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Iraq Policy in Biblical Perspective


The Reconciliation Walk is a diverse network of Christians who desire to fulfill the biblical mandate for reconciliation and peace. Our emphasis is on restoring relationships across boundaries of civilization, nation and culture, by addressing the mythologies and stereotypes that breed enmity.

By bringing people together at the grassroots, we wish to be a reminder of our common humanity. We resist characterizations of others that are dehumanizing, especially abstract labels that extract others from their God-given human family. We believe that each life is as valuable as the next, no matter on what side of the border the person was born. We believe that God is most highly glorified in man's humility, and that the cornerstone of humility is esteem for others.

Finally, we are a movement of faith; we do not believe that any rift is beyond repair. We resist compliance to pessimistic assumptions regarding the inevitability of violence. Our faith is in a God who promises victory by redemption and reconciliation. We believe this promise. The world's assurance that only power, not God's love, really matters, is therefore, anathema to our faith.

This movement was born in response to the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, an epoch that represents the failure of the Church to embody Christ's ministry of reconciliation. Through an apology and thousands of face-to-face meetings between Western Christians and Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians, we sought to erode the bitter legacy and mythologies of enmity that originated with the Crusades.

This statement on Iraq is made with the same conviction. We believe that it is possible to overcome a cycle of deepening violence and enmity in the Middle East. We ask you to weigh carefully the efficacy of Middle Eastern policy against the reality of lost life and the potential to reap the seeds of our misplaced faith in power and manipulation.

The degradation and loss of life that now occurs in the Middle East cannot be lifted from our consciences. No matter who else is at fault, America shoulders the responsibility of holding the biggest share of power. This fact calls for people of faith to critically assess our policies according to our biblical vocation, which is to bring life, peace and hope to the world.

Have we, as believers, done all that we can to pursue peace and defend life in Iraq, or are we reflexively following old patterns, perpetuating a cycle of death that grows with every successive round? Are we acting according to the hope of our biblical faith, or are we serving another religion, a religion that believes fatalistically that power and its manipulation is the only dynamic of human relations?

The Iraq Statement does not seek to lay blame upon the administrations that presided over the Saddam Hussein era. We recognize that Republicans and Democrats, public servants and citizens alike, have expressed the values of a belief system that has for too long gone unchallenged, and which has worked against the pursuit of peace and the protection of life.

Our opponent, therefore, is not Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, Hawk or Dove; our enemy is violence, suffering and death, and a misplaced faith in their power to hold us captive.

We make this statement as a call to pause, to reconsider how we have arrived at our position, and redirect our course. The motivation for the Iraq statement is to forestall another legacy of bitterness that may, with the advent of cheap and widespread weapons of mass destruction, bring upon us everything that we fear.

Ultimately, this statement asks whether our faith in dominating power serves to protect life – including our own – or does it merely delay revenge, allowing violence to build to an unimagined potency, until finally, we cannot muster the power to forestall the reaping of what we have sown.

This is, in our view, a life or death argument.

National Interest and Biblical Imperatives

For people of faith, the juxtaposition of temporal national interest and the eschatological promise of our ethics has long been a vexing problem. For the most part, this has left believers in a state of perpetual hypocrisy: We claim to be honoring a directive to give to Caesar and to God their respective dues, but too often we end up giving Caesar a tax in the form of human life, a currency that surely belongs only to God.

There is no cut and dried, uniform solution to this problem. But it is possible at least to be mindful of it, and to evaluate our decisions in light of our historical propensity for confusing the interests of nation and faith.

Being mindful means that we rigorously subject ourselves to the light of revelation, found in the biblical prophetic tradition. We must consciously and conscientiously give ear to the judgment of God upon our national structures and their interests. This is a judgment rendered by the biblical imperative to preserve and redeem life, and it is a judgment given through all three of the monotheistic faiths.

The Biblical/Faith Imperative in Summary

The Bible is political because it speaks to temporal human existence. It is about our relationships in historical time. It reveals a quest for peace and universal welfare within the confines of history. It discusses man, God and corporate identities -nations, empires, religions, armies – with a view to transforming their perpetual state of war into a state of peace under the tutelage of a higher, heavenly power.

Abraham, the father of the monotheistic faiths, tells the story of a radical quest for a nation that was not like any other. His vocation, to be a nation like no other, makes clear that redemption involves redefining the assumptions of national interest.

