Searching for a Christian Response to the War on Iraq

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Psalm: 32:3

The gag order of patriotism has silenced the authentic response of the Christian community to the impending unjust war against Iraq. Christian apathy defaults to America’s gospel of preemptive warfare which is preparing to bomb Iraq’s civilization into Mesopotamian dust. Twelve years of silence holds the church accountable for devastating the entire infrastructure of Iraq, deforming generations of Iraqi children with weapons containing depleted uranium, perpetuating the infanticide of sanctions, and cluster bombing civilians in no-fly zones.

The impending military action also symbolizes a spiritual terrorist attack by America on the very gospel of Christ. Before a watching world, the Western Christian distorts into a grotesque parody of the crusader with the cross emblazoned on a tank or the missionary mopping up souls after a conquest. The love of Christ is bent, motionless, incinerated in the rubble of “collateral damage”. In the aftershock of the B-52s, the wasted bones of silence will decay in the church, the weary columns of Iraqi refugees, and our catacomb hearts. Without repentance, the narrative of the Christian community is reduced to the white noise of TVs and the desperate diversions of wealth.

In the palaces and reception halls, anthems and accolades will celebrate the powerful and the obedient as they gorge at a feast table of oil and empire. The media will applaud the same puppet show previously performed in Indonesia, Chile, Afghanistan and most of the “Third World”. Meanwhile, in the refugee camps, terrorist networks, welfare lines, reservations and ghettos of the world, the poor and disenfranchised seethe in anger and resentment.

America’s charmed existence, however, lacks the perspective of world history. Power has a short shelf life. The cross has a half-life of eternity. Power decays into decadence which implodes like the bowels of Herod. Powerlessness is the seed bed of renewal. Every fortified gate and hanging garden ordains its own barbarian horde. A remnant is prepared in wilderness.

Grace never promises global dominance. Grace incarnates a spiritual kingdom within a broken world. Christ still groans with power from the subversive suffering of the cross. Silence still cradles the call to repentance. The silence of the Lord’s head bowing under the weight of our sins and our death. The silence convulsing in the lungs of an Iraqi woman as she noiselessly rocks her child into death.

Within the deep tomb of culture, the gospel seems as foreign as the haunting calligraphy of the Arabic script. The turning from a flag that is loved makes repentance seem violent, like the earth’s plates grinding together on a fault line. Under the weight of Iraqi children wasting into silence, forgiveness seems fast and furious like a sweeping storm that frees the crescent moon from clouds. The desperate need for resurrection power makes the cross seems wildly creative, capable of transforming catacomb hearts into underground countercultures of peace. The distinctive voice is renewed in radical revolution. The unshackled voice must shout the war cry of nonviolence to the listening and the deaf, the powerful and the powerless, the flags and the body bags. The creative voice must find a parable as incisive and convicting as Nathan’s parable to a king. Disciples cannot leave the Sanhedrin in silence.


In order to legitimately search for an authentic Christian response to the looming military attack, the flag must be unwrapped from the cross. Perhaps-possibly-maybe, a reality exists beyond America that is larger and more complex than the slivers of information presented in press conferences, military briefings or sound bites on CNN. A sovereign power demands allegiance, and that power does not reside in the Oval Office.

The official American narrative is driven into the consciousness of the culture on a daily basis. We know the story by heart. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 (9/11) changed the world forever. America is now involved in a world-wide war on terrorism against shady terrorist networks, “Islamic militants” and rogue regimes. Iraq is an imminent threat to the existence of America, the Middle East and the community of nations. Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which he plans to use or provide to terrorist organizations. Saddam Hussein has gassed his own people and other nations, invaded other countries and terrorized the people of his own country. In the name of peace, America will disarm Iraq and institute a new democracy for the Iraqi people.

Before the bands and bombs drown out every dissenting voice, however, Christians should consider alternative narratives which are ignored by the mainstream press. This information challenges the primitive “good versus evil” dichotomy currently being superimposed on a complex and far reaching conflict. This information questions the sanctity of America’s actions.

Bloodguilt The 1991 Gulf War The 1991 Gulf War inflicted apocalyptic destruction on Iraq. The Medical Educational Trust in London published a study which estimated that up to 250,000 men, women and children died as a direct result of the war. The ground attack included tanks and earthmovers bulldozing live Iraqi soldiers into trenches in the desert. The relentless bombing also destroyed the civilian infrastructure, including power, sewage and water systems. The US initially claimed that the 43 day bombing was confined to military targets and that any civilian damage was limited to “collateral damage”. A Washington Post article printed after the bombing campaign reported:

Planners now say that their intent was to destroy or damage valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistance. The worst civilian suffering, senior officers say, has resulted not from bombs that went astray but from precision-guided weapons that hit exactly where they were aimed-at electrical plants, oil refineries and transportation networks… ‘What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the sanctions…If there are political objectives that the UN coalition has, it can say, ‘Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity. It gives us long-term leverage’….Said another Air Force planner: ‘We’re not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we’ll fix your electricity’.

After inspecting the damage, UN Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari concluded: “most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has for some time to come been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology.”

The Betrayal of Iraqi Resistance

At the end of the Gulf War, President George Bush Senior encouraged “the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their hands and force Saddam Hussein to step aside.” The Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiite population in the south responded to Bush’s call and revolted against Saddam Hussein. American forces, however, failed to support the uprising and watched Hussein’s troops slaughter the resistance. One report described American helicopters hovering over Hussein’s helicopter crews as they poured kerosene on fleeing refugees and incinerated them with tracer fire. Commentators and officials conclude that President Bush wanted a military coup, a junta, and not a popular uprising.

Ravaging Iraq with Weapons of Mass Destruction

During the Gulf War, reports confirm that Britain and the US used 300 to 800 tons of weapons with depleted uranium (“DU”) and, in some cases, DU mixed with plutonium. The Iraqi society is now suffering the “afterglow” of cancer, leukemia and birth defects, and the DU legacy will punish the population for generations.

The Infanticide of Sanctions

Economic sanctions have ravaged the Iraqi society for 12 years. A 1999 UNICEF report found that the sanctions, combined with the destruction of infrastructure, resulted in the early death of more than 500,000 children between 1991 and 1998. This death toll translates to an average of 5,000 childhood deaths each month. The World Food Programme in 2000 reported that 800,000 Iraqi children are “chronically malnourished.” Poor water quality and lack of sanitation have become the prime killer of children. UNICEF stated in July 2001 that “Diarrhea leading to death from dehydration and acute respiratory infections, together account for 70 per cent of child deaths.” The major public health crisis is exacerbated by shortages of medical equipment, medicine and staff.

UN Security Council members have received repeated warnings of the humanitarian crisis caused by sanctions from UN officials, international agencies and the international community. Warnings have come from “three Secretary Generals, many UN officials and agencies including UNICEF, WHO and WFP, and two Humanitarian Coordinators who have resigned in protest.” For instance, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2000 that “sanctions remain a blunt instrument, which hurt large numbers of people who are not their primary targets.”

