A Southern Baptist official who claimed theological justification to invade Iraq six months before the war now says he views it as a continuation of the First Gulf War.

“For me, the Iraq war was a continuation of 1991, when we resisted the invasion of Kuwait,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in wide-ranging comments to a foreign policy organization in Washington. “And we stopped with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, but a cease-fire, where Iraq agreed to meet certain conditions, none of which they met for 12 years.”

“And after 12 years, we picked up the cease-fire and resumed the war,” Land said, according to Baptist Press.

Land’s comment came amid slipping support for the war.

An Associated Press poll conducted Sept. 16-18, 2005, found 67 percent of Americans now disapprove of the president’s handling of Iraq.

In March 2003, 75 percent of Americans believed the United States was right in sending troops to Iraq. Today 59 percent believe it was a mistake. Thirty-three percent say the U.S. should withdraw some of its troops from Iraq, and 30 percent believe America should pull out the war altogether.

Land was one of few voices among religious leaders supporting President Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq in March 2003. He was lead signatory on an October 2002 letter to the president, written on ERLC letterhead, advising Bush that his policies were “both right and just.”

“Specifically, we believe that your stated policies concerning Saddam Hussein and his headlong pursuit and development of biochemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction are prudent and fall well within the time-honored criteria of just war theory as developed by Christian theologians in the late fourth and early fifth centuries A.D.,” Land said, along with co-signers including Chuck Colson, Bill Bright and D. James Kennedy.

The Roman Catholic Church opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and 46 Protestant and Orthodox leaders signed a letter questioning “moral justification” for the war. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics accused Bush of ignoring the views of people of faith.

Land’s letter, meanwhile, said engaging Iraq would meet all seven of the traditional criteria to determine whether a war is morally just.

“First, your stated policy concerning using military force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction is a just cause,” Land wrote Bush in 2002. “In just war theory only defensive war is defensible; and if military force is used against Saddam Hussein it will be because he has attacked his neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and harbored terrorists from the Al Qaeda terrorist network that attacked our nation so viciously and violently on Sept. 11, 2001.”

After the invasion, the military found no weapons of mass destruction and a Sept. 11 commission said it could find no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda, challenging two of the administration’s main justifications for going to war.

But in new remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Land said involvement in Iraq was “clearly … a defensive war.”

“For me, weapons of mass destruction were part of the justification for the liberation of Iraq, but it wasn’t the only justification,” he said.

Land’s recent comment was similar to something he said last year on the PBS “Frontline” program: that many evangelicals believed “this was in reality a continuation of the first Gulf War.”

“Because Saddam Hussein had not complied with any of the resolutions that he agreed to comply with at the end of the first Gulf War and that the U.N. credibility was at stake, our credibility was at stake. In the wake of 9/11, we couldn’t afford for our credibility to be at stake.”

“We needed to re-democratize the Middle East, and that was going to be very difficult to do with Saddam Hussein in power. I think that there’s also a very high trust level among white evangelicals and President George W. Bush. If he said that this is what we needed to do, then they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in doing it.”

But in 2002, Land described war against Saddam Hussein as a last resort.

“He stands convicted by his own record as a brutal dictator who cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement he makes,” Land said in his letter to Bush. “And while he prevaricates and obfuscates, he continues to obtain and develop the weapons of mass destruction which he will use to terrorize the world community of nations.

“The world has been waiting for more than a decade for the Iraqi regime to fulfill its agreement to destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction, to cease producing them or the long-range missiles to deliver them in the future, and to allow thorough and rigorous inspections to verify their compliance. They have not, and will not, do so and any further delay in forcing the regime’s compliance would be reckless irresponsibility in the face of grave and growing danger.”

Land said Iraq met the criteria of “just intent,” because the U.S. did not intend to conquer or exploit Iraq. Just war also requires authorization by legitimate authority, which Land said in the case of Iraq was the U.S. government, and not the U.N. Security Council.

Other criteria requiring limited goals, reasonable expectation of success, non-combatant immunity and proportionality were also met, Land said in 2002.

“Will the human cost of the armed conflict to both sides be proportionate to the stated objectives and goals?” he asked. “Does the good gained by resort to armed conflict justify the cost of lives lost and bodies maimed? We believe that the cost of not dealing with this threat now will only succeed in greatly increasing the cost in human lives and suffering when an even more heavily armed and dangerous Saddam Hussein must be confronted at some date in the not too distant future. We believe that every day of delay significantly increases the risk of far greater human suffering in the future than acting now would entail.”

At least 1,907 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war there in March 2003. Estimates of civilian deaths range between 26,092 and 29,401.

Land and others signing the letter to Bush in 2002 concluded, “While we cannot speak for all of our constituents, we are supremely confident that we are voicing the convictions and concerns of the great preponderance of those we are privileged to serve.

“Please know that we join tens of millions of our fellow Americans in praying for you and your family daily.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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