Abraham's calling is given in contrast to his origins, the Babylonian empire, which throughout the Bible represents a parable of the traditional State, whose only interest is domination, self-enrichment and the acquisition of power. Abraham's nation, on the other hand, was to be a blessing to all nations. This vocation of blessing was, and is, a revolutionary understanding of international relations.

Just as Babylon is given symbolic significance as the old-world-order of power and death, the Bible's other symbol, Jerusalem, the city of peace, describes a radical departure from the status quo. All of Israel's prophets measure their nation according to how much it resembled symbolic Jerusalem or Babylon. The prophetic voice of faith did not then, and should not now; settle for the status quo of death.

The King and the Prophet: Promise and Reality of National Security

Consider Isaiah and Ahaz, an example of the kind of dialogue that typified the relationship between Jerusalem's prophets and kings. Their story begins with the threat of foreign powers that had come to "wage war on Jerusalem." Not a minor incident, this, but the kind of international crisis that provokes talk of the world's end. Indeed, the Bible records that, "The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind."

The king's predictable response to the threat was to acquire and utilize as much punitive power as possible. Ahaz quickly decided that an international coalition would give him what he needed to overcome his foes and secure Jerusalem from danger. And to directly offset the menace of one Middle Eastern strongman, he sought the favor of another.

His choice, King Tiglath-pileser; lived in ancient Iraq. He was an unthinkably vicious tyrant, just the kind of man, Ahaz reasoned, to restore balance to the Middle Eastern power equation. Ahaz dispatched an envoy to the Iraqi capital with a message for the king: "I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram." With it, Ahaz sent monetary support and the promise of further incentives.

Like many kings after him, Ahaz saw a threat and put his trust where conventional wisdom dictated: In power and armaments. This was no doubt a popular policy, and it received endorsements from the religious institutions of the day. However, the collective wisdom of the biblical cannon chooses not to endorse those prophets and priests, choosing instead to find the voice of God in the mouth of a dissident and disgraced prophet named Isaiah—"the Lord will Save."

"Then the LORD said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz…and say to him: Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah." (Such were the one-word monikers of Jerusalem's implacable enemies.)

Ahaz dismissed the prophetic council as impractical gibberish. In his fear, Ahaz put his trust fully in the gods of military might, the same values that sustained his enemies: "For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus and said, "Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them so that they may help me." In other words, faced with ruthless power, Ahaz felt that his only course was imitation, to behave in kind, to exercise equivalent force and means.

Isaiah, miraculously endowed with a vision for better things, then warned Ahaz that he would oversee the destruction of his people unless he trusted the higher values of Abraham's calling. "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all," he declared to the king, demanding that Ahaz give up his trust in the sword or perish by it.

The prophet goes so far as to demand that the king put it to a test: "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." Ahaz could ask for any sign at all, from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell to prove this crazy notion of Isaiah's that there was a better way. "But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." Such was the supremacy of the status quo, and so weak the vision of Jerusalem's leaders.

"I will not test the Lord…" is at first glance a pious statement. But it was not under these circumstances. "I will not test the Lord by putting down my weapons and dissolving my alliances. I will not test the Lord by trusting in him," Ahaz says. Heaven is not impressed by Ahaz's piety. The Lord wants the king to put the Abrahamic calling into effect; he wants him to try the way of peace. Heaven is challenging Ahaz to move the history of redemption forward a step. When Ahaz refused, the prophet rebuked him severely:

"The LORD spoke to me again: Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and melt in fear before Rezin and the son of Remaliah; therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel."

Isiaiah cries "O Immaneul" in utter mockery. Meaning, "God is with us," it was a soldier's fetish, shouted as a war cry, the "Allah-hu Akbar" of old Israel. It was meant to make Israel's weapons effective. But God was not with them, the prophet said, because the people refused to be with any god that was not a manmade weapon. It was their bows, swords and chariots that they turned to in distress, no matter what kind of lip service they gave to the visionary God of Abraham.

"But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel." The Bible thereby ends its commentary on Ahaz's flirtation with the forces worshiped by the rulers of Damascus. As for the king's Iraq tilt, the Bible records this response: "So King Tilgath-pileser of Assyria came against him, and oppressed him instead of strengthening him."

It is easy for us to approach a story like this sanctimoniously, divorcing it from historical reality and moral force by imagining that Ahaz is an idolater of a kind that are no longer found in the world. To do so is to gravely miss the point. The prophet's message is that worship is the act of trusting something, believing that it will take care of you, petitioning to it. Ahaz, when threatened, chose to trust in a power big enough to offset his enemy's power. The idols, the Bible specifies, were defined by their essential characteristics, the promise that they personified, not by their superficial form.