Since 1996, Iraq has been authorized by the UN to sell oil for food. The oil-for-food program has simply perpetuated the infanticide under a veneer of humanitarian aid. The program was intended to serve as a short term policy. The UN Secretariat reported to the Security Council in 2000 that the humanitarian programme was never intended to meet all the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi population or to be a substitute for normal economic activity. Also the programme is not geared to address the longer term deterioration of living standards or to remedy declining health standards and infrastructure.

In 1998, Denis Halliday, the first coordinator of humanitarian relief in Iraq, resigned after 34 years of service with the UN. Halliday stated:

I have been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adultsWhat is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will slaughter those responsible.

Halliday’s replacement, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in 2000. “How long,” he asked, “should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Sponeck described the oil-for-food program as providing the Iraqi population with $177 per person per year-50 cents a day-for all of the needs of each Iraqi citizen.

Numerous policy papers and studies issued by UN agencies and legal scholars have determined that the sanctions program violates international human rights and humanitarian laws. In 1999, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights published a working paper which described sanctions as “unequivocally illegal” and stated that sanctions had caused a humanitarian disaster “comparable to the worst catastrophes of the past decade.”

Even government officials of Britain and the US have criticized the destructiveness of the program. In 1999, 70 members of Congress signed a letter to President Clinton calling for and end to sanctions and “infanticide masquerading as policy.” In 2000, the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development issued a report which sharply criticized Britain’s sanctions policies in Iraq.

Despite the intense pressure against the broad economic sanctions, Britain and the US have refused to consider any lifting of the sanctions. The effectiveness of the oil-for-food program has been undercut by the British and US intentional policy of placing holds on goods and blocking contracts. As of July 19, 2002, at least $5.4 billion in contracts were on hold.

While the US has actively sustained the sanctions program through its power and veto on the Security Council, public statements by US and British officials have ranged from denial to callous political calculations. Brian Wilson, Minister of State at the British Foreign Office, told the BBC on February 26, 2001: “There is no evidence that sanctions are hurting the Iraqi people.” In 1996, during an interview on 60 Minutes, Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, was asked: “We have heard that half a million children have diedis the price worth it.” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price-we think the price is worth it.”

Military Attacks

In addition to no-fly zone bombing operations, during the period from 1993 to 1998 the US and Britain carried out numerous aircraft and missile attacks on Iraq as well as covert operations. One report catalogues the main actions on January 17 (42 cruise missiles) and June 26 (23 cruise missiles), 1993, September 3-4, 1996 (Operation Desert Strike)(44 cruise missiles), and December 16-19, 1998 (Operation Desert Fox) (hundreds of strike aircraft and cruise missiles). In addition, CIA covert operations with Iraqi opposition groups have aimed at a coup.

The significant Desert Fox bombing unilaterally imposed by the Clinton Administration in 1998 further degraded the civilian infrastructure. From an international law perspective, Desert Fox was criticized as an illegal action that violated the principles of the UN Charter. From an ethical perspective, American journalists could not resist the life-imitating-art irony raised by the movie “Wag the Dog.”

“No-fly” Death Zones

The unilaterally imposed no-fly zones patrolled by US and British planes have become death zones for the killing of civilians. Even in 1999, the Wall Street Journal reported:

After eight years of enforcing a no fly zone in northern Iraq, few military targets remain. ‘We’re down to the last outhouse,’ one US official stated. ‘There are still some things left, but not many.'”

Families and children appear to fall into the category of leftovers. UN officials have reported of civilian deaths in locations not even remotely near military targets. The humanitarian motives asserted by the US for the no-fly zones are contradicted by the US/UK practice of discontinuing their patrols when Turkish troops enter northern Iraq to destroy Kurdish villages. The US vilification of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire fails to mention that the no-fly zones are not sanctioned by any UN Resolution and are viewed by many officials and analysts as violating international law.

The Predestined Invasion and Occupation

The US led medieval-style siege of Iraq now is destined to end in invasion and occupation under President Bush’s relentless push toward war. The new slaughter will fill trenches with more bodies, demolish families as “collateral damage” and create humanitarian and refugee problems of tragic proportions. The UN and Medact, a British charity of health professionals, projects 500,000 deaths and casualties resulting from hostilities and the aftermath of a conventional war. ABC News has published an investigative report on an Air Force report entitled “PSAB CAOC Tiger Team: Interim Report.” The report raises serious concerns about a public relations backlash from an expected high level of collateral damage and civilian deaths. Further an open letter from 500 staff, students and alumni from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine urged the prime minister to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The medical professionals warned that the conflict could lead to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians being killed.

A Confidential draft UN Document entitled “Likely Humanitarian Scenarios”, projects a humanitarian crisis which relief resources are unprepared to adequately handle. The following sample of findings suggests the magnitude of the crisis:

(1) “as many as 500,000 people could require treatment to a greater or lesser degree as a result of direct or indirect injures”. (2) “It is estimated that the nutritional status of some 3.03 million persons countrywide will be dire and that they will require therapeutic feeding.” (3) “UNICEF estimates that some 39 percent of the population will need to be provided with potable water.” (4) “the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely.” (5) In the southern governorate of Iraq the case load in immediate need of humanitarian need “would total 7.4 million.” (6) “It is estimated that there will eventually be some900,000 Iraqi refugees requiring assistance, of which 100,000 will be in need of immediate assistance.” (7) “Health supplies to treat injuries for approximately 100,000. Health supplies to treat the highly vulnerable for up to 1.23 million. Health supplies to cater for the ongoing needs of 54. million.”


The Hardened Heart Of America The twelve year war on Iraq exposes the hardened heart of America. The imminent invasion represents the culmination of superpower politics designed to control the government, strategic location and oil of Iraq. The Bush administration’s two primary goals for the invasion are (1) to ensure free access and control over Iraq’s magnificent oil resources and (2) to enshrine Bush’s new doctrine of preemptive strike.

The World Oil Order

During Congressional testimony in 1999, General Zinni testified that the Gulf Region is a “vital interest” and the US “must have free access to the region’s resources.” The National Energy Policy Development Group, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, indicated in May 2001 that US reliance on imported oil will increase dramatically by 2020 and Persian Gulf producers will be supplying 54-67% of world oil exports in 2020. The Cheney report confirms that “by any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security.” Cheney, in 1990 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out that whoever controls the flow of Persian Gulf oil has a “stranglehold” not only on our economy but also “on that of most of the other nations of the world as well.”

Iraq’s oil is highly coveted because of huge supplies, high quality, and exceptionally low production costs yielding substantial profits. Iraq has the world’s second largest proven oil reserves, trailing only Saudi Arabia.

