Loving Iraqis as ourselves

Posted: Apr 08, 2003 12:00 AM

The Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the liberal National Council of Churches, is equating clergy who have supported the war in Iraq to the Pharisees 2,000 years ago who wanted Jesus put to death. Edgar says many then didn't understand Jesus' commands to love our enemies and care for those in need, and that if we followed those words now U.S. forces would not be in Iraq.

Edgar has it backward. Loving Iraqis means deposing the criminals who held them down for a quarter-century. When one angry reader of this column asked recently, "Would you want to see the U.S. treated as Americans are treating Iraq?" I responded, "Absolutely: If the United States were ruled by a totalitarian torturer who used poison gas on the citizens of Michigan and helicopter gunships to mow down rambunctious Texans, I would pray that a coalition of the willing would liberate us."

"What is your Golden Rule, Marvin?" complained another reader. "What part of ‘thou shalt not kill' is unclear to you? Does your Bible have an asterisk?" Actually, any translation that uses the word "kill" should employ asterisks, because the key Hebrew word in that commandment means "murder," not kill.

Killing in self-defense, if necessary, is biblically justified. No one who loves himself wants to be murdered, so if we follow the Golden Rule and love our neighbors as ourselves, it's good to try to keep them from being murdered. Saddam Hussein is said to have murdered 2 million of his countrymen. How many more should we have let him kill?

Should? None. Would? Probably millions more, if we hadn't worried about Iraqi-allied terrorists and weapons of mass destruction hitting us. Let's admit it: the United States can't be "the world's policeman." We're fighting in Iraq not only to deliver Iraqis from evil but ourselves as well. We can't liberate everyone -- but when loving others is the same as loving ourselves, we're finally jolted out of passivity.

As we acknowledge that war is hell, we should also note that the policies of Saddam's regimes led to an average of perhaps 100,000 Iraqis dying per year through brutal repression, slaughter by chemical weapons, government-forced poverty and so forth. It's right to ask about war, "What is it good for?" It's wrong to conclude, "Absolutely nothing." Regime change could save lives and allow oil-rich Iraq to prosper.

Three University of Chicago professors -- Steven Davis, Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel -- recently published a study concluding that Iraqi income per person has fallen by at least 75 percent since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979. One chunk of that decline is due to United Nations sanctions imposed after the 1991 war. (Those would have been lifted had Saddam kept his promise to disarm.) But dictatorial policies were the main contributor to Iraq's transition from upward mobility to poverty.

For reasons of personal liberty and societal progress, many Iraqis have preferred a month of danger to more decades of Saddam & Sons. But most liberal clergymen in the United States would rather preserve an ungodly status quo than work to deliver people from evil. Some talk about having a prophetic voice, and then try to turn God into the stereotypical conservative intent on maintaining present conditions and avoiding risks.

Of course, regime change will hurt many people, and not all of them are French. Saddam since 1991 apparently built 50 new palaces for himself and his entourage, at a cost of $2.5 billion. Those who specialized in installing gold faucets in those lavish digs will have to look elsewhere for work, as will Saddam's "internal security" spies. But those willing to risk much to care for those in need will rejoice.