U.S. action in Libya — just, unjust or just too early to tell?

What’s a Catholic to make of U.S. involvement in the multilateral military campaign in Libya? 

That’s a question that doesn’t appear to have any easy answers. 

And even the answers can be ambiguous. It was interesting to see how two Catholic news outlets reported on a letter to the White House from the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on justice and peace. 

The interpretations were vastly different, at least in emphasis. The headline of one read: “U.S. bishops question use of force in Libya.” The other: “U.S. bishops: Military intervention in Libya ‘appears to meet’ key just-war standard.” 

The first sounds like a criticism of the military intervention. The second sounds like an endorsement. In fact, the letter itself (by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon), says the bishops “have refrained from making definitive judgments because the situation on the ground remains complex and involves many prudential decisions beyond our expertise. We know these are difficult questions to which there are few easy answers, but it is our moral responsibility as a nation to rigorously examine the use of military force in light of the need to protect human life and dignity.” 

A slightly more direct approach was taken by an occasional columnist for us, Father Robert Barron, writing March 25 for the Washington Post blog: 

“Why, in God’s name, are we entering a third war in the Middle East?” 

He subjects the Libyan campaign through a traditional Catholic just-war analysis, and finds that one criterion, especially, is lacking: that a war can be legitimately waged only if there is a reasonable hope of success. 

“For example,” he writes, “a war fought against an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent might be noble and brave, but it wouldn’t be just. But another reason for questioning the reasonable hope of success is the absence of a clearly defined mission and purpose. As I stated above, if we don’t know precisely what it is that we’re fighting for, we cannot, even in principle, determine when and whether we’ve won. A poorly defined war is one that enjoys no reasonable hope of success. I believe that the strict application of this final criterion would render our action in Libya unjust.” 

Pope Benedict XVI also appeared to have strong reservations about the coalition intervention, and appealed for a cease-fire. 

“To international agencies and to those with political and military responsibility, I make a heartfelt appeal for the immediate start of a dialogue that will suspend the use of arms,” he said March 27. 

A Gallup poll released March 29 showed that 75 percent of Americans support some U.S. military involvement in Libya. 

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