Industry experts predict that Iraq’s oil wealth could rival that of Saudi Arabia once unexplored areas are developed by producers. The high quality of the oil commands a premium on the market. . In addition, the US Department of Energy indicates that “Iraq’s oil production costs are amongst the lowest in the world, making it a highly attractive oil prospect.”

From a different angle, the historical maneuvering for dominance over Middle East oil reinforces the centrality of oil in the crisis. Prior to the 1972 nationalization of Iraq’s oil industry, US and British companies held a three-quarter share in Iraq’s oil production. After nationalization, Iraq turned to Russia and France for funds and partnerships. Subsequent to the Gulf War, Iraq entered into contracts with Russian, French and Chinese companies to develop Iraqi oil fields, but sanctions prevented initiation of the projects. The Bush invasion will shift production control away from these competing nations and back to the four largest oil companies in the world, two of which are owned by the US and two by Britain. The Washington Post quoted former CIA director James Woolsey as stating:

It’s pretty straightforward. France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. If they throw their hat in with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.

In a post-war military government imposed by Washington, the US-UK companies expect to gain contracts worth billions of dollars. One industry source describes Iraq as a “boom waiting to happen…There is not an oil company in the world that doesn’t have its eye on Iraq.” The New Colonialism of Preemptive Strikes

Drafts of the preemption strategy were developed before the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the doctrine became the national policy of the Bush administration after 9/11. The preemptive strike concept is articulated in the September 2002 President’s report entitled The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. The report states “As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats [posed by dangerous technologies] before they are fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best.”

International law experts comment that the doctrine raises fundamental questions about the scope of self defense principles under international law. The right of self-defense is founded on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Traditionally Article 51 has been limited to defense in response to an actual attack by another nation. Experts such as Thomas Franck, Director of the Center for International Studies at the NYU Law School, suggest that Article 51 allows for flexibility “where there is very clear evidence that an armed attack, having not yet occurred, is nevertheless imminent and would be overwhelming, and would make the awaiting of the armed attack disastrous for the attacked country.” The “imminent threat” principle explains Washington’s attempts to link Iraq with Al-Qaeda and the public emphasis on weapons of mass destruction posing an imminent threat to the existence of the US. Commentators caution, however, that the US may be pushing the doctrine beyond an “imminent threat” justification to address dangerous regimes before they become imminent threats.

Perhaps the greatest danger relates to America’s overwhelming military superiority in the world and the potential use of the doctrine to promote unspoken strategic and political interests, such as control of oil. In order to test the theoretical preemption doctrine within the facts of the first test case in Iraq, the “dissident” alternative narrative will be applied to Washington’s publicly stated justifications for a preemptive strike against Iraq. This analysis supplements the previous review of America’s “unclean hands” during the twelve year conflict with Iraq and the damaging likelihood that oil is the heart of the issue.

Selling the War

The publicly stated reasons presented by the Bush administration for the invasion/occupation are propaganda to sell the war to the American public. The stated reasons include disarming weapons of mass destruction (WMD), fighting the war on terrorism, establishing freedom and democracy in Iraq, enforcing UN Resolutions, and “regime change.”

(A) The Lord of WMD Accuses the Pauper of WMD

The justification based upon WMD, which is an essential foundation for a preemptive strike pursuant self-defense arguments under international law, rings hollow in light of (1) the UN inspectors’ conclusions as of 1998 and current assessments that Iraq is not an imminent danger to the region or the US, (2) the US attitude toward current weapons inspections, (3) America’s radical history of development and use of WMD, and (4) America’s double standard applied to other countries in the Middle East and the world.

Scott Ritter, a chief UN weapons inspector for five years until 1998, asserts that the inspection process had resulted in Iraq being qualitatively free of WMD. Ritter states: 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.

Ritter’s conclusion is reinforced by current assessments of Iraq’s threat to the region and the world. A recent article indicates that even “Israeli defense officials have long dismissed demolished Iraq as a minor threat, even though it likely has between six and 18 old Scud missiles hidden away.” The other Arab countries in the Middle East oppose military action and are not pushing for war based upon imminent security concerns. Most Arab Muslims view America as a “hypocritical power because it tolerates (or even supports) the use of state terror by Israel against the Palestinians while making war against Baghdad for the same sort of behavior.”

The Bush administration exhibits an impatient tolerance of the resumed weapon inspections and a determined effort to ensure that the process can only end in an Iraqi violation. US public relation spins on the inspections and its dark attitude concerning even the possibility of Iraqi compliance suggest that the war has been preordained by the US. Critics argue that the Bush administration has no intention of disarming Iraq through inspections. The military buildup during the initial stages of inspections and the approved covert operations to overthrow Hussein reflect the irrelevance of the process except as a trigger for war. An article in the Mirror/UK reports that Dr Richard Perle, a Bush security adviser, told British MPs that even a “clean bill of health” by Hans Blix would not halt America’s war machine. The article adds “because Saddam is so hated in Iraq, it would be easy to find someone to say they witnessed weapons building.” On January 20, 2003, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell all delivered the message that a “smoking gun” was not needed to justify a war. Rumsfeld stated: I think the test is not [weapons]. The test is, is Saddam Hussein cooperating…he’s not doing that. The President said time is running out and if the test is, are the Iraqis going to cooperate, that’s something you’re going to know in a matter of weeks, not in months or years. The callous disregard and manipulation of the inspection process also is evidenced by several recent statements. First, one official acknowledged that they had lost control of the public relations aspects of the inspection process. Thus, it appears that PR truths will carry the day as opposed to inspection findings. Second, military leaders say in private that a war in the heat of summer would be difficult to wage. Thus, despite denials, Washington’s urgency seems driven by war planning rather than the time required to adequately perform inspections. Finally, an Arab-language newspaper in London reports that at least three top Iraqi weapons experts had been “subjected to pressures and offered financial incentives” to defect or cooperate with American intelligence officials.

The US government’s retroactive outrage over Iraq’s use of WMD during the 1980s seems less than candid in light of America’s radical reliance on WMD. An abbreviated history includes Hiroshima, Nagasaki, agent orange in Vietnam, supplying Iraq with WMD during the 1980s, spending billions of dollars a year on military weapons, and contaminating Iraq with DU weapons. A government report entitled “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction” states: “The United States will continue to make clear that it reserve the right to respond with overwhelming force-including through resort to all of our options-to the use of WMD against the US” “All options” includes America’s “conventional and nuclear response and defense capabilities.” The report suggests that there are even circumstances where America reserves the right to use such weapons as “preemptive measures.”

The US administration sounds worldwide alarm over possible WMD in Iraq while simultaneously ignoring larger WMD capabilities in countries such as India, Pakistan, and Israel. This apparent double standard results in a cynicism that the coming war is another fake liberation. Charles Pena, Senior Defense Policy Fellow of the Cato institute captures the distrust in the following statement:

The Defense Department claims 12 nations with nuclear weapons programs, 13 with biological weapons, 16 with chemical weapons, and 28 with ballistic missiles as existing and emerging threats to the United States. But only one of those countries sits atop the second largest oil reserves in the world.

