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Cause for military action dates back 12 years, former Bush adviser states

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–A former presidential adviser and expert in “just war” theory said Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Feb. 5 speech to the United Nations provided additional justification for taking action against Iraq.

However, ethics professor Daniel Heimbach said the intent should be to enforce the terms of surrender ending the Persian Gulf War, not because America fears attack by the Middle Eastern nation.

“Regime change as the intended purpose of war is outside the parameters of just war morality,” said Heimbach, a faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It may be the effect, but it cannot be the purpose without crossing the line into crusade morality.”

Powell, in his highly publicized speech, presented the case for a possible war to disarm Iraq. He used photographs and other information to prove that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein poses a danger to the world.

Should a conflict erupt, Heimbach said the key to understanding its moral justification is recognizing that the United States would be renewing a battle that never ended.

“That’s where hard evidence that they are in fact lying and hiding banned weapons that pose a threat is very relevant,” Heimbach said. “We feel threatened now by Iraq’s suspected link with Al Queda, but the moral justification for using pre-emptive force against Iraq, short of their taking proven steps against us, is enforcing the terms of the surrender they accepted 12 years ago.”

The son of former missionaries to China and a Vietnam War veteran, Heimbach served two years as deputy executive secretary of the Domestic Policy Council on the White House staff under former President George H.W. Bush. He later served another two years as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower in the Pentagon.

A memo he drafted to President Bush in 1991 about just war theory became the basis for a national speech by the president and the moral framework used for the Persian Gulf War. That address ultimately muted criticism of the forced removal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Hussein’s failure to get rid of biological and nuclear weapons as called for in his terms of surrender means that a just war has been in a 12-year-long cease-fire, the professor said.

“In terms of enforcing these conditions, the cause of the original Gulf War still applies,” Heimbach said. “Morally speaking, we’re not starting from scratch. Understanding this answers the question of moral support for using military action now. This should also help with public support and calming doubts about doing the right thing.”

This distinction in reasons is crucial, Heimbach said. He called the just war ethic a well-established tradition rooted in classical Greek philosophy and practice, and in the Bible, particularly Deuteronomy and Amos.

Although Augustine, a Christian theologian, is often credited with establishing this theory, it was well-developed by the Greeks and Romans long before, Heimbach said. The just war moral tradition has evolved over many years and does not go back to a single person or text.

Among the principles Heimbach cited to former President Bush – and which he said the current president has met:

— Just cause. Starting or joining a war must be to restore justice, “which remains the same as before.”

— Competent authority. The president has constitutional authority to order military units into action, but Congress also has rendered approval. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress authorized the president to use necessary means, including war, to oppose any nation supporting terrorists who attacked the country, Heimbach said, and the president claims he has intelligence confirming such support.

— Last resort. All nonviolent alternatives must fail before using war to solve a problem. The United States has waited patiently for 12 years for Hussein to keep his word, the professor said.

— Probability of success. It is never right to sacrifice life and property in a hopeless cause. While it is impossible to predict how a war might affect Islamic militants around the world, Heimbach said the probability of success is high.

— Right spirit. It is not right to go to war while hating your enemy. President Bush, in his State of the Union speech, made it clear that he and the American people love the people of Iraq and will be generous when Saddam Hussein finally yields, Heimbach said.

— Right intention. The external result intended must be restoring peaceful order, not replacing government, glory, humiliation or punishment. “President Bush made it very clear in his State of the Union address that our ultimate goal is restoring peace and stability to the region.”

But at this point, Heimbach noted, the United States is also “walking on thin ice” because our leaders are speaking about removing Hussein from power. He said the just war tradition focuses on denying a tyrant the fruit of his aggression, not on going in to change a government.

“I would advise President Bush not to speak of intending to replace Saddam Hussein and to instead limit his statement of purpose to enforcing the terms of surrender Iraq accepted to end the Persian Gulf War,” Heimbach said.

“Reducing our own fear and sense of vulnerability is not a just cause by itself,” he added. “Excusing wars of aggression to achieve something we think is better is crusade thinking. That is exactly the same way terrorists excuse slamming airliners into office buildings.”

Despite this caution, Heimbach said he believes President Bush is taking morally justified steps amid a dangerous situation in which Iraq has become the world’s strongest supporter of terrorism.

And, while he prays someone will discover a way to remove the threat of war, Heimbach believes President Bush has good reason to think the United States has reached a point of last resort before renewing military action following a 12-year cease-fire.

“If that is where we are, and Iraq continues to resist, President Bush would not be a responsible moral leader if he did not order Americans to war to restore a just peace,” the ethics professor said.

The question of reaching the point of last resort is always a critical issue in applying a just war approach, Heimbach said.

For example, while Powell told the United Nations that Iraq had been given a chance to avoid war and failed to seize it, envoys from France, Russia and China have suggested the U.N. inspectors need more time and should continue with inspections.

Heimbach said this demonstrates two approaches to the last-resort principle. Some treat it as if there should be no time limit, but traditional just war thinking allows leaders to set reasonable deadlines for the other side to act.

“You can always have another diplomatic visit or another U.N. inspection and if there is no time limit it can go on and on and on,” Heimbach said. “That turns the last-resort principle into a version of pacifism because it never allows you to arrive at last resort. Within traditional just war thinking, the principle is not open-ended.

“In this case, if we’ve given Hussein a fair chance to be candid and open and as he fails to respond within a reasonable time, just having visit after visit is not the right thing to do.”

Powell’s speech drew high marks from another Southern Baptist ethicist, Richard Land, executive director of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Calling the secretary of state’s presentation “compelling,” Land said it gave ample proof of Hussein’s deception in his attempts to conceal weapons of mass destruction.

“As Secretary Powell so pointedly reminded the assembly, the burden is on Iraq, not the weapons inspectors, to reveal and to give up weapons of mass destruction and not to play a silly and dangerous game of hide and seek to see if the inspectors can find them,” Land said.

“The case for using force to bring upon disarmament and regime change in Iraq was clearly and convincingly made for anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. The sentiments of those questioning and rejecting the arguments of Secretary Powell reveal more about themselves than they do about the Bush administration’s policies on Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical government.

“For those critics who say in spite of Secretary Powell’s presentation that there is no ‘smoking gun,’ my response is to be thankful that one has not been fired,” Land said. “We can’t wait for the dangerous guns Saddam Hussein has to be fired because many innocent people will have been injured or killed.”

Whether this confrontation leads to war or not, Heimbach concluded his remarks with an appeal for prayer.

While there should be ample public discussion of the issue, under just war tradition the responsibility for deciding if the nation has reached the point of taking action rests on the president, the Southeastern Seminary professor said.

“We can talk about it and perhaps some are in positions to advise, but the moral and political decision is ultimately President Bush’s responsibility,” Heimbach said. “I, for one, am praying he is wise, patient and courageous. That is a prayer I think all Christians should have on their lips right now.”

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  • Ken Walker