restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Is Yet Another War Justified?

 David Alan Black  

This past week the subject of Iran seemed to be on everyone’s lips. The top U.S. diplomat in Iraq met with the Washington Post to make the Bush administration’s case that harsher action needs to be taken against Iran because of allegations that Iran’s leaders are funding and training terrorists in Iraq. Israel’s Olmert agitated that Iran should “pay dearly” for continuing its nuclear program. In Iran itself, the Ayatollah Khamenei laid into President Bush for his war policy and aggressive stance towards Iran, providing a sharp retort to Bush’s Iraq War speech on Thursday. Khamenei predicted that Bush and other American officials will one day face trial just like deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for “the catastrophes they caused in Iraq.” And in the U.S. Congress and among the 2008 presidential hopefuls, the anti-Iran drumbeat got steadily louder.

Middle East expert Trita Parsi, the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States, noted in a recent American Conservative essay that the looming confrontation with Iran deserves the front-burner attention it is getting but that it is more about regional hegemony than nuclear weapons. She argues that the only possible solution to the crisis is a diplomatic one and concludes by saying this:

But despite these difficulties, ensuring that the collapse of the current Middle East order doesn’t lead to major war is dependent on the pursuit of bold and patient diplomacy—not just on the retirement of Bush’s neocons and Ahmadinejad’s radicals. As difficult as it may be to conduct robust multilateral diplomacy in the Middle East, negotiations do have a chance of achieving a win-win for America and the region. Military confrontation, on the other hand, has only a certainty of creating a loss for all.

Earlier this year the call for diplomacy found an echo in a most unexpected place. According to this report, Admiral William Fallon, the head of Central Command (CENTCOM), “expressed strong opposition last February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM. Fallon’s resistance to the proposed deployment of a third aircraft carrier is credited with shifting the Bush administration’s Iran policy in February and March away from increased military threats and toward diplomatic engagement with Iran.” Strangely enough, while the head of CENTCOM can express concern about the administration’s hawkishness toward Iran, Christian leaders and ethicists have been oddly silent in calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. For clearly, no approach other then diplomacy can head off what seems to be an inevitable U.S. – Iran clash. Nor should we forget that the cause of terrorism is political, which means that there is no ultimate military solution. As Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has frequently argued, if we are hated by Muslims in the Middle East it is not because of our freedoms. We are hated because we have occupied Muslim lands and are killing Muslim civilians. We are hated because of our one-sided allegiance to Israel. We are hated because we support Muslim dictatorships while claiming to be spreading democracy in the Middle East.

Certainly, the government of Iran has cause to question the good will of America. Glance back for a moment at our relationship with Iran and her Middle-Eastern neighbors. Have we forgotten that in 1953 the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected leader and installed the Shah in his place? Have we forgotten that the U.S. supplied Iran with its first nuclear reactor under the Shah? Have we forgotten that our CIA trained the Shah’s ruthless secret police? Have we forgotten that we supported Saddam Hussein as he invaded his neighbor Iran and attacked Iranian combatants with mustard gas? Have we forgotten that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah in 1979 was a direct result of our overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953? Have we forgotten that Iran is surrounded by nations in possession of nuclear weapons? Have we forgotten that Afghanistan is falling apart and Iraq is in a civil war as a direct result of U.S. interventionism? Have we forgotten that the U.S. won the Cold War against the Soviets and their 30,000 nuclear weapons through containment rather than invasion? Have we forgotten that military firepower cannot defeat insurgents, as our stalemate in Iraq and Israel’s defeat by the Hezbollah in Lebanon have shown? Have we forgotten that Iran possesses not a single nuclear weapon? Have we forgotten that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El-Bardei, has found no Iranian violations of the NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement?  

These facts are largely forgotten or ignored today by the American public as well as by many high-profile Christian leaders. This is my point of concern: Followers of the Prince of Peace can no longer leave it to purely secular organizations such as MoveOn.Org to do the heavy lifting for what we are supposed to be doing. It is high time that Christians took seriously their responsibility to do everything in their power to support peaceable means of solving international conflicts and to demand truthfulness and morality from government. The eclipse of peace-making as a main evangelical concern is little short of tragic, and I hope it will not long continue, particularly in a day of such long-term repercussions when so-called nation building seems to be spinning out of control. Before pursuing a belligerent course of action we need to be very clear in our minds that none of the arguments of the administration for attacking Iran is falsifiable.