The dangerous reality appears to be that the US, as the sole superpower, has assumed the right to assess each country’s WMD capacity and categorize the country as a dangerous rouge regime or an ally within the friendly confines of the world community.

(B) The Mantra of War on Terrorism

The war on terrorism mantra has replaced the defunct Cold War as the overarching rationale for US foreign intervention. The beauty of the new policy is that the war on terrorism is an “unending” crusade against an undefined enemy which can lurk in any country selected by the US. The threat of terrorism becomes the means of extending national security to authorize preemptive strikes, covert operations and US imposed regime changes.

The intervention in Afghanistan serves as a recent example of the war on terrorism quickly expanding to achieve geopolitical goals. The originally expressed parameters of the Afghanistan invasion suggested a limited response to 9/11. However, the facts on the ground reveal that the US expanded the operation. The intervention installed a pro-West government, established strategically important military bases, renewed the construction of a much coveted natural gas pipeline , killed thousands of innocent civilians , tortured Taliban supporters stuffed in sealed cargo containers , contaminated parts of the country with DU , failed to capture the masterminds of Al Qaeda, and left the economy and infrastructure in shambles as the international community ignores the costly rebuilding of Afghanistan.

In terms of Iraq, the US has been unable to link Saddam Hussein’s regime with Al Qaeda or the 9/11 tragedy. Nevertheless, the administration plays on the fear engendered by 9/11 to link Saddam Hussein with shady terrorist networks which will use Iraq’s WMD against the US. It is hardly surprising that the world’s support of the US in the aftermath of 9/11 has dissolved into anger and resentment at the perceived arrogance of the Bush administration and the “resource wars” inflicted on the Middle East.

The distrust of US intentions is so pervasive that many commentators suggest that Iraq is simply a stepping stone to a larger “great game” control of the Middle East. The grab for oil theory suggests that control of Iraqi oil will drive a stake into the OPEC cartel and diminish Saudi Arabia’s influence over the industry. The political dominance theory suggests that the US desires to destabilize and remove the authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran in order to strengthen the US/Israeli interests in the region. (C) The Bully in the UN

International opinion increasingly questions the use of military power to enforce Security Council demands on Iraq while “numerous demands upon Israel, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Morocco remain conspicuously unmet.” There are “well over 90 UN Security Council resolutions that are currently being violated by countries other than Iraq.”

The Bush administration often references Iraq’s termination of inspections in 1998 as evidence of Iraq’s violation of previous UN Resolutions. In actuality, the weapons inspectors left Iraq in December of 1998 in preparation for Clinton’s “Monicagate” bombing campaign in the same month. In addition, Iraqi complaints in 1998 that the inspectors were spying for the US have been confirmed. At one point, the Russian ambassador at the UN, Sergey Lavrov, remarked in the Council that “it was not possible to ask the [Iraq government] to cooperate and, at the same time, bomb their territory.” Government statements during the 1990s reveal the callous truth that the US planned to block any success of the inspection/disarmament process and the subsequent lifting of economic sanctions unless Iraq implemented regime change.

The Security Council resolution on Iraq passed in 2002 required intense lobbying by the US. The international community criticizes US strong-arm tactics within the UN. The US is perceived as horse trading with nations in order to garner the necessary vote. The “bribes” and “favors” offered by the US included assurances related to Iraqi oil. The UN is considered spineless and irrelevant, but for reasons other than those threatened by President Bush during his campaign for the resolution.

(D) Obedience is an Ally; Disobedience is a Rogue Regime

The promotion of democracy and crusade against rogue regimes are questionable justifications for the war in light of the US relationship with Saddam Hussein prior to the Gulf War and America’s record of supporting oppressive dictators throughout the world.

Pre-Gulf War, the US supplied Saddam Hussein with military equipment and the material to develop WMD, actively supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and overlooked the gassing of Iranian troop and Kurds in his own country. Saddam Hussein was only demonized as the “Beast of Baghdad” when the US desired to justify the Gulf War.

Noam Chomsky has presented the most thorough accounts of US military and covert operations to prop up, maintain and install ruthless dictators and regimes as long as the regime supported American interests. A sample of countries includes Indonesia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iran, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Cambodia. In sum, the definition of “rogue regime” does not appear to be based upon the regime’s human rights record or the government’s adherence to democracy. Rather, a more accurate definition may be any government which is disobedient to the control of the US. After summarizing America’s history of intervention in various parts of the world, Noam Chomsky concludes: “Crimes are not of great consequence; disobedience is.”

Stephen Gowan graphically states, “the impending all-out assault in Iraq is spinned as a ‘war of liberation.’ And there’s a certain truth to the claim. It will be a war that could liberate up to 500,000 Iraqis of their lives, according to the British healthcare group, Medact. It will be a war that could liberate 200,000 Iraqis of their homes, and 10 million of their security against hunger and disease, according to a new UN report.”



The war effort’s hyper-patriotism mirrors the sin pattern of the Cold War. Specifically, the mainstream media functions as an uncritical mouthpiece of US policy, public criticism is characterized as un-American, civil rights are restricted in the name of national security, immigration policies are used as a tool for broadly punishing immigrants even remotely connected to the “enemy”, and the “enemy” is demonized and dehumanized. After 9/11, the mainstream media has failed to provide the public with investigative or critical reporting on the war on terror. The result is a media functioning solely as a vehicle for the administration’s position, even when a government pronouncement is found to involve misinformation. As a result, the public is vulnerable to the same media marketing used to sell the 1991Gulf War. President Bush Senior hired a public relations firm prior to the Gulf War and paid the firm over $10 million funded by the Kuwait government. The public relations firm sold the war based upon lies, such as the high profile “incubator-killing babies” atrocities. The atrocity was even trotted before Congress as testimony.

Criticism of current American policies is discredited as un-American. Civil rights are restricted through mechanisms such as the Patriot Act. The INS rounds up immigrants from the Middle East, keeps them in jail, often for extended periods of time, and imposes special registration procedures. One article comments that “racial profiling is the domestic counterpart of Bush’s new foreign policy based on preemptive strikes: profiling and preemption work together to define the human targets of the ‘war on terror.'” The rigid patriotism, civil rights restrictions, and punitive immigration policies begin to mirror the abuses of McCarthyism.

Periods of heightened nation security spawn increased racism and prejudice. During World War II, Japanese-Americans were carted off to detention camps. The Cold War created hysteria over “reds” and “commies.” Edward Said, the respected Palestinian author, observes that “[t]he initial step in the dehumanization of the Other is to reduce him to a few insistently repeated simple phrases, images and concepts.” “Mystification is everywhere.” Said continues. “Terror, fanaticism, violence, hatred of freedom, insecurity, and, of course, weapons of mass destruction: these are the words we use to speak of the Arab world; they don’t come up in relation to Israel, Pakistan, India, the UK or the US.” As a result, “the belief that ‘we’ must get them first is what frames and gives legitimacy to the war on terrorism and on Iraq.”



The Christian community’s response to twelve years of American atrocities in Iraq is characterized by a deafening silence. Certainly leaders of denominations, churches and other Christian organizations are beginning to clarify and voice their positions as the war drums grow louder. Despite the dialogue among Christian leaders, Christians sitting in the pews maintain an indifferent or fearful silence.

In order to break the silence at a grassroots level, it is necessary to thoughtfully examine the various positions taken by Christian leaders. Most theological discussions adopt a position for or against the war based upon the “just war” doctrine, pacifism or other criteria. A comprehensive Biblical response, however, requires an honest accountability for the US actions in Iraq. Self-examination moves the believer beyond a theoretical pacifist or just cause approach to Spirit-driven repentance and forgiveness. A face of suffering replaces the Other. The sword drops from the hand when it must sever the life of 500,000 Iraqi people with individual faces. In fact, the face of suffering calls the Christian to peacefully protest and resist America’s war machine.

The Dissonant Voice of Christian Leaders

Fearful Demonization

Several high profile Christian leaders have engaged in a spiritual assault on Islam in response to 9/11 and global terrorism. Franklin Graham characterized Islam as “very evil and wicked.” Pat Robertson stated that Muslims intend “to control, dominate, and if need be, destroy.” Jerry Vines with the Southern Baptists called Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile.” Finally, Jerry Falwell told 60 Minutes that Muhammad was a terrorist.

While public rejection of this prejudice is essential, such thoughts permeate the church. A theological cause may involve an overly black and white view that all religions other than Christianity are totally evil or Satanic. These statements also may reflect a response of anger and fear to the 9/11 tragedy. At a deeper level, the pervasiveness of this perspective in the pews may symbolize the deep rooted sin pattern of racism in the American culture. Ellen Schrecker, in her book on McCarthyism, offers the following food for thought: Americans have never suffered from a shortage of scapegoated aliens. In its early years, native Americans and African slaves supposedly threatened the nation from within. In the nineteenth century, the demonization had spread to Catholics and immigrants. By the mid-twentieth century, Communists, a political minority, had supplanted the earlier racial, religious, and ethnic subgroups as the most common version of the subversive “other.” Significantly, the language of demonization remains constant… The enemy within is rarely human. And always the situation is critical By 1948, Communism had become “a far greater threat to our existence than any other threat,” so dangerous that if the United States “does not successfully cope with the Communist threat, then it need not worry about any other threat to the internal security of this nation, because it is not impossible that there will be no nation.” The same language, the same patterns of thought, pervade all these conceptualizations. The dehumanizing of the supposed threat as well as the quasi-hysterical tone in which it is addressed are too similar not to have come from some common source.

A Methodist bishop challenges American Christians to confront our country’s pride in technology and the efficiency of missiles as bordering on cultural idolatry. “One way to test the power of idolatry is to ask who it serves and who is the victimConsidering victims of stray bombs or the devastation wrought by those bombs as “collateral damage” of such a campaign dehumanizes them. We fail, in this culture, to understand that our abstractions, if they are unmasked, have human faces.” Power Politics

Many responses cash-in on politics trumping Biblical analysis. One example is a survey conducted and publicized by Stand For Israel. Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, is the co-chairman of the organization. The survey concludes that conservative Christians are the biggest backers of the Iraq war, with 69% of “evangelical” Christians favoring a war and 80% of the Christians identified as republican supporting military action against Iraq.

Additional survey information reinforces the conclusion that foreign policy responses within the Christian community may be driven more by politics than religion. For instance, two-thirds of evangelical Christians supported Israel and their actions against Palestinian “terrorist.” 56% of the supporters indicated that the decision was based upon political reasons and only 28% of the supporters selected theological reasons, such as end-time prophesies.

The implication of this survey is that many Christians are divorcing their view of violence and war from Biblical criteria. “Born-again” war cries are rising from lungs filled with political air. This approach lessens the impact of Biblical principles on the politically sensitive Bush administration.


The nonviolent, or pacifist, position opposes any violence, including the Iraq war, as contrary to the gospel. Pacifism is a central doctrine in denominations such as the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren and the Quakers. The Catholic Church teaches that the only two legitimate Christian responses to war are nonviolence and just war. The early church, as a distinct, minority community within a larger community, tended toward pacifism. The analysis presented by theologian Stanley Hauerwas serves as an instructive example of this position. As a prerequisite for a Christian response to the Iraq war, Hauerwas clarifies the need to differentiate the Christian response from the American people’s response. Failure to distinguish the kingdom of God from the kingdom of the world results in a Christian narrative muddied by American culture, hyped up patriotism, politics, emotionalism, nationalism and power. The “we” encompassing an American Christian must be severed into “the American” and “the Christian.” The tendency to fuse God and America spawns wildly erratic and divergent positions on the war which often reflect the call of the flag rather than the call of the gospel.

The gospel, in the theology of Hauerwas, is a radically subversive call to a counterculture of the cross. The church, as a community living out the power of Christ’s suffering unto death, can only engage the violence of this world with nonviolent love. The church becomes the manifestation of the kingdom of peace and an alternative kingdom within America. The church’s task is not primarily to provide guidance on political and foreign policy issues for a host country, but to be a living political and foreign policy that flows out of the community of the cross.

Hauerwas’ writings wrestled with the implications of pacifism in the shadow of 9/11. He concludes that 9/11 did not forever change the world. Christ’s death and resurrection forever changed history, the world and the cosmos. He states: “The claim that September 11, 2001, forever changed the world is a claim shaped by the narrative of being an American. As Americans we feel violated, vulnerable, fearful. We hate those who have made us recognize our fear. We hate the loss of security, the loss of comfort that comes from routine. We want normality. I think we are right to want all this, but we must remember that these desires-if we are Christians-must be shaped by our fear of God.” As early as 1975, Hauerwas stated: “Crucial to our ability to deal with life truthfully is having the skills to face moral tragedies without developing justifications that become policies of self-deception.” The power of the nonviolent position lies in its assumptions. First, the Christian response must be inextricably tied to the gospel. Second, the gospel cannot be revised or expanded to assuage our pain and modern angst in the presence of horrific and unexplainable violence. Accommodation of God’s truth to modern contingencies results in self-deception and deformity. Third, the Iraq war and related war on terrorism must be narrated from the Christian perspective as opposed to the American context.

The overriding authority of the gospel provides common ground for Christian pacifists, Christian just war theorists, Christian ethicists and plain old Christians in the pews to dialogue meaningfully on the issue. Resistance to accommodation avoids self-deception or other modifiers (such as political leanings and emotions) warping the Christian response. The distinction between Christian narrative and American narrative broadens the Christian’s perspective beyond the boundaries of the US. 9/11 has pulled Americans kicking and screaming into the rest of the world. Iraqis and much of the rest of the “Third World” experience unimaginable suffering and squalor every day. For these people, every day is 9/11.