Later, Isaiah echoed his penultimate declaration regarding gentle waters versus the flood of the powers. This time he chose a different metaphor but uses language that is very helpful to us. "Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word, and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant."

"Trust in oppression…" Trust is an interesting word in the Hebrew, the kind of word found on bumper stickers. Binyamin Netanyahu used it to good effect during his successful bid for Israel's highest office. His bumper stickers read, "Peace with Security." "Trust" and "security" are the same word in Hebrew. So, to this day, when the issue of national security is discussed in Israel, the question of trust is explicit.

Now as then, when a threat endangers Jerusalem, the city is caught in a political campaign. Typically, one side says that national security will be found in its ability to assemble allies and weapons and to oppress or utterly dominate the threatening power.

The other candidate, like Isaiah, says that real peace and security is something else. These weapons, he says, will not always work. We need a better way. We need real peace, not the short-term substitute, which is not peace, but merely the suppression of enmity.

This was the heart and soul of Yitzhak Rabin's conversion: He saw that the high wall could only keep the mounting flood of ill-will at bay for a short time. Sooner or later, oppression would generate more resistance than it could contain. Eventually, the wall will breach with a fury, and when it does, Jerusalem will be consumed as in a flood by the very thing it fears.

Isaiah's Dream: Practical or Not?

"Many peoples shall come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! For you have forsaken the ways of your people, O house of Jacob. Indeed they are full of diviners from the east and of soothsayers like the Philistines, and they clasp hands with foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made."

The prophet's vision of peace has inspired us century after century. We should not quote it unless we read the critical second portion. Isaiah pronounced the vision of peace as a call to repentance, "Come let us walk in the light of the LORD! For you have forsaken the ways of your people…" He contrasted his vision of swords transformed into plowshares with his observation that the land was full of idols made by men, namely: the preservation of wealth and the production of war machines. Jerusalem bowed to these things. Jerusalem trusted in them, and did not dare to walk in the light that Isaiah so profoundly called them to.

His millennial vision, then, was coupled directly to his orders not to rely on the sword and bow. Jerusalem could not have it both ways. These were the visions that supported his command not to fear the conspiracies of the nations, to "stand in faith or not at all."

Why is his wisdom so hard to accept? His argument is essentially that we reap what we sow. Hosea put it this way: "He who sows to the wind, reaps the whirlwind."

This is simple reciprocity. We acknowledge it in most areas of life, including our interpersonal relationships. We have become good at winning friends and defusing arguments through our awareness of reciprocal effects. Why is it that in international relations we somehow believe that different rules apply? Is it just blind faith in the rule of power that prevents us from seeing Isaiah's vision as practical? If so, then he is proved right: We practice a religion that is merely lip service to the God of Creation. Our true God is really brute force and so blind is our faith, that we turn to it even after repeatedly reaping the whirlwind.

We see a remarkable parable in Ahaz's story. The interplay of threats and alliances and the eventual transformation of alliances into yet greater threats – complete with one-word appellations like 'Saddam' – are seemingly ripped from the headlines. We too have asked a ruthless king of Iraq to stand against a threat that had us trembling. But with us too, the king 'oppressed us instead of strengthening us.'

Familiar too, is Isaiah's sense that unless oppressive force is abandoned, it will escalate to become a flood of judgment on us all. All this could be retold today as our history with Iran, Iraq and our attempts to manipulate and control forces of domination, which, in the end, will prove as uncontrollable as they always have.

Parallels: A Test of Faith in Iraq

What does the Bible, in the prophetic or philosophical sense, say to our relationship with Iraq?

Without question, Saddam Hussein's regime is evil; it represents the old Babylonian scheme of power without apology. That Saddam does so in the geographical heartland of ancient Babylon makes almost too poignant an analogy. It is as if Saddam, whose propaganda often includes explicit comparisons between himself and the kings of ancient Iraq, were on the earth to test us. Will we respond to him biblically and without hypocrisy, as the prophets ask us to, or will we respond to him according to the dictates of his own religion, the religion of dominating power?

Any king in Jerusalem could have made a rational case, based on the presumption of power's god-like role in international affairs, that Israel's best chance for security was to muster as much strength as possible, gather allies, build the war machine, impoverish the enemy's people, do whatever it took to overpower the power-loving dictator.

