I see that apologists for the Iraq war are now pronouncing it a success. Even by modest standards of success — a sort of stable kind of democratic Iraq, with a tolerable level of violence (whatever “tolerable” violence might be) — that judgment plainly is premature. Although I opposed the war from the outset on moral grounds, while it was underway I wrote that, applying the most modest of pragmatic standards, it couldn’t be judged either a success or a failure for at least 10 years. That still seems about right.
Meanwhile, though, at least two things about this war are all too clear. One is that, pending further developments, the big winners up to this time are the America-hating mullahs of Iran. The United States has handed them a weakened Iraq under Shiite leadership, a highly desirable gift from the mullahs’ point of view. The other is that, with the exception of Saddam Hussein and his crowd, the biggest losers as usual are innocent parties, and in a special way Iraqi Catholics and other Christians.
George W. Bush was eager to go into their country and Barack Obama was eager to get out. By a painful coincidence, the disparate exigencies of these two American presidents have come together to help create conditions for a tragedy of historic proportions now being experienced by the Iraqi Christian community.
The tragedy reached a bloody climax last Oct. 31 when terrorists stormed into the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad. Before it was over, 58 Christians had been killed, including two priests, and 75 injured. As the slaughter was taking place, a three-year-old boy named Adam wandered amid the carnage pleading with the killers to stop. Finally they killed him, too. That’s what you do in a holy war, I guess.
Before the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi Christian community numbered about 900,000. Now it’s about 350,000. Most of the rest are refugees stranded in camps in Syria and Jordan. Terrorists like the ones who stormed the cathedral in Baghdad are most directly to blame of course. But the U.S. needs to shoulder its share of responsibility and take quick and effective action to relieve the plight of these people.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made that point in a Nov. 10 letter to President Obama. “Having invaded Iraq,” he said, “our nation has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.” Among the minimum steps necessary, according to the cardinal, are strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi military and police to provide security for everybody, “including minorities,” promoting human rights, especially religious freedom, rebuilding the country’s “shattered” economy, and assisting Iraqi refugees.
Toward the end of last month, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for the protection of Iraqi religious minorities. The action was praised by chairmen of bishops’ conference committees for international justice and peace and migration. No doubt it was a welcome gesture, but a congressional resolution is only words on paper.
What’s imperative now are tangible steps by the American government to give concrete help to Iraqi Christians who choose to leave their troubled country along with those who choose to stay — or who perhaps stay because they have no other choice. In his letter to Obama, Cardinal George termed “decimation of the Christian community in Iraq” one of the “tragic consequences” of the war.
If that’s success, what could failure possibly look like?