As United States involvement in Libya continues, I find myself at odds with some on the left opposed to the United Nation's intervention to prevent the slaughter of civilians.
As I wrote on my blog over the weekend, like many, I'm wary of U.S. military intervention in other nations. I opposed the war in Afghanistan early because, along with the church I served at the time, I felt that U.S. intervention there would be harmful to the civilian population and that the United States would leave Afghanistan in a position similar to that of the Soviet withdrawal, weakened and humbled, without achieving our legitimate goal of defeating the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. I also opposed the war with Iraq. Here I had more company as nearly every Christian denomination across the globe that issued a statement concerning the matter opposed invading Iraq. A preemptive war is never legitimate. What is happening in Libya today is not the same as Afghanistan or Iraq. The United Nations, not a U.S.-led coalition under cover of a UN mandate, is working to stop the slaughter of a civilian population. This is what should have occurred in Rwanda.
Many people I respect have been critical of President Obama and the allied forces attacking Col. Muammar Gaddafi and his forces. There are legitimate questions to be raised about civilian causalities, the scope of the mission, the end game, and the Constitutional power to declare war. But I agree with Peter Daou, a former campaign aide to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted this weekend: "I don't see a parallel between a war Bush launched based on lies and Obama's action to prevent atrocities in #Libya." So far I have seen no statements from the National Council of Churches or other church bodies offering support or criticism. But while I believe that war is always a failure of the human imagination and tainted by sin, I also believe there are times where it can be necessary. Much of my own thinking on the use of violence to protect civilian populations is informed by Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Power now works in the Obama administration.
Power's book was introduced to me by The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theology Seminary. Dr. Thislethwaite wrote for the Washington Post's On Faith blog that:
I believe, to date, that the apparent conclusion of the international community that Qaddafi was fully capable of engaging in genocidal violence against those rebelling against his regime, was correct. Thus the U.N. resolution is the right decision especially if there can be a relatively quick move to a "ceasefire." This is obviously a difficult and morally complex situation. It is notoriously difficult to protect civilians in war, as Just War theory mandates. It is notoriously difficult to bring about a cessation of conflict, as Just Peace theory acknowledges. But it is simply intolerable to allow genocide to take place.
Never again has to mean never again.
As a Christian who abhors violence and believes in the power of non-violence, I recognize that evil exists in the world and agree that in rare circumstances force may needed to protect civilians. For now, I will offer support and prayers for President Obama, prayers for the allied forces, and prayers for all the people of Libya that the violence there ends quickly and that the civilian population can be free from terror. I extend that prayer for all the people of the world. Furthermore, I hope for the day when democratic nations no longer support governments that commit human rights violations and reward them with weapons contracts and other forms of aid for their allegiance that serve to prop up too many corrupt governments.