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Thomas J. Farnan: Watch the words

The pope prefers diplomacy over Iraq. But diplomacy requires enforcement.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Last week, in an article about the Vatican's diplomatic efforts to prevent a war in Iraq, The Associated Press reported that Pope John Paul II "maintains that the conflict would be neither morally nor legally justified."

   Thomas J. Farnan, a lawyer from McMurray, is a lifelong Catholic and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the Notre Dame Law School (tfarnanlaw@aol.com). 

That would be an important event in human history, if the pope had actually said those words. But it is difficult to find any evidence that he did.

Rarely does the Roman pontiff throw the full weight of church teaching to one side or the other in a hotly contested international political debate. In his official statements, the pope has said such things as "war is a defeat for humanity" -- one could imagine Colin Powell or George W. Bush saying the same thing. Because it is true, indisputably.

The pope certainly has not addressed whether this would be a "just war" under traditional church teachings. He has not, for instance, discussed the propriety of war when one side violates the terms of a cease-fire, as Iraq has done.

Nor has he waded into the quagmire of what is imprecisely called "pre-emptive war" -- a modern phenomenon that arises when rogue states acquire weapons of mass destruction and manifest an intent to use them.

The church, in fact, has not spoken on the extraordinary moral dilemma faced by this president.

Consider: The president, as commander in chief, is oath-bound to defend the citizens of this country.

On his watch an irrational movement has emerged in the world, based on the patently insane belief that God wills the death of innocent Americans and that suicide is a heroic means to achieve that end.

The preferred method of attack for adherents to this movement is to cause explosions in populated places. The larger the explosion, the larger the population center, the greater the divine glory.

These mad bombers aspire to detonate a nuclear weapon in New York City, they would admit that. Absent a nuclear weapon, they will accept something less, like anthrax or smallpox or 737's full of jet fuel catapulted into skyscrapers.

At the geographic center of this soupy mix of irrational hatred is Saddam Hussein, a man who has conspired for 12 years against the international community to develop weapons of mass destruction.

He does not lead a sovereign nation. Rather, he imposes rule by unspeakable brutality, extracting tribute from his citizens to pay for tanks and missiles; which he then turns on them to extract unanimous consent for his governance.

The world does not know exactly what weapons he has in his arsenal because he will not tell, even though he agreed to full disclosure as part of a cease-fire upon his defeat in a previous war. We do know, though, that he has in the past launched chemical weapons against civilians; and he has attempted to develop nuclear and biological weapons, with some success.

Diplomacy has given this man a last chance to avoid war. All he had to do was to account for the weapons in his arsenal and to destroy the ones that violate the terms of the cease fire agreement. He did not do so.

The question might be framed differently: Would it be immoral not to disarm this man?

Contrary to recent reports, the pope has neither framed a moral question on the issue of Iraq, nor has he answered one.

Different bishops have said different things about the war, including some who have speculated that it would be immoral and unjustified. But the Bishop of Rome seems to have carefully avoided saying such a thing.

Instead, the pope has said a great deal about the horror of war. He should. World leaders need to be reminded of that.

The pope has also expressed a preference for diplomacy. That message is packed with meaning.

Diplomacy is a word that means the negotiation of terms among nations.

That definition has two interdependent parts: As much as diplomacy involves negotiation among nations, diplomacy also requires the enforcement of the terms reached through negotiation.

If terms are not enforced, there is no diplomacy, only wishful thinking.

There can be no doubt that diplomacy has worked here to produce many agreements, including a cease-fire agreement at the end of the last war. All that's missing for the consummation of the diplomatic process is the "enforcement" element.

Perhaps by invoking the concept of diplomacy, therefore, the pope really meant to say that war is necessary, lest diplomacy itself become irrelevant -- a ritualized act of wishful thinking.

But it would be wrong to put words in his mouth.

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