Saddam Hussein is an evil ruler, no doubt about it. But that is not enough for a war. Other heads of state have been evil, including some who have been allies of the United States (including Saddam during Iraq's war with Iran). Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. But that is not enough for a war either. Many other nations have them, too, including U.S. allies, and including both Israel and ourselves. The question is what Saddam's evil portends for the world, whether there is an imminent and urgent threat from his weapons, and, of course, what response would be both effective and consistent with Christian ethics.
The only consistent commitment Saddam Hussein has shown has been to the preservation of his own power. Those who minimize his evil are morally irresponsible; those who underestimate his willingness to commit mass murder are making a serious mistake. But what's our best response? What action would protect lives in danger rather than threaten even more lives and potentially make things worse?
Christian peacemaking calls us to seek alternatives to war in resolving conflicts. There are alternative ways to deal with Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction. What is needed is a "carrot and stick" diplomacy. U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for the "destruction, removal, or rendering harmless" of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons along with ballistic missiles in Iraq. The expressed willingness of Iraq to allow the unconditional return of U.N. weapons inspectors should be welcomed and tested rather than dismissed. We should cooperate with the U.N. in enforcing these resolutions through effective and comprehensive weapons inspections. But the incentive should be a gradual lifting of sanctions and a pledge of no military attack if Iraq really cooperates. This combination would strengthen the containment of Saddam Hussein without the risks and costs of military attack and provide a reason for him to comply. Saddam and his Iraqi regime must indeed be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, but it should be done without war.
The international community can either unite in an effective strategy to isolate, contain, disarm, and ultimately undermine the brutal and dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein, or it can simply agree to the war agenda of the world's last remaining superpower. As for the reasonable goal of "regime change," the Iraqi people themselves must create the nonviolent civil resistance within their country to achieve that goal.
THIS SUMMER at the Greenbelt Festival in Britain, I was on a panel with the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, along with Jewish and Muslim leaders from the United Kingdom, reflecting on the meaning of Sept. 11. I suggested that the attacks on America could ultimately become a teachable moment for the world and even a doorway to necessary transformation—or the horrible events of last year could be used in America and the West as an excuse for our very worst instincts and habits.
Recent events do not suggest that America is learning the lessons of Sept. 11 particularly well. The Bush administration's rush to war with Iraq is especially foreboding. Archbishop Williams offered an observation that became for me the most insightful line of this year's Greenbelt gathering: "When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail."
The United States has the biggest and best hammers in the world. But they are the only "tools" we seem to know how to use. And all we seem able to do is look for more nails to pound. Iraq is the nail the U.S. government desperately wants to strike right now. By pounding the nail of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration says a blow will be struck against terrorism.
Saddam Hussein and his government have cruelly repressed the Iraqi people and are a real threat to other countries in the region, and potentially to the world. He has used chemical weapons and stockpiled biological weapons, and he is trying hard to acquire nuclear weapons. The United Nations has repeatedly demanded that Iraq stop its violations of human rights, stop threatening peace in the region, stop its attempts to develop further weapons of mass destruction, and respect the role of the world community through the U.N. in accomplishing these important goals. But a military attack is not the way to pursue these legitimate goals. International law, political wisdom, and moral principle should guide our actions.
Neither international law nor Christian "just war" doctrine allow pre-emptive military action by one state against another. Iraq has not attacked the United States, and it has not been credibly implicated in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nor has a clear and convincing case been made that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are an immediate or imminent danger to other countries in the surrounding region or the world. While Saddam Hussein would like to have nuclear weapons, there is no evidence that his finger is resting on the button that will trigger mass murder. The U.N. Charter and international law only allow for individual states to go to war in situations of self-defense after an armed attack. And in both law and just war doctrine, there are scrupulous conditions even for an act of self-defense. For the United States to unilaterally initiate military action would be a dangerous precedent. It would severely undermine the system of international security established since World War II.
A WAR AGAINST Iraq could have serious consequences for future American foreign policy if the United States and the United Kingdom act alone. Many of our allies—both in Europe and in the Arab world—are opposed to war. It could have explosive consequences in a region that is already facing serious unrest. Internal opposition could lead to the overthrow of other governments, dramatically increase political extremism, and intensify violence in an already violent region. And it appears that very little attention has been given to what would follow if war removes Saddam Hussein. Little has been said about the years of rebuilding, international economic aid, and development of new institutions that would be required to avoid postwar chaos.
The ongoing international intelligence gathering and law enforcement efforts against terrorism are producing results, with significant arrests of terrorist leaders and the exposure of secret cells. The cooperation of countries around the world—particularly Arab and Muslim nations—in this effort would be undercut by war. Hatred against the United States would grow, leading to new volunteers for further terror attacks against the United States and Israel. The United States likely would win a battle against Iraq, but could lose the struggle against international terrorism.
Most important, a war against Iraq raises serious moral questions. If it includes massive air attacks and house-to-house fighting in the streets of Baghdad, tens of thousands of civilians could be killed. This risk to innocent lives must be unacceptable to us as Christians. The people of Iraq have suffered for the past decade from Saddam's oppression, from the continuing consequences of the 1991 Gulf war, and from the effects of economic sanctions. A war would cause even more suffering. We must also consider that in such a war casualties among the attacking forces are likely to be significant. The impact on families and loved ones in our own society is also a moral question we must consider.
With the myth of American invulnerability shattered by Sept. 11, will the United States reach out to a violence-torn world with more understanding and compassion or just retreat into old patterns of fear and retaliation? Will we recognize how the real threats of terrorism are very different from what we have known as "war," or will we simply respond with our habitual military solutions? Will we see in the events of Sept. 11 a new call for international cooperation and collaboration in addressing a host of global problems, or will we retrench into Pax Americana, "going it alone" as the world's remaining superpower? In the words of Jesus, will we see the beam in our own eye, or just the specks in the eyes of our adversaries? Will we attempt to meet our security needs by mere short-term strategies aimed at killing terrorists—or will we take the long-term approach and seek to drain the swamps of injustice and hopelessness in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed?
The next several months will show what lessons we have learned from Sept. 11 as the U.S. government determines its course of action in Iraq. Our choices include the rule of law or the habit of war, unilateral decisions or collective action, effective containment or unpredictable escalation. It is a time for just peacemaking instead of unjust war-making.
Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.