From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: Just cause exists for action against Iraq

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 20 Feb 2003 15:30:27 -0600

Feb. 20, 2003  News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

NOTE: A photograph of the Rev. Donald Sensing is available.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Donald Sensing*

Methodists are rightly concerned about the Iraq problem, but so far our
denomination has shed more heat than light on the issue. The United Methodist
Church is neither officially nor historically pacifist. Our Social Principles
denounce war, but acknowledge that when peaceful alternatives fail, armed
force may be necessary.

We all wish for a world where force would never be needed. We all hope for
it. But serious reasoning, not wishful thinking, is our duty in these
perilous times. Wishes are not plans, and hope is not a method.

Sojourners magazine editor Jim Wallis wrote this month, "For nonviolence to
be credible, it must answer the questions that violence purports to answer,
but in a better way. I oppose a widening war that bombs more people and
countries, recruiting even more terrorists and fueling an unending cycle of
violence. But those who oppose bombing must have an alternative."

Simply using religious language and claiming divine authority is not offering
a credible alternative. Just saying "Jesus" and "love" and "peace" is not a
plan. The Bush administration's claims about Saddam's rule of terror and the
threat his regime poses to world peace deserve our sober consideration of
what they are and our understanding of what they mean. 

Many details are not pleasant. They are often technical. "Connecting the
dots" is often frustrating. Interdisciplinary expertise and strategic vision
- not just theological education - are required by religious leaders now. If
we wish our voices to be heeded, they must be worth listening to.

Saddam's regime threatens American lives and the peace of the entire Middle
East. The Bush administration and the U.N. inspectors have provided
conclusive proof of Iraq's programs to develop mass-destructive weapons and
its extensive efforts to conceal them - efforts that continue to this day.
There is solid evidence of Iraq's links to transnational terrorists. Saddam's
regime is brutally repressive of its own people.

Whether the status quo with Iraq constitutes a cause for war should be
debated. That the status quo should continue cannot be faithfully maintained.
The question is not whether Saddam's regime must be ended and the Iraqi
people freed; the question is only how. We pray that open war may yet be
avoided. But to fail to act effectively to accomplish the just end is to make
oneself an accomplice of injustice and ally oneself with murderous

The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops has twice commended
President Bush for his diplomacy. He has worked with the Congress, the United
Nations, NATO and the European Union to resolve this crisis. There has been
no "rush to war."

Iraq has defied 17 U.N. resolutions over 12 years. In 1998, President Clinton
withdrew the UN weapons inspectors so he could bomb Iraq. President Bush
insisted they return to confirm that Iraq has disarmed as the United Nations

Therefore, last November the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously that
Iraq should be given a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament
obligations under (existing) relevant resolutions of the council." Note: The
United Nations placed the burden of proof and the onus of compliance on Iraq,
not on the inspectors or the United States.

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control,
wrote: "Inspections can only do one thing well: verify that a country's
declarations about a weapons program are honest and complete. For inspectors
to do their job, they have to have the truth, which can only come from the
Iraqis." Yet every report to the United Nations by the inspectors details
more lies and deceit from Saddam's regime.

U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said he does not need more inspectors
and does not want them, nor is there insufficient time for inspections. The
problem, he said, is that Iraq is not cooperating and is not complying with
the United Nations' ultimatum.

Every nation in the world, except Iraq, agrees that Iraq must disarm. The
desired outcome of the crisis is not in question. The only question now is
that of means: how shall Iraq be disarmed? If Iraq does comply, fully and
quickly, open war will be avoided, but if not, the last peaceful means to
resolve the crisis will have been exhausted.

If military action against Iraq comes, it will be neither pre-emptive nor
unilateral. America has been legally and actually at war with Iraq since 1991
with varying intensity. President Clinton struck Iraq repeatedly, claiming
1991's resolution authorizing force never expired. America has the announced
support of 35 nations (19 European) against Iraq if such action comes.

A key fact is being overlooked in today's debate. The choice is not really
between peace and war. We have not been at peace with Iraq since 1991, and
Saddam wages war upon his own people every day. The issue is not beginning a
war, but how long the present war will continue. Absent Iraqi compliance, the
choice is between brief, controlled warfare imminently or the continued
suffering of the Iraqi people, the continued absence of peace and almost
certainly a truly terrible war later.

President Kennedy's words during the Cuban missile crisis still apply: "We no
longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a
sufficient challenge to a nation's security... The 1930s taught us a clear
lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged,
ultimately leads to war. ... Our policy has been one of patience and
restraint, but now further action is required. ... The greatest danger of all
would be to do nothing."

Sadly, Saddam's cruelties toward Iraqis are barely noticed by religious
leaders. Iraqi exile Rania Kashi wrote, "Saddam has murdered more than a
million Iraqis over the past 30 years. Are you willing to allow him to kill
another million Iraqis? Out of a population of 20 million, 4 million Iraqis
have been forced to flee their country during Saddam's reign. Are you willing
to ignore the real and present danger that caused so many people to leave
their homes and families?" So far, our denomination is answering, "Yes."

Reasoning about war, wrote Catholic theologian George Weigel, is not to "set
a series of hurdles that statesmen must overcome before the resort to armed
force is given moral sanction." The first consideration is "the moral
obligation of government to pursue national security and world order."

Just cause exists for decisive action against Iraq, exhaustively documented
in the public record. Just intention has been stated by the administration:
halting Iraq's weapons programs, creating conditions for Iraqi democracy,
freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam's murderous regime.

There have been many strident, uninformed people claiming that war with Iraq
will kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. One man told me recently, and
incorrectly, that we will "flatten Baghdad." War is violent, let no one
doubt. But at no time in history has the just-war tenet of discrimination and
proportionality been more achievable than it is today by American forces. If
war comes, our forces will strive to end the issue quickly, with minimum
death and destruction, abiding by international conventions and the U.S. Law
of Land Warfare.

Liberation theologian James Cone wrote that in opposing oppression, the
choice for Christians is not between violence and nonviolence because
violence is already present. Christians must decide whether violence to
overcome the oppression is a greater evil than the violence of the oppression

"Of course it would be ideal if an invasion could be undertaken ... by the
Nelson Mandela International Peace Force," wrote Ms. Kashi. "That such a
force does not exist - cannot exist - in today's world is a failing of the
very people who do not want America to invade Iraq, yet are willing to let
thousands of Iraqis die in order to gain the higher moral ground."

Shall we fret over our personal piety while Saddam murders his own people?

I believe that America may justifiably use force to resolve the crisis. Let
everyone decide this question prayerfully, trusting as theologian Dietrich
Bonhoeffer did that grace will ultimately abound. And let us agree to be
united in desiring God's will to inform the decisions and actions of every
national leader. Let us pray for God's wisdom to prevail and God's justice to
be obtained. Let us give thanks that God is one who, in times and places he
chooses, can indeed break the bow and shatter the spear asunder (Psalm 46).

# # #

*Sensing is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. He
also is a retired Army artillery officer.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily
represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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