Striking First

Speaking on ABC's "This Week," General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "the United States military is ready for anything our commander-in-chief asks us to do." He also added, however, that President Bush "has . . . not made that decision at this point . . . "   And part of that decision must be whether a pre- emptive strike against Iraq fits within the criteria of the Just War Theory first articulated by St. Augustine.   In his State of the Union address, President Bush identified Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, as part of what he called the "Axis of Evil." The Bush administration has cited what it called Iraq's "determination" to acquire weapons of mass destruction.   These efforts not only threaten Iraq's neighbors; they raise the specter of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. That's why the president put Iraq and other nations "on notice."   If recent reports are correct, Iraq's time is running out. This has prompted questions about whether the U.S. is ready to wage war against Saddam Hussein. General Myer's comments are part of a campaign to reassure the American people of our readiness.   While military readiness is important, there is something else that the administration should be talking about: The rightness of a possible campaign against Saddam Hussein. And the way to determine whether such a campaign is justified is through the Just War Doctrine.   In Just War Theory, a nation not only has the right; it has the obligation to repel aggression. The question in the case of Iraq and the other members of the Axis of Evil is: Must we wait until aggression has occurred before we strike? Is it necessary to absorb unimaginable casualties before acting in self- defense? Or is a pre-emptive strike justifiable in the case of an imminent attack -- that is, by a clear and present danger?   This isn't the first time these questions have been asked with regard to Iraq. In 1981, Israeli F-16s bombed an Iraqi nuclear plant before it was operational. The plant, they suspected, was really for the production of nuclear weapons. The Israeli government justified the raid by stating that they "under no circumstances will allow an enemy to develop . . . weapons of mass destruction." And they shouldn't have to.   As theologian George Weigel says, "A pre-emptive military action is not only justifiable; it's morally imperative" in the face of such a threat. As he points out, the goal of the Just War Theory is to allow the original "legally constituted authority" to defend its citizens. Nothing in Just War Theory requires the authorities to wait until after they have been attacked.   So, the whole question of Iraq will turn on whether or not there is, in fact, an imminent threat. In the upcoming months, it is up to our leaders to make a case, not just in theory, but by citing specifics for pre-emptive action against Iraq. They must tell us what it is about this threat that makes not attacking Iraq irresponsible and immoral. If they can't make the case, they shouldn't attack.   But if they do make it, our military will then be armed with something much more powerful than smart bombs -- that is, the knowledge that their actions are truly just.   Thank President Bush for his strong, moral stand in designating Iraq a part of the Axis of Evil. You can write him at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20500. Or e- mail him at


Chuck Colson



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