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JIMMY CARTER: Just War . or a Just War?
Just War . or a Just War?
By JIMMY CARTER
ATLANTA . Profound changes have been taking place in American foreign
policy, reversing consistent bipartisan commitments that for more than two
centuries have earned our nation greatness. These commitments have been
predicated on basic religious principles, respect for international law,
and alliances that resulted in wise decisions and mutual restraint. Our
apparent determination to launch a war against Iraq, without international
support, is a violation of these premises.
As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by
international crises, I became thoroughly familiar with the principles of
a just war, and it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq
does not meet these standards. This is an almost universal conviction of
religious leaders, with the most notable exception of a few spokesmen of
the Southern Baptist Convention who are greatly influenced by their
commitment to Israel based on eschatological, or final days, theology.
For a war to be just, it must meet several clearly defined criteria.
The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options
exhausted. In the case of Iraq, it is obvious that clear alternatives to
war exist. These options . previously proposed by our own leaders and
approved by the United Nations . were outlined again by the Security
Council on Friday. But now, with our own national security not directly
threatened and despite the overwhelming opposition of most people and
governments in the world, the United States seems determined to carry out
military and diplomatic action that is almost unprecedented in the history
of civilized nations. The first stage of our widely publicized war plan is
to launch 3,000 bombs and missiles on a relatively defenseless Iraqi
population within the first few hours of an invasion, with the purpose of
so damaging and demoralizing the people that they will change their
obnoxious leader, who will most likely be hidden and safe during the
The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and
noncombatants. Extensive aerial bombardment, even with precise accuracy,
inevitably results in "collateral damage." Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander
of American forces in the Persian Gulf, has expressed concern about many
of the military targets being near hospitals, schools, mosques and private
Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered. Despite
Saddam Hussein's other serious crimes, American efforts to tie Iraq to the
9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing.
The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society
they profess to represent. The unanimous vote of approval in the Security
Council to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction can still be
honored, but our announced goals are now to achieve regime change and to
establish a Pax Americana in the region, perhaps occupying the ethnically
divided country for as long as a decade. For these objectives, we do not
have international authority. Other members of the Security Council have
so far resisted the enormous economic and political influence that is
being exerted from Washington, and we are faced with the possibility of
either a failure to get the necessary votes or else a veto from Russia,
France and China. Although Turkey may still be enticed into helping us by
enormous financial rewards and partial future control of the Kurds and oil
in northern Iraq, its democratic Parliament has at least added its voice
to the worldwide expressions of concern.
The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what
exists. Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it is
quite possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will destabilize
the region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our security at
home. Also, by defying overwhelming world opposition, the United States
will undermine the United Nations as a viable institution for world peace.
What about America's world standing if we don't go to war after such a
great deployment of military forces in the region? The heartfelt sympathy
and friendship offered to America after the 9/11 attacks, even from
formerly antagonistic regimes, has been largely dissipated; increasingly
unilateral and domineering policies have brought international trust in
our country to its lowest level in memory. American stature will surely
decline further if we launch a war in clear defiance of the United
Nations. But to use the presence and threat of our military power to force
Iraq's compliance with all United Nations resolutions . with war as a
final option . will enhance our status as a champion of peace and justice.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is chairman of the
Carter Center in Atlanta and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
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