arrival of the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq many are asking, “Was it worth it?” As one who publically opposed the war in the pulpit, in print and by participating on demonstrations against it, it is difficult for me to take the question seriously. Since I have always regarded the war as immoral and unjust, to identify anything that would make it “worth it” is difficult to conceive. But for many –especially those who supported the war at its inception- it is a question that demands an answer.
About 134,000 Iraqis -70% of whom were civilians- were killed in the war. Countless more were wounded. A million people fled the country. Nearly 4500 American soldiers were killed and at least 3400 US contractors died. The infrastructure of Iraq, such as roads, health care, and water treatment systems, were left in shambles. While rebuilding is being done, it has a long way to go. Furthermore, the war lead to the increase of radicalism in the region.
Only those who view the world through the thickest ideological lens and those who have benefitted the most economically claim the war was “worth it.” Few echo former Vice President Cheney’s words: “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” Most Americas now say the war was a mistake, a huge reversal from the dominant view ten years ago. Only about 4 in 10 among US soldiers who fought there believe the reasons for going to war justified the loss in blood and property.
Yes, the dictator Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. Has that fact led most Iraqis to believe the war was “worth it?” Well, no. A poll taken 15 months ago –the most recent- of the attitudes of the Iraqi people found that only 30% of the population believe their country is better off now than before the U.S. invasion. A global survey recently put Bagdad as the worst major city in the world in which to live lends. Continued political turmoil, poor security enforcement and attacks on citizens and foreigners were among the reasons for the low ranking. Who most benefitted from the war? According to the poll, only 4% believe the Iraqi people are the major beneficiary. Many more believe Iran, the U.S. and even al-Qaeda benefitted more.
There were evangelical Christian leaders who touted the war on Iraq as an evangelistic opportunity. The gains for the church would make the war “worth it.” Charles Stanley, well known minister of First Baptist Church in Atlanta with a strong presence on TV, said, “We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible… American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
But in fact the war has devastated the church in that country. While there had been considerable religious freedom under Saddam Hussein, after the invasion suspicion and hostility toward Christians dramatically increased. In October 2010, gunmen raided the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad and massacred 56 worshippers during Sunday mass. After that tragedy Shia and Sunni religious leaders issued a rare joint fatwa condemning attacks on religious minorities. By some estimates the Christian population in Iraq has dropped by as much as 85%. Is the church in Iraq –or in the entire Middle East- better off now than before the US invasion of Iraq? Not even close!
In 2013 a sense of celebration for “liberation” is missing from most Iraqi voices. Asked about his memories of the beginning of the war, Abdullah Fadil an Iraqi tea seller said, “There was nothing accomplished, so why should I remember it?” Karrar Habeeb, a 22-year-old carpenter, asked about the anniversary of the invasion responded, “I didn’t know about it. Are we still talking about the Americans? I don’t think we need to do any kind of celebrating or make an effort to remember that day. I think even the Americans wish they could forget it.”
Attending the recent installation of Patriarch Louis Sako as the new leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad was Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa. He represented the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. While in the Middle East he met with church leaders from Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Syria. The religious leaders placed the problems weighting down Iraq squarely on the shoulders of the United States. Those leaders want the U.S. in some fashion to make reparation for the destroyed infrastructure, collapsed economy, sectarian violence and lack of safety for religious minorities. “The U.S. invaded and occupied, so they’re responsible for the situation,” Bishop Pates agreed.
The American public and nationalistically inclined religious leaders too quickly and uncritically accepted the dubiously justifications for invading Iraq. Even when it was abundantly clear that Saddam Hussien had no weapons of mass destruction and Iraq was in no way involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, evangelical Christians remained the strongest supporters of the war. There are lessons that Christians need to be learn from the Iraq war if they are not going to march lockstep with the rest of the nation into the next war. But is there a willingness to learn? Is there a willingness to take the peaceable way of Jesus more seriously than the war-prone ways of many national leaders?
David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, recently said, “Every time I hear [national leaders] talking about Iran, I get this terrible sense of deja vu. We’re threatening possible military action against a country for its nuclear weapons capability that doesn’t exist yet.” The Christian faith community, should lead the questioning, not leading the charge, as it did in the run up to the Iraq war.
Was the invasion of Iraq worth it? Not by any definition of “worth” that I believe is supported by the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was, however, worth the protest and resistence it received. Sadly, thanks to some misguided Christian leaders, it did not receive much more.