of WMD, his internal repression, his defiance of the U.N., and his links to international terrorism – were of a piece. Some have said recently that Saddam himself was the real “weapon of mass destruction” in Iraq. That’s a little too clever. But the truth in the trope is that Saddam’s regime, as its actions and capabilities demonstrated, was an “aggression underway.” The aggression took different forms at different moments over twenty-some years. But the “aggression” was constant.

We also know now that we haven’t found caches of WMD in Iraq. What difference does this make to the moral analysis?

Prior to the war, no one doubted that Saddam had WMD. The U.N. thought he did. France thought he did. The only question in dispute was, how was he to be disarmed? And while the investigation of Saddam’s WMD programs is incomplete – millions of pages of documents remain to be translated; some high-ranking Iraqi WMD scientists still refuse to cooperate – it seems to me that something like this happened:

Saddam got rid of chemical and biological weapons in various ways: some were destroyed outright, other materials may have been sent to Syria, still other weapons may remain buried. Saddam was willing to bet that the U.N. would never authorize an armed enforcement of its resolutions; that the U.S. would cave in; and that he could then ramp-up his WMD programs after U.N. sanctions were lifted. Meanwhile, as David Kay noted in his now-famous report, internal controls were eroding in Baghdad, making it more likely that Iraqi military officers or scientists would transfer WMD to terrorists or other rogue states (which is why Dr. Kay told the Senate that, despite the failure to find WMD caches, Iraq was perhaps even more dangerous than we thought).

Suppose we knew all that in March 2003? Would that have made a substantive difference to the moral case for the war?

I don’t think so. If the “regime factor” is crucial in calculating “just cause” in situations like this, the more complex WMD situation as we now understand it doesn’t vitiate the case for the war. As David Kay suggested (in a largely unreported comment), it may strengthen it in some respects.

And while moral arguments from consequences are not without difficulties, the case for the war has also been strengthened by several of its results: Iraq is building the infrastructure of a civil society; no more mass graves are being dug; rape is no longer an instrument of state policy; a free press flourishes; children are learning from reliable textbooks rather than being poisoned by propaganda; an interim constitution that provides protection for a broader array of human rights and a more representative form of government than can be found anywhere else in the Middle East has been successfully negotiated by a wide variety of Iraqis; Iraq’s economic resources, including its oil, are being used for the benefit of the Iraqi people, not a murderous regime; the Iraqi people are vigorously engaged in publicly debating their future.

A year later, I would still contend that the war was morally justified. The argument isn’t a simple one. In this kind of world, it never is.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”