Tonight the president of the United States will address the American people and announce - as he promised during the 2008 campaign - that he has ended combat operations in Iraq. Over 90,000 U.S. troops have returned home. Another 50,000 troops remain to support the new Iraqi government. These remaining troops are scheduled to return next year.
The Iraq War was one that never should have been fought. It was sold to the American people with elaborate lies from President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and their Administration. Over 4,000 young American men and women and countless Iraqi civilians died in a conflict that could have been and should have been avoided. President Bush's false claims that Iraq was involved with 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction brought about one of America's darkest foreign adventures.
The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) and nearly every other Christian body in the United States - with the notable exception of the Southern Baptists - argued against ever invading Iraq. At the time, NCC endorsed a statement made by the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops that read in part:
"... war against Iraq could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq, but for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. The use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent, could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population, and could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region. War against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism.”Our worst fears came true. We can be thankful that Barack Obama used his voice during that period to oppose the war and as president has now ended combat operations - and begun a process to bring all troops home. The future for Iraq, however, remains uncertain. Years of oppressive rule by Saddam Hussein have been followed by war that killed countless civilians and political unrest. The United States will have to retain a humanitarian responsibility to the people of Iraq for generations.
Perhaps we can learn from this lesson that pre-emptive war should never be an option for this nation. As Christians, we must continue to speak out against war whenever possible but with the tragic recognition that sometimes there may be no other course in the most extreme circumstances. War in Iraq, however, was never a moral imperative. President Obama should be applauded for the steps he has taken.
As we leave Iraq, it is also important that we re-examine our role in Afghanistan. The moral issues there are deeply complicated and a national conversation over our involvement is critical at this moment of history.
We have waited way too long for the war in Iraq to end. It has been a long struggle. I spoke about the war in Iraq and the Christian responsibility for addressing this conflict at Portland's First Congregational United Church of Christ in 2008: