The wall that didn't come down

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Mar 26, 2003 12:00 AM

One of the most symbolic images from the closing days of the Cold War is of a wall that finally came down. It stood in Berlin for almost three decades, separating the people of the West from their enslaved brothers in the East.

Freedom-loving Germans chiseled that wall to pieces.

One of the most symbolic images from the opening days of the War to Oust Saddam is similar, yet subtler. It is of a wall that did not come down. It stands today around the compound that housed the headquarters for Saddam's internal security forces.

Large buildings within that wall were blown to bits by U.S. precision-guided bombs. But the wall survived. It stands today because the U.S. Armed Forces did not want to take it down.

That would have been collateral damage.

Just in case anybody still doubted the precise and discriminating nature of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Brigadier General Vince Brooks last Monday showed the world before and after photos of the headquarters of what he called "the enforcement arm of the regime." "Everything on the outside of the camp is unaffected," he said, "even the walls of the compound . . . are not affected."

A shepherd watching over his sheep in the fields beyond that wall would have survived the blasts that obliterated the offices of the most evil agency of Saddam's repression.

The long-gone Berlin Wall and the still-standing wall around the Iraqi security headquarters betoken the same thing: the moral superiority of the American cause and character.

Before this war, reasonable and conscientious people -- including Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush -- differed on the prudential judgment of whether all the conditions had been met to launch a just war to disarm and dethrone the Iraqi dictator. (Under our Constitution, our Congress and our president had the duty and legitimate authority to make that judgment -- and I believe they made it correctly.) But today, can anyone dispute that America is fighting this war in a just and moral manner?

In the Western tradition, "just war" doctrine includes two sets of rules. The first governs the decision to go to war. The second, the way one fights.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spelt out as clearly as anyone the rules for justice in combat. They require three things: noncombatant immunity, proportionality, and right intent. Noncombatant immunity means "civilians may not be the object of direct attack, and the military must take due care to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians." Proportionality means using "no more force than is militarily necessary to avoid disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property." And right intent means "even in the midst of conflict, the aim of political and military leaders must be peace with justice, so that acts of vengeance and indiscriminate violence, whether by individuals, military units or government, is forbidden."

These rules of morality are indistinguishable from the rules of engagement governing U.S. forces.

Justice is our tactic as well as our goal. The Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz said war is politics by other means. When diplomats fail to persuade with arguments, warriors persuade with guns. But the political goal remains the same. Saddam's regime would never be persuaded to disarm and stop threatening us, so it will be destroyed. But an even greater U.S. victory will be won if liberated Iraqis and would-be terrorist recruits elsewhere in the Middle East are persuaded there is a better destiny in store for them than signing up to kill Americans.

This is the political message behind the remarkable discrimination of the U.S. guns. The still-standing wall at the headquarters of Saddam's internal security force gives witness to something more powerful than cruise missiles: a better moral order. We are tempting our enemies to embrace our values, not despise them.

Even when our prisoners of war are executed in cold blood, and even when Iraqi soldiers lure our troops into ambush by pretending to surrender, we stick by our moral guns and use force only with proportionality and discrimination.

Will it work? If the evil empire Stalin built could crumble in the face of truth, so will Saddam's.