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Statements by the faith community
on the "surge" of troops to Iraq
In his speech to the nation on January 10, President George W. Bush announced plans to send more than 21,000 U.S. troops to Iraq. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, issued a statement in response to the speech, which we feature here.
Included with the statement is a reflection by Vernon Broyles on previous General Assembly actions about the conflict in Iraq. Broyles is volunteer Representative for Public Witness for the Office of the General Assembly.
Statement by The Reverend Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
In 2004, the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made a clear judgment “that the invasion of Iraq has been immoral, unwise and illegal.” While it also clearly affirmed our support for the troops and the right of people of conscience to disagree with that judgment, it was clear in its opposition to the war in Iraq. We believe that history has borne out the wisdom of the General Assembly’s action.
The General Assembly also expressed the conviction that in looking toward the future, the U.S. Government must assume responsibility to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, but that such a reconstruction effort should be shared with the international community under the leadership of the United Nations. It further stated that in that process, further military deployment should be avoided as much as possible.
In light of these clear convictions, we view with grave concern the proposal of the President to send over 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. We urge the administration, instead, to give serious attention to the counsel of our General Assembly, other religious communities, and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, to seek the stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq through other means.
January 11, 2007
Response to Iraq strategies outlined by President Bush on January 10, 2007 reflecting previous actions of the General Assembly:
The 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) concurred in the judgment of many critics “that the invasion of Iraq has been unwise, immoral and illegal.” Since that time, the number of deaths of U.S. military personnel has risen above 3,000 and it is estimated that more than 100,000 U.S. personnel have been physically and psychologically maimed by their involvement in the war—with their families suffering the “collateral damage.” Iraqi dead are numbered in the tens of thousands, and the toll of daily violence on the general Iraqi population is incalculable. Many now insist that the fruit of the current strategy is, in fact, civil war.
No sign of an end to the violence is in sight. In the face of the worsening internecine strife in Iraq and the continuing failure of U.S. military policy to ameliorate the situation, the presenting dilemma is how to find a way out, short of total disaster.
Widespread agreement exists among much of the U.S. military leadership that “success” by any measure is not attainable by simply continuing strategies that have been employed thus far. That includes previous efforts to increase U.S. military presence in particularly troublesome parts of Baghdad and other areas. These “surges” have been unable to quell the violence in any sustained fashion, whether it be inter-ethnic killing or actions opposition to the occupation.
What the President is now proposing can hardly be interpreted as anything short of an escalation of the current conflict. He acknowledges that in the “short term,” there will be continuing, perhaps increased, bloodshed, especially as that involves giving our troops a “green light” to invade areas like Sadr City—a guarantee of sustained, house-to-house fighting and further alienation of much of the poor Shiite population.
Even more ominous is the President’s repetitious “good versus evil” rhetoric with regard to Syria and Iran. “We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy the networks that are providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” He threatens to put a stop to support from those two parties by the use of force at a time when the clear wisdom of the Iraq Study Group and many others is that no movement toward a lasting peace is possible without diplomatic contact with these two parties. This threat is even more disturbing in the face of informed speculation that the administration may have given its blessing to Israel to use its own nuclear capability, at some point in the future, against Iran’s suspected nuclear programs.
Even with clear acknowledgement by the President that Iraq must take on major responsibility for their future and his providing some “benchmarks” for measuring their willingness to do so, his overall strategy looks, in large measure, to be “more of the same” with regard to military strategies for the “pacification” of Iraq.
The President declared, “America’s commitment is not open-ended.” What he did not offer was any hint as to how long our own men and women might be placed at risk; however, earlier hints from the White House suggest that the “surge” in U.S. troops is hardly a short-term escalation. Indeed, The White House press secretary went so far as to say that the outcome of this strategy should not even be assessed for at least two years, a long time for U.S. personnel to continue to be at risk in a war that has already lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II.
Our General Assembly recognizes that in assessing the justification for military action, traditional Just War Principles may be considered. Among those most salient in this situation is the criterion requiring that such actions must have a reasonable chance of success. At the moment, many doubts exist, especially among military strategists, as to the ability of the President’s “surge” strategy to meet that criterion. In fact, strong proponents of a “surge” such as Senator McCain argue that even the 21,000 additional “boots on the ground” promised by the President is insufficient to accomplish that mission.
The General Assembly has expressed its deep concern for those who are serving at great cost in this conflict. The assembly has called for adequate pastoral care for them and their families as well as for adequate logistical support and protection. While that support should not be abridged in any way, it does not follow that new financial resources should be allocated to place several thousand other men and women in the cauldron of violence in which injury and death will come, as the Administration has acknowledged.
The General Assembly has made clear that in such conflicts, there must be an effort to involve the community of nations—most important, the United Nations—as an agent through which the various parties may be brought together to find a way beyond the sectarian violence and to begin the process of rebuilding. In 2004, the 216th General Assembly urged the U.S. Government “to move speedily to restore sovereignty to Iraq, to internationalize the reconstruction efforts without penalty to those nations that chose not to endorse the U.S.-led invasion, and to recognize the United Nations as the body most suitable to facilitate the transition to peace, freedom, and participatory governance in Iraq.”
In summary, the strategies announced by President Bush run counter to the carefully crafted advice of the Iraq Study Group, and a great many of the U.S. military commanders from whom the President, earlier, promised to take his signals about military deployments. They also run counter to the moral, ethical, and familial concerns of millions of Americans that surfaced in recent elections. It is time for the U.S. Congress, in whatever ways available to it, to tell the President “No!” to further escalation of the conflict by the United States.
Statement in Response to President Bush’s Speech about the War in Iraq
January 12, 2007
As Christians, we are called to continually give witness to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who called us to love our enemies. Last summer, in July 2006, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference made a resolution about the war in Iraq that is even more applicable today.
As the highest authority in the Church of the Brethren, the Annual Conference voted to affirm our denomination’s historic and living witness that all war is sin. As disciples of Christ and members of one of the three Historic Peace Churches, we resolved that we cannot ignore the death, destruction, and violence of the war in Iraq.
The message of Jesus “to love your enemy,” from the Gospel of Matthew 5:44, is inconsistent with military action. Jesus’ words instead move us toward peaceful methods, diplomacy, moral suasion, nonviolent sanctions, and international cooperation to address violence and aggression.
War demeans and brutalizes all its participants. Military combatants and support personnel as well as innocent civilians, including women, children, and the infirm, are being killed and maimed. Military intervention in Iraq has triggered wave after wave of brutal acts of terrorism. In addition, the enormous expense of the war is a disastrous drain on the resources that are so desperately needed to relieve suffering at home and around the world.
The Church of the Brethren has called on its members to pray and give witness to the sin of violence, and has petitioned the federal government of the United States, the United Nations, and other nations and groups to seek peace by taking action to bring troops home from Iraq.
Also, we have called on religious leaders from all faiths who preach violence to consider the things that truly make for peace. The wisdom of the scriptures, in the book of Jonah, provides direction: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” (Jonah 3:8).
Now, in response to the points the President is seeking, these statements by the Church of the Brethren are reaffirmed. Furthermore, we reiterate the church’s prayerful call upon the global community to formulate and actively implement a nonviolent, just plan that will bring peace and security to Iraq and all its people.
A. Roy Medley
continue to believe that a just and sustainable peace in the
John H. Thomas
Pastoral Letter in
January 11, 2007
The growing violence in Iraq, the enormous suffering being experienced by the citizens of Iraq, and the anguish of countless American families who have lost beloved sons and daughters to death and horrific injury calls for profound lament and repentance, not for stubborn commitment to the unilateralism and militarism that has been the hallmark of our failed policy in Iraq. That is why the President’s speech is not only politically disappointing, but morally deficient as well. The deceptions and arrogance which launched a war that brought Iraq to this place of pain and anguish and that have alienated the United States from so many of its friends must be acknowledged as more than strategic mistakes; they must be confessed as the core of the immoral justification for a war that failed to meet the criteria for a just war and that, as a result, cannot achieve the goals of a just peace.
People of faith are not and must not be naïve. The reality of evil is very much a part of our world. It is evil that must be restrained. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group recognized this and called for a diminishing but more strategic military force to be joined by a new and aggressive regional diplomacy that would press all in the region – our friends and enemies alike - to take responsibility for the evil they condone or in which they are complicit, and to join together across ideological and national interests to restrain the violence that threatens all. Such an approach lacks the seductive appeal of a grand “war on terror,” the morally convenient but suspect naming of an “axis of evil,” or the notion of an epic ideological battle between the forces of democracy and oppression. Instead it requires a much more honest view of the world that calls for coalitions that are real rather than illusory. It requires the humility to acknowledge that we cannot impose our solutions by military force alone, and the courage to take initiatives even with partners we find threatening.
The President’s course ignores this, calling for unilateral troop escalation in a place where additional troops have, in the recent past, simply escalated the violence, and for a growing reliance on the Iraqi government that has been far too complicit in the volatile sectarian politics that continues to fuel the violence and undermines the capacity of U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces to restrain it. It is a course that fails to provide a credible challenge to other regional players, including Syria and Iran, to take responsibility for ending the violence, and it reinforces the unhealthy image of the United States as an occupying army and the Iraqi government as a subservient client state. It is a course that places more American daughters and sons, including members of our own churches, in harms way. While the call for additional resources for rebuilding Iraq is something we should affirm, assuming more stringent Congressional oversight to avoid the abuse and profiteering of the past, in response to the main elements of the President’s new course, it is time for people of faith to say “no!”
