Empire of Sin
This past week President Trump tripled down on the 16 years and counting war in Afghanistan. He offered little that was new, specific or hopeful of a quick resolution. He is continuing in the long U.S. tradition of endless war.
It is helpful at a moment like this to step back and look at the long view of U.S. Imperial policy. Yes, the U.S. is an empire. The language and ideas of empire have been present since the founding of the country. The U.S. has acted imperially ever since, whether in the genocidal treatment of Native Americans or the pushing aside of British, French, Spanish and Mexican claims, the Empire conquered the continent.
Then it went abroad. The overthrow of the Hawaiian government; the stripping of Spain’s colonial possessions (including a brutal subjugation of the Philippines), the ascension of the U.S. to global power during the First and Second World Wars are just the highlights of U.S. Imperial aggression.
The problem for the Christian is that all of this is hideously immoral and incompatible with the Gospel. Let us set aside the notion that ordering the world is possible for the human mind and not a blasphemous affront to God. Let us also set aside the clear pacifism called for by Christ. We will, for purposes of this discussion assume that nations may justly fight defensive wars. Under a just war doctrine, a nation may fight for its territorial integrity, its sovereignty and its free transit on international waters. (we also set aside the inherent immorality of government). A nation must then be measured by the means its uses to prosecute such defensive wars. Then we must look at the practical results of such actions.
How then does U.S. foreign policy measure up? Not well I’m afraid. Only two wars since the founding might meet a just war standard: The War of 1812 and the Civil War. The latter was the last war incidentally when the existence of the nation was at stake, despite the constant cry of “existential threat” from the war party. All the examples cited above have been offensive in nature and used means that grievously damaged the rights of innocents. The path to world power was littered with the sinful, wanton destruction of God’s children. Yes, even the “good” war-WWII. It does not offer the moral clarity people think it does. Or real practical benefits.
One thing should be clear: Empires are at war a lot. The U.S. is no different. The U.S. has been at war for 214 of the 228 years since the Constitution took effect. Detailing all of them is beyond the scope of this post. Narrowing it down to the post 1945 era of global hegemony is instructive enough.
The U.S. had engaged in one offensive, imperial adventure after another since 1945. A sampling: the placement of the brutal Shah in power in Iran 1953, the overthrow of an elected government in Guatemala 1954, the assassination of Diem in Vietnam 1963 (and the attendant Vietnam bloodletting), the placement of the dictator Pinochet in Chile 1970, the support of Somoza in Nicaragua, the support of Marcos in the Philippines, the support of Hussein in Iraq, the support of the corrupt Saudi regime, the Pakistani regimes and the Egyptian regimes in the Middle East. Sadly, this list is not exhaustive. These regimes systematically destroyed the human rights of its citizens with active U.S. support. None of these regimes posed any threat to the legitimate rights of U.S. citizens. All were undertaken for imperial stability.
These adventures were also undertaken to satisfy domestic political and economic interests. Importers and exporters who desire government managed trade advantages. Also benefitting are civilian and domestic contractors who have attached themselves to the taxpayers. Add in those with an ideological predisposition to nationalism and hegemony and you have a toxic mix.
So, these wars were fought for immoral reasons and prosecuted by immoral means. Did they at least produce some good practical effects? Hardly. We now have terror in our homeland, tens of thousands of dead U.S. soldiers, millions of dead of other nations and a profusion of treasure that approaches $1 Trillion per year, with all the attendant negative economic effects and additions to the nation’s debt.
The Middle East is a disaster with instability in every corner. Support for the Egyptian military dictatorship has produced great unrest there. Placement of troops in Muslim holy lands has given Al-Qaeda the rhetorical hook it needs to lead many down a path of terror. The 2003 invasion of Iraq gave rise to ISIS and the military and diplomatic isolation of Assad in Syria has produced a multitude of equally nefarious terror groups operating there. The 2011 Libyan regime change has produced chaos and an intensified terrorist presence. The infernal drone war continues to turn the average Muslim against the U.S.
The U.S. continues to play a very dangerous game with the Russians by placing NATO troops on their border (contrary to a 1990 pledge not to do so) and to provoke them in the Ukraine and Crimea (areas core to them and peripheral to the U.S.). At the same time, we continue to butt heads with China over areas of marginal interest to a peaceful U.S. These actions raise the risk of war and make us less safe and considerably poorer economically. Again, this is sadly but a cursory listing of war crimes.
There is no joy in producing such a list of murder and mayhem, it is in fact nauseating. There is no pleasure in realizing what your country has become and how damnably like all the other empires they have descended. Few of our citizens are willing to contemplate such a butcher’s bill. However, as Christians we must. We are not called by Christ to hide from reality but rather to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). This means we are to take the world as it is yet strive for the in-breaking of His kingdom in all that we do.
For 228 years, we have tried it the warmonger’s way and continue to fail both morally and practically. Maybe we should as a faith community insist on walking a different, more righteous path. Fortunately, we do not need to forge this path for ourselves for we have been given the Gospel. It is long past time that we let His light shine through us to illuminate the fact that peace, now and ever shall be the only righteous path for God’s children.
Praise Be to God