Once the fighting started, though, John Paul sent a letter to the first President Bush. He said he was still praying for peace, but now he put his hopes on American victory, with minimal casualties.
St. John Paul knew that there were two opportunities to make a war unjust: At its beginning and at its end.
Fast forward to 2003. The same Pope was trying to head off a new war in Iraq with a new President Bush. He sent Cardinal Pio Laghi to the White House, where he reportedly delivered a new warning from the Pope.
He said three things would happen if the United States went to war. First, there would be many casualties on both sides. Second, the U.S. attacks would spark a civil war. Third, the United States would start the war well, but would have a very hard time ending it well.
The saint has turned out to be a prophet. Iraq is collapsing into violent chaos as Islamic extremists rise to power and it is the United States’ precipitous exit from Iraq that now looks unjust.
The Catechism’s conditions for just war (No. 2309) includes guidelines not only for when wars should and should not be started, but also for how wars should end.
For one: “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
For another: “there must be serious prospects of success.”
We learned the wisdom of both principles in Iraq — the hard way.
Our goals were to establish democracy and eliminate Iraq as a stronghold for Al Qaeda.
But the first goal suffered a major setback when, under our watch, Iraq adopted a constitution that made Islam an official religion and sharia a revered source for law.
The second goal was undercut when we agreed to a timetable that allowed domestic political considerations rather than operational success to dictate our departure from Iraq, and created an opportunity for the Al Qaeda-related ISIS group to rise.
And now the situation in Iraq is deteriorating fast.
Christians are fleeing for their lives from a Biblical country that we have helped reshape into a land of martyrs, voters who once proudly raised ink-stained fingers are hiding out from armed thugs, and the nation is descending into a system of law that rejects religious freedom and the equal dignity of women.
What can be done about Iraq is unclear, but we should certainly learn our lesson and apply it to Afghanistan. With the recent release of key Taliban leaders with a history of oppression, Obama seems to be winding down the war there in an unjust fashion as well.
Take it from St. John Paul II. World War II ended for Poland when the Soviets replaced the Nazis, and the Cold War ended when he replaced them with the Soviets with Solidarity.
He knows it’s not just how you start a war, it’s how you finish it that makes it just.