Hauerwas’ theology underlying nonviolence challenges the Christian church to examine its validity as a true, distinctive community. For instance, many of the disenfranchised in American society have rejected Christianity as irrelevant or as perpetuating racial and economic inequality. In response, the marginalized are discovering a more profound sense of community within Islam. Similarly, to some extent the extreme patriotism after 9/11 exposes the failure of the church to offer a meaningful sense of community.

Pacifism is often criticized as irrelevant to the political process and ineffective in influencing social change. Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Jesus was clearly a pacifist, but if we Christians are going to act for justice in the world, we have to leave pacifism behind, which means we have to leave Jesus behind when we come into the political arena.” This blanket criticism fails to recognize that pacifism does not equate to passivity. Martin Luther King and Gandhi rocked their respective cultures with active nonviolence. Gandhi stated: “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” Nonviolent Christians can participate in peace protests and other forms of social action, although, in Hauerwas’ view, these actions take a backseat to the Christian community living up to its primary social purpose of manifesting the community of the cross.

The Just War Doctrine

The just war doctrine is the most common approach to examining the preemptive invasion of Iraq. The analysis essentially is pacifism with exceptions. A strong presumption in favor of peace and against war can only be overcome with extraordinarily strong reasons which meet established criteria. The criteria developed over the centuries by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other Christian theologians, include the following:

Legitimate authority: Legitimate authority requires a public act by a sovereign political authority.

Just cause: Just cause includes defense against wrongful attack, retaking something wrongly taken, or punishment of evil. Historically, the classic justifications have been limited to defense against wrongful attack or the imminent danger of attack.

Right intention: The goal should be to bring about peace. Prohibited intentions include personal or national enrichment, gaining territory or seeking glory.

Reasonable chance of success: This criterion requires the overall good of the military action to exceed the probable cost or harm of the action.

Proportionality: The use of force must be limited to legitimate military necessity and civilian casualties must be avoided. Specifically, direct, intentional attacks on civilians is prohibited.

Last resort: All reasonable peaceful means of reaching a solution should be exhausted before beginning hostilities.

(A) An Unjust War

A majority of Christian denominations and organizations currently conclude that the proposed Iraq war does not meet the criteria of a just war. Opponents of the war include the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches. The Catholic Church has been the most consistently vocal opponent of the war. The Pope has issued repeated warnings against the war. The US Catholic Bishops’ 1993 statement entitled “The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace” provides a summary of key elements of the Church’s teaching on war and peace, including the principles of the just war tradition. One important additional criteria contained in the Catholic criteria which often is not explicitly identified in other descriptions is the concept of “comparative justice.” The 1993 summary states, “while there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.”

The specific application of the just war theory by the Catholic Church to the Iraqi crisis is exemplified by a letter issued on November 14, 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the “US Statement”) and a statement by Pax Christi, UK dated June 21, 2002.

The US Statement emphasizes that a “preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq” fails to satisfy the test. “Preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with weapons of mass destruction” expand dramatically the traditional “just cause” principle without “clear and adequate evidence of imminent attack of a grave nature.” With respect to “legitimate authority”, a decision to go to war requires “compliance with US constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation and some form of international sanction.” The standards of “probability of success” and “proportionality” raise significant concerns about imposing “terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population” and the possibility of provoking terrorist attacks. The US Statement also indicates that force could bring incalculable costs for civilians in violation of civilian immunity and proportionality principles. In “assessing whether ‘collateral damage’ is proportionate, the lives of Iraqi men, women and children should be valued as we would the lives of members of our own family and citizens of our own country.” The US Statement ends with a call to pursue actively alternatives, such as replacement of broad economic sanctions with a military embargo and political sanctions.

The Pax Christi statement contains an equally strong condemnation of a preemptive strike against another sovereign nation as exceeding legitimate self-defense. The document “deplores any military action that regards the deaths of innocent men, women and children as a price worth paying in fighting terrorists, since this is to fight terror with terror.” Any fight against terrorists, the statement suggests, should be accomplished through police actions of arrest and trial under the international system of law. “The so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is an act of political rhetoric that must be distinguished from a military campaign against a sovereign state. It cannot be used to justify an attack on Iraq, and any offensive planned to counteract the perceived threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction should not be represented as a war against terrorists.” The Pax Christi also identify the UN as the supreme authority with respect to an international war.

The letter issued by the World Council of Churches condemns “preemptive military strikes against a sovereign state under the pretext of the ‘war on terrorism'” and urges the use on non-military measures. The letter also raises “comparative rights” arguments. The Council “deplores the fact that the most powerful nations of this world continue to regard war as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy, in violation of both the United Nations Charter and Christian teachings.” Further, “the people of Iraq have suffered enough under sanctions regime since 1991. Inflicting further punishment on innocent civilians is not morally acceptable to anyone.” Finally, a war could fuel “the fires of violence that are already consuming the region” and “sow more seeds of intense hatred strengthening extremist ideologists.”

A delegation of 13 religious leaders visited Iraq under the auspices of the National Council of Churches and issued a Press Statement on January 3, 2003. The delegation concluded that they were opposed to the war for three reasons. First, “a war against Iraq will make the US less secure, not more secure…We believe the entire region, including Israel and the United States will be at greater risk of terrorism if war takes place.” Second, “widespread suffering and death will result for innocent people. So-called ‘smart bombs’ do dumb things like missing targets and destroying homes, water and sewage treatment plants, schools, churches and mosques.” Third, the delegation found a preemptive war “immoral and illegal.”

The United Methodist Church has four Statements from the Book of Resolutions which are relevant to Iraq (276;277;306;318). Statement 276 condemns the economic sanctions as “the most severe penalty ever imposed on any nation” with the burden of the economic sanctions falling on the shoulders of the Iraqi people. Continuation of sanctions is “the moral equivalent to waging war against the civilian population.” The resolution calls for a lifting of economic sanctions and the continuation of military sanctions. Resolution 277 opposes intervention into the affairs of other nations, especially the intervention of more powerful nations against weaker ones. The resolution calls on all nations to monitor their own compliance with UN principles and international laws. Resolution 306 opposes low-level conflicts often carried out by covert operations. Resolution 318 addresses several issues such as disarmament. In addition, the Methodists have issued strong public statements accusing the Bush administration of “unprecedented disregard for democratic ideals” and “a major and dangerous change” in US policy by establishing preemptive warfare.

The Policy on Iraq adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) represents a watered down approach. The Policy contains seven actions, including recommendations to lift sanctions, exercise “restraint” in the contemplated military action, maintain safeguards such as military sanctions, initiate comprehensive efforts by all governments in the Middle East to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, direct the Iraqi government to redirect resources from military spending to civilian infrastructure and seek a negotiated solution based on diplomacy. As compared to other statements, the Presbyterian policy stops short of opposing the war based upon a just war analysis.

