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Religious Arguments in Bush's Case for Attacking Iraq

October 15, 2002

A friend of mine, who is a minister and theological professor and dean, recently forwarded to me a letter written and signed by a group of theological presidents stating their "sense of concern and even alarm about the political and spiritual situation as our nation seems to be preparing for war with Iraq."

The letter interested me because their basic claim and points expressed the need for "asking the hard questions that people of faith who love their country must always be free to ask."

I heartily agree with that point. We have not heard enough open discussion from our religious leaders on our war against theocracy-based terrorism, part of which is the impending attack on Iraq.

Interestingly, I believe that President Bush and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are giving us the right and just reasons for our war and why Iraq must be the next battle.

Why do we have the right for a "preemptive strike" against Iraq? We are past the point of preemptive. Saddam has regularly used weapons of mass destruction (WMD) many times in the past: major poisonous gas attacks against the Iranians before the Gulf War and against the Kurdish people after the Gulf War. The pictures of the stiff bodies of Kurdish boys and girls being stacked in pickup trucks must not be trivialized. The next gassing is clearly not a matter of IF but of WHEN.

Strategically, Saddam and the Iraq people must both clearly understand (though for different reasons) that we WILL preemptively strike. Saddam needs to understand because it clearly tells him that he has to go. The Iraq people must understand because it will give them hope that we will really look out for their welfare this time. Remember WMD are not selective so many Iraqs would die from their uses also.

Most pundits miss the next point: that Bush and Rumsfeld have clearly said that the totalitarian element of Iraq is our enemy. And that element is Saddam et al. Not the people.

Saddam has told his commanders that no matter what happens to him they should pull the trigger on the WMD. Rumsfeld has clearly communicated that we will not attack those not attacking us: Iraqis that cooperate will participate in the future of Iraq; those that do not cooperate can expect destruction. The Iraq armed forces and the population will control devastation. Granted, battle is confusing and deadly errors are made, but I have faith in our intelligent weaponry and the moral compass of our GI's to execute selective destruction. Even at what could be at great cost to our own guys.

Another argument of purpose being discussed is what if another Saddam pops up after we clear out the current Saddam. I find this argument incongruent with our experience. Look at what Bush is doing in Afghanistan: found an Afghan leader acceptable to most to organize the country and implement democracy with whatever bells and whistles Afghans prefer. Granted, more difficult times are ahead but what a start! Bush says we will follow the same formula in Iraq. And we need to make sure the Iraq people know it.

Do the Iraq people want to live under a totalitarian, lethal regime? I do not believe anyone does except those that benefit from it, i.e., the ones imposing it. By definition of totalitarian economics, freedom and prosperity are not wide spread.

The above points (stopping Saddam before he kills again, explicitly telling Iraqis that Saddam is our enemy not the population, and that the goals are democracy and freedom) are not actions of a misguided America but of a moral, caring people that believe freedom is a right given by our Creator. We are building the opportunity for the Iraqis to help us minimize destruction when the battle begins. Yes, some of our boys and girls have been killed and more will be. Freedom is not free.

The final point in Bush's argument for action is the presence of evil. The press guffaws at the use of the word evil. After the fall of the Soviet Union one former Soviet official said that Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire label provided energy to the dissidents that helped lead to the fall of the communists.

Evil is a religious word and so needs religious discussions. I find it discouraging that little about evil has been said since 9/11/01. Why can we not say that Saddam is evil? The American clergy appears to avoid the term evil in describing Saddam and his repeated use of that evil on the Iraq people and others around him.

Bush has no intentions of repeating the Republican Guard slaughter that occurred near the end of the Gulf War. He is making unconditional statements that Saddam must leave. We cannot allow him to believe otherwise.

I encourage our priests, ministers, and rabbis to discuss this war with their flocks. War is ugly and people die, with the effects lasting for generations. But that does not make it always wrong.


Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.