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FIRST-PERSON: Thinking through the prospect of war


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Talk of war in the United States has reached a fevered pitch, and the whole idea of American national security has taken on a new ideological configuration.

President Bush, other American leaders and many of the country’s citizenry have been awakened to the challenge of viewing the necessity of war differently. In varying degrees, preemptive strikes are now favored to protect the country from outside threats rather than wait to use its traditional defensive strategies.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, this new offensive posture is with good reason.

Iraq is in the cross hairs of the new strategy and military positioning. President Bush maintains that it is nothing short of prudent than to end the simmering 11-year cold war with Iraq with new preemptive military strikes. In arrogantly flouting United Nation sanctions, it is believed that Saddam Hussein has amassed weapons of mass destruction, certainly including deadly biological agents he has used liberally in the most offhanded manner against his own people.

Fears that an attack against the United States by Saddam is imminent lies at the core of the president’s urgent advocacy for the need of a regime change in Iraq favorable to the processes of democracy. These ideas are good grounds upon which to assert a military confrontation with the present Iraqi regime. But of the present courtiers of Saddam’s brutal dictatorship, where could such a new entity be found in Iraq?

Though no one can doubt or argue against the fact that for national and international security Saddam Hussein needs to be gone, the proposed military challenge nonetheless raises other important questions.


Question. Declaring war has to be the most deliberate and weighty undertaking of any American president or allied heads of state. Should not the president, with thousands of human lives, American military men and women and the people of Iraq, be willing to exhaust every possible avenue of diplomacy including a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq before a military incursion?

Question. After the chaos of war with Iraq, what comes next? Without engaging in nation-building, how would the United States guarantee better political governance of Iraq?

Question. What will happen to the war on terrorism? Since Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda operatives have dispersed throughout the world. Does the United States, though a sovereign nation, really want to part company with and alienate any of its allies or cooperative Arab states to war against Iraq unilaterally in the event there is no Security Council sanction for such a move?

As a diverse nation of thinkers with myriad and sundry worldviews — with so much of the foundation of American life at risk, with interior and exterior threats of terror a daily possibility — what are the ways Christians might respond to the prospect of war with Iraq?

The prospect is clear: According to an article here in The Palm Beach Post on Sept. 29, “Iraq swiftly rejected Saturday a U.S.-British proposal that would impose stringent rules and a tight deadline for U.N. weapons inspections, saying it would not accept new terms for inspections and would fight fiercely if attacked.”

Again, questions may be asked.

Question. Freedom of the human spirit is the most important victory for which any war can be waged. How might a war with Iraq prove redemptive for Iraqis and the world outside the borders of Iraq?

Question. According to Romans 13:2, “rulers are not terrors to good works,” a description that does not apply to Saddam Hussein. Without war as a first line of defense, can peace be pursued with this adversary without endangering the rest of the world?

Question. True enough, “wickedness proceeds from the wicked,” but is this the Lord’s time for war with Iraq? Despite the sense of urgency in the matter, will the nation’s leaders humbly pause long enough before the Lord to consult him on a matter that either way will have incalculable consequences for the world?

Christians should respectfully hear the president’s arguments on Iraq and also diligently ask, why war and why now?
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Fla.