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Land on ‘Nightline’: ‘Truly evil’ Hussein justifies force

WASHINGTON (BP)–The truly evil nature of Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq calls for the use of force, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said before a national television audience March 4.

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission defended a potential United States attack against Hussein’s regime as an ethical act during a vigorous 90-minute discussion on ABC’s “Nightline.” Especially in recent weeks, Land has stepped forward as a leading religious advocate that military action in Iraq would qualify as a “just war.” The “Nightline Town Meeting” at a Washington, D.C., church marked the fourth national broadcast within a week in which he has defended possible American action.

Force is sometimes required when you are “dealing with truly evil people,” Land said. “What was it the Supreme Court justice said? He said, ‘I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.’ I know evil when I see it, and Saddam Hussein is evil.

“Martin Luther King Jr., when he was asked about [Christian leader Dietrich] Bonhoeffer’s moving from pacifism to take part in the plot to assassinate Hitler, said, ‘If your enemy has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and nonviolence. If your enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer.’ I think Saddam Hussein is a whole lot more like Hitler or Stalin, his personal hero, than anyone else in the 20th century.”

Land and five other panelists debated the appropriateness of U.S. military action now against Iraq before an audience in the sanctuary of St. John’s Church, an Episcopal congregation whose building is across Lafayette Park from the White House. Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey joined Land in defending the use of force now, while Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Mich., former acting American ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson and Chicago Theological Seminary President Susan Thistlethwaite opposed U.S. strikes.

The discussion included questions from an audience that included members of Congress, as well as the ambassadors from France and Germany, two of the countries opposing a military intervention in Iraq.

Thistlethwaite warned against the use of the label “evil.”

“When you say somebody’s absolute evil, you can justify anything you do against them,” said Thistlethwaite, adding that “you don’t gain by mirroring somebody else’s Satan. The other side is doing the same thing to us.”

Land rejected her description.

“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Iraq,” he said. “There was no moral equivalence between us and the Soviet Union. And there is no moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and an elected Israeli government. Are the Israelis perfect? No, but they’re not terrorists, and they don’t pay off terrorists.”

His former Princeton University ethics professor, the late Paul Ramsey, said people in mainline Protestantism too often “fall prey to what he called anticipatory reconciliation,” Land said.

“[T]hat is a belief that your enemy can always be reconciled, that he is basically a person who can see reason, and what have we done to offend him, what have we done to make him act this way, and let’s get together and, if we can just talk, we can work this out,” Land told the audience. “And as Paul Ramsey said, ‘That’s not the way grown-ups do foreign policy.'”

Levin contended the United States “ought to stick with the United Nations” by proceeding only with U.N. Security Council approval. “We ought to be rallying the world community so that Saddam sees at the other end of the barrel a united world, rather than a divided world,” he said. “[I]f you don’t deal with it through the United Nations … you can uncork and unleash horrendous terrorist response. You could actually fuel terrorism.”

Wilson argued “total war” is unnecessary at this point and called for the focus to be kept on disarmament of Hussein’s biological and chemical weapons, and potentially nuclear ones.

“Give disarmament a chance,” then “ratchet up the pressure” on Hussein if needed, Wilson said. “This next step is not a war in which we will be defending our national security interests. We will be launching an aggression.”

McCain disputed whether the U.N. inspection process is working.

“The fact is, he has not complied with the requirements. He has stiffed the inspectors,” McCain said of Hussein, adding the Iraqi dictator is violating an 18th Security Council resolution. “We can have intrusive inspections until the cows come home in a country the size of California.

“I believe strongly that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake,” McCain said. “If you don’t enforce the resolutions enacted by the Security Council, then you lose credibility, and then no one will comply anyplace in the world.”

The United States used its military in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s without the United Nations, McCain said. “We have acted in a far more serious way on this issue than we have on other occasions.”

While there may not be a direct Iraqi tie with al Qaeda, the terrorist organization behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, “is there anyone here, given his record, that believes that Saddam Hussein would not provide a terrorist organization with a weapon of mass destruction if he had it in order to destroy the United States of America?” McCain asked.

Though he doesn’t agree with President Bush’s possible use of the military, Wilson said when a questioner raised oil as a reason for war, “I don’t think for a minute it’s about oil. I think the president truly is motivated by a concern for national security.”

Land and Woolsey argued for the potential of a democratic government in Iraq.

“I think if you were going to pick an Arab country that has the best chance of having a stable, representative government, it would be Iraq,” Land said. “[The Iraqis] need help, and we’re going to give it to them.”

Woolsey said he thinks “there’s only one word for people who effectively say that Arabs are not going to be able to run democracies, and that word is ‘racist.'”

Land also contended an Iraqi engagement would meet the criteria for a “just war” during C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program March 2.

In an informal debate with Land on the program, James Winkler of the United Methodist Church’s Board of Church and Society argued the inspections process should continue. “I am willing to let nonviolent means to try to resolve this conflict go on for months or, I will admit, for even years to solve this crisis,” he said. “Opposition to war cannot and should not be equated to support for Saddam Hussein.”

When he hears people argue for more time for Hussein to comply, Land said he is reminded of a woman with an unfaithful husband. “[T]he hundredth time that he breaks his marriage vows, he says, ‘Honey, it will never happen again. I promise I’ll do better.’ And she takes him back again, and she believes him. There comes a time after 12 years when enough is enough, and naivete becomes criminal irresponsibility.”

The U.S.-led effort to drive Iraq out of Kuwait ended quickly in 1991, but Hussein has failed to fulfill the cease-fire agreement.

The criteria normally cited for a “just war” are:

— Just cause, as a defensive war;

— Just intent, for liberation, not destruction or subjugation;

— Last resort, when other means have been exhausted;

— Legitimate authority, with the approval of Congress, in America’s case;

— Limited and achievable goals;

— Noncombatant immunity, with every effort made to protect civilians;

— Proportionality, in which the benefit outweighs the cost.

Land also supported a military effort in Iraq during interviews on National Public Radio Feb. 26 and Nightline Feb. 28.