Evaluating Plans for a Responsible Transition in Iraq , January 12, 2007
A Statement of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane
1. What is the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Iraq today?
The USCCB position is that the current situation in Iraq is unacceptable and unsustainable. Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention. The grave moral concerns we and others raised prior to the war now give way to new and different questions. We call for a "responsible transition" that ends the war as soon as possible in a way that minimizes further loss of life and meets the basic moral obligations of the U.S. to the Iraqi people and our own military personnel. Policy makers must take active steps to break the partisan stalemate in Washington in order to establish a new Iraq policy that embraces the challenging but limited goal of responsible transition. The goal of a responsible transition is neither an open-ended commitment nor a recipe for pre-emptive withdrawal.
This ethical framework of "responsible transition" was initially proposed in a January 2006 statement by Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the Committee on International
Policy, and was reaffirmed in a November 2006 statement that was discussed and affirmed by the full body of bishops in plenary assembly and in more recent statements and letters.
Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war's deadly toll and to bring our people together in an effort to deal with the conflict's moral and human dimensions. Our nation needs a new bipartisan approach to Iraq policy based on honest and civil dialogue.
2. What does USCCB mean by a "responsible transition?"
"Responsible transition" is a morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal that allows for a responsible withdrawal at the earliest opportunity. The moral demands of this transition begin with minimizing further loss of human life and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq , the refugee crisis in the region, and human rights, especially religious freedom.
Each course of action in Iraq should be weighed in light of the traditional moral principle of "probability of success," i.e. the likelihood that the action will contribute to a "responsible transition" and withdrawal as soon as appropriate and possible. This principle requires our nation's leaders to be more realistic about the difficult situation in Iraq and more concerned about the likely consequences of a withdrawal that is too rapid or not rapid enough.
"Responsible transition" requires far more than military actions; it requires a more concerted diplomatic, political and economic strategy to address underlying factors of conflict. Policy makers should clearly define a limited military mission that reflects realistic goals and a just cause. Any military actions should aim to protect civilians and use proportionate and discriminate force when necessary.
3. If USCCB supports ending the military "deployment at the earliest opportunity," isn't it supporting another version of "cut and run?"
No. The Bishops' Conference recognizes that many Iraqis now see the presence of U.S. troops as part of the problem that fuels the insurgency. At the same time, many Iraqis and others believe the U.S. cannot simply leave precipitously without helping to address the humanitarian crisis in the country and the need to rebuild.
4. What was the position of the Church and the Bishops' Conference prior to the Iraq war?
Prior to the war, Pope John Paul II, the Holy See , and USCCB repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns regarding a possible military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation. The Holy See and the Conference remain highly skeptical of the concept of "preventive war."