US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Which way on Libya?

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

In the week or so since my first blog post about the just war tradition as it applies to Libya, the U.S. bishops have spoken up (urging the president to stick to the narrow mission of protecting civilians), the pope has weighed in (asking for a ceasefire), and President Obama has taken his case before the American people in a televised address.

Commenters on my other post were quick to point out my shortcomings when it comes to military tactics; I don't claim to have any expertise there. My question is purely moral: Does U.S.and "allied" military action against the Gaddafi regime rise to the test of Catholic just war theory? That is, regardless of the political reasoning or alleged national interest, is the use of violence justified.

Proponents, including the president last night, invoked Gaddafi's wllingness to massacre his own people, an argument invoked when we began the war in Iraq. As a moral justification, I find it a little weak, because we certainly have not applied it evenly (we aren't invading Saudi Arabia, for example, or China, two countries with fairly dismal human rights records). Secondly, like it or not, there is a ground war in Libya; civilians have armed themselves and are violently opposing their government. Can we guarantee that if such rebels are victorious, they won't also commit atrocities against their opponents? What will we do then? Furthermore, the same no-fly policy and sanctions regime was implemented against Hussein in Iraq for a decade before the 2003 war; the only people to suffer were innocent civilians, who eventually bore the brunt ot the war anyway.

I'm stuck in the moral mud on Libya. I see no compelling moral reason, other than a hazy desire to protect innocents that has not spurred us to action in many other places, to enter this conflict. An arms embargo? Absolutely. In fact if we were really after peace, we would quit arming the world's nations and pressure other weapons producers (the UK, France, and China to start with) to do the same. But I do not think the president's justifications for action--an international coalition or a desire to protect innocents--suffice. If the wrong means are chosen, even a good desire is not sufficient, and there is no guarantee that the tons of munitions dumped on Libya will prevent bloodshed.

In this case, I think we must echo John Paul II and Paul Vi before him: No to war. War never again! Or the psalmist in Psalm 33: "The warhorse is a sham. Despite its power, it will not save." True then. True now.

I don't know what can save the Libyan people, but I don't think this is it.