Our nation cannot afford a shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to 'cut and run' versus 'stay the course.' Instead we need a forthright discussion that begins with an honest assessment of the situation in Iraq and acknowledges both the mistakes that have been made and the signs of hope that have appeared. Most importantly, an honest assessment of our moral responsibilities toward Iraq should commit our nation to a policy of responsible transition
.Our nation's military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as it takes for a responsible transition, leaving sooner rather than later.
Excerpt from "Toward a Responsible Transition in Iraq," January 13, 2006
Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Bishop of Orlando
Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Policy
What is the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Iraq today?
Believing that our nation is at a crossroads in Iraq, USCCB is calling for a substantive and civil dialogue on U.S. policy toward Iraq. "We must avoid two directions that distort reality and limit appropriate responses. We must resist a pessimism that might move our nation to abandon the moral responsibilities it accepted in using force and might tempt us to withdraw prematurely from Iraq without regard for moral and human consequences. We must reject an optimism that fails to acknowledge clearly past mistakes, failed intelligence, and inadequate planning related to Iraq, and minimizes the serious challenges and human costs that lie ahead. USCCB supports a policy of "responsible transition" that recognizes the new moral obligations that the United States has incurred in Iraq. USCCB supports a policy of "leaving sooner rather than later," and opposes both a premature withdrawal and an indefinite stay.
If you support "leaving sooner rather than later" are you not supporting just another version of "cut and run"?
No. USCCB recognizes that many Iraqis now see the presence of U.S. troops as part of problem that fuels the insurgency. At the same time many Iraqis know that the U.S. cannot simply leave without helping to establish greater security and political stability. The support of USCCB for a "responsible transition" coupled with "leaving sooner rather than later" reflects these realities.
If USCCB originally questioned the war, why doesn't the Conference favor immediate withdrawal?
While USCCB and the Holy See raised grave moral concerns regarding the decision to invade Iraq, once the United States initiated military action it incurred new moral responsibilities toward the Iraqi people. As the primary occupying power in Iraq, the United States has both legal responsibilities under international law and moral responsibilities to help provide security, rebuild the country and establish the rule of law. This is why "our nation cannot just look back."
What does USCCB mean by a "responsible transition?"
There are four basic benchmarks for a responsible transition. First, the U.S. must provide an adequate level of security. This does not require absolute security; but it demands a level of security whereby normal life resumes without violence being the norm of the day. Second, the U.S. must help establish the rule of law. The Iraqis recently adopted a new constitution and this is a significant development toward democracy and self-rule, but the U.S. needs to monitor its implementation to ensure protection of human rights and religious liberty. Third, the U.S. must promote reconstruction to help create reasonable levels of employment and economic opportunity. This means continuing to provide sufficient funding and technical support. Fourth, the Unites States needs to support the development of political structures to advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights.
What other challenges does the United States face in promoting a "responsible transition?"
Achieving a responsible transition also involves meeting four key challenges:
- Fighting Terrorism Responsibly: USCCB unequivocally condemns terrorism, but in the necessary confrontation with terrorists, our nation must guard against excessive military responses that endanger civilians or abuse prisoners. Such responses can violate human rights and undermine the winning of hearts and minds in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. In addition, terrorism cannot be fought solely with military methods; we must drain the swamps of poverty and powerlessness that terrorist leaders exploit to gain recruits.
- Protecting Religious Freedom: Religious freedom must be protected to promote true democracy. It would be ironic if Christians and other religious minorities had less religious freedom in post-war Iraq.
- Aiding Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Our nation and others must provide more support for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing dire situations in Iraq. Patriarch Delly of Baghdad has requested greater international assistance for refugees. USCCB urges the U.S. and other nations to provide greater support, including designating Iraqi religious minorities fleeing Iraq as a group of special concern for the purposes of refugee status and giving greater attention to Iraqi asylum requests in the United States.
- Meeting Other National Responsibilities: The war is costly both in terms of human lives and financial resources. The war cannot become an excuse for ignoring other pressing needs in the budget, especially the poor at home and abroad.
Yes. USCCB has repeatedly expressed support for the military and their families who bear a disproportionate burden of the struggle in Iraq. The Conference also affirms the critical ministry of military chaplains who serve in the name of the Church. But USCCB wants to be clear. Raising grave moral questions regarding the war, its conduct and its aftermath is not to question the moral integrity of military personnel. The Conference's criticism of the treatment of prisoners and detainees does not impune the integrity of the vast majority of those who serve in the military. "In fact, asking difficult questions is a patriotic and moral duty that reflects our values and serves the best interests of our nation and those who serve it with honor."
How does USCCB view the tactic of "preventive war?"
In light of the moral criteria of the just war tradition, our Conference remains highly skeptical of the concept of "preventive war." As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church clearly states: "[E]ngaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions." (# 501)
Where can I find more information on the position of USCCB on the Iraq war?
For Church statements on the war, visit: www.usccb.org/sdwp/peace/churchleaders.shtml For further information, contact: Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace (IJP), USCCB, 202-541-3160 (ph); 541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org; or Walt Grazer, IJP, 202-541-3182 (ph); 541-339 (fax); email@example.com. On refugee questions: Kevin Appleby, MRS, USCCB, 202-541-3260, KAppleby@usccb.org.