The ball is in Congress’s court, and so far it has dropped it. Only Congressman Paul has consistently connected our foreign policy to the world’s anger at America. Only Paul has insisted that the Constitution be followed vis-à-vis the war-making powers of Congress. Only Paul has consistently called into question the morality of “preventive war.” President Eisenhower once said, “All of us have heard this term ‘preventative war’ since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time ... I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.” If, however, you object to the current administration’s interventionist policy you may well be labeled unpatriotic and sympathetic to Iran. You may well be told you must support the troops and defend freedom. Sadly, regime change and nation building have almost become obsessions in our country. Perhaps this explains why Christians in both major parties are silent when the U.S. is about to launch an aggressive war against a sovereign nation that has never attacked us. Although I am not a pacifist, it is my Christian duty in accordance with “the spirit and teachings of Christ” to do all in my power to “put an end to war” (Baptist Faith and Message) or at least to do whatever I can to see that a war is not launched unless there are impeccable moral grounds for doing so. Practically speaking, this means that I will support only those politicians who pursue a policy of non-interventionism and one that requires robust multilateral negotiations and a Congressional declaration of war should belligerence be unavoidable. As Ron Paul said in the run-up to the Iraq War, “When Congress issued clear declarations of war against Japan and Germany during World War II, the nation was committed and victory was achieved.” Paul added, “When Congress shirks its duty and avoids declaring war, as with Korea, and Vietnam, the nation is less committed and the goals are less clear. No lives should be lost in Iraq unless Congress expresses the clear will of the American people and votes yes or no on a declaration of war.”

That the religious right has become bellicose, belligerent, and militaristic is difficult to deny. The tragedy is that prominent evangelicals such as John Hagee are at least partly responsible for helping to shape the current administration’s utopian foreign policy and worldview. But perhaps the greatest irony of all is that those who were so sorely misled as to the reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq are the same people who are eager to accept the same flawed arguments for invading Iran. War based on false pretenses is never justified. On the other hand, a negotiated settlement to our differences with Teheran may contain some unexpected blessings. For example, General William Odom, President Reagan’s director of the National Security Agency, in a recent article entitled “Exit From Iraq Should Be Through Iran,” has written: “Increasingly bogged down in the sands of Iraq, the US thrashes about looking for an honorable exit. Restoring cooperation between Washington and Tehran is the single most important step that could be taken to rescue the US from its predicament in Iraq.” Yet General Odom’s recommendations have yet to be taken seriously in Washington. One also wonders why we have yet to hear congressional testimony from Admiral Fallon, General Petraeus’s superior, to get his side of the story about the “surge.”

If evangelical ethicists believe that a just war case can be made for invading Iran, then let them make it. I for one will listen carefully and prayerfully to what they have to say. Thus far I remain unconvinced. After all, as Dr. Lindy Scott has shown in an essay (.pdf) published by the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, the just war theory let us down miserably when we went to war with Iraq. Another Christian ethicist, Dr. David Gushee, has also raised concerns about America’s response to 9/11. “Six years after 9/11, our nation is less secure, less powerful, less free, less respected, less democratic, less constitutional, and less fiscally sound than we were on that bright, clear, terrible morning,” he writes. Gushee concludes with these words:

In general, the American churches have lacked the political independence, the discernment, and the courage even to understand and name what has gone wrong, let alone to resist it. A domesticated church has been employable as a servant of the state, even to the point of defending torture.

It seems to me that 9/11 in a way unhinged our nation and sent us hurtling down the wrong path. But the American church bears considerable responsibility for its inability to stand fast on the solid rock of Jesus Christ in the midst of this unhinging yet one more reason to bow our heads in sorrow on 9/11.

It is my opinion that an unjustified attack on Iran will only take America further down the path of self-destruction and will make it even more difficult to penetrate the Muslim world with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.

September 18, 2007

David Alan Black is the editor of

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