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Land, on NPR, says president on solid ground in countering Hussein

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Most Southern Baptists support President Bush’s stance on Iraq, Richard Land told a nationwide radio audience on National Public Radio’s “On Point” program Nov. 15.

“The vast majority of Southern Baptists support President Bush’s Iraqi policy,” Land said. “They believe that Just War criteria have been met,” he continued, referring to the generally accepted framework with the Christian community for determining if lethal force against an enemy is morally legitimate.

“Most Americans sense grave danger with the Iraqi government,” said Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “They believe Saddam Hussein does possess weapons of mass destruction and has shown a willingness to use them against his neighbors as well as his own people.”

Land was joined on the program by Peter McCary, a spokesman on the Middle East and Europe for the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, and Gerard Powers, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a statement on the possible use of force against Iraq, saying that while they recognize the possible threat Iraq poses, they find it difficult to justify the resort to war because of the lack of “clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.”

“We have come under attack already,” Land said, referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

“The nightmare I fear is that we wake up one day and discover that Saddam Hussein has fissionable nuclear material he can use to threaten those who oppose his own attempts to impose his own hegemony in the Middle East,” said Land, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A recent United Church of Christ resolution criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, saying the nation’s war against terrorism is “vague rhetoric,” noted Tom Ashbrook, host of the NPR program.

McCary conveyed the United Church of Christ’s opposition to the “rush to the war,” while saying that doesn’t mean they condone Saddam Hussein’s policies or his violations of human rights.

“The United Church of Christ is also a ‘just peace’ church, consistently seeking nonviolent solutions to disputes,” McCary said, warning that war leads to destruction and that hostilities in Iraq might well bring chaos to the Middle East.

The application of Just War criteria is not a “simple calculus where you put in some facts and spit out a clear moral yea or nay,” said Powers of the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It is not simply a tradition that gives you some pure moral prescriptions that can be easily applied to particular cases. It requires prudence and wisdom,” Powers continued, expressing concern with attempts to expand Just War theory to permit military action against Iraq. He said such lethal force should be limited to cases where there is imminent grave danger or where aggression has already taken place.

Such a war will have “unpredictable consequences in the Middle East,” Powers warned.

Just War theory is not a precise formula, Land agreed, saying the theory, developed by St. Augustine and others, attempts to answer the question: “Is resort to violence by the government sometimes the price you pay in a moral universe and, if so, under what circumstances can Christians participate in government-authorized use of force?

“It is very much a part of Protestant tradition,” Land said, noting he owes much of his understanding of Just War theory from his undergraduate study at Princeton University under renowned ethicist Paul Ramsey, a Methodist and a defender of Just War theory, who sought to apply the theory to both the nuclear arms race and counter insurgency situations.

Jesus’ teaching for individuals was to turn the other cheek, to return good for evil, and to love their enemies, Land said, while noting the apostle Paul, in Romans 13, ascribes to the civil magistrate, the government, the duty to punish evil and reward those who do good.

“Only the government can authorize lethal force,” he said. “You have to have just cause.

“If Iraq hadn’t attacked its neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors and its own people, and not attempted to develop and purchase weapons of mass destruction, then we would not be in a situation where the threat must be removed or we will remove the threat,” Land said. The current Iraqi regime, he said, presents a “clear and present danger.”

McCary sought to articulate the difference between self-defense and a pre-emptive strike, asking, “What are we preempting by going to war? What is the imminent danger to us?”

Land said he agreed with Martin Luther, who said he wasn’t certain that he had the right to use lethal force to defend himself, but knew he had the obligation to use lethal force to defend his neighbor.

The Cuban missile crisis presents a very clear model of what America and her allies face today, Land said. “President Kennedy did not wait until those weapons became operational. He said the missiles were a clear and present and growing danger to the United States and that the U.S. would not allow them to become operational.

“The president engaged in an act of war by establishing a blockade around Cuba, telling the Soviet Union to remove the missiles or we will remove them,” Land recounted.

As the American people discovered with Cuba in October 1962, it is better to look upon Iraq as a threat to be dealt with now, when it can be handled at a comparatively lesser price, than later, he said.

“If the Allies had enforced the treaties Germany signed at the end of World War I and confronted Hitler when he reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, we now know that the German general staff was prepared to remove him from power,” Land said.

“How many tens of millions of people’s lives would have been saved if we had stopped Hitler when he was comparatively weaker?” Land asked, noting both the Allies and the League of Nations gave Hitler free reign to pursue his plans.

“History proves that appeasement with people like Hitler and Hussein doesn’t work.”

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  • Dwayne Hastings