The Common Good

The War in Iraq: At What Cost?

The emotion that grips me this morning, after watching President Obama's speech last night and listening to the commentary about the "end of our combat mission in Iraq," is a deep sadness. Even in the Oval Office speech last night, the mission of the war in Iraq still wasn't made clear -- and it never was.

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This was a war started on a false pretext -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them or hand them off to terrorists. At the time there were other ways to determine that and respond accordingly (international inspections were underway), but we went to war instead. The Bush Administration's fearful predictions of "mushroom clouds" went along with insinuations that Iraq was somehow involved in 9/11 despite the fact that it was not. That Saddam Hussein was a terrible and brutal dictator was well known, but bombing his cities and people wasn't the only way to deal with him, as many church leaders pointed out at the time. And, of course, the U.S. hadn't made war on the countries of every other dictator who was as bad, or worse, than Saddam. But those dictators weren't sitting on deserts full of oil -- always the unspoken reality of our foreign policy and wars in the Middle Eastern region.

Of course the "shock and awe" of America's military might easily defeated the army of Saddam Hussein, but the post-invasion strategy was horribly botched, a complete misunderstanding of Iraq's religious and ethnic conflicts was soon revealed, incidents of prisoner abuse and torture shamed America's image around the world, and the impact of the U.S. deciding to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq served to inflame global opinion about the United States, and caused us to lose the moral high ground we had around the world after the vicious attacks of 9/11 (remember that?) And the strategic consequences of neglecting Afghanistan and inadvertently strengthening Iran because of the U.S. war in Iraq are now being discussed by the political talking heads.

But that's all history now, and the President asked the nation to "turn the page" last night. But what makes me so sad this morning is the enormous human cost of the war in Iraq; and how a massive number of people and families -- in America and Iraq -- have had their lives ended or changed forever because of this war and will have a hard time turning the page.

It is precisely because of the terrible human cost of war that Christian leaders and churches are supposed to ask the hardest questions about it. And many did about the war in Iraq. Let's remember the fact today that most Christian leaders and churches around the world rejected the arguments for America going to war against Iraq and opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation. They applied the peace-making ministry of Jesus and the rigorous historical criteria for what constitutes a "just war" and found the Iraq war painfully lacking adequate moral justification. But the United States government didn't heed the warnings and the objections of the international faith community, even in America, where political opinion was split about 50-50. The global church was right in rejecting this war from the outset, and the government of the United States was wrong for fighting it.

The human cost of the Iraq War is literally breathtaking. I went to a website last night that has documented the number and published the pictures of those who died, 4,400 so far. I couldn't stop looking at their pictures

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