Standing up against the hallelujah chorus for war

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It's too bad U.S. bishops are spending so much political and cultural capital on the religious liberty fight which is now becoming bogged down over contraception. Too bad because while they are engaged in what I suspect will be a losing battle in a rhetorical war, the voice they are raising, rare these days in Washington, against a real war is getting lost in the cultural haze.

As U.S. Senators have essentially now begun taking orders directly from AIPAC and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in a manner that would no doubt generate outrage in Israel were such frank interference attempted by the Obama administration—and as media reports continue to "soften" the American public in preparation for an "inevitable" confrontation with Iran, U.S. bishops have finally stepped into the fray raising a hand of warning.

In a March 2 letter from Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chair of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Justice and Peace, to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the bishops noted their concern over “an alarming escalation in rhetoric and tensions,” including Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to commercial traffic and speculation on the possible use of force against Iran, including an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

“The Bishops’ Conference urges the U.S. Government to continue to explore all available options to resolve the conflict with Iran through diplomatic, rather than military, means,” Bishop Pates said. “Before military options are considered, all alternatives, including effective and targeted sanctions and incentives for Iran to engage in diplomacy and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), need to be exhausted,” he added.

As they did before the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003, a war billed as a cakewalk by its promoters that proved finally to be a humanitarian and fiscal catastrophe, the bishops repeated their misgivings about the concept of pre-emptive war, now again being touted to justify an attack on Iran.

“In Catholic teaching, the use of force must always be a last resort. Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves they do not justify military action,” Bishop Pates said.

“Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive. Actual or threatened military strikes are likely to strengthen the regime in power in Iran and would further marginalize those in Iran who want to abide by international norms. And, as the experience in Iraq teaches, the use of force can have many unintended consequences,” he said.

“Iran is an example of the significant threat posed to global security by a proliferation of nuclear weapons. The specific situation of Iran should be viewed within the wider search for a just and peaceful world built on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. A morally responsible nonproliferation strategy must be tied to a clear strategy for reducing and ultimately ending the reliance on nuclear weapons by any country. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty itself ties nonproliferation to eventual nuclear disarmament.”

This is a strong and important warning from the bishops. It needs to be repeated vigorously until someone in Washington gets the message.