Leading up to the war in Iraq, evangelical Christians became perhaps the most enthusiastic advocates of imperium. Though politicians have often abused "Just War theory," it is still an integral part of Christian ethics when examining issues of war and peace. Thus, one must ask, was the Iraq war "just" based on the criteria of historic Just War theory?
Lets look at a sampling of comments proffered by Evangelical leaders leading up to the war.
Henry Blackaby told Agape Press, “those who oppose the war to liberate Iraq need to read God’s Word.” Blackaby said, “There is no question that the current war to liberate Iraq is a ‘just’ war – according to biblical standards.” Blackaby went on to say that those who stand in opposition to the president were courting the very judgment of God.
Writing in defense of preemptive military strikes in Christianity Today, Chuck Colson argued for a less restrictive understanding of Just War theory in the face of the terrorist threat. Remarkably, Colson writes that, “out of love of neighbor, then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike” when an attack is imminent. Try not to snicker, but Colson also wrote the following:
"Of course, all of this presupposes solid intelligence and the goodwill of U.S. and Western leaders. I find it hard to believe that any president, aware of the awesome consequences of his decision and of the swiftness of second-guessing in a liberal democracy, would act recklessly."
Now then, I love Colson, but given that he believes in the total depravity of man and considering that he did time in the pokey for doing Nixon’s dirty work, wouldn’t you think he might be a bit more circumspect about executive branch power, and the abuse thereof?
D. James Kennedy remarked that church leaders opposed to the war "always take the position of blaming America first for everything – and everybody else is right.” Kennedy went on to say:
"Why any churchman would choose to support that rather than to support our own president, I don’t know. I think that some of them are doing it for purely political reasons, and [because] they have a very strong liberal bias – and George W. Bush is their favorite target. Anything he does, I think, in their eyes would be wrong."
On Larry King Live, pastor John MacArthur said, in reference to the pending war, “I don’t think we’re starting a war. I think a war [has] already started. The only question is what are we going to [do with] a war that has already started.”
MacArthur was obviously referring to an alleged link between the Iraqis and 9/11 (talk about bearing false witness against your neighbor!). I’m guessing that MacArthur was getting his information from the Weekly Standard, or perhaps the good folks at World(ly) magazine. In any event, he was wrong, and what we have here is yet another example of a pastor speaking about matters where he has limited expertise. The purported Atta-Iraqi link to which MacArthur is presumably referring was a story created and hyped by William Safire and other assorted hawks. However, the link was disproved early on – in fact, prior to the broadcast on which MacArthur appeared.
In a sermon at his Atlanta church, Charles Stanley defended the “war on terror.” Stanley said that, “Throughout Scripture there is evidence that God favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to accomplish His will. He has also given governments and their citizens very specific responsibilities in regards to this matter.”
Naturally, Stanley did not try to justify this particular war and again directed his listeners to Romans 13 and demanded they be good boys and girls. He asks, “How can we justify the protests and marches against war? I understand that, in America, for example, we have a right to express our different opinions. However, there comes a time when our personal opinion is not a priority. The only reason we have the freedom to protest in this country is because thousands were willing to die for that liberty in the past.” Rather than relying on Scripture, Stanley resorts to vulgar patriotism here.
The most systematic attempt by Evangelicals to defend the Iraqi excursion from the perspective of Just War theory was an open letter organized by Richard Land and signed by Bill Bright, Carl Herbster, Colson, and Kennedy. Though the document reads like a David Letterman “Top Seven Reasons to Bomb Baghdad” list, I want to take a few moments to examine the rationale spun by leaders of the Christian Right for war.
Land and company write:
"Just war requires authorization by legitimate authority. We believe it was wise and prudent for you to go before the UN General Assembly and ask the UN Security Council to enforce its own resolutions. However, as American citizens we believe that, however helpful a UN Security Council vote might be, the legitimate authority to authorize the use of U.S. military force is the government of the United States and that the authorizing vehicle is a declaration of war or a joint resolution of the Congress."
We also learn that attacking Iraq was a “defensive” war because Hussein “has attacked his neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and harbored terrorists from the al-Qaeda terrorist network that attacked our nation so viciously and violently on September 11, 2001.”
Unfortunately, Congress never passed a formal declaration of war, or authorized any military action whatsoever. Even the sweeping Use of Force resolution approved by Congress three days after the attack on the World Trade Center falls short of authorizing military action against Iraq. The resolution, in part, reads:
"That the president is authorized to use all necessary force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
The obvious problem is that we know that Iraq was NOT involved in orchestrating and planning the attacks on New York and Washington and that the Iraqis did NOT harbor al-Qaeda members. Jim Lobe, commenting on the 9/11 Commission, wrote:
"While the commission, which has had access to highly classified U.S. intelligence, said that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had sought contacts with and support from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after his expulsion from Sudan in 1994, those appeals were ignored.
"Contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda after bin Laden moved to Afghanistan ‘do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship,’ according to the commission’s report, which was released Wednesday morning. It added that two senior al-Qaeda officials now in U.S. custody ‘have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaeda and Iraq.’"
Even Colin Powell eventually admitted (Jan. 9, 2004 edition of the NY Times) that even though he claimed otherwise in his address to the UN, there was no “smoking gun” linking Iraq and al-Qaeda. More importantly, despite the wild claims of the administration and its lackeys, there have to date been no significant findings of WMD.
Land further writes that the attack was a last resort because:
"Saddam Hussein has for more than a decade ignored Security Council resolutions or defied them while breaking virtually every agreement into which he has entered. He stands convicted by his own record as a brutal dictator who cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement he makes. And while he prevaricates and obfuscates, he continues to obtain and develop the weapons of mass destruction which he will use to terrorize the world community of nations."
Scott Ritter addressed this particular charge after the release of the report by the Iraq Survey Group. Ritter writes:
"It is now clear that Iraq had in fact disarmed in compliance with Security Council resolutions. One of the tragic ironies of the decision to invade Iraq is that the Iraqi WMD declaration required by security council resolution 1441, submitted by Iraq in December 2002, and summarily rejected by Bush and Blair as repackaged falsehoods, now stands as the most accurate compilation of data yet assembled regarding Iraq’s WMD programs (more so than even Duelfer’s ISG report, which contains much unsubstantiated speculation). Saddam Hussein has yet to be contradicted on a single point of substantive fact. Iraq had disarmed; no one wanted to accept that conclusion."
As early as July 2002, Ritter was debunking the myths of the War Party. Land and his band of merry warriors could have stumbled into the truth with little more than a little intellectual curiosity and an Internet connection. In the Boston Globe, Ritter wrote the following:
"I bear personal witness through seven years as a chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and the effectiveness of the UN weapons inspectors in ultimately eliminating them.
"While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq’s proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced by Iraq.
"With the exception of mustard agent, all chemical agent produced by Iraq prior to 1990 would have degraded within five years (the jury is still out regarding Iraq’s VX nerve agent program – while inspectors have accounted for the laboratories, production equipment and most of the agent produced from 1990-91, major discrepancies in the Iraqi accounting preclude any final disposition at this time.)
"The same holds true for biological agent, which would have been neutralized through natural processes within three years of manufacture. Effective monitoring inspections, fully implemented from 1994-1998 without any significant obstruction from Iraq, never once detected any evidence of retained proscribed activity or effort by Iraq to reconstitute that capability which had been eliminated through inspections.
"In direct contrast to these findings, the Bush administration provides only speculation, failing to detail any factually based information to bolster its claims concerning Iraq’s continued possession of or ongoing efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. To date no one has held the Bush administration accountable for its unwillingness – or inability – to provide such evidence."
UN chief weapon’s inspector Hans Blix also called Iraqi cooperation proactive, and asked for several more months to finish his work.
Land also wrote that the invasion hued to Just War theory because of the “limited” goals stated by the administration. Land said that the “stated policies for disarming the murderous Iraqi dictator and destroying his weapons of mass destruction, while liberating the Iraqi people from his cruel and barbarous grip” were reasonable goals. Since we’ve already discussed the fact that Hussein did not need to be “disarmed,” what about the promise of bringing liberty to Iraq? I would ask Dr. Land, who is very concerned with religious liberty, if our intervention has made life better for our Christian brethren in Iraq? (I think the answer is no. Click here, here, here and here for some details.)
As importantly, when did it become the obligation of the United States to secure “liberty” in other lands? Trying to find some plausible explanation for the war, Mr. Bush said that, “The establishment of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. Our commitment to the global expansion of democracy … as the alternative to instability and to hatred and terror is … the third pillar of security.” Since when did “democratic revolution” become orthodoxy for Christians, or conservatives? Mr. Bush’s rhetoric, which has been endorsed by Christian leaders, is Wilsonian and humanist to the core.
Contra the suggestion that God creates human beings to be free, Scripture affirms that we are slaves – either to sin or Christ. Our brethren who support the export of an ideological revolution divorced of the Gospel are succumbing to a heresy, plain and simple.
Finally, and most sadly, Land and his co-signers write that, “We are confident that our government, unlike Hussein, will not target civilians and will do all that it can to minimize noncombatant casualties.” A just war requires that great care be taken to protect civilians from harm. Unfortunately, at least 15,000 civilians have perished in Iraq. And the medical journal Lancet, in conjunction with researchers at Johns Hopkins, has concluded that up to 100,000 civilians have perished and that the likelihood of violent death is 58 times greater than in pre-war Iraq. Nothing like making the world safe for democracy.
Given that the war in Iraq was conceived in deception, lacked a mandate from the Congress, has created chaos in Iraq, and made America less safe, will our friends admit that they were wrong, or will they continue to serve as shills on behalf of the state?