(B) A Just War

While most denominations oppose the preemptive war, an influential portion of the Christian body, particularly within the “evangelical” community, conclude that the traditional just war theory is satisfied or that the theory must be expanded to address the realities of modern warfare and terrorism. The best example of this position is an October 3, 2002, letter written to President Bush by five prominent, conservative Christian leaders-Richard Land, Dr. Chuck Colson, Dr. Bill Bright, James Kennedy, Ph.D, and Dr Carl Herbster.

The letter determines that Bush’s policies concerning Saddam Hussein fall within the criteria of a just war. The policy “concerning using military force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction is a just cause. In a just war theory only defensive war is defensible; and if military force is used against Saddam Hussein it will be because he 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.”

With respect to the “just intent” requirement, the letter refers to President Bush’s statement that “the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi peopleLiberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal.” The letter emphasizes the intent to defend freedom and freedom-loving people from state-sponsored terror and death. The intent, according to the letter, is not to “destroy, conquer or exploit Iraq.”

The analysis of the “last resort” principle concludes that Iraq has already rejected all other international attempts through a decade of refusing to disarm or cooperate with weapons inspections. “They have not, and will not, do so and any further delay in forcing the regime’s compliance would be reckless irresponsibility in the face of grave and growing danger.” The “legitimate authority” requirement is met by a declaration of war or a resolution of Congress. UN approval is wise and prudent, but not necessary. This view is supported with an analogy to President Kennedy’s position concerning the Cuban missile crisis.

The requirements of limited goals and reasonable expectation of success are met by the stated policies of “disarming the murderous Iraqi dictator and destroying his weapons of mass destruction, while liberating the Iraqi people of his cruel and barbarous grip.” The principle of noncombatant immunity is summarily addressed with of vote of confidence “that our government, unlike Hussein, will not target civilians and will do all that it can to minimize noncombatant casualties.”

The letter addresses “proportionality” with the argument that “not dealing with this threat now will only succeed in greatly increasing the cost in human lives and suffering when an even more heavily armed and dangerous Saddam Hussein must be confronted at some date in the not so distant future.” This argument is reinforced with an analogy to Hitler and the deaths that would have been avoided if the world had quickly confronted his threat.

This minority position has the ear of the Bush administration. Colson describes a discussion with Donald Rumsfeld as follows: The issue of whether a preemptive strike could be justified under the just war doctrine came up during a meeting I attended at the Pentagon last fall. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked religious leaders to come and give him advice on whether the just war tradition was being applied to the war in Afghanistan. During the meeting, I asked the secretary, “How would you justify a preemptive strike against Iraq?” That led to a fascinating discussion about the administration’s options in its prosecution of the war against terrorism. Rumsfeld argued that the 1981 Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear power plant suspected of producing material for nuclear weapons set a precedent that the US was prepared to follow.

The response of Mr. Colson, however, is more American than it is Christian. Although this writer falls into the “evangelical” camp on most issues, with respect to Iraq the minority position shrouds the cross with the flag.

The October 3, 2002 letter attempts to satisfy a defensive war based upon invasions by Iraq of Iran in the 1980s (a war in which the US actively supported Iraq) and the invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Saddam Hussein’s use of WMD against his own people in the 1980s (actions which were strategically overlooked by the US at the time) and Iraq’s links with Al Qaeda (a claim which has since been dropped by the US). The past events cited, however, do not support the traditional self defense prong of the test or the concept of an imminent threat. In other comments, however, leaders such as Colson recognize that the preemptive war in Iraq requires an expansion of the traditional self-defense doctrine. Colson argues that expansion of the doctrine is necessary because “waiting for the other side to shoot first is tantamount to committing national suicide. This led to the idea of preemption.” Without overwhelming evidence of imminent threat by Iraq, the expansion supported by Colson completely guts the protective criteria of the “just cause” principle.

The second principle of the doctrine, just intent, is met by the US goal of freedom from WMD and the freedom of the Iraqi people. The US does not have “a quarrel with the Iraqi people.” In a subsequent article, Colson reinforces the prerequisite of “solid intelligence and goodwill of US and Western leaders.” Colson dismisses the possibility of any impure intent. “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 so recklessly.” Any man who has traveled into the heart of darkness of the Nixon administration should recommend at least kicking the tires of “just intent” before endorsing an unprecedented preemptive war. In fact, the administration’s stated goal of “regime change” taints the intent analysis. Jim Skillen of the Center for Public Justice suggests that comparing disarmament of an imminent threat with regime change is “similar to comparing neutralizing hostile tanks posed on the border to wiping out a government.” Skillen criticizes elements of the preemption doctrine as implying that “the US is now going to look at the whole world and make sure that no power can stand in its way and it will take preemptive action as necessary.” In addition to the questionable validity of “regime change,” it seems prudent for Christian leaders to consider the illegitimate intent of grabbing for oil resources.

The “last resort” and “legitimate authority” analysis in the October 3, 2002 letter hinge to a large extent on the appropriate role of the UN. The letter characterizes UN approval as merely a “nice-to-have.” The breaking mechanism of the UN, however, ensures that, at least within the halls of the UN, the US is not going against international opinion. Such a check on unilateral action seems critical as the US moves into the unprecedented realm of preemptive warfare. Similarly, the “last resort” concept turns on whether resumed inspections prove effective. In the present context inspectors should be given ample time to complete inspections without pressure from the US to preordain the outcome. Further, various church organizations have suggested less drastic containment mechanisms, such as the lifting of economic sanctions combined with a continued military sanction.

The letter presents a surface analysis of “limited goals” and “reasonable expectation of success.” The goal of disarmament and liberation of Iraq are far from sure outcomes. The US plan for post-overthrow military governance by the US and continued presence for years reflects the extreme instability that will result from a “liberation.” The Arab countries have reiterated time and time again that a continued presence by the US in a Muslim country will not be tolerated. Thus, overthrow seems achievable given the overwhelming military power of the US, but the “freedom and peace” goal post-coup is a risky proposition. As David Fromkin points out in a book on the Balkans conflict: “The 1999 aerial bombardment of Serbiawas an action ..within the power of the United States to undertake. But whether the remaking of Serbia is within our power is another questionThe trusteeship-for-Kosovo concept comes at the wrong time in history. Regardless of our professed ‘disinterestedness’ and ‘pure intentions’, we will be imposing an international regime on a foreign population that will perceive that regime as imperialist-and it is too late for imperialism.”

