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Issue Date:  January 27, 2006

Bishops call for 'responsible transition' in Iraq


Rejecting both a “cut and run” and “stay the course” strategy in a Jan. 12 statement, the chairman of the U.S. Bishops International Policy committee called for “serious and civil discussions of alternatives that emphasize planning for a responsible transition in Iraq.”

“Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as it takes for a responsible transition, leaving sooner rather than later,” said Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski’s eight-page statement. Wenski, in a phone interview with NCR, declined to specify what “sooner” and “later” might mean in the Iraqi context. “The devil, as they say, is in the details,” said Wenski.

Those details, according to the eight-page statement, include an appreciation for the “new set of moral responsibilities to help Iraqis secure and rebuild their country,” which the United States must accept in light of its intervention and continued military presence. While the U.S. bishops and the Vatican made known their opposition to an invasion of Iraq prior to the March 2003 attack “our nation cannot just look back,” said the statement. “The central moral question is not just the timing of U.S. withdrawal, but rather the nature and extent of U.S. and international engagement that allow for a responsible transition to security and stability for the Iraqi people,” said the statement.

The carefully nuanced statement continued: “We must resist a pessimism that might move our nation to abandon the moral responsibilities it accepted in using force and might tempt us to withdraw prematurely from Iraq without regard for moral and human consequences,” while rejecting “an optimism that fails to acknowledge clearly past mistakes, failed intelligence, and inadequate planning related to Iraq, and minimizes the serious challenges and human costs that lie ahead.”

In addition, the Wenski statement:

  • Encouraged policymakers to clarify U.S. intentions. “It is important for the United States to send even clearer signals that the goals of U.S. policy are to help Iraqis assume full control of their governance and not to occupy the nation for an indeterminate period.”
  • Urged support for a broader Iraqi reconstruction effort. “Securing wider and deeper international support will strengthen the legitimacy and effectiveness of our nation’s efforts, but it will also require giving international partners and allies a real voice and real responsibilities.”
  • Cautioned against a highly militarized response to terrorism. “In the frustrating and dangerous task of confronting terrorists, now drawn to and active in Iraq, our nation must guard against overly aggressive and unwise military responses that endanger civilians and thereby undermine the winning of hearts and minds that is critical to the long-term struggle with terrorists and insurgents.” Military force, said the statement, “must be proportional and discriminate.”
  • Condemned abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody. Such abuses “violate human rights” and “undermine both the struggle against terrorism and the prospects of a responsible transition in Iraq.” The bishops backed legislation recently signed by President Bush to ban such practices, and the statement expressed support the appointment of a special human rights officer to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Further, the Wenski statement reiterates the bishops’ skepticism concerning the doctrine of “preventive war.” Absent the threat of an imminent attack, said the Wenski statement, such a policy raises “serious moral and juridical questions.”

The statement was developed over several months, Wenski told NCR, and included input from a broad spectrum of those involved in Iraq policy, including Bush administration officials, academics, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the military.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, January 27, 2006

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