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Military intervention in Iraq regretted

03 October 2014


From Mr David Pybus

Sir, - During the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech in the House of Lords debate on Iraq last Friday, he said: "It is the role of the Church I serve to point beyond our imperfect responses and any material, national, or political interest to the message of Jesus Christ and the justice, healing, and redemption that he offers."

This is praiseworthy, but the Archbishop went on to say: "But in the here and now there is justification for the use of armed force on humanitarian grounds to enable oppressed victims to find safe space." According to some media, it was this that was the key part of his speech, not what he had said just beforehand.

How can military force be policed? If you are dropping bombs and missiles from thousands or even hundreds of feet, you cannot be sure that you won't hit some of the people you wish to protect. And suppose some members of IS are redeemable?

The Archbishop did also say that military action should be a short-term solution, even though, the previous day, President Obama seemed to suggest that military action could continue for years to come.

If you are in the business of loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, killing them is not an answer. There is a better story, and indeed much of Archbishop Welby's speech was about adopting alternatives to armed force and demonstrating a positive alternative to the violence of IS. It is a pity he didn't stick to that vision, because, now, a leader of that great peace movement the Christian faith may well be remembered for praising God while blessing the ammunition.

84 Wildlake, Orton Malborne
Peterborough PE2 5PQ 

From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, - The decision to take military action in Iraq against one, albeit viciously violent, faction in the long-running conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims, while expected under the "Something must be done" imperative, is disturbing.

I am less troubled by the political decision than that both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have jumped on the bandwagon to give it their imprimatur.

Politicians will choose to involve their countries in war for all kinds of reasons, some perhaps legitimate, and some far more dubious. All too often, it is because the politics have got so complex that war seems to be the simple solution - though it is only extremely rarely so in practice over the long term. War, whenever it occurs, is an evil; it may be the least worst evil in the circumstances, but it is an evil none the less, and needs to be acknowledged as such.

If we follow Jesus, who said "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," and who chose the path of the suffering servant, and the role of the Messiah of the Cross rather than that of the Warrior-King Messiah, then it is wrong for the Church to give the politicians the political fig-leaf of a "just war" to hide behind when they choose that path.

Though I don't hold with just-war theory excusing war, its tenets illuminate our choices and actions. This conflict in the Middle East may tick some of its boxes, but it fails a number of the tests, for example:

Probability of success (jus ad bello): there is no likelihood of achieving the stated aim of stopping the murderous activities of IS by air power, even when allied with local and/or external troops on the ground. We have seen the ultimate ineffectiveness of this approach in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. There is no probability of success, particularly if you take the long view: we may stop the fighting in the short term, but it will not have gone away, and what we do now will only set the scene for the next outbreak. It needs a political Sunni-Shia Muslim solution.

Proportionality (jus in bello): notwithstanding guided bombs and missiles, the clear discrepancy between the overwhelming proportion of civilian casualties relative to the number of combatant casualties of modern warfare, when combined with the proved ineffectiveness of achieving the military objective seen in similar recent asymmetric conflicts, makes this requirement unachievable.

So just-war theory, for those who espouse it, does not make this proposed conflict just either. That leaves us with recognising this war for what it is: an evil into which our political leaders have chosen to send our military, putting them in harm's way. Since we as a nation have been so involved in destabilising the Middle East over the past many years, now that the chickens are coming home to roost, this is an evil that is rightly ours to own, as will be its consequences in many future decades. Just, however, this evil is not; neither is it the place of the Archbishop or the Pope to declare it so.

The Vicarage, Goosnargh Lane
Goosnargh, Lancashire PR3 2BN

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