The reliance by the “evangelical” camp on US technology and restraint to ensure noncombatant immunity seems to reflect our cultural idolatry of America’s sophisticated and precise weapons. Colson’s comments on this principle expose an unsteady analysis. First, Colson expresses confidence in US restraint based upon the military’s “commendable” precision targeting in Afghanistan and previous military engagements. The reports of significant civilian casualties in our bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and in Iraqi no-fly zones contradict a na?ve confidence in bombs which never think. The revelations that the Gulf War bombing campaign constituted a direct violation of “noncombatant immunity” by targeting the civilian infrastructure suggests that the US should take a deep breath before carpet bombing Iraq. Finally, recent reports by government and UN officials suggest significant civilian damages. Perhaps more than a deep breath is needed.

Perhaps more troubling, other comments by Colson suggest a willingness to trade lives of the other for US safety. In a commentary expressing whole-hearted approval of “fighting fire with fire” against terrorists by using nuclear weapons, Colson states:

The use of nuclear weapons and the death of civilians, however, could be justified if their use prevented even greater evils. This was the rationale behind the use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where those bombs brought the war in the Pacific to an abrupt end, saving an invasion of Japan that would have resulted in more bloodshed, destruction, and suffering for soldiers and civilians than the bombs. It was the same justification the Church embraced during the Cold War. Even in his subsequent recantation of the Nagasaki example, Colson seems unable to see civilian casualties as real people with real faces. Colson states:

By any such use of weapons on our now would have to be aimed only at military targets. Our intent must be clear, even if there are unintended civilian casualties. Some Christian ethicists refer to this as the “double effect”, in which a morally justifiable action has undesirable, even sometimes foreseeable, side effects-but never effects deliberately intended. This means striking military targets with surgical precision, which, so far, this Defense Department has gone to great lengths to do.

“Unintended”, “undesirable”, “even sometimes foreseeable”, and “side effects” seem a desperate sanitization of the death of the Other.

The evangelical analysis of the final just war doctrine, “proportionality,” is most telling by its omissions. The October 3, 2002 letter finds possible future terrorism with substantial cost of life as the determinative factor. The letter, as well as other commentaries, omit any discussion of the significant loss of life and humanitarian crisis which is predicted by the UN. The commentaries fail to acknowledge the suffering and deaths caused by economic sanctions maintained by the US in the face of international protest. The comments omit the common concern that the war will actually increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks in retaliation to the invasion. Instead, the threat of future use of WMD by Iraq or terrorists allows the chasing of undefined enemies to override more immediate and acute suffering inflicted by a preemptive war.

The letter exhibits a troubling demonizing of Saddam Hussein which is subtly extended to Muslims in general by commentators such as Chuck Colson. The letter vilifies Hussein. Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator, but many countries in Central America, Latin America and the Middle East might characterize Hussein as an “amateur” compared to the covert operations, coups and military attacks instigated by the US.

The subtle extension of the dehumanizing process to Muslims is exposed in comments by Chuck Colson. In one commentary, Colson employs the superficial “clash of civilizations” paradigm to explain 9/11 as a battle of worldviews between the West and extreme Islam. Colson then proceeds to draw the battle lines between Christianity and Islam in theological crayons of primary colors. Islam’s worldview is simplistically described as worshiping a God who is remote and utterly transcendent and as rejecting original sin. “The Muslim’s best hope of salvation is to eliminate non-Muslim influences and to advance Islam (by force, if necessary, for which there are heavenly rewards, as the terrorists believed)”. The rejection of original sin leads the Muslim to “seek the perfect society by strictly enforcing Islamic law.” The utopian perspective “has already brought tyranny and disaster, just as communist utopianism led to the tragic deaths of tens of millions in the former Soviet Union.” Colson concludes the poorly drawn caricature with a subtle suggestion that “although most Muslims are peace-loving, the Qur’an does speak of ‘jihad'”. The terrorist lurks in every Islamic corner!

A second article discusses the impact and influence of Islam in the prisons. Prisons are viewed as prime targets for “radical Islamists who preach a religion of violence, of overcoming oppression by ‘jihad'” Colson makes a passing remark that most Muslims interpret jihad as an inner struggle before moving on to the radical jihad “invading our prisons.” “Those who take the Koran seriously,” Colson states, “are taught to hate the Christian and the Jews; lands taken from Islam must be recaptured.” The ante is upped by jihad being “the only way one can be assured of Allah’s forgiveness and eternal salvation.” The business man reading this opinion in the Wall Street Journal will put down the paper believing that “radical Islamists seek to turn criminals into terrorists.” Colson’s simplistic approach to the prison issue is refuted by a recent article which focusing on other compelling reasons, such as the sense of community in Islam and the Islamic organizations’ willingness to put their concern into practice with practical programs.

In contrast to the terrorism of jihad, “out of love for neighbor, then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike, if ordered by the appropriate magistrate to prevent an imminent attack.” The only distinction between a love war and a holy war appears to be the color of the flag and the type of weapons used.

Another thread running through Colson’s just war theory appears to be politics. In 1999, Colson vigorously opposed the Clinton administration’s campaign against Kosovo based upon a just war analysis. The article referenced the moral difficulty in bombing a sovereign nation, alternative strategies to military action, and the evil caused by the bombing due to Milosevic’s increased reign of terror. A sound analysis, but drastically different than the current application to the Iraq war. As one example, the current analysis brushes aside the moral difficulty expressed by many commentators, and Colson himself in 1999, to bombing a sovereign nation. Saddam Hussein “forfeits his sovereign immunity”, if he is “stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and acting in concert with terrorists.” This reasoning suggests that the numerous countries stockpiling WMD and refusing to disarm, such as India, Pakistan, Israel, the UK, and the US, may have forfeited sovereign immunity.



The impending preemptive warfare in Iraq desecrates the sadness and sorrow of 9/11 with more mothers crying for their children lost in bombed out rubble. The fear and vulnerability violently inflicted on the American culture by the 9/11 tragedy has trapped Americans in nightmare visions of terrorists lurking in every mosque and open air market of the Middle East. The Other approaches without a face. The Bush administration draws the face for us: today Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, tomorrow an ayatollah in Iran building a suspicious nuclear plant, a week from now ruthless sheiks in Saudi Arabia funding more terrorist networks, a month from now a belligerent general in North Korea refusing to disarm, a year from now a neighbor in a nice house who dares to question the global cop on the beat.

The flag hangs above the cross in every sanctuary. Prayers deceive us that God is surely on our side. The Christian curls up in the soothing deceits of “collateral damage,” “surgical strikes,” “preemption,” and “weapons of mass destruction.” The soothing chant of coded words rocks us into a blackout free of nightmares, free of guilt.

There is no anesthesia in Iraq, no blackout, no nightmare, only the rotting terminal illness of sanctions, the mental rape of a mother as her child dies without medicine, the savage suicide of selling a wedding ring to buy food to live one more day, the unidentifiable incinerated remains of every emotion, the surgical strikes of foreign hell from above the clouds.

The twelve year siege of Iraq is unjust. The preemptive war is unjust. Tear off the honorific title of “war.” Tear it off and tell me what you see.

THEODORE McDOWELL is a lawyer in Atlanta. He can be reached at: