I replied that I expected the Vatican to proceed in a more catholic manner than that. ~Michael Novak

This from the man who went as the lackey of Mr. Bush to tell Pope John Paul II what just war really meant (because Novak & Co. had the better understanding of the matter)!  Talk about audacitas!  So it took Novak two whole days to spit at Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi address?  He’s clearly starting to lose his anti-Vatican reflexes.

Novak is, of course, attacking Pope Benedict for saying, “Nothing positive comes out of Iraq.”  Because so many “positive things” come from Iraq.  This is partly true, if you count Christian and other Iraqi refugees as ”positive things.”  This reminds me of one First Things contributor attacking Pope Benedict last summer for saying that “war is the worst solution,” because, well, it is.  Even though what the Pope said was true and consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, as I tried to show at the time, it was too wobbly of a statement for our jingo friends at First Things.  Naturally, there would hardly have been reason for folks at First Things to comment on the Pope’s remarks in that case had the war going on at the time not involved Israel or the United States. 

This week, Fr. Neuhaus at least manages to dismiss the Pope’s opinion without piling on with quite so much obvious hypocrisy, but he did have this unintentionally amusing remark:

Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.

Imagine how much more galling it is to watch those who claim to defend adherence to the entirety of church teaching justify “preventive” war to “prevent” some theoretical future threat.  It is not only “preemptive war” that cannot be found in the Catechism.  Then there is that bothersome “last resort” qualification, which the FT crowd seems not to understand.  For them, it would seem as if all that you need to have a just war is a convenient pretext that there may be some future threat of aggression from another state (of course, using this dubious moral reasoning, terrorist attacks against the U.S. are just anticipatory strikes against the people who would try to attack them later anyway–emptying just war of all meaning cuts both ways).  By the same sort of thinking, Iran would be justified in launching preventive strikes against Israel’s preventive strikes that are designed to prevent Iran’s preventive strike, and on and on it would go ad nauseam–all in the name of perfectly just self-defense, of course.  It turns an admirable aspect of the Christian moral tradition into a respectable cover for the brutal logic of rival mob bosses racing to off each other.  Pretty clearly, this talk about “defensive” preventive war simply repackages whatever is about to happen as self-defense (not unlike what the Germans did when they invaded Belgium in 1914) and the person saying it will then take umbrage at the suggestion that this is all a lot of propagandistic nonsense.  In a world where everyone is theoretically a potential aggressor (except maybe Liechtenstein and Vatican City), it no longer matters who actually strikes the first blow or provokes the conflict, and so it also no longer matters whether the supposed threat from the other state is even real.  It might be real, and that is good enough for the quack court theologians of this administration.  With every state a potential aggressor (with only the likelihood of aggression preventing us from, say, ”defensively” occupying Canada), every war can become more or less justifiable.  The horrors that this sort of perverted reasoning could lead to are not hard to imagine: if you believe a hostile state is developing nuclear weapons with the intent to use them against you, how long before it becomes the respectable First Things position that the “preventive” and “defensive” use of “tactical” nukes against that state is justified?  Depending, of course, on the “prudential judgement” of the magistrate, that is!     

Nobody is more blithely indifferent to Catholic teaching on war than Catholic neoconservatives.  His creative and, it seems to me, dishonest description of George Weigel’s awful article defending the just war merits of preventive war is a small contribution to this bad old tradition of indifference.

Now Novak isn’t satisfied with describing the address as a “low point.”  He wants you to know just how much good news there is in Iraq:

Under Saddam, scholars say there were between 75-125 murders of civilians every day. Bad as the murders are now under sectarian vengeance, the numbers of dead every day rarely reach that total, and most days are considerably below it.

Leaving aside the total lack of sourcing for this claim (”scholars say” is the laziest citation in the world), let’s think about those latter claims.  This murder rate presumably refers to all of Iraq in the Saddam era.  In Baghdad alone during the past year, there have routinely been 2,000-3,000 deaths per month that have been counted and reported, which means approximately 66-100 dead per day in Baghdad, at least during the last year.  (Incidentally, violent sectarianism has gone hand in hand with the politicisation of sect and ethnicity in the elections, which makes it unclear how those elections can be credited as something genuinely positive.)  I believe these figures do not normally include the victims of car bombs, which might raise it still higher.  That means that sectarian killings and other murders in Baghdad easily account for much of this supposed pre-war murder rate for all of Iraq, and this may hardly scratch the surface of what is happening elsewhere in the country (for which we have far less reliable numbers).  Of course, the threat of random catastrophic violence of the car-bombing type automatically makes life in Baghdad worse than it ever was before the war.  It is bizarre to suggest otherwise.  Add to that the tens of thousands (or perhaps more) of civilians who have been or are being slain during combat operations, and you obviously have a significantly worse situation, before you even take into account deteriorating living conditions and so forth.  Millions of Iraqis, who are usually the educated professionals who have the means to get out, have fled this country that is apparently enjoying a Giulianiesque recovery from a rabid Saddam-era crime spree.  Our open borders friends usually like to talk about how immigrants are “voting with their feet” when they come here in droves, but watch as they switch gears and pretend that millions of people fleeing a country tells us nothing about the horrible state of that country when we are talking about Iraq. 

And, yes, Novak has actually cited the Sadrist rally protesting the occupation as proof of something good coming out of Iraq.  Why, look, they’re free!  Well, yes, I suppose they are after a fashion, and look how many of them have chosen to use that freedom.