Does God Support Democracy? the President's Theological Justification for War in Iraq Demands Scrutiny

Article excerpt

The presidential election and inauguration of George W. Bush are over, but the conversation about how Catholics should participate in public life in America is probably just beginning. One of the more curious things that happened in the Catholic debate over morality and politics leading up to the presidential election was that moral questions pertaining to the Iraq war disappeared almost entirely from the conversation.

This happened for many reasons, but the most important was the prominence given to other issues such as abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage, about which church teaching was said to be perfectly clear. Since the merits of the Iraq war were argued by Catholics on the basis of just war theory, this was seen to be different from these other issues. Reasonable people could differ, the argument went, about whether a particular war--like the Iraq war--was just or unjust. While the church could give its view on such matters, there was room for disagreement among the faithful.

But something important is overlooked in all of this. And this is that the justification for the war in Iraq is, in part, a theological one. This has been the case from the start, but has now become more important since the original justifications for the war--the threat of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda--have been discredited.

Because of this, the president's argument for the war has come to rest primarily on the spread of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. And he has repeatedly linked this justification to God's plans for the world. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world," he is fond of saying. "It is God's gift to humanity." He reiterated this in the last presidential debate, when Bob Schieffer asked him about his statement that he had "checked with a higher authority" than his own father before the invasion of Iraq. The president responded, "I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's been a part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march."

The president stands in a long American tradition that links our nation's history with the plans of divine providence. This began with the Puritans and the shining "city on a hill. …