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God's Politics

Jim WallisWhen the American people make it clear in the election, and in every public opinion poll, that they want an end to the war in Iraq, he ignores them. When the central recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group is “new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts…that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly,” he ignores them. When Republican Senators across the spectrum – from Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME) to Sam Brownback (KS) and Gordon Smith (OR), and respected foreign policy expert Chuck Hagel (NE) – oppose his plan, he ignores them. (” … a dangerously wrongheaded strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp,” says Hagel.) When the top U.S. military commanders in Iraq question the strategy, he replaces them.

George W. Bush is determined to continue making war in Iraq. I agree with Bush on one point – we need a new strategy in Iraq. But last night, George Bush decided to escalate the war and increase the American occupation – which he still doesn’t seem to realize is at the center of the problem. Bush stubbornly believes that military solutions are always the best answer and consistently chooses war over politics. But without a political solution in Iraq, no escalation of the war will succeed. Whether in Iraq, or even in the larger war on terrorism, Bush believes, as he said again last night, that we are in a great “ideological struggle” between us and them, good and evil – and that only military solutions against “them” will suffice. Both wisdom and humility (two religious virtues) suggest that political and diplomatic resolutions to conflict are ultimately required. But last night, Bush again chose the primacy of military solutions.

By sending 20,000 more U.S. troops in support of a Shiite-dominated government, into a conflict that has become a sectarian civil war, he has essentially rejected the idea of a unified Iraqi government. Today, the idea of there even being a government in Iraq is another myth of Bush rhetoric, and for the young servicemen and women who daily die, it is a cruel joke to learn we have no real partners in Iraq. There is no real commitment to “democracy” among Iraq’s leaders, a goal that Bush again invoked last night; there is only endless sectarian violence – with the government forces themselves acting simply as part of the tribal warfare. The depraved scene of Saddam Hussein’s hanging revealed more a revenge lynching than an act of national justice – and became a brutal metaphor for what Iraq has now become. American lives are now the prime targets of the insurgency, while they are also caught in the cross-fire of a civil war. To send more troops into battle in a senseless “surge,” without any new plan for political resolution between Iraq’s intransigent and hateful factions – is morally irresponsible. We’ve tried this before, and failed. A new surge will simply mean more young Americans in body bags and wheel chairs, more families left without dads, moms, sons, or daughters, and more slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians. “I don’t want to die over there; I don’t think it’s worth it,” said one American serviceman who was interviewed this morning about the President’s new plan. He and his new wife had a new baby just five days ago, but now he has been ordered back to Iraq. He named several of his friends who have new wives and babies on the way, who will now also be sent back.

By the classic criteria of a “just war,” Iraq was not, and is not, one. Not even close. And at the time of the run-up to the war, a majority of church bodies and their leaders around the world said just that. Pope John Paul II was quite agitated about Iraq, and had he been a younger man, might have actually intervened to prevent the unjust war. Even most evangelical Christians around the globe were against the American war in Iraq, and continue to be – a fact that the U.S. media also missed. There were others, like the American Southern Baptists, who supported their president’s war, but on an international scale they were clearly the exceptions.

There is absolutely no way that the American invasion of Iraq could be considered a “last resort” – one of the just war criteria. The inspections officers were working to find and contain any weapons of mass destruction Iraq might have had, and the Bush administration both misrepresented and manipulated the alleged threat from the weapons of mass destruction. The administration lied to start a war. Over time, the brutal Saddam Hussein could have been isolated, undermined, and overthrown (a very worthy goal) from pressures internal and external, and serious proposals were on the table to do just that when Bush went to war. Instead we bombed the children of Baghdad and then allowed the country to slide into bloody chaos. There was never adequate “authority” to wage this war (another criterion) – the United Nations, NATO, and the vast majority of the world’s people and nations were against it. Only Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair thought this was a good idea, and their political legacies will be forever shaped by the worst foreign policy decision either country has made in decades. Iraq also failed the tests of “proportionality” and “discrimination” with all the societal damage it was likely to cause (and has): the horrible number of innocents that have been lost through the tactics of “shock and awe,” the resulting insurgency against American occupation, and now the civil war that has turned into ethnic cleansing. There was never an “imminent threat” from Saddam, there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11 (as we were told), and Bush’s war in Iraq was not a central front in the international campaign against terrorism, but rather has turned out to be a serious distraction from it (though the war itself has now transformed Iraq into a haven and school for terrorism).

The war in Iraq was unjust; to continue it now is criminal. There is no winning in Iraq. This was a war that should have never been fought – or won. It can’t be won, and the truth is that there are no good solutions now – that’s how unjust wars often turn out. The president says that “failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.” But we have already failed in Iraq and it has already become a disaster for Americans, Iraqis, the Middle East, and even for the larger campaign against terrorism. The mistaken war in Iraq can only be mercifully ended, in ways that cause the least damage to everyone involved: the Americans and the Iraqis, the volatile surrounding region, and a world longing for security. It will likely take new international leadership to help fix the mess of Iraq, because U.S. leadership has brought one calamity after another. Unjust wars cause massive human suffering. When will we ever learn?

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