On this Memorial Day, 2011, I am thanking God for those who gave their life for the freedom that you and I enjoy. I am also thinking about the debate over America’s policy on terrorism now that Osama bin Laden is gone. How should we have prosecuted the war on terror? How do we go forward in the coming years? Is the terminology of a “War on Terror” even the correct way to understand what our response should have been post-9-11? Everyone has a view. I admit that mine is based on political, moral and practical opinion. And it is mine and very subject to how I see things.
First, I believe we were right to go into Afghanistan, and after the Taliban, for harboring al Qaeda terrorists who directed and staged 9-11. Our focus was clear, strong and right. The world, in general, agreed with us. We quickly pursued the leaders of the attack and removed many of them. We narrowly missed bin Laden but finally succeeded a few weeks ago.
Second, we need to continue to pursue the leaders of terror networks and gain intelligence that allows us to thwart these networks before they kill innocent people. And remember, the people who suffer the most because of radical terrorism are Muslims. We need to show the world why this is so and build alliances with Muslims accordingly. And we need to understand that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. We seem to forget that President George H. W. Bush did gain the trust of Muslim nations before 9-11 and succeeded in his goals in the Gulf War.
Third, finally getting bin-Laden did not make the world safer. It may have made it more dangerous in the long term but I think we still had to remove the person who was behind the attacks that killed so many people on that terrible day. This thinking fits the concept of “just war,” or the moral use of force, in my humble estimation.
Fourth, when we redirected our attention to building a democracy in Iraq we seem to have taken our eye off the ball. We listened to neo-conservative views of a “new world” and got sidetracked. The pretense for entering into this war proved to be just that, a pretense. It amazes me that some conservatives will still not admit this truth. And since when did “nation building” become a core value of real conservatism politically? President George W. Bush actually criticized Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton for such a policy in the 2000 presidential debates. I’ll never forget what he said because it was so strong and clear. But he changed his mind for some reason.
There is an old saying that puts this problem well. “To a person who has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” America has the world’s strongest and best military hammer. The purpose of a military hammer, if your goals are not clearly restrained, is to use it. We are tempted to wield our hammer and the sad truth is that far too many Americans believe we have every right to do this almost anywhere we like.
It is only fair to ask, “If we had stayed focused on the terrorists who really brought about 9-11, and Osama bin Laden himself, would we have diverted our massive resources to Iraq?” And, if we had stayed out of Iraq where would we be right now as a nation? Safer or not? Would we have found bin Laden sooner and kept our eye on the ball in the process?
I love America but I also believe the consequences of our foray into Iraq have been a disaster. For one, the Christian Church has suffered immense violence in Iraq because of what we did there. I hear almost no one raise this issue from the Christian conservative right. Furthermore, the Middle East is not more peaceful and stable in 2011 than it was pre-9/11. Our goals were not clear and realistic when we entered Iraq and thus it seems we were naive to think that we could create an American-style democracy in this nation.
Consider Iran for a moment. If we ever had reasons to remove a dictator we would have even better reasons for entering Iran. Why did we pick Iraq? I am not sure we will know the real answers for many years. I know the popular answers but I am not persuaded of any of them quite yet. I tend to wait on history to determine these things. But this I am quite sure of – the war in Iraq did not help us secure that nation and it didn’t have a lot to do with making America safer in the process.
The danger of Empire looms larger and larger when you are the world’s great superpower. We need a little more humility in the world and a lot less dependence on our arms. What I don’t understand is why so few conservative Christians miss this obvious point.