Heads up – this post will contain a political opinion! It may differ from your own, in part or perhaps entirely, and that’s okay. I say this, first of all because I believe that grace-filled, respectful dialogue can happen in matters political, too. Secondly, there are those who think a pastor should have no opinions about political issues, or at least shouldn’t express them. So if you are moved to comment, please do so with respect and grace, and realize this is just my opinion, it’s neither my congregation’s nor my denomination’s official position or anything like that.
I do not think that any reasonable person enjoys war. I think it would be a nearly universal belief that, if the right social/political/economic conditions were present such that there would be no need for war, we’d all be happy with that state of affairs. It seems to me that the biggest conflicting opinions we have are about what exactly those social/political/economic conditions would be. However, currently our nation is at war, and has been for years and years, so the question of the moment is not really “do you like war?” but rather “what should we do about it?”
President Obama sketched out a new approach to the war in Afghanistan last night, and here’s my take on what he said. We are going to send more troops for a limited time period, we are going to hold the Afghani government accountable to create stability, and we are going to work with Pakistan to accomplish the goal.
Consider two groups listening – group A wants the soldiers brought home immediately; group B wants a strategy that does not include a timetable at all. Sending more troops is going to get a thumbs-down from group A, but thumbs-up from group B. Giving the date of July 2011 to begin bringing them home will get a tentative thumbs-up from group A, and an emphatic thumbs-down from group B.
Of course there are people in between and all around those two groups, but I'm defining them for the sake of conversation.
The ambiguity here is that the war is against an ideology, not a nation. I do not think that military strength is the right means to eradicate the extremism that emerges in terrorist attacks. But I’m also not in “group A” – to bring soldiers home immediately would undoubtedly cause more harm than good. It is crucial to consider the innocents whose lives would be destroyed by the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from the region.
And this is precisely where I agree with the new approach the President spoke about last night. Because things are where they are, sending more soldiers is necessary, for the sake of the innocents. And at the same time, the legitimate governments in the region will know that there is urgency to create the kind of social/political/economic conditions that generate stability and allow for peace. There needs to be a goal to work toward, which is why I am not in “group B.”
The way to confront a destructive ideology is not with military might alone. The president said, “Right makes might.” That line caught me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure what it meant at first. I think it means that our strength comes from doing the right thing, not our ability to destroy an enemy. But at the same time, the expression of the ideology we are confronting violently kills innocent people, and that just cannot continue happening.
Stopping the expression of the ideology with the military, and simultaneously confronting the ideology itself by eliminating its root causes, seems to me to be the way to go, and what the president outlined last night. We can’t just kill the people doing the violence, and think that’s going to solve the problem. The ideology will still be there, and it will foster more people to express it.
I hate the idea of sending even more soldiers into harms way. I also hate the idea of innocent people caught up in the middle of violence. I am in awe of U.S. soldiers who are serving, so far from home, for the sake of other people. What an amazing testimony of sacrifice and selflessness. I am deeply grateful for every one of them, and pray for them and for their families, who long for their safety every single moment they are away.
Look, I’m not an expert on any of this stuff, and I’m sure that many who read this will find points of disagreement. That’s fine. I’m just saying, it is my opinion that the basics of the strategy that President Obama gave last night represent the right way to deal with a horrible, complicated, and painful situation.