The kings could point out the enemy's love of death, how he tortured and terrorized like none before him. Everyone knew what to expect if they were taken captive: torture, rape, and mass executions. Good reason to overpower the powerful, and very useful material with which to arouse public support.

However, that is just the problem. Evil is seductive because it invites imitation. It tempts us to become like it in order to compete with it. It converts the king's faith from God and his symbolic attributes of Mercy, Liberty and Generosity to the values of Power, and its corollaries: Revenge, Fear (the basis for deprivation of freedom) and Greed.

Soon, we too disregard the loss of life in the name of control. We become obsessed with security, depriving others of liberty in the name of warding off the threat of the deprivation of liberty. More resources are taken from productive, wealth generating enterprises – the manufacture of plowshares – and given to guard against what we fear. Whole agencies are developed for the express purpose of security. This is a movement towards totalitarianism, justified by a promise of security. Peace, peace, where there is no peace.

Eventually, we become Nebuchadnezzar's or Saddam's disciples. Our values, the things we place our trust in, are converted to his and they are defined and scheduled by him. What is the point in being a people with a vocation of faith, if we are not true to ourselves? Evil thus triumphs not through force, but through seduction.

Mythology and Hypocrisy

Like the kings of Israel, our public justification for the sanctions against Iraq, the arming of Iraq's opponents, the bombings, and the Gulf War itself, depends on Saddam's despotism and his potential threat to our national security. It runs something like this:

Saddam Hussein is a despot, a Hitler, who if not contained will reek havoc and destruction on the earth. He must be contained at any cost. In news conferences, press releases and sound bites, officials repeatedly cite Saddam's "gassing of his own people," referring to the massacre of Kurds in northern Iraq. More lavish events have included photographs of children frozen in the grip of instant chemical death. The intent is to provide an emotional justification for imitation of evil in our use of its dominating tactics.

Saddam certainly committed these acts, and they are every bit as awful as we claim them to be. This author was an eyewitness to the gassing of Kurdish communities in Iraq in 1988. It is right to condemn those deeds as the satanic atrocities they surely are.

One might assume, then, that when Saddam launched this apocalyptic chemical fury against the Kurds, that the United States immediately organized the Gulf War coalition and launched its campaign against this brutal modern Hitler.

We imply this when we link our Iraq policy to those events. Saddam gassed his own people; we are punishing him for it with the Gulf War, bombings and sanctions.

It is a good myth, but like most, it is not true. For intelligent public servants to manipulate an ill-informed public by pretending that it is true is an immoral cynicism unworthy of the United States.

The fact is, that when the chemical assault began, we had already spent the better part of a decade "engaging" Iraq through an array of supports whereby we essentially used him as a blunt weapon to guarantee our selfish interests in the Gulf. A strong Saddam was needed as a counterweight to our archenemy, Iran.

The West answered the "gassing of his own people" not with a warning cry about this modern Hitler, but with increased support for Saddam. And we did so in a particularly outrageous fashion: Saddam not only gassed people but destroyed agricultural resources in Iraq to punish his internal opponents, thereby causing a food shortage. We then systematically increased agricultural credits to Iraq, helping him seize control of the free-market and further oppress his Kurdish and Shiite citizens, who, it was feared, might otherwise lean toward Iran. This is an eerie mirror image of today's sanctions.

We need do no more than summarize the other ways in which we supported Saddam in the 1980's, before and after the chemical weapons atrocities.

We allowed the export of dual-use equipment that contributed to the development of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program. We facilitated arms dealers. We covered for him when his chemical and biological weapons program was revealed to the public. (At a time when we officially denied he had such capabilities, private citizens were able to deduce the location and extent of these facilities in Iraq through publicly obtainable information.) Congressional hearings and independent investigative journalists on the left and right of the political spectrum have detailed all of this. As embarrassing as they may be, the facts are the facts.

We continued to provide him support and sustenance right up until the invasion of Kuwait. A year later, we defended the opposite policy with equal certainty. We now banned the export of agriculture to Iraq. What had changed?

Absolutely nothing. Before the invasion, Saddam benefited from agricultural subsidies at the expense of his people; after the war, the people suffer as a result of the ban on exports to Iraq. And Saddam, now lording his powers over a starving population has been granted extra power through the ability to ration the supply of food and basic goods. Both the subsidies and the embargo have the same effect; they destroy the free-market, and thereby the power of the individual, and they give Saddam greater power.

