I am one of those Evangelical Christians who have some grave reservations about occupying Iraq in the war on terrorism. Don’t misunderstand! My reasons are not at all similar to those on the left. It is not because I want to give peace a chance, or because I think diplomacy is the answer, or because I am naïve concerning evil. Nor am I like one of those turn-tail politicians who last year supported the use of force in Iraq, but now criticize the war as being a second Vietnam. No, I find myself in an atypical camp– not able to hold my head high with the Republicans, and not able to bash Bush with the Democrats.
From the very beginning, my reservations have flowed out of my concerns for the underlying values found in the Arab world. Of course, President Bush doesn’t share these concerns. In the recent State of the Union address, he stated, “We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.”
What challenges that optimism is the historical Christian belief that true religion is the only basis for liberty. One of the foundational sources for democracy in America was Montesquieu’s classic treatise “Spirit of Laws.” In that work Montesquieu made the case that democracy is only possible in a Christian nation. He argued, “Moderate government is most agreeable to the Christian Religion, and a despotic government to the Mahometan.” (Book XXIV sec 3) Should I believe Montesquieu or George W. Bush? Three centuries have passed since Montesquieu penned those words, and oddly enough, the Arab world is still despotic. Could Bush’s ecumenical innocence be his undoing?
When I turn to the Bible for guidance I read, “Let the oppressed go free and break every yoke.” (Is 58:6) But I am also warned not to cast my pearls before swine lest they trample them under their feet, and even worse, turn and tear me to pieces. (Mt. 7:15) There must be a certain character of people who are not ready for truth, especially when the sword forces it upon them. Democracy is something that must come from within, not without. Christian missions, not war, precedes democracy. And if there are truly good people in Iraq who want deliverance, then maybe the answer is for them to first succeed in personal evangelism. Jonah did not conquer the Ninevites by the sword; he converted them. And even though the state is given the power of the sword, that does not imply that America should use the sword to accomplish what only the Spirit can do. The sword is Islam’s tool for persuasion, not Christianity’s.
The Bible speaks also of Ishmael and his descendents, “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him” (Gen. 16:12). This is a terrible legacy to be saddled with, and I’m not exactly sure what it means, but it should be a cause for great caution. The European Crusaders suffered in a vain attempt to westernize Arab lands. A century ago the British tried, and they were happy to wipe their hands of the place. Wisdom dictates one should keep a safe distance from a people whose religion teaches them to “seize [the infidels], and slay them wherever ye find them; but take none of them as friends or helpers.” (Sura 4:90)
But what about the protection of the American people? There is something to be said for containment over occupation–as when ancient Israel defeated Sennacherib and sent him back to his own land in Iraq. To leave the Arab world alone would accomplish two objectives.
First, it would take the wind out of the sails of radical Islam. Al-Qaeda’s biggest rallying point was America’s military base on sacred Saudi soil. So why not remove the base and let the Saudi’s defend themselves? This is not capitulation; this is outsmarting your enemy by emasculating their propaganda. They are left with nobody but themselves to blame for their own poverty and corruption.
On the other hand, to take the confrontational approach is to exacerbate terrorist recruitment and to bring upon America the backlash of obligatory Islamic revenge. For every Iraqi son killed in battle, we have turned an entire Iraqi family into a resentful enemy, even if they were glad to see Saddam gone. Blood is thicker than politics. Add to this the wounded pride that comes from national defeat and we’ve created for ourselves a hostile population to democratize.
To counter the position of containment, the administration has taken the stance that, even without a provocation, radical Islam will attack us with WMDs. That may be true in the short term. But I am willing to bet that it is less risky to strengthen our borders with a defensive posture than with an offensive one, especially since we have been blessed with 10,000 miles of ocean between the enemy and us.
Secondly, and probably the most important reason for staying out of Iraq, we ought to allow room for God to destroy evil with evil. If America never came to the aid of the Arab world in Desert Storm, stopping Saddam would be the Arab’s fight. For centuries the Arab’s have been so busy fighting themselves that they have had little energy left to take on the rest of the world. The prevailing wisdom has been “if the Arabs could ever unify, the rest of the world would be in trouble.” In steps America trying to be the savior of the Middle East and we destabilize the whole region. Besides this, if anyone should act first, it should be the Europeans. Saddam is the bully in their backyard. If America had exercised a little patience, perhaps the French themselves would be fighting this battle.
As I contemplate George Bush’s war on terrorism, I am reminded of another righteous leader who conducted a preemptive strike against his enemy. King Josiah came to an untimely end by interfering with God’s plan to defeat evil with evil. Thinking he was defending his nation, he attacked the Egyptians who were en route to defeat the Babylonians. Not only did he lose in shame, he strengthened the hands of his new enemy, the Babylonians. The Scriptures record it was a battle he did not belong in. (2 Chronicles 35) Josiah had courage, but it was misplaced–which reminds us that being a Christian leader isn’t a cure all. “Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance.” (Proverbs 20:18)
If I were the Commander in Chief, I would have left Iraq alone; but fortunately for everyone, I am not! And here is where I part company with the anti-war left. I do not arrogantly assume my evaluations are infallible. Who really knows whether containment or occupation will best win the war on terrorism? The president’s plan may be delivering us from what we will never know.
God ordains the man on top, and “a divine decision is in the lips of the king.” (Proverbs 16:10) Therefore, I am called of God to cheer for Bush’s success. In November he will have my vote so he can finish the job. If the president can pull this off, a free Iraq will be the greatest catalyst for stability in the Middle East that we have seen in our times. I appreciate his faith; I appreciate the willingness to take the risk. And if the plan fails, I will not blame Bush but the Iraqis who spurned their God-given chance for freedom.