As Christians and other religious minorities are persecuted and forced to flee from Iraq, National Review Online asked a variety of veterans, theologians, academics, historians, and writers for their analysis: Should those who made the case for war in Iraq feel remorse, given the current situation there? How should we think about the recent past and future there and our involvement? Should people of religious faith who made the case for war feel a particular responsibility?
E. Christian Brugger
Few political blunders in the last 60 years have been more damaging to life and culture than the launching and prosecuting of the 2003 Iraq war. Aside from leading to the deaths of over 120,000 civilians and the “cleansing” of the Iraqi Christian community, it thrust our country into a debt crisis from which there may be no return; it discredited U.S. conservatism by linking it to the hawkish “Bush doctrine”; it alienated moderates and paved the way for the election of Barack Obama, which heralded social revolutions in sex, marriage, and anti-Christianity the successes of which I say the president himself could hardly have imagined when he first took office.
Shame is the proper response to the judgment that we’ve done something wrong, not just to getting caught. But if nothing else works, public exposure can have salutary effects. Now that the definitive failure of our “nation building” experiment in Iraq has been devastatingly exposed, nobody but the most intrepid hawk would dare say we did the right thing in March 2003.
Defenders of the invasion should have felt shame long ago, certainly no later than September 2006, when the Senate released its second of two damning reports on Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs: There were no WMDs — anywhere! Many, however, including in my own house (i.e., among Christian conservatives), still clung to the conviction that at least the world was better off without Saddam. Is it now also better off without Iraqi Christians?
For our own souls and the souls of many thousands who depend upon our response, it’s time for people of religious faith who made the case for the 2003 Iraq war to confess publicly our error and unhinge our political carts from the horse of easy war.
— Dr. E. Christian Brugger is a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.
All American politicians and pundits should feel remorse for the current situation in Iraq. By going into Iraq with no real sense of the ethno-cultural, religious, and political dynamics of the region, we unleashed forces that we still do not understand. We created — and our withdrawal guarantees — a power vacuum that hobbles the Kurds, disenfranchises the Sunni tribes, and treats the religious leaders of the Shia and the Sunni as if their views are irrelevant to the creation and maintenance of a pluralistic democracy. Small wonder that an Iraqi priest visiting Washington recently remarked: “Thank you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, for destroying my country.”
Speaking privately in late May, a high-ranking Iranian politician observed that the United States does not think strategically. “The United States is dealing with terrorism tactically,” he said, and “the failure of your efforts can be measured empirically. Has terrorism increased or decreased?” The Islamic State–led genocide answers that question in blood.
What now? There is a war going on for the soul of Islam. Groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram are the result. People of religious faith on both sides need to think strategically about one overarching question: What does a good outcome in Iraq look like? Actively engaging the religiously motivated actors in the region — especially Iran — should be our first priority.
— Robert A. Destro is a professor of law and the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C.
I don’t feel remorse for advocating that America topple Saddam Hussein. I don’t feel remorse that Americans also fought long and hard to defeat the subsequent insurgency and create a stable (though highly imperfect) Iraqi state. In fact, we largely succeeded. The Iraq of 2008 was a more stable, more humane, and more peaceful country than the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. In 2011, even President Obama was proclaiming the progress.
I don’t feel remorse, but I do feel rage. I feel rage that President Obama threw aside the pleas of coalition partners in Iraq not to pull American forces entirely out of Iraq. I feel rage that he persisted in his hands-off approach even if it became abundantly clear that the jihadist threat was growing once again.
In this war, as in virtually every American war, we made serious mistakes — especially early — but we corrected those mistakes and brought our enemy to the very brink of ultimate defeat. But unlike in prior conflicts, our political leaders chose not to finish the job. They chose to abandon Iraq, forgetting a fundamental truth: Wars do not end simply because one side chooses to stop fighting.
— David French is a Senior Counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and a veteran of the Iraq War.