What had not changed between the days of export subsidies and the days of embargo on exports was Saddam's history with the Kurds. What had not changed between the days when we facilitated arms dealers and closed our eyes to his development of weapons of mass destruction, and the days when we bombed his radar installations was his treatment of the Iraqi citizenry.

His infamous atrocities and our military and economic sanctions were in no way connected. Whatever the reason for our change in policy, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the gassing of his people; our history with Saddam exposes this particular justification of our actions as a gross hypocrisy.

In the real, demythologized world, Saddam cannot be divorced from the politics and context that produced him. Unfortunately neither can we, since our nation was the single biggest power broker in that milieu. It was our special interests – including those of the wealthy Arab Gulf sheiks whose assets are largely invested in our economy – that drove events in the Gulf.

This is the same Saddam Hussein, before and after. If, when Saddam was at the peak of his power and displaying his most vicious face, we concluded that cooperation with him was the best way to protect ourselves. And if today, he is much less powerful (or at least he should be) is there any sound justification for our current policy? Perhaps not, and perhaps that is why we have held so tenaciously to the emotionally compelling, but alas hypocritical, charge of his chemical weapons use.

Domination in the Gulf failed in the 1980's and is failing now. Do we continue to hold this course for soundly practical or even ethical reasons? Or is it by now, purely a matter of commitment to a doctrine of power?

Is it time to change our foreign policy religion?

This dilemma points to a philosophical flaw. Something in our approach to the Middle East is not working on any measure, biblical or in terms of self-interest. People of faith should be concerned about the former because of their prophetic vocation; everyone else should be concerned about the latter.

Since the Second World War, the United States has pursued realism as the basis of its foreign policy. Realism, as a theory of international relations, says that against a background of chaos, it is the State's role to obtain and maintain power, it is the struggle between various States, each attempting to maximize its acquisition of power. As we have interpreted it, realism cedes to Power a role that exceeds any other aspect of corporate relationships.

However, there is one crucial caveat in the theory of realism that too often goes by the wayside. Realism seeks equilibrium, not domination. Hans Morgenthau, a father of the realist philosophy wrote, (quoting Sumner,) "If you want war, nourish a doctrine." It is our view that more often than not, in crisis situations, the United States abandons realism for a reactionary, doctrinaire perversion of it. That dogma so ignores the reality of reciprocity that it does indeed promote violence, not the secure stability that we seek.

Instead of respecting power and therefore its potential abuse, realism has come to idolize it, seeking to remove the threat of chaos by exercising dominating force. It was our doctrinal commitment, our dogmatic inflexibility, which led us to hotly pursue short-term, immediate gratification in the Middle East at the expense of practical realism and long-term self-interest. Realism, to be effective, must take into account the rules of power, which include reciprocity.

For example, overcome by fear of the Soviet threat to Iran, the United States removed from power Iran's democratically elected, moderate leader Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. We then uncritically and systematically supported raw power in the form of the dictatorship of the Shah. The result, predictable unless one's faith in power exceeds one's common sense, was the alienation of several generations of Iranians who blamed the United States for their suffering. We sowed to the Shah's power and reaped the revolution's whirlwind.

Similarly, in Lebanon during 1957 and 1958 the United States intervened to sustain a minority in power at the expense of an already alienated and disenfranchised community. This time, direct American military force was used. It was not until the late 1980's that the United States seemed to awaken from the delusion that brute force could make things go her way in Lebanon. Had this been recognized in 1957, with the United States choosing to greet the reality of the Muslim majority in Lebanon constructively, how would the ensuing decades of chaos and death been different?

The bitter fruit of our blind faith in domination continues to be born in Lebanon today. We must recognize that it is the fruit of our own sowing, and stop pointing in horror at "terrorism" and other responses to our own use of power as if they emerged in a vacuum.

Likewise, in Afghanistan, we empowered "freedom fighters" the likes of Osama bin Laden as our power proxies against the Soviets. Today we call those same freedom fighters "terrorists" and "extremists" because their power is now directed towards nominally Christian Westerners instead of nominally Christian Russians.

Iraq's story is yet another variation on the theme. Power, having failed to deliver the utter domination of Iran, gave us instead a deeply hostile enemy. To balance the equation, we tilted our support to Saddam Hussein, as described previously.

