As president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Richard Land is one of the most influential moral voices on the conservative Christian scene. He spoke to Beliefnet's Holly Lebowitz Rossi about why, as a Christian, he supports the war in Iraq as much today as he did when it began 3 years ago.
I do. I think that the progress in
Increasingly, the Iraqis are taking over the defense of their country. I'm told that about 60 percent of the country geographically has been turned over to the Iraqi army and police forces, and that by Labor Day, it'll be 80 percent. They are performing very well, and this is making a real difference. In the latest air assault [Operation Swarmer, in mid-March 2006], there were 1,500 troops—800 of them were Iraqis, and 700 of them were American paratroopers. The Iraqis give every indication of understanding what democratic self-government is, and understanding that they want it. I find it particularly intriguing, in light of public opinion in the United States, that the Iraqis, when they are polled, are more positive about their country's future than Americans are about their country, and certainly more than Americans are about Iraq.
That was your view of events from a political perspective. How do you reflect on the war as a Christian?
I believe in just-war theory, and the first item in just-war criteria is that it has to be a just cause. I believe our cause in
I as a Christian believe that all human beings have unique dignity and the right to freedom, the right to freedom of conscience. I believe the Declaration of Independence, which says that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The people who were responsible for the drafting and approval of that were people who were operating mostly from a Judeo-Christian worldview. They understood that to be what the Bible taught, and I agree with them. The Iraqis have the same right to freedom.
I would also say that there's a very important principle in scripture that says that to whom much is given, much is required. As an American, I have been given much. We have freedoms that we didn't die for, we have freedoms that we haven't sacrificed much for. To use a biblical metaphor, we drink from wells we didn't dig, and we live in houses we didn't build. We benefit from tremendous rights that we didn't do much sacrificing for, at least not in my generation. My father did, my father was in a good deal of combat in World War II to help defend and secure those freedoms. But we have been given much. And to whom much is given, much is required. And I believe that makes it incumbent upon us as Americans to help others when we can to secure the same freedom that we have. The idea of American exceptionalism is not a doctrine of empire, it's not a doctrine of domination, it's a doctrine of responsibility and obligation. We have a responsibility and an obligation based upon the blessings that have been showered upon us as a nation and as a people to help others when we can.
Obviously there are some situations, there are other parts of just-war theory that would mitigate against our ability to do so.
Even without nuclear weapons, the estimates are that if there were to be armed hostilities breaking out on the Korean peninsula, that close to a million Koreans, North and South, would die within a month. That's the level of armed might on both sides on the peninsula. So the last thing that any human being would want is to see an outbreak of military hostilities on the
You have to use all of the tests. You have to use the test of just cause, just intent, you have to have a declaration of war or a joint resolution from Congress, it has to be authorized by legitimate authority, which in the case of the
You talked about some future examples, let's talk about some past ones. I argued for intervention in
Do you argue for the same in
I sure do. I think there needs to be international action. The sad truth is that without American leadership, the international community won't do it. They should. NATO should have intervened in
I think that we have an obligation and a responsibility when we can to act. We could stop what's going on in
This is a genocide going on in
Getting back to
I think our responsibility would be to try to do what we could to help bring about its end, to bring about a cessation of ethnic conflict. I think we have to ask ourselves, what are the consequences? This is a question too few American commentators are asking, and they need to do more of it. What are the consequences of failure in
So, I would argue that it must be the policy of the
President Bush's speech this week urged Americans not to rush to judgment based on the violent images from
I don't think it's easier for people of faith to be skeptical about the national news media. That's what the president is talking about, he's talking about a national news media people of faith and otherwise believe have presented a very biased view of this war. We believe that based upon our own conversations with American military who have served in
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I had a chance to spend about an hour with the speaker of the Iraqi Assembly, who is a Sunni Muslim, and he was very optimistic about the future. He went out of his way to say thank you. He said, "I want to thank you and your country for all the wonderful young men and women that you've sent and continue to send to help us secure and defend our freedom. We are very grateful."
Somehow that doesn't seem to make it on CBS and ABC and NBC and CNN and The New York Times. But many of us have other sources.
I think the president is saying there is another reality than the one that is being presented by our national news media. Something has to account for more Iraqis having a positive view about their nation's future than Americans have a positive view about their nation's future.
Over the course of the war, has anything changed about your support for it?
No, I don't think so. In hindsight, I think there are things that could have been done differently, but that always happens once armed conflict begins. There are some strategy issues that could have been done differently. I think we should probably have put more troops in to present overwhelming force, as we did in
I profoundly wish that the Abu Ghraib atrocities had not taken place, and I am grateful that our government has prosecuted the people responsible to the fullest extent of the law. Some of them are in prison now, as they deserve to be, for having dishonored their country and dishonored their uniform and having committed human-rights abuses that are grotesque in nature. I wish we had gone to more training of the military and police forces in the way that we're training them now earlier, but then again, those are the kinds of things that are the benefit of hindsight. You don't have the benefit of hindsight when you're making decisions in a war zone.
What about in the area of justification for the war?
My justification for the war was not based upon weapons of mass destruction. To me, and I said so at the time, this was a continuation of Gulf War I, which was an act of aggression by Saddam Hussein. We did not have a peace treaty after Gulf War I, we had a cease-fire. And the cease-fire was predicated upon Saddam Hussein complying with U.N. resolutions, which he did not do for 12 years. So finally, after 12 years, we continued the war against the man who was a very dangerous and de-stabilizing influence. We're seeing now, with the release of these documents that have just been released to the public, that the connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorists were far more extensive than some had believed.
Whether he had weapons of mass destruction, and of course everybody believed that he did—every intelligence agency in the world believed that he did—he certainly, it seems, was trying to keep the ability to reconstitute those weapons as soon as the pressure was off. The idea that he could reconstitute these weapons, and because of the extensive contacts and relationships and the thousands of terrorists he was personally allowing to be trained in his country—we now know from the Iraqi secret-service documents that there were extensive connections there—that at some point, for a quid pro quo, that he might give some anthrax or some ricin or some other biological weapons, which could be used against the United States, to terrorists,. Given a post-9/11 world, I don't think that's something we can allow to happen before we respond.
For me, the overriding argument was always the President's argument that after 9/11, we had to acknowledge that the way we'd been doing business in the
The only way to adequately address long-term the question of radical Islamic jihadism was to help build stable democracies in the
And you feel that Christian tradition supports that belief?
I do. We didn't go into