It’s hard to remember the warm-up to the Iraq war now almost 10 years old. Following the devastating experience of 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001), the United States experienced enormous national feelings of anger and sought a means to identify and punish those who were guilty of this horrendous act of terror. We now know that within days, the White House (in particular, the vice president’s office) was pointing a finger at Iraq and within 12 months, any observer could tell that we were on our way to war.
On March 19, 2003, when the invasion began I remember telling a class of students that they ought to remember this day well. It might be a war the U.S. would regret and it might lead to an involvement in the Middle East we don’t know how to end. Now ten years later we’re still mired over there.
What were the reasons for the war? Let’s make a list:
• Weapons of mass destruction (despite U.N. inspections)
• Threats to international oil supplies
• International terror
• Democracy vs. tyranny
• Regime change
• Human rights violations
As I listen to the rhetoric (along with the sanctions) surrounding the increasing tensions with Iran, an echo of 2003 came back to me. It was Ron Paul — in a debate last summer on Fox News (on 8-11-201) — who first connected the wires for me. In some manner, are we running down the same road we traveled in 2001-2003?
When countries reach a certain level of mutual belligerency, it is sometimes hard to pull back. Soon influential opinion-makers begin framing the rhetoric in ways that become popular and before long, we settle in and get comfortable: perhaps Iran is another great problem America is destined to fix with its military.
But is it?
As a Christian I simply need to be discerning. I want to listen carefully to what every nation — my own included — will say to shape public opinion so that any conflict will have widespread support and appear legitimate. Soon we’ll see ads by lobby groups in the New York Times calling for action against Iran.
And in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Rick Santorum — the newly dubbed “evangelical choice” for president (according to that forum) recently called for preemptive efforts that would end Iran’s nuclear program. A firm attitude toward Iran is now a standard Republican talking point.
These are volatile times in the Middle East. And it is in such times that Christians need to be wise, prayerful, and discerning when public leaders are calling for conflict. Iran is not Iraq. Iran is a huge, powerful, sophisticated nation whose population may not be well represented by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It holds twice the population of Iraq. And it is three or four times the size of Iraq.
So let’s keep a checklist. When the arguments for going into Iran echo what we heard in 2002 and 2003, we can anticipate dreadful things on the horizon. And it is in such moments that Christians need to ask whether there are resolutions to conflict that are peaceful.
If the New York Times can sound this warning (even on behalf of Israel’s future), then certainly the church can as well.
Gary M. Burge is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and author of several books, including Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology.