|Paolo Carozza on the Lessons of Iraq, and Other Topics
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, 21 AUG. 2004 (ZENIT)
Despite some high-visibility
conflicts, the United States generally agrees with John Paul II's call for
an effective international rule of law, says a scholar.
Paolo Carozza, a faculty member of the Notre Dame Law School and the
Center for Civil and Human Rights and an expert on international law,
shared with ZENIT why the United States is in accord with the Holy See as
one of the most active and insistent promoters of international agreements
and international legality, but diverges from the wishes of the Vatican on
Q: From your perspective, what are the major points of convergence and
points of divergence between the Holy See and the United States in
international affairs? How would you evaluate the relationship overall?
Carozza: One has to be very careful in generalizing about the views of
"the Holy See" or "the United States," because in all such complex and
sophisticated entities there are often subtle but significant divergences
We could see important differences, for example, in the way that various
representatives of the Holy See responded to the U.S.-led war in Iraq;
some were much more nuanced than others in expressing the grounds and
scope of opposition.
Similarly, in the government of United States, there are various attitudes
and positions with respect to the value of international law and its
That said, nevertheless, I think that the relationship in general is a
strong one, although of course it has suffered from the sharp differences
over the war in Iraq.
United States foreign policy overall often tends toward a moral reading of
the world —
that is, the American people and their elected leaders often view
international affairs as part of a much larger struggle to advance good in
This is a contrast to many other states in the international community,
who appear to regard the international order as an essentially anarchic or
amoral arena of self-interest and power. This moral reading of
international order is in broad terms quite consonant with the approach of
the Holy See, which affirms the Catholic tradition of understanding
politics and law to be in the service of the common good.
At the same time, however, this common point of departure also leads to a
significant difference between the United States and the Holy See. In the
United States, a moral reading of the world can often become moralistic,
reducing politics to an overly simplistic dualism that demonizes the
other: us vs. them; good vs. bad; the vindicators of justice vs. the evil
The Catholic tradition is a more adequately realist one, fully aware of
the failings and limitations of man, and thus more conscious of the
capacity for evil present in the heart of every one of us.
It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II, in particular, constantly
calls us to beg for mercy, to remember that our desire for a just and
peaceful world will not be realized merely through our own efforts but
through the event of the mystery of Christ entering into the world. This
leads to a greater sensitivity to the dangers of grand, ideological
projects for the world.
The American approach, by contrast, can sometimes tend toward an excessive
and misplaced confidence in our ability to remake the world through the
projection of American ideals.
Q: The Vatican and the U.S. administration had differed on the necessity
of the Iraq war. What lessons has the United States learned over the past
year in regard to the Holy Father's initial warnings?
Carozza: The divergent judgments of the Holy Father and of President Bush
regarding the war in Iraq exemplify lucidly the differences that I have
I would like to be able to say that the United States has learned a lesson
from the experience of postwar Iraq, including a greater appreciation of
the way that any war, even one that might appear to many to be necessary
and just, is a failure of humanity that inflicts tremendous costs on all
Unfortunately, I really I don't know that any lesson has in fact been
learned. We tend to have a persistent amnesia about even the recent past,
and when we do learn "lessons" from history, they are often the wrong
But this is not true only of the United States. Most political societies
suffer from the same lapses.
For example, many of the European states have important lessons to learn
from their failure regarding Iraq, too
lessons about the sterility and utopianism of a "pacifism" that is in
large part little more than an unreflective anti-Americanism. Yet, I don't
see many signs that they are re-examining their mistakes, any more than
Q: Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was much world
sympathy for the United States. Does the United States still enjoy that
kind of sympathy? Has the Iraq war affected the world's perception of the
Carozza: Certainly the situation in Iraq has had a terribly negative
effect on relations between the United States and much of the rest of the
world, and has contributed to the dissipation of much of the sympathy that
had arisen out of the ashes of the twin towers.
Again, however, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on this dynamic
which puts the blame solely on the United States for having "squandered"
good will —
without also looking soberly at the way that anti-American political
ideologies have played at least as great a role in impeding the
international cooperation needed to construct peace, foster development
and further the universal common good.
Q: The Pope has called for a return to reliance on international law, to
solve situations such as those in the Middle East. Is this something the
United States can support in the short term? If not, why not?
Carozza: Yes, the United States can, and indeed generally does, support an
effective international rule of law.
Setting aside for a moment a limited number of high-visibility conflicts
over international norms and institutions, the United States is in fact
one of the most active and insistent promoters of international agreements
and international legality, understanding that a just and stable
international order, which is in the self-interest of the United States,
needs the predictability and consistency afforded by law.
Why then has it resisted vociferously some recent multilateral efforts to
expand the scope of international law and institutions? There are at least
two sets of reasons.
First, it must be acknowledged that in certain sectors of the American
political community there is a visceral belief that international law
necessarily compromises our sovereignty and therefore is to be rejected
except insofar as it serves our self-interest
conceived in a very narrow and immediate sense.
I think this view is very wrong and ill-advised, and deeply misunderstands
the sources and ends of international law. Regrettably, at least some
representatives of the current government of the United States seem to be
attracted to it.
The second set of reasons is subtler and in the long run more important
because it has to do with the authority of international law as "law."
Nothing in the tradition to which the Holy Father appeals suggests that we
ought to follow an international rule of law merely because it is formally
posited by some bureaucratic entity. On the contrary, John Paul II has
insisted on the renewal of natural law as the foundation of a peaceful
Part of the American skepticism of international law is implicitly linked
to this principle. We are, and should be, hesitant to accept international
law solely because it satisfies certain positive formal criteria. We want
to be convinced that it is "law" in the fullest sense, that is, because it
does in fact serve the universal common good.
Q: What needs to change in international law to make it more effective?
What moral principles should come into play?
Carozza: The effectiveness of international law is a function of many
different factors, but its moral foundation is a critical part of what
gives states and other international actors good reason to order their
actions according to the rule of law.
To have that legitimacy, international law must above all serve both the
dignity of the human person and the integrity and freedom of human
communities. Both of these basic concerns are in a certain sense subsumed
in the principle of subsidiarity.
International law should, in other words, serve to advance the flourishing
of every human person first by sustaining those rules and institutions
that help smaller, local communities achieve their own ends.
Q: President George Bush is facing a pro-abortion Catholic in this year's
election. How will Catholic voters respond? Do you think the elections
will affect U.S. Catholics' views of political life?
Carozza: I am not an expert on the voting patterns of Catholics in the
United States, but all the superficial indicators at least suggest that
American Catholics as a whole do not participate in politics or make
decisions about issues of public import in substantially different ways
than most other Americans do.
That leads me to think that this election will mostly confirm two things
about American Catholics and political life.
First, that Christianity in the United States has in large part been
captured by the dominant currents of the secular culture surrounding it.
And second, that it would be difficult to overstate the need for Catholics
just the bishops, clergy and religious but every layperson
educate themselves and one another more deeply about the meaning of the
presence of Christ in the world today and about the new humanity that our
encounter with him generates.
The failure of Catholics to speak with persuasiveness and authority in the
public square about fundamental issues of our human dignity is in the
first instance a failure to transmit such an education.