Should the U.S. Be in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Hi Roger, I have been curious for some time how you might answer this question….Very shortly after we invaded either Afghanistan or Iraq (I don’t remember which), you gave a sermon that basically applied Augustine’s Just War Theory to the offensive the United States had just begun.
Yogi Berra said “hindsight is 20/20.” Regarding Iraq (not Afghanistan), knowing what we now know about many of the claims why it was so necessary to immediately invade Iraq, would you revisit or apply Augustine to what we did/are doing in Iraq? Might Augustine say something about ‘hindsight’; ie, does ‘hindsight’ play any role in affecting/negating the rationale for a Just was?
And finally, a question I cannot resolve in my own mind, why was the Leader and situation in Iraq any more evil than the other evil ‘hot-spots’ in the world at the same time; ie, Iran, N. Korea and especially Darfur.
Wow….that question got longer than I thought. Hope you are well Pastor!
Dear George, let me share a short answer and then move on into more detail.
Regarding our invasion of Iraq, we now know that no weapons of mass destruction existed. Therefore some feel that our invasion was immoral and unjustified. In my mind WMD are irrelevant to the discussion. Saddam Hussein’s torture, murder and enslavement of his own people and the genocide that he perpetrated against the Kurds in Northern Iraq say to me that our intervention was not “immediate” enough.
Next, the Leader and situation in Iraq was not any more evil than “the other evil ‘hot-spots’ in the world at the same time, … especially Darfur.” To me, the reason is plain and simple: Oil is in the Middle East. There is little or none in Darfur.
Now, let’s revisit Augustine’s check list of criteria to determine whether or not a war is just. For the sake of some unfamiliar with Augustine, he was the Christian Bishop of Hippo in North Africa in the late 4th and early 5th centuries a.d. Augustine was a pastor-philosopher who was deeply interested in spirituality, morality and values as applied to human behavior. It is not surprising that he developed these practical guidelines for determining whether of not a particular war is just—or not. They are as follows:
1. The Primary Purpose Of A Just War Is To Defend Those Under Attack.
2. In A Just War Vengeance Is Tempered By Justice.
3. There Must Be A Reasonable Prospect Of Victory—Of Achieving The Ends For Which The War Is Fought.
4. The Motives Must Be Pure.
5. The Post-War Attitude Is One Of Mercy.
According to both the Old Testament and the New Testament, some circumstances warrant the just use of force. Exodus 22:2 states that if a man finds a thief in his house at night, killing the thief on the spot is an acceptable means of protecting one’s home and property. Jesus said he had come to bring not peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34 and Luke 12:51). He even counseled His disciples to buy a sword if they did not have one (Luke 22:36-38).
Wicked people and wicked nations lurk on the world scene. Iraq invaded Kuwait City on the evening of August 1, 1990 and many were dead by morning—or tortured, raped, or homeless.
In the early 80s Kurds in northern Iraq watched artillery shells land and their children gasping for breath as poison gas spread. Saddam Hussein was attempting to exterminate an entire race. The atrocities in Dakar and the Sudan shock us beyond words.
Today’s murderings are nothing new. Stalin murdered 40 million during his reign of terror in the 1930s through 1950s.
America is not guiltless. The Indian wars from the 1700s through 1800s still scar our country. U.S. soldiers raped and murdered in order to “eliminate the Indian Problem and take over Indian lands in order to give them to white settlers—and to exploit their mineral riches. Our shameless slave trade and what we did to Philippine nationals in the 1930’s are both still as shameful as ever. On the other hand, as we think about America’s sins, we must never forget that America’s good far outweighs any past indiscretions. We were ultimately responsible for stopping Hitler and Tojo. We’ve fed the world in times of famine, provided medical care to millions, delved quickly into disaster relief and poured billions of dollars into broken national infrastructures all over the globe.
Over the years Christians have argued about the proper Biblical way to handle what I call the grizzly bears lurking on the world scene. During the Crusade the attitude was the indiscriminate killing of all the bears—both real and perceived. Pacifism is a belief that violence, even in self-defence, is unjustifiable under any conditions and that negotiation is preferable to war as a means of solving disputes.
If we think of the above two approaches as the extreme ends of a continuum, a Just War would stop and/or neutralize the bears that cause trouble. I believe that Just War is the only response that makes sense in the fallen-sinful-evil world in which we live.
So, George, as I enumerate these five guidelines, I will also give my thoughts on how Just has been our behaviors in Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur.
First, The Primary Purpose Of A Just War Is To Defend Those Under Attack.
In Proverbs 24:8-12 Solomon instructed us to care for those being marched off to slaughter. For example, if I am walking down the street, and see a great big, burly man beating a helpless girl to death, and if I plead with him to stop, and if he won’t stop, I am justified in stopping him in any way I can.