As we approach the annual observance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are challenged by words he spoke forty years ago at the Riverside Church in New York City when he broke the silence about the war in Vietnam.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. . . . Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. . . .” We still have a choice today: non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
The war in Iraq which has so preoccupied us at the expense of meaningful attentiveness to the tragedy of Darfur, the unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the crushing poverty faced by so many in the world, confronts people of faith with the urgency of today. It is the urgency of a prophetic imagination that offers a vision of the world far richer than the one we have been offered, a future secured by aggression and greed. And we are called to the urgency of prayer – prayer for the people of Iraq, prayer for our own soldiers and their families, especially those who grieve, prayer for the church and in particular for the small and vulnerable Christian community in Iraq, prayer for our leaders that they may listen with humility and act with wisdom. Thus may history not judge us, “too late,” and may the oft sung words of the first preacher who graced the pulpit where King spoke inspire: “Cure your children’s warring madness, bend our pride to your control. Shame our reckless, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.”
Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Baptist leaders contacted Thursday by EthicsDaily.com disagreed with President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.
"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people--and it is unacceptable to me," the president said in a 20-minute speech on Wednesday. "Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."
Bush committed 21,500 additional American troops to Iraq. The plan would increase the U.S. troop presence from the current 132,000 to 153,500 and cost $5.6 billion. Congress has already spent more than $350 billion in the war, and more than 3,000 Americans have lost their lives.
The president faces stiff opposition from Democrats in Congress and a few Republicans. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, a presidential hopeful in 2008, said he does not believe more troops is the answer. Others considering running for the GOP nomination, like Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, support the "surge."
Baptist leaders contacted by EthicsDaily.com agreed.
"President Bush has been wrong too often to be trusted now with yet another plan for victory in Iraq," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. "He no longer has the confidence of the American people, most of whom oppose sending more troops to Iraq. He lacks the support of most Democrats and a growing number of Republican leaders. Yet he burrows blindly ahead in the darkness with little sense of where he is going and no appreciate that the nation is not following him."
Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East cannot be addressed by military force alone. He urged Bush to "use every diplomatic means possible to bring peace, including dialogue with Syria and Iran, as he has been urged to do by U.S. religious leaders and a wide range of present and past government officials."
"Sending 20,000 additional troops is like putting a band-aid on a wound that requires a tourniquet," said Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. "American military force cannot resolve the political and religious differences that divide Iraqis. Prolonging this misguided war is doing nothing more than creating deeper divisions within our own country."
Alistair Brown of BMS World Mission said most Baptists in Great Britain have been against the war from the start, and a majority of the population wants the UK to move toward a strategic troop withdrawal. The U.S. move takes the military presence in the opposite direction.
"Not many things are fixed by hitting them harder," Brown said. "And many Brits feel that President Bush's planned troop surge for Iraq is an attempt to bring peace by hitting the military problem harder."
Gary Nelson, general secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries, said in a meeting with youth directors from all the conventions and unions in that nation most of their reaction is "disappointment--wishing and wondering why bridges of peace cannot be built rather than continued violence."
"Greater numbers of troops means greater chaos," Nelson said. "It is time to take Jesus' words seriously 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.'"
Brown said increasing troop levels will be perceived in Iraq as an increased invasion by the Christian West, creating danger for Christians around the world. "We stay strong in prayer," he said, "longing for a lasting peace soon and a chance to build a new, stable Iraq."
"The biblical witness tells us that when a blind man leads he stumbles into a ditch," said Parham. "That's why those with sight lead those who are blind. And now is the time, for the sighted Christian community to provide clarity about a way forward. We must offer the moral message that violence only begets more violence. Sending more troops will beget more violence. More violence is not an acceptable moral path. An acceptable path is more talking with our real and perceived adversaries, seeking the common ground of less violence."
Parham said the president's surge plan falls short of meeting historic Christian rules of a just war.
"First, a surge does not provide a reasonable hope for success," he said. "It only prolongs the failed war. Winning the war is a myth. Second, a surge does not ensure non-combatant civilian immunity from war. It only escalates in a civil war the number of deaths and disfigurements. Third, a surge increases the war's costs, which already outweigh the original goals for the war."
Medley said Iraq and terrorism cannot be dealt with in isolation from the Israeli/Palestinian problem. "We again urge our government to use its influence to bring the necessary parties to the table to address how both Israelis and Palestinians can live in recognized and secure nations," he said.
Rabbi David Saperstein
2005, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution critical of the
War in Iraq. We spoke out because the prophetic tradition, so central
to American Jewish life, calls on us to address the great moral issues
of our day. And no issue raises more urgent and challenging moral
considerations for our nation (even while affecting particular Jewish
concerns from the war on terrorism to stability in the broader Middle
East region) than does the war in Iraq.
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