Republican presidential candidates (L-R) U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona.
Culture wars won the GOP Arizona debate, though actual war did come up. There was a chilling assumption among the majority of the GOP debaters that taking preemptive military action against Iran was a good idea. Culture wars by GOP candidates are being waged from their faith perspectives. But when it comes to actual war? Not so much.
From a faith perspective, what does it say especially about Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich’s Catholic faith that they think a preemptive strike on a country that has not attacked us is justified?
As Catholics, they especially should recall that preemptive strikes, as against the presumed “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, were not morally justified according to both the U.S. Catholic Bishops, and the Vatican. Preemptive strikes do not satisfy the criteria of Just War; this is the position put forward forcefully and repeatedly by Pope John Paul II, who spoke out against the idea that attacking Iraq was justified as a “last resort” in preemption. I, and other Protestant leaders, strongly argued that “preemptive war” is not “Just War,” it’s just more war.
According to Connor Boyack, author of “Latter-day Liberty: A Gospel Approach to Government and Politics,” writing on the subject of preemptive war, “the Book of Mormon neither illustrates nor supports the position of preventive war.” Yet, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, seemed undeterred from the concept, declaring in the Arizona debate, “We must not allow Iran to have nuclear weapon…If I’m president, that will not happen. If we re-elect Barack Obama, it will happen.”
Rick Santorum agreed with Romney’s assertion, except that it would be “President Santorum” who would be the best one for the job. Santorum is consistent; when asked earlier this year if a “President Santorum” would bomb Iran if they were going to obtain nuclear weapons, Santorum replied, “Yes, that’s the plan.”.
Ron Paul, on the other hand, thinks that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and attacking them is a bad idea. But Paul also thinks sanctions don’t work.
But with the exception of Paul, these few Republican presidential candidates seem to be some of the only leaders who think bombing Iran is a good idea. Famous former Israeli intelligence chiefs, think bombing Iran would be disastrous for Israel and the region; so does the head of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who has said that a war with Iran “would be really destabilizing … I personally believe that we should be in the business of deterring [war] as a first priority,” he said.
Ron Paul’s casual dismissal of sanctions, therefore, is equally troubling. This week a top delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is back in Tehran following a declaration from Iran that it’s ready for talks. Talk, inspect, sanction, repeat: that’s the way to deal with Iranian nuclear pretensions. Sanctions are slow and it can seem like there is “fog of sanctions.” Is it working, not working? When will we see “regime change”?
But it does work over time.
Iranians have recently been posturing on their nuclear program; this is a sure sign that sanctions are working. Americans aren’t the only people whose politicians play to their base; Iranians do too. When Ahmadinejad puts fuel rods in a reactor, he’s isn’t literally making a bomb, he’s making political statements.
Sanctions are working in Iran, and so their leadership acts tough and blusters about their “successes.”
What does it say about these American political candidates who seem to be falling for this Iranian bluster and think bombing Iran is a way to go? Mr. Gingrich seemed particularly prone to being fooled by Iranian bluster, criticizing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for characterizing Iran as a “rational actor” and defending the possibility of preventing an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
Unfortunately, when a prominent political candidates say that bombing Iran is a good idea, or sanctions don’t work, it just makes the work of the Atomic Energy Commission in talks and inspections, and the all important question of possible military uses of Iran’s nuclear program, that much harder. What American politicians say about “bombing Iran” is certainly reported around the world, and in Iranian media. It feeds the fear-mongering among Iranian leadership that they engage in, both in their own country and in the Middle East. Indeed, American politicians planning for bombing while sanctions seem to be working, and inspections are ongoing, makes it less likely the sanctions will ultimately succeed and more likely that war can occur.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Political and religious conservatives like these GOP candidates rush to defend the culture wars from their faith perspectives, but when it comes to pursuing preemptive war against a country that has attacked us, they are silent on their faith, and on the explicit teaching of Jesus that peacemaking is blessed.
Why the faith silence when it comes to preemptive war? Could it be because their faiths don’t support attacking someone who has not attacked you?