A LETTER FROM ST. LOUIS READER RANDY YELVERTON asked some good, hard questions about whether WORLD should support the Bush administration on Iraq. Mr. Yelverton notes, "If we believe in the sanctity of life then we must seriously scrutinize any action that will take so many lives." He's absolutely right. We should listen to liberals who raise thoughtful, critical questions. We should not applaud some conservatives and neoconservatives who seem gung-ho about the prospect of throwing others into the hell that is war.
The only reason to fight this war is that doing so will save lives-and that type of calculation is dangerous. If the United States attacks Iraq, even though our intent is only to take out Saddam Hussein and his soldiers, it is certain that some innocent people will suffer alongside the guilty. If the United States gives Saddam more time, it is likely that many more innocent people will die from terrorism in this country and Saddam's terror against his own people in Iraq. But comparing a certainty to a probability is difficult. Other factors add additional permutations. It seems likely that regime change in Iraq will make for less terrorism, as terrorists lose a patron and a haven, but we cannot be sure.
At WORLD, we go to the Bible when examining any controversial question. We deliberately cover some questions-such as heterosexual adultery or homosexual practice-in a one-sided way because God has made it clear in the Bible that He's on one side (see chapter one of my book, Telling the Truth, at the www.worldmag.com website, for a discussion of our "whitewater rapids" method of classifying issues). But protecting innocent life in the situation we face today, which features a mass murderer who has vowed to kill again and is holding his own nation hostage, is definitely a two-sided issue.
Mr. Yelverton is right to raise numerous objections about U.S. policy a decade ago: "We abandoned rebelling Shiites and Kurds to whom we had originally offered support and instructed to rise up against Saddam. We stood by and watched Saddam punish them." Sad but true. I love the U.S.A. and it's evident that God has blessed it, yet if we ever think of our country as above sin we are fooling ourselves-but not fooling God. Some like the idea of the United States preemptively striking threatening nations whenever we choose. That's a very risky general proposition, given the presence of sin in our own ranks.
How then shall we live? We should not pretend that we are sinless. Nor do we now have the luxury of simply saying that we shall do no harm. Whether we choose war or temporary peace, we do some harm. Would that we did not face such a choice-but we do, and given God's rule over everything, it is a choice that God has given us. That should give us some hope, and also push us to prayer. It should lead us not to endorse abstract theories of preemptive war, but to look at the specifics of this particular situation.
Those specifics have been laid out recently by President Bush (and also by WORLD: see Aug. 24, Aug. 31, Sept. 7, 2002). The president has noted that Iraq has stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and is racing to gain nuclear arms. So what? we might say: Other countries also have weapons of mass destruction. But, as Mr. Bush said, Saddam Hussein has already "used these weapons of death against innocent Iraqi people, and we have every reason to believe he will use them again." Saddam has "ordered the torture of children and instituted the systematic rape of the wives and daughters of his political opponents."
Saddam not only has the weapons but has vowed to use them-on us. That makes him different than other blusterers, and puts him in a league with the two most barbaric European dictators of the 20th century: Hitler and Stalin. Aha, we might say: We didn't engage in preemptive war against those two. But wouldn't it have been better to stop Hitler early? Stalin was unstoppable because the Soviet Union was too big and, at the end of his life, he had atom bombs. Do we want to dither until a nuclear-tipped Saddam Hussein is untouchable?
So, my sense is that President Bush's position is biblical in its emphasis on minimizing the loss of innocent life. Mr. Yelverton is right to ask, "Why are we, the evangelical church, seemingly so eager to support another Iraqi conflict?" We should not be eager. Christians should go into this conflict with much sadness and humility. We'll use "smart bombs," but smart bombs are not omniscient. Innocent Iraqis will die. Americans will die. But Saddam is a murderous tyrant, and he has left us with bad choices.