Readers of Chronicles know that the American war with Iraq is worthy of condemnation on many levels.  Not only has it continued to earn our country the opprobrium of a number of Middle Eastern nations, and created frustration among many others, but the invasion and occupation of Iraq flies in the face of the classical Christian notion of a just war.  With some estimates of 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and close to 2,150 dead American soldiers (with more to come, as we show no sign of developing an exit strategy soon), more people—a recent poll indicates almost two thirds of the country—are beginning to ask, “What have we accomplished in Iraq?” and “Was it really worth it after all?”

The Neo-CONNED! volumes provide the most comprehensive analysis of the Iraq war to date.  They are the first products of Light in the Darkness Publications, the newest imprint of IHS Press, a Catholic publishing house dedicated to reintroducing works dealing with a wider knowledge and appreciation of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Many of the contributors will be familiar to Chronicles readers: Thomas Fleming, the late Samuel Francis, Thomas Ryba, Joseph Sobran, Paul Gottfried, and Pat Buchanan, among others.  Taken together, the Neo-CONNED! volumes supply readers with commentary and criticism from every angle: from the incompatibility of the Iraq conflict with Catholic just-war theory, to the influence of neoconservative foreign policy on the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in March 2003, to discussions of the morality and legitimacy of conscientious objection, and more.

That broad range of coverage is one of the outstanding things about this collection.  The editors have compiled what amounts to a small encyclopedia of studies, conveniently divided into various categories, such as “Statesmen Speak: A War Both Unnecessary and Vain,” “Neo-Cons, 9-11, and the Pretext for War,” and “The Snowballing of American Lawlessness.”  (This latter section effectively constitutes a specific, critical look at the American “War on Terror,” considering America’s abuse of, and disregard for, the laws of armed conflict, the illegal detentions at Gitmo and elsewhere, and the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib.)  Among the contributors can be found bishops, priests, statesmen, columnists, professors, authors of a variety of political stripes, and even scientists and diplomats.  Neo-CONNED! and Neo-CONNED! Again provide the only integral view of the Iraq war to date.  In these volumes, no stone is left unturned, no aspect of the conflict undiscussed.

Neo-CONNED!, the primary focus of this review, deals almost exclusively with the just-war doctrine, something only relatively recently challenged among Christians.  Modern man, of course, would love nothing more than to pretend that, somehow, morality simply does not come into play in wartime.  (“All’s fair in love and war.”)  Christians, however, more than anyone else, have no excuse for falling for such platitudes as “America is a Christian nation; the influence of ‘democracy’ will make evangelization easier in Iraq.”  Beyond being simply false—Chaldean Catholics have been forced to flee the country in droves since our invasion, and the new constitution (as of this writing) seems bound to support sharia in practice, if not by mandate—the argument misses the point.  Many American Catholics (and Christians in general) have either totally ignored the Church’s teaching on just wars, or, worse, they have tried to bend it to fit their preconceived notions supporting the invasion.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that three things are necessary for a just war: a just cause, a right intention, and the command of the sovereign.  These criteria have been fleshed out through the centuries by other theologians and theorists, but any other conditions (such as the use of proportionate means) end up being subsidiary to the ones just mentioned.  Neo-CONNED! thoroughly examines whether the Iraq war was instigated with a right intention and, more importantly, whether there was a just cause.

The ostensible “just cause” given originally was, of course, the presence of “weapons of mass destruction” and the necessity for regime change.  A revealing interview with the late Jude Wanniski goes into great depth regarding the false claims of Iraq’s possession of WMDs, the deliberate misinformation fed to the American public en masse, and the consequent lack of any convincing reason for America’s invasion of Iraq.  Pat Buchanan points out the influence of the Israeli lobby on American foreign policy, rarely seen as explicitly exerted as it was in the case of the Iraq war.  Others note the specters of foreign oil, imperial ambitions, and the unjustifiable doctrine of “preemptive warfare.”

The volume includes a noteworthy essay by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect for the Catholic Church’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from 1966 to 1968.  He raises the question of whether modern warfare, with its horrific technology and lack of discrimination between combatants and civilians, can ever be justified.  He writes:

Modern wars can never fulfill those conditions which govern—theoretically—a just and lawful war.  Moreover, no conceivable cause could ever be sufficient justification for the evils, the slaughter, the destruction, the moral and religious upheavals which war today entails.

Christians who ignore or try to skirt the principles of a just war ought to consider the quotation from Cardinal Ottaviani and ask themselves, with regard to the conflict in Iraq: Cui bono?  Is Iraq truly better off with a dismantled infrastructure, a growing insurgency, a depleted Christian presence, and an overt Islamic republic in the works?  With the body count rising among both Americans and Iraqis, what has been gained for us or for them?  As Thomas Fleming points out in his essay, we have only succeeded in uniting Muslims in a common cause, something Belloc thought would require the restoration of the caliphate.

If you are already convinced of the immorality and illegality of the Iraq war, the Neo-CONNED! volumes will confirm your position and give you a greater breadth and depth for your arguments.  If you are unsure what to think, it is unimaginable that you could avail yourself of the wealth of information in the more than 80 essays (across both volumes) and remain skeptical regarding the immorality of this war.  If you or someone you know still maintains that it is one’s patriotic duty to support and defend our actions in the Middle East, Neo-CONNED! offers proof beyond debate that the Iraq war flies in the face of the Christian just-war tradition, is ruining our country financially, and will only end in America’s being viewed, at best, with suspicion on the international scene and, at worst, as a bully.


[Neo-CONNED! Just War Principles: A Condemnation of War in Iraq, edited by D. Liam O’Huallachain and J. Forrest Sharpe (Norfolk, VA: Light in the Darkness Publications) 458 pp., $25.95]

[Neo-CONNED! Again: Hypocrisy, Lawlessness, and the Rape of Iraq, edited by D. Liam O’Huallachain and J. Forrest Sharpe (Norfolk, VA: Light in the Darkness Publications) 670 pp., $29.95]