Books, Politics

Book Review: Iraq, The Moral Reckoning, by Craig M. White

Author: Craig M. White
Title: Iraq, The Moral Reckoning: Applying Just War Theory to the 2003 War Decision
Publisher: Lexington Books,
Rating: 4 Stars out of 5


Craig White, a public affairs officier at the U.S. embassy in Port Louis, Mauritius, is a Catholic who holds many conservative views about his politics as well as his religion. A frequent reader of First Things, which is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and was founded by Father Richard John Neuhaus and is considered a buttress of conservative Catholicism, White became increasingly bothered by the lax approach the magazine was taking regarding the application of Just War Theory to the 2003 decision to enter into war. He believes that such important matters needed slow, careful and rigorous examination, but what was often being churned out was too simplistic, lacking due seriousness to the claims of the Bush Administration for meeting the criteria of just war, despite rhetoric to the contrary. White's hope was to debate the authors of First Things, notably Neuhaus himself and George Weigel, who took a pro-war stance.

Iraq, The Moral Reckoning, is required for every U.S. CatholicIraq, the Moral Reckoning is a rigorous analysis and application of the six criteria of Just War Theory to the 2003 decision by the Bush White House to go to war against Iraq. The subtitle of this book is important, for the author does not want to do what many critics of the Bush Administration have done, which is to look at all of the mistakes from 2003 - onward and say that, with 20/20 hindsight, this was an unjust war. His book is meant to analyze the decision, not the aftermath, of going to war. He treats the Jus Ad Bellum ("Right to wage War"), rather than the Jus in Bellum ("Rightness in War"), which means that the information that was available at the time of the decision and the justifications given for the decision, and not later information or re-justifications, are the data for his analysis.

In this article that appeared on, Craig White states his reasons for writing this book:

I spent fruitless months trying to get First Things to organize a pro and con debate on whether the war in Iraq met the criteria, which led finally to my article "Just War?" in April 2005 on That article led to new friendships and discussions. My personal outrage that my country had begun what I was convinced was an unjust war was aggravated by outrage that many scholars of just war theory, such as Weigel, were writing sloppy justifications for the war, sullying in my view the good name of the theory. In my difficult talks with family and conservative friends around this time, I often found they were unaware of crucial facts, and I was frustrated that I was sometimes vague on the details.

This book takes the data seriously and also takes the Just War Theory seriously, which is why he applies it rigorously. The standout features of this book are its Thomistic style argumentation and the genuineness of his writing style. He presents his case dispassionately, that is, there is no ad hominem attacks, no straw men, no non-sequitors. He clearly lays out his case in each chapter by stating the just war criterion, charitably stating the reasoning from the pro-war crowd, then he goes about applying the criterion, showing how the anti-war stance was correct. Then he rounds out his arguments by answering pro-war objections one-by-one.

This book is described by Prof. Thomas Cavanaugh (University of San Francisco) as "exhaustively well-documented, scrupulously balanced, deeply scholarly". This is absolutely true. The most difficult parts of the book for me personally were his analysis of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that were placed against Iraq since the first Persian Gulf War. He not only gives the meat of each appropriate resolution, but even dives into the U.N. Charter to show how and why any military force may be authorized and how the 2003 Iraq war did not comply with these rules, despite the Bush Administration's use of them to justify their authority to launch this war.

White does an excellent job reviewing the history and importance of Just War Theory and gives us an excellent run down of the meaning and development of the six criteria. The most important point that he makes is that for a war to be considered justified to be waged against another nation all six criteria must be fulfilled. If one is not met, then it is not a just war. Furthermore, even if it is right to wage war in a particular case, it may not be ultimately beneficial, or the war may be rendered unjust if it is carried out in an unjust way (jus in bellum).

The parts about the book that I did not like were not Craig's, but the publisher's problems, which caused me to strip it of half a star in my rating. The typeset was, in some areas, all over the place, becoming wavy in parts and almost too small to read. It was annoying in several points that I had to put it down and come back to it later. This is entirely the publisher's fault, but it is irritating enough to be a distraction. But that is really it!

I highly encourage all Catholics and people who take war seriously (everyone should) to read this book. This book ought to serve as a guide to all consideration of future U.S. wars and the Catholic's response to them.


Outside Articles by Craig M. White

  1. Just War? How Famous Catholic Conservatives Avoid Applying 'Their' Theory, by Craig M. White on
  2. A Classic Moral Theory and a War: How I came to Write Iraq, A Moral Reckoning, by Craig M. White on
  3. Replies to Neoconservative Objections, by Craig M. White on