The Pope Goes to the New Iraq

          The Pope went to Iraq. Because of all the news coverage, I learned that Christians in Iraq had once been able to live and worship with reasonable freedom, but in the last two decades many Christian communities and neighborhoods had been decimated. Many reports have ascribed the devastations to ISIS in Iraq, but, of course, the invasion by the United States was a precipitating cause. Before 2003, a sizeable Christian minority lived in Iraq, but since then many Christians have been killed or forced to flee the country. Americans in general, and American Christians in particular, do not want to think of the United States as part of the cause of the death, dislocation, and destruction of Iraqi Christians and their communities, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion.

We should remember that we invaded Iraq even though Iraq posed no threat to us, and our government gave justifications for our invasion that were false. And what did we accomplish? Our military action helped cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and perhaps millions of refugees. The country and the region are more unstable since our invasion and occupation than before, and we will pay trillions of dollars to pay for this war long after I am dead.

So how should we think of this war? Do a little thought experiment and swap out other countries for Iraq and the U.S. Assume, for example, that Argentina invaded Pakistan arguing – falsely – that Pakistan had trained its atomic arsenal on Argentina. This theoretical invasion resulted in the death of 350,000 Pakistanis, the migration of 500,000 Moslems to refugee camps in India followed a few years later by terrorist groups from Kashmir attacking and killing Northern Indians by the thousands and destroying ancient palaces dating back to the 1350’s. We would talk about war crimes. We would talk about reparations and sanctions on Argentinian rulers responsible for the invasion. But we don’t talk about those things when America is the instigator. We still believe America is exceptional. We don’t apply the same standards to ourselves that we would to other countries.

          Before we launched our invasion of Iraq, I saw on TV an interview of a congressional leader who had just emerged from an intelligence briefing. The congressman said that as a result of the briefing, he had an “intuition” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He had just met with intelligence officials and had nothing more than an “intuition”?! That told me that the intelligence agencies did not have solid information showing Iraq had those weapons, but the congressman chose not to be skeptical. He voted in favor of the war. I am sure that he was viewed as a “good” man and a good “Christian,” but he voted for death because he had an intuition. And, of course, Colin Powell presented mere drawings and mockups, not photographs or eyewitness presentations, to justify our invasion. Why didn’t he ask where the hard intelligence was? And Powell is a “good” man.”

          Shortly after the invasion, I had occasion to meet with various officials who had been in Israeli intelligence services. They were mystified by our action. They said that Iraq was not a state sponsor of terrorism in the Mideast. But Iran was. They said further that an invasion of Iraq was sure to increase the influence of Iran in the Mideast, and this would be detrimental to certain Muslims and to Christians in the region and threaten Israel as well. They were right. Did none of our analysts realize this?

          I met a graduate of a distinguished college a few years after our invasion. He was a regular churchgoer, and he maintained that Christian principles supported our invasion. He was not alone in that opinion. I heard it said from religious people on TV many times. At the time I wondered what those Christian principles might be since they seemed to be radically different from my own. That made me want to get a WWJB bracelet—not a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, which were then popular in certain circles. No. I wanted a “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” bracelet.

          And I wonder when these American Christians say their prayers at night, do they contritely ask for forgiveness for having encouraged this war? Maybe God can forgive them; many others cannot.