Is there no lesson to be learned from this history? We have consistently failed to take into account the reciprocal dynamics of power. Absolute domination breeds hostility and enmity in the dominated. It is not a complicated maxim; it is common sense. That it goes unseen in our international relations is a sign of our commitment to a doctrine of religious proportions, idolatry if you will, that apart from our faith in it seems to have no more merit than worshipping a stone.

Realism disciple and foreign policy planner George Kennan's statement, widely regarded as summarizing the US role in the post-war world, reveals the flaw in realism as we practice it:

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real test in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction— unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization." George Kennan, Director, Policy Planning Staff, US State Department, 1948

This statement completely ignores the people who Jesus said would inherit the earth. It is as though only rulers and armies matter. This is odd coming from heirs of the American Revolution. We have seen repeatedly that it is the people who matter the most. The quest against communism, for example, devoid of the reality of reciprocity, as often as not has provoked a passion for communism among the innocents who suffered at the hands of our anti-communist proxies.

So too, our quest to dominate Iraq is reawakening support of Saddam among those who, left in peace, would hate him. This policy predicts the same outcome as we saw in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran. Only now, the potential for Americans to suffer is much greater.

Today, the oil supply is more directly under threat. The potential for undisciplined and unaccountable elements to acquire weapons of mass destruction is much greater than in the 1970's. The world economy is now intricately interwoven and susceptible to domino-like collapse. The oil shock of the '70's and the wrath of practically unarmed Iranian Revolutionaries will be nothing like what we will reap from future generations of Middle Eastern citizens if we persist on alienating them.

At times, one wonders what kind of fairy-tale kingdom our national institutions inhabit. When the Secretary of State was asked on 60 minutes whether or not the death of children by the hundreds of thousands was justifiable in containing Saddam, she replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, is worth it."

Worth what? With all due respect, the Secretary was afraid of the wrong thing. A commonsense regard for the basic psychology of relationships should tell us that embittered Iraqi children are a far greater threat to our welfare than a lone Saddam Hussein ever will be.

What exactly have their lives purchased? If we can calculate some gains, such as having kept Saddam from re-growing his arsenal as quickly as he might have, does this really offset the long-term risks? (Especially since he actually grew his original arsenal under our tutelage at a time when he was gassing his people – we may have forgotten this, but they do not. And the irony of wounding them now in the name of the supposedly weakened Saddam is not invisible to them either.) Does the net effect, over time, reduce or magnify the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear strikes against the United States?

What we have bought is a desperate, resentful population. Children, who once hated Saddam, now hate us more. They will mature to be our enemies tomorrow. That is a frightening scenario. Those weapons of mass destruction are no longer the private arsenal of the nation-states. The next whirlwind could well come with yellow or black rain.

The philosophical underpinning of the religion of power is a gloomy embrace of domination as the be-all of relationships. If we don't dominate, we will be dominated. It is a paranoid, pessimistic and utterly unbiblical world-view. And it is anything but realistic if you actually view peace and welfare as a national self-interest.

Reciprocity has governed relationships ever since an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, first entered the world's first codes of law. That being the case, one must either be able to guarantee absolute control – forever – of the ever growing pool of enemies and their weapons that such control engenders, or start worshiping at another altar.

Anyone who confesses a biblical ethic must express an opposing vision that calls into question the certainty of domination's all consuming ability to dictate the future. We must speak to its god-like claim to govern human relationships and our futures and its idolatrous assertion that it alone can protect us.

Power itself is not limited to destruction and domination. When it is not idolized, power can be used constructively: "Make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness," Jesus said. How might things be different if we made power submit to the biblical faith and used it to befriend the dispossessed, oppressed and unrepresented in the world, instead of bestowing it without reservation on the strongman-oppressor as we have consistently done? If the terrorism we fear is the whirlwind of our sowing, what might we reap if we sowed friendship to the exiles and alienated, sustenance to the hungry, and representation to the disenfranchised?

The biblical view expresses hope, counseling us to consider God as something more than raw domination. It expresses the hope that power's redemption by faith transforms swords into plowshares. Reciprocity can be utilized to good effect when transformed power, humbled under the prophetic edict to relinquish our trust in domination, is used to do good to others – the polar opposite of Keenan's doctrine.

Stability will be achieved by the common welfare of the people, not by the ridiculous idea that it can be maintained by shear force and dictatorial terror. Can we finally question our blind faith in power, turning the gaze of our faith to biblical prophetic values? Do we have the courage of our convictions or is the motto, "Peace on Earth" only a slogan used to sell merchandise at Christmas time?

