2,000 years of Christian thought have gone into the development of "just war theory," a set of moral principles that highlights the fundamental evil of the Iraq war. It also serves as a foundation for opposing any unilateral strike against Iran. If Democrats want to reach out to those "red state" voters they keep talking about, this might be a good place to start.
You don't have to be Christian to admire just war theory, The principle originated outside Christianity with the Old Testament Book of Judges and Cicero. But the theory has been a core part of Christian thought since it was refined by St. Augustine and then by St. Thomas Aquinas.
The basic principles of just war theory condemn both the Iraq invasion and any attack on Iran that may now be on the drawing board. They are:
The war must have a just cause.
As a number of experts confirm, Iran is years away from representing a nuclear threat to the world. Diplomatic efforts are underway to address the issue of Iran's nuclear program. There is therefore no just cause for war against that country unless they attack the US, or unless action is taken by an international body according to the appropriate governing laws.
The Iraq war was also a violation of the just-cause principle, since a) there was no immediate threat, and b) they had not attacked the US.
It must be waged by a legitimate authority.
Should the negotiations with Iran fail, the United Nations is the body with the authority to monitor weapons development under the IAEA's surveillance.
An attack on Iran would therefore be fundamentally un-Christian unless it's done under UN auspices. The Iraq war is equally invalid under Christian ethics for the same reason.
It must be formally declared.
As Zbigniew Brzezinski has pointed out, attacking Iran without Congressional approval would be an impeachable offense, since only Congress can declare war.
Christian ethics demands that Iran not be attacked without a Congressional declaration of war.
It must be fought with a peaceful intention.
Regime change is not a peaceful intention. Intimidating the Arabic world is not a peaceful intention. Helping Bush's sagging poll numbers is not a peaceful intention.
Bush defenders would argue that preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability is a peaceful intention - and they might be right, but only if the other just-war principles are met. Unilateral action would, by definition, be motivated by bellicose intent. Otherwise, international deliberations should be sufficient to meet US concerns.
It must be a last resort.
The Administration has rebuffed Iran's attempts at direct negotiation in the past, insisting on multiparty talks instead (even while the other parties have asked for direct US involvement.) If you can't negotiate one-on-one, you have no moral basis for fighting one-on-one either.
We refused to allow inspectors to complete their work in Iraq, which was a violation of this principle. If we interrupt other negotiations or inspections in Iran, it will be an un-Christian action. If we have not negotiated directly to avoid war, we have also violated the last-resort rule.
There must be reasonable hope of success.
The administration would argue it had "hope of success" in Iraq. After all, weren't we going to be "welcomed with flowers"? But was their hope "reasonable," since it flew in this face of most experts' recommendations and those of our own intelligence agencies?
The same principle applies in Iran. Most experts believe an attack on Iran would strengthen extremists there and elsewhere. An attack is therefore more likely to harm US security than help it, as has been the case in Iraq. If that doesn't challenge the "reasonable hope" premise, what does?
The means used must be proportional to the ends sought.
Iraq, if it were truly a response to 9/11, was disproportional. Ten or twenty times as many civilians have died there at our hand than died at the World Trade Center. Iraq is therefore a sinful war by Christian standards.
If nuclear weapons are used in Iran, they would clearly be disproportional to the ends sought. In addition, any action that resulted in mass civilian deaths - in return for what their leaders are planning to do in the future - would also violate this principle.
There are also rules that govern ethical Christian conduct once war has begun. They are:
Noncombatants must be given immunity.
The mass civilian deaths caused by our "shock and awe" airstrikes in Iraq violated this principle, as do the mass detentions of innocent civilians in torture centers without adequate recompense or sufficient effort to determine their innocence in a timely manner.
Any strike on Iran that caused civilian death would be equally un-Christian.
Prisoners must be treated humanely.
If there is a Christian Heaven and Hell, this is the principle that will guarantee Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Gonzalez - for starters - seats in The Other Place. The torture of prisoners in the widespread American Gulag will linger as a moral stain for generations to come. Any such behavior in Iran will be equally sinful and shameful.
International treaties and conventions must be honored.
Our unilateral attack on Iraq was an un-Christian treaty violation. Our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and therefore moot was equally unethical by Christian standards.
An attack on Iran that violated any such treaties and conventions - which it would, absent international approval or an act of aggression against the US - must therefore also be considered un-Christian.
The Republican architects of the Iraq war are violating Christ's principles as articulated by his followers over the last 2,000 years. It's ironic that Bush - who, when asked who to identify his favorite philosopher, answered "Jesus" - has so profoundly violated the philosophical precepts Jesus laid down.
That's why the Pope opposed the Iraq war. So did the leader of Bush's own church. And the leader of Frist's. The pseudo-Christian posings of Falwell et al. merely serve to distinguish them as the New American Sanhedrin (a body whose symbolic significance in the New Testament is not their Judaism, but their cozy relationship with corrupt leaders).
A few precious Democrats (Kerry, Gore, Murtha, Feingold, Dean) have been articulate recently in their opposition to the Iraq war. The Democrats have also struggled with their voice in the Christian heartland. Here's a way out: Let the people know that Jesus would want their leaders to avoid waging unjust wars.