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‘Stay the Course’ Doesn’t Cut It, Change Is Needed

President Bush spoke simply and truthfully to the American people on Monday night from the Oval Office: “Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.”

He deserves a checkmark for candor.

That candor is in the starkest of contrasts with the terrifying language in the rush to war against Iraq with the Bush administration’s definitive statements about Hussein’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s ties to terrorists.

In October 2002, Bush was frightening the public into a war fever, warning that Hussein would “pass nuclear technology to terrorists.”

Bush asserted: “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof–the smoking gun–that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Accompanying the fear factor was the jubilation juke. The Bush administration peddled promises of rose petals being thrown at liberating American soldiers and the birth of a glorious democracy that would remake the Islamic world.

Well into the fourth year of the worsening American war in Iraq, Bush needed to stick with candor. Instead he slipped back into efforts to amp up support for the war with more fear: “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.”

He provided no new direction for how to end the battle for Baghdad, however. His plan is to “stay the course.”

Is staying the course a moral course? What wisdom do we derive from the Christian tradition of just war theory?

Just war rules have been developed and used within Christianity as a way to evaluate the morality of war. Just war offers a path for Christians between those who favor holy war, a crusading ethic that justifies violence in the name of God, and those who practice pacifism, a rejection of the use of military force against an adversary, as the way of Jesus.

Just war rules provide a way both to restrain the use of military force and to legitimize it when required. Just war protects a nation from risky military adventures and lost causes.

The rules include: just cause, meaning the reason for going to war is right; just authority for declaring war; last resort, meaning all diplomatic efforts have failed; just intention, meaning war is fought to restore right and not for oil or revenge; proportionality of cost, meaning the good achieved in victory outweighs the evil that exits; clear announcement of plans to go to war; and war is fought by a just means, meaning no intentional killing of noncombatants.

An eighth rule is that of a reasonable hope of success.

Almost exactly seven months ago, EthicsDaily.com posted an editorial titled “Just War in Iraq Requires Reasonable Hope for Success.”

The editorial critiqued Bush’s State of the Union address in which he said, “We are winning” in Iraq and “I am confident in our plan for victory.”

The day after his address to the nation, Bush said in Nashville, Tenn., “I believe we will be victorious in Iraq.”

The editorial said that “claiming that the U.S. is winning the war does not mean that the U.S. is in fact winning the war. Hoping for victory is not the same as holding a reasonable hope for victory.”

After reviewing the increasing deaths of U.S. forces, the mounting Iraqi civilian casualties and the failed rebuilding projects, the editorial concluded: “Staying the course in Iraq moves us down the road of folly and a long way from a just war.”

Everything has worsened since that editorial.

Now, the situation is commonly characterized as a civil war. And after the foot-dragging approach to reaching a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the U.S. has even more negatives in the Middle East.

We need a new course in Iraq, one guided by just war rules. We need change.

Robert Parham is the executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.

Previous related editorials:
Thumbs Up to Dixie Chicks for ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ 6/5/06
Just War in Iraq Requires Reasonable Hope for Success 2/8/06
World Suffers Consequences of Bush’s Refusal to Heed Wisdom of Christian Leaders 9/29/05
Where’s the Progress in Iraq? 8/19/05
Finding Our Way in Iraq 8/8/05
It’s Time to Admit Error, and Find a New Path in Iraq 7/29/05
Nation Needs Truth to Trust Government at War 6/30/05
Presidential Meekness as Sign of Strength 4/16/04
Telling The Truth Is Preferable To Blaming The News Media 9/25/03
America Needs Straight Talk About Iraq 7/14/03
Civilian Deaths Should Prompt Christian Call for Cease-Fire 4/9/03
Baptist War Editorials Range From Bizarre to Insightful 4/1/03
Bush Is Out of Step With Religious Leaders in Rush to War 2/14/03