We are calling for vision and courage. We are not so pessimistic as to discount the possibility that America's leaders are still capable of vision and grand gestures that will change the course of history and deracinate the status quo. Millennia of faith have been distilled to endorse Isaiah's wisdom, that stability and peace can be achieved through the generous use of plowshares, if only we could detach ourselves from faith in the sword.

How can we obey and apply the biblical vision for peace in this situation?

1. Denounce Power's Claim to Deity

Isaiah and Jesus tell us that we should not put our trust in weapons or force. Trust in our weapons provides a false sense of security. In the Middle East, this has proven itself repeatedly. Reciprocity guarantees escalation to the point where domination will fail to provide us security.

It is time to be truly courageous. We must enunciate an alternative vision of the future.

2. Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and make friends by using wealth.

These are not cowardly directives. They are a visionary call to look beyond the obvious (and well-tried and failing) principles of the old order. They too will reap a reciprocal reward.

Our predictable faith in power should be challenged daily and practically by these injunctions, we should ask of every action, what will the reciprocal fruit of this be?

3. Violence is seductive.

We need to treat it as such. It is a siren's song promising quick results. It has never delivered on its promise. Challenge it when it ensconces itself as the only choice. *

Do not let Violence sit on God's throne or in the place of human life. Do not accept death as anything but a failure of your biblical vocation.

4. Cultivate Faith.

We must be diligent, visionary and courageous. Never let status quo assumptions about the world go unchecked. Isaiah and Jesus appeared, in the skeptical gaze of conventional wisdom, to be impractical and foolish.

Challenge this condescending cynicism! A conventional wisdom that gives us unceasing conflict and death is not very wise.

5. Do not be passive.

· Abolition of slavery, civil rights, representative democracy, judicial rights and many of the great advances of humanity have come through people who have had the courage to dream and challenge the status quo.

If you are a man or woman of faith, it is time to act in faith, the escalating whirlwind of reciprocal violence is teetering on the edge of chaos. Do not allow the pessimism of dominating power to win the day, to the detriment of us all. Do we have the courage to envision and act on a better world for our children or is our faith to be limited by the world we have seen thus far?

* (World War Two, for example, may be cited as a defense of violence, in which we won the war. However, the fact that such a war was fought, with the loss of life, and the loss of freedom that ensued from it, is a poor victory when measured against the biblical standard, which only considers redemption, peace and welfare of life a true victory.)


Let us identify the true enemy and make this the locus of our creative strategy.

That enemy is not simply Saddam, Islamic extremism, Communism or any other threat; the enemy is domination, violence and faith in these Babylonian values, expressed by those we identify as threats and expressed by our own reactionary impulses.

The enemy is alienation, enmity and fatalism. Wage war on death. Make violent conflict your enemy.


Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq said, "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral." His successor, Hans Von Sponeck stated, "How long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent of all this, be exposed to such punishment for something that they have never done?"

In light of the course of events that brought us to the impasse with Iraq, especially considering the innocence of Iraq's citizens in the power play that enveloped them, we must consider the extension of non-military sanctions morally wrong.

Moreover, the sanctions have failed to achieve their goals:

-They have not damaged Saddam's capacity to expand a secret weapons program. Every indication is that he has been able to obtain the materials he wants. Our governments continue to represent him as a threatening purveyor of weapons of mass destruction, and recent evidence suggests that he has been able to obtain critical weapons components.

-By making the Iraqi people bear the burden of our mistakes with Saddam, we are arming Saddam not only with hardware but also with a popular will to use them, something that he did not have during the Gulf War.

-The sanctions also empower Saddam by justifying a rationing system that gives him even more control over the population than he had; thus we strengthen his hand domestically.

-The sanctions have not enfranchised the Iraqi people.

-The sanctions have destroyed the free-market base needed for a strong, self-sustaining democratic alternative to Saddam's rule.

-They have embittered and alienated a generation of Iraqis who will be the next era's terrorists.

A Biblical Alternative

- Call Saddam's bluff by opening every means of support to the Iraqi people:

- Lift sanctions completely and dramatically, making concrete acts of restitution. This will destroy Saddam's credibility and erase a measure of the future threat of terrorism and the rogue use of cheap weapons of mass destruction.

- Prioritize the identification of means to make restitution to the Iraqi people. The process of forgiveness is inextricable from restitution in the Middle East.

- Begin by encouraging small business, micro-investment enterprises and people-centered investment in Iraq.

- Remove all restrictions on humanitarian support for Iraq. Allow unrestricted travel to Iraq for humanitarian purposes and the free-flow of relief without UN and Iraqi state controls. (If Saddam Hussein rejects this level of freedom, at least his duplicity will be exposed and his public support eroded.)

- Beware of only lifting sanctions on macro enterprises that will primarily benefit multinationals such as the oil companies.

(Once sanctions begin to fall, expect pressure from oil companies to grant them concessions. American companies will not want to be left at the back of the line. However, if this is seen to be the primary change in opening our policy on Iraq, the common Iraqi people will view it with anger and resentment. It is critical that sanction reforms primarily focus on developing a free-market trade with Iraqi businesses, small and mid-level importers, tour operators, medical professionals, teachers and merchants.)

Arming the Opposition

Military support for Iraqi opposition movements is not a way to befriend the Iraqi people. In most cases, the victors of such machinations will maintain the abusive use of power that brought them to the throne.

Let's not back yet another dictatorial regime.

The power doctrine will argue that it is in the United States' interest to ensure stability through the support of a dictatorial regime. This was the reason Saddam was left in power at the end of the Gulf War, when rebel Iraqi generals were denied use of captured weapons which they hoped to use to over throw Saddam's regime.

Stability will be gained through democratic, free-market empowerment of the Iraqi people, not through the false hope of a power regime.

A biblical alternative:
Arms control:

It is arrogant to think that we will be able to control the use of weapons that we manufacture and distribute in the Middle East. The trickle down effect and inevitable fragmentation of the region will leave weapons of strategic effect in the hands of an array of groups that have for years been on the receiving end of their power. The proliferation of arms and arms know-how are not only counter to, and ethically destructive of humanity, but counter to our self-interest in terms of a policy of realism.

Maintain a ban on the export of true dual-purpose technologies.

Especially, do not allow loopholes for high-tech or other businesses whose wealth has in the past allowed them to circumvent export restrictions. It is absurd to ban pencils from export to Iraq while considering a revision of the export ban on electronic triggers (note the Enzi bill currently before the Senate.)

Support means to democratically empower all Iraqis at the grassroots level.

Increase support for radio, video and other facilitators of free speech.


We must apologize publicly to the Iraqi people.

The greatest threat to stability and human life will be the growing bitterness of Iraq's population coupled with the proliferation of weapons technology outside of state control.

We should act in opposition to Saddam Hussein's expectations and the mythologies that he has created surrounding the United States' role in the Middle East.

Break the mythological cycle. This was the meaning of Jesus' injunction to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek. These actions are calculated to invert the propaganda of power.

In addition to humanitarian aid, investment and free-market incentives, an open apology should be made to break the reciprocal effect that domination and violence have already begun.

An apology should specifically acknowledge these points:

Desiring to exercise our will in the Gulf without reservation or accountability, we pursued the acquisition of power at the expense of life.

We used Saddam Hussein in our own interests, with disregard for the life and welfare of the Iraqi people.

We then acted against Saddam Hussein and his regime, for the same purpose, and again without regard for the people. (Our interests included those of the Gulf oil kingdoms, like Kuwait, whose investments and economic self-interest align more with Western power than with their impoverished Arab kin.)

We willingly killed, abetted the killing of, and ignored the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens in our quest for domination. Our interests were unconscionably pursued against the welfare of the common Iraqi people, and disenfranchised Arabs at large.

We strongly encourage the consideration of apology and restitution. This is our chance to defuse the bitterness that will otherwise take us as if by surprise in an explosive chain reaction of violence. We have been "surprised" by such explosions too often. The dynamics of human relationship predict these surprises, it is only their explosive force that makes them seem sudden and random.

Given the proliferation of cheap technologies, expanded information exchange capabilities, cheap travel and a willing and embittered population, the next explosion may be bigger than any we have seen to date. Break the cycle now! He who lives by the sword dies by the sword, but a gentle word turns away wrath.

Suggested Further Reading:

Mark Phytian, Arming Iraq, 1997, Northeastern University Press

Kenneth R. Timmerman, The Death Lobby, How The West Armed Iraq, 1991, Houghton Miflin

The Congressional Record, UNITED STATES POLICY TO ARM IRAQ Henry B. Gonzalez, (TX-20)(House of Representatives – July 21, 1992) [H6338 – H6346]

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