More Thoughts on Iraq
Why I believe the first President Bush was correct in 1992
|During the first
Gulf War, we had a lot of military people in our congregation. On the
night that we actually started the bombing (early morning, Thursday,
January 16, 1991, in Iraq; Wednesday evening in Louisiana.), we were
gathered for our mid-week supper and prayer meeting, and we had many wives
and children of the men involved gathered in our sanctuary for an extended
time of prayer. Prior to those men leaving, I did a short Sunday night
series on the basics of Islam and gave everybody an outline, which is now
available on line, essentially the same as written in the late summer
of 1991. Toward the end of Desert Storm, when it became obvious that our
military was not going to march to Baghdad and remove Saddam Hussein, many
people in our community were very upset. But their upset was nothing
compared to the poor Iraqi Shiites who trusted us and whom we betrayed—a
tale set in the milieu of the closing days of this betrayal is the film,
Kings.” However, both during that time and later, when I taught on
Islam in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I
supported the first President Bush’ decision not to topple Saddam
Hussein. These were my reasons:
1. Some of the nations in the Middle East were arbitrarily created at the end of World War I by British Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, as he set about to stabilize the former Ottoman Empire into territories that would be friendly to the British Empire. As a result of General Allenby’s work, some groups of people who were united by religion and culture were now politically separated. For example, Iraq is a nation whose majority is religiously united with the majority of Iranians; they are both Shiites. But the area around Baghdad is Sunni, while the Kurds are located in an area that is now both in Iraq and Turkey.
2. Islam, like Christianity, has many divisions. The vast majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, but the Sunnis are a broad group with internal divisions. On the one end of the Sunni spectrum, one finds the moderate Muslims who would not strictly enforce Islamic law, Sharia. Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi Baath Party are moderate Muslims; so is Turkey. Both nations were more secularist than their neighbors. At the other end of the Sunni spectrum are the Wahabis. Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Wahabi, as is Osama bin Laden. The minority Shi’a sect is almost as strict as the Wahabis, but the gulf between them goes back to the time shortly after the death of Mohammed in the seventh century of the Christian era.
3. The West’s most successful twentieth century attempt to Westernize a Muslim nation was in Shi’a dominated Iran, where the Rockefeller backed, Persian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ruled with an iron hand. The Shah was decidedly pro-Western, and under his regime, significant steps were taken to secularize this formerly conservative Muslim nation. However, a significant element of the Iranian people hated him and his policies that went against Islamic law. Furthermore, he was a supporter of the United States and Israel. Finally, the Shah’s regime crumbled, and in 1979, the Shi’a Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini, returned from exile and led the restoration of Muslim government under Islamic law in the Iranian Revolution.
That restoration to Shiite rule caught the ever inept President Carter with his britches down, and it wasn’t long before our embassy was seized, and our diplomatic team was taken hostage. The Iranians did this in order to force the United States to turn over their version of Saddam Hussein, the Shah, who was now in exile and dying of cancer. Mr. Carter was never able to free the hostages, and the stand-off lasted well over a year and cost Carter the Presidency to Ronald Reagan. The hostages were released during Ronald Reagan’s inauguration ceremony, but Ronald Reagan was no more a friend to the Shi’a ruled Iran than Jimmy Carter had been.
4. Late in the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, in order to stop the threat of a Shi’a juggernaut in the Persian Gulf region, the United States began to strengthen the secularist Baath, Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. And in September 1980, Saddam invaded a disputed, oil rich, Iranian border territory. When Ronald Reagan was sworn in, American support for Saddam increased, and the war dragged on for eight years with over a million casualties.
5. Democracy as we have known it in the United States is expressed in the form a republic—in our case, a constitutionally limited, representative government that embraces certain democratic values. The origin of democracy in the United States is British, going back to the Magna Carta and radically shaped by the thinking that led to the Second Reformation and the English Civil War. In other words, such doctrines as the Priesthood of the Believer and Sola Scriptura, coupled with Calvinistic republican church government, laid the foundation for the American Republic. Without these foundational things, democracy is very difficult to achieve. (“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” [2 Corinthians 3:17.].) The eighteenth century version of American democracy is very compatible with the Moral Law of God summed up in the Ten Commandments, but democracy is not compatible with Islamic Sharia at all, given the significant discrimination ensconced there against anyone who is not a male Muslim. Without the tradition of personal liberty and personal responsibility under the fear of the one true God, a democratic society is very difficult to achieve.
Also, the West underwent significant disestablishmentarian change in the wake of the Enlightenment, but liberty of conscience and religious tolerance are still foreign concepts in the Muslim world.
Furthermore, in regions comprising ethnic groups with histories of hate and revenge that go back centuries, liberty is even more elusive. Take, as one example, the Balkans, a geographical football kicked back and forth between Hapsburgs, Hungarians and Ottomans. It took a tyrant like Josip Broz (Marshall Tito) to force these people to live without “ethnic cleansing.” The same is true of that piece of the old Ottoman Empire we call Iraq: without a tyrant as cruel as Saddam Hussein, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are going to continue to attempt “ethnic cleansing.”
6. Putting Points 4 and 5 together, we needed Saddam Hussein in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, in part, to keep the “Iraqi” Shiites from joining up with the Iranian Shiites and also to keep the Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other off. That is why the first President Bush wisely left Saddam in power.
But the second President Bush ousted Saddam and outlawed the secularist Baath party, and he did it with as little disruption to the lives of most Americans as possible, an incredibly foolish move. I wrote an article that ran in our local newspaper, The Alexandria Daily Town Talk on September 14, 2001:
“Shock and Awe” brought the social, political and economic infrastructure of Iraq to ruins, but it did not make the successful occupation of the country possible. That required “boots on the ground” and hugely more troops than we have committed. But restoring the draft and radically increasing taxes was not politically possible, so the Bush administration sought to fight this war as cheaply as possible in terms of the disruption of life. America has not known the true disruption of life since our last truly declared war, World War II.
We have lost tremendous face before our enemies such as
the obese little monster, Kim Jong-il of North Korea, but we have really
lost face in the Muslim world. We are demonstrating that we cannot
successfully occupy even a second rate power like Iraq—Iran is much
bigger and would be far more difficult to occupy. But if we simply pull
out, there will likely be a lot of “ethnic cleansing,” with the Shiite
majority coming out on top and tending to line up with the Iranian
revolutionaries. The Sunnis who faired well under Saddam know that they
will not do well under Shiite rule, and many of their fellow Sunnis from
other Arab nations stand with them. But we cannot restore Saddam to power:
that would be even more insane, even though the country will likely be
ruled by somebody like him eventually. Maybe we would be wise to help pick
him. However, I see the Iraqi conflict as part of a larger conflict, one
that has a supernatural dimension: the spirit of the West is dying and
that of Islam is on the ascendancy. (For more on this, please see