Both Gulf Wars and the War On Terrorism are justifiable accordingly to this guideline.
I believe that this principle also justifies military intervention against those who are making preparations to do harm to others. In other words it is OK to “head them off at the pass.” While diplomacy must always be the first resort, in my opinion, ending the ability of North Korea to hold South Korea, the United States and China hostage with their nuclear threats is justified. Precluding the stated intention of Iran to decimate Israel with a nuclear device is also justifiable.
Concerning what we know now about the nonexistence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq makes no difference to the justifiability, or not, of the invasion to stop Saddam’s torturing, rape, pillage and murdering of the Kuwaitis, Kurds and others.
Second, In A Just War Vengeance Is Tempered By Justice.
The Bible is clear that God uses governments to convey judgment upon those who need it (Romans 13:1-5.). However, governments must follow just and fair guidelines in punishing the grizzlies.
There is a time to “turn the other cheek.” There is also a time for “an eye for an eye.” Justice means that we have the right to bring the wicked to justice. “Tempered” means that while it is OK to take an eye, it is not OK to take two. In other words, we don’t nuke a country over an assassination. Showing mercy is always an option. At times mercy can be both personally and nationally beneficial—both for the innocent as well as for those who perpetrate the atrocities.
It is quite all right for the U.S. to arrest and prosecute as necessary. Fortunately, when soldier-guards at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq overstepped their bounds by humiliating and torturing captured Iraqis, they were identified and prosecuted accordingly.
Third, There Must Be A Reasonable Prospect Of Victory—Of Achieving The Ends For Which The War Is Fought.
Jesus taught that it is stupid for a nation to go into a battle they are likely to lose (Luke 14:28-32). A King who has the resources fights with all the has and expects to win.
Can we win a war against terrorists? Certainly! However, in Afghanistan and now Pakistan we face a shadowy enemy; intelligence is difficult to obtain; it is quite difficult to find targets; and I believe that our soldiers have their hands tied by “rules of engagement” that not only preclude our ability to win, place innocent nationals in danger and needlessly cost the lives of scores of American service men and women. How winnable it is is any one’s guess.
The Gulf Wars in Iraq were not only winnable, victory was a foregone conclusion. Those wars were justifiable under Augustine’s principles.
The war in Afghanistan is an entirely different matter. In the history of mankind no outside invader has ever conquered Afghanistan—none. From Genghis Kahn to modern-day Russia, no one has brought this mountainous land under foreign control. The Russians recently spent 10 years trying and failed miserably. I can’t imagine nor foresee any circumstances that would allow the U.S. to do in Afghanistan what the Russians couldn’t. We are fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, how can we just sit back and wait while other innocents are mercilessly murdered.
On April 19, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur stood before a joint session of Congress to deliver his famous farewell address. “…old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” His speech, however, is much more than a farewell. It includes the following thoughts on war and peace.
It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth.” “I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes. But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory.
Fourth, The Motives Must Be Pure.
Judging another’s motives is always suspect (James 4:1-3). Nevertheless, at times judgment calls are obligatory.
As a nation we are concerned in righting wrongs and protecting the vulnerable. And, unfortunately, we can’t police the entire world. But, the reason we fight tyranny in the Middle East and not in Darfur or The Sudan has everything in the world to do with preserving our precious oil supply. We have huge petroleum reserves in North America; however, one of the reasons we want to keep Middle Eastern oil flowing in our direction is to use up their reserves and then still have our own virtually untouched.
Yes, we are in the Middle East to rescue the oppressed? However, we are there and not rescuing those tortured and enslaved in other totalitarian regimes because the Middle East has oil and the others don’t. Our motives in the Middle East are mixed at best.
Fifth, The Post-War Attitude Is One Of Mercy.
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7.).
No greater example of post-war mercy exists than the rebuilding of Germany and Japan by the United States after World War Two. Both of these antagonists were utterly destroyed by the Allies. But, under U.S. leadership, guidance and generosity both defeated nations were restored to prosperity and normalcy.
The same can be said of our attempts to rebuild the decimated infrastructure of Iraq. Plans for this were out in place even before the invasions began. What we do in Afghanistan has yet to be seen. But, I can see very little chance of fiscal recovery in this mountainous country.
Somewhere along the line we need to be reminded that our United States is free today because it cost someone his or her life yesterday. No one ever had anything unless it cost some one something.
The nineteenth century words of John Stuart Mill underscores this concept:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks nothing is worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than his own personal safety is a miserable creature, and has no chance of being free unless he is made free and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
Yes, Grizzly Bears still roam the wilderness of our world. May God help us have the resources, initiative and moral fiber to engage them and win.
Thanks for the question, George. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject some time. May God